Thursday, November 29, 2012

Esbit Stove Windscreen

Last winter I created a MYOG windscreen for my included-in-the-box electrolytic galvanized steel Esbit stove.  While not the high performance efficiency of the super hot Caldera Cone system, or very lightweight (stove itself weighs 2.9 ounces), it does work much better now when it is windy out.
Esbit stove fits inside GSI cup inside Snow Peak 700 pot, plus pot holder and lighter.
I carry my tea, coffee and honey in there also on day trips.
 The details: I cut two shaped pieces from a used aluminum 8" pie pan from the recycle bin, and bent them over a straight edge to hang the tabs over the triangle-shaped open sides of the standard Esbit stove.  I use the stove at the halfway opening to securely hold my 4.5 ounce Snow Peak 700 titanium pot and I cut the pieces to fit this.  The shields are ultralight weight at a total of 0.1 ounce or 2 grams.
Up to 4 Esbit tabs can be stored inside the folded stove, bagged for smell.
I also cut a piece for the bottom to protect picnic tables and the ground from burns.  All sheets are sized to fit inside the closed stove for compact packing plus hold up to 4 full-size Esbit tabs.  It all fits inside my ultralight 2.9 ounce GSI Outdoors cup packed inside my cook pot (tabs are packed in a Ziplock bag to keep the Esbit fishy smell contained).
Folded wind shields fit on stove bottom
In use, the main difference is I could actually light the Esbit tabs when it was windy, where I couldn't light them before.  I'm defining windy as about 15-20 mph winds, typically what you get in central Florida.  In a gale (39-54 mph) I doubt it would work at all.  I used a mini-Bic lighter held sideways, using my first finger at the business end to get the flame closest to the Esbit tab (without burning my thumb off).
Folded tabs hold shields in place.  Note shield below the stove.  Air flow is open at bottom around tabs.
I was also able to light the tabs with a paper book of matches by taking one side off the windscreen, laying the lit match beside the tab and replacing the screen part.  This was always the side away from the wind.
With the windscreen, the tabs burned well, boiling my water before the half-tabs burned out.  The one I timed on a windy day was a half tab at a rolling boil at 7 minutes, 10 seconds.  A full tab usually lasts about 16 minutes with the shields, but your mileage may vary.
Windshields are ultralight weight and allow significant airflow through the stove bottom.
My other home-made, circular, aluminum wind screen didn't work as well, perhaps cutting off too much air to the bottom of the stove.  I really didn't spend much time messing with this round screen, but I kept it for future use.  I was also trying to make my tabs last and not burn them all up while testing.
I have been using one half an Esbit tab per one cup of boiling water and always had a little leftover tab.  I found the leftover tabs to not burn as well when piled together and after reading the Esbit MSDS, I decided not even to touch it, when possible.  I let it burn the remainder.  The MSDS tells me that Esbit is a very toxic chemical called Methenamine, not to be messed with other than cut with a knife for outdoors cooking in the open air.  Material Safety Data Sheets are required of businesses who deal with chemical compounds and are the go-to documents for environmental and work-related safety issues. They can be trusted.
Typically on a day hike I brewed a cup of tea bag coffee or made a hot herbal Zinger tea to wash down my trail munchies while enjoying the view at the halfway point.  I'll be using this stove for boiling water for bag cooking my dinners and drinks, usually 2 cups of water, with one full tab.  Esbit makes the perfect ultralight weight fuel for my use.
I did find the same stove made in Stainless Steel on Amazon in case you are interested.  I do plan to keep my stove for lightweight day hikes and emergencies.
Brian Green on his blog made an excellent titanium MYOG Esbit stove here.  Cutting plans are at the end of the full instructions.
REI (and many others) sell a 0.4 ounce folding Esbit stove, if you would prefer to purchase one.  It is well-rated, but I'm sticking with what I already have until I buy the classic ti-tri Caldera Cone system sometime next year.  I want the ti Caldera stove for the ability of burning wood as a fuel in an emergency.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Bear Wilderness

Close in to Sanford, FL is a 1650 acre area called Black Bear Wilderness.  It is along the St. Johns river in Seminole County and recently reopened after some water facility construction there.
Only a 2.8 mile walk out and back, it offers quite a lot of wildlife and proved to be exciting for my friend Walt and I early on a November Sunday.
Bromeliades overhead
The trail starts in a hydric hammock with lots of shade.  Bromeliads hang overhead in the oak trees.  Pine and palm trees line the path.  Pileated Woodpeckers fly from tree to tree overhead.  Large dark birds fly over the wetlands to either side of us.

