During my last trip on the northern part of the Bohusleden I relied solely on the Caldera Cone wood burning stove.
I was quite anxious how it would work as in the past I was never able to correctly start a fire and keep it going.
I always produced a lot of smoke…
During the trip I always used wet wood as the environment had a lot of rain during the past 3 weeks and some of the current trip’s nights.
I carried methylated spirits as backup but never needed it. During the last days I even didn’t need the fire starting pads anymore and could come by with natural fire starter.
This was a great experience, as I managed to cook with my woodburning stove correctly.
Ok lets come to the facts.
- I use cotton batting with drops of wax on them. They are homemade from old Christmas candle stumps and cost nothing.
- Don’t use methylated spirits, it doesn’t burn long enough. Never achieved anything good with it.
- Collect anything you want but it must burn a while to get the fire started.
- Dry grass, fern or dandelion seeds don’t work that good. So combine them with real thin but very dry conifer branches (1-2mm).
- Birch bark. If dry it is great. If it is not dry, ditch it. I often read that wet birch bark catches fire very well and burns really great. This is not correct! Use thin birch bark. You get the best from dead birch trees which is almost as thick as human skin.
- Collect and dry natural tinder in your sleeping bag for the next day, as well as some sticks to light the fire easily.
Choosing the right wood:
- Always use dead wood!
- Choose broad-leafed tree wood in favor to conifer wood.
- Use dead wood that got caught up in trees and branches not the one on the ground.
- If you can’t find any good dead wood use the lower branches of conifer. They are mostly dead wood. If the branches don’t crack easily, leave them as they are, they are not yet dead!
- Use thin sticks for your wood burning stove: Thickest of the size of your small finger.
- Dry wood is the best if it is available… one of the worst tips here…
Preparing the wood:
- Remove the bark as it contains a lot of moisture while the core is mostly dry.
- Make short sticks you can easily push into the wood burning stove.
Make sure that your stove doesn’t scar the ground (Bushbuddy users look away :
- Take some thick branches and align them in a row, but in a way that air can still go through them. Put mud/soil on them. If they are completely dry make them and the soil wet (doesn’t necessarily mean to use your drinking water….) Then put the stove on top.
- If you need dry wood for the next day(or morning), take some branches you collected and put them on top of the big branches to form a grid. The heat from your pot will dry them out and they are good starting wood on the next day(or morning).
- Use a rock below… ok another greeeeaaat tip… but beware!!! Many rocks crack after they got too much heat, so keep your cooking short when cooking on a rock.
Preparing the stove:
- Put a full size metal pad below your stove. This is needed to ensure that your fire doesn’t suck in ground moisture. This happened to me on a rainy evening where I had the hell to do in order to keep the fire running. After I put the aluminium sheet below the stove it burned fine! (Caldera users: The delivered sheet from Traildesigns is too small, ditch it!)
- Align some sticks up around your stove so that they can dry up while you produce your first amber.
Starting the fire:
- Light your tinder and put it in the center of the stove. Put smaller sticks on it then bigger sticks, same procedure as with every fire.
- Put wet sticks on top of your stove while you create your main ember to dry them.
- When there is a good amount of ember put more sticks on it and put your pot on the stove. Leave some space between the sticks and your stove to ensure a good flow of air!
Keeping the fire burning:
- When the fire burnt down a bit, use the partly dry sticks you aligned around your stove.
- Use a tool to blow air in the fire to avoid tears from smoke and to ensure good breathing way out of the smoke clouds. Use the tube from your drinking system to sit comfortably and blow into the fire without being in the big smoke cloud. Perhaps a part of your hiking pole can work as tube, too?
One final note on Bushbuddy vs. Caldera: Bushbuddy ultra 144g Caldera cone 95g.
Enjoy your meal and campfire!
This post shall show some information about tarping. It is all from my personal point of view as solo tarp user. I try to use the tarp everywhere and push it out of its intended usage boundaries. It is meant for tarp beginners to get some information about tarp usage. I missed this information when I began and had to collect it from many sources.
Tarps are typically made of silnylon or cuben.
Silnylon stretches, when wet more than when it is dry. This can lead to the failure of a tarp due to sagging, if it stretches too much during heavy rain. But the stretch also offers some advantages. In wind it can move a bit, and it is easier to pitch. However these properties depend heavily on the material used, and there are a lot of bad silnylon fabrics out there. It will also soak the water and be, depending on the material, 1.5(in my case) times heavier when wet.
