Firing it Up!

A look into micro-stoves and burners for camping and paddling trips

When I take off for an overnight paddling trip this time of the year, I set aside the granola bars, beef jerky and dried fruit for a warm hearty meal at the end of a long day and a hot cup of coffee in the morning. With limited cargo space and in some cases, time, I direct my attention to what I call micro-stoves — compact, lightweight and easy to use.

MSR Reactor Stove System
My personal favorite is the MSR Reactor Stove System mainly because it is a fast starter and is fuel-efficient. I also enjoy the fact that the heat is evenly distributed through an enclosure which also aids in performance under windy conditions. The system comes with it’s own pot which is great for solo trips but can easily feed up to 2 or 3 people.
Boil Time: < 3 minutes
Burn Time: 80 minutes (8-oz. canister)

MSR Whisper Lite Internationale Stove
If you prefer something that is lighter and more compact, the MSR Whisper Lite Internationale Stove is a great option. It burns a variety of fuels (white gas, kerosene, unleaded gas) giving you the ultimate in flexibility. The Shaker Jet technology makes it easy to clean and maintain throughout the duration of your trip.
Boil Time: 3 minutes (White Gas)
Burn Time: 110 minutes (20 oz. White Gas)

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove
If you need something even lighter, smaller and more affordable than the MSR Whisper Lite Internationale Stove, try the MSR Pocket Rocket Stove. Don’t be fooled by its size though, the Pocket Rocket can deliver plenty of heat with precise flame adjustment. The tri-sectional Windclip windshield protects the flame and boosts efficiency.
Boil Time: < 3.5 minutes
Burn Time: 60 minutes (8-oz. canister)

Bleuet Pocket Stove
A stove in its simplest form, this little guy, and as the name implies, really does fit in your pocket. The Bleuet Pocket Stove may not be made for a 5-course meal but can certainly bring a small pot of water to boil within 8 minutes. The fuel is in a form of a cube that produces no visible smoke or sparks and does not liquefy. Due to it’s price, size and ease of use, it can also be used as part of your emergency kit or as a backup stove.
Boil Time: 8 minutes
Burn Time: 15 minutes (Solid Fuel Cube)

So how do you know which is best for you? It really depends on a variety considerations, such as how many people you will be cooking for, what type of food (freeze dried, canned or home made) and the conditions you’ll be cooking in. If your budget allows and you don’t mind a little extra weight, the MSR Reactor Stove System complete with it’s own custom designed pot is the probably one of the best all around portable micro-stoves.

Roland @ACK

Devil’s River Part 2

This is Part 2 (click here for Part 1)  of my series on our Devil’s River kayak trip.

I think one of the worst things about any trip, vacation, or adventure is not knowing what to pack or getting there and wishing you had brought something.  Since I just went through this experience on a recent trip down the Devils River in West Texas, I wanted to share with you what gear worked and didn’t work for us.  Remember what worked for us may not work for you.  Bear and I were Marine Corpsman and Kevin is smarter than MacGyver, so do your homework before setting out into the wild.

When planning a trip, I make sure food, water, shelter, fire, and safety are covered first and foremost.  For food, I first find a Tupperware like container with a lid that seals really nice for a bowl.  This way you can also use it for a semi-dry storage container and you don’t spill anything while you eat.  I also picked up this handy new super spork by Light My Fire.  This was a great piece of gear and survived a pretty harsh trip.  Since you can’t have a fire along the river, we took parts from an old Whisperlite stove I had.  After realizing the burner was missing, I had to pick up a new one.  It worked out great because we found out the fuel mechanism can’t be submerged for long periods or it might not work.  So make sure you put it in something that will keep it nice and dry.

The water containers we carried were Nalgene and Camelbak bottles along with Camelbak packs.  They all worked perfect.  Even though the river has fresh water springs and aquifers pumping into it, we took a water filter that stopped working halfway through the trip.  Go figure.  Get a good water filter!  I also happened to leave my emergency Iodine tablets in the truck.  Drinking river water is not ideal, but I would rather get Giardia than a heat injury.  As for shelter, I have a high-end Kelty tent that has worked great over the years for me.  Any tent will work, however, you really want a tent that has a lot of ventilation, light weight (preferably under 10 lbs), has a great rain fly, and will fit in/on your kayak.

Unless you’re some one of the caliber of Bear Grylls (the guy from Man vs. Wild) you’re going to need a mat to sleep on.  I used a basic $30 Therm-a-rest which worked fine, but a more compact and softer one would have been nice.  As far as a sleeping bag, I recommend you make sure you have a higher end bag that is quick drying.  A cotton or down bag is worthless because they are bulky and if they get wet it acts more like a weight than a sleeping bag.  I also keep it in a waterproof Sealine bag to keep it extra dry.