Stream crossing
A boardwalk has been placed to cross a stream and the low area around it.  When the historic levee picks up a few yards further, the walking is dry.
Eagle Scout Project and the historic levee
We were just past this bench when Walt saw a bear running down the trail TOWARDS us.  I grabbed for my camera right as the bear saw us and turned around.  By the time my camera turned itself on, the bear was already gone from sight, cutting across the canal on the right.  Walt saw two other bears running the other way and thought this bear was just confused.  Either way, tough luck on a bear photo today.
Split Cypress Tree
It was now a quiet walk with both of us on the lookout for any other life.  A few more Eagle Scout benches lined the way, some with backs, some without.  Sitting at them would present you as a meal to the mosquitoes.  We did see quite a bit of bear scat along the trail.
One of many Cedar trees with Walt walking by
Many cedar trees rose from the levee, one was partially hollow.
Nice Trex walkway
We came to a road crossing in the wilderness.  A new deck had been built around the facility that we'll cover in a few minutes.  The walkway led to the river and canals and went over alligator flag plants.
Riverside canal 
Along the river side trail
Once we crossed the canals on the walkway, a dike picked up along side the St. Johns river and we followed it to the north for quite a ways.  We saw lots of birds along the way including a barred owl.  The canal left of us had cypress knees and algae in the water next to it.
Walt saw the otters first.  The two were playing by a tree in the canal at the end of the trail.  Once they got tired of looking at us looking at them, they slid underwater and popped up every few minutes to follow us from the canal on the way back.  Once back onto the levee we had a glimpse of another otter before it ran away.  By the way, the "End of Trail" sign is missing since Walt was here a couple weeks ago.
St. Johns river
Weekend river traffic was light today.  We found a frying pan and grill along the shore and an abandoned trash can.  They just forgot to take their trash with them.
Some kind of new facility?  In a wilderness area?
So, what kind of water facility is this anyway?  They have cameras and a speaker to yell at you with, but no one seemed to be watching.  We did see an alligator sunning itself over to the right but it was too far away for a photo.
The facility road is buried under water
The road to the facility was heavy with gravel and guardrails but it goes underwater at the bottom of the rise.  Did they not think about the water height before building it?  How do "they" build a service road through a wilderness area anyway?  My emails to the St. Johns Water Management group are still unanswered.
Turtle.  It looks like a box turtle.

An Ibis posed for us on the return trip.  

The historic levee with wetlands on both sides.
To get there, exit highway 46 at Sanford from I-4.  Drive west toward Mount Dora.  At Orange Blvd., turn right and follow one and a half miles to New York Avenue.  It comes up quick!  Follow New York Avenue to the left to where it ends at the Black Bear parking entrance and Michigan Avenue.  Go early for wildlife viewing!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Good Company

I consider myself very lucky in Family and Friends, always having support for my projects and career.  It has been the same in my life as a blogger also.  I submitted my site link to Phillip Werner at to add to his directory group and he very quickly did so. directory site

Over the years Phillip said he has grown tired of looking for hikers sites, reference sites and gear companies online and keeping up with bad links so he made his own directory site which automatically organizes groups and erases bad links, and viola!  Then he gave his directory to all of us.  Talk about a visionary leader.   What Phillip has done is place us all on the same level playing field, whether we have been blogging for years or weeks.  It pulls us from the vastness of the Internet wasteland, and places us into a group of like-minded writers talking about ultralight backpacking.
What I like about the directory is that almost all the sites I follow are on there already, and are just a quick search away.  What is neat is there is a feature to vote for your favorite sites which will move them up in the site ratings.

