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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Trying to find a big titanium pot

On a recent elk hunt - everybody waiting to eat the meal in the big titanium pot cooking on the wood stove

Zoya has recently gotten into backpacking cooking gear, and it has piqued my interest in the subject as well.  So I've been cruising the backpacking forums and gear websites in search of the latest and greatest in backpacking cooking technology.  The upshot of my research is that it seems the latest and greatest is all about freeze dried meals and small pots for simply boiling water (or worse yet 'jetboil' type contraptions).  It seems that modern backpackers are not so much into actually cooking a meal as they are into 'reconstituting' a meal.

The downside of all this is that I could not find any large, lightweight titanium pots for sale on the internet.  The pot pictured on the stove above no longer seems to exist in the backpacking retail world.  That particular titanium pot holds 4 liters of food - enough food that I can (and often have) fed an entire party of elk hunters from just one pot.  Modern backpackers don't seem to want big pots - they do seem to want whatever boils large volumes of water FAST.

I also read that titanium cookware is difficult to cook with because the metal does not conduct heat well and is subject to hotspots.  Aluminum is supposedly better because it conducts and spreads heat better.  It boils water faster and doesn't burn the food.  I read very little in the way of dissent with this mantra.  And it all goes completely against with how I cook while backpacking.  I like BIG titanium pots, and SLOW cooked meals on top of direct heat.

First of all, I like titanium precisely because it does conduct heat so poorly.  I love that you can take a pot off of the stove and the titanium seems to keep it hot forever.  It does not conduct the cold from the ground that you set it on.  That said, a titanium pot also takes a lot longer to bring something to a boil.  Like a good friend Titanium is slow to boil but once at heat it lasts forever.  Aluminum is more the fickle friend - easy to heat, quick to cool.

I find that the hotspots and subsequent burnt food are more of a problem with aluminum pots because you have to keep them on the flame to stay hot whereas with the titanium pots once hot you can remove them from the stove and they continue to cook.

Admittedly, I mostly cook on top of lightweight woodstoves.  I am into SLOW cooked food.  The woodstove pictured above, complete with 9 foot stove pipe, weighs on the order of 2 pounds (tent for 4 and woodstove weighed 5 pounds all together).  For me the cooking process is all part of the fun.  I like the conversation around the wood stove while we wait for the food to cook.  I'd have a hard time with simply heating water, pouring it into a packet, gobbling the reconstituted mess down, and retreating to the sleeping bag for the night.  I see cooking as entertainment. And even without the woodstove, I find it easy to cook the Zatarains type meals SLOWLY on the 'pocket rocket' stove in a titanium pot.

Freeze dried food is also shockingly expensive.  A good 2 person, freeze dried meal costs close to 15 dollars (Packit Gourmet prices - actually edible freeze dried food)!  A packet of Zatarains red beans and rice costs less than 3 dollars, has a better caloric value than the freeze dried meal, and weighs about the same.  It just takes longer to cook. But add some hard salami, oil, an onion, maybe some beach lovage or other local greens, and after an extra half hour or so of cooking you got something oh so much better than that 15 dollar, freeze-dried meal in a plastic pocket, ready in minute.

Still, sad to say, it seems it is almost impossible to buy the big titanium pot you need to cook a meal the slow way.  So if you see a big titanium pot - buy it.



Molly Odell said...

Everything has a place! We are definitely going with a pocket rocket and freeze dried meals for Katmai. They use so much less fuel than a jet boil. Some of the freeze dried meals are pretty decent. I go for the ones that should have a stew-like consistency anyway, then they're not so different from the real version. I don't recognize that gourmet brand, but they have few different brands at REI all between $7 and $9 for a two serving meal.

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

You'd be surprised how little fuel you need to cook a red beans and rice meal. Bring it to a boil and turn it off, and the titanium pot keeps it hot enough to cook to a finish. You do not need to keep it on the burner.

But yeah a jetboil will boil water more quickly. One problem with freeze dried that I did not discuss is all the packaging waste. It's shocking how much there is to carry. A Zatarains meal has one foil packet that scrunches up to nothing - you do not end up with the plastic sleeve covered in food. When I visited the Brooks Range the biggest bummer was all the Mountain house packaging trash in out of the way places. Usually you could see that someone had tried to burn them up.

And I've eaten a lot of freeze dried - it can be OK but it is never as good as something that takes a bit more time. And the cheaper ones tend to taste the worst. Freeze dried long-term has no where near the nourishment of a normal meal.

But all that said, there is a time and place for freeze dried meals! Afterall, Zoya and I just put in a big order with Packit Gourmet. Patrick

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

And Molly if you really want to go light weight long term nothing beats a woodstove! No fuel bottles at all to carry. But the initial cost is about a pound (the stove weighs that much - so short term if you need less than a pound of fuel then propane is less of a weight cost. My tent and woodstove for a 10 day trip into the Brooks range weighed 4 pounds all up and we both fit in it. Our elk hunt tent and woodstove weighs 6 pounds but sleeps 6. And wood is surprisingly easy to find. We found wood up to 4400 feet in the brooks range and on Kodiak the wood line is at around 2200 feet. Patrick

Molly Odell said...

Most people I know who use Mountain House (or similar) meals just re-package them in ziplock bags. It's annoying but at least while you're out in the back country you don't end up with so much trash. For a week long trip I trade good meals for light weight. It's a personal preference, but I assure you we still have fun while outside! The jet boil uses half the gas as a pocket rocket to boil the same amount of water, so over a week that can amount to a significant weigh saving in fuel, if you're going light weight...

I certainly enjoyed the wood stove on the AK peninsula! But it's not my personal preference to deal with one on a backpacking trip. For this trip in particular we want to have a tent with floor and mesh for mosquitoes (our Black Diamon shelter with the floor/mesh is pretty lightweight). And I doubt there is much for wood in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes anyway. Once we're on/near the coast we can have open fires.

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

In the end it's all personal preference - I just prefer slow. And clearly most people these days prefer to just boil water and use freeze dried meals. I'm mostly just sad that's it is getting harder and harder to get light weight gear suitable for actually cooking. I looked and there are literally no lightweight titanium pots over 3 litres for sale on the internet. That's scary.

Also for 'Safeway' purchased freeze dried meals - my favorite one for breakfast is Idahoan brand mash potato packets. Add boiling water and stir. I also add salmon or some sort of meat and some oil. A SPAM single works GREAT. And you got a quick nourishing meal. The Idahoan packets are super cheep and light too.


Molly Odell said...

I love the dehydrated mashed potatoes! We usually mix them with stove top stuffing. It's like Thanksgiving light.

Molly Odell said...

The long-distance backpacking crowd has really moved toward super light weight so people can move FAST. Most hikers on the PCT and the like are doing 30+ mi/day. It's really nuts. I like to go light so I can enjoy my hiking, rather than schlepping a heavy pack around. But, that's probably where most of the backpacking gear is being marketed toward. And most people are probably traveling alone or in groups of 2, so not a lot of demand for high capacity pots, I would imagine.

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

And most are not hunting off trail, dealing with really wet Gulf of Alaska conditions, bushwhacking and hunting. Most are hiking in dry Sierra like conditions. Superlight is actually using a woodstove, 6oz bivy with net and Teepee - hard to beat less than a pound per person for shelter, stove and fuel. But they would not let you gather wood on the PCT.

But trends change. Right now with the internet it seems the back backing crowd all gets locked into one mindset. So does the hunting crowd and there is surprisingly little deviance from the norm within either group.

I just wish they still made large, light weight titanium pots. And I'll be very careful with mine!