Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stove of the Week: The Caldera Cone

This week's stove is the Caldera Cone with 12-10 stove from Trail Designs. My review of the stove is available at Seattle Backpackers Magazine.  This blog post that you are now reading is a supplement to the review on Seattle Backpackers Magazine and features additional photos and content that would not fit in the magazine article.  I've also added a technical appendix with weights in grams and ounces at the end of this blog post.  As for why the Caldera Cone is such an efficient alcohol stove system, please see The "Magic" of the Caldera Cone.
The Caldera Cone with an MSR Titan Kettle in place.
UPDATE, 25 Nov 2011:  Several of you have written to me saying that the one can actually cook with a Caldera Cone and have described various modifications such as simmer rings that allow such a thing.  Although the Caldera Cone wasn't really put together with the idea of cooking in mind, the ingenuity of the individual backpacker should never be underestimated!  Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

The Caldera Cone (left) and an MSR Titan Kettle
First, be aware that Trail Designs offers many different types of cones.  Some, like the one shown above are of one piece.  Others are of multiple pieces.  Some, like the one shown above, are of aluminum.  Others are made of titanium.  Generally each cone will only work with a specific pot.  The cone in my review and featured in this blog post basically fits only the pot shown above, the MSR Titan Kettle.  I did find one other pot that will fit this cone, but that was just a coincidence.  Generally you must buy the cone that matches your pot or you must buy the pot that matches your cone.  With a pot like the MSR Titan Kettle that can be used as a kettle, a pot, or a mug, I don't find this only-one-pot-for-a-given-cone situation particularly restrictive, but you should consider your needs, your style, etc before you invest in such a system.

At a minimum, Trail Designs sells a cone and a 12-10 stove together.  One frequently purchases the pot separately (as I did).  You can buy packages that may save you money.  Packages are at least worth looking into.

Generally, it's not a good idea to buy just a cone and then just use whatever alcohol stove you happen to have handy.  Inside the cone, you have a high heat, low oxygen environment.  The 12-10 stove has been specifically tuned for this environment.  Not all alcohol stoves will function well in this environment.  If you do choose to use another stove, test it thoroughly before you head out on the trail.

Anti-Gravity Gear makes several packages to go with Trail Designs Caldera Cone systems.  The Reflectix cozy that you see in the below photo came from Anti-Gravity Gear although there's no reason why you couldn't just make your own.  Anti-Gravity gear also sells more sophisticated packages to go with Caldera Cone systems.

Aluminum Caldera Cones can also be used with hexamine tablets (e.g. ESBIT).  Titanium Caldera Cones can be used with alcohol, wood, or hexamine.

Here's the set packed:
The Caldera Cone, all packed up.  A reasonably compact package considering what it contains.
And here's the set unpacked:
My Caldera Cone set up, unpacked.
Everything in the "unpacked" photo fits into the package shown in the "packed" photo.  People have asked, so let me list a source where one can obtain each of the components shown above.

  • The Caldera Cone and 12-10 stove are available from TrailDesigns.com
  • The MSR Titan Kettle is available from just about any outdoors type store.  There's an REI near me, and they carry it.
  • The Ziploc container is available from just about any grocery store.
  • The Reflectix cozy can be homemade from Reflectix material from a hardware store.  I believe AntiGravityGear.com also has pre-made cozies.
  • The stuff sack is from an old First Need water filter.  Not sure where you can get that exact stuff sack, but I'm sure someone makes a stuff sack that will work.
  • The fuel bottle is just an eight ounce bottled water bottle from the grocery store.  I peeled off the lable and wrote all over the bottle so it won't be taken for something to drink.
  • The spoon is just a Lexan spoon I got at Sport Chalet years ago.
  • The little fuel measuring cup is one I got from the hospital when my wife was pregnant.  I'm sure one from cough syrup, etc. would work just fine.
  • The lighter shown is an ordinary Bic lighter from any gas station, liquor store, or grocery store.

