Tag Archives: fuel

Saving Time with a Bushwalking "Thermos"

Ever wished you didn’t have to light your stove in the morning just to make a hot drink? Ever had hot water left over after your evening meal that you have wasted? Does you cup serve more than one function? When its raining, have you ever wished you didn’t have to go outside your tent to light your stove?  Ever wanted to sleep in for another fifteen minutes but didn’t have the time? Like to pack your tent in a leisurely fashion without worrying about your tea/coffee getting cold? Save time with an insulated vacuum  flask and add very little extra weight.

Zojirushi Tuff Slim Stainless Steel Vacuum Bottle

The solution to all these problems is a “lightweight” stainless steel vacuum insulated flask which can be pre-heated and filled with hot water the previous night and will still be warm the next morning. With a wide-mouthed flask you can soak your dehydrated food in hot water during the day and have it ready for dinner or have hot porridge for breakfast. No longer do you need to get up fifteen minutes earlier to light your stove just to boil one or two cups of water, and then wait for it to cool down before you can pack it away.

Intuitively a “thermos” would seem like an additional, unnecessary piece of equipment to take on a bushwalk,  but is it really? It can replace your mug (135 g) and maybe one of your smaller water bottles (100g), so it is not all added weight.  Some fuel can be saved each morning, which would otherwise have been wasted heating the stove and billy and your valuable “sleep-in” time increased. If you are using a wood campfire then the time saving is even greater. Get cold feet at night, then here is you solution?

Heat Retention

Use a spare sock or stubby holder to increase insulation and reduce heat loss. On a cold night use it as a foot warmer in your sleeping bag. With these tricks and pre-heating, I have managed to maintain coffee at the standard McDonald’s temperature of 60°C for over 12 hours. This is a little cooler than usual coffee connoisseur’s range 155ºF/70ºC – 175ºF/80ºC but its OK for the bush. Unfortunately, smaller flasks cool more quickly than large, so most bushwalkers are starting with a size handicap. The easy pour lids that allow you to pour by pressing a button or lifting a tab seem to lose heat faster so try to avoid these and instead select one with a screw top. Take the claims on the flask boxes and their websites with a “grain of salt” as many have been proven to be grossly inaccurate. If you have the opportunity to compare flasks and don’t have a thermometer, touch the outside; the one that is hotter will cool the fastest.

Well regarded brands include:

  • Sigg Thermo Trend (.3L, .7L, 1.0L) which will supposed keep water hot for 14 hours
  • Thermos Thermax Light and Compact (0.47L/325g, 0.75ml/475g, 12hrs) They also have Thermos TherMax Ultimate Flask 0.5L Graphite at 310g which is supposed to keep hot for 24 hours.
  • Aladdin (apparently has won some comparison tests, but many have had trouble with under performance with the 1L Stanley model)
  • Zojirushi Tuff-Slim (0.5L/450g) 167°F/75°C @ 6 hrs. / 117°F/50°C @ 24 hrs. Rating is based on water at a starting temperature of 203°F (95°C) at a room temperature of 68°F (20°C). Zojirushi have been specialist vacuum flask manufacturers for ninety years.

    They also make the 12 oz (0.35L) Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug (SM-CTE35) with built in Tea Strainer. A great idea for Chai tea or if you don’t like tea bags.

Amazon.com Product Description

This Zojirushi Stainless Mug comes with a tea strainer that allows you to brew fresh tea right before drinking. It features vacuum insulation to keep beverages hot or cold for hours, nonstick interior for easy cleaning, 2-inch wide mouth (easily accommodating ice cubes), detachable and easy-to-clean tea strainer with handle, and a secret compartment on lid for tealeaves and teabags. The screw-tight lid provides better heat retention compared to commuter mugs, and prevents leaks. The body can be washed under running water, but the bottle should not be soaked in water. It’s backed by a 5-year warranty for heat retention. 

      Wide-mouthed flasks
      You might like to consider getting a wide-mouthed flask which is more versatile, easier to eat from and clean, but is less well insulated and slightly heavier. Good examples come from Zojirushi eg the Tuff-Mug SM-AFE35 (12oz/0.35L/450g wide-mouthed (5cm) thermo,  which can keep water at 181F (81°C) for 1 hour or 140F (60°C) for 6 hours). Rating is based on water at a starting temperature of 203°F (95°C) at a room temperature of 68°F (20°C) The Tuff-Mug has room for storage of a teabag and a non-stick interior for easier cleaning. Some mention that wide-mouthed flasks are more difficult to drink from and that you may need a cup too, but in the bush this is a luxury most will do without.

