Monday, June 20, 2011

The Soto OD-1R Microregulator: Cold weather problems solved?

Rich wrote:
Just got the Soto OD-1R microregulator stove... I read the regulator solves the cold weather problems... 
Well, Rich, I've got good news, and I've got bad news.

The good news is that a regulator might help in colder weather, perhaps to the tune of about five degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, if a "normal" (needle valved) burner would conk out at 25F, you might still be able to operate a regulator valved burner down to 20F. But that's it: about five degrees F difference. And other factors could affect that five degree difference.  Note the use of the word "might."  Look for more on that in future blog posts.

The real issue is the type of fuel. Each of the common types of fuel used for backpacking stoves has a vaporization point. Below that vaporization point, the fuel will remain a liquid, and
an upright canister stove (such as the OD-1R), no matter how cleverly built, will simply not function. The three common fuels and their vaporization points are:
"Plain" butane: +31F (-0.5C)
Isobutane: +11F (-12C)
Propane: -44F (-42C)

If you consider the entire "lifespan" (full to empty) of a canister, an upright canister stove can only function at a temperature about ten Fahrenheit degrees above the highest vaporization point of all fuel components.  For example, if you have a fuel mix of propane and isobutane, the highest vaporization point is +11F, and you can only operate an upright canister stove down to about +20F (roughly ten degrees above the vaporization point of isobutane, the fuel component with the highest vaporization point).

Therefore, the first trick of operation for gas stoves in cold weather is to choose good fuel. Avoid "plain" butane. For example, Primus, Optimus, Glowmaster, and Coleman brand gas canisters contain at least some "plain" butane. Avoid these and similar brands for cold weather use. Instead get brands that contain only isobutane and propane (Snowpeak, MSR, etc.). These brands will work down to about 20F (at sea level)*. Note that as you use the gas on an upright canister stove, the temperature of the fuel will fall, so even if you start with fuel at 20F, by the time you finish cooking, the fuel may have become much colder, and your flame may weaken or die. Indeed, even on days where the outside temperature is above 32F, the temperature of the fuel may dip below freezing, like this:

The more fuel you burn, the colder the fuel will become.

Which leads us to: The second trick of operation for gas stoves in cold weather is the temperature of the fuel. If you can keep the fuel warm, the gas will flow even in weather where a stove wouldn't normally be able to operate. Check out my Stoves for Cold Weather I article in Seattle Backpacker's magazine for tips on how to keep the fuel warm. 

If you're really interested in a gas stove for cold weather, you need to look at a different class of stoves, the class generally referred to as remote inverted canister stoves.  I've written article on remote inverted canister gas stoves for cold weather:  Stoves for Cold Weather IIA couple of examples of remote inverted canister, cold weather capable gas stoves include:
-The Coleman Xtreme (The "gold standard" of cold weather gas stoves).
-The MSR Rapidfire (An economical cold weather gas stove).

 An upright canister stove like the Soto just isn't going to cut it in real cold weather, regulated burner not withstanding.. 

So, in summary, your first concern when running a gas stove in cold weather is the fuel itself.  The second is the temperature of the fuel.  Third, if you need to go really cold, you need to switch to a different class of stoves -- remote inverted canister stoves.  The design of the valve on the burner is of little consequence in comparison to the the fuel, the temperature of the fuel, and the class of stove.


*When I say 20F, I mean throughout the life of the canister, particularly towards the end of the canister. Fresh (full) canisters will work in colder temperatures. For gas stoves, it is always the temperature of the fuel that matters, not the air temperature.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why a Gas Stove?

I recently got a note from "DG" concerning what type of stove is best:
I vote for liquid fuel type stoves. Fast heat no matter what condition.
I don't disklike liquid fueled stoves the least bit, but I thought I'd talk a little about why I also like gas stoves.  Read on...


My first stove that was all my own (i.e. not my dad's) was an MSR Whisperlite that I bought in 1987. It's still going strong.

You're absolutely right that a liquid fueled stove will work in all conditions. But let me list out a few reasons that people might want to also have a gas stove on hand:
1. Bulk and weight. A liquid fueled stove typically takes a fair amount of room in the pack as does the fuel bottle. I can literally hold a little gas stove in the palm of my hand.
Optimus Crux
And in no way is a liquid fueled stove anywhere near as light as a gas stove.

2. Speed. I've been using liquid fueled stoves for years. My family used them back in the 60's and 70's when I was a kid, and I've been using them on my own since the 80's. I've got priming and set up down to a science. HOWEVER, even if you're good at set up and priming, it takes time. I started noticing that my friends were getting tired of waiting for me when we were breaking camp. I bought my first gas stove just so I could break camp as quickly as my friends.

3. Cost. You can go on down to Walmart and get an inexpensive Coleman gas stove for something on the order of $30.00. The cheapest white gas stove is at least double that. The cheapest decent white gas stove is probably another $10 to $20 more expensive than that. The cheapest decent multi-fueled (white gas or kerosene) is at least $10 over that.  Over time, a liquid fueled stove may prove cheaper -- if you stick with it. For those just trying out backpacking or who aren't going to do a lot of backpacking over time, the gas stove will be significantly less expensive.

So there you have it: Gas stoves are lighter, faster/more convenient, more compact, and less expensive than liquid fueled stoves. They're great for fair weather hikers or as a supplement to four season hikers.

All that said, I continue to use white gas as my primary stove fuel. But on those trips where the weather will be good and I want to go fast and light, gas is my choice.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's the Best Stove for All Conditions?