Here's a closer look at some of the components.
L to R:  Reflectix Cozy, Ziploc "bowl", and 12-10 Stove
I am happy to report that the 12-10 stove has plenty of "juice" with which to give you a good strong boil.
Boiling water on a Caldera Cone with a 12-10 Stove
The cone dovetails together well and is very stable when assembled.
The dovetail joint of a Caldera Cone, assembled.
 Here are some of the typical components I carry in my set up.  The eye dropper that you see in the photo below is to retrieve unburned alcohol.  I normally measure out just enough alcohol using the little medicine measuring cup shown in the photo, but if I put too much alcohol in, I can snuff the flame with a cup or pot, and then, after things cool down a bit, I can extract the unburned alcohol with the eyedropper.  Frankly, it's better to to measure out just enough alcohol.  Extracting 100% of the unburnt alcohol is usually pretty difficult to accomplish.
Typical Components in my Caldera Cone set up
Note that in the photo above, the cone, when rolled and inserted into the Ziploc container, sticks out a little bit.  In other words, you cannot screw on the lid of the Ziploc container when the cone is rolled up inside.  For me, this is not a big deal.  I simply fit the lid of the Ziploc over the rolled up cone.  The edges of the rolled up cone fit into the indentation of the lid, and the lid stays in place.  Note in the photo below that the blue lid is not attached to the threads of the Ziploc container,  Rather the lid is held in place by the rolled up cone.
The blue lid is held in place by the edges of the rolled up cone.
Once the Ziploc's lid is in place on the rolled up windscreen, I place everything in the stuff sack.  Once everything is in the stuff sack, I place the lid from the Titan kettle on top of the blue lid as shown below.
The Titan Kettle's lid is added last as shown.
 All of the components fit pretty neatly and securely into my stuff sack.  I haven't had any problems with the cone getting beat up when carried as shown.
The Caldera Cone all packed up.  An approx. 500ml sized Sierra Cup is included in the photo for scale.
People have asked, so let me mention that the long, tall stuff sack that I'm using is a perfect size.  The stuff sack is from an old First Need water filter.
The stuff sack from an old First Need water filter works well to hold all the components.

Now, for all you DIY'ers out there, here's a video I saw on YouTube of how to make a Caldera clone. Personally, I like the Trail Designs product, but many people love DIY, so here you go:

Finally, let me leave you with a "demonstration" of the proper use of the Ziploc container as a bowl.
Chowing down!
I hope these additional remarks and photos are a good supplement to the magazine article.


P.S. This blog post is part of my series on the Caldera Cone. In case you missed any of the series:

Weight stats for my Caldera Cone set up 
The following weight stats for the Caldera Cone may be of interest:
    Caldera Cone: 34g/1.2oz
    12-10 stove: 16g/0.6oz
Total Caldera Cone with 12-10 stove:  50g/1.75 oz
Small fuel measuring cup:  1g/0.04oz
Eyedropper:  1g/0.04oz (for reclaiming unburned fuel)
Four fluid ounce flip top bottle with approximately 3.75 fluid ounces of fuel:  132g/4.7oz
   MSR Titan kettle:  98g/3.5oz
   Titan kettle lid:  37g/1.3oz
Total Titan kettle: 135g/4.8oz
Ziploc container (used as storage and as bowl):  55g/1.9oz
Reflectix cozy:  22g/0.8oz
Stuff sack:  17g/0.6oz
Entire kit:  413g/14.6oz

Note:  Your actual weight will vary with the amount of alcohol that you take.  The amount of alcohol shown above is more than enough for me for a solo weekend trip with two nights out on the trail.

Related posts and articles:

Notice:  The author has no affiliation with Trail Designs or Anti-Gravity Gear.  Any links provided are provided as a courtesy only and do not constitute an endorsement of any person or corporation. No equipment was furnished by Trail Designs or Anti-Gravity Gear for this review.  All opinions are strictly the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Trail Designs or Anti-Gravity Gear.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bear Creek, the Svea 123R stove, and the Edelweiss Cookset

I wanted to get out yesterday, but I didn't have the time to do something long, and I've been having foot problems.  So, to Bear Creek I decided.

Alder lined Bear Creek in the pre-dawn light
Now, not only did I want to get out for some exercise and to get away from "civilization" but I also wanted to try out my "new" (to me) Edelweiss cookset that was given to me by "hikermor" from California.
The Edelweiss Cookset
But first, let's get to Bear Creek.  From Azusa, take Highway 39 north to the confluence of the West and North Forks of the San Gabriel River.  There are two parking lots and a picnic area here as well as a pit toilet.  No potable water is available, but of course the river is very close by if you have the means to treat the water.  Park at one of the two lots or along the side of the highway if the lots are full.  Don't forget to post your parking permit ("Adventure" pass).

