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Friday, January 27, 2012

The Ti-Tri Caldera Cone -- The Ultimate Ultralight Stove System?

Is the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone the ultimate ultralight stove system?

Hyperbole?  Am I being a little "over the top?"  Maybe.  But maybe not.  Let's check it out.  At the end of the post, I'll discuss why I think this triple fuel system is so darned useful that I really do consider it the ultimate lightweight stove system, particularly for mixed elevation (above and below the elevation where fires are permitted) backpacking.
The Ti-Tri Caldera Cone in wood burning mode.
Well, to get started, we're going to need a pot.  All Caldera Cones are designed to fit with a particular pot.  The Caldera Cone shown in the photo above will only fit an Evernew 1300ml titanium pot -- unless by odd coincidence there's another pot out there with the exact same dimensions.  Check the Trail Designs website for which cones will fit with which pots.
An Evernew 1300ml titanium pot
Now, notice that in the title of this post, I refer to today's stove system as the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone.  "Ti-Tri?"  What the Dickens does that mean?

Well, "Ti" is short for "titanium" and refers to what the cone (not necessarily the pot) is made out of (titanium), and "Tri" refers to the fact that this is a triple fuel stove system.  This stove system will run on three fuels:  alcohol, hexamine (e.g. ESBIT), or wood.  Now, if you've seen my previous posts on the Caldera Cone (see links at the bottom of this blog post), those were all aluminum cones.   Aluminum Caldera Cones will warp and or melt if they get too hot, so you can only burn low heat fuels like alcohol or hexamine in them.

On the other hand, titanium cones can handle heat just fine.  With a titanium cone, you can burn wood.  Why might burning wood be an advantage?  Burning wood is an advantage because you don't have to carry it on your back.  I mean, think about it:  When was the last time you saw fuel-grade alcohol welling up out of the ground?  When was the last time you picked fuel off of the ESBIT tree?  The point being that if you use alcohol or hexamine, you're not generally going to find it out on the trail.  You have to carry the fuel with you.  Wood on the other hand is frequently available from your surroundings.

In today's blog post, I'm primarily going to discuss wood burning using a Ti-Tri Caldera Cone.

OK, let's open up that pot we saw earlier and see what's inside.
The wood burning components of a Ti-Tri Caldera cone
Inside is the cone all rolled up.  Note that my cone is a "Sidewinder" type cone which is a lower slung cone that will fit inside the pot.  If you buy the "Classic" type cone, you'll need to carry something like a Caldera Caddy to hold the cone.  See What "Color" is your Caldera? for more information on the cone carry options.  Note also that the grate, wire roll, and cone normally come with Tyvek stuff sacks to prevent scratching.  I'm using a pot that does not have a non-stick coating.  No coating, no worries.  I didn't carry the Tyvek stuff sacks.

Now, let me mention that with the set up I'm showing today, I have the "Inferno" option.  The Inferno option is what transforms a regular cone into an efficient wood burner.  With the Inferno option, wood becomes your "go to" fuel.  Without the Inferno option, you can still burn wood, but efficiency and ease of use suffer.  Inside the rolled up cone are the floor, two titanium tent stakes, and the Inferno insert.  Underneath the rolled up cone is a grate.  To one side, is a rolled up wire mesh that is similar to hardware cloth.

Let's take everything out of the pot for a little better look, shall we?
The components, removed from the pot
Well, let's set that puppy up!  The cone works just like any other Caldera Cone. Just slide the dovetail joint together.
The dovetail joint slides together.
Note the extra titanium reinforcing tab.  Very solid, very well built.
An extra layer of titanium sheet is used as a reinforcement for the dovetail.
With the Inferno option, there is a second, smaller cone that is placed inverted within the primary cone.  Like the outer cone, it too is joined by a dovetail joint.
The inner cone of the Inferno option
The inner cone does not bear weight and is not reinforced like the outer cone.

