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Re: [John Muir Trail] JMT: Campfire PACK OUT YOUR TRASH

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  • John Ladd
    I think backpacking ethics discussions are interesting, but they can get a bit heated with all caps messages and questions about political correctness. I think
    Message 1 of 35 , Nov 4, 2009
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      I think backpacking ethics discussions are interesting, but they can get a bit heated with all caps messages and questions about political correctness.

      I think we probably have a consensus here that treating the JMT with respect is important.  And that human impact can be detrimental to the trail.  It's a fragile place out there and there so many of us -- on a long but narrow stretch of wilderness -- that small individual impacts can add up.

      On the other hand, lets admit that none of us are purists.  Just walking on a trail changes it from its natural condition.  And even if we don't fly to California, we drive to a trailhead and cause air pollution by our travel.

      I think we are trying to find a balance here - have a good experience, keep safe and cause as little damage as possible.

      And lets keep the ethics of the mountains simple enough that new people have a sense of what is appropriate and what is not.

      The "pack it in; pack it out" rule has the advantage of being very simple and once you incorporate it into your personal ethical system, it tends to become instinctual and not all that hard to follow.  And it's easy to communicate to kids you hike with and to use it on the trail to educate your fellow hikers into a better mindset.  (I'm not suggesting that you should preach on the trail, just that you can lead by example.)

      And "pack it in, pack it out" has the advantage of reminding you to bring less stuff - knowing that you have to carry it out makes you ask yourself the question whether you really need it.  It's another reason (in addition to trying to maximize the usable capacity of your bear canister) to repackage everything you carry into the most efficient form possible.

      I don't think anyone has a way of quantifying the impacts of burning Ziplock baggies on trail (vs. them ending up in landfill after leaving the trail).  I doubt that it is measurable.  Can't help; might hurt (but probably not very much).  

      But, still, a legal or ethical rule can have utility even if some of the instances it covers are trivial.  Lots of times I don't really need to use my turn signal at a corner, but it helps to stay in practice to just do it all the time, and not ask myself whether this is a small enough violation of the rule that it falls in the category of "no harm, no foul".

      So my habit is to burn nothing in the woods.  I guess I'd use any excess paper to help start a fire, if I made fires (but see below).  But nothing else.  I guess that I'd worry that burning toilet paper might leave some fecal contamination right where people are preparing food.

      If there is an ethical issue here, maybe it's not 2 Ziplocks vs. none.  Maybe it's campfires vs. no campfires.  If I burn 15 lbs. of dry wood and it leaves 3 lb of ash, I've added 12 lbs of carbon to the atmosphere plus about 24 lbs of oxygen, i.e., 36 lbs of CO2.  I know that is trivial in comparison to other CO2 sources, but still.  Less CO2 is better.

      I don't mean to be critical of people who build a fire when they need one for warmth or to dry wet gear, nor to criticize people who cook their food with a small little fire (those Calderas look great).  But I think the traditional "lets gather around the campfire" scene is worth a ethical question -- is the additional pleasure worth the air pollution and worth the tendency to deprive the area around our prettiest campsites of the organic material that helps keep them pretty.  I stopped regular campfires years ago and I don't miss them much.  I'll do one occasionally but I try to keep it small and realize that it is a special, fairly self-indulgent treat to share with family or friends.
      John Curran Ladd
      1616 Castro Street
      San Francisco, CA  94114-3707
    • John Ladd
      One of the benefits I ve found from starting to use a cozy -- my favorite personal gear change of 2009 -- is that it holds my food warm enough that if I get
      Message 35 of 35 , Nov 11, 2009
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        One of the benefits I've found from starting to use a "cozy" -- my favorite personal gear change of 2009 -- is that it holds my food warm enough that if I get feeling full -- just so full that i can't eat another bite -- I'll just zip the food back into the cozy and wait 10 minutes and come back and eat the rest of it.  That's hard to do if your Mac-and-Cheese or rehydrated eggs have gotten all cold, not so hard if the cozy's kept the food warm.  I used to bury leftover food (apologies to John Ditti and all other campers), but since adopting the cozy, I find I always can finish my meals.

        The cozy arrangement that works for me is a 10-16 oz. specimen jar inside of a commercial cozy I got at REI.

        The cozy was a Outdoor Products Insulated Water Bottle Holder which is lightweight, has a reflective liner, decent insulation value and is not too hard to clean if you spill food on it..


        http://www.rei.com/product/770795 (1 liter)

        http://www.rei.com/product/770794 (1/2 liter)

        (I use the 1/2 liter size.)

        Appropriately-sized specimen jars are harder to find but they are widely used in the biosciences.  They tend to have very non-reactive insides, which makes them very easy to clean and wide mouths and straight sides.

        They look like this:


        I've gotten mine from friends, so I don't know where to buy them for sure.  Here's one site that lists 8- and 16-oz. sizes.



        The trick, of course, if finding (or designing) a cozy that fits the jar you want to use. I've got jars that are taller and thinner than the one illustrated above, so it works well in the OP insulated bottle holder.

        This is probably obvious, but the idea is that I cook my food in a pot (JetBoil for me) up to the point when a little more steeping will get it fully hydrated, pour the food into the specimen jar and put it in the cozy to complete steeping.  Then I just eat it directly from the specimen jar, still inside the (now unzipped) cozy.  The specimen jar cleans just fine with a vigorous shake with water (no soap is required for most foods). 

        For 5-minute grains (like cream of wheat for breakfast), I find I can get it fully cooked with bringing to a bare simmer In the Jetboil,  letting it steep in the Jetboil for about 5 minutes, re-bring it to a bare simmer (which takes minimal added fuel) and then pour into the specimen jar.cozy, let it steep 5 more minutes until it "gels" to a nice consistency and then eat.  For meals based on 10-minute grains, I use one extra re-simmer and steep in the JetBoil before putting in the cozy.  It allows me to avoid freeze-dried foods, which I'm not a fan of.

        Since your food finishes cooking inside the specimen jar, rather than in the pot, it tends to be easy to wash the pot.

        John Curran Ladd
        1616 Castro Street
        San Francisco, CA  94114-3707
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