Sunday, December 25, 2011

What "Color" is your Caldera?

(with apologies to What Color is your Parachute?)  :)

There are a lot of options out there if you're interested in a Caldera Cone alcohol stove system.  Today, I thought I'd compare two of them.  Hopefully the comparison of these two will stimulate your thinking as to what your needs and preferences are and give you an idea of what system might be right for you.  For weights, please see Appendix "B," below.  As for why the Caldera Cone is such an efficient alcohol stove system, please see The "Magic" of the Caldera Cone.

So, let's introduce our contenders:  Caldera Cones with two different pots.  On the left we have an MSR Titan kettle, and on the right we have a BPL Firelite 550 pot.  Both cones are standard, one piece aluminum Caldera Cones.
Two Caldera Cone set ups.  Left:  An 850ml MSR Titan titanium kettle.  Right:  A 550ml BPL Firelite 550 titanium pot.
OK, so the Caldera Cone has been around for a while.  It's pretty well known.  It's a proven design; that's not at issue.  But with our two contenders, what are the differences, and why might we choose one over the other?  Let's have a look.

Here's how I normally pack them up.  The cone gets rolled and put inside a plastic container.  I'll talk more about the container options in a minute.  Also inside the container I typically put the burner, a spoon, a lighter, a bottle of alcohol, and a small measuring cup for meting out the alcohol.  The plastic container then fits inside the pot, and the pot lid is placed on top of the whole ensemble.  Everything is then placed in a stuff sack to hold everything together.  It's a nice compact package.  The height isn't significantly different, but, naturally, the smaller pot has a leaner profile.
Our Caldera Cone contenders, all packed up and ready to be slid into their stuff sacks.
Now, notice something in the above photo.  I've got a Reflectix type cozy on my plastic container on the left.  The cozy allows me to retain the heat of whatever I place inside.  My dinner stays warmer longer, and if I'm re-hydrating freeze dried food, the water stays hotter, significantly improving re-hydration.  The container is tapered such that I can keep the cozy on the container and still nest the container in the Titan kettle.  Nice.  Unfortunately, there's no way to nest the Caldera Caddy in the Firelite 550 pot with a cozy.

Let's take a little closer look at our two plastic containers.
Left:  An ordinary Ziploc storage container.  Right:  A custom "Caldera Caddy"
Say, isn't that just an ordinary Ziploc storage container on the left?  Yep.  Exactly right.  Just a few bucks for a two pack down at the grocery store.  Sweet!  Of course you have to have a little bit wider pot (like the Titan kettle) in order for the Ziploc container to nest properly.  You can't nest the Ziploc container in a tiny little pot like the BPL Firelite 550.

There is one drawback to the Ziploc type container.  The cone is taller than the container, leaving the upper edge of the cone unprotected.
My Caldera Cone is just a little bit taller than a Ziploc container.
However, the edge of the cone fits into the lid well, giving what I consider adequate protection to the cone.
The edge of a rolled Caldera Cone fits neatly into the lid of a Ziploc container
Left:  A Ziploc container with the edge of the cone inserted into the lid of the Ziploc container.  Right:  A Caldera Caddy with a rolled cone inside.  Note the space between the rolled cone and the wall of the Caldera Caddy.
A rolled cone fits well into the tapered Ziploc container. A rolled cone is a little awkward in the straight sided Cadera Caddy.  The custom Caldera Caddy does of course offer more complete protection to the cone.