Next, we roll out the floor.  On top of the floor we set the wire mesh, formed into a circle, and on top of the mesh, we place the grate.
The floor of a Ti-Tri Caldera Cone with the wire support and grate of the Inferno option
The floor does cost an additional $10.00 USD over and above the price of the Cone and Inferno option, but I'd really encourage people to consider purchasing it.  One of the drawbacks to wood fires is that they can leave fire scars all over the place.  No one wants to be hiking in an area pockmarked with your fire scars.  When using wood, I encourage you to Leave No Trace.

Now, I'm going to set the outer cone in place.  Notice that the inner cone is left off to the side just for now.  I'm leaving the inner cone out just so that the various components can be seen easily.  In practice of course the inner cone goes inside the outer cone.
The floor, wire support, grate, and outer cone with tent stakes.  Note that the inner cone is left out temporarily for photographic purposes.
OK, hopefully the various components are clear in the above photo.  Now let's add the inner cone.  The inner cone is placed upside down within the outer cone.
The Ti-Tri Caldera Cone with Inferno Option, all set up and ready to go.  Just add wood.  :)
Note that the tent stakes do not go through the oval vent holes in the cone.  There are special round holes specifically for the tent stakes.

OK, let's add fuel.  Here, your fire building skills are going to come into play.  Today, I'm going to use the "log cabin" fire lay.  I pull off the outer cone for ease of access.
A "log cabin" fire lay
To start, I place a lot of easily burned material on the very bottom layer, directly on top of the grate.  I use items such as very dry, crinkley leaves and such as my first layer.  You might also want to carry artificial tinder for fire starting purposes.  On top of my leaf tinder, I add kindling consisting of the smallest sticks that I can find.  I then add successive layers of sticks.  Each additional layer is comprised of sticks of increasing thickness.  Note that I'm stacking them in a square pattern.  This square pattern is referred to as a "log cabin" fire lay.  This type of fire lay allows for good air flow which eases fire starting and provides for good combustion.

When I've completed my fire lay, I touch off the tinder on the very bottom layer.
Starting the burn
Just one "little" problem though.  It rained today.  In fact, it was a pretty decent rain.  Everything is wet.  In fact, I deliberately chose to try the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone on a rainy day because rain is one of the facts of life of wood fires.  You have to be prepared for it to rain once in a while.  Do not assume you'll have good weather when you're out on the trail!  The fire just won't start with only my lighter.

How did I handle it?  I let the fire burn completely out, and then I added a capful of alcohol.
Re-starting the fire, this time with alcohol.
As the alcohol burns, it dries the wood.  And in a moment...
The fire takes hold
Success!  The fire takes hold.

What's that?  This is a bit contrived?

Well, maybe.  I mean I did deliberately go out on a rainy day.  But, guys, this is real world stuff. Wood fires are not automatic.  Wood fires are not like your little gas stove where you just turn the knob, hit the piezo button, and you're cooking, come rain or come shine.  You're far more at the mercy of Mother Nature.

And in case it's not obvious, you have to plan your trip such that you can find wood.  I typically like to pull into camp with plenty of daylight left if I'm going to be using a wood fire.  Finding wood in the dark is a royal pain.  You also need to allocate time for building the fire lay and getting the fire started.  Wood fires are definitely a lot more "fiddle" than using a stove with fuel that you've carried with you.  Wood fires take a lot more time, are a lot more work, and are far from guaranteed.  Of course, people have been using wood fires for centuries, so there's no reason you can't do it too, but spend some time thinking, planning, and practising.  Remember the five "P's:"  Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  Wood fires are great, but don't enter in to it too lightly.  Do you're homework or you may be in for a cold, wet night out on the trail.

OK!  Enough lecturing from worry wart Jim.  Let's get on with it.

Now, when you put the pot on, place the handles away from the cut out where the handle would stick out if you were using alcohol or hexamine. Flames are going to come shooting out of that spot.  It's no place for a handle!
Flames will come out of the handle opening.  Position your pot accordingly when using wood!
This is NOT where you want to position your handles!
Flames exiting out the handle opening.
Of course, if the wind kicks up a little, you do get some cool flame plumes out the handle slot.  :)
A plume of flame exiting out the opening for the pot handles
That handle slot isn't just a source of neat pyrotechnics; it has a very practical function:  You can add wood without removing the pot or interrupting the cooking process.  Sweet!