When doing a long trip through a harsh and dangerous environment you will also need to make sure you have enough medical supplies.  Those dinky medical kits that have Band-Aids, cheap plastic tweezers, and chap stick are not going to cut it. Make sure you have proper medical supplies to treat multiple injuries for multiple days and that you know how to use it.  We had a couple of close calls and the opportunity is there for some pretty gnarly injuries.

In the next blog, I will go over additional gear we took and talk about what worked and didn’t work.  I would also like to say one more thing.  We met some pretty fantastic people on our little adventure that went out of their way to help us.  Kevin, Bear and I would like to say thank you to all those folks.  As for everyone else, make an effort do something nice for someone.  Not only will you bring happiness into their life, but also into your own.  In these times who couldn’t use a little extra happiness.

Marcus Harleson
ACK Pro Staff

Camping and Climbing at Quartz Mountian

Last week a couple of friends, Steve O and Liam, and I took a long weekend up to southern Oklahoma for a few days of camping and rock climbing. Southern Oklahoma boasts some of the best granite slab climbing in the country and it’s practically right around the corner, just a short 6 hour drive from Austin. The three of us are all experienced climbers and campers and we were looking forward to weekend getaway. Our destination was Quartz Mountain, otherwise known as Baldy Point, an 1800 ft. slab of granite 75 miles WNW, of Lawton, Oklahoma.

The trip started out on Thursday morning with a fizzle, actually with a fizzle a dead battery. Since we were car-camping at a site just a couple of miles from Baldy, we pretty much left nothing behind and while loading the car the dome lights were apparently a little too much for a the 4 year old battery in the Armada, so after we filled the 56.7 ft3 of cargo space with everything that we could think of, loaded ourselves and tried to start the car, she didn’t comply. No big deal, a quick jump and we were off. In the back of my mind I thought that this might come back to bite us, but off we went. An easy, uneventful drive brought us to Quartz Mountain Nature Park and Camp Ground. We staked our claim at camp site #55 which was 75 yards from the dumpster but more importantly from the rest rooms, and quickly set up our tents. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon and while the temperature wasn’t too cold, the wind was blowing 20-30 making it chilly. We got the fire going – thankfully we planned ahead and acquired several bundles of firewood prior to arrival at the campground since this park, like many others, prohibits foraging for firewood.

Learning #1: When the wind is blowing 20-30 a campfire is almost useless. The wind blows the heat in the same direction as the smoke, so if you want to stay warm you have to sit in the plume. Always pack a cold weather and rain gear, no matter what the forecast is…

We warmed up a pot of chili that Steve O’s wife had made, grilled some sausage and enjoyed a nice hot meal before retiring for the night. The plan was to get an early start on Friday so we could spend the entire day on the rock. Steve O and I retired were sharing a tent. Since there was just the two of us in a 3 person tent, we were able to keep all our gear in the tent with us and still leave plenty of room to ourselves. Being there were no space or weight constraints I brought along my Therm-a-rest Basecamp, the largest version of the self inflating mattress series for my sleeping comfort. I do have to confess that I brought along a sleeping bag that I had removed the tags from years ago and therefore I have no idea what the temperature rating is for it. The first night with the wind blowing and cooler temps I was very comfortable, but the subsequent nights I was way too warm and that made sleeping tough.

Learning #2: Know your gear and leave the tags on them when they are informational. The proper temperature rating for the sleeping bag would have made for a much better night’s sleep. Fortunately in this case, my rating was for colder temperatures that we experienced, if the opposite was true, I might have been much more uncomfortable or worse.

I woke up Friday morning and set a pot of water on my WhisperLite Stove. I love this little thing, boils water in 3 minutes and it will burn white gas, kerosene and even unleaded fuel. Admittedly I didn’t need to use the Whisperlite since we had a two burner stove and 9 cup GSI Outdoors Glacier Coffee Pot, but I wanted to test out my new MSR MugMate Coffee Filter and it had been a while since I had used the WhisperLite. The MugMate is a simple little gem allows you to brew a single cup of coffee right in your mug. It weighs virtually nothing, is reusable and stores inside your mug so it takes up no space. Place the filter in the mug, add coffee and pour water in the top. Let it steep for a few and voila, the perfect cup of coffee.

After coffee and breakfast we loaded up the gear and ourselves in the Armada, and, well, nothing. Dead battery again, I should have trusted my gut yesterday. Fortunately we were able to flag down a park employee who very graciously gave us a jump and then grudgingly made the 20 mile trek the Napa Auto Parts just north of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. The folks at Napa couldn’t have been nicer and we had the battery replaced and were at the climbing site within an hour.

