How well do you know your gear?

4:43 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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On my recent trip in the Yukon, an issue arose with the couple my son and I were paddling with. The man has extensive experience having a background in NOLS, Outward Bound, and various trips he has done for recreation. He is not a gear head, but a self described "people person"and that makes him easy to travel with. On this trip, I had brought my Optimus 111, which I know inside and out and has performed well for me. Our companions brought his MSR Whisperlite which he has had for well more than a decade. He had used the stove with no need for maintenance for that time. But the little MSR was not behaving well on the first day. A part had dropped off into the fuel bottle. I found where it was meant to go and reattached it. Still the stove was not performing as it was supposed to. Several days latter, I was doing weekly maintenance on my 111 by lubricating the pump leather. I asked when the last time the MSR pump seal had been lubricated. "Never". I got the stove working OK for several more days, but on a lay day, he took it all apart, for the first time since he bought it. I could see that because of the X cross section on the pump, grit had gotten on it, and no doubt carried into the pump body. The pump body was badly scored and it was obvious no amount of work would cure the problem.

In 2007, I had a similar experience with another couple I was guiding, who had brought their own new to them, Whisperlite. In their case, the pump was new, but it took several days of asking before they allowed me to lubricate the pump seal and after that the stove worked well.

As well, on this year's trip, our companions brought two Steripens, but without back up batteries. Both failed.

I pride myself on knowing my gear inside and out. Some of it I've made. I have redundancies in every critical system, as well as complete repair kits for the stove, canoe, etc. Have other experienced similar issues? How well do you know your gear?

7:23 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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LOL I can't count the times I've had my supper cooked and on the plate while some guy is trying to figure out how to make his new stove work.

Redundancy is the key for anything critical. I carry five different ways of starting a fire, and three different ways of getting clean water carried in different places. I carry two Nalgen bottles for purified water, plus an empty hydration bladder as a backup. I only carry one stove, but I split the fuel into two bottles in case one gets punctured. I can always make a fire instead of lighting the stove in case of an emergency. 

Even when backpacking, I carry a plastic painters tarp or guide tarp, and space blanket, as a backup for my shelter system, and high energy bars for emergency rations in case my food gets destroyed or lost. 

The whole thing is probably more about preparation than anything else. Plan for the best case and pack for the worst, but understand which equipment might fail and why.

7:29 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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I know my gear inside and out. Preventative maintenance is just that, preventative. If you don't do it then sooner or later something will break or fail to work properly on you no matter what it is. I have found most steripen issues to be user error vice the batteries, it's so simple to use that some people fail to use it per the instructions and it doesn't work. I just replace the batteries in my steripen a month ago on my last trip, they were probably 2 years old and had done close to the spec'ed 50 liters if not more. I always carry spare batteries for it though when I do bring it.

10:32 p.m. on September 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter, it is good to know you've been with others who can't figure out their stove. I'm not alone then.

Rambler, I have no experience with steripens, so couldn't advise them. Still, I had to assume that since they had them a couple of years, they knew the ins and outs.

11:54 a.m. on September 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Erich,

A great piece of writing. There is no experience like a long experience in the outdoors. Necessity is the mother of invention. Bring backups. Low tech is always preferred. It is very important to take things like stoves apart at home on a bench and figure them out ahead of time.

1:10 p.m. on September 28, 2013 (EDT)
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My first stove was the XGK, the older version which came in an aluminum cup. As Ppine suggested, before I took it into the field I stripped it down, stove and pump, making sure I could repair or replace every moving part and O-ring. I started it up few times, too, just to hear that little thing roar. Quite impressive. It has never failed me beyond a bit of carbon in the jet which was easily cleaned. If it ever did though I can always resort to my old standby, a campfire.

Mostly, I prefer to keep things low tech. Mostly because of todays outrageous cost of camping gear and because I find it easier to repair in the field. Perhaps, too, there is a bit of nostalgia, but I shudder to think of damaging a 500 dollar WPB jacket by actually using it. This might migrate to your other post, Erich, but when I was a kid out camping we always wore our old clothing and gear, stuff we didn't care about if it got dirty and torn.

2:01 p.m. on September 29, 2013 (EDT)
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I am beginning to sound like a broken record (CD?). Nearly everyone on TS could follow North around and learn stuff everyday about simple solutions to complex problems. That has always been the way of the bush.