From the parking area, proceed on foot up the paved road that goes west along the south bank of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.  Go west for about one mile.  After about a mile, you should see this sign with an arrow on top pointing north across the river.
Sign pointing to Bear Creek
Detail of arrow on sign pointing across the river to Bear Creek
If the water is really low, you can just wade or rock hop across the water directly to Bear Creek, but there is an easier way.  Proceed another 100m or so west and cross a bridge.  After crossing the bridge, turn left, descend to the river bank, and go underneath the bridge.  Follow the river 50m or so downstream to the confluence of Bear Creek.
West Fork of the San Gabriel River just below the bridge
In the above photo, Bear Creek is flowing into the West Fork just behind the trees on the left side of the frame. OK, so let's start heading up Bear Creek.
Heading up Bear Creek
The trail is in pretty decent shape and is reasonably followable.  Someone has painted green arrows in a few spots which, while ugly, do correctly point the way in those sections where the trail is a little hard to spot.  As with most streamside trails, expect a lot of water crossings.
First Crossing, Bear Creek Trail
En route, we encountered some really big Canyon Live Oak (Quercus Chrysolepsis) acorns.  Look at the size of this acorn cap compared to my hand.
The cap of a Canyon Live Oak acorn
One more stream crossing, and my friend Will and I arrive at Lower Bear Trail Camp
Final Creek Crossing en route to Lower Bear Trail Camp
After crossing the creek, we climb the opposite bank to the little stream side "bench" that hosts Lower Bear Trail Camp.
Lower Bear Trail Camp just before sunrise
A campsite at Lower Bear Trail Camp
Apparently someone staying here had a lot of time on their hands!
Rock carving at Lower Bear Trail Camp
Also interesting was this "fire can" made from a 55 gallon (208 liter) steel drum.  The drum had air vents cut into it with a cutting torch, and carrying handles have been attached to either side.  I just can't imagine who would drag such a thing out into the woods through all those stream crossings!  Unfortunately, the can is being used as a trash container, and there is no trash collection service here.
Fire Can at Lower Bear Trail Camp
Well!  There's our journey, and there's our camp.  Now, let's have a look at that cookset.  The best information that I have is that this cookset came out in the 1950's and was produced through the 1960's.  This particular set belonged to a former Search and Rescue team member.  No telling where it has been, but it sure looks like it's been to a lot of places!
Edelweiss Cookset
Detail of engraving on cookset lid
The cookset's lid has graduated "steps" so as to fit the two different pot sizes that come with the set.  Unfortunately, one of the pots had reached "end of life" before the set came to me.  I believe I now have only the smaller of the two pots that originally came with the set.
The lid of the Edelweiss cookset
Turned upside down, the cookset's lid can be used as a pan.
The inside of the cookset's lid
So, now that the lid's off, let's see what's in the set.  Inside is the stove, cookset base, and windscreen.  I've also added some stuffing to keep things from rattling.  You can't see it because it's wrapped, but there's a set of pot grippers in there.  There's also room for a bottle of priming alcohol, a lighter, and a spoon.
The interior of the cookset
The cookset is meant to be used with the short version of the Primus 71 stove.  Unfortunately, I don't own such a stove.  Here I've substituted a Svea 123R which is roughly the same height.
A Svea 123R stove
 Note that a Svea 123R says only Svea 123 on the tank.  There is no "R".
Detail of the engraving on the tank of a Svea 123R
So, what's the difference between the original Svea 123 produced by Sievert starting in 1955 and the version produced from the 1970's onward after Optimus bought the rights to the Svea name in 1969?  The main difference is that the Svea 123R has a cleaning needle built into the burner. When the valve is opened all the way, the needle moves up into the stove's jet cleaning out any soot or other blockages.  The original Svea 123's had no built in needle.  Instead a separate "pricker" was sold with the stove.  One unscrewed the burner bell and inserted the thin wire of the pricker into the orifice of the jet in order to remove blockages.  While a built in needle is easier to use when the stove is hot and is not as easy to lose as a separate needle, the addition of the needle added more moving parts and limited the range of the valve.  While many people do like the "improved" version of the stove, there are also many who insist the original version of the stove is the better version.  I myself generally prefer the original version so long as good quality fuel is available.  If the fuel were of questionable quality, the Svea 123R is probably the better version.