Cuben fiber doesn’t stretch. Therefore you need a perfectly manufactured tarp and you have to pitch it correctly. Otherwise you will get a less then ideal pitch. Although there is a common fear that Cuben doesn’t hold up, it usually does. Failure usually comes from bad reinforcements at the tie-outs. It also doesn’t soak water, so you will carry the same weight after rain.
There are two types of tie-outs. Many American manufacturers use a simple type of tie-out. They just fold over the edge and sew the tie-out on it. These tie-outs are not reinforced and don’t hold up. Here are some examples, the first one failed with the first use, the second one is still in use.
The second type of tie-out is usually longer and sewn onto a reinforcement patch. These hold up pretty good and are not known to fail.
The current image is not that good, would be great if someone could provide me a better image.
The amount of tie-outs on your tarp depend on your intended use. Usually tarps ship with 3 tie-outs on each side. This is not enough for proper wind handling. On a 2,7m side you should have 4-5 tie-outs. The force of the wind is distributed on the tie-outs. The more tie-outs you have the lower the force on each tie-out and stake. Another advantage is that there the panels of fabric get smaller and therefore the wind can’t catch that much fabric. I have given 4-5 because 4 are enough but with 5 you can choose to just stake out 3 of the 5 tie-outs.
The simplest shape is the rectangle. There are many, many, many different forms to pitch a rectangular tarp. Experimenting with this is a lot of fun. However if you have a lot of wind you need a really good pitch. The wind catches every fold and therefore there is much more stress on the fabric. And with a rectangular tarp you usually have some folds.
The best shape to save weight is a trapezoid shape. The foot part is smaller than the head part which saves a lot of material. However with this shape the pitching options get greatly reduced.
To get rid of spin-drift from the front and end there exist tarps which have beaks. Beaks are simple triangular pieces which add protection to the front and foot area. It is common to only have a beak to the front/head side because usually almost no rain finds it way through the foot side. A beak at the front side is very useful. Especially when you need to change your closes on a rainy morning this is a lot of space you will appreciate. But they are not necessary. The following image shows the big front beak of a hexamid clone:
Catenary cuts(catlines) reduce folds in the tarp and therefore increase wind stability. They resemble the shape of a hanging chain which is the same shape the material will have. Therefore the amount of material is reduced(lighter!) and the amount of folds is increased. But you have almost none pitching options with a catline tarp. You can pitch it higher or lower but always in the same style. But for serious wind usage you should go for a catline tarp. The following image shows the catline of a golite shangrila 2 which would fail without this catline.
There are 2-3 knots you need for pitching a tarp.
The first is the taut-line-hitch(Topsegelschotsteg in German).
This knot is adjustable and therefore used for guy-lines. However some guy-lines are very stiff and the knot will not hold with them. In that case you have to go back to line tensioners again.
You start with a loop:
Make a simple knot by wrapping the end around the loop.
Wrap it a second time.
Pull it over the loop.
Make a simple knot before the loop.
I also use this knot to secure the guy-lines while packing the tarp:
The second knot is the clove-hitch(Webleinsteg in German) which is used to secure the stakes.
You make a loop, while the line going to the right is below the line going to the left.
You make the same loop again, right of the last one.
Then you put the right loop above the left loop.
And pull on both ends to finish it.
The third knot is the simple knot you know, but in the quick-release version.
Make a simple knot.
Make a second knot, but pull a loop instead of the working end through the opening.
You can release it by pulling on the working end of the loop.
I usually use a combination of stakes. For shorter trips in forest areas I carry only titanium shepherd stakes at 6g per piece. For longer trips where I need a bigger security margin I also take 6 Y/V stakes for the front ant back tie-outs. But I have to admit that I didn’t yet need these 6 y/v stakes. Stones and bushes always helped me out. If you use these tiny shepherd stakes above treeline, you should place rocks on them so they don’t turn or get pulled out. If there are plants around you, use them! They are great stakes. I currently faced 3 different types of soil. Above treeline in Lapland I had very stony soil with small bushes. This was ideal as the stakes had great hold and I could secure them with stones or directly pitch to bushes. In Scotland I had no stony soil and the small stakes didn’t hold that well. There bushes and stones were my friends again. In mild climate forests I often have very soft soil in which the small stakes don’t hold. There I usually dig a bit until I come to the real ground(usually about 10cm). Then the stakes hold. If I have bigger issues I use some branches to get bigger stakes(but this is really rare).
There are many pitching options of a tarp, but I will only mention 3 here.
The Lean-To is a basic shape where one side is down and faces to the wind while the other is high to offer a lot of space. This pitch is possible with almost all kind of tarps, it is not restricted to rectangular tarps.
