Archive | Preparedness

Review: Simple Theory Gear Pack Stove

I like twig stoves for backpacking and, in spite of trying several, I’ve mostly stuck with the same one for years – long enough to be intimately familiar with everything I dislike about my particular twig stove. Along came Simple Theory Gear with a stove, The Pack Stove, that seemed to address every single issue I was having with my tabbed construction, flat pack style stove. I am going to spoil this review right here in the first paragraph… The Pack Stove isn’t perfect but it is as close to it as I have found. It’s really, really good.

Overview

The Pack Stove is a twig stove (or bio stove) with a cylindrical shape. It’s is made from 304 stainless steel that is significantly thicker than the steel found on most twig stoves. In spite of that thicker steel, it still weighs in at 11.8 ounces which is similar or even less than many steel flat pack or hinged stoves.

The design is the real story here. Instead of packing flat, the Pack Stove is designed to nest. It nests on water bottles with a similar diameter to the standard 32 ounce Nalgene. It only has one loose part, the top grate, which can be stowed on the stove itself.

These are the only two parts of The Pack Stove.

Observations from Use

Background with Twig Stoves – In order to appreciate The Pack Stove, I think you probably need a background with other twig stoves. Most twig stoves on the market are box-shaped and fall into two categories: those that assemble with tabs/slots and those that are hinged.

Both of these types of stoves require assembly in some form. Hinged stoves are easier to work with but are not without their issues thanks to the warping that seems to come standard with any thin metal box that holds a fire. Basically, they all require fiddling, especially when it comes to their grates which are often some sort of cross-member design.

Little to No Fiddle Factor – The fiddle factor for flat-pack style twig stoves is made more annoying by their tendency to warp and the fact that there is no way to disassemble them without leaving your hands looking like you just swept your chimney. Almost any twig stove on the market will work but the fiddle-factor is what is most likely to turn you off.

The Pack Stove does away with almost all fiddle factor. In fact, it is really no more fiddly than something like a canister stove. There are no hinges, tabs, slots, or cross members. You simply take the one-piece grate off the bottom of the stove where it is stowed, attach it to or rest it on the top and start burning. Then, when it is time to put it away, you can quench the entire stove with water or snow without fear of excessive warping and be on your way. The ability to quench the stove without worry is a key feature.

My stove came with a burlap stuff sack but current production stoves will have a new stuff sack.

Little to No Warping – Warping is extremely common in most flat pack twig stoves. To be fair, it is mostly an inconvenience that makes assembly/disassembly a pain but not a real deal-breaker. The Pack Stove, however, seems to be HIGHLY resistant to warping thanks to its thicker steel stock and stong cylinder shape. The only parts I have warped even slightly are the grate retainer tabs on the top and these are designed to be easily fixed using the grate itself as a key to space them. The bottom line is that warping, even if quenched with water or in snow, is not an issue.

Strong Burner – All twig stoves are somewhat sensitive to airflow. If you have used one, you’ve noticed the extra smoke that is created when the stove starts to choke a bit. Some stoves will start to choke when the coal/ash bed is too deep. Some start to choke with large diameter pots or pans that cover too much of their upper vents.

The Pack Stove with its numerous side ports, raised and ventilated bottom plate, and an air gap at the top seems to breathe well in all the conditions that I tried. It does especially well at holding a coal bed. It burns remarkably well in spite of the more compact firebox than what I am used to.

Versatility – This stove is versatile. It works well in its intended function, burning twigs, but it is also designed to work well as a windscreen and pot stand for alcohol stoves. To use The Pack Stove with a spirit burner, just turn it upside down and place it over your burner. This shields the burner from wind (though you may need additional shielding on really windy days) and creates nearly perfect head spacing for the jets when used with a Trangia (or similar). This is a nice feature for those who may spend time above treeline or other places where wood can be scarce.

Simple Theory Gear has mentioned the possibility of a titanium version of this stove sometime in the future. If they do manage to bring that to market, I could see people who use alcohol stoves as their primary cooking method carrying The Pack Stove as their pot stand/windscreen just to have the emergency redundancy of being able to use it as a twig stove should they run out of fuel.

The Pack Stove works well as a windscreen and pot stand for Trangia and similar spirit burners/alcohol stoves.

Details – There are a few other details of The Pack Stove that I appreciate. The way the grate stows on the bottom of the stove creates a chamber that can be used to stow fire-starting materials like birch bark for your next burn.

I also appreciate the synergy that this stove has with the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set which I have previously reviewed. They can be nested together and the pot is basically the perfect size for use with this stove. The narrow shape seems to be optimized for this stove, allowing for plenty of air to get to the fire and seeming to have all the heat focused directly into it. This is no accident. While The Pack Stove will work with just about any cook pot you can safely balance on it, the designer is also a fan of the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set.

I can’t say enough about the nesting aspect of The Pack Stove’s design. Flat pack twig stoves are nice in that they, well… pack flat. However, they still have to be stowed somewhere in your pack. In a sense, The Pack Stove takes up ZERO additional space in your pack because it shares a spot that was already occupied by a water bottle.

