Tuesday 31 August 2021

Pots for Backpacking


I've recently been sent queries by readers on cooking pots and trekking poles so here to end August are two posts I hope give adequate answers. First, an edited piece on pots that first appeared in The Great Outdoors two years ago.

Backpacking kitchen utensils can range from a single pot and spoon through to a multiple pot set including frying pan and more. Most people generally end up somewhere between these two extremes. My backpacking cooking is fairly simple and my solo cook kit usually consists of a 900ml titanium pot, a 600ml titanium pot that doubles as a mug, a lid that fits both pots, 2 spoons (just in case of loss or breakage), and water containers. In winter I swap the 600ml pot for an insulated plastic mug (sometimes I carry both). If sharing with others I carry a plastic bowl and mug.


With cooking pots the main choices to be made are the capacity, the material, and the weight. For solo use an 800 ml to 1 litre pot should be ample. Some backpackers who only boil water for instant meals get by with a smaller pot. For two 1.5-2 litre pots should be fine. The biggest pot I have is a 5 litre one that I used for cooking for ten on ski tours. Most people won't need a pot that big! Note that capacities are for pots filled to the brim, which isn't a good idea. Practical capacities are usually at least 100ml less than that stated.

Which material is best depends on the type of cooking you do. For boiling water and fast cook meals with plenty of liquid any material will do. For more complex cooking with thick sauces or sticky foods like porridge and for frying hard anodised aluminium or non-stick pots are best.

A third consideration is whether to have a pot with a heat exchanger welded to the base. These do reduce the amount of fuel needed and speed boiling times but also add weight. I like a heat exchanger pot in winter for snow melting but otherwise I find a standard pot fine. Heat exchanger pots often have cosies round them to further retain heat in the cold.

If weight is critical then untreated aluminium and titanium are the lightest materials (and also the cheapest and most expensive respectively). A bit heavier but in the middle regarding price is hard anodised aluminium, which may well be the best all-round choice.


Some pots come with folding handles, some require a pot gripper. I don't think either is better than the other. Handles need to be insulated - silicone tubing can be used to replace insulation if it wears or burns off - and to be secure when the pot is full. Some are a little wobbly, which is not good. Grippers need to hold firmly too and be strong enough to support a full pot. 

For carrying it’s useful if pots nest inside each other – they don’t need to be a set, my favourite two- pot nesting combination for many years comes from two different companies. You can also store other items – small stoves, brew kits, dishcloths – inside the pots. One advantage of tall pots is that gas canisters often fit inside too. Wide pots usually aren’t tall enough for this.


The shape of cooking pots does make a difference regarding stability, efficiency, and ease of use. Care is needed not to tip over tall narrow pots, especially with small stoves. Stirring meals is harder in narrow pots too and food is more likely to stick. Theoretically more fuel is needed to boil water in a narrow pot as a smaller area is heated directly than with a wide pot but with the small pots used for backpacking I haven’t noticed a significant difference. Wide pots are more stable and much easier for stirring food and eating from and I prefer these. With a tall pot a long-handled spoon for stirring and eating is useful.


Three metals are used for backpacking pots – aluminium, titanium, and stainless steel. The first comes in uncoated, hard anodised, and non-stick versions. Titanium comes in plain and non-stick. Steel is usually plain.

Uncoated aluminium

The cheapest material is uncoated aluminium. However, if used regularly pots soon become dented and scratched unless great care is taken. I used to go through a set every year. Acidic and salty foods can also damage the material. Uncoated aluminium pots do conduct heat well and are lightweight but unless cost is an issue I would choose something else. Because aluminium conducts heat well it’s not suitable for mugs as the rim will stay hot and can burn your lips.


 ·        Lightweight

·         Good conductor of heat

·         Inexpensive


 ·        Easily dented and scratched

·         Unsuitable for cooking acidic or salty food

·         Cools slowly – unsuitable for hot drinks.


Hard anodised aluminium

To overcome the relative softness of uncoated aluminium it can go through an electro-chemical process that results in a hard finish that doesn’t dent or scratch easily. Hard anodised aluminium still conducts heat well and is lightweight but does cost more than uncoated aluminium.


·         Hard finish

·         Doesn’t react with acidic food

·         Corrosion resistant

·         Good heat conductor

·         Less expensive than titanium


·         Not as light as titanium.

·         Cools slowly – unsuitable for hot drinks.



Non-stick coatings can be applied to aluminium and titanium pots. The big advantage is of course that food doesn’t stick – or at least not much. However, the coatings can be scratched (and then food can stick horribly) so care is needed in use.


 ·       Non-stick

·         Good heat conductor


 ·        Unsuitable for use with metal utensils as these can scratch it.

·         Not durable



If weight and durability both matter then titanium pots are the ones to choose. Titanium isn’t a good heat conductor though, which does have one advantage. The rim cools quickly so it’s a suitable material for mugs, unlike aluminium.


 ·       Ultralight

·         Durable – weight for weight stronger than steel

·         Corrosion-resistant

·         Cools quickly so suitable as a mug – no burnt lips


·         Poor heat conductor so heats unevenly and liable to hot spots

·         Expensive


Stainless steel


·         Durable

·         Cools quickly so suitable as a mug – no burnt lips

·         Corrosion-resistant.


·         Heavy

·         Poor heat conductor


Tuesday 24 August 2021

Munro Reminiscences: Approaching Liathach on my Munros & Tops walk 25 years ago

Twenty-five years ago on August 24 I had an easy day on my Munros and Tops walk with no summits climbed. The previous day I'd walked over Beinn Liath Mhor, Sgorr Ruadh, and Maol Chean-dearg and camped by Loch an Eion where I had the worst midges of the trip so far in the evening. The night was cold and clear and I woke to a tent soaked in condensation and the thrilling cry of red-throated divers out on the loch. The sun soon dried the tent and I had a wonderful walk down to Torridon with Liathach shining in front of me. I would traverse it in two days time. 

The picture is from my book about the walk, The Munros and Tops (Mainstream)

Sunday 22 August 2021

A Visit to BrewDog's 'Lost Forest'

There is much woodland on the lower part of the estate

Earlier this year it was widely reported that brewing giant BrewDog had bought the Kinrara estate in the Monadh Liath hills just outside Aviemore with the intention of restoring a ‘lost forest’. This being a fairly local place and one where I’ve walked many times I decided to go and have a look at it with thoughts of a ‘lost forest’ in mind.

An estate track known as the Burma Road runs up the centre of the estate over the watershed between the rivers Spey and Dulnain. The smaller southern section is in the Cairngorms National Park and this is where I went, adding the short ascent of Geal Charn Mor to my walk and descending the same way.

I was just about to leave the parking area when a walker greeted me. It was Gary Hodgson of Tarmachan Mountaineering. He’d been up the hills photographing mountain hares, something he does regularly here. He posts great photos of these lovely animals on social media and on his blog, They’re well worth a look. 

After we’d chatted about the future of the estate and more, I set off, noting that under the old Scottish Rights of Society sign a smaller one had been added with a link to find out more about the proposed new native forest. At least the proposals aren’t being kept secret. 

A fenced forest along the Burma Road

Initially the Burma Road runs through healthy-looking birch and pine forest – no lost forest here. A network of fencing protects the trees, looking as though it’s been erected at different times over the years. In places one of the problems with this approach can be seen. Young trees crowd against the fence while on the other side is open treeless moorland. 

A lone pine on the hillside above the Burma Road. The pale area is old muirburn.

As the track climbs higher a pattern found in too many damaged Highland glens can be seen. Strips of woodland run down the sides of burns where the steepness of the slopes protects them from grazing. On the hillsides above a few old pines are all that’s left of what must once have been a magnificent forest. 

Young pines, old pines 

There are signs though that the forest could return. All the way up I saw tiny pines, birches, willows, and rowans poking up through the heather and grass. Not many, but they were there. The forest is trying to return, and maybe is returning, albeit slowly. Even at the top of the road at nearly 700 metres there were a few little pines. Remove enough deer to stop overgrazing and cease heather burning – areas of dead white heather show this has taken place not so long ago – and the trees will return. The forest isn’t lost. It’s just waiting to come back.

How big will these little pines be able to grow?

It’s a steady pull up the Burma Road and it’s a favourite test piece for mountain bikers. Not for the cyclist who passed me though. He wasn’t pedalling, just sitting there letting his electric bike do the work. I plodded on, very briefly envious but not really. I prefer the world at walking pace. And I do wonder when an electric bike becomes motorised transport rather than an aid to cycling.

A tiny pine at almost 700 metres

From the top of the road I took the eroded path over the moorland to the summit of Geal Charn Mor. This is a splendid viewpoint for the Cairngorms but today clouds hung low over the tops, those over the Glen Feshie hills looking quite ominous. Rather here than there, I thought.

View to the Glen Feshie hills from Geal Charn Mor

Walking back down I pondered the future of the estate. Just what will BrewDog do with it? Whatever it is it’ll almost certainly be better than keeping it as a shooting estate. The potential for rewilding is exciting.

This forest could expand. Looking back down to Strathspey from the Burma Road

Back home I had a look at the proposals on the link from the notice and also read Parkwatch Scotland’s detailed posts on the subject. The first thing I noted is that the plans have been drawn up by Scottish Woodlands, which is basically a commercial forestry management company. As Parkwatch Scotland says BrewDog would have done better to talk to those with expertise in native forest regeneration and restoration such as Wild Land Ltd, who own the neighbouring Glen Feshie estate. As it is, the proposals do talk about encouraging natural regeneration and also about ‘expansion of ancient woodland sites through creation of appropriate woodland types and species mixtures’. However, Parkwatch Scotland has looked at the detailed proposals, not just those in the graphic from the link on the notice, and says the plan is for mass planting and fencing. This might do something quickly – look at all our new trees! But it’s not the best way to restore a natural forest. Regeneration may be slower but as the seed source and even some infant trees are there it might surprise BrewDog at how effective it is. A forest requires space to spread naturally too and not be confined inside a fence.

To really allow the forest to return deer numbers need to be reduced and heather burning and grouse shooting stopped. Then patience is needed. Just wait. The forest will emerge.

Sunday 15 August 2021

A Look At The September Issue Of The Great Outdoors

The September issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In the gear section I review the Hilleberg Anaris tent, BAM Graphic T-shirt, tentree Juniper Altitude Hat, Klattermusen Aysnja waterproof jacket, and the Merrell Rain Jacket. There's also a waterproof jacket feature with Judy Armstrong reviewing five women's jackets, and Alex Roddie reviewing five men's. 

Alex Roddie has also written a joint feature with Plas y Brenin instructor Cath Wilson on compass use in the Hill Skills section.

In the main features James Forrest traverses the Rhinogydd in Snowdonia, David Lintern celebrates bothies and takes his family to one, fell runner Norman Hadley takes ultralight backpacking to the extreme with a 'bumbagging' trip in the Lake District, and going the opposite direction to usual with regard to shelter Ronald Turnbull forgoes his usual bivi bag for a hut-to-hut trip in the Austrian Alps.

Also in this issue there's a lovely summery photo of Shutlingsloe and the Dane Valley in the Peak District by Alan Novelli, Sabrina Verjee discusses her record-breaking Wainwrights run, Hanna Lindon looks at public transport in national parks and also interviews Chris Lewis about his ongoing walk round the UK coast, TGO Challenge organisers Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden discuss this year's event, Jim Perrin describes Braeriach, one of my favourite mountains, and there are reviews of two books - Much Ado About Mothing by James Lowen, reviewed by Roger Butler, and Regeneration: The Rescue of a Wild Land by Andrew Painting, reviewed by Alex Roddie. 

