Sunday, February 25, 2024

Guest Post: Titanium at the Mammoth Sniper Challenge

by George Groot

George is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

In January of 2023 I participated in the Mammoth Sniper Challenge, a three day endurance event where you have to pack everything except water and live out of your pack. This year I used an ALPS OutdoorZ Commander freighter frame and pack bag, stowing an AR-15 in the rifle retention system on the pack and carrying 150 rounds of 5.56x45 and 100 rounds of 9x19 on the opposite side pouch to balance the load. Magazines went in the outer utility pockets. My food, clothes, cooking kit, and pistol went in the upper compartment, my sleeping system went in the bottom compartment, and my sleeping pad was rolled up and strapped to the bottom.

All told, my pack weighed in at 59 lbs at the beginning. I had 2.2 lbs of food per day, with around 3,000-3,500 calories per day. At the end, with most ammunition expended and two days of food gone, my pack was around 45 lbs.

I’ve served in the US Army for 25 years, and I have plenty of experience long distance rucking, but I always had the opportunity to make a small cooking fire or to re-supply with MREs at logistics points. Since fires aren't allowed during Mammoth by Fort Eisenhower Range Control, I had to purchase a packable cooking solution. I went to Walmart and picked up this Coleman Peak One butane-propane stove for my cooking needs.

The good: It works, it’s small, and it is easy to use. It was available at my local Walmart for about $14 when I bought it in 2022.

The bad: It’s 6.7 ounces, or nearly 200 grams. 6.7 ounces feels light in the hand, but I learned the hard way, again, that ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain.

For Mammoth 2024, I used a titanium stove that weighs only 26 grams:

The good: It works, it’s small and it's light. At $24, its price is competitive with the Peak One whose 2024 price has risen to $22 at Amazon. 

The bad: It’s slightly less efficient at turning fuel into heat than the Coleman, adding about 20 seconds of time to boil one liter of water. My partner for Mammoth picked up the same stove, and neither of us had any issues actually using it throughout the event.

Another thing I learned is that I should pack the absolute smallest isobutane canister possible. Since Mammoth only lasts three days, I only really need to cook about seven meals, and even the smallest fuel container can cover boiling water to re-hydrate nine freeze dried camping meals. 

In 2023 I bought the “econo-size”450g canister at Walmart, and I’m still using it multiple campouts later. While it was good value for my money, it was also weight that I didn’t need to carry for three days. This time I bought the absolute smallest canister I could, and it lasted the entire event just fine, and because the location hardly ever drops below 25° F, I chose a pure isobutane fuel instead of an isobutane/propane mix. If you live in an area where it does get colder than the boiling temperature of isobutane, you’ll want an alternate cooking method.

Mess Kit
The second upgrade to my kit was going from two stainless steel cups to a titanium cup and a titanium pot. The 450 ml cup was 20 dollars and comes with a lid...

... and the 750 ml pot with lid was 18 dollars.

As you’ll see later, the real upgrade is going to vessels with lids, which makes it easier to cook over a fire without cinders or ash falling back into your food. 

Weight Savings
Between the burner and the two vessels, I’m shaving six ounces off my load.  

Old Stainless Kit: 14.9 ounces (no lids). This “heavy” loadout cost me about $23 because I got the burner on sale and one of the stainless cups from the Goodwill thrift shop for 99 cents. 

Stainless Steel

Pure Titanium Kit: 8.9 ounces, including lids. This new loadout cost about twice as much, for just over half the weight. My partner at Mammoth 2024 used a stainless steel Stanley cup with a plastic nesting cup, and he’s already decided to replicate my Titanium loadout if he competes in Mammoth 2025. 

I also  have two teenagers, one of whom needs his own backpacking setup, so he can get the “heavy” option until something better comes his way.  
Pure Titanium

If you're curious, my old stainless kit with a new titanium lightweight burner weighs in at 9.2 ounces, but don't get any lids for the cups, and I have no idea where you can get my bigger cup that I got from Goodwill. 

For me, the weight savings are worth the cost. For those of you who might need a “get home bag” that isn’t carrying a long gun with 150 rounds of ammunition and a  pistol with 75 rounds of ammunition, your weight budget might easily handle a stainless steel cup or pot, or even a 1.7 lb Kelly Kettle. If you plan on “bugging in”, then having a stainless Kelly Kettle at your location is very good at rapidly boiling water.

Recommendations for Blue Collar Preppers
If your “get home bag” doesn’t need to include food prep items, this entire article doesn’t apply.

I am a big fan of stainless steel, as it is affordable and durable, but it's also heavier than aluminum or titanium. I am against cooking in aluminum, as over the long term it can negatively impact health, but if you just need to get from Point A to Point B over a few days rather than a long term thing, I’d have no issue with boiling water in aluminum vessels (the human body routinely cleans out aluminum ions, but too much can overwhelm the system). 
  • If you are really pinching pennies and just need it for insurance in your go bag, or are really trying to cut weight for a short term survival kit such as on an aircraft, aluminum is the best value and weight option. 
  • If you need something to cook with long term, and are pinching pennies, stainless steel is your best choice. 
  • The cost premium is titanium, which is a good long term cooking option that is lighter than stainless steel (but not lighter than aluminum), but the weight savings only really matter if you're going to be walking a lot.
My recommendation is that you get a titanium burner since the cost difference is minimal at best, and stainless steel cups with at least one lid since they cost half that of the titanium equivalent.

Whichever setup you choose, I highly recommend keeping some black teabags in your kit in a ziplock bag. They weigh just a few grams, and heating up the 750 ml cup in the morning with two Tetley brand tea bags gave me and my partner a hot, caffeinated drink that tasted pretty good. In Mammoth 2023 I used Starbucks Cafe Vita instant coffee packets, but those are expensive, and I honestly think the hot tea was easier on our bodies this year, especially on Saturday when it rained from 0100 until 0900. There's nothing like ruck marching in the rain, soaked to the bone, and when your life really sucks a hot beverage is great, and tea just brews easier than instant coffee (and cleans up easier too).

Additionally, if you search Amazon for “long handled titanium camping spoon” you’ll see quite a few options. I didn’t use one the last two years, but it is now on my purchase plan because when you're rehydrating freeze dried meals, the long handle allows you to stir the food without sticking your hand deep into the bag. 

One final thought: a three day endurance event isn’t a disaster “get home” rehearsal, but it is pretty close to the same level of physical exertion and “outdoor surviving” required to go from point A to point B. I never had to worry about getting clean water (it was provided to us, and I never needed to carry more water than I planned to drink on the ruck march), but you probably will, so bring at least a Sawyer Mini filter or iodine tablets

1 comment:

  1. I wound up setting up my go bag with both te
    a and instant coffee...a long with honey packets. I think the breakdown on it is around here somewhere.


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