Please Vote

I am listed somewhere around page 7 but that doesn't matter as much as the increased traffic I have been regularly getting from the directory (which I very much appreciate).  I also have one vote on my site which is really neat.  I would love to have more votes so please sign up and vote for my site and the other sites you follow.  So if you blog about ultralight backpacking and are not listed here yet, please submit your site.  And if you don't already, check out for excellent backpacking stories from New England and great gear reviews.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Weather and New Gear

Fall is here!
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy passing us by, Florida is enjoying a respite from the summer's 90 degree heat.  Saturday it was in the low 70's and Sunday it dropped to highs in the low 60's.  Low temperatures are in the 40's with humidity in the 30% range for a few days this week.  The windows are open and the breeze is cool.  It can stay this way!  For the northeast US, however, they didn't fare so well.  Sandy was a monster storm and has heavily impacted a huge land area with multiple problems.
Florida Trail Maintenance Crew - Seated:, Jon, Virginia, Scotty, Rachael, & Lou Standing: Americorp Park worker Dan, Connie, Bryce, Park Ranger Jeff, Brian, Doug, Jim & Bo
Photo courtesy Rachael.

Saturday was trail maintenance day at Wekiva Springs State Park where the Florida Trail Association handles all the trail work with volunteers.  I volunteered for trail maintenance work.  The group broke into two crews, one built a bridge and the other crew cleared the trails with a mower and cut back plants and branches.  Rachel did a fine job leading both groups.  The work went well and both crews had finished by lunch time.  We had a nice lunch at the trail head and it felt nice giving back.  I plan to volunteer with the FTA throughout the winter.  The weather was overcast and cool enough to make it enjoyable to be working outside.  You can say my desire to backpack and sleep outdoors is now very high!  
The Florida Trail monthly meeting is next week and the program is local author Sandra Friend, who wrote the great hiking books I blogged about back in June.  It will be good to meet her, hear about her trips and see the slide show.
So my gear has been trickling in a few pieces at a time.  Two items that didn't get ordered at this time were the tarptent Notch and the new hiking shoes.  I'll be using my current Alps Mountaineering Zephyr tent and New Balance trail running shoes through the winter holidays, at least.  Two items that had to be returned were the Sunday Afternoon Hat (didn't like the look), and the small containers because I received a much larger size than I expected.  I'm looking at getting a Columbia Bora Bora hat soon and will pick up the right sized containers locally.
The Gossamer Gear Kumo backpack is pretty neat!  I'm trying different load combinations now to get the pack setup right.  The wider pack straps are the first thing I noticed and they were quite comfortable, even with the pack not loaded right.  The weight-defying features like using the EZC2 line instead of web strapping work just fine.  I also received the Thermarest Z lite Sol sleeping pad and was trying to fit it inside the pack with all my gear.  It was too thick to place on the back pad area of the pack (pushed everything out too far) and inside the pack it fills it up quickly.  I'm trying to use the supplied sit pad for the pack frame.  Online, I've seen these Z Lite pads strapped on the outside of ultralight backpacks, and will try that next.  My sleeping quilt fits nicely stuffed into its own just-larger-than-grapefruit-size sack.  Everything seems to fit fine once I get the pad figured out.  My cool weather clothing is Polar Plus, so it takes lots of space to pack but seems to compress enough to fit.  I'll have a packing list finished in the next few weeks.
I did get some OpSacs for food and smellables, Body Glide for blisters, a new 1.2 ounce knife and a Sawyer Squeeze water filter.  The Body Glide worked fine on my feet Saturday, but I don't usually get blisters with my trail running shoes.  I'll let you know how the Sawyer Squeeze works when I use it on my next trip.  I do like the simplicity of the Gerber LST knife, it fits my hand and pocket well and it is SO light at less than one third the weight of my old Swiss Army knife.
As for the upcoming trip, I'm planning an overnighter in Florida by the end of the year, provided my friend can go at that time.  The emails are flying and I'll let you know when I know.