I thank you all for your many interesting questions and comments. I try to respond to each and every one. Here's one from "tpfishnfool" that I thought might actually make a good blog post:
"tpfishnfool" wrote: Looking for a good all around stove for everything from whitney to baldy. whats a good stove that is small and good in all conditions ?
It's tough to find that one stove that "does it all" and is the best stove at all times and in all conditions. Take a look at my "personal" stove list down below, and you'll hopefully see what type of stove I use for what type of trip and under what conditions.

Some questions for you:
-How much money are you planning on spending?
-Are you willing to put up with the "hassle" of liquid fuel stoves and priming? (I put "hassle" in quotes since once you get the hang of it, priming a liquid fuel stove is pretty much no big deal.)
-What's your "style?" Ultralighter? Gotta have bomb proof equipment even if it's a little heavier? Convenience driven? Cost conscious?
-What seasons do you go out in? Year round/four season? Three season including the "shoulder" seasons (early spring/late fall)? Fair weather only?

I can give you a better recommendation if I know what your answers are.

However, I can make some general remarks: If you want a stove that's good in truly all conditions, then in general you either want a remote canister gas stove or a remote liquid fueled stove. If you invert the canister and use only isobutane and propane for fuel, a remote canister gas stove will work down to 0F without needing to employ "tricks" to keep the canister warm, and a remote liquid fueled stove will take you down into arctic conditions. By "remote" I simply mean that the burner and the fuel are separated (a fuel hose connects them).

Some recommendations for a remote canister gas stove:
1. Inexpensive: MSR Rapidfire. (discontinued, but available on eBay)
2. Lightweight: MSR Windpro. (current production)
3. Really low temperatures: Coleman Xtreme. (discontinued, but available on eBay)

For a remote liquid fueled stove:
1. Inexpensive: MSR Whisperlite. (current production)
2. Versatile: Primus Omnifuel which burns canister gas, gasoline, or kerosene. (current production) If I just absolutely *had* to recommend one and only one stove, then this would be it.
3. Rugged & reliable: MSR XGK EX (current production) or earlier versions such as the MSR XGK II (discontinued, but available on eBay)

Now, having said that, most of us don't need to go super cold. If you're generally staying above 20F, there's another excellent option: the MSR Reactor (current production). It's not lightweight, and it's certainly not cheap, but it is one bomb proof stove, and as it's name might suggest, it is one hot stove. The Reactor can take on wind without missing a beat. If melting snow is what you need, this thing's a blast furnace. If you need to go below 20F, it can be done with the Reactor, but you need to employ techniques to to keep the canister warm. If I were camping in a gale on the exposed summit of a peak, I can think of no other stove I'd rather have along.

Just for fun, I'll list my "personal" stoves. These are not "shelf queens." These are the stoves I repeatedly rely on when out on the trail. What they are and when I use them may be illustrative.
1. Svea 123. An "upright" liquid fueled stove. Not a lot of wind protection. Super reliable. Compact and rugged. Cheap to operate.* Reasonably stable. Good for solo or small group trips. Capable of simmering.
2. MSR Whisperlite. A "remote" liquid fueled stove. Probably my most used stove; it's a real "workhorse." Cheap to operate, good wind protection. Stable; capable of handling larger pot sizes. Good for small or mid-sized groups. Difficult to simmer. A good all-around stove.
3. MSR XGK. A "remote" liquid fueled stove. Hot! Rugged. Reliable. Stable. Good wind protection. Cheap to operate. This is my "go to" stove for serious winter trips unless I might need to cook in my vestibule. Difficult to simmer.
4. MSR Simmerlite. A "remote" liquid fueled stove. Basically a lighter weight, modernized version of the Whisperlite. I use this stove when I want to carry less weight/bulk but still use liquid fuel. Difficult to simmer.

1. Optimus Crux. An "upright" canister stove. Small, light, and compact, but poor wind protection. Not super stable. Capable of simmering. Basically a fair weather stove for "fast and light" trips with smaller pots. Does not handle cold weather well.
2. Camping Gaz HP470. An "upright" canister stove. Bigger pot suports, better wind resistance, and more stable than the Optimus Crux but consequently the HP470 weighs more and is bulkier. A fair to moderate weather stove. Does not handle cold weather well.
3. Jetboil PCS. An "upright" canister stove. Efficient. Easy to use. Convenient. Reasonably good wind protection. Not super compact but not particularly bulky either. Pretty stable when the "tripod" (canister legs) is used. Does not handle cold weather well. Capable of simmering. A good intermediate weather stove.
4. MSR Reactor. An "upright" canister stove. Hot! Stable. Efficient. Excellent wind protection. Not light. Not compact -- a bit bulky actually. Capable of simmering; it's tricky, but it can be done. A good extreme weather stove when it's not going to get super cold. Fastest snow melter I know of.
5. Coleman Xtreme. A "remote" canister stove. Good wind protection. Good stability. Special canister design for cold weather which allows for operation down below 0F. If I think it's going to be really cold and I might need to cook inside my tent (or vestibule), then this is my "go to" stove. The thought of priming a liquid fueled stove inside does NOT appeal to me. A winter gas canister stove up like the Xtreme allows me to avoid priming yet still have excellent cold weather performance down to about -10F. Capable of simmering.

Notice that the above five gas stoves start with the lightest duty first and proceed to the heaviest duty.


*Indeed, "cheap to operate" is true for most liquid fueled stoves. A 110g canister of gas is about $5.00 plus tax. The equivalent liquid fuel is about $0.30 plus tax.