Mike's Backpacking Reference


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Butane vs. White Gas

IsoButane (or it's cousin Propane) is a compressed gas and is purchased in a canister.   As such you must take it in units of canister sizes.   It's biggest drawback is that as the gas is used the expansion cools the canister and in cold weather you will find that you need to heat the canister to make the fuel vaporize.   Plan ahead the keep the canister in your tent in cold weather.   Canisters rarely leak, but if they do you will loose all the fuel. 

White Gas has the advantage of working well in cold weather and it is easily available in the US (Colman fuel).  It can be measured in any quantity.  If it leaks in you pack it will evaporate, but leave a lingering smell.   White gas stoves require priming (pre-heating) so be sure to understand how this works. 

NOTE:  You cannot take fuel on a commercial airline.


These stoves are supper efficient at boiling water.  I like (and use) the Mini-mo model as it actually simmers ok and is a bit wider around.    The piezo (spark) start is awesome!   They really need a wind screen as you can loose a lot of heat in windy conditions. 


I like the wisperlite stoves and use one for years.  This a white gas stove is a very stable base.  Generates plenty of heat.   MSR provides great support.  Comes with a wind screen. 

MSR also make butane stoves.  The pocket rocket is very light.   Their WindBurner looks like a JetBoil copy.  

MSR also makes multi-fuel stoves.   These are better for international travel where butane canisters and white gas are not available.  The can burn kerosene (diesel fuel).   Note kerosene is oily, be careful not to spill on gear. 


These are good white gas stoves.   Models with pumps are easier to use, particularly to re-light. 

They also make good butane models.  Some are similar to JetBoil.


These are good white gas and multi-fuel stoves.  

They also make good butane models.  Some are similar to JetBoil.   Their small butane stoves are inexpensive and great for soup on a day hike.  I used one of years with a small pot that held the stove and a canister. 


Most stoves don't simmer well.  They simply don't have a very low setting.    In my experience many stoves that advertise this feature still don't really have a simmer setting. 

Field Repair

White gas stoves have an orifice that can become clogged.   Be sure to carry tools to clear.   Be extra carful not to get dirt in the fuel bottle.   Canister stoves generally are maintenance free as long as you treat them well. 


Cookware needs will vary depending on what you want to cook.   Generally breakfast can be something like oatmeal that you can add hot water to in a cup.   If you do prepared food in a pouch you can boil water and add to the pouch (not needing a pan).   Note:  Cooking in a pouch may not cook through at higher altitudes (boiling water is cooler).  

Some butane stoves like JetBoil come with an integrated pot.   These are great for heating water and work ok for cooking for one person.   Most of these are 1 Liter.    For two a couple of pots are nice like 1 and 1.5 L.   Three people is tough number as you really need a 2+ L pot.   Jetboil stoves don't really have good options.  Here the liquid fuel stoves work better.   For groups bigger than 4 use multiple stoves. 

If you plan on eating trout or pancakes you may need a skillet.   10" are OK, but 12" are super!  Ideally you can cook on coals.   Larger skillets don't heat very well on a stove (heat does not spread well). 

Cookware is made from:

  • Stainless steel.  Generally heavy and food tends to stick.   Very tough.
  • Anodized aluminum is light and somewhat easier to clean than SS.
  • Titanium is the lightest, but generally only smaller pots are available and pricey.


I use a "spork".   Simple combination of a spoon and fork.   Mine is titanium, but plastic work well too.      I carry a plastic "pot spoon" for cooking.   If skillet cooking you will want a spatula.  MSR makes a nice folding one. 

Cups and Plates

I have used a Lexan cup for years.  Lexan is essentially unbreakable.    These are about 1.25 C and are graduated for measuring.   They hold heat better than a single wall metal cup.  Titanium cups are light, but tend to be (in my opinion) less useful the Lexan cup. 

For solo hiking I just eat out of the pot...   No need to carry a plate or bowl. 