Now, as a stove, how well does this ensemble work?  It works great. In fairly short order, I had a pot of boiling water.
Water boiling on a Ti-Tri Caldera Cone fueled by wood
And it's a really good, strong boil.  Nothing insipid about it.
A vigorous boil on a wood fired Ti-Tri Caldera Cone
OK, so we can definitely boil water.  Now, let's have a look "under the covers."
A look in through the handle opening
Take a look at that wood burning.  That is HOT.  The inferno option lives up to its name, producing a good, hot fire.

OK, let's pull the pot off and have another look.
The Inferno option at work
It's pretty easy to see why they call it the Inferno option.  Those sticks are pretty well burned down by this stage of things, but there's still a lot of combustion going on.  And those coals will put out a nice consistent heat.

Hmm.  A nice consistent heat, eh?  Let's try something.  Let's put that pot of boiling water back on.
Water NOT boiling over a wood fire.
This photo is a little dim, but notice that the water is not boiling.  In other words, with the Tri-Ti Caldera Cone and a bit of experience, one can do more than just boil water.  No, not exactly the convenience of gas, but one can vary the heat and do more than just boil water.

Now, in the process of cooking and experimenting with this stove, I filled it with sticks and let it burn down four times over the course of the evening without emptying the stove.  Well, with all that wood, you'd think I'd have a big pile of ash.
Even though I reloaded four times, all that was left at the end was this little bit of ash
Nope.  Even though I reloaded the stove four times, all I had left at the end was a little bit of powdery white ash.  Let me stress that:  White ash.  No chunks of charcoal.  Guys, this Inferno option really works.  That is really good, complete combustion.  And that little bit of powdery ash is very easy to dispose of.  Just dig a little cat hole with whatever you're using for a potty trowel and dump the ash in.  Replace the soil, and you're done.  No fire scar.  Sweet.

And no difficulty putting out the fire.  I've had wood fires that were a huge, time consuming hassle to put out.  I had to go multiple times back to the creek fill all my water carriers and schlep water back up to camp to put the darned thing out.  With a Ti-Tri Caldera cone, it'll combust so completely that it will burn itself out.  There's really no fire to put out.  Just hand check the ashes to make sure they're cool, and you're pretty much done.  The ashes can be disposed of in small cat hole.

DISCUSSION
OK, so it's a nice stove, but c'mon.  The ultimate ultralight stove system?

Well, why might I call this the ultimate ultralight stove system?  OK, what's generally the heaviest portion of an ultralight stove set up?  The fuel.  With the Ti-Tri in wood burning mode, there is no fuel to carry.  There is no fuel lighter than no fuel at all.  In wood mode, your fuel weight is zero.  Pretty tough to top that.

OK, yeah, zero fuel weight is pretty cool, but aren't there a lot of other wood burners out there?

Indeed there are, but this one, being titanium, is pretty doggone light.  Not only is it light, it's compact.  It rolls up and fits in your pot (note that there are different types of Caldera Cones out there that store different ways.  Refer to TrailDesigns.com for further information.)

But those things alone aren't why I call the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone the ultimate ultralight stove system.  The real key here is flexibility.  With a lot of wood stoves, you pretty much have to burn wood every time you cook.  Not so with the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone.  The Ti-Tri Caldera Cone runs equally well on hexamine (e.g. ESBIT) or alcohol as it does on wood.

Consider a recent backpack I went on.  The first night, I camped at 5000ft/1500m.  The second night, I camped at 8000ft/2400m.  The third night, I camped at 10500ft/3200m.  The fourth night, I camped at 11,500ft/3500m.  Wood fires above 10,000ft/3050m are generally illegal in the Sierra Nevada where I like to hike.

Do you see what's going on here?  A stove that only burns wood is no good to me.  I need a stove that can work in wood or non-wood mode equally well.  The Ti-Tri Caldera Cone is that stove.