      Zojirushi Stainless Steel Tuff Travel Mug

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      Campfire or Stove?

      Should you ever burn firewood? Is it OK to use firewood for a cooking fire? How do you maximize the weight savings by using a wood fire? How should you establish your fire to minimize the amount of firewood needed? When can I use a campfire? What should I do to minimize the risk of a bushfire?

      The last time I used a campfire for cooking was about 20 years ago. Since then I have used a succession of stoves such a Bluet gas, Trangia, and MSR Whisperlite, so it was not without some deep thought that I used a wood fire again, this time in the Vulkathunha-Gammons NP.

      Why make the change back to a bygone era?

      Well the main reason was the weight saving (0.8 -1.0 kg) by not needing a stove and fuel bottle, the remoteness of the campsites and the ready availability of firewood which made it forgivable in my mind. The Gammons is an arid region and as such tree growth is very slow, but creek beds abound with firewood deposited in the last flood and while some may argue that this debris is the home of many animals, I doubt that our group’s impact was significant. That is not to say that in some more accessible locations, such as Mambray Creek in the lower Flinders Ranges our actions would be an environmental crime.

      Is it ever OK to burn firewood?

      Well what are the alternatives? Shellite (white gas), methylated spirits, butane/propane gas. Are these fuels any better than using firewood? Are they fossil fuels? Do they pollute the atmosphere? How much CO2 was released in the mining process to produce the metal needed to make the stove and fuel bottle? What about the energy requirement of extracting, refining and transporting the fuel? Do they use scarce food resources to make fuel? Isn’t wood renewable? Are we depriving animals of their homes when we burn firewood? The decision is not clear cut and ultimately must depend on your personal perspective. Certainly there is a level of camaraderie around a campfire that can never be achieved sitting around a Trangia.

      Minimising the use of wood.

      If you are going to have a campfire keep its fuel consumption to a minimum, burning only enough wood for essential cooking and to provide optimal light and heat. Judge how much wood you will need until bedtime and don’t build up the fire late in the evening, so that there are flames after you have gone to bed. Try to suspend cooking utensils above the flames to minimise cooking times and don’t heat more water than you will need. Use rocks to shield the fire from the wind and start the fire in a pit so the coals can safely be buried before retiring.

      Reducing the risk of starting a bushfire

      Use a moderate size fire so sparks don’t blow on to tents or into the bush. Put out your fire with water before retiring and then bury the extinguished coals. Leave your fire pit so that it is not obvious there has been a recent campfire. Don’t have a breakfast fire, instead storing a hot drink in your Thermos overnight, to reduce the need for fuel and save time. Only light a fire outside the bushfire season and as advised by NPWS.

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      How to eat well with little effort, saving weight and time.


      I have always admired those walkers who are so devoted to their food that they will spend 15 minutes carefully preparing their meal from the basic ingredients and then another 15 mins slowly simmering in a pot producing mouth watering aromas for all those around to enjoy. Afterwards they spend another 15 minutes washing and cleaning their utensils, with their tiny squares of ScotchBrite, surely the most unhygienic thing in their packs.

      They provide me with endless entertainment around the campfire, for which I am very appreciative. Despite this, I occasionally feel sorry for the “gourmets” when it starts to rain and they are still preparing their meal or cleaning up, while I have finished and can head back to my tent.

      I frequently recount the tale of one walker who I saw make a pizza in his Trangia pan, beginning with the flour and yeast, kneading to a dough, letting it rise and then adding  the finely sliced vegetables and sausage to the tomato paste base, before baking slowly in his covered frying pan.  Luckily the weather was fine and warm and we got into camp early!

      I’m afraid I don’t have the patience. Meal time is not high on my priority list. In fact, I  go to great lengths to reduce the time spent preparing a meal and the cleaning up afterwards.

      What could be simpler than boiling some water and adding it to a packet?

      Over the years I have gradually become minimalist. Rather than preparing a dessert, I usually have a twin serve of the main course and then perhaps some chocolate, if I want something sweet, followed by a hot drink. I simply add the water to my dehydrated meal, leave it to stand for 10 mins with a stir midway, and eat it out of the packet with my single eating utensil…. my spoon. No plates or bowls to wash and only a spoon to lick and a foil packet to roll up! I have even given up milk and sugar in my tea, so I have less to carry. Its amazing what you can do without and not miss!

