Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Canister Refiller -- WARNING

I've been seeing a particular canister refilling device on eBay lately as a "MacCoupler Liquefied Gas Refill Adaptor Gas Charging Valve Inflatable converter" [sic].    This particular device is just downright dangerous and in general should be avoided.  I'll explain why I say "in general" in a minute.

A very dangerous canister refiller.  ** AVOID! **
OK, so what's wrong with this refiller?  Well, in case you don't recognize the fittings, this refiller will refill backpacking type gas canisters from a "bulk" propane tank.
A "bulk" type 100% propane tank
Hey, now doesn't that sound like a great idea?  Hey!  I can take cheap gas out of my bulk propane tank (like for a BBQ) and refill my expensive backpacking canister.  Pennies on the dollar!  Sweet!  What could possibly go wrong?

What could go wrong?  A whole lot, and it could be bad, very bad.  First, backpacking canisters do NOT contain 100% propane.   Standard backpacking type canisters in the US are rated at not more than 20% propane (mixed with 80% isobutane) or 30% propane (mixed with 70% butane).  Propane is a very high pressure gas.  Put 100% propane in a canister rated for only 20 to 30 percent propane and what do you get?  Quite possibly a very nasty explosion.

Oh!  I know!  If my canister is only rated for 20 to 30% propane, I'll just fill it up to 20% of capacity and leave the rest empty!  Duh!  Problem solved.

Uh, not exactly.  When combined with butane or isobutane, propane actually forms a blend.  The resultant blend has a lower vapor pressure than 100% propane.  Odd as it sounds, you'll actually have less vapor pressure in a canister with 20% propane and 80% isobutane than a canister 20% full with propane alone.  Besides, what good is a canister you can only fill to 20% of capacity anyway?

Basically, you should never fill a backpacking type canister with 100% propane.

But what if you filled a canister to  80% of capacity with butane first?  If you filled to 80% of capacity with butane first and were exactingly careful about not exceeding the overall rated capacity, then maybe this adapter would be safe.  I'm not saying that it is safe, I'm saying that there's the possibility that the adapter might be safe -- from the perspective of the mix of gasses.  The adapter might still have other problems in terms of materials, design, and construction.  The very fact that someone put a dangerous refiller like this together suggests that they really don't know about gasses.  I have NO confidence that such a person has the ability to build a refiller that is safe in other respects.  I'm certainly not tempted to buy one.

Putting it into perspective
Now, am I just a "Nervous Nellie?"  Maybe this is actually pretty safe, but you know this is modern society, and we have to protect people from themselves, don't we?

I submit to you that I am no Nervous Nellie.  I refill my backpacking canisters all the time (with butane!!).  I use a windscreen with my upright canister gas stove.  I sometimes use my stove inside a tent.  In other words, I do all sorts of things that manufacturers tell us not to do lest doom and disaster overtake us.  I do things like refill, use a windscreen, and cook inside my tent because I've studied the objective dangers and found them reasonable for a person who is careful and has an understanding of how to mitigate the dangers.  But I will NEVER fill a standard backpacking type canister with 100% propane.  It's just too dangerous.  Period.

This refill adapter is:  NOT recommended (in the strongest possible terms).

I thank you for joining me on another Adventure In Stoving.


Monday, March 26, 2012

The New Jetboil Sol

In 2004, backpacking stoves experienced something of a revolution:  The Jetboil PCS was introduced.  The Jetboil PCS is the very definition of a "game changer" -- The Jetboil PCS really shook up the backpacking stove world (in a good way, I might add).

Has Jetboil rested on its laurels?  No, indeed not.  Jetboil is now on what I would consider its third generation of stoves, the new, high-tech Jetboil Sol.
The new, compact, lightweight Jetboil Sol
I've now completed my review of the Jetboil Sol.  Below, I'll list all the blog posts I did in the process of reviewing the stove as well as a to my final review which is hosted on Seattle Backpackers Magazine.  Below the links, I'll include a few items that I didn't have space for in the magazine article.

The new version of the Jetboil has a significantly lightened up burner consisting of far less material.
The new burner of the Jetboil Sol
The new burner includes a much improved piezoelectric ignition system.
The improved piezoelectric ignition of the Jetboil Sol (upper left of burner head)
Included with the pot and burner are the canister legs (stabilizer) and universal pot support.  With the first generation of Jetboils, these items had to be purchased separately.
Universal pot support (top) and folded up canister legs (bottom)
Notice in the below photo that the ground is sloping.  With the high center of gravity of a narrow pot like on a Jetboil, one might be worried about the stove tipping over.
The canister legs help prevent the stove from tipping over
The canister legs make the stove significantly more stable on sloping or uneven ground.

