Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Getting Familiar With A Dog On A Canoe Trip

I am nowhere as comfortable, as I am out in
the wilderness on a canoe trip. 

As humans, many of us like familiarity. It makes us feel comfortable and secure, knowing there is no surprises. As much as I totally agree with the previous statement, at times, I like change. A disruption to the normal sequence of things. Not a rule of thumb, but sometimes, these changes can enrich one's life.

 I've canoed since I was a kid. The odd trip here and there, where I got to head out and enjoy being out in the wilderness. That was then. Now, I've taken it up a notch or two, and the trips have become a significantly bigger part of my life. I now head out on a dozen or more canoe trips per year, spending easily over 2 months out in the bush on various types of trips. Times have changed.

Whether portaging a canoe, or paddling a river, these are
things that are very familiar to me.

For many years, I've headed out with others, or on my own. The process for preparing and executing the trip was routine, the only difference being the type of trip (flatwater vs moving water) or the location. Even then, it was pretty straight forward - paddle, portage, set up camp and do the routine all over again. Of course I am simplifying the whole process, as there is lots more that goes on in between, but you get the idea. I enjoyed this routine - it was predictable and straightforward. Well, that routine got a huge disruption when I got married. No, not because of my wife, but because of what came with her - two dogs.

With my wife came two dogs - Toby and Teddy.

The dogs have caused a huge disruption in my paddling life. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. Maybe not huge, but significantly. The two dogs are poodles, one a black toy, and the other, a miniature red. I mean, the first thing I had to do, was befriend them. Make them feel like I was a part of THEIR family. That is a whole story in and of itself. Once I did that, (Meaning they didn't bark at me when I came home.) we moved on to the next phase, one of which was taking them on a canoe trip. First off, Toby, the toy black poodle, which my wife refers to as the "old man", was not given the green light. He is 12 years old, and the physical rigours of the canoe trips I plan, would not be conducive to his health. Thus, he was relegated to staying at the in-laws when we went. I'm sure he didn't mind, as he was good at conning my mother-in-law into giving him treats.

So there was the first disruption. Every trip, unless solo, had to involve the extra drive to the in-laws. Just thankful they were willing to look after Toby, it still meant a visit before, and after the trip. So now, only one dog would be accompanying us. If I thought taking only one dog would significantly lessen the disruption to my routine, I'd be the first to tell you. But no, in essence, it hardly does. All the things you need to do and prepare for the one dog, would be the same for two or three, you just multiply the quantity by the additional canines.

Surprisingly, Teddy took to the canoe easily and was a 
trooper even in less than ideal conditions.

My wife is very experienced with dogs, having many, and multiples at a time. The only thing new, was taking a dog on a canoe trip. Naturally, my wife took the lead in this to assure Teddy's first canoe trip would be safe and enjoyable.  It was a bit of a learning curve for sure, but it slowly came together. One of the first things we had to do was get Teddy a float coat (aka life jacket). Now that initiated an interesting discussion. Like, don't all dogs swim?! I soon found out not all dogs do; well, in a nutshell they all do, but not all very well. So, like us humans that don't swim, or even the ones that do, we need life jackets for safety. Plus, I had to consider other factors, such as, what if the distance to shore is significant, or the cold water is debilitating, or you are dealing with a strong current. As those factors can affect us, they are the same for a dog. So fine, he got a float coat.

The float coat came in real handy when Teddy fell out of
the canoe for the first time. The problem
was, it wasn't his last!

With the float coat, you'd think there wasn't anything more to worry about, but that's only if the dog stays in the canoe. For the most part, Teddy is actually pretty good. He usually finds a comfortable place on the pack and lays down. However, occasionally he wants to be closer to water, with his paws literally on the gunwales. I could tell my wife was nervous, as she often looked back from her bow seat. I didn't think it was a big deal, as I figured he was just curious about his surroundings, but one day, he slipped in! Sure, the odd slip is tolerable, but if it happens regularly, it can be a real annoyance. Besides soaking all your gear, and getting you wet as the dog shakes, you have to stop the canoe, turn around and pull him out. You'd think he would learn his lesson after the first dump, as he doesn't even like water, but nope! Guess whose job it is to keep him back now? Yup, I have another role to play, other than sterning the canoe. Sergeant-at-arms, plus, the coast guard when he goes into the drink. Three times and counting. I still question my wife when she says poodles are one of the smartest breeds of dogs.

Folks, I really need a better raincoat.

Now THAT'S better!