Nylon or Lexan plates are nice for trout, but generally you don't need them for other foods.    A 2 cup bowl works well if you want to be civilized.  Lexan is good, but plastic or aluminum will do.  


I carry salt, pepper, and a couple of mixes like garlic pepper and southwest seasoning.   I commonly carry potassium salt as it help treat muscle cramps.    Foods will have plenty of sodium salt, check the label.   Small plastic containers work well.   In the days of 35mm film the film canisters are great. 

Water Purification

While most back country water is probably fine it is generally recommended to purify or boil drinking water.  Tablets can be used, but they impart a poor taste to the water. 

Water filters work well, but should always be used with a pan.   Drawing directly from the water source will lead to pre-mature clogging.   Instead dip a pan carefully into the water avoiding sediment.  then pump from the pan.    MSR and Katadyn make good models.

UV sterilizers work well, but require batteries.   Tablets are a good back up incase the unit fails.   These are generally a bit faster that pump and you can used with your water bottle.   I have used Steripens with good results.    They weigh less than filters. 

Field Maintenance

Be sure to prepare for field cleaning of your filter.  Each filter has a different procedure.    This is more important on longer trips. 

Water Bottles & Bladders

My go to bottle has always been the Wide Mouth 1L Nalgene.  They are made from HDPE or Lexan.  HDPE are lighter.  Lexan are indestructible!   However with some packs I find a 24 oz. bottle works better as I can more easily take it out of the pocket without removing my pack (see notes about backpacks).   I'm not a real fan of lids that "sip" as it is much easier to keep the screw lid clean and the screw lid stays closed when the water bottle is dropped. 

Bladders have the real advantage of encouraging you to drink often because of the convenience.  They also generally carry 2L or more and this is nice on dry hikes. However I don't use them for the following reasons:  They are stored inside the pack and can leak on your gear.   You cannot tell how much water you are drinking while hiking so it is harder to know when to tank up.  Keeping everything clean is a pain, especially the mouth valve.

On dry hikes I have carried a MSR bladder with no hose.  The ability to carry 2+ liters of spare water can be nice. 


The main thing with food is to get enough calories.   Most adults will need 2000-2500 calories per day.   At home you might be eating 1500-2000.   You want food with high calorie density.   Meaning lots of calories with minimal bulk and weight.   Food like nuts and rice fit this bill well.  Freeze dried foods are light, but are bulky for the calories.   Cooking time is critical.  For hot meals the best is just add boiling water to the food and let it sit.  This works with instant potatoes, instant rice, couscous.   Angle hair pasta and Ramon noodles require very little cooking.  Avoid food that require cooking for more than 3-4 minutes.   Remember cooking takes fuel and stoves often don't simmer well.   

I have settled in to the following habit for meals:


Something I can make in my cup.   I usually start with a cup of coffee.  Then instant oatmeal (with nuts and brown sugar), or Instant cream of wheat (with nuts and brown sugar), or sunrise spuds.  I may add a couple of prunes and a second cup of coffee.   When I'm done I just have to rinse my cup. There are some freeze dried egg meals that are good if you want to break up the routine.


This is really the big calorie provider.   It really happens over an extended period of time while I hike.   Typically, it might contain some sort of trail mix, jerky, granola bars, ANZAC bars. On short trips string cheese is a option.   In the cool season I might stop to make some soup.  Choose dry soup mixes carefully as some will require substantial cooking.   Top Ramon requires little cooking and provided warmth and salt.  Try things like tomato bullion with Ramon noodles. 


Here I lean toward one pot meals.  Simple and requires less cleanup.   I usually make myself, but prepared meals are OK too.   The quantity of prepared meals always seems to be wrong.   Look at the calories and decide how many servings they really are.    Of course trout are always a possibility.

I often build a dinner starting with a starch, then adding freeze dried meat, and freeze dried vegi, and a sauce.   In pratice I might soak meat and vegie, then bring to boil and let stand to hydrate.   The  reheat to boiling and add starch and flavoring.   By building my own I get to dial in the quantity. 

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