The universal pot support locks securely into place.  This isn't just some cheesey little metal thing that rests up on top of the burner just waiting to be knocked off.  No, when rotated and locked into place, I found that I could suspend the stove from the universal pot support.  Now, that is a solid connection!
You can hold the stove up by the pot supports -- when they're locked in place.
With the universal pot supports, you can use any pot from any manufacturer (within reasonable size and weight restrictions)
A Jetboil Sol with an Evernew 1300ml pot on top
The Jetboil Sol has a lot of nice features, including the ability to do some real cooking (if you're willing to fiddle with the valve a bit -- it's tricky in the lower range of the stove).
Preparing to do some real cooking on a Jetboil Sol
I really like what I see in this the third generation of products from Jetboil.  If a person wanted to get just one stove that would do pretty much everything for three season cooking, the Jetboil Sol will do you.  For temperatures below about 20F (at sea level), I think another stove system might better serve.

I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,


All JetBoil related posts
Coming Soon:

A review of the new Jetboil Sumo pot (1.8 liter)
The new Jetboil Sumo pot (1.8 liter)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Canisters, Cold, and Altitude: Gas in a Nutshell

OK, so here's the deal on canisters in cold weather and at higher elevations, in step-by-step form:

1.  Choose good gas.  For weather below 50°F/10°C, avoid butane mixes. Get an isobutane mix.  I've got all the major US brands sized up on my blog in What's the Best Brand of Gas for Cold Weather?  Above 50°F/10°C, it typically doesn't matter what brand or blend you buy.

2.  Know your limits.  Canisters containing isobutane mixes work reasonably well down to about 20F/-7C at sea level throughout the life of the canister if you use good gas (see item #1, above) and good technique (see item #4, below).  Now, that's just a number, which isn't a bad number if you just want the short version, but if you want to know more about that number, how I came up with it, and how to plan using it, see Gas Stoves: How Cold Can I Go?  Canisters get colder as you use them (canister "chilling") which can negatively impact performance.  See item #4, below, for how to compensate for canister chilling.

3.  Adjust for Altitude.  The higher you go, the lower the outside pressure.  The lower the outside pressure, the colder you can operate a canister gas stove.  You receive approximately a 1F per 1000' of gain colder advantage (about 0.5°C per 300m gain).  The idea that canister gas stoves don't work well at altitude is a myth.

4.  Use good technique.  Basically, start with a warm canister and keep the canister warm.  For "best practices," see Cold Weather Tips for Gas Stoves.

Now, in the above, I'm speaking primarily about "regular" gas stoves, the kind that screw right on to the top of a canister.  If you have a remote canister stove that is capable of inverted operation (see my Stoves for Cold Weather II article in Seattle Backpacker's Magazine for more information), then the limit in item #2, above, changes from about 20°F/-7°C to about 0°F/-18°C.  All of the other items still typically apply.  If you want to go out in weather that is that cold, I strongly suggest you do your homework, part of which should be to read Gas Stoves: How Cold Can I Go?

There, in the proverbial "nutshell," is how to deal with cold weather and adjust for altitude for canister gas stoves.


Related articles and posts:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Aluminum JetBoil Sol -- Trail Report #2 and Cooking Report #4

I'd done several cooking reports on the aluminum JetBoil Sol already.
But I wanted to be sure that the JetBoil Sol that I was testing wasn't somehow unique.  So, I called a buddy -- a buddy who owns a JetBoil.

So, I thought I'd do side by side omelettes on two different JetBoil Sol's.  I don't have two identical pans, so we'll just have to do the best we can.