Once off the water, at camp or on the portage, there was another concern. My wife and I were worried that Teddy would run off into the woods. Surprisingly, he pretty much stays hot on our heels. In fact, while on the portage, he runs ahead, acting as a scout, then behind us, as a bodyguard, all the while, keeping a close eye on us. (From imminent attack by the local evil squirrels.) He was easy to call back, most often by my wife's bidding, so our fears were quickly allayed. However, one issue with the dog we didn't expect, was with bugs. Black flies in particular. Outside, no problem, as we all get 'bugged', but when it was time for us to go into the tent, all hell broke loose. Black flies get caught up in Teddy's curls, as they work their way down to his skin, but as soon as he is inside the tent, they seem to want out. Quite literally in droves, they exit his hair for the open space of the tent - and us. It literally becomes a wholesale slaughter as we try to kill them all. How's that for excitement? Especially when you try so hard to keep them out in the first place. I won't even mention red finger-painting art deco that now adorns the inside of the tent.

With the 'big red beacon' ahead, it wasn't
difficult for Teddy to follow.

Speaking of inside the tent, that's another issue. Teddy often gets dressed with some warm clothing at night, particularly if it is early or late in the season. He even gets a blanket too, to sleep on, or be covered. You'd think he would by mindful of my personal space and stick with the stuff he's given, but lo and behold, when I come into the tent, he is nicely curled up on either my stuff or my sleeping bag. Being closer to my wife, wouldn't he want to lay on her things? She tells me that that's how Teddy is showing his affection to me, which I have a hard time believing. So, not only do I have to sometimes deal with a wet and dirty dog on my sleeping bag, but compete with him for sleeping space! Did I mention he sometimes moves during the night - between my legs, next to me, or between my wife and I? I can't win. Oh, and guess who wakes up first? It's one thing waking up to your wife smothering you with kisses, something entirely different if it's the wet tongue of your dog trying to wake you up.

Teddy's favourite part of the trip was getting
extra special morsels with his kibbles.

Well, it's now been a full year of tripping with my dog, and boy has he gotten quite the introduction. He's been out in a canoe on every conceivable body of water, on half a dozen trips over the course of 31 days! He has come a long ways in his inaugural year, but he still fails to recognize lakes as the biggest bowl of fresh water available to him, or that he still can't go through mesh tent doors. He's also gotten swallowed up by mud on a portage, fallen into the water thinking he could rock climb, and mistaken foam on the water as solid ground, but thankfully, has survived the year pretty much intact. Even I will admit, he did exceptionally well.

One thing Teddy does better than my wife first thing
in the morning is lather me with kisses.

 Sure, he's given us some big headaches along the way, but despite them all, having Teddy with us has been hugely positive. He has certainly taught me to be more patient and understanding, and more importantly, to appreciate and enjoy the interactions between us, the dog, and the environment. What's not to love about a devoted four-legged companion that often makes me laugh and ensures nothing is routine? I acknowledge my dog has forever changed my familiarity with canoe tripping, but in time, those disruptions will become routine too. I know change can sometimes be tough to deal with, or even accept. But if you make the effort to the see the other side of the coin, you just may be surprised - much like I was. I haven't given up the title to my sleeping bag yet, but Teddy has certainly earned his place in my canoe.

Teddy has now become a bona fide canoe dog, and me,
a sucker that admits to enjoy having him
along on my trips!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

180 Stove Review - Part 2

The simple, but highly recommended snow/ash tray.
(Sorry, obviously WELL used!)

Before I talk about performance, I want to talk about the snow/ash tray. No, you don't need it, but would I recommend it? Totally. Yes, it is more weight, but the features totally out weigh the extra grams. It's simply two equal pieces that slot into each other and perfectly form the base of the 180 Stove. (Works with the 180VL Stove too!) The other great thing is, the size of each piece is approximately the same as the sides of the 180 Stove, therefore easily packs together. I've seen other twig stove trays, but they just don't nestle as well as this one. It's obvious the priority of pack-ability was foremost in the simple but effective design - nice.

The snow/ash tray serves two main functions, portability and environmental stewardship. In regards to portability, it allows you to move the stove wherever, or whenever you need, based on conditions. Whether in wind or rain, I was easily able to move it under cover, or to an area with a wind block - all the while, with the fire still burning. (Of course, extreme care is needed!) Or how about cooking from a nice vantage point? How often do you get to decide where the kitchen is, in regards to the fire pit? To take advantage of a nice view over-looking the lake, or in front of the setting sun, you can do that with a snow/ash tray and your 180 Stove. Plus, it can be that small intimate 'fireplace' after supper. It will literally go wherever you need it to go. 

