A normal day on the hills: start in lovely weather (sort of) and by lunch time you’ve got your head in the clouds. Snowdonia weather at it’s best!
Let’s be clear, carbon monoxide is a non-issue the vast majority of the time. As long as where you are cooking is ventilated, it shouldn’t be a problem. That said, it’s shocking how much CO most stoves chuck out, even Meths stoves. Cooking inside a single skin tent or in an enclosed porch where the ventilation is impeded (perhaps by snow) could cause a problem and it is as well to be aware of the hazards.
I was alerted to this by a series of articles by Roger Caffin on backpackinglight.com. You have to be a member to access the full articles. The summary of the introductory article was as follows:
- Carbon monoxide can be emitted by a stove under the right conditions.
- This carbon monoxide really can present a serious health hazard.
- This hazard would seem to get worse as we go from butane/propane to white spirits to kerosene.
- Some stove designs may be worse than others because the pot is placed too close to the burner.
- The hazard is not inevitable: there would seem to be ways to reduce it to negligible levels.
- Long flames and yellow flames may indicate a CO hazard.
- Ventilation is crucial under any circumstances.
Of the gas canister stoves available two stood out as having outstandingly low CO emissions: the Primus Eta and the Snow Peak GST-100. The articles persuaded me to ditch my Jetboil and buy the GST-100. The GST-100 is a beautiful piece of engineering (and it certainly needs to be for the price), weighing 88g (111g with the case). I’m thinking of getting an Ortik Heat-It and it would be interesting to see whether the fuel efficiency can match the Jetboil.
What astounds me about most gas stoves is the faulty design of the burners. On the GST-100 below (left) you can see that the gas burner holes are near vertical. This design keeps the tip of the flame at a constant height no matter how open the gas regulator valve is. Contrast that with the Pocket Rocket (below right), which has a similar burner to the Jetboil (couldn’t find a picture of the Jetboil burner). The burner jets are pointing up. This means that the height of the flame varies according to the flow of gas.
Now forgive me for going back to my science lessons at school, but weren’t we all told that the hottest part of the Bunsen burner flame is at the tip? The reason why a lot of these gas stoves chuck out too much CO on a high setting is that the pan is not high enough relative to the flame (i.e. not at the apex) and the gas does not burn efficiently. Excuse me designers, are you not aware of basic combustion science?
This also suggests that most gas stoves are inefficient at high settings as that is when the CO emissions are highest. On the one hand the Jetboil is undoubtedly efficient because of the fins at the bottom of the pan, on the other it is less efficient than it could be because of the burner design. Memo to Jetboil: change the burner design and produce a titanium version, then you’d have a winner.
Like most people, I’m thinking about what I might do this year. Initially I had planned to apply for the TGO Challenge this year, but various issues and commitments meant this was not possible. As a legacy of this, I now have three TGOC routes planned from Strathcarron, Lochailort and Oban. If I can, I’m going to raid one of these to do a week in late May.
I’m probably going to do Strathcarron to Dalwhinnie. One advantage of not doing the TGOC is that I may take one day longer doing this route than if I were doing the Challenge. However, part of me wants to reserve this route for the Challenge itself. As an alternative, I could do the Oban to Dalwhinnie route. This disadvantage is that it doesn’t look quite as interesting and the travel is more awkward (and expensive).
Other tentative plans are a couple of weekend trips on the South Downs Way and possibly a weekend in the Lakes, taking my 12-year old daughter for her first exposure to fell walking. I’d like to return to the Cairngorms in Sept/Oct perhaps for a long weekend using the sleeper. The chances of doing all this are slim, but we can dream!
As I mentioned a while ago, I ordered an Olympus WS-331M digital voice recorder just before Christmas and it arrived a few days ago. Having had a bit of a play around, I can now give you a heads up. To re-cap, I have been looking for a voice recorder for some time, but one that had good sized storage and ran on conventional batteries (re-charging is not very practical for obvious reasons).
