Thursday, October 30, 2014

When a dirt Bike Ride Goes Down Hill

Okay, I'm a nut about motorcycles. Just ask my wife and she'll simply roll her eyes in confirmation. Like many riders, I started riding when I was a little kid on my hand-me-down Honda Trail 50 and it has been my passion ever since. It's been 30 years since first discovering this love of mine and luckily I've learned a few things along the way. One quickly realizes that if you want to continue your journey in this fantastic hobby, you will want to outfit yourself with the best protective gear you can afford. You also figure out that there are a few tools and emergency items you'll want to have along with you as well. I consider these statements to be pretty obvious ones and like to think I do pretty well to abide by them since we all know what happens when you don't. Right, Murphy's Law gives you a sly smirk and proceeds to promptly bite you in the ass as it is tasked to do. Unfortunately this past weekend I discovered that I am not above that law. 

I am telling this quick story because it has to do with one of our products at 180 Tack, the BearLine+. I always carry my personal BearLine+ in the tail bag of my trail bike on any ride I go on. It's just there, just in case and not only because I am a co-founder of this company but because I truly value it as a tool not to be left at home. I dutifully point it out any chance I get to those who feign the slightest curiosity. We put the "+" sign at the end of the name because it is much more than your average hang-a-meal bear line. In my hobby, it's a life saver! No, of course I don't mean I'd actually parish without the BearLine+, but I would be stuck for a very long time off trail without it possibly wishing I could die as I struggle with the weight of my 400 lb motorcycle. 

If you have ever lost your dirt bike or 4-wheeler over the side of a steep trail edge where the only way to continue on is to get your machine back on the trail, you know what I talking about. Frankly, it sucks! Even if you have a riding buddy with you to help work it back onto the trail, they are heavy and it's extremely exhausting. The BearLine+ is the absolute necessary tool to have with you in these situations.That's because this versatile system acts as a compact winch system because you can arrange the 500 lb test paracord and climbing-rated carabiners into a block & tackle system allowing you to easily hoist your machine back onto the trail. 

The reason I bring up this weekend's ride is because it was the first time I failed to have my BearLine+ system on my bike and it was, of course, during this ride that we needed it. My riding buddy and I came around a corner to find another rider about 25 ft off the trail down a very steep embankment. He was already exhausted from trying to get his bike back up to the trail and he had only been there a few minutes. His rear tire was dug in and his bike was going nowhere. We fortunately did luck out in this particular situation because 4 other riders came across our little scene and were available to assist. Of course the first tongue-in-cheek question posed by one of those riders was "does anyone have a come-along?". You can imagine my frustration when I had to explain that "I own a company that manufactures this great product and if only I had it with me today, I could show you how well it works!" But I did not have it this day of course and could not demonstrate it. Luckily, between the multiple riders we had available, we were able to sweat and grunt to get the heavy bike back to the trail where it belonged. But, most of us also ride in places where we're not likely to run across 5 other riders to help us out of our predicament. So, by learning my lesson and posting this quick blog about it, I hope I've convinced you to take a hard look at your tools and emergency equipment you bring along with on your next adventure. The BearLine+ will always be in my tool kit from now on. No excuses will be tolerated! ~ Travis

You can find the 180 Tack BearLine+ by following this LINK Don't leave home without it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Kind of Pan is Best for Backpacking?

180 Stove

All pan materials will work well with the 180 Stove.  Some are better for backpacking than others.  That said, here is a rundown of a little of our research.

Cast iron – too heavy for backpacking, but perhaps the best material for cooking.  It spreads the heat evenly, minimizes scorching, and some believe the healthiest material to eat from.  If pan metal “leaches” into the food, it is iron – a vitamin.

Aluminum – light and common as a backpacking pan.  There are lots of “unproven”  health concerns about eating from aluminum cookware especially when cooking acidic food like tomatoes, lemons, etc.  For simply boiling water, this is a minor concern.  But, this is one of the reasons our stoves are not made of aluminum.   Once the aluminum has been anodized, then this concern is mitigated significantly as long as the hard anodized layer is not scratched.  I do cook with anodized aluminum from time to time.

Anodized Aluminum with 180 Stove

Stainless steel – thin stainless steel is great for backpacking; strong and light.  While it is possible for trace amounts of chromium to get into the food, this is minimal and not a real health concern.  This is my favorite backpacking cooking material.  It will scorch food more than some materials, however, but this is common for most thin backpacking pans.