The first pan is an MSR Blacklite, which is a very nice, high-quality backpacking pan.
Eggs cooking up with the cheese already added in an MSR Blacklite fry pan
And pan number two is my $5 garage sale special.  Not exactly the world's best pan, but let's see if we can get enough flame control from a Jetboil Sol to cook an omelette.
Eggs and cheese cooking in pan #2, my "garage sale special"
I allow the eggs to set just slightly, and then I add tuna from one of those convenient foil pouches that are so perfect for the trail.  I've also tried the salmon, and I have to say that I prefer the salmon.  Alas, no salmon today, but we press on.  Looks like the eggs are cooking up nicely so far.
Tuna in the MSR Blacklite pan
Tuna in the cheap, garage sale pan
Well, looks like the omelette in the Blacklite pan is about done.
A finished omelette in an MSR Blacklite frying pan
And our garage sale pan omelette is fully complete.
A fully cooked omelette in a garage sale pan
So, how'd they turn out?  Well, let's have a look.
Two omelettes, one from an MSR Blacklite pan (left) and one from a garage sale pan (right)
VERY nice.  Both omelettes turned out very well.  I got a little more browning on the omelette in the cheap, garage sale pan, but that's to be expected.  Both omelettes were very tasty.

Best of all?  No sticking.
The nice MSR Blacklite pan, as you might expect, was as clean as a whistle.  I really like the non-stick coating.
The non-stick coating in an MSR Blacklite pan works like a charm
And even my cheap, garage sale pan did a pretty fair job.  No burnt food.
My cheap pan isn't as nice as my MSR Blacklite, but it did a pretty fair job of it.
Now, I said that both omelettes were tasty.  But don't take my word for it, goodness, no!  I now turn you over to the very competent hands of the chief tester of the Adventures in Stoving Taste Test Team.  Let's see how our ace tester reacts.

The omelette is served:
"Dad, are you sure this is edible?
And the first bite.

And the reaction:
"Hey, dad, not bad!"
Yes!  She liked it!  Er, I mean, the omelette passed the highly scientific battery of tests prepared by our Taste Test Team.  ;)

Seriously, though, my daughter is an excellent test of the taste of foods.  If she doesn't like it, she's not shy about letting you know.  If any of you are parents of a two-year-old, you know what I mean.

The bottom line?  The JetBoil I tested on was not a fluke.  You can cook on a JetBoil, even with a cheap garage sale pan like mine.  The JetBoil is a lot more versatile than most people think.

I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving.


JetBoil related posts

    Aluminum JetBoil Sol -- Cooking Report #3

    I did some fancier cooking in Cooking Report #1 and Cooking Report #2 -- but I didn't use the Jetboil Sol's "cup."  I used a nice MSR Blacklite fry pan.

    So, what about the Jetboil Sol's cup?  Is it only good for boiling water?  Or can it do a little more?

    I thought I'd find out.
    An aluminum JetBoil Sol cup
    So, time to try one of my old standard trail meals, ramen noodles with dried veggies.  For today's cooking, I'll be using an aluminum Jetboil Sol cup.
    One of my typical trail meals, "Sapporo Ichiban" ramen noodles with dried veggies.  
    OK, so I'll spare you the part about boiling the water.  It's safe to say that the Jetboil does just fine there.

    Now, the instructions on these noodles say to first boil the water, then add the noodles, and then to cook these noodles over low heat for three minutes.  Low heat for three minutes?  Can the Jetboil do it?  Let's try.

    OK, so in go our noodles.
    Noodles simmering in a Jetboil Sol
    Then let's mix in our dried veggies.
    Noodles with veggies added
    And then, let's cover and simmer for a while.  Getting a low flame on a Jetboil Sol is a bit of a trick, but it can be done.
    Low flame on a Jetboil Sol
    And three minutes later?
    Nicely re-hydrated noodles and vegetables.  Yum!
    Say, now that's not bad at all!  Why those noodles and vegetables are positively fluffy.  Nice!

    And, best of all,
    I encountered no burnt on food when simmering noodles for multiple minutes in a Jetboil Sol cup
    No burning or sticking.  Nice!  :)

    So, is the Jetboil Sol's cup able to be used for more than just boiling water?
    Noodles prepared on a Jetboil Sol
    Yes, I'd say the Jetboil Sol is up to the task.

    Again, please note that I used the aluminum Jetboil Sol cup.  This report does not cover the titanium version.

    Thanks for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving.


    JetBoil related posts

      Tuesday, March 13, 2012

      Aluminum JetBoil Sol -- Trail Report #1 and Cooking Report #2

      We had a little snow earlier in the week, but it was a beautiful day, so I decided to take the Adventures in Stoving team out on the trail.

      The Adventures In Stoving team en route
      Our destination?  Valley Forge Trail Camp on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.
      Valley Forge Trail Camp
      Today's objective?  A little cooking on the aluminum version of the Jetboil Sol.