Well, if the engraving on the tank for both models is the same, how does one tell the two apart?  There are several ways by which one can quickly distinguish the two versions.  First, the valve on a Svea 123R protrudes from the burner column at a right angle.  The valve on an original Svea 123 slants downward.
The valve on a Svea 123R protrudes at a right angle.
Second, the valve on a Svea 123R is slightly offset to the right.  The original Svea 123's valve is centered.
The valve on a Svea 123R is slightly offset to the right
Third, the regulating key on a Svea 123R has a larger aperture is a close ended wrench.  The regulating key on an original Svea 123 has a smaller aperture and is an open ended wrench.
A typical Svea 123R regulating key is closed ended and has three fittings
There are other more subtle differences, but those three are probably the most visible and most readily identified.  So, next time you're on eBay, why don't you see if you can spot the differences?  After reading this post, you'll frequently know more than the seller!

One more thing about the stove before we get back to the cookset:  The tank cap.  If you see a tank cap with a long extension like the one in the below photo, it's a pump compatible tank cap.  Caps of this type are compatible with either an Optimus mini (straight) or midi (angled) pump.  The pump allows one to add pressure to the stove which can help in getting the stove started in cold weather.  The pump is optional; a Svea 123 or 123R will run just fine without a pump if you prime the stove well.
A pump cap for a Svea 123 or 123R
OK!  So, back to the Edelweiss cookset.  In the base of the cookset is a "half moon" clip spot welded in place. 
The clip that secures a short Primus 71 in the stove base of an Edelweiss cookset
  The tank of the short version of the Primus 71 slides under the lip of the "half moon" clip such that the stove is held in place.  As I mentioned, I don't have a short Primus 71, so I'm substituting a Svea 123R.  The Svea 123R's tank does NOT fit into the clip.  However, with a bit of creativity, a Svea 123R can be positioned such that the stove can be used with the cookset.

The cookset's base has ventilation holes on one side.
Ventilation holes in the Edelweiss cookset's base
On the other side is an access portal so that one can operate the regulating key.
Access port on the base of the Edelweiss cookset
Next comes the windscreen.
The windscreen of the Edelweiss cookset
The stove is placed in the base.
A Svea 123R stove in an Edelweiss cookset base
The windscreen is then emplaced on the base such that the burner of the stove protrudes through the hole in the center of the bottom of the windscreen.
A Svea 123R's burner protrudes through the hole in the center of the Edelweiss cookset's windscreen
An Edleweiss cookset base and windscreen with a Svea 123R stove in place.
Next, look at the pot.  Note in the photo below the lip around the edge of the bottom of the pot.  The lip fits into the windscreen making for an extremely stable set up. 
The small pot from an Edelweiss cookset
One can also use a good sized fry pan (i.e. not from the set) with the base and windscreen.

The aluminum of the Edelweiss cookset seems a bit soft to me.  I find that I can bend the pots etc. fairly easily.  Note all the dents from the pot gripper in the photo below.
Edelweiss cookset pot.  Note dents from pot gripper.

The whole set up looks like the photo below when everything is in place.  I suppose it looks better to have the lid upright but frankly it's more practical in terms of using the pot gripper to use the lid upside down. 
A fully assembled Edelweiss cookset with one pot in place.

If you look closely at the next photo, you can see the stove blazing away inside the cookset.
The Edelweiss cookset in use.  Note flames emanating from the stove.
Detail of flame
Not only is the Edelweiss cookset a very stable set up, it's quite effective as well.
Passing the "tea test" with the Edelweiss cookset.

I haven't done exhaustive side-by-side tests, but my gut feel is that I can heat water a lot faster using the Edelweiss cookset than I can with a Svea 123R in stand alone mode.  I believe the reasons for this ability to heat water more quickly are as follows:  Firstly, the cookset is configured such that the airflow is directed from bottom to top which increases efficiency.  Secondly, while the windscreen doesn't provide complete wind blocking protection (which would be unsafe with a stove whose burner mounts directly on the tank), the windscreen does provide some protection which increases efficiency.  Certainly the windscreen of the Edelweiss cookset provides more protection than the windscreen that comes with a Svea 123R.  Thirdly, the "floor" of the windscreen acts as a heat reflector which increases efficiency.  Lastly, the aluminum of the windscreen conducts heat directly to the pot.

Well, the sun is now fully up (compare the light in the below photo to the light in the first photo of  trail camp) and climbing higher. 
A sun lit Lower Bear Trail Camp
 It's time I bid farewell to Lower Bear trail camp and made my way down Bear Creek to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.  Now that the day is in full stride, the fishermen are out in full force.
Fly fishing on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River
I'm now almost back to the road that runs along the south bank of the W. Fork of the San Gabriel River.
West Fork of the San Gabriel River with bridge near confluence with Bear Creek.
I'll spare you the boring walk along the road back to the parking lot.  I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving.