Cooking and Water is how I’ve chosen to summarize everything involved in my drinking and eating needs while hiking (except for the food itself).
Water is always my first priority and I prefer to have a little more than I need rather than running out. Also, water supplies on the trail in Georgia can be notoriously fickle, as many creeks and springs are highly season. For this reason, I current carry the Platypus 4-Liter Water Tank which I slip into the hydration sleeve of my pack. The Platypus is a soft water bag that collapses depending on its current contents. For 6 ounces it provides a large sealable mouth, a drinking tube with bite valve and a sturdy handle that can be useful when toting large amounts of water back to camp. Though Platypus makes smaller models, I find the flexibility to carry from larger amounts of water a major plus if water sources are farther apart (or wholly absent) during a hike.
That brings me to filling that hydration bladder. I really do not like chemical treatments for water. I find them to be too slow, generally odd tasting (even those that claim not to be) and, of course, they do little for dirt and debris in your water. There are purifiers that use light and saline, but I found these unsatisfactory for similar reasons. Time and time again I found myself preferring pump filters. I don’t find the physical effort that difficult, you get water in minutes rather than hours and they remove biological threats as well as physical annoyances. With one exception (extremely virally contaminated water), I will always pick a pump over chemically treated water. My pump of choice is the Katadyn Hiker. Although there are some lighter brands and models, I’ve found this one takes a real beating and has never failed me in the field.
- Platypus 4 liter Hydration Bag w/Tube, 5oz, $18
- Katadyn Hiker Filter, 11oz, $60
Early on, I considered a water bottle such as the Katadyn Exstream XR Purifier with a filter built in but the volume they provide is minuscule and getting any more than a fraction of a liter at a time seemed tedious. Also, their low overall volume keeps you tethered to water sources or forces you to carry a “dirty” hydration bladder which seems redundant to the points of ludicrous.
Entirely by accident I came across the Sawyer line of products. They offer a very interesting product called an “Inline Water Filter”. This little device takes the standard pump filter technology and embeds it an inline casing that you put the drinking tube of your normal hydration bladder. Not only can you drink water as it is filtered, but you can also hang your hydration bladder up in camp and allow it to filter by gravity. Performance is above or equal to the various traditional water pump filters on the market. But best of all, the Sawyer is under 2 ounces!
- Sawyer Inline Water Filter (replaces Katadyn), 1.75oz, $50
As far as cooking, I’m not exactly Alton Brown in the wilderness, but I do prefer having options beyond “boiled water” cuisine. I chose the Primus Micron Stove, a minuscule but powerful unit that screws on top of a pressurized cannister of iso-butane (which is larger and heavier than the stove itself). A single small cannister will provide me 10-15 solid cooking sessions for under 4 ounces. Some folks complain about cannister stove performance in cold weather, but I have found that sticking to iso-butane (instead of just butane) and sleeping with the cannister in your bag eliminates all my problems.
- Primus Micron Stove, 3oz, $50
- Snow Peak 3-Piece Titanium Cookset, 5oz, $45
- Snow Peak 110g Fuel Cannister, 4oz, $3
Frankly, short of going to a liquid alcohol burner (aka coke can stove), I don’t really see any options that are lighter and as flexible as my Primus Micron, so I’m going to stick with it.
For cookware I settled on the Snow Peak 3-Piece Titanium Cookset. I only pack the large, outer pot and the lid however (bring it’s total weight down to 5 ounces), and as an added bonus my Primus Micron Stove AND the fuel cannister fit instead! Finally, I add a set of Polycarbonate Utensil. While not durable as the ever popular titanium spork, I find them plenty serviceable.
Like my stove situation, there weren’t dramatic improvements over my Snow Peak. I could swap it out for a slightly larger volume pot which weighs the same. This sort of upgrade wouldn’t affect my load either way, but might give me some more flexibility (larger meals, cooking for more than just myself in a single batch, etc). In this case, I’d probably choose the Evernew Slick Non-Stick Titanium Pot. It holds about 20% more than my Snow Peak, it too has a lid, insulated folding handles and a non-stick surface. I’m fairly confident the Evernew would also hold my fuel cannister and stove within its interior.
- Evernew Slick Non-Stick Titanium Pot, 4.93oz, $50
Rounding out this system is a small scrub sponge and a multi-spice dispenser.
I really don’t consider flavoring options and cleaning my cookware between meals to be a luxury to skimp on. Besides combined, these two pieces weigh about 2 ounces.