      Many people seem to think that the only thing a Jetboil Sol is good for is boiling water.  I was pretty confident after filing JetBoil Sol -- Cooking Report #1 that I could cook real food on a Jetboil Sol.

      So, let's get started.  First, let's lay out our tools and ingredients.
      The fixin's for a first class omelette.  
      Today, I'll be making a four egg cheese and salami omelette using an aluminum Jetboil Sol.  For cookware, I'll be using an MSR Blacklite pan.

      Now, note the small metal pot support attachment just to the right of the eggs in the below photo.
      Preparing the eggs before making an omelette.
      With that pot support attachment, I can use any pot, pan, or kettle, not just a Jetboil specific pot or pan.  The universal pot support comes included when you buy a Jetboil Sol.

      Here, I've emplaced the pot support on the Jetboil burner.
      Pot support in place on a Jetboil Sol burner
      With that pot support in place, I can then set my fry pan on top.
      An MSR Blacklite pan on top of a Jetboil burner.  Note pot support attachment.
      Now, I add my ingredients.
      Eggs and other omelette ingredients cooking up on a Jetboil.
      In short order, the eggs are coming along nicely.
      An omelette, nearly done
      There!  That looks about right.
      Let's take it off the burner and have a look.
      An omelette, very nicely done.
      It turned out great!  And absolutely no trace of burning or sticking in the pan.
      No burnt spots!
      And the omelette itself?  Very nice and fluffy.
      A nice, fluffy omelette.
      And very evenly cooked.
      The bottom of the omelette is cooked very uniformly
      And the taste?  Excellent.  Every bit as good as an omelette cooked at home.
      Highly delicious
      And best of all, it really energized the Adventures In Stoving taste test team.  :)
      Well fed, an Adventures in Stoving Taste Test Team member climbs to new heights
      Concluding Remarks
      Now, is the Jetboil Sol the best cooking stove I've ever seen?  No.  But it can be done, and not just in controlled conditions as in Cooking Report #1, but out in the field as shown here in Cooking Report #2.

      The thing I notice is that the valve adjustment is danged tricky in the lower end of the range.  Like a race horse, the Jetboil Sol really wants to go, go, go.  You have to have a deft touch and a bit of patience to adjust the flame and get a nice low flame.  But adjust it will.

      If you know anything about cooking a decent omelette, you know you need a balance on the flame.  Too low, and the omelette is flat rather than fluffly.  Boring!  Too high, and you'll get a dried out, leathery omelette, or worse, a burnt one.  But get the flame exactly right, and you'll have a fluffy, fabulous omelette.  I was able to strike such a balance with the flame on a Jetboil Sol.  Again, though, you have to have a bit of patience, and you definitely have to fiddle with the valve.  The valve adjustment is neither smooth nor continuous.

      So, the Jetboil is able to do far more than just boil water, but you do need to practice a bit with it and have some patience.

      I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,


      JetBoil related posts

        Cheap Deals on Good Stoves

        If you read my recent "Starter Stove" post, I recommended the Snow Peak GigaPower (GS-100) stove, 88g/3.1oz, as my "value for the dollar" pick.  The GigaPower is a really good stove, and I've seen it on the web for only $40 (not including any taxes or shipping).  Other stoves of comparable quality are about $60.

        But there is another way:  eBay.  You can get some really cheap stoves on eBay.  Now, be really careful on eBay.  Some of those really cheap stoves aren't worth what you pay for them.  In fact, some of those really cheap stoves might be downright dangerous.  So, how do we separate the cream from the crud?  Well, you can't always, but buying brand name products is one way to greatly increase the chances of winding up with a decent stove.

        Now, I know what you're thinking:  "Hey, Jim, I've already looked on eBay, and the brand name stoves on eBay aren't any cheaper than they are in the store."

        Well, yes, but there is a good brand, a brand that maybe you've never heard of before, a brand that is a really good buy:  Kovea.  Kovea is a Korean company that has been turning out excellent products lately.  In fact, even though maybe you've never heard of Kovea by name, you may have used Kovea products.  Kovea makes stoves for major brands like MSR and Snow Peak.

        Now, eBay is a mixed bag.  Sometimes you can find deals and some times you get ripped off.  So, shop around, and as always, caveat emptor.