2:43 p.m. on September 29, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine said:

Erich,

A great piece of writing. There is no experience like a long experience in the outdoors. Necessity is the mother of invention. Bring backups. Low tech is always preferred. It is very important to take things like stoves apart at home on a bench and figure them out ahead of time.

 It's funny you should say this as on my last trip I had a minor problem with my MSR stove fuel pump BUT ZAP I brought a brand-new extra in the top pocket of my pack so swapped them out.  No problem.  On my next trip I will be using this new pump with another new one wrapped in a ziploc and ready to go.

In the last year my trips have been getting longer and so I end up carrying extra stuff as backups---

**  Spare Hilleberg tent pole section.

**  Spare coil of shock cord for tent pole repair.

**  Extra hipbelt buckle for my Mystery Ranch pack.

**  Always two spoons and two bics and shoelaces.

**  A couple different Thermarest repair kits.

**  Expedition repair kit for my MSR stove (along with the pump)---overkill.

**  Leave an "emergency" Thermarest cache at the trailhead in case my sleeping pad cannot be field fixed.  I'll swing back and get it. 

5:04 p.m. on September 29, 2013 (EDT)
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Good ideas by Walter.

1:31 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter...5 different ways of starting a fire?...I cannot even name that many (lol)...have you ever needed all five...four...three? I only carry two...I had to use my back-up once about 5 years ago when my little Bic wasn't replaced as it should've been. 3 different ways of getting clean water...have you ever needed all three?...I only carry one...with boiling as my back-up...fortunately I have never needed to boil. Ha!...I do carry two .95L Powerade bottles and carry a 2L Platypus...so I match you there:-)

3:39 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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The MSR pumps are easily over hauled.  I have quite a few, most styles.  The poorest quality ones are the blue/red ones, followed by the red/gray ones.  The ears on the pump body seem to crack where the piece that holds the pump in are located.  I've sent back an un-used Dragonfly pump that came with a nib 1999 Dragonfly over a year ago that I picked up cheap.  Stoves, one of the critical items in your kit, take care of it.

Love the Optimus 111's, all of them.  I collect stoves, so I have about 5 of them, all but the "C".  My "B" is a Primus branded one.

Duane

8:17 a.m. on October 2, 2013 (EDT)
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i started carrying a fire steel a few years ago as a backup to waterproof matches. took some practice, but i can start a stove with it easily now, and wet conditions don't affect it much.

the first time i used one of my stoves, it leaked fuel.  turned out it arrived missing an O-ring on an important part.  that's what led me to travel with extra O-rings going forward.  i consider myself lucky that i didn't melt or burn something important with that leak.  

i bought an XGK 29 years ago to replace a coleman peak 1 that developed a leak around one of the entry points to the fuel tank.  the bottom is a brass color when it's not soiled with soot.  i used it hiking overseas a fair bit, changed the jet and burned kerosene. smelly and sooty! with regular maintenance, it still works fine today.  great for melting snow and boiling water; challenging to cook at low heat, a delicate balance between pumping it to the right pressure and constantly adjusting the fuel flow.  

8:11 a.m. on October 3, 2013 (EDT)
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Duane, you are correct that the MSR pumps are easily overhauled, but only if the pump body is not scored like my companion's was. Conceivably one could use a brake hone to get the scoring out, but with the plastic, I doubt that would be successful.

My 111B is an Optimus. I didn't know Primus made the same model. I also have a C. While quiet, the heat output is about 15% less than the B.

9:21 a.m. on October 3, 2013 (EDT)
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jrenow said:

Peter...5 different ways of starting a fire?...I cannot even name that many (lol)...have you ever needed all five...four...three?

I've never needed more than two, and like you, it happened when I didn't replace my BIC when I should have. Fire can be such a critical need though, and the weight of a striker or waterproof matches is negligible. 

 3 different ways of getting clean water...have you ever needed all three?

I'll carry a UV system (Camelbal All Clear) good for 60 litres of water, and chemical tablets, and I can boil water if I have to. I often use the tablets and the All Clear in conjunction, though, cleaning water en route with the UV system and purifying water overnight in a bladder with the chemicals. The tablets are virtually weightless, too, so there's no penalty to the redundancy. 