And look at the advantages.  The first two nights, I can cook with wood.  That's half the nights of my trip.  I can bring half the fuel.  What's the weight penalty for bringing the Inferno option?
Item Grams
Wire roll 9
Grate 15
Stakes 14
Floor 18
Inferno 25
Total Wood 81


On any trip where I can save a fuel weight of at least 81g/2.86oz, I come out ahead by leaving some of the fuel at home and bringing the inferno option.

With the inferno option, I can also adopt a different style of use, one that doesn't need to skimp on fuel.  What would you do if you have a virtually unlimited supply of hot water?  How about a hot shower?  Yes, I'm serious.  OK, it's a bit of a luxury, but you rig up your hydration bladder, and...  Well, you get the idea.  I mean, if you've got wood, why limit your thinking?  This could be pretty sweet after a week on the trail.  :)

That and there's something to be said for the satisfaction of working with a wood fire.  A gas stove?  Well, it's almost too easy.  With wood, you really feel like you've earned it.  And there's just something primordially satisfying about cooking on a wood fire.

Is a wood stove for everyone?  Certainly not.  If you're planning on long days on the trail where you're getting up before first light and stopping to camp at last light, then maybe wood isn't for you.

But on those trips where you need to have a mix of fuels and you have time to prepare and use a wood fire, the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone is the ultimate ultralight stove system.

Special thanks to Randy from Colorado who made his Ti-Tri Caldera Cone available for my evaluation.

HJ


Other wood fired backpacking stove posts:

Other posts on the Caldera Cone:

Technical Appendix -- Weights

Key weights 
Full Wood Mode (Inferno Option)  126g/4.44oz
Minimum Wood Mode (with floor)    77g/2.72oz
Non-LNT Wood Mode (no floor)      59g/2.08oz
Alcohol Mode (no stakes*)         60g/2.12oz
Hexamine (ESBIT) mode             57g/2.01oz



The above weights are for a Ti-Tri Sidewinder Caldera Cone sized for an Evernew 1300ml pot.  Weights include a strap that weighs 3g to keep the cone rolled.  Weights do not include the pot, stuff sack, or any fuel.

*Stakes are not needed for alcohol mode for a 1300ml Evernew pot because of the size of the pot's bottom and the width of the cone.  For smaller pots, stakes should be used when in alcohol mode with a Sidewinder cone.



Detailed Weights
Inner Cone (Inferno)
25g
0.88oz
Floor
18g
0.63oz
Cone
42g
1.48oz
Strap
3g
0.11oz
Gram Cracker hexamine (ESBIT) stove
12g
0.42oz
ESBIT tab (one)
15g
0.53oz
12-10 Stove
15g
0.53oz
Inferno, Cone, Floor, and Strap
88g
3.10oz
Ti Tent Stakes (each)
7g
0.25oz
Grate
15g
0.53oz
Wire Roll
9g
0.32oz
Evernew 1300ml pot with lid
133g
4.69oz
Pot Only
98g
3.46oz
Lid Only
35g
1.23oz
Full Wood Set Up (With Pot)
282g
9.95oz
Plastic bag
7g
0.25oz
Evernew Stuff Sack
23g
0.81oz
Total (All wood, alcohol, and hexamine items)
345g
12.17oz

Note:  You'd probably never carry all wood, alcohol, and hexamine items at once.  Why would anyone carry both the hexamine and alcohol set ups simultaneously?  The total listed above is for reference only.  

11 comments:

  1. OK, but does it simmer?

    Aside from the question of whether you can burn wood, finding fuel and getting the fire started is the big thing. Around here, dead standing wood is usually the best source of fuel for a small fire like yours. A dead limb on a tree is usually drier than one on the ground. Around here, we are mostly hardwoods with a few softwoods mixed in. A small fire, like yours, made with trigs and small branches, won't require much in the way of tools. Getting a small wood fire started may not be as easy as it might seem and you don't want to waste any of your liquid fuel, if you plan to need it later. Having something that will help start a wood fire is probably a good thing. I carry a bit of rolled up newsprint that has been soaked in a mixture of beeswax and paraffin. You just peel off a little strip and light it. You might consider carrying a handfull of wood pellets for fuel. I have never used them, but hear about them occasionally. I understand that you can buy them at home stores. Yes, there's always the question of why should you carry fuel when you can find it along the way, but I don't think that it's a bad idea to carry enough for your next meal. That way the foraging comes after you've eaten.