Titanium is known to be one of the best materials to cook with as it is highly unreactive and does not leach metals into the food.

Pans with a larger diameter base heat water more quickly, as a rule, but they can take up space in the pack.  They have the added advantage of working better for cooking eggs and the like.  Our stoves are sturdy and have no issues cooking even with large, cast iron Dutch ovens.  Other backpacking stoves cannot do this.  They are simply too small and flimsy.

Can your backpacking stove do this?

Make sure whatever you use comes with a good lid.  It speeds up boiling time and doubles for a plate or bowl. 

One thing to keep in mind is that some natural fuels will coat the outside of the pan with creosote.  This is because the pan has cooler water or foods inside that allows the creosote to condense onto the pan.  This creosote causes no harm, and does not even stain the pack once it is cool.  It can be “cooked off” by heating an empty pan, but I usually don’t bother as it causes no issues.  However, I would not use my wife’s favorite pans when burning pine, especially….  Some people coat the outside of the pan with a little soap before cooking as it reduces the “smoking” of the pan.  Again, I don’t bother as the creosote is a non-issue to me.

And don't forget, the 180 Stove works well without a pan too as a packable grill.

Packable Grill

180 Flame
 Have fun!  Get out there!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Latitude vs. Altitude

My family and I have lived in the Colorado Rockies at over 8000 above sea level for 17 years, with the last seven at nearly 9000 feet.  The years since we made the move here have been filled with unique experiences to say the least.  Life at altitude may seem commonplace to Buddhists in Nepal or Tibet.  There are some native tribes in the Andes of South America who have also lived for centuries at altitude.  But the existence that may seem ordinary to a Buddhist monk who was born, nurtured, and educated at 3000 meters above sea level is certainly full of surprises for those of us who learned of life at a lower altitude.  Wherever there is a great mountain range, one is sure to find interesting people who have adapted their ways of life to survive the challenging climates that embody the spirit of these high places.  But what about the outsiders?  What about the lowlanders?  These must learn the mountain crafts to last.

 Respect is quickly won by the mountains from anyone who ventures to dwell among them.  The high places are both beautiful, and dangerous.  This environ can be fickle; changing abruptly from warm and inviting to cold and deadly.  A stroll over a high, dry rock can change in a heartbeat to a perilous scrambling over slick, wet, polished granite.  Visibility often changes from literally scores of miles to mere feet in a matter of minutes as dense clouds race through the trees and over the ridges.  The wind varies from screaming at over a hundred miles per hour to whispering in an eerie hush that almost sucks breath out of one’s lungs.  This silence can capture words leaving sentences hanging.  Words trail off into quieted, indistinguishable tones.  This is a land of variety.  This is a land that demands much of all living things.  Yes, it is absolutely beautiful.  It can be as comforting as a mother’s warm embrace.  But this world will turn on a person.  It often attempts to drive living things away; down to a lower realm where the biosphere is more predictable and safe.

We go to the mountains to find peace, freedom, privacy, happiness, and adventure.  These things may or may not be found, but one thing is certain.  No one lives for long at altitude without being changed.  Some attempt to force this world into submission.  They fail.  Either learn the ways of the peaks and adapt, or run.  And run many do.  Every summer dozens families make the move into the high places.  Every spring, dozens of for sale signs sprout from the earth as predictably as the aspen buds sprout from the naked white trees.  What is it about these mountains that draws people into them?  What is it about these mountains that drives these same people away?  What is it really like living at 8240?

It has been said that some change in altitude is equivalent to another change in latitude.  In other words, the world of the north is similar to the world of the heights.  There are some similarities.  Denver is well known as the Mile High City.  At 5280 feet, Denver is certainly one of the highest “large” cities.  Denver is at about the same latitude as Washington D.C., and Madrid, Spain.  Denver is even a couple of degrees south of Rome.  Still, the climate in Denver is much cooler and snowier than that of D.C. or Rome.  This is due primarily to altitude.  If Denver were at sea level, it would have to be located in Montana to have similar summer temperatures. 

We moved from the Mile High City to the 60% higher world of 8240 feet.  For many years since our move, I have tried to predict the weather up here based on the Denver forecasts.  I have found two things to be true.  The temperatures at our home are usually about 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than Denver, and if Denver is predicted to get a foot of snow, we are in for more than double that amount.  So where would that put our mountain home in terms of latitude at sea level?  Well, at least in the summer months, that would land us in the middle of Canada.

