Questions & Answers, #1

Questions & AnswersEarlier this month, over on my hikelighter facebook page, I posted that I was going to start doing some Q&A posts, so, here is the first one :)

Throughout the year I get a lot of questions from fellow adventurers, mostly via my contact form and facebook private messages. I try to get as many answered as I can, time dependant. Usually during the winter season I get caught up, though that does tend to mean some folks have to wait awhile before I get back to them. Hopefully they are not offended by the long response times.

I am not sure how many Q&A posts I can get published on any given year, but I am going to give it a go.


I only get this question once or twice a year, but it always makes me smile.

John, with as many days as you spend out on the trail, you must go through a lot of toilet paper. Do you bury, pack out, burn? ~ Scott “Turbo” T.


Hey Turbo,

Let me preface by saying that I do not use toilet paper. It is rather singular purpose in nature. I take paper towels with me. There is one brand out there that makes paper towels that are pretty narrow (perforated) and than I cut them length-wise. A paper towel can be used to help clean your face. They can be used to clean your cooking pot. They can be used to help clean an open wound. And, they can be used to wipe your butt. Trying doing any of that, except the last, with most toilet paper and you just get mush. I can often start my morning with a single paper towel, use it to wipe down any condensation inside my shelter, than use the damp town to wipe/freshen/clean(?) my face, then set it aside while I cook breakfast, use it to dry out my pot after pouring out the hot water, and let it sit/dry while I eat and break down my campsite. Usually by than, it is time to go fill up a cathole, and the towel is used. Amazing how much a paper towel can be used. Not gonna happen with TP.

As for disposal. Until recently I always buried. I have tried to get into the habit of using a ziplock bag and packing it out but I am not 100% of the way there yet. I cannot think of a single instance I have ever burned. I would love to say I am a huge advocate of packing-it-out, and I would be if it is something I have done for a long time, but I have not. When I am in really dry locations, I do try to make sure I pack out the used paper towels.

Additional Thoughts:

I have never been a “use nature” kind of guy when it comes to butt wiping. Ferns, leaves, rocks. Respect to those who do.

And, it should obviously be stated that, yes, paper towels takes a LOT longer to break down than TP. I am fully, absolutely, 100%, aware of this fact. I will not make a case for using them, justification; nor will I make a stance against not using them. HYODH.


Here is a question I received last month, that echoes a lot of questions that I get.

John, I’m very interested to follow your ongoing review of the Windboiler. I do have one question though. As a complete novice to backpacking, I’m struggling to understand what advantages the “all in one” stoves have over a typical canister stove/pot combo. For example a Soto Windmaster and an Evernew .9L pot would be cheaper and approx. half the weight of a MiniMo or Windboiler. I’ve read enough blog post from weight conscious backpackers where they praise the all in one systems so I’m curious. Other than efficiency (and wind capabilities for the Windboiler) what makes them appealing. ~ John M.


Here was my response do John M., and it tends to be my default response to this question.


I do not think there is an answer to that question.

The same could be said this way, “why use the Soto Windmaster” when you can use a significantly lighter weight alcohol based stove.

And, the same could be said against that, “why use an alcohol based stove” when an esbit based cooking system is the lightest and cheapest of all.

Of course, the same could be said going the other direction as well… why use any of these, when something like the msr whisperlite exists, which you can throw just about any liquid fuel at.

If what you already have works, why spend more money on things, eh!

Additional thoughts:

I have long promoted the using and writing about esbit cooking systems and for a few years that is almost all that I used and wrote about. BGET anybody?

I also have a long history of using an “all-in-one” Jetboil SolTi cooking system. I think one of my very first videos was on the JBSolTi. I have done so much data analysis on the JBSolTi I have, sadly, forgotten most of it. Anybody remember the “stupid orange thingie” fiasco.

I have also used and written about “Piece-It-Together-Systems” (PITS) over the years. Unquestionably my favorite, and all-time preferred PITS is the Evernew EBY265 + Trail Designs Sidewinder setup. It is, I feel, the quintessential setup for SUL/XUL hikers. My advice, if you go with this setup, is to ditch the stupid beer band and use some fiberglass wick – which I first documented here. You can check out a video of this setup here. Only thing that is different from when I shot it and now, is that now I use the GSI coffee filter.