Not Quite Perfect – The review has been rightly glowing so far but I don’t want to give the idea that The Pack Stove is perfect. There are some things that I would change about it. For instance, I don’t see why the grate has to be “locked” on the top. This is perhaps the only fiddly part of working with the stove and the locking slots are really the only part of the stove that you might wrap. I would like to see simple indexing depressions that the grate could rest in so it could be lifted off easily but wouldn’t slide around.

I also think the feed port could be larger or at least flared toward the top where is more space between ents to allow for easier feeding and the use of larger wood chunks while the pot is in place. It is very workable now but a little more space to feed and position twigs might be nice.

Finally, given that The Pack Stove nests on a water bottle or the Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set so well, it would be nice if the included stuff sack was tall enough to accommodate those items in addition to the stove. The included sack is made of burlap and is a bit of a tight fit. I could just leave it at home but I find that it makes a handy place to rest twigs off the snow. Simple Theory Gear does have a new stuff sack that might already address this.

Add a bit of scouring pad to cut down on the metal-on-metal rattle. It’s handy for cleaning and maintenance too.

Pro Tips – If you have never used a twig stove, here are some tips that probably hold true for most stoves but work especially well with The Pack Stove. First, carry pliers or some other way of handling hot items – a multitool works fine. It will make your life a lot easier when you need to handle a hot stove.

Second, carry a bit of scouring pad wedged in between the stove and your nested water bottle or pot. It will reduce the rattling a bit and it can be used to clean up your pot, inside and out. It is also handy for cleaning rust off tools like hatchets and knives in cold or wet weather.

Third, fold a few layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil into a square and place your stove on it while you burn. It can help keep the stove level on snow, serve as a catch for ashes and coals, and it will help reflect heat back up into your pot. Foil can also be used to make other handy items like a cup or hot pad in a pinch.

Finally, you can start cooking on these twig stoves pretty much as soon as the fire is going. However, if you want a more maintenance-free, less finicky burn, give the stove a few minutes to build up a coal base before placing your pot on top.

Wrap Up

If you are like me and you already like twig stoves, you probably took one look at The Pack Stove and saw the potential. If you have thought about trying a twig stove, just start here. The bottom line is that it is much easier to live with and use than other stoves. The Pack Stove is one smart twig stove.

SimpleTheoryGear.com

Disclosure: The Pack Stove was provided to me by Simple Theory Gear, free of charge, for the purposes of this review.

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Cold Steel Spetsnaz Trench Shovel

I am a big fan of the Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel, so I was excited to see that they are bringing out a new shovel for 2020. The original Special Forces Shovel is compact enough to be carried on a pack for backcountry camping and many people use them in their vehicle kits. However, when it comes to vehicle kits, there is often room for a larger, more efficient shovel. That is where the new Spetsnaz Trench Shovel comes in.

The Spetsnaz Trench Shovel is very much like the original Special Forces Shovel but it is larger in a few key dimensions. It has a slightly larger head and a handle that is around 10″ longer. Other than that, it keeps all the other features that make the original great like the steel spade-shaped head, sharpened working edges, and durable construction.

ColdSteel.com

SEREPICK Holiday Bundle

Ever wonder how Santa really gets into all those homes and escapes capture in the few instances when he is caught? The secret is out… SEREPICK Holiday Bundle.

This bundle is a great deal just in time for Christmas. It includes the following:

  • OSS Toolset
  • Delta Handcuff Key
  • 6’ 188lb Test Kevlar
  • Polymer Lapel Dagger
  • 2-PK Split Pawl Handcuff Shims
  • 2-PK EZ Decoder
  • 2-PK Quick Sticks

On top of that, SEREPICK will throw in a surprise candy treat. This is a solid value at $65 and would make a great gift or multiple stocking stuffers.

SEREPICK.com

PackAFlame Ammo Can Stove

As if we needed more proof of how useful USGI ammo cans are…

PackAFlame’s Ammo Can Stove is a wood-burning, stove for use in camp or a hot tent that is made from an ammo can with the addition of several laser-cut steel pieces. The standard, pre-made version makes use of a 50 caliber can but it is also available in a DIY kit form so it can be adapted to other sizes of ammo can.

PackAFlame.com

$20 Folding Saw Shootout

I consider a lightweight folding saw to be baseline gear. In my area of the world, we can see overnight temps in the low 50s Fahrenheit in the summer and with temps dipping even lower in the mountains. Those kinds of conditions are a recipe for disaster for the unprepared. A good saw and a sturdy fixed blade knife will go a long way toward making tasks like emergency fire prep and shelter building easier.

There are a lot of saws on the market but I have zeroed in on what I consider the 3 main contenders: the Bahco Laplander, Corona RazorTOOTH 7″, and the Silky F180. All three of these saws have a lot in common like a price tag around $20, similar weights and sizes, and a solid track record.

