Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Smith Rock State Park: Wolf Tree Trail

Smith Rock State Park
Wolf Tree Trail

The famous Smith Rock State Park. A local favorite. A climbers dream. A place I'd never been, until now. It was a sunny Saturday morning and we chose a less popular path, Wolf Tree Trail. The trail follows The Crooked River and quickly drops into a delightful juniper/ponderosa pine woodland. The masses don't seem to go this way. Except for the sound of the rushing water it was quiet. Close-up views of the giant rocks that make this place famous parallel the trail (for a close-up of the climbing, bring your binoculars). 

Crooked River
While short and easy, Wolf Tree Trail does offer some options for extending your hike. I recommend the short Burma Road Trail. While steep and exposed, the views at the top are jaw-dropping. From there, connect to the 7.5 mile Summit Loop for a walk around the entire park, or turn around to head back to the trailhead.

Smith Rock State Park
Descent from Burma Road
The Wolf Tree Trail, with The Burma Road side trip, is an easy three mile in-and-out. For me it felt like a teaser. Although satisfied with the views, I found myself wanting more as I climbed back out of The Chute to the parking lot. It's a small park. An ambitious hiker could hit every trail in a weekend trip. I'll put that on my "to-do" list.

Smith Rock State Park
Talus slope

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Budget Gear Review: Etekcity Backpacking Stove

Etekcity Backpacking stove at Mt. Lemmon, AZ
The Dirt:

Etekcity Backpacking Sove

What is it? Canister style backpacking stove

Fuel Type: Isopro

Comes with: Stove, plastic case, attached Piezo ignition

Weight: 4.8 oz.

Size: 3.5 X 1.8 X 2.3 inches

Materials: Stainless steel and aluminum

The Etekcity Backpacking stove is a lightweight canister stove that sells for a ridiculously low price on Amazon. In fact, that's why I'm writing this review... Let me explain. Just over a year ago, a customer came to my store looking for a backpacking stove. After I gave him a brief explanation of the stoves we carry and the differences between them, I recommended the MSR PocketRocket. He stared at the price-tag looking perturbed for a moment, then looked at me quizzically and asked, "Why should I spend $40 on this stove when I can get one on Amazon for $10?" I didn't know how to respond at the time since I had no idea which stove he was talking about. Instead I just mumbled something about brand name, materials and construction. Feeling ignorant and unprepared, I went home that night, and in the Amazon search bar typed, "ten dollar backpacking stove," and promptly purchased the first stove on the list, the Etekcity Backpacking Stove. I would have an answer the next time a customer asked me that question.

Palm of my hand
Out of the box, the first thing that struck me was the size. Indeed, the Etekcity stove is smaller than the vast majority of canister stoves on the market. Credit the stowable pot support arms that fold down and swivel around the stove to stack on top of each other like a deck of cards. It makes for a small, very portable package. The drawback with that portability is all those joints and swivels add weight. 4.8 ounces (believe it or not) is heavier than most name brand stoves in the same class. But for ten bucks, who can complain about an ounce or two? 

The biggest problem I have with stowable arms is durability. Simply put, the more complex the device, the larger the chance the device will fail. In fact, the first time I used the stove one of the arms jammed. I couldn't get it folded without a lot of force, which, in freezing temps hurt my fingers like a SOB. It turned out that the upper portion of one of the arms bent, which prevented it from folding along the joint. It's not just the arms either. This stove feels fragile. Arms bend too easy. The Piezo ignition switch feels like it's barely on. Luckily it comes with a case. You'll need it to protect the stove while backpacking.

Top of the arms fold in to make for easy stowing.

In ideal conditions the Etekcity stove performs as well as any canister stove in its class. On warm days with no wind It routinely made 3 minute boil times. When conditions aren't ideal however is when this stove really falls short. Usually I don't put too much credence in boil times. I often ask people "what's the hurry?" There are instances however where getting an early start is imperative, and in such cases a fast boil time is important. Case in point: Last winter hunting in the Sonoran desert. I brought the Etekcity stove, and my mate brought an MSR PocketRocket. We were up every morning before light, and literally everyday we had to wait on my stove to boil water. It was frustrating for both of us. In near freezing temps with a bit of wind it took my stove three times longer to boil water for coffee then his PocketRocket. Let me tell you, waiting 15 minutes for a cup of coffee at 5:30 in the morning, for five days straight, sucked.

It's important that your backpacking stove is reliable. It needs to work, even on a shitty day. It needs to work when it's dirty and wet. Testing the Etekcity stove in my backyard one day, I discovered that it had gotten wet from being left outside under a tree dripping water from melting snow. Although entirely accidental, I thought it would be a perfect time to fire the stove up, because after all, sometimes in the field stuff gets wet. The full results of the test are in the video below, but in a nutshell, the stove failed miserably. The stove was totally fouled by water to the point that fuel would not reach the burner. The water wouldn't drain. It took me around an hour to finally get the stove working, and even then the Piezo ignition switch was worthless. Just for comparison purposes, I left my PocketRocket in the same place, for the same amount of time. Although just as wet, the PocketRocket fired up immediately.

In this case you get what you pay for. After a year with the Etekcity stove my conclusion is that it is not reliable or durable. Frankly, I'm not sure it would survive a season of regular use backpacking. After the poor performance my first trip out with it, I was too scared to take it backpacking. Yes, in ideal conditions it boils with the best of them. If you only backpack short trips in sunny weather and you're flat broke, then maybe consider the Etekcity Backpacking Stove. If you buy it, rip the Piezo ignition switch off and save yourself a little weight and a lot of future headaches. Everyone else, spend a few more dollars and buy something actually made for the outdoors.