That system lets me get away with carrying only one full bottle of water on most trails, with the empty bladder to produce greater quantities at the campsite.

6:01 p.m. on October 3, 2013 (EDT)
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The focus here is on stoves but the point applies to most gear.

In particular I see very few people using trekking poles correctly as I see a lot of badly set up tents.

Not surprisingly I also see many complaining about the efficiency of trekking poles and tent performance.

I always wonder if when looking at a crashed car  people think first "bad car" or "bad driver" or "accidents happen" ?

For some reason it seems to me that when a tent fails folk always think "bad tent"

6:57 p.m. on October 3, 2013 (EDT)
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Franco, It’s not the cars fault, it’s always my fault. This is apparently true even when I’m not even remotely near the car at the time.

If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife!

 

Back in the early 90s my wife and I canoed the Bowron lakes up in Canada. Right about the middle of the circuit we came across a father and daughter team that had a failed MSR Wisperlight. I happened to have a spare jet and the wrench needed to replace it, and fixed their stove for them.

 

I’ve used an MSR Wisperlight since the mid 1980s. During this time it was my only stove and I used it heavily for backpacking, for hot meals for myself and fellow troops when in the service, while car camping and what-not. It was finally replaced in 2009.

In all that time it failed on me only twice in the feild. The first time I was about a year after the Bowron trip on yet another canoe journey. I was not able to fix it because the dang thing was simply worn out and needed a rebuild!

We were camped on the shore of an island on a narrow margin of snow free ground. The interior of the island was still buried deep in last years snow pack. The wind was howling, we were exhausted from fighting high winds and cold all day long. And everything was soaking wet.

No matter, I had a fire blazing in half an hour and we had a good hot meal. As long as I have an axe I can make a fire!

 

The second time that stove failed was on a cross country road trip in 2009. I sat in the back of my car and patiently stripped that stove completely  down and reassembled it several times, to no avail. It was just a wore out stove! I gave it up and bought a new Wisperlight the next day ( dang those things are expensive! ).

It’s got the new shaker jet, not sure how I feel about those things. Ask me again in twenty years time I guess…

 

These days I’ve adopted a trangia 27 as my primary stove, but I still pull out the Wisperlight for winter when I need to melt snow.

 

On a cycle tour of Iceland in 2010 I used an old Optimus 8R. Kinda like a small version of Erichs Optimus 111.

I took it because I know it will work fine on ordinary car gasoline, and that’s the easiest fuel to get in Iceland, especially since you can’t transport stove fuel by plane. My cycling partner sure didn’t know gasoline stoves, yet insisted on doing most of the cookery and managed to pop the safty valve on that Optimus twice on that trip!

 

Before that trip I cooked all my meals for a week on the 8R fueled with automotive gas, to be darn sure it would work reliably on this fuel and not gum up. And that’s the key -

 

I always try out new stuff, or old stuff in new ways, on easy weekend trips “in the back yard” on the little mountain that I live on.

Never, ever on an ambitious trip!   

 

So I guess I know my gear pretty good.

9:24 a.m. on October 4, 2013 (EDT)
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EtdBob said:

These days I’ve adopted a trangia 27 as my primary stove, but I still pull out the Wisperlight for winter when I need to melt snow.

 No jets, no moving parts = nothing to fail. 

And hiking poles aren't walking sticks. The length should be set so that your elbow is at a 90° angle. That lets you PUSH with them, like you're cross-country skiing. I don't understand why people buy expensive gear like that then don't find out how to use it properly. 

12:01 p.m. on October 4, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter,

Your point is well taken. Low tech solutions are the most dependable, especially on long trips in difficult country. A stove failure in cold conditions above tree-line is a serious problem.

Most people get the experience they need for long trips by making mistakes on short trips and fixing them. High skill levels can easily overcome average equipment and tough conditions. Fancy equipment and low skill levels are a disaster waiting to happen.

8:29 p.m. on October 5, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter1955 aid:

EtdBob said:

These days I’ve adopted a trangia 27 as my primary stove, but I still pull out the Wisperlight for winter when I need to melt snow.

 No jets, no moving parts = nothing to fail. 

And hiking poles aren't walking sticks. The length should be set so that your elbow is at a 90° angle. That lets you PUSH with them, like you're cross-country skiing. I don't understand why people buy expensive gear like that then don't find out how to use it properly. 