        But I'm looking at eBay right now, and I see a Kovea brand titanium stove, the KB-0101, with piezoelectric ignition for $42 including shipping.  Guys, that's a deal.  A comparable stove at my local retailer is $60 and that one doesn't have a piezoelectric ignition.  The stove I'm looking at is 88g/3.1 oz which may sound a little heavy for a titanium stove, but considering that it's got a piezolectric ignition built in, that's actually a very reasonable weight.  Recall that the Snow Peak GigaPower (GS-100) that I recommended earlier is also 88g/3.1oz but that the GigaPower does not have an ignition system.  I've seen the non-piezoelectric version of this stove personally, and it's a really nice stove.

        I'm also looking at a really lightweight titanium Kovea gas stove, the KB-0707, 56g/1.98oz, for $42.50 + $5.00 shipping.  I have seen one of these in person, and it is a very nice stove.  Now you just find me a sub-two ounce titanium stove for that kind of money at a US retailer.  Maybe on sale, but certainly not at normal prices, and high end titanium stoves like this are usually excluded from sales and coupons.  The KB-0707 is 32g/1.13 ounces lighter than the GS-100.  Nice.

        Is buying from eBay 100% safe?  No, of course not.  I'm sure we've all heard bad stories, and there are good reasons to buy from a local retailer where returns and exchanges may be a lot easier.  But if you're bargain hunting, eBay can be a great place, and Kovea is the top but relatively unknown brand that can save you money.

        I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,


        Monday, March 12, 2012

        Titanium Pots

        People have asked me what pots I use, so I thought I'd list out my collection and make a few comments as well.  I've listed all the weights below which may be useful in and of themselves.

        Item Capacity (ml) Pot (g) Lid (g) Total Grams Total Ounces Total Pounds
        1 Snow Peak Trek 1400 1400 125 62 187 6.60 0.41
        2 Snow Peak Trek 1400 with cheap Al lid 1400 125 29 154 5.43 0.34
        3 Evernew Ultralight 1300ml 1300 94 42 136 4.80 0.30
        4 Snow Peak Multi-Compact 1000ml 1000 100 64 164 5.78 0.36
        5 Snow Peak 1000ml with Evernew 1300 Lid 1000 100 42 142 5.01 0.31
        6 MSR Titan Kettle 850ml 850 97 36 133 4.69 0.29
        7 Snow Peak Multi-Compact 780ml 780 81 51 132 4.66 0.29
        8 BPL Firelite 550 550 66 14 80 2.82 0.18

        General Comments
        Notice first off that in lines one and two that I've listed the same Snow Peak Trek 1400 pot.  The first line is with the stock frying pan lid.  The second line is with a cheap aluminum lid that I bought in a Good Will Thrift Store.  I have lost my stock lid, so I'll have to update that column later, but I'm confident that my 29g aluminum lid (which works perfectly fine) is far lighter than the stock lid.

        I also think that a titanium frying pan isn't a very good option for those who want to cook.  I much prefer aluminum fry pans which distribute heat far more evenly.  With titanium fry pans, I usually wind up with a lot of burnt spots.  Also, I find that the handle on a frying pan lid gets in the way.  I much prefer a simple loop or knob atop my pot lids.

        As with lines one and two, so also with lines four and five.  Again, I've substituted a lighter lid for the frying pan lid that comes with the set.  I lose weight and gain ease-of-use.  I hate that frying pan lid handle and much prefer the simple loop on the lid of my Evernew 1300ml pot.  Since I very rarely ever take both a 1300ml and a 1000ml pot out on the same trip, using the 1300ml lid for the 1000ml pot works just fine.  On those rare occasions where I need both pots, I just suck it up and take the frying pan lid.

        1.  Materials.  Titanium is light, and titanium is strong, but if you want to cook real food, get aluminum cookware.  I find that titanium tends to scorch foods too easily.  Titanium is great for boiling water and melting snow. When melting snow always start with some liquid water in the bottom of the pot.  That liquid water will help distribute the heat more evenly and efficiently and will help to protect the pot from warping.