Climbing at Baldy Point is fantastic and very accessible with a short 20 minute ride from the camp grounds. The parking lot is almost at the foot of the climbs and there is even a clean restroom in the parking lot. We climbed pretty much all day Friday and Saturday, eating lunch on the slab. One thing I noticed about Baldy is that in my opinion the routes are harder than they are rated in the guide book (Oklahoma Select) so proceed with caution and don’t get yourself into something over your head. The climbing was exciting and very enjoyable and tested all of our skills. During one of the climbs on Saturday, I put my Klean Kanteen to the test as it fell out of my climbing pack and sailed 30 feet before bouncing 4 times on the granite. The bottle itself survived remarkably well with just a few very small dents in the steel, but the plastic sport top cracked. Note to self: Next trip bring the loop cap instead of the sport top.

After two strong days of climbing and beautiful weather we enjoyed steaks and fire grilled potatoes for dinner on Saturday night. Steve O set up a slack line in the camp site and we goofed around on it a bit, enjoying the last few hours before settling in for night. Sunday morning it was time to head back to Austin. The drive back was uneventful and safe. What a fabulous weekend. Not only was the climbing and the company great, but it was nice to just spend a few days away from the daily grind and enjoy nature for a bit. I’ve posted some pictures as well as our route on my page for your viewing pleasure.


Camping at Quartz Mountain

Ivan’s Trip To Matagorda Island with Lessons Learned

I’ll start out by saying, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”….

My father and I have been fishing at Matagorda Island State Park in Texas several times a year since I was a kid. It’s one of our favorite spots to go and has continued to be the go to spot for our annual “father-son trip”. Years ago there was a ferry that used to run from Port O’Connor to the state park twice a day that was only $4, unfortunately it burned down. This resulted in a huge decrease in traffic to the park, which eventually led to it being transitioned into a Wildlife Management Area. Since the ferry burned down, we have enlisted the services of local fishing guides to ferry us and our gear to and from the island. The fee normally runs anywhere between $150-$175 round trip. This is probably a fair charge for services rendered but has always been hard for us to swallow having always before paid $4. With this in mind, I’ve always been looking for an alternative way to get out to my favorite spot to fish that was more economical. So one day at work (Austin Canoe and Kayak), I’m browsing through some of our laminated aerial photo card maps and see one for the “Port O’Connor Paddling Trail”. This is about a 12-mile paddle along the east side of Espirtu Bay through some barrier islands out to the campsite at Matagorda Island. “This I can do” I thought. I’ve done long paddles before, I have a map with GPS coordinates to guide me…I’m going to do this.

I set about quickly making packing lists and trying to find someone to accompany me for the weekend. Apparently many of my peers don’t have the same flair for last minute, untested, long paddles across ocean bays that I do, and I was unable to find anyone willing to commit their weekend to what in my mind would be a challenging adventure. So it looked like I’d be going this one alone. As the day grew nearer I was studying my route more I realized that it was possible to put in at Charlie’s Bait camp, about halfway along the coast between Port O’Connor and Seadrift, and there was a straight shot to my destination across open water that was only 7 miles paddling distance. As I was leaving straight after work on Friday and had a 4-hour drive down to the coast, I wouldn’t be entering the water until between midnight and 1 o’clock in the morning. With this in mind the shorter paddle began to look more appealing even though it was across open water. The weather reports said that the wind should have been less than 20 mph, so I figured the swells wouldn’t be too bad. I knew that I was entering a bit of a hazardous trip when I started out and thought I had done most things I needed to prepare myself. I had my cell phone and GPS unit, with all points already plotted, in a Pelican 1060 dry box. In hindsight I think I would of preferred to have them in a waterproof soft case like an Aquapac so that I could of manipulated the buttons without taking it out of the case and risking getting it wet. I had my Scotty 360 light, as well as a Princeton Tec Fuel Headlamp. I also had all of my clothes and sleeping bags packed into an assortment of dry bags. I, of course, also had my whistle and PFD which are required by law. My last little trick for signaling in an emergency situation is something I learned about from my time in the Marine Corps that we called a “buzzsaw.” You take a chemical light stick and tie a 3 foot piece of string to it and after it is activated you spin it around over your head to signal a rescue team, it’s very effective for aerial spotting.

