Gear: Collapsible Cookware by Sea to Summit

This week in my Thursday Tuck & Tech post (where I’m making an inventory of the gear I use or would like to add to my collection) I’m looking at some of my essentially un-cast iron cookware.

…because apparently cast iron is too heavy to haul up onto a mountain on a four day backpacking trip.

Yet, we still gots-to-cook.

When I was in the Scouts in my youth our troop spent many weekends in the woods. Looking back we ate incredibly simply: oatmeal, sandwiches, hot dogs, and other things that could be boiled or suspended from a stick over a fire.

We had some go-to cookware that was worn and battered by years of use. It was a nesting-doll set of thin steel pots and pans that all wrapped up neatly into a pack a little smaller than a football, tucked into a mesh bag, and rattled around from the backs our packs as we hiked in and out. They were light(ish) and a simple way to get things cooked outdoors.

So, naturally, when I moved out and started buying my own camping gear, decades ago now, one of the first things added to my collection was that identical set of steel pots and pans. You go with what you know. And they followed me up more than one mountain in my twenties.

But they were pretty simple and underwhelming as far as modern backpacking technology.

We’ve since ramped up our adventure gear game and invested in a collection of much lighter, much more compact cooking pot… and matching cups, bowls, plates, and a pretty slick collapsible coffee strainer (which I’ll likely be writing about at a later date!)

This set has followed us up on a couple of long multi-day hikes. The pandemic put a cramp on our plans for 2020, but in the couple years since we built this collection I’ve had enough practice with it to give an honest evaluation.

The silicon design has a weight that is competitive with any metal pan, and while they’re not cheap, they’re not titanium-expensive either.

Our firefly stove was able to boil up a pot of cold filtered stream water in less than ten minutes (good heat retention!) though with the silicon sides not being flame friendly, I couldn’t run the stove at full blast else risk some side flames creeping up past the metal bottom plate.

One of the negatives is that it would have been nice to pick these up as a complete set instead of piece-by-piecing our set together (from three different camping shops.) Now that our set is relatively complete that was really a small thing that I won’t need to do again. I write that only because we opted not to buy the frying pan (which I assume would likely have been part of said set) as our go-to meals on multi-day hikes tend to be rehydrated food. A pot of boiled water and some bowls serve for nearly all our adventure meals. Yet, a reliable frying pan could probably inspire some backpacking-friendly ideas in those meal plans… especially for the cast iron guy.

Overall, this set can’t compare to camping with a cast iron dutch oven, but my back routinely thanks me for the lighter approach to our adventure cooking.

Note: this is a piece of gear that I have purchased privately and that I’ve owned for long enough to offer an opinion about. This post is not an endorsement (at least, it’s not a paid one.)

Overnight on Public Lands

The province where I live currently has over eleven thousand square kilometres of public lands that are available for a variety of recreational activities, including cross-country skiing, backpacking, and overnight camping.

Sadly, much of that land is at least three or four hours of driving away… so nothing is close enough for a quick weekend getaway, at least not without some substantial planning.

With everyone sticking closer to home due to lingering travel restrictions, it seems like a lot of the so-called official campsites are (like last year) likely to be booked up quickly by the RV crowd. We enjoy our share of backpacking, though, and it seems like it might be the summer to jump with both feet into the backcountry, random, boondocking-style of camping and see where that takes us.

I thought it would be useful for both my readers, and my future self, to write a post where I compile some resources and thoughts on the topic.

Resources

Public Land Use (an Overview for Alberta, Canada) is the official government website detailing many of the places, rules, and parameters of those who choose to stray from the well-travelled path and forge their own adventure.

Alberta Parks Random Backcountry Camping is a guide from another branch of the government with some more plain language guides, rules, and hints for where and how to camp outside of designated campsites.

Beginners Guide to Public Land Camping is an adventure blog where they have already done some resource gathering for this topic. I’m not necessarily saying go there and check their list first … but I did.

How to Camp Respectfully is another blog-like site with a great run down of how to get away from everyone else who is trying to get away from it all and find some backcountry camping solitude with respect for the land.

I'll continue to add-to and update this post as I do more research on the topic.

Backpacking: Lakeside Cookout

Thirty seconds after I took this photo, I took a second version using the panorama picture mode on my iPhone. That second photo is the desktop wallpaper on my computer monitor as I started writing this post.

For whatever one photo is worth:

In the summer of 2017 we trekked up the skirt of Mount Robson (pictured) to camp for four nights in the woods beside Berg Lake (also pictured). Four adults, two kids, and all the appropriate gear to sleep, cook, and enjoy a backpacking adventure in the Canadian wilderness.

The glacial lake, named for the ice berg patiently crumbling into it, pulled a brisk wind across its barely-thawed waters. The wind could shift, and did multiple times per day while we were visiting, and bring brilliantly clear skies or creeping clouds, or even a soaking rain that left us running for shelter and drying out our gear for hours afterwards.

One particular evening the wind stopped for long enough for someone to suggest that instead of cooking in the sheltered safety of our campsite, that hauling our cooking gear and food the hundred meters or so from the campsite down to the beach was a feasible idea.

A trio of roughly-milled log benches made for hacky seating and smallish tables for our kerosene stoves, and an unusually beautiful place to boil the water to rehydrate our dinner.

As we sat beside the lake. Watched the kids throw rocks. Traced the flights of the birds swooping nearby. Listened for the distinctive crack of a bit of ice escaping the glacier across the water.

We boiled our creek-filtered water and broke the silence of the mountain valley with the jet engine roar of our cooking tools, scarfed our dinners, and by the time we had dropped our empty bowls back to the bench the wind had shifted once again and the frozen air was sweeping off the lake to disturb our beach picnic.

In all we stole perhaps thirty minutes from the unpredictable weather to enjoy a rare and random experience, and all from an unplanned suggestion in the still of a peaceful moment.