        2.  Size.  I find that around 1000ml is the most versatile size for me.  If I were going to just get one pot, I'd probably get something around 1000ml in size.  Why 1000ml?  Well, here are a few reasons:
        • Efficiency.  Smaller pots are indeed generally lighter and more packable, but smaller pots tend to be narrow.  With a narrow pot, a lot of the heat from a stove gets wasted up the sides.  I find that my stoves are much more efficient with a 1000ml pot with "traditional" proportions (wider than tall).  I do notice, though, that my new 1300ml Evernew pot is a real "bargain" in terms of weight (see above table).  It will take slightly more room in my pack, but weigh less than my 1000ml Snow Peak Pot.  My 1300ml Evernew pot may become my new "go to" pot.
        • Practical cooking capacity.  I find pots less than about 750ml to be impractical.  Not only are they inefficient due to wasted heat, they also lack enough capacity for me to boil enough water for dinner and a hot beverage in one boil.
        • Carrying Capacity.  I like to be able to store my stove in my pot.  With a 1000ml pot, I can lay a Clikstand (for example) down flat inside.  I can also carry a lighter, an alcohol stove, a small fuel bottle, a spoon, and my windscreen inside.
        A 1000ml Snow Peak pot can carry an entire cooking set up inside.
        • Safety.  Also, I've had a lot of boil overs with small pots.  I tend to boil at least 500ml (about two cups) at a time.  With a 550ml pot, there's not much distance between the water line and the rim of the pot.  A boil over when working with a gas stove could be quite dangerous since the boiling water could overheat the canister causing a flare or in some circumstances (if the canister were already quite hot) a canister explosion.  Not good.
        So there you have it, a few thoughts on pots.

        Thanks for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,


        Saturday, March 10, 2012

        The "Starter" Stove

        I've been asked a number of times a question something like this:  "Hey, Jim, I'm just getting into backpacking; what stove should I get?"

        Good question, and I've got a couple of ideas, naturally.  :)

        My recommendation for a "starter" stove for someone getting into backpacking is typically going to be a canister gas stove, that is a stove that runs on a canister of compressed gas (typically propane mixed with either isobutane or regular butane).  A canister stove is going to be the most like a gas stove that you might have at home and probably has the easiest "learning curve" to negotiate of any of the major types of stoves.   If you want to start out on wood, alcohol, ESBIT, or liquid petroleum fuels, knock yourself out, but my recommendation is for a canister gas stove.

        And when I say "starter" stove, I don't mean some "El Cheapo" piece of junk that you're going to want to dump in the trash after you've used it a few times.  I'm going to recommend some good value-for-the-dollar options that might very well be the only stove you'll ever need.  Of course some of you will be bitten by the "stove bug" and want to branch out, but what I'll present today are some good options that should stand you in good stead for many years to come.

        As usual, I won't try to do your thinking for you.  I'm going to present some options, and you'll need to then select a stove based on your needs and your price constraints.  I'm going to present some choices in two sub categories of canister stoves:  regular upright canister stoves and integrated canister stoves.  I'll address each sub category in turn.

        Regular Upright Canister Stoves
        An upright canister stove is just a small gas burner that mounts directly on top of a canister of gas.  By "regular," I mean just the typical stove sold alone, not a stove that is tied to a particular pot.  Examples of some popular regular upright canister stoves include the MSR PocketRocket, the Optimus Crux, the Soto MicroRegulator, and the Snow Peak GigaPower.

        My typical recommendation for a good stove for the dollar is the Snow Peak GigaPower (GS-100) which is $40.00 (not including any taxes and shipping) for the manual version.  That's an excellent value.  It's not the lightest nor the most compact, but it's a very good stove and reasonably compact.

        But what to cook in?  Tall, mug shaped pots are quite popular, but honestly I don't recommend them.  Such mug shaped pots are very narrow, and a lot of heat gets wasted up the sides.  The smallest I would go with is the MSR Titan Kettle which is 850ml.  I actually think a 1000ml (1 liter in other words) pot is the most versatile pot size.  It's maybe slightly big (but not much) for one person, but it's very versatile, and if you get a pot that is wider than it is tall, it's more efficient in terms of catching the flame and not wasting flames up the side of the pot.  Always run your stove on medium flame for best efficiency.  A high flame is seldom needed and wastes fuel.

        What should that pot be made out of?  Titanium cookware is best for boiling water.  If you want to do more than boiling water, then I recommend aluminum cookware, particularly hard anodized aluminum.  Hard anodized aluminum is typically cheaper than titanium, nearly as durable, and nearly as light, but aluminum is far better for cooking inasmuch as it distributes heat well whereas titanium is infamous for "hot spotting" (where the spot where the flame hits gets hot and burns).