In the winter, the relationship between latitude and altitude do change somewhat.  In the winter at high latitudes, the nights are quite long, and Old Sol peaks weakly over the horizon.  At our latitude, the daylight hours certainly seem short, but we get several more hours of sunshine each day than our northern neighbors, and that at a more generous angle.  This moderates the cold somewhat, but the altitude still diminishes the temperatures.  Our winter temperatures are usually similar to those in Montana.


Another way to describe the climate at 8000+ feet is via the seasons.  Forget the calendar.  The first day of spring comes and goes here in the midst of the snowiest month of the year.  The snow that accumulates through the long winter does not melt off until May.  Except for crocuses, the wildflowers don’t flourish until the middle of June.  By these measures, spring comes to our elevation in late May.  If spring drags its feet up the slopes, the onslaught of winter seems to come crashing down from the higher peaks with an early gusto.  Snow can come in August.  It almost always shows up in September.  By the end of October, 8240 reliably provides snow that may not melt completely until spring. 

This harsh, elongated winter season seems to be the primary cause of the spring exodus.  But, it is hardly the only defining quality of the climate at 8000+ feet.  Bring any lowlander to these heights, and the other characteristic of life at altitude becomes apparent with their first stroll across the property.  The thin air leaves the unaccustomed lungs gasping for a grip.  Doctors tell us that the first day or so is the worst.  The body acclimates to the thin air by producing more hemoglobin. This additional hemoglobin balances the lack of atmospheric pressure by carrying more oxygen from the lungs to the cells of the body.  Adjustment continues for several more days, and one may not be completely at ease for over a month.

Altitude sickness does attack some at this elevation.  Having made a hobby out of climbing mountains, I am all too familiar with the early stages of this attack from the thin air.  It usually first shows up as a headache; a pain behind the eyes.  Soon one begins to lose a little equilibrium.  A misplaced foot here or an off-balanced stumble there is a sure sign of the next symptom.  Nausea.  The word reminds us of the one who wants to stop the sea.  Stop the rolling waves.  Oh please, stop this ground from rocking!  Following the cursing of the sea comes the heaving of the sailor.  This is the limit.  It is time to get thee to lower ground; to thicker air.  The fool hardy who do not heed this warning may find themselves with edema in the lungs or even brain.  Next comes a coma, and then the great beyond.  Luckily, few ever get much beyond the upset stomach at 8240.  Some experience no symptoms at all.  

All of this may make living this high seem unattractive.  Don’t be deceived.  Life at altitude is a lifestyle, not only a location.  But what a lifestyle!  Consider sleeping in a house that will never have an air conditioner, and using winter blankets all summer long.  Imagine the pleasure of letting the sun saturate your skin on an average July morning and not breaking into a sweat.  Feel the crisp icy air that crystallizes the inside of your nose on a February afternoon.  It is invigorating!  Snow comes often in the winter, and it shrouds the destruction of humans.  All the scars that machines and tires and feet have cut into the terrain are erased by the snow.  The negligence of our species toward the earth is hidden for a season.  All is forgiven under a cover of fluffy white whisperings.  The snow comes lightly.  The snow comes silently.  It balances in clumps on deep green pine needles.  The world is transformed.  It smells different.  It looks perfectly clean.  On a sunny morning, a gentle breeze on a tree will create hundreds of tiny sparkling avalanches.  Each minuscule snow crystal acts as a prism refracting the suns golden rays into dozens of microscopic rainbows.  The combined effect is a symphony for the eyes.  I have seen such beauty, that I have had to close my eyes.  It is too rich to take in all at once.  I take a small bite of patterns and color, and then close my eyes to savor its uniqueness and flavor.  Then I open my eyes capture another sample of the visual feast.