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  2. Nice review and glad to see more reinforcement of my purchase choice; well I didn't get the inferno option but otherwise I have the same setup. Really impressed with it so far.

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  3. Bill,

    Thanks for all the tips.

    As for simmering, that depends largely on the fire skills of the individual. I might take it out later today or tomorrow and see if I can do some real cooking with the darned thing.

    HJ

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  4. @Aushiker,

    Yes, this is the nicest UL system I've seen. It really is a flexible system, and it works well on all fuels. Some things I've seen can be kludged into working with fuels other than their primary fuel, but they're just that -- a kludge. There's no kludging with the Ti-Tri.

    HJ

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  5. Great review as always. I have been using Ti cones since the prototype came out in 2007. I think the design is brilliant and far better than any of the other wood stoves out there. I pack mine in the plastic Caldera Caddys and Antigravity Gear cozys, which I also use for mugs and which creates a complete cooking system for two. I have not used the Inferno insert, but have been very satisfied without it.

    The big advantage I see is that I can use it for extended trips without resupply and have a virtually unlimited fuel supply. I have used them in the winter with good results. If I'm going to be camping in a spot where fuel availability is in question, then I pick up some branches on my way and strap them to the outside of my pack. Sitll less weight overall than packing fuel.

    A couple points: My experience is that Trail Designs will make you a cone that fits the pot you already have if you special order it. For assembling the cone, rather than sliding the dovetail together, place the outside dovetail directly over the inner and snap them together. Then, to disassemble, slide them appart. I ran into a problem sliding them together where the inner one bent.

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  6. Thanks; glad you liked the review.

    I really like the Ti-Tri on wood. It's got nice capacity and is really easy to load.

    I'm not quite sure about snapping the dovetail together. I guess if snapping works, go for it, but I haven't had any problems with sliding it together.

    HJ

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  7. You got me interested but then I thought about the woodsmoke. Woodsmoke soaks into everything. Right now I use a lightweight woodstove (tigoat cylander stove) and it allows us to cook inside of the tent with no woodsmoke. The stove weighs around a pound (i think - it might even be lighter). I did a 10 day trip into the Brooks range of Alaska and all we used to cook was the woodstove. We found wood to burn up to 4500 feet elevation. The tent and woodstove weighed 4 pounds total. hard to beat a woodstove! And with a woodstove i am not likely to use my pocket rocket in the future. Patrick

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  8. If you can get a tent and a wood stove together for only four pounds, that's FABULOUS. I don't know how you did it though.

    The Ti-Tri shown here weighs about four and one-half ounces in full wood mode which is very light. I cook outside the tent, so I don't have too much trouble with wood smoke affecting things in the tent.

    HJ

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  9. Hi! Are you still as enthusiastic about this ti-tri stove system as you where back in 2012 when you wrote this? Curious about this...but it seems quite expensive, GBP 175 + postage! Have you tried the Littlbug Jr stove with accessories, for wood buring and for alcohol (with or without supplemental pot hanging chain). It can also be placed in a supplemental firebowl to protect the ground, but this can also be hung hung from a tree with supplemental chain...Very nice and fairly light weight (steel not titanium though), but not very well know if you ask me. see Littlbug.com.
    But then again, if you buy your own gear for reviews, you probably can understandably not afford to try everything on the market :)

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    Replies
    1. fyi the price I quoted for the ti-tri (GBP 175) was for a full set Sidewinder Ti-Tri Stove, Toaks 1350ml Pot, Wood Burner and Floor

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    2. I have heard of the Littlebug, but I haven't tried it. To date, I haven't found anything I like better than the Ti-Tri. I'm still using it quite a bit, especially when weight counts. I used my Ti-Tri on my John Muir Trail trip, for example, this past summer.

      And, yes it is expensive, but specialty gear is made in small lots. They don't have the volume that the big companies like Primus and MSR have. They have to charge more; it's just the nature of the beast.

      HJ

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