First it was the wind, then the rain. No problem. We just
moved it under the tarp, which protected it from
both, and voilĂ , fixed!

Then there is the environmental stewardship factor, for a lack of a simpler word. The tray is used to contain the ashes and keep it from making a mess. I don't think I need to expound any more in regards to this obvious concept. The tray simply contains the ash, and you dispose of the it in a prudent manner. The other issue which is a bit of a thorn in my side, is the damage caused underneath the tray. The tray does NOT prevent heat transfer. You will most likely scorch the soil underneath after using the stove. I know people have stated that you can dig a depression and then cover it afterwards, which I've done many times myself, but I'm not convinced any more. If you cook in the same spot for an extended period of time, you will most likely kill everything alive below and prevent anything from growing there for some time. Just imagine a dog park with splotches of dead areas around. Sure, I'm exaggerating the point, but I think you get the idea. I've decided now to either use the 180 Stove (or any other twig stove for that matter) in the fire pit sans tray, or on non-combustible surfaces such as rocks, pebbles, or sand, with the tray. This will prevent unsightly blackened areas all around, and protect the environment around us that is teeming with life, even though we may not always be able to see it. I figure there is enough damage being done on camp sites, that every little thing helps.

 One last thing, particularly in a dry season. If you use the stove without the tray and decide to dig down, be very aware of the possibility of an underground fire 'taking root' from humus, or a root itself. I've seen this happen once from a fire pit, and I was relieved that we found it the the next morning before we left camp. You may confidently douse the area with water, but with underground fires, it could well be far from the original area and burst into flames in a different location when you are long gone. This is another big reason for having a tray and using it atop non-combustible material. It goes without saying, be mindful and safe.

I'm sure you'll agree, it is better throwing the ashes out of
sight in the bush, then under these nice stones.

So, the biggest question remains, how does it perform? The answer is not so simple - it actually depends. The reason I say that, is because it depends on a few factors, but namely what you place on top of the stove. If the pot is small, and there are open gaps around the pot, the fire will continue in its intensity. The problem is, if the pot is big and it covers the entire surface, your fire will be stifled due to the lack of air flow. The best way for you to visualize this is, to think of your fireplace at home. Before you light the fire, you have to ensure your damper is open. Why? Because when you light the fire, the hot combusted gases have to go somewhere, which is up. (Remember, hot air rises.) As the hot air moves up, fresh air moves in from the surrounding room and feeds the combustion process by providing fresh oxygen. If you close the damper, not only will you have smoke flooding the room, the intensity of the fire will diminish because there is a chaos between hot air trying to exit upward (Which it can't.) and fresh air trying to move in from below (Which it can't as well, since hot air above is having a hard time leaving.). The fire will continue, but just not as efficiently as if the damper was open. The 180 Stove, or any wood stove for that matter, works on the same principle. Hence, why I say the answer to the question isn't so cut and dry.

I used this stove many times under varying conditions. It wasn't always bad, despite using a big pot. There are actually ways to work around the problem. If there is a mild breeze to 'force feed' air, that helped the issue significantly. However, you can't control the wind, nor the intensity, so it is out of your control and not reliable. You could also use wood in small quantities. Too much wood and again, you stifle the little air flow you have. Problem is, more effort is needed to get/process smaller pieces of wood, and your fire will never be as big or hot. Lastly, using absolutely dry wood - which sounds like a no-brainer, but has more relevance here. Since less air is moving, wood will not burn as efficiently, particularly if it has a bit of moisture to deal with. However, if the air flow increases, even slightly damp wood will burn well. (Think, blowing into the fire.) Oh, one other thing, the small pot scenario. If you are solo, sure. If you have more people and lots of time, sure. I think you get the idea, but it may not always be practical. So, the stove does work, but not as good as it could, and better under certain circumstances.  

Here's a fire pit we found one day at camp. If I wanted to cook 
over a fire, I would have to do a major clean up, 
then rebuild the fire pit to cook.....

.....or, as we did, take out the 180 Stove, find a nice spot
(Meaning clean, level, AND comfortable),  and
proceed to cook supper. Yup, I'll 
take option 2!