Well, OK, but how are those containers to eat out of?  I mean we are going to employ those containers in a multi-use way aren't we?  Of course we are.  Why on earth would I pack an extra plate or bowl?  Let's look at the Caldera Caddy first.  It's a little tall and narrow, but...
My hand inside a Calder a Caddy
Actually, the Caldera Caddy isn't bad.  I can fit my hand fully inside which means that I can clean it adequately.  The top of the Caldera Caddy makes a nice little cup.  Of course the threads are a little hard to clean.  And, being tall, you may want to get a spoon with a little longer handle.
My normal length Sea to Summit Spoon is a little short for a Caldera Caddy.
On the other hand, I find the wider opening of the Ziploc container to be a little easier to access.  The Ziploc container isn't really all that much shorter than a Caldera Caddy, but I do find that my particular spoon works better with the Ziploc Container.
A Sea to Summit spoon inside a Ziploc container.
Note in the photo above that you can see the Reflectix cozy through the clear walls of the Ziploc container.  I pretty much just leave the cozy in place unless I'm washing the container.
A Ziploc container with a Reflectix cozy.  Note how the cozy fits into the lip under the threads of the Ziploc Container.
OK, so this is weird, but there's a lip on the Ziploc container just below the threads.  The edge of the Reflectix cozy fits perfectly into that lip.  It's almost like they were made for each other.  Note also that the threads on the Ziploc container are completely on the outside of the vessel.  Big advantage when it comes time to wash up.  The Ziploc container also comes with markings for both cups and milliliters, another advantage.

Overall, I'd have to say I prefer the Ziploc container over the Caldera Caddy even though the cone doesn't fit completely inside.  The Ziploc is easier to clean, has measurement markings, is easier to eat out of, is a better fit for a rolled cone (except the part of the cone that sticks out of the top), and mates really well with a Reflectix cozy.  The Caldera Caddy does offer better protection, and being able to use the upper portion of the Caddy as a cup is nice.

OK, so how about the practicalities of cooking?
Left:  MSR Titan kettle with 2 cups of water.  Right:  A BPL Firelite 550 with two cups of water.
Well, sort of the "standard" test for an alcohol stove is to boil two cups (approx. 500ml) of water. As you might imagine, two cups of water in a 550ml pot is a fairly tight fit.  But fit it does.  You do get a little water bubbling out of the pot when you do a two cup boil, but I didn't find this overly troublesome.
A little bit of water boils over when conducting a two cup boil with a BPL Firelite 550 pot.
I did have the stove go out once when I was doing a two cup boil and a little water bubbled over.  That's not a big deal to me with my style of cooking, but that may be of concern to some.  Of course, one could put slightly less water in the pot which would reduce the chances of a boil over.  I will say that the BPL Firelite 550 pot is well designed.  The vent in the lid of the pot releases a good deal of pressure when the water comes to a boil which reduces spill over.
The vent on a BPL Firelite 550 pot in use.
Interestingly, the set up with the BPL Firelite 550 pot usually boiled slightly faster than the set up with the MSR Titan kettle.  I'm not sure why this would be, but it consistently occurred.  The advantage was only ten to fifteen seconds per two cup boil.
Two cups of water boiling in a BPL Firelite 550 pot
Two cups of water boiling in an MSR Titan kettle.
As a purely practical matter, I happen to like the 850ml size of the Titan Kettle.  There are times when I want to be able to boil more than just two cups of water (when making noodles and wanting a hot drink at the same time for example).  For me the versatility of the 850ml size, although a little bit bulkier and a bit heavier, makes it the better choice.  Others of course will prefer the ultra light weight of something like the minimalist 550ml set up. Others still will find my 850ml preference overly confining and will want a full 1000ml capacity.  Each to his or her own.  Whatever size you choose and whatever you pack it in, rest assured that the Caldera Cone is a very good ultra light alcohol stove system.

Well, look at the time.  Time to head back down the hill and head for home.  I hope this comparative look at two Caldera Cone alcohol stove systems has been useful.
Downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean as seen from Henninger Flats, the site of today's testing.
Thanks for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,