 Yes - you push with them. They're not just for balance on descents. Your arms do some of the work and help propel you. At least that's what works for me.

 

11:35 a.m. on October 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Erich said:

Duane, you are correct that the MSR pumps are easily overhauled, but only if the pump body is not scored like my companion's was...

Grit in the tank or not, I am having trouble figuring why that person pumped his stove so many times he actually scored the pump cylinder body.  Seems like a strange Freudian outlet for a repressed urge.  I am just saying…  

Ed

10:56 a.m. on October 27, 2013 (EDT)
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Ed, This occurred over perhaps twenty years of use. When I looked at the pump shaft, it actually had sand in the corners. He had done the Grand Canyon in March and come off the Main Salmon earlier in the summer, so the sand probably came from one or both of those trips.

12:03 p.m. on October 27, 2013 (EDT)
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Erich,

So now we find out you are a rafter/ kayaker too?

 

3:19 p.m. on October 27, 2013 (EDT)
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ppine, I think you are confused. It was one of my companions on the Big Salmon who had done the Grand Canyon and Main Salmon in rafts. Although I've paddled kayaks, white water, sea kayaks, and SOTs, and rowed rafts, I'm a confirmed open boater. We have people in our club who paddle everything from catarafts, to K-1s to C-1s and bucket boats, and my girlfriend is loving her new I-K. I've not done the Grand, nor the Main Salmon yet. 

Ed, though my companion may have some personal reasons for pumping his stove incessantly ;-), and maybe even derived some pleasure from it, it was his complete lack of knowledge and maintenance with a critical piece of gear that shocked me. When I was climbing, I regularly inspected my rope for thin skinny spots in the casing indicating breaks in the core. Just because the mantle looked good, never meant that the unseen core was also good.

12:43 p.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Not the first time according to many around here.

The GC and Salmon are as good as it gets. A friend that taught me to row rafts tells the story about running Big Mallard on the Main Salmon at 40,000 cfs back in the 70s. His buddy stuck a downstream ash oar. It splintered and went right thru his thigh. My friend saved the guy's life with a tourniquet. They got him off the river and he survived to row another day.

1:08 p.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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While I have heard many great things about the Salmon, and get at least an invite a year to do it, I prefer my trips to the North. I've never been an adrenaline junkie on the water in the sense that 40 named rapids in five days is too many to enjoy the trip. I have paddled the Grande Ronde and the Rogue and while beautiful, I relish the forests and the mountains, and the wildlife I find in northern Canada.

10:50 p.m. on October 28, 2013 (EDT)
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My old standby was a Svea 123. It never failed me, though once I failed it. I had stopped for stove fuel at a "petrol station" somewhere in the Cairngorms in Scotland. I asked for naptha and the attendant said "You must mean paraffin" and filled my Sigg bottle. I learned the difference that night in a miserable rain when the Svea wouldn't light.

10:50 a.m. on October 29, 2013 (EDT)
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trouthunter said:

Peter1955 aid:

EtdBob said:

These days I’ve adopted a trangia 27 as my primary stove, but I still pull out the Wisperlight for winter when I need to melt snow.

 No jets, no moving parts = nothing to fail. 

And hiking poles aren't walking sticks. The length should be set so that your elbow is at a 90° angle. That lets you PUSH with them, like you're cross-country skiing. I don't understand why people buy expensive gear like that then don't find out how to use it properly. 

 Yes - you push with them. They're not just for balance on descents. Your arms do some of the work and help propel you. At least that's what works for me.

 

 ABSOLUTELY! My trekking poles aer an extension of me and do much work. They don't casually sway along the trail they WORK hard. Especially when I was carrying more weight (on me, not in the pack).

12:12 p.m. on October 29, 2013 (EDT)
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I couldn't agree more about knowing one's gear inside and out.  

I know and go through my gear extensively before and after every use.  I make sure everything functions and is maintained as needed.  I prefer NOT to have to do any field repairs if possible.  I have redundancy in the main items like water treatment (filter, tabs) with boiling being a last resort and redundancy in fire (lighter, matches, flint-steel).  I have never carried repair kits for anything while backcountry camping.  I keep a well stocked survival/first aid kit for emergencies but no repair kits.  

July 29, 2014
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