          The lifestyle required by these high peaks gives and takes.  But living here, close to nature, nourishes my soul.  Getting back to nature is a big part of what 180 Tack is about and our stoves embrace this approach by working with nature to cook naturally rather than burning processed fuels from foreign oil wells.  Being natural in nature just makes sense.  Get out there!  Have some fun!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Be a Fire Guru – Wet Wood Fire

There are many skills that, while almost primordial, are neither known nor practiced by the majority in our modern world. These skills are fundamental to basic survival. While I am convinced that the most fundamental and necessary skill is that of building simple shelter, for comfort and long term survival, no skill is quite as rewarding as mastering reliable fire-building techniques that will work with a minimum of modern materials in all conditions—even in pouring down rain. While fire is low on my personal list of survival priorities, there is nothing like sitting around a nice fire enjoying the heat and light and the community that fire encourages. And when it comes to longer-term survival, fire becomes critical for sterilizing water and cooking.

Considering that I am co-owner of 180 Tack, LLC, the developers of the natural fuel 180 Stove and 180 VL, the knowledge of building reliable fires in all conditions is definitely a priority. We believe that our stoves offer the most reliable, compact, safe, environmentally conscious, portable cooking solution available. But the stoves are only as reliable as one’s ability to build a fire (or to use alternative fuel sources such as gel fuels or charcoal…).

So, come with me on a short journey; a journey that will reveal the primordial mystery of fire building. After reading this article and practicing these skills a few times, you will be able to join the ranks of the fire shaman. You will be the one who will start fires with ease when the rest of the neighborhood is ready to run to the convenience store to buy a fake wax log that promises a simple one-match fire. People will watch in awe as you illustrate the long lost mystery of the fire gods. Oooooh! Awe! Hurray!

Well…you may not become rich and famous by knowing these skills, but you very well may save an evening for your friends, provide a hot meal to those in need, or even possibly, save a life. But if none of those things happen, then at the very least, you will have the confidence that you are not among the fire ignorant. You will know that you can depend on yourself for this basic, worthwhile skill.

The following will cover fire making including tender, kindling, the proper way to arrange the wood, and a fantastic, reliable method for building a fire even when all the fuels are soaked. We will also talk about responsible use of fire and fire safety.


Three things are essential for any fire: air (oxygen), heat, and fuel. To start and maintain a fire, one must understand the interactions of these three things. Many inexperienced “would be” fire builders throw a bunch of sticks or logs in a pile and stick a match to the pile. After emptying their box of matches they either reach for gasoline or make that trip to the corner store to buy that fake wax log. WARNING! Don’t reach for gasoline to start a fire. It is not needed. It is very dangerous. There are safer ways to start a fire using volatile fuels, but I am going to keep those ways secret in this article. If you like your hair and skin, then just leave the gasoline out of the equation. As for that wax log, YOU DON’T NEED IT.

What you will need is some tender, kindling, dry wood, and to know how to stack the wood. I will cover starting a fire with wet wood in the next section. As a rule, the thicker the wood, the more heat will be required to get it to burn. This is because thick pieces of wood have a greater heat sink mass and less surface area. That means that the heat is absorbed/dissipated into the wood instead of igniting the wood, and the air can only reach the comparatively small surface area. Take that same chunk of wood and break it up into splinters, and the surface area increases hundreds of times over and the potential heat sink of each splinter is tiny. Stick a match to these splinters and the heat has fewer places to go and there is plenty of surface area exposed to the air. That is why a toothpick lights easily and a stick of firewood does not. As a rule, the smaller and more fibrous the fuel, the easier it will ignite.

Tender is finer still. The purpose of tender is to start a flame from a tiny coal or spark. If you are starting a fire with a match, then tender, while helpful, may not be necessary. Still, tender will expand a flame until it is large enough for the kindling to catch. In the woods, the best tender will be nests of very fine, very dry fibrous materials like fine wispy grasses, broken up cedar bark strands, milk weed fuzz, etc. If you have home resources at hand, then dryer lint or cotton balls with Vaseline worked into them work well. Surprisingly, steel wool can also make good tender and can be ignited with a 9-volt battery. To get a flame from a coal, make a nest about the size of your two hands together from tender, place the coal in the nest, and blow the coal gently until the tender ignites.

Kindling is composed of small pieces of fuel/wood that will catch and expand a flame. Kindling will range from toothpick sized up to twig sized, depending on how dry the fuel is. Larger sticks may be considered kindling but these will need smaller ones to grow the flame. Kindling does not burn long, but it burns quickly and hot enough to get those larger sticks of firewood started.