      I have recently started to boil extra water with my evening meal and keep it in a small insulated flask (Thermos) overnight, inside my sleeping bag, which saves me having to light my stove in the morning and conserves both my time and a little fuel. Sure it cools down a little, but it still is about as hot in the morning as my espresso coffee would be. Preheating helps a little. It weighs a little more than a standard water bottle, but is a lifesaver when its wet and you can’t get out of your tent to light the stove.

      What is the ideal stove for boiling 1.5L of water quickly?

      Quick boiling white spirits stove

       While my companions around the campfire laugh at my noisy MSR Whisperlite with its dramatic pre-ignition flames, they are amazed at the speed that its super hot flame can boil a litre of water. Along with its compact size and low weight, it burns Shellite (white spirits) which is very efficient, using about half the amount of methylated spirits you would need with a Trangia. Fuel efficiency means less weight to carry, something I value highly. In addition to the stove I take a single MSR titanium 1.25 L bowl with lid, inside which the stove, my lighter and grippers all fit inside. That leaves the fuel bottle, the size of which I select depending on the length of the trip and the number of people sharing the stove and my MSR maintenance and spares kit. I know what your saying…. my Trangia doesn’t need a maintenance kit!

      Breakfast well that’s easy. A couple of substantial health food bars from the health food section of the supermarket, not those foil wrapped sickly sweet mini- breakfast bars that come by the “dozen” in cardboard boxes

      I used to prepare snaplock bags of pre-weighed muesli with powdered milk premixed to which I had to just add hot water and then eat out of the bag. But why, when for less effort, I could eat an equally nutritious muesli bar pre-packaged in a waterproof packet, inside my tent, without the need to light my stove. I usually start eating breakfast while still in my sleeping bag.

      Lunch: foil packet of flavoured tuna, half a block of hard strongly flavoured parmesan cheese, some dry biscuits, a couple of mini- metwursts and some dried fruit and nuts. High energy food, which can survive warm temperatures. Hardly what the doctor ordered!

      On arrival in camp, perhaps a hot drink with some Sustagen, and a few snakes, M&Ms and jelly babies, which are guaranteed to put some energy back in most people.

      To which camp do you belong?  The “minimalists” or the “gourmets”or somewhere in between?


      Cartridge vs Liquid Fuel Stoves
      Ethanol vs shellite vs gas: Tony’s Bushwalking Blog
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      How much fuel do I need?

      Going on a long walk soon?

      Want to save some weight?

      Which stove are you going to choose?

      Over the years I have changed from predominantly using a campfire, to gas canisters, to a Trangia and then to a MSR Whisperlite. I  did this initially in response to Park regulations which changed to ban wood fires in the 90’s.

      I found that for overnight walks or even extended walks up to a few days that gas stoves were great, but then I started walking in Tasmania and realised that gas stoves sometimes don’t work well in very cold conditions. Over 10 days, the  volume of the gas canisters became a significant factor and my conservation principles made the throw-away canisters unacceptable.

      Trangia’s are great, low cost, low noise, environmentally friendly but they are a little bulky and the fuel being less efficient than Shellite (white spirits) requires much more to be carried for the same heat output.They are relatively slow to heat large volumes of water as required when melting snow. They have the advantage that they simmer well, so if you like preparing complex meals they are great. I don’t.

      So I changed to an MSR Whisperlite, which has the advantage of being compact, fuel efficient and very quick to boil water. You can share one with a tent mate and if you adapt your menu so that boiling water is their main task they are ideal. Of course you will get a ribbing from your friends as they sound like a jet taking off and the pre-ignition flames are always sure to bring a gasp. At times they block due to soot or contaminated fuel but it only takes a few minutes to unblock them and if you remember to shake regularly, the built in “pricker” should keep the fuel flowing freely. Another advantage for overseas travel is that they are multi-fueled and will run on kero, diesel etc providing you use the correct jet (supplied).

      Here are some factors you need to consider:

      • cost
      • weight and size of stove
      • efficiency of the fuel
      • effectiveness in cold windy conditions
      • time to get started and difficulty of priming
      • time to boil water
      • availability of fuel
      Seems complicated, well it is. Check out this FAQ link
      Want to save both time and fuel?
      • Boil enough additional water to fill an insulated (thermos) flask the night before and keep it in your sleeping bag overnight. In the morning it will still be hot enough to make a cup of tea and you will save the additional fuel needed to prime your stove.
      • Always use a wind shield, which can be bought cheaply at the local hardware shop, where it masquerades as aluminium flashing for rooves.

      Want to know more?

      Check out this video.


      Fuel Efficiency
      Zen Backpacking Stoves

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          This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.