I have also used, though very little, wood burning stoves. The Suluk46 TDW Stove is the one I have used the most. I absolutely understand the allure of wood stoves.

I have also used alcohol stoves. My favorite alcohol PITS includes a MBD Elite and a Toaks 900ml short/wide pot.

I also have a Snow Peak LiteMax that I pair up with the Toaks 900. What a great combo that is.

Unfortunately, where I tend to hike the most, both alcohol stoves and esbit stoves are illegal to use, due to fire risks.

In Conclusion:

My response to this issue is the first sentence in my response to John M., “I do not think there is an answer to that question.” Some folks enjoy wood burning stoves. Some folks enjoy alcohol stoves. Some folks like a PITS canister method. Some like an all-in-one method. And, let us not forget, one of the best options out there: cookless hiking.

But, the debate, and arguments, and accusations will continue on until the dawn of time.


Since the announcement of the ZPacks Arc ZIP, a little over a year ago, a LOT of questions have come my way about it and I will try to address at least one question about the ZIP in each Q&A article.

This first question was popular when it first was released:

Why did you not go with a mesh front pocket on the ZPacks Arc ZIP backpack? ~ Sarah H.


Hello Sarah,

I initially, and intentionally, designed the ZIP to be pocketless.

Check out my “Pocketless Hiking” article I wrote back in 2012 for some background on why.

The ZIP did not have any side pockets until the final prototype. Over two years of R&D went into it before pockets were added. They were added because if we did not have pockets, people would complain. The market for pocketless backpacks is not exactly a huge market.

The front pocket originally started an internal front pocket. This could have allowed for the addition of an outer front mesh pocket.

However, after way too much testing I finally made the decision that an internal front pocket was just not going to be as good of an idea as I had hoped. It, first, caused the internal volume of the pack to be overstuffed, and overstuffing a FPL backpack is just about the worst thing you can do. Secondly, it was not something that proved solid in the manufacturing process. As a product designer I have to think about both consumer use and manufacture development. Making the decision to go with an external front pocket was not an easy one, but going with a fully enclosed external front pocket proved to be a brilliant solution – it works amazingly well, looks absolutely awesome, and it does not involve you having to open a zipper, to open another zipper, to get something out of the pack.

As for why not using a mesh pocket instead of the fully enclosed solid fabric front pocket. That was my decision. Joe and I talked about it a bit and I made the decision to go with the fully enclosed solid fabric front pocket. It seems to have been a great decision too. I have, interestingly, seen a few folks add a mesh pocket to the ZIP, which almost makes me go “huh?” and tilt my head to one side.

Additional Thoughts:

The front pocket has been one of those features of the ZIP that I have gotten a lot of people tell me they really like. I absolutely understand the desire, and even need, of a mesh pocket. Wet rain gear can be shoved into them. They also stretch so you can shove more gear into them than you can a solid fabric front pocket. I suppose the reason I went with the solid fabric front pocket is that I was after a rather distinct look and usage for the backpack. The front panel loading backpack market was all but dead three years ago. Now they are starting to popup all over the place. ZPacks clearly has a winner on their hands with the ZIP.

Here are a few very fast Q&A responses:

John, I saw a YouTube video of yours where you showed an MSR 1.8L Windboiler stove. Where did you get that Any idea when that will be available for purchase in the US Thanks. ~ tleaf

Hey tleaf (curious about the history of that trail name). The MSR 1.8L WB pot is something MSR sent me to do T&E (Testing&Evaluation) on. It is a beast of a pot. The max-fill line on the pot is at the 1.0L mark, so you basically can throw an entire liter of water into it and bring that to a boil. Like all these pots, their ‘max fill line’ is well below the top of the pot, to make sure the water does not boil over/out. From what I have been told the 1.8L WindBurner Pot will be available in January of 2016 and available at all the normal places that you can buy the WindBurner at.