I started out about 12:30 at night as intended and the wind was blowing a little bit harder than I had expected but it wasn’t too cold and I wasn’t real concerned. I had a borrowed Tarpon 160 that I was paddling for the first time and was about 2.5 miles in and getting out into the center of the bay when the wind started to really pick up and the swells were getting bigger. I was having a really hard time staying on course with the wind and was tiring out much quicker than I had anticipated. I’m in pretty decent shape and have done some long days of paddling before so I was surprised how quickly these types of conditions were wearing me out. My progress began to slow even more and I noticed that I now had standing water past the scupper holes in the foot well of the kayak. This had me more than a little concerned so I opened up the center hatch and looked down to the horror of seeing the kayak filled over halfway with water. I knew enough to recognize that I was in serious trouble at this point. Between the waves and the wind which was now gusting probably 35+ I knew if I got turned sideways and got just a little squirrelly I would be rolling over. I grabbed a water bottle and cut the top off of it to use as a bailing cup. My problem was that I had to alternate between scooping out a few cupfuls of water and then paddling again quickly to straighten out. A combination of this routine and stress began to really take its toll on me and I wasn’t making any progress at this point. Over the next two hours I only made about 2 miles headway, as I had to repeat the bailing process several times as I continued to take on water. I was still about 3 miles from my destination when I realized I just wasn’t in a condition to make it and I needed to figure out something different. I looked on my GPS for the closest land and luckily it was about 1.5 miles and in the direction the wind was trying to blow me. I limped in that direction completely exhausted and finally managed to literally wash ashore like a piece of driftwood somewhere along the barrier island for Pringle Lake. At this point I was soaked and most likely in stage 1 or 2 hypothermia. I grabbed my dry bag with my sleeping bag in it and got up above the tide line and stripped down to nothing and crawled into my sleeping bag to warm up. I probably passed out for an hour or so. Let me tell you what a relief and comfort it is to have the assurance that you have a dry place to sleep and dry clothes to put on after being cold and wet.

I woke up feeling much better, put on some dry pants and pulled my kayak up farther from the water. I have a Crestone 2, two man backpacking tent which I can luckily put up in about 5 minutes, which I did, tied my kayak to it in case the tide came up and then crashed inside of it again.

I awoke the next morning no worse for the wear, luckily my kayak hadn’t tried to float away and it was a beautiful morning. I was alive so that means it was time to go fishing ! I still had about a 4 mile straight shot, 6 or so paddling miles to the slip at Matagorda so I didn’t fish as much in Pringle lake as I would of liked. The water clarity there was great and I was able to paddle up on quite a few reds in shallow water. I had several follows on a Spook Jr all the way up to the kayak and a few blow-ups. I brought in 2 or 3 undersized reds but nothing else. I did see more stingrays around there than I’ve ever seen in one area before so if you’re a wader watch out. I was relieved to FINALLY make it to Matagorda! There were a couple of sailboats in the slip and a group of 3 guys camping there. After setting up camp, I saw they had quite a few fishing poles in their camp so I wandered over to see if they’d had any luck. They’d had none at all other than 1 or 2 undersized the whole weekend. The tide was higher than normal, but I think the main problem was the water clarity it was just dirty. Not only that, but way to much floating grass all over, and that’s a pain with any type of lure. I tried for the rest of the evening with everything I had, top waters, spoons, soft plastics, cut bait on the bottom, live bait under a popping cork…nada! I was regretting not spending longer in Pringle sight casting to reds.

Mosquitoes were bad as usual, but not as bad as I’ve seen them sometimes in the past. I brought along a Thermacell and it was the first time I’ve had a chance to use it, and wow, it worked great. If I walked outside of my little area of protection I got slammed by mosquitoes but around my little area there was never more than one mosquito buzzing around. I had brought a little bit of food and busted out my little Bugaboo cooking set and my MSR Whisperlite stove which really puts out a hot flame from such a little package and fired up a little dinner for myself. After a little warm food in my stomach it was time to hit the sack for the night.

