I changed my mind. Sigh. Again. It’s not that I’m too proud to change my mind. I will readily admit that I don’t know everything. In fact, I know that I don’t know many things. Wait, is that true? I’m not sure I’m ready to admit that yet. That depends too much on the definition of the word “many” (Am I starting to sound kind of like Bill Clinton to anybody?).
Even so, I “wisely” stated three and a half months ago that I wasn’t going to bring a stove on the trail. My arguments sounded reasonable at the time. I’m more of a snacker than a meal person. I’m also not into the nitty gritty of heavy cooking while camping out; I find it cumbersome. When I’m done hiking at the end of the day, I’d chew my arm off while waiting for my food to cook. A stove adds weight, not to mention the necessary pots and utensils. It’s difficult and painful to use my hands in the cold (I have Raynaud’s), so it would be tricky to use a stove.
Several people tried to convince me otherwise. Not having a stove really limits what you can eat. Dehydrated meals are light such that they counteract the added weight of the stove. There’s nothing to bolster spirits at the end of a long day better than a hot meal. Hot food will warm you to the core after having been in frigid rainy weather for hours or even days.
And yet I persisted for many months.
But do you know what happened? It got cold. I’d announced my decision not to bring a stove on September 20, 2012, a day with a high temperature of 85 and a low temperature of 50 in the DC area. And of course I’ve been through enough cold winters to know better, but – human nature – how soon we forget.
December 1 was the first time it really occurred to me that I had spoken too soon. I was standing outside of my local REI waiting in 30 degree weather for the members-only used gear sale to begin. And it hurt. Moving keeps the blood flowing and the body heat up. Standing does not.
As I pondered the increasingly lazy circulation of my blood and my white fingers and toes, it occurred to me how wonderful a cup of hot water would have been at that instant. Instead, I had a bottle of cold water. I was thirsty, yet drinking it was torture. Then I visualized myself cocooned in my sleeping bag every evening to keep warm while drinking cold water. This did not bode well.
The second noteworthy element of my reversal occurred over the past few months. I had been diligently assessing my diet and trying to figure out the foods I’ll be eating on the trail. And I finally began to acknowledge that the list was pretty short. Beef jerky, almond butter, and bars will only get me so far, so I decided to poke around some of the dehydrated food websites.
To be honest, I’ve never had a dehydrated meal in my entire life. Yeah, OK, when I was a kid, we were big into rehydrating mashed potato flakes, but that doesn’t really count. So, having done some research on dehydrated meals, I was surprised to find out that you just have to add boiling water, mix, and let it sit for a few minutes before digging into piping hot meals with veggies, meat, carbs, etc. Seriously? That’s like the camping equivalent of cooking in a microwave (which is my specialty).
Fine. I cried uncle. I’ll bring a stove.
I know that many people make their own lightweight stoves out of cat food tins and soda cans, but I’m pretty sure that I’m willing to pay for something easier to handle (i.e. with a fuel canister). Remember, it’s been pulling teeth getting me to come to terms with the idea of using a stove; I want it to be as simple to use as possible – without fear that I’ll burn down a forest (remember my menorah?). Besides, I’m not entirely convinced that the lightweight stoves save weight inasmuch as the fuel can be heavier and less efficient.
As of last week, I’d narrowed my options to a shortlist of two: a JetBoil Zip OR MSR MicroRocket stove with GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist Cookset.
The JetBoil “stove” is really a comprehensive interlocking cooking system. Each Jetboil stove includes a flame burner with built-in wind shield, a cooking pot that also doubles as a cup/bowl, and a lid that snaps on and has both a built-in pour spout and strainer. Also, there is a plastic cover for the flame burner (that doubles as a measuring cup), and both the stove burner and a 100g fuel canister easily fit into the pot for storage.
As far as specs, the Zip model:
- costs $80
- weighs about 12 ounces
- has a .8 liter (3.3 cups) capacity pot/cup
- burns about 10 liters of water per 100g canister of fuel
The other option would require that I purchase the stove and pot separately, worth noting but not a big deal. The MicroRocket is a small, tri-fold stove that also easily secures into a fuel canister. The Halulite Minimalist includes a pot, lid with sip-hole, folding spork, small silicone pot holder for cooking, and a cozy for holding the hot pot while eating. Both a fuel canister and the MicroRocket stove could fit into the Minimalist for storage.
As far as specs for this option:
- costs $88 ($60 for stove, $28 for pot)
- weighs about 9 ounces (2.6 for stove, 6.3 for pot)
- has a .6 liter (2.5 cups) capacity pot/cup
- burns about 7 liters of water per 100g canister of fuel
Having narrowed it down to these two options, I took a walk to my local Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) last week. When one of the employees asked if I needed help, I dove right into my dilemma. Without missing a beat, he told me that he personally found the Jetboil bulky, and I could easily serve my purpose with the MicroRocket/GSI Minimalist combo, a more compact (and altogether lighter) option.
Then, last weekend I went to my local REI and repeated the exercise. I did note that the JetBoil physically takes up more space than the Minimalist pot and started convincing myself it was too bulky. Then, I spoke with a woman that works there (and incidentally has thru-hiked the A.T.), and she pointed out that you can only cook as much food/water as will fit into the pot. Since the JetBoil has a larger capacity (.8 liters vs .6 liters), it might be worth ignoring its bulk.
So, now I’m – duh duh DUH – back to square one. OK, I’m not totally back to square one. I’m back to square seventy three in this decision-making process, give or take. I’ll get there…eventually. I’ll buy a stove and will have hot food. And it will be grand, grand I tell you!