A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
Outdoors Multifunction Gear Laboratories. (Or OMG Lab.)
I do like a crazy idea. Here’s one; Cooking with out a cooker and with out any fuel.
I spend a lot of time designing bags and tents and such like in my head. Even just modifying them. It is all good honest fun. Right now I have a book of designs and I am even going as far as applying for a patent or two.
But some crazy ideas are more fun than others. More fun than sense. This is one of those.
Okay heres the basic idea; an ultralight cooker that requires no fuel. None. Not even wood. Better still it doesn’t actually require a cooker. All you need is a pot and the sun and an umbrella.
A little background.
When I go on long distance walks I usually carry a Trail Designs Ti-Tri Sidewinder in a Evernew Titanium Pot. I’ve tinkered with most parts of it. These days I almost never use alcohol. I cook on a wood fire. I just carry a pencil sharpener and a few back up Hexamine (“esbit”) cubes. I need no other fuel. I often walk in areas with serious bush fire/forest fire risks. I am restricted by my environment in terms of when I can or cannot have a fire. Having a gas or alcohol stove would only slightly increase where I could cook without breaking the rules. My cook kit weighs next to nothing. This article is not about weight though. (I do think the Trail Designs stuff is some of the best there is.)
When I go on long distance walks I usually carry home grown or home made food. I dehydrate it or whatever. Also I have gotten most of my pack weight down so far that I can carry a slightly heavier food load because being in a beautiful place is no excuse to eat crappy processed food. (Or drink crappy coffee but more on that later.) I’m trying to become self-sufficient in food production at home so it is logical to try to bring this with me on the trail. For example my first night out usually involves some fresh vegetables and who cares about the weight for a few hours. My first section from the trail head to the first camp site often has to be a shorter day for logistical reasons. Minimalistic Hedonism!
What I have found is that the ultralight weight obsession with shaving grams can point you down the road of poor food. Not everyone falls into this trap. But it’s certainly easy to do. I love my emergency noodles as much as the next guy/girl. (Maybe not as much as Courtney Barnett. If you eat instant noodles you must listen to this song.)
I love a wood fire. I love the smell. I love the fact that I can use a found resource and I love the challenge of leaving no trace at all of doing it. I also love the fact that I can almost keep up with my friends with supposedly faster systems like the JetBoil.
The best thing has been the ability to cook a completely different type of food. Cook things for longer and at lower temperatures. This has allowed me to carry lighter foods that require more water and more time on the cooker but I have time and water so I can slow cook something for 20 minutes or longer. There is more to gastronomy than foods that require boiling water produced inside 4 minutes. (It is important to point out that I don’t spend a lot of time above the snow line and when I do the MSR whisperlite gets dusted off and I scare myself a few times before I remember all the tricks.)
I live in Australia and like many people in the US I walk in the heat. I need sunscreen and shade. I rarely need rain protection. I very rarely carry rain pants. My rain jacket is often never used on a trip. Which brings me to the umbrella options. There are many reflective “brollies” that weigh in as low as a pretty impressive 168 grams. There are a few serious ultralight heads (I don’t pretend to be one) out there that use a lightweight trekking umbrella (or “brolly” as I like to call it). Gossamer Gear sell one and they know what they are talking about. Go-Lite used to sell one. It turns out both those are made by the German Firm EuroSchirm. When I search their LiteFlex I am reading 207grams not 168grams. It’s not the end of the world. Here is a great article by Keith Foskett about these “two” umbrellas.
Yep Keith has covered everything there so I am referring you to him for normal stuff. I am interested in using the umbrella upside down.
I have a background in disaster management and that sort of thing. One of the more interesting technological tools gaining widespread use is the solar cooker. There are some great websites out there. It is very helpful decreasing deforestation around temporary settlements and the unpleasant fact is that the further people have to go to gather cooking fuel the more at risk they are. To be clear, I am talking about women getting raped when trying to gather fuel for the fire which they need to feed their family.
Just search for it. Or start here. http://www.solarcookers.org You can buy this cheap Copenhagen Solar cooker. Or better still (especially if you have kids) make it for nothing using the video by this guy.
You can become a Copenhagen Cooker Nerd if you want.
So you can see where I am going with this. The better the reflector the better the heat gain. The best shape is parabolic. Here is a $550 USD fancy parabolic solar cooker.
Thats why I want to turn my umbrella upside down and try to cook with it. Like this guy did. (I’m not sure how much this one cost but I am guessing it is less than $550.)
Or heres one made out of what looks like recycled reflective packaging. That’s what I make my slow cooking “food cozy’ bags out of.
So what I want to do is make (or find) an umbrella that is reflective on both sides. Keith Fosketts comparison article shows the underneath of the EuroSchirm product and it looks silver but I have contacted the folks at EuroSchirm and the Silver LiteFlex is only available with a black underside. This makes sense for its function as a rain and sun shelter.
I wrote to them and they were very helpful, just like they were when Keith Foskett wrote to them, so thats reason enough for me to believe that these are a pretty decent bunch of people. (Hi Fay at Euroschirm!) They reckoned it would be expensive to make a prototype with silver on the inside so I have asked them to send me a few seconds and I will try to reverse it.
The solar cooker options are usually awkward and large so it has to be a double duty to make any sense to a trekker. The umbrella is just one idea.
Another possibility is to adapt a sleeping pad with a reflective surface and then fold it so that it functions like the Copenhagen cooker. Or what I may try is to recycle some bubble wrap packaging used for keeping items warm/cold that is ultra-shiny on one side and build a Copenhagen out of that. This would weigh very little, could do double duty as a part of my insulation. That would work for me as I sleep usually in a hammock and I need minimal extra insulation under my legs and feet that doesn’t need to be very tough. Or you could wait for the guys at Soltac to start making their CookSack again. (Please.)
I’m going to work on this for a while in the Outdoor Multifunctional Gear Laboratory (OMG Lab) and report back.
Because I am a little bit nerdy.
Possibly not as nerdy as my all time trail cooking/blogging hero: Adventures in Stoving. But he is busy so I will try my best.
(Disclaimer; I haven’t received anything from any one.) (I’d really like one of those CookSacks though.) (And world peace.)