One other point that I'd like to make, that affects performance too, is the method of introducing combustibles into the stove. All twig stoves I've used prior, involve putting things in through the top. This method, while it works, has its drawbacks. It isn't easy to see the fire with the pot over the top, and putting things in often times suppresses the flames. If you only use small pieces and in measured intervals, it will minimize this, otherwise, you will go through cycles of a crazy burn, then a suppressed burn. The reason I love the side entry is, is that you can see the fire and how it is burning. Thus, you can add to it where and when you need. Sure, you will have similar heat intervals, but it is much easier to control and minimize, since you can monitor your flame. I'm all about side entry. (Hmmm, that didn't sound right.)

In regards to the performance issue, there is an easy remedy to this problem. All it needs, is elevated cross-members that will lift the pot about an couple centimetres. Through some tests and trials out in the bush, once I had the pot lifted, the fire easily regained it's intensity, and the heat output significantly increased. This crucial air gap, is the key to good air flow, since the hot gases has a place to exit. As mentioned before, it's quite simple - good air flow equals good fire. Trust me, I was really rooting for this stove as I love so many things about it, but it needs a bit of a tweak to ensure this good stove becomes a great stove. I will definitely be making recommendation to the company and hopefully they will determine the best course of action in the future. I just know, if they adopt an 'improved design', I guarantee, I'll be the first in line to purchase one. In conclusion, my recommendations to purchasing one still stands, but with a caveat. Knowing this may not exactly solve the problem, but help you deal with it and still make it a very usable stove.

Cooking with the 180 Stove alongside the more traditional 
method. As you can see, my friend had to use
more wood than us.

In regards to purchasing one, here's another reason to get one. They are reasonably priced, even though they are made locally in the US. At $46.95US, where else can you find a dependable stove at that price that will likely last you a lifetime? You will not only have a great product, but support a domestic company that strives to keep sustainability and reliability as a priority. You can order directly through the company at 180 Tack (www.180tack.com) or from Canada from an on-line retailer - www.bushcraftcanada.com. Surprisingly, they are priced there at $47.99 CAN! Unfortunately it shows they are out of stock at the moment, but at that price, it's probably obvious why they sold out!

The new trend of outdoor gear is alive and well. With products that get you out there, and help not only the environment, but your pocket as well, definitely deserves your attention. The 180 Stove is one of them. I may still have a white gas stove, but when I head out into the bush, it's the twig stove I turned to first.
Will you?

With the 180 Stove and the snow/ash tray, you 
decide where to have the fire, not
 the other way around.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

180 Stove Review - Part 1

Cooking over a fire is nothing new. A skill worth having, but
just comes down to whether you want to or not.

I've come a long ways in the art of cooking over a fire. I use to exclusively cook with a white gas stove for many years, but have now developed a love for cooking over an open flame. Although it is not an essential skill, it is definitely a practical one worth acquiring, as it can be useful when your stove malfunctions, or you unexpectedly run out of fuel. Cooking over a fire is nothing new, as it has been employed for eons, but there has been a resurgence of a similar open fire method - cooking using a twig stove.

I'm not sure as to the primary reason behind the rise of twig stoves, as I've seen many variations and styles recently. But there certainly are reasons to justify it's purpose, usefulness and popularity. First off, it's environmentally friendly. You use a lot less wood to cook with a twig stove, than a grill over a fire pit. The flame is contained in a smaller area and directed straight beneath the pot, thus efficiently utilizing the concentrated heat. It is also much more wind resistant, first due to the sides of the stove encircling the fire, and secondly, because you can place the stove wherever you want. But most importantly, the stove doesn't require you to harvest big pieces of wood. The fuel is practically all around you on the ground - from twigs, pine cones, bark, and even moose droppings! This goes a long way in not only eliminating your reliance on fossil fuels, but also all the energy spent extracting, refining, and having it shipped to you. You just gather and utilize the fuel around you, while leaving the other form behind, so it can be recycled naturally.

The 180 Stove - one of many new designs of twig
stoves that have recently emerged.

There are also the financial implications. Twig stoves generally cost less than most gas stoves, whether white gas or ones that use pressurized gas canisters. There is also the cost of gas itself. With the upswing in the cost of energy, all it's other forms derived from oil have come up in price too. You can't save anymore money than what nature provides for free. Besides, who doesn't want more money in their pocket?

Then there are the practical reasons. Twig stoves are fairly simple designs that are usually made of very durable material - such as stainless steel and titanium. Not only will they most likely last a lifetime, but are fairly light too, easily the equivalent of other types of stoves, and quite often less. Talking about weight, as you don't have to carry fuel with you, that's where you will really notice a difference. No fuel AND fuel container(s) means less weight (and space) on your back when you are portaging. 