The pyramid is restricted to rectangular tarps. It is similar to the lean to, but the two outer sides are pulled down and only one pole is used in the center tie-out. With this shape you have got great protection from 3 sides and poor protection from one side. If the rain goes straight down you will have spin drift and need a bivy. But it is a side sleeper pitch which is very comfortable.
The A frame is my favorite shape. It is well fit for bad weather and offers good protection. You pull the long sides of your tarp to the ground, or above for more ventilation. You put your poles in the center tie-out of the foot and head side. The foot side should always be low and point towards the wind. This ensures well ventilation and almost reduces any condensation(if there is wind of course). I pitch the head as high as 1.1m in good weather. If the rain and wind gets stronger I adjust down to 0.9m or even lower. Adjustable trekking poles really play there strengths out here . With a silnylon tarp you can reduce the sagging by increasing the height with the trekking pole without the need to get out of the tarp and re-pitch it.
Guy-lines should be light and strong, but not stiff as you want to make knots. I use dyneema core surrounded by a polyester outer, with a strength of 2.5mm. The choice of guy-lines is very dependent on you personal style. They add up a lot to the weight of your tarp. You should always go for a good core material(spectra, dyneema) and a knot-able outer coating(polyester).
As for the length I use 1.2-1.5m(depending on tarp width/pitch height) for the side-guy-outs and 3m for the ridge guy outs.
As a tarp doesn’t have a floor you need a groundsheet to protect your stuff from the dirty and wet ground. Avoid using coated fabrics like common tent floor(90-120g PU Nylon) or even silnylon. They tent to get wet and store the water and on pressure points the water will get through, slowly.
Use a complete plastic material. Good choices are polycro and hard-tyvek(50g/m²). My current favorite is the tube you use for roasting meat(oven bag). This material is very resistant to abrasion, cheap, puncture resistant, light and fully waterproof. It weighs 21g/m². However it only comes at widths of 60cm, so you have to combine two tubes.
Bad choices are painters cover and trash bags as they don’t hold up.
It is quite common to use a bivy bag with a tarp. The bivy bag will protected you from mosquitoes, wind and spindrift. It is the “inner tent” of a tarp. It should not be water-proof-breathable but only water resistant, otherwise you will ruin your down sleeping bag. I still have to take a photo of my bivy bag
Some people still take a water-proof-breathable bivy bag for usage without a tarp. For me this is an emergency situation. For this case I prefer the usage of a VBL and the tarp. I put on the VBL and use the Tarp is waterproof bivy bag. With this method my sleeping bag stays dry and I’m perfectly secure.
Good bivy bags have a pertex or momentum outer and a waterproof bottom. Some people even leave the groundsheet at home if they use a bivy bag. I still like my groundsheet, as it protects the bivy, too.
Prejudices to clarify:
A tarp is lighter then a tent:
This is only partly true as that summary shows:
300g silnylon solo tarp(with sealed seams), cuben is lighter, but I compare to silnylon tents and not cuben tents.
72g(12*6) titanium stakes
55g ground sheet
200g bivy bag
74g (21m) guylines
This is a total of 701g for a solo setup. A light tent comes at ~820g, so you’ll save about 100g and have to adjust your comfort zone.
A tarp has less condensation:
This is totally true if you pitch correctly, but if you pitch your tarp wrong and it sags you will get condensation.
A tarp is not fitted for usage above treeline:
This depends on the amount and type of stakes, guying points, soil, the place where you pitch, how you pitch, the wind directions and the construction of your tarp. If you have some y stakes, stones on your stakes, soil, with stones, 5 guying points on each side of your tarp, a sheltered place, a lower/upper A frame as pitch, a catenary ridge line, a wind that comes mostly from one side, perfect reinforced construction of guying points, then just say: “Welcome hell, I’m prepared”.
Why I use tarps:
I use tarps, because I like them. Their open style put you directly in the elements you face. On my trips I don’t have condensation so my gear stays dry. I can adjust, when it rains I use the tarp, when it doesn’t rain, I use the bivy. When I’m in a shelter, I use the bivy. I can put the wet tarp and groundsheet away from the dry bivy, preferable in the outer pockets of my pack. And it is simply great to see the rain coming down in front of an awesome landscape just 30cm in front of your head and be perfectly sheltered
I think I have mentioned all the important stuff, however this article may get updated in the future. After the coming winter I will add another post about winter usage of a tarp.
For further information I strongly recommend reading Collin Ibbotsons article about tarps: http://www.andyhowell.info/Colin-Ibbotson/Colin-Talks-Tarps.pdf