Thursday, 1 April 2010

Mess Kit Revisited, pt. 1

When I was a kid I got a Canadian army (although it’s used by others as well) rectangular mess tin set. In addition I also had a nestling knife, fork, spoon set, also Canuckistani issue. The mess tin, due to its rectangular shape packed fairly well. In order to boil water, the larger one could be placed atop the smaller one to act as a lid. But really, it always seemed to me that it was best for troops that had access to a field kitchen, where a serving could be slopped into the tin.

A few years back I got the Light My Fire Mess Kit. A fun new take on an old idea. Terrific product design by Joachim Nordwall. The spork is an especially great feature of the set.
The triangular shape is a distinctive feature and yet also a drawback.

The size is 19 cm (7½") by 19 cm (7½") by 19 cm (7½") by 6 cm (2¼"). The weight is 330 grams (11.74 oz.)
The set consists of two plate/bowls (a deep and a shallow), the aforementioned spork, a cutting board/strainer, a covered cup, and a small water tight bowl/container.
Let’s start with the cup. Equipped with a lid to help keep the contents warm. The lid has a small hole to drink from. On the side is a protrusion to help hold the cup.
Originally the cup’s lid was tethered to the cup by a loop of what I think was Spectra cord, held together by a zipper pull clasp. The loop was big enough to slip over my hand. Too much in my opinion, so I replaced it with a short bit of 550 cord.
One feature I thought was really elegant are the 100 ml. measurement indicators. Very slick. 
One feature I didn’t like at all was the branding embossed into the bottom of the cup. Keep that on the outside of the cup. Those tiny little grooves are really hard to try and clean out in the bush, and that can lead to bacteria buildup and consequent health problems.
Inside the cup is a small, cup/bowl/storage container. While it could certainly be used to drink or eat from, I think its main purpose is to serve as a water tight container to store things like tea and sugar.
The spork is the other stand out design from this set. Unlike most spork designs, which don’t really excel at either role, this one is a good spoon and a good fork. Not to mention that it also has a serviceable…cutting (more like hacking) feature on the side of the fork. It is breakable though. I carried this in another setup and just from getting jostled around it snapped in half. It also doesn’t float. Ask me how I know. And like the bottom of the cup, this also has their logo embossed into it. I understand that companies want to get their name all over their products. But crud just gets trapped in there, and in an outdoor environment, there may not be the chance to clean it as thoroughly as it needs to be cleaned. They need to find a way to brand their product without creating a germ trap.

Light My Fire has come out with a titanium spork. This should counter the breakability issue. And seeing that I’m member #23 of the Titaniacs Guild, I need to get one just cause it’s titanium.

I think this is a great setup for an urban, use it at work, or go on a picnic set up. For me personally, I strive for a pretty minimalist setup out in the bush. Both for the sake of simplicity and weight, but also for packability. To me the drawback of the set, at least from a backpacking perspective is that the triangular shape doesn’t pack so well. I suspect the shape may have had more to do with creating something unique to differentiate itself in the market. Fair enough, and I’d say they have succeeded. And certainly, it’s very usable from a simple eating perspective. But like I said, in backpack, where every square centimeter is a valuable commodity, it’s not really an optimal shape. Not to mention that it’s a bit more than I really need. I have gotten completely into freezer bag cooking. I’ll eat right out of the bag, so two serving vessels are unnecessary. The cutting board/strainer is really elegant, but just not something I really see myself using much. The little storage container is nice, but not really critical for me. The cup is the clear winner in the set. Good size, and great to drink from. And when I get the titanium spork, it will be a great addition to my stuff.

Being a design junkie, I really appreciate the styling of it. But there are features of it that lead me to think that form took precedence over function in some aspects.

I have put this mess kit in my urban bag on a bunch of occasions, and used it at work, picnics, cookouts, whatever. Other people may well find it ideal for their style of camping. For me, doing long distances at a brisk pace, and stealth camping when I get to where I’m going, it’s more than I need. But the cup is a keeper for me.

Part 2 of this series, can be found here.

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