I was still pretty tired and slept later than I had intended the next morning and didn’t get back out onto the water till about 9:00. The water was still really dirty and I didn’t have much luck for the first hour. I have rarely been skunked fishing along the channel that runs into the slip there for trout but I was having no luck. I headed to a little shallower area mostly sandy with a little bit of grass patches when I noticed quite a bit of bait working in the distance. I had a Norton bull minnow on one rod and a live mullet under a popping cork on the other. I cast the live bait over and the bait continued to boil on the surface and was surprised I wasn’t getting any hits on it. I got a few little bites on my plastic but no sets. More and more patches of bait started getting run to the surface all around me so I switched over to my trusty spook junior and that was the ticket. I immediately began getting blow-ups on it, and would stop reeling do the little “wounded twitch” and bam! Fish on! It probably pulled in a couple dozen mixed of undersized reds and trout. I had gotten out of my kayak at this point and was just standing in a sandy patch when I look down and there are probably 5 or 6 reds swimming around me. I couldn’t believe it. I reeled in and was thinking to myself surely they are going to spook at any second…I was able to actually just put my pole out and jig the top water across for about 2 seconds and got to watch one of the reds rocket up to the top of the water and snag it. It was a pretty awesome experience. It was getting later and I knew I had a long paddle back so much to my chagrin, right in the middle of the bite, I had to pack it back to the campsite. I did end up with 4 keeper trout, but I’m pretty sure I could of gotten my limit had I stayed. Surprising side note, I never got even a nibble on the live bait which was kicking the whole time I was out there and it was continuously surrounded by bait hitting the water…any thoughts on that? The guys at the other camp were also packing up and had a boat chartered to come pick them up. I was about loaded up myself when their ride arrived and took them away, they hadn’t made it very far when they turned around and came back…I had assumed they forgot something but much to my surprise they came back for me! They generously offered to give me a ride back to Port O’Connor! I was thrilled to not have to paddle my way back across that after my experience two days before. I have to give Captain Bob there in Port O’Connor many points for his generosity for the ride and he even had his wife load me up in her truck and drive me down to Charlie’s after we got back! Its nice to know there are still people in the world who show random acts of kindness to strangers.

Ok. So time for some lessons learned….

1. If you’re doing a long paddle trip or headed away from shore in an unknown kayak check it out first. The leak ended up being from a botched front hatch, which I would of figured out had I done a good inspection or done a water test on it before I had set out.
2. I had waterproof gear and didn’t wear it…after you get wet it’s hard to stay warm…
3. Don’t go alone
4. Wind can come up at any time and it’s usually going to blow in a direction you don’t want it to.
5. If you haven’t done something before, doing it at night probably isn’t the best idea.
6. Get a kayak with a rudder if you’re going to be paddling long distances in the wind.

If nothing else hopefully my story helps you think a bit longer before setting off on a trip of your own. I’m glad I did the trip and encourage other people to try expeditions that push the limits a little bit. Just take the time to do it correctly and safely!

Camping and Kayaking – Part 3

Rain, rain and more rain. The April showers are 6 months late here in Austin, but well received. Hoping for a small break in the rain at the end of the month for a Camping/Climbing trip in Oklahoma so I can test out some of our new gear. Check here in early November for details from that trip. Here we go with Part 3 of Camping and Kayaking, the final segment of this series…for now.

Stove/Cook Set: Keep the kitchen simple and compact and you’ll find that you spend a lot less time cooking and more time enjoy the scenery and your family and friends. An all in one system like the MSR Reactor Stove System is great for quickly boiling water. You’ll find a plethora of dry foods out there that only require water and taste great…mmm freeze dried ice cream sandwiches- they’re good, I swear. So if your camp site doesn’t have a grill or allow open flames or you don’t feel like carting prime rib along, try one of these. You’ll be surprised. If you want a little more versatility but still want to stay simple look at something like the Whisper Lite Internationale Stove (lets you burn white gas, diesel, or unleaded) and a cook set like the GSI Bugaboo Camper Cook Set. Of course if space isn’t as issue, go all out with the real stuff and use the Pioneer Enamelware Camp Set…I still have a set of this from Boy Scouts, it lasts forever.

Dry Bags/Dry Boxes: There are probably a thousand different choices for keeping your gear dry. One thing is for sure, a Ziploc baggy and garbage sack are a disaster waiting to happen. If you value your gear, especially electronics, invest in a couple of dry bags. There are ones that are specific to electronics like SealLine Waterproof Electronics Cases and others that are more universal like the Baja Bags and Tuff Sacks. Dry Bags also work excellent for organizational purposes. Several smaller Dry Bags in different colors can help you keep your gear organized in your pack or kayak as well make it easy to sort out when you get to camp. There are various versions of Dry Bags like the See Bags that are made with clear or opaque materials that allow you to see what is in them without having to dig around or empty them. In some cases the materials that make up the clear or opaque Dry Bags is lighter duty so check the specs on these and make sure they are suitable for your situation.

Kayak Cart: I know this is not necessarily what you would consider camping gear, but I like to think on them as wheelbarrows. For those camp sites that are 100-300 yards away you load your yak on a kayak cart, pile on all your gear and wheel it out to the site- voila – one trip.

I know some or all of you are going to come up with items that I overlooked on this list or that you may think are more important, and that’s great, because my biggest goal here is to get you thinking about how easy it is to take your kayak camping with you, or your camping kayaking with you. Comments are always welcome and encouraged or you can send an email to