Wow. just got the new price sheet from cubic tech and am reeling. I am a hobby make your own gear kind of old lady. I am wondering what and how this is going to affect/effect the cottage industry. Cuben products are already pricey. The quantity needed to order to make a profit sure knocks out the little guys! ~ doni

Sadly, I never responded to this question, so, here ya go doni:  yes, I have been hearing that from all the major buyers. A bit over a year ago I predicted that the pricing of cuben fiber was probably going to increase. I was right about that. I also predicted that the cause would be a shortage supply. Not so sure I was right about that. You might be interested in my article about Cubic Tech being bought out. The hope in all of this is that CT/DMA is going to be able to ramp up production at other facilities, thereby resolving not only supply and demand issues, but also helping to lower the cost. When a cottage company is spending a million-plus per year on one fabric, it really opens your eyes to just how crazy expensive some of this fancy-dancy fabric we are using really is.

Any update on the TiGoat Bug Bivy with custom side zipper? ~ chad, railroad, hopscotch, and a few others

Yep. Still using it and so far no problems. I do not get a lot of use with it, you guys know my thoughts on bivouac’s ;) The addition of the side zipper is the only way I would have kept using it. I quickly sold my original version that only had the head-entry. With a winter sleeping bag in there, it was just too blasted hard to get out of. The couple extra ounces for the side-zipper was totally worth it, for me. I really do need to get back to them with feedback and suggestion to offer it as an option. If you are looking for a full-bug-net-top-bivouac, I totally recommend getting ahold of them and asking for the side zipper option. Even if there is a 10$ custom charge, go for it. It is still one of the lightest and least expensive bivouacs on the market. I use it along with my 80g 0.34 cf tarp. What a sweet SUL/XUL setup it has been.

Hi John, your reviews were really informative, and I hope you won’t mind answering a couple quick questions. I live in the Northeast and am researching clothing for my planned PCT thru-hike in 2016. I have a little summer experience in the Sierra, but otherwise the west is a new adventure. The ultra athlete shirt and pants seem like they might just be perfect for my hike, especially SoCal. Do you think they would make good base layers for the WHOLE thru-hike? I tend to favor pants over shorts, so I was thinking of wearing the pants instead of shorts for the whole way. If not, what would you switch them out for Also, what are your thoughts on wearing the Dynamo pants for warmth or bug protection over the ultra athlete pants Would they fit over them comfortably I’m grateful for your thoughts. ~ Caitlin

I have used the Sun Precaution garments extensively throughout the Mojave desert and here in the Redwoods of Northern California where I live. At the PCT kickoffs that I have been too, there have been hikers there that have worn Sun Precaution garments for over 20 years (the same set). I talked with one lady two years ago at adzpctko that had hike the pct the previous year wearing them, and was back to rehike the pct and was wearing them. I typically have not been a fan of wearing shorts, but the more I get into trail running the more I have been wearing them. But up until this recent change, pants are all I wore. I have used my montbell dynamo over my Sun Precaution Ultra Athlete pants a lot, as the Ultra Athlete pants have air slits
in them – nice for most days, but when the cold comes up, it is nice to pull out the dynamo pants. I think wearing the shirt is very important, but you can probably get away with not wearing the pants, unless you are sun sensitive and really need the protection. The pants are fairly heavy by thru-hiker standards.

As a big guy (6’4 with a 54 chest) I have long struggled to find quality extended sizes (XXXL usually works for me; occasionally, a loose cut XXL will work as well). I know that Cabela’s, Bass Pro and Columbia all have good quality hunting/outdoors clothing in extended sizes and most of what I use came from one of them, however, very little of what they offer is truly backpacking friendly (lightweight and compressible). It would be great to find others like them. ~ WanderingVenturer

This is not something I have any insight/knowledge of. XXXL hiking gear is not usually available, as you have discovered. Heck, even finding XXL hiking gear is dang near impossible. I am including this Q&A in hopes that some of you reading this will have knowledge of where/who sells hiking specific garments in the XXXL sizes!

Well that is all for my first Q&A… hope it has been helpful to somebody out there. Next month I will answer some food questions – which I normally never answer, due to medical/nutritional  factors, as well as a few questions and answers about designing trails, and a really great question about how I stay emotionally energized while out on the trail.

I always welcome folks to contact me. I might not be able to get right back to you, but I try. Please do not be offended if I miss responding to you, or if it takes a long time.

+John Abela

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