The WS-331M weighs only 47g with a single AAA battery installed. It has a very reasonable 2GB of storage. This gives you 71 hours of HQ stereo recording or 142 hours of HQ mono. The long quality LP option allows 555 hours of recording. There is also a stereo XQ (extra high quality) option which gives 35 hours of voice recording. It records in WMA format but will playback both WMA and MP3. Size is H 9.5cm, W 3.5cm, D 1.0cm. It has a built in stereo microphone and comes with stereo ear phones and a USB extension lead. It will also plug directly into a USB port. Cost £106.93. At the same time I bought an ME52W mono noise cancelling microphone (weighs 15g) for £13.32, which comes with an extension lead, clip and foam cover. All the components are pictured below and compared to a £2 coin.
Like most good backpacking equipment, this little beauty fulfills several functions. Firstly, it’s a pretty good MP3, player. The quality is not far short of my bigger I-River HP-140. It has a WOW surround sound and TruBass equalisation function. Secondly, in low quality mode you can use it as simple voice note taker. It has five voice recording folders that have a capacity of 200 files each. Thirdly, in the higher quality mode, you use it to record podcasts, which is the primary reason I bought it.
So far I’ve only performed some short experiments indoors, but they are promising. Clearly you cannot expect the quality and clarity of Bob Cartwright’s podcasts, but the quality on playback through earphones is of an acceptable quality. The internal mic is higher quality than I thought it would be, but has the disadvantage of picking up the noise of holding the device and using the control buttons. Using the mono mic with a lead avoids these issues and makes for a clearer recording. I don’t yet know how it performs in a windy environment, but in a calm environment voices are admirably clear and there is some detail from background noises.
The mode selectors and hold sliders are on the left hand side and record/stop/play are small buttons on the right hand edge. On the face is a menu select button and a jog wheel for forward/back/volume. There are two further buttons on the face for erase and folder/index. The screen is slightly disappointing old style LCD screen, but the characters are clear. I like the way the battery compartment slides off to reveal the USB connector, so it can be connected directly to a computer. File management is easy in the Windows interface.
At some stage in the summer I will experiment with podcasts when I’m out and about. I’ve got some software to edit them. Whether I release them on here depends on how brave I am. I will also have to upgrade my space on WordPress to take audio files. Even if you’re not bothered with podcasting, the WS-331M is a neat little MP3 player, which gives some extra flexibility to take some voice notes as you walk along the trail. I don’t know how robust it is, but Judy Armstrong took a similar device on her trek and has recommended it. As long as you don’t throw it around or get it wet, then it should be OK.
Just to keep you informed, the total page views on this site since 24th November passed 3,000 yesterday. So far I’ve managed to concoct 57 posts (of widely varing quality!). I’ve recieved 87 comments, not one of which has been negative (better than my forum experience!). Now I’ve got to think of some more twaddle!
Is just me or are forums becoming stale and boring? I suppose there’s only so many times you take discussions on the merits of Paramo or whether Aktos really do have a condensation problem. I still have a look but rarely contribute these days. I also get a bit fed up with the spats that occasionally occur. Perhaps age is inducing apathy. The OM forum still seems to have a bit of life (occasionally) but the TGO Magazine forum is virtually dead. The outdoors bloggers forum is fun as it’s a smaller community. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist or that they are not useful for the exchange of ideas, just that I’m finding them increasingly dull, whereas blogs…….
I think the most difficult meal for backpacking is breakfast. I don’t particularly like Muesli. Most normal breakfast cereals are too bulky. Ready-Brek is OK but not very satisfying. I like porridge but it burns. Here’s my solution: stick your porridge in a soup ‘n’ sauce bag from Lakeland. Add a couple of spoons of milk powder, some raisins and a little sugar. When it comes to heating, just add some water to the bag, then re-seal the bag, shake and put it into a pan of boiling water. In 3 minutes, then porridge should be ready (you may have to shake the bag a couple of times to stop clumping). Hey presto, a nourishing, sustaining and healthy breakfast with no burnt leftovers on the bottom of the pan. For a bit of variety, you could decant the new single serving packs from M&S. At the moment I’m using the apple, blackberry and toffee ones. Mmmm and no added junk.