Why pay for fuel which nature provides for free?

One other big benefit to a twig stove, is its simple design that has no moving parts. Not that the twig stove can't be broken, (Usually due to carelessness or neglect.) but if it is looked after, you'll probably never have to deal with a repair or breakdown ever. That means more weight savings, as you won't even have to take a stove repair kit as well. These stoves really are a 'buy once, last forever' type of equipment that you can't go wrong with.

Well, I've had several opportunities to try different twig stoves over the years, but recently, I came upon another type that caught my attention - the 180 Stove. From what I could see, I liked many of its features, and was really curious about how well it performed. I sent an email to the owners to see if I could review it. They were more than happy to accommodate, and not only sent me the 180 stove, but the even smaller and lighter 180VL stove plus the snow and ash tray too! How do you like that? As you can imagine, I was eagerly looking forward to getting it and trying it out. 

The lighter and more compact 180 VL Stove. Have
your cake and eat it too!

Last year, I had the opportunity to take the 180 Stove with me on a half a dozen trips over 46 days. I think it's obvious I put the 180 Stove to good use. With this much time spent using the stove, I was able to get a good feel for its performance and design, and provide an objective review of it. There was many things I loved about the stove, but I did find one issue that detracted from it's great design. The good news is, that it can easily be remedied with some small changes. But before we get into that, let's talk about all the good points.

This stove is made of 24 gauge, high quality 304 (18/8) stainless steel. (In short, really good quality stainless steel.) Sure, it can be lighter if made of titanium, but it is a nice compromise between cost and weight. However, if weight is an issue, this is somewhat addressed with a sister design which I will mention later on. Although there isn't an option for titanium, you can't go wrong with good quality stainless steel. These stoves are built to last. No corrosion, pitting, and minimal warping. It is as durable as they come. The only thing you'll see change, is the usual scorch/sooty marks after they are first used. Other than that, they are guaranteed to last for many years of use.

You can't go wrong with good quality 18/8 stainless steel
for a twig stove. A good compromise between
weight, cost, and durability.

The design of the stove is my favourite. Reminds me of a little wood stove. Simply 3 sides, and three cross members atop to hold everything together rock-solid. And I mean rock solid. This stove easily handles a big heavy pot and you'll experience very little movement. The other good thing about this design is that the whole set-up is low to the ground - a low center of gravity if you want to call it that. This assures that there is little chance the pot (and stove) will tip over, unlike many others which have a more traditional vertical design that are more prone to tipping. The 180 VL Stove is a bit different as it has a triangular design to save weight. Therefore it has only 2 sides and 2 cross-members, reducing the footprint and therefore the size of pots you can place on top. Therefore, the VL version is more suited to solo trippers that are looking for the lightest and most compact stove, or trippers that don't mind compromising weight for functionality. Just be mindful, that some of the features of one versus the other don't necessarily cross over. 

Weight is a big thing these days when it comes to outdoor excursions. Although paddlers are not as weight conscious as backpackers, we certainly do take it into account, especially when trips involve a lot of portages. In either case, you won't be disappointed. The 180 Stove only weighs 286 grams, whereas as the smaller 180 VL Stove weighs in at a miserly 167 grams! That is pretty darn light! As a comparison, my favourite white gas stove, the MSR Dragonfly weighs 365g, not including the fuel bottle. Other highly regarded multi-fuel stoves weigh even more, so it is no rocket science as to the numbers. You can't go wrong in this department. On a side note, I also take the ash/snow tray, which adds another 167g, which of course negates the weigh savings and brings it closer to the weight of a gas stove and empty fuel bottle, but as you know, you don't need one to use it. I'll speak more about this further on.

Who doesn't want a compact stove for packing? Not only does
the 180 Stove pack small, but is not susceptible
 to damage when packed either!

Lastly, the 180 Stove packs down pretty compact. When disassembled and strapped together, you have a physical footprint of 17.8cm(L)x8.3cm(W)x1.5cm(H). Know of any gas stove or twig stoves that pack down this small? I didn't think so. And the other amazing thing to this pack form is, is that it is as durable in this arrangement as it is when set-up! No need to worry about damaging it at all. Rigid and compact, you can easily slide it into a small space or crevice in your pack or barrel without worry. This is an smart design that you won't have to worry about pulling your stove out in more pieces than it came with.

Part 2 Coming soon!