        Regular canister stoves are quite vulnerable to wind.  I typically use some kind of a windscreen.  You have to be careful though.  Trap too much heat, and you might overheat the canister and it might explode.  One must feel the canister frequently and consistently with one's hand.  If the canister feels hot, immediately turn the stove down, open up the windscreen, and take the pot off the stove until things cool down.  Only diligent, attentive people should use a windscreen with a canister stove.  If one is the type whose mind wanders or is easily distracted, a windscreen might not be such a good idea.  Manufacturers of course state that a windscreen should never be used at all, so you're on your own if you use a windscreen.  I personally believe that windscreens are safe if you are checking the canister frequently. Be aware that not only could a canister explosion result from allowing too much heat to build up but that one could also melt any plastic parts of a stove.

        Integrated Canister Stoves
        By "integrated" I mean a pot and stove that are sold together and are designed for each other.  Examples of integrated canister stoves would be the JetBoil PCS, Flash, Zip, and Sol as well as the MSR Reactor.  Everyone knows that integrated canister stoves are efficient and boil water quickly, but if you get an integrated canister stove, you also get a "secret" feature:  wind resistance.  The burner is protected to varying degrees by the heat exchanger.  Particularly the MSR Reactor is windproof.

        Also with an integrated canister stove, one does not have to worry about what pot to select; a pot is provided, and the pot provided works very well with the stove.

        A good integrated canister stove isn't cheap, but when you consider the cost of a pot and a stove, some of the lower priced integrated canister stoves stack up pretty well in the cost department.  In particular, the Jetboil Zip (MSRP $75) is a real deal.  For those who want a higher end stove and are willing to pay for it, the aluminum Jetboil Sol (MSRP $120) is an excellent choice.  Jetboil also has a titanium Jetboil Sol (MSRP $150) that as far as I can tell is only one ounce lighter than the aluminum version.  The Jetboil website says two ounces lighter, but the cup is not included in the weight listed for the titanium version whereas the cup is listed for the aluminum version.  When a comparison is done that includes the same components, the aluminum and titanium versions appear to be only about one ounce different.  I'm not sure that one ounce in weight savings is worth an additional $30, but that is up to the individual to decide.  There have been some reports where the heat exchanger fins have melted on the titanium version of the Jetboil Sol when doing more than boiling water (e.g. cooking soups, dehydrated meals, etc.).  There have even been a few, very few, reports of heat exchanger fins melting when all that was being done was boiling water.  Lastly, there have also been some reports that the titanium Jetboil Sol might be dangerous, but, after looking into the issue, I do not believe that the titanium Sol is dangerous.

        If one were wanted a good stove set up, a Jetboil Zip or aluminum Sol are excellent choices.  I'm not recommending the titanium Sol at this time.

        I will have a review of the Jetboil Sol available soon.  Check back in about a week.

        Which is better, a regular canister stove or an integrated canister stove?  Hard to say, really.  The regular is typically cheaper and lighter but is less efficient and more vulnerable to wind.  The integrated is typically more expensive and heavier but is more efficient and more wind resistant.  While I can present some pros and cons, ultimately the choice must be left up to the individual.  Whether you pick up a regular canister stove like a Snow Peak GigaPower (and the pot of your choice) or you pick up, say, a JetBoil, I think you'll have a stove that will serve you well.  Either would be a good choice.

        I thank you for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,


        Friday, March 9, 2012

        BushBuddy vs Ti-Tri Cone

        Recently, I reviewed the Ti-Tri Cone and the BushBuddy Ultra.  Today, I thought I'd do a quick comparison of the two.

        A Ti Tri Cone (Sidewinder type), left, and a BushBuddy Ultra, right. 
        First, let me say right up front, that these are two really good quality wood burning stoves.  They're both well designed, well constructed, and a pleasure to use.  If you're in the market for a wood burning backpacking stove, I have no problem commending either one to you.  However, as with all stoves, one or the other will work better for a given individual, depending on that individual's situation and style.  So, let's compare!

        Quality of Workmanship
        Both have excellent build quality, but the BushBuddy Ultra is a tour de force in craftsmanship.  It is just really well put together by someone who clearly is a master fabricator.    I used this photo in my review, but it's so illustrative that it bears repeating.
        The wonderful craftsmanship of a BushBuddy Ultra
        Just look at the regularity of the spot welds.  My information is that those are all done by hand (!).  Now, that's craftsmanship.  Of course we're here to burn wood not put something up on the mantle as an art piece, but still, one can't help but admire the workmanship of the BushBuddy Ultra.

        Note that the BushBuddy's craftsmanship in no wise puts the Ti-Tri Cone in a bad light.  The Ti