Winter Gear Upgrades '23

I'm not a huge fan of cold weather so, for me, winter means planning, dreaming of warmer days and tinkering with gear so I'm ready to go in the spring. I had planned a couple of gear changes (hopefully upgrades but time will tell) for this winter and one was easy while the other really stymied me for awhile.

The first (the easy one) was the acquisition of a cooking grate.  The overnight canoe trips I've planned this year will not be in the BWCA so I doubt that fire grates will be available as they were on my Round Lake loop trip.  I've always liked the option of having a fire and a grate over the fire pit simplifies cooking so I went searching online.  What I've settled on is the Bushcraft Backpacker's Grill Grate by DZRZVD (sure glad I'm not on YouTube or I'd have to figure out how to pronounce that).

It's stainless steel, cost me less than $15, measures (roughly) 7 1/2 inches by 12 1/2 inches, is designed to be used on campfires, can support a little over 11 pounds yet weighs just under 11 ounces.  It came in a plastic bag inside of a nylon outer bag and I'll likely keep both (at least for now) to keep soot contained as much as possible.

Stainless should cool quickly and I'm eager to try it out but, so far, what's not to like?  (maybe I'll need a gear review section by next winter)

Another issue that needed addressed was the weight of the skillet that I take on canoe trips.  I like fishing and fresh fish on a campfire is not only tasty but it's a great way to reduce portage weight by not carrying as much food.  Problem was that I can carry a whole lot of dehydrated food (or, better yet, precooked bacon) for the weight of the skillets in my kitchen.

On my BWCA trip I just took the same carbon steel skillet that I use at home.  It weighs about half of what cast iron ones do but it's still got a bit of heft to it and I was looking for something lighter when I saw a thread online about cold-handle frying pans.  Lighter, able to be seasoned like cast iron and suitable for use on a fire without the handle becoming hot... count me in.

Unable to find anyone currently manufacturing such skillets, I started searching the flea markets and found one here and there but they seemed to be very rare, usually small, pretty beat up and typically over-priced.  As is so often the case, however, persistence pays off and, in true General Custer fashion, I tend to go from "can't find an Indian" to "overrun with them" in the blink of an eye.  For the past week or so it seems that there is at least one (pans; not indians) in every antique store that I visit.  

Many of them are, in my opinion, overpriced, some are in pretty sad shape and one small one had a really nice scene painted on the bottom which would have been a shame to burn off in a fire but I managed to find 4 that I liked.  All 4 are in the 8-10 inch range and I'll probably keep looking for a 12" but, for now I am content.  

I was also pleasantly surprised that 3 of the 4 were already seasoned really well so a quick scrub was all that was needed and I'll use them around the kitchen until time to hit the trail.

(Note:  most of the antique shops around here refer to these as "cowboy skillets" so, if you ask for a cold-handle frying pan and are met with blank stares, that might be the issue)

The final (I think) gear tweaks this winter are the addition of a camping hammock that my son and his family gifted me for Christmas and the purchase of a Gransfors Bruks small forest axe.  I ordered mine through Piragis Northwoods' online catalog because their price was reasonable and they were very helpful in the early stages of planning my BWCA trip (although I, ultimately, decided to enter from the Grand Marais side). 

At just under 2 pounds, it may even be light enough to tote along on backpacking trips although my friend Cathy will freak out as "ounces are pounds and pounds are pain".  

I'll suffer a little if I must for the life that I want and I don't really embrace "roughing it"... I envision trips as merely going into the woods to live for awhile.  I'm hopeful that this little, seemingly very well-built and very well-balanced axe can make camp just a little more enjoyable.  

Now I'll impatiently await the Spring so I can find out.