But what do we do with this stuff to get a fire going? Since heat rises, the tender needs to be under the kindling, and the kindling needs to be under the wood. But this will only work if there is enough space for air to get to the flames and not too much space to dissipate the heat. A single stick will rarely burn well, but two sticks an inch or two apart will capture each other’s heat and burn efficiently. Place the same two sticks too closely together and the fire will smother out. Understanding this is key to getting a fire to grow.

I prefer to stack my wood “log cabin” style with firewood-sized sticks separated by one to two inches. This stack can take full advantage of the tender/kindling and will grow quickly. Some like to prop the wood teepee style, which is nice for creating a hotter and taller flame, but I don’t like the way the wood tumbles as it burns, and it is harder to get the spacing correct.

Please be very careful if you use paper as kindling. Burning paper tends to escape a fire ring and float to places where fire is NOT wanted. Many forest fires have started this way resulting in the loss of thousands of acres of forest, homes by the hundreds, and even lives. Likewise, burning trash in a fire is really not a good idea.


Above I stated that fuels need to be dry to start a fire. So what does one do if all the available fuel has been soaked by rain or snow? There is no great trick to this. But it does require a decent-sized knife. Wood that is wet on the outside, even wood that has been soaking in water for days, will be dry on the inside. All one needs is to get under some shelter to keep the wood dry, and split the wood into tender and kindling sizes. Well-seasoned (dead) wood will work best for this. The following pictures show this process.

Making a wet wood fire requires wet wood. Just to prove the point, I am soaking an aspen stick.

Even though the stick is soaking wet, there is still dry wood on the inside.

Using a decent knife and a second stick as baton, split the stick. You will need split sticks thumb-sized, pencil-sized, and toothpick-sized. Split more than you think you may need. You can always use the extra wood later, but running out of this kindling when building a fire can be disheartening. Be sure to use some sort of base plate to keep the stick out of the mud, and to protect your knife from dulling in the dirt.

When the wood is small enough, it can be split simply by forcing the blade into the wood and twisting.

Once there is a generous collection of thumb, pencil, and toothpick sized dry fuel. then if you have some tender or even just a match, you are ready to start the fire. If you do not have tender, then you will need to make some by first cutting some shavings from the wood and then making some sawdust by scraping the dry stick.

Making scrapings. The scrapings will catch a spark from fire steel to create a small flame. Use this flame to light the shavings, and then the toothpicks, pencils, and finally thumb-sized wood.

Getting ready to ignite the scrapings. Make a tall, loose pile. Notice the prop stick. This is used to support the weight of the shavings and other wood so the pile stays airy and the fire is not smothered out.

Igniting the scrapings using fire steel.

Carefully adding shavings, and then larger sticks. The young flame is fragile. Be careful to use the prop stick to support the fuel so you don’t smother the flame.

Finally adding the thumb-sized sticks. Almost ready to cook!

The 180 Stove is placed over the fire, and more wood can be added as needed through the open end (facing away from the camera). Ready to cook, even when all the fuel was wet.


Knowing how to be responsible with fire in the wilderness is a critical prerequisite for anyone who wants to camp, hike, or live in the woods. Fire can be friend or foe. Responsibility does not only include fire safety to prevent forest fires and personal injury. Abusing the wilderness with fire proves one is immature and has little understanding of, or respect for nature. This type of abuse is all too common and includes such things as making over-sized fires, creating multiple fire rings in one locale, scorching trees or other plants, using a fire pit as a trash can, melting cans, bottles, and plastics and leaving them, failing to put out fires completely, leaving a fire unattended, building fires too close to surface water, and the list goes on and on.

When camping, use existing fire rings and scatter extra ones. Pack out trash left by others. Leave nature better than you found it. If you are in an area where there is no fire ring, then consider using fire practices that respect nature. One of the biggest mistakes is making the fire too large. Small fires use less wood, create less smoke, leave smaller scars, and are much easier to use for cooking. And small fires provide comforting heat and light that does not force campers to stand ten feet away.

Better yet, use a 180 Stove to contain your small fire and maximize your cooking. With the 180 Stove you can cook or boil water using only a handful of twigs. The cooking platform keeps the pan close to the flames and reflects the heat onto the pan. The stove is lighter than carrying a backpacking stove with fuel, and more compact as well. If you are not using the 180 Two-Piece Snow and Ash Pan, then scrape a little soil to the side, cook, douse, and then cover. This way no scars are left on the land. In more delicate areas or for cooking on snow, use the ash pan.