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

Appendix "A:"  The Trail Designs 12-10 Burner
Of course, being the hopeless stovie that I am, ;) I have to put in a comment on the excellent 12-10 burner that is the same between the various Caldera Cone set ups.
A Trail Designs 12-10 alcohol burner.
On this particular day, I did a lot of testing of not only of the Caldera Cones shown but of multiple DIY burners.  My DIY burners do fairly well in something like a Clikstand which is well aerated.  The low-oxygen interior of a Caldera Cone is different story.  My DIY burners pretty much all suck inside a Caldera Cone.  And the 12-10 burner designed for the Caldera Cone?  It burns like there was nothing to it.  Take a look at this photo.  It's a little hard to see because I'm shooting over the handles in order to get a look into the interior of the Caldera Cone, but if you look closely you can see the flames.  Efficient blue flames, flames with very little yellow.
A look into the interior of a Caldera Cone with a burn in progress.  Note the nice blue color of the flames.
I'm running on a high ethanol content alcohol blend here.  I've done a fair amount of fiddling with alcohol stoves.  Getting blue flames on a high ethanol content alcohol is no small thing. Getting them in the interior of a low oxygen environment like a Caldera Cone is whole another thing.  This is a significant accomplishment.  The more I use the 12-10 burner, the more impressed I am.  The guys over at Trail Designs really got this one right.

Appendix "B:"  Weights

  BPL Firelite 550      MSR Titan Kettle
  Lid      15g/0.53oz      37g/1.31oz
  Pot      65g/2.23oz      97g/3.42oz
Total pot  80g/2.82oz     134g/4.73oz
Container* 74g/2.61oz      55g/1.94oz
Cone       30g/1.06oz      34g/1.20oz
Stove      15g/0.53oz      15g/0.53oz
Total     199g/7.02oz     240g/8.47oz

*Container notes:  A "Caldera Caddy" was used with the BPL Firelite 550 set up.  A Ziploc storage container was used with the MSR Titan kettle set up.

Interestingly, the difference in weight between the two set ups is only 41g/1.45oz.  Some weight is saved on the Titan Kettle set up by going with the lighter weight Ziploc container instead of the heavier Caldera Caddy.  I did not include the weight of the cozy in the above figures since I wanted a 1:1 comparison.  For your reference, the cozy weighs 21g/0.74oz.

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  1. Have you tried any of the heat exchanger pots, like the Optimus Terra Weekend HE? I know that Caldera cones are designed to fit a specific pot or mug, but I'm curious as to whether the heat exchanger would improve the performance. It appears that it does on a plain stove. It's hard to do comparisons like this because no two pots appear to be made in the same form.

  2. Bill,

    I haven't tried it with a Caldera Cone, but in general HE pots do improve performance. However, the weight of the HE is usually greater than the weight of the fuel saved unless you're taking really long trips.


  3. Very informative post thank you. You have me know rethinking my way of carrying my Cone and pot. I haven't see the Ziplock containers in the supermarkets here so may have to go the Caddy way. Do you have a suggestion as to where to get those?

    Thanks, Andrew

  4. G'day, Aushiker,

    The Caldera Caddy is available from Trail Designs. See http://www.traildesigns.com/accessories/caldera-caddy



  5. My color is the Caldera for the Trangia 28. Still can not get 2 cups of water to boil on 15mL of fuel with either burner however. The two systems do not store together, but I have no complaints, the Cone is the best windscreen I have tested for the Trangia 28 to date.

  6. Hi, Axel,

    So are you using the burner from the Trangia 28 inside the cone? How is that working? I would think that the environment might be a little low oxygen for a Trangia burner.

    Getting a 2 cup boil with any system is a trick with only 15ml of fuel. You pretty much have to use a high ethanol content alcohol blend to do it. Lower grade fuels like HEET or SLX denatured won't normally do it.


  7. The Trangia burner burns hot and fast in the cone. the 12-10 burns slower and cooler. Bottom line is they both boil 2 cups of water with 20mL and have fuel left over. I think if the burner has 20mL of fuel, it will only need 15mL to do the job, but if you put only 15mL in the burner, a boil will not happen. So I think fuel volume in the burner is a factor as well. If so, then I would go with the Trangia burner because it is easier to cap and save.

  8. Interesting that the Trangia burner does well within the cone. I haven't experimented with that. I'm going to have to play with that and see what's going on.