In the Wild Walks pages Alan Rowan goes on a great walk to the magnificent hills around Coire Lair in the NW Highlands, Vivienne Crow climbs Fife's highest hill, Geoff Holland goes up Hungry Law on the Scotland-England border, Fiona Barltrop walks the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons, and Megan Carmichael has a coastal walk in Sussex.

Friday 13 August 2021

Book Review: Peaks And Bandits by Alf Bonnevie Bryn


In 1909 two students at the University of Geneva set out to discover Corsica and climb some mountains. This book is the story of their adventures. As with the conceit of discovering Corsica as if it's an unknown country the tale is told with a wickedly dry sense of humour. The two students are the author, Alf Bonnevie Bryn, who later had a career as an author and engineer, and George Ingle Finch, who was to gain fame on the Everest 1922 Expedition.

All this lay ahead as they set out for Corsica with little money and much ambition and enthusiasm. They climb mountains, encounter locals (friendly and otherwise), and, indeed, meet some bandits. Although some of the situations, both in the mountains and with people, are potentially dangerous the stories are told in a light-hearted carefree manner.

In the midst of the escapades there is also interesting information on Corsica and mountaineering at that time. 

First published in Norwegian as Tinder og Banditter in 1943 this new translation by Bibbi Lee is excellent. Peaks And Bandits is a very entertaining travel and mountaineering book that's well worth reading.

Sunday 8 August 2021

Book Review: A second look at Andrew Terrill's The Earth Beneath My Feet

Back in June I posted an initial review of Andrew Terrill’s first book, The Earth Beneath My Feet, and said it had become one of my favourite books even though I wasn’t yet halfway through. Now I’ve finished the book I can confirm that. Indeed, I think this book is superb, a glorious mix of adventure, contemplation, challenge, reflection, and self-analysis.

The book describes a walk from spring to winter from Calabria at the toe of Italy along the Apennine Mountains and through the Alps to Salzburg in Austria. The landscape, the people, and the places are all described wonderfully well. I felt I was there with the author as he fights through mosquito-infested dense forests in the Southern Apennines, deals with heat and thunderstorms, gets lost due to inaccurate maps, and slogs through deep snow in the first storms of winter in the Alps. I also shared his delight and celebrations when the walking was easy and when the landscape overcame him with its glorious wildness. I loved his descriptions of his camps too - he camps most nights and revels in this, naming every camp.

Along the way he has days and nights of beauty and transcendence, passion, and excitement. Again, the author took me with him as he dipped from close to despair and rose to heights of ecstasy, a rollercoaster of emotions engendered by the difficulties and pleasures of long-distance walking and also by self-reflection as the author considers what he is doing and whether it’s justified and why he’s doing it. When the weather or sore feet or tedious road walking depresses his spirits he thinks of the homeless people he hopes the walk will help as he is using it to raise funds for homeless charities.

The writing is direct, descriptive, and subtle. There’s a great deal of depth to the words and many passages repay rereading. This is far more than the account of a long walk.

Whilst Terrill comes across as determined and resourceful – he has to be to overcome some of the difficulties along the way – he’s also modest and self-aware enough to laugh at himself and to know his limitations. There’s no false bravado here. Yet at the same time his strength of will comes through. He never doubts he’ll complete his journey.

Discovering the wild nature that still exists in Europe was one of the author’s aims for the walk and he certainly does. The Italy he describes is far from the famous cities and coastal resorts that usually come to mind. This is an Italy of dense forests, high mountains, wild animals, and few people, an Italy I didn’t know existed. His walk is a wilderness walk.

The book is illustrated with the author’s photographs, all in black and white except on the cover. They show the landscapes, the camps, and, in my favourite ones, the joy of the author.

The walk progresses slowly. Andrew Terrill is not in a hurry. He’s there to relish every minute and draw everything he can from the experience. I read the book slowly too. I think it deserves this. Towards the end I slowed even more. I didn’t want it to finish. In fact, though the book may end it’s actually just a pause as the journey is not even half complete. Next year part two, On Sacred Ground, will tell the story of his continuing walk from the Alps all the way to North Cape at the northern tip of Norway, another 4,000 miles. I’m waiting impatiently!