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.

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