Introduction: UL Backpacking Kitchen

As much as I love backpacking in the winter, it sure is heavy. With spring nigh, let's shed some of the weight in the pack by putting together an ultralight kitchen. This is my kitchen. You make your own. But do make it your own by including other things and removing things. When you do, tell us about it.

Everybody and their uncle has made a penny stove at some point. Heck, I have half a dozen laying around I made for the sake of practice. I've never bothered to field test them, though. I looked at them as a novelty, more than anything. That was then.

Recently, my fiance and I went on an overnight winter backpacking trip to Harriman State Park near the border between New York and northern New Jersey. I was sure to pack my Primus Express stove and a 4 oz. fuel canister, usually more than enough for us for this kind of trip. I also knew that there would be plenty of firewood, and because we were going to stay at a lean-to, we would have a fire pit.

While I was packing, I noticed my homemade penny stove. Why not bring it?

My fiance and I get to the lean-to, set up, gathered some wood, and got going on dinner. I set up the Primus and got some water boiling for our freezer bag 'Curry TVP with couscous' that we would enjoy with our homemade roti, an Indian flat bread. After dinner, I went to boil more water for some tea... Nothing. The canister was out of fuel. I don't know if I'd grabbed a used canister, or if the cold (as it will) affected the performance of the stove -- or most likely a combination of the two.

I couldn't have cooked on the fire as my little pot would likely have melted into a useless lump. Well, time to try the penny stove. I set it up, put a lighter to it, and voila! After setting up the windscreen I had two cups of water boiling in about seven minutes. And I tell you all three times, that water was cold, probably less than 40* F. I'd also find that the system can be used to burn different fuels, like wood and Esbit tabs.

I'm not here to show you how to make a penny stove. That's all over the place. I am here to share my UL backpacking kitchen kit.

Also know that I am a cheapskate. If I can make it, I will. And if I can use stuff I find in the trash? Even better. Towards that end, You'll note that I try and use repurposed items when I want to.

First, its constituent parts:

  • The burner (I call it this because that's all it is, alone. The system makes it a stove)
  • Pennies (with backups)
  • Inner windscreen
  • Pot stand
  • Outer windscreen
  • Pot/bowl
  • Pot handle
  • Lighter
  • Water purification
  • Water vessel
  • Fuel bottle and fuel
  • Insulated cup
  • Spoon
  • Knife
  • Soap
  • Towel
  • Stuff sack

It takes up a bit more space than a roll of toilet paper, and weighs just 1.6 pounds, including two ounces of HEET.

Step 1: The Stove

My stove actually has two windscreens. One is to protect the burner from wind, the other is to conserve heat. I want to protect the burner from wind, in particular, because the fuel that we're using, HEET, has to stay above its boiling point to allow the evaporate to escape the jets and stay lit. If it's exposed, it may go out in cooler temps. One of the screens is a chicken can (12.5 oz size) with holes drilled in the bottom to allow for some airflow. The outer windscreen is a cheap ebay find - $6.49 shipped.

You'll also need about a foot of galvanized wire mesh for the pot stand. Get it from your local hardware store. If you don't have any around, get some tin snips while you're there to cut the mesh. Measure the inside circumference of the can to determine the length of the piece of mesh you'll need. When cutting the mesh, make sure you leave the ends exposed -- you'll need them to wrap them around the other end when you make the pot stand.

So, the stove, all tolled, cost me about $7.50, fuel included. I found everything else. Actually, it was an experiment; I wanted to see if I could find the stuff and make a stove outside. It was successful. I just had to get that windscreen, though. I have a stiff, flexible foil-style windscreen, but it's not very convenient. This thing just snaps open.

Step 2: The Pot and Handle

The pot I use for two holds a good 20 oz, and is suitable for freezer bag cooking. I bought a set of six nesting stainless steel pots at the dollar store (for $6.) One of them is in the image, with the pot handle attached. That's the reason I so like it; it attaches to my pots. Most don't, though you can hack it. See the thing with red duct tape? It's a koozie I made for the freezer bag that has the food. Because it was hovering around thirty at the time, the food would have gotten cold in the ten or so minutes it needs to hydrate. At this point, I still had canister fuel. I suppose I could add the koozie as part of my kitchen, but only during the winter, really. I often eat out of the pot.

Step 3: Insulated Cup

I made my cup from an Arizona Tea bottle (I like the apple juice, but this one was probably from the mango drink) which I cut down, and then ran a lighter around the edge to remove any sharps. As you can see, it fits perfectly inside a can koozie. I'm still looking for a neoprene koozie made for tall-boy cans, then I could get a lot more insulated volume. But this holds about twelve ounces, good enough for my morning cuppa(s.)

Also, you can turn the cup over and make a little 'safe' for your electronics or headlamp to keep them from getting switched on. Not waterproof, but damned near.

Arizona Tea in the 20 oz bottle costs $1, or, you can liberate one from the trash/street if you dare. I daren't. I'll spend the buck.

Step 4: Utensils

I seldom find use for a fork, mostly eating freezer bag meals or things with my hands. Occasionally I'll need a nice, sharp little knife for opening stuff or cleaning fish. This little guy is sharp. And weighs nearly nothing. Spoons are free. We're done, here.

Step 5: Water

Potable water is absolutely necessary for survival. When hot, it makes food and coffee taste better. Cold, it provides a medium perfect for Tang instant breakfast drink. This system will make 1,000,000 potable gallons of water. One thing you want to avoid having to do is use fuel to make potable water. Filtration helps that. Along those lines, avoid letting water freeze while winter backpacking. Again, we want our fuel to make hot water to enjoy, not simply survive.

Never let your filter freeze.

I bring an extra cap for the bladder -- it takes standard water/soda bottle caps. This filter also has threads on the inflow side to attach standard liter bottles. Good in case the bladder is compromised.

Step 6: Hygiene and Sanitation

Water isn't your only concern for developing a case of an involuntary, explosive, three-hole blowout. What's that? Oh, sorry. It's the term for when you have bodily fluids flowing unchecked out of any three holes. Typically it's anus, mouth and nose. I digress...

Washing your hands and anything that touches your mouth will decrease the likelihood of it happening to you.

The little squeezie bottle held hand sanitizer at once, now it's Dr Bronners. Just a little microfiber towel I got at an automotive store, when I was buying HEET.

Step 7: All Together, Now...

As you can see, this kitchen system has pretty much everything a budding backcountry cook might need to 'rough it,' but without the weight of the kitchen sink.

Thanks for the view. If you learned anything, thanks for the fave, thanks for the vote. More than anything, thanks for helping make a great forum to let me share a passion.

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