Top to bottom: Bahco Laplander, Silky F180 (Large Tooth), Corona RazorTOOTH

Which one is best for you? I’m not sure there is an easy answer to that as I can’t even really decide myself but I aim to lay out some information that might make your choice easier.

Comparison Table

F180LaplanderRazorTOOTH
Locks ClosedNoYesYes
Locks OpenYes (2 positions)YesYes
Blade Length7″7.5″7″
Length Closed8.75″8.75″8.75″
Cutting StrokePullPush and pullPull
Price$21.25$21.50$17.39
HandlePlastic w/
Rubber Accent
Plastic w/
Rubber Accent
Plastic w/
Rubber Accent
Metal ReinforcedPivot areaMinimalPivot Area
Teeth Per Inch6.576
Weight6.3 oz6.6 oz6.8 oz
SteelSK4 w/ Chrome“Swedish” w/
Coating
SK5 w/ Chrome
Made inJapanSwedenMexico

Cutting Performance

If you are going to major on cutting performance, the Silky F180 is the winner with the Corona RazorTOOTH as a close second. The Laplander is a distant third place. While the Laplander does cut on the push and pull stroke, it’s smaller 7 TPI cutters seem to clog more quickly and just do not cut as fast as the other saws. However, the Laplander is no slouch especially if you don’t have context for what a good hand saw can do.

The following image shows three cutting strokes from each saw. The kerf on the left is 1 pull stroke, 1 push stroke, and 1 pull stroke from the Bahco. It is the shallowest cut. The bark tear out makes the kerf look deeper than it is – pay attention to the square bottom of the kerf. The center kerf is 3 pull strokes from the Corona. It is the second deepest cut. The kerf on the right is the Silky. It likely could have been through the branch in 4 more strokes. It clearly outclasses the other saws.

Left to right: Bahco, Corona, Silky

Comfort and Ergonomics

The winner is not as clear here but the Silky F180 is clearly the loser. The F180 has wide finger grooves that won’t really fit anyone. It gets some points for the two-position lock that allows you to lock the blade in a position that is more appropriate for cutting on the ground but it still isn’t the best in hand. It isn’t uncomfortable to use but it isn’t as comfortable as the others.

The Bahco has a very neutral handle that is grippy and feels good in several positions. The Corona is probably the nicest to use over a long period of time thanks to the more vertical hand position provided by the pistol grip shape. I’ll give the win to the Corona.

Durability

This is going to be a fly in the ointment for some, especially the rabid Silky fanboys. In spite of the fact that the Laplander has very little metal reinforcement in the handle, it has a reputation as the most durable and I am inclined to agree. Bahco has clearly favored flexibility over hardness in the heat treatment of their steel. You would have to be the sloppiest saw user on the planet to break one of these blades as they can typically be bent to 90 degrees or more without snapping.

The Silk7 F180, on the other hand, seems to go all-in on cutting performance. The blade is hard and they have a reputation for snapping when misused. I’ve snapped one before and I know many others who have as well. There is a technique to using a pull cut saw. Avoid putting to much pressure on the saw during the push stroke, especially if you are cutting a round large enough that the tip is buried in the diameter of said round. The chrome-plated blade adds points here as these saws tend to be extremely rust-resistant.

The Corona RazorTOOTH seems to split the difference on blade durability but there have been some reports of the handle being a little more brittle. The chrome-plated blade does ad some points here but Corona’s blade are not as rust-resistant as Silky’s in my experience.

Price and Availability

The Corona wins on both price and availability. You can often find these in home improvement or farm supply stores so there is a good chance you can pick one up locally. It is usually going to be the most affordable of all three options.

If you have an arborist supply store near you, there is a chance you could find Silky saws in stock but expect to pay a premium in shops like this. I’ve never seen the Bahco Laplander in a brick and mortar store.

Overall Impression of Quality

The Silky wins here. The plastic used in the handle feels solid. The rubber over-mold is clearly the best quality. The finishing on the blade is notably better. It doesn’t flex, bind on opening/closing, or creak like the others.

The Bahco and Corona are both well-made, premium saws that are definitely in a class above big box store saws. They just don’t show the same attention to detail shown by Silky saws.

How to Choose

If you need the most efficient cutter and you can be somewhat careful with your tools, the Silky F180 is the top choice. If you need the most durable saw because you are going to throw it an emergency kit and forget about it, you are probably looking at the Bahco Laplander. If you want a saw that seems to do everything well, the Corona RazorTOOTH seems to split the difference nicely.

If you stop me on the trail, you will likely find the Corona or Silky in my pack. However, if it is really cold, you are more likely to find a larger bow saw.

Where to Buy

I have purchased all of these saws on Amazon except the Corona which I purchased at a local farm store (Amazon would have been cheaper). You might consider watching the prices on Amazon before you buy as the Silky, for instance, has been as low as $15 recently. The following URLs are all affiliate links that support JTT.

Bahco Laplander

Silky F180

Corona RazorTOOTH

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