There’s all kinds of inexpensive custom bikepacking gear on the market, so why would you make your own?
Bikepacking styles vary greatly, and making your own gear can allow you to customize to your particular style without paying for custom or small scale production. The small boutique brands are not out to rip you off, but need to charge more for higher quality and small-scale production.
By making your own gear, you can customize it to your style, your budget, and your size.
What bikepacking gear can you make?
Bikepacking requires few essentials. a sleep system, luggage, a cook system, and clothing. Through this series, I am going to share some of my experience with making some of each of these.
In a cook system, you can buy any of a number of sophisticated stoves, chose from a wide selection of cutlery, pots and pans. It would seem at a glance that DIY has no place here.
What if there was a stove that weighed in the single digits of grams, could be easily assembled at home, only cost $.10 and offered a chance to drink a delicious can of beer as part of the build process.
Yes, the beer can stove is by far the lightest, the most reliable, and the most home-made cooking gear that the average person can build.
I use the design from https://tomsbiketrip.com/how-to-turn-a-beer-can-into-the-only-camping-stove-youll-ever-need-video/ because it has consistently works really well for me, and it had the best fuel efficiency of the 6 types I tried. It has worked for me in temperatures below -30ºC right up to +30ºC. It is tricky to light below about -10ºC but as long as you have patience to wait for the side jets to warm up and light, it will boil water. I made one for some Czech backpackers who were using a cat can stove and they loved it and said it used about half as much fuel.
It sounds too good to be true!
There are disadvantages to beer can stoves. First, they are generally not as safe as a contained white gas or canister stove. There is substantially more opportunity to set a forest ablaze by accidentally tipping a stove or spilling fuel and igniting it accidentally. Some parks prohibit them as open fires.
Second, they are slow. Really slow. If you are on a casual tour, then you can just set your stove alight and go set up a tent or something, but if you are trying to fuel up on instant noodles at lunch time, then they are a substantial delay.
Third, some types of alcohol are quite toxic, and health can be affected if the fuel accidentally leaks onto clothing or cooking utensils. In Canada, the alcohol fuel that I find most often is methyl hydrate, and it is a substance with well known health ramifications – it is directly toxic, not just a long term potential hazard. The least toxic alcohols aren’t available in Canada since Canadians apparently cannot be trusted with 90%+ grain alcohol.
Last, beer can stoves are super fragile. Though it can be a good thing to have to bring an extra beer in order to build a new stove, those grams add up. I’ve heard suggestions about bringing stoves made from cat food cans, and they are more durable, though I prefer the beer can.
For me, the biggest limit on beer can stoves is that after about 3 days out as a family, the extra weight of the (less energy-dense) alcohol is greater than the weight of a white gas or canister stove. I also don’t like the burns I get when I use my hand to see if the stove is lit, this might not be a problem for other people.
What other cooking supplies can you make?
I was going to mention carving your own chopsticks as a home-made gear item, but realistically, they probably aren’t worth making unless you forgot your spoon or takeout restaurant chopsticks at home. That said, I have carved at least 6 spoons (only 1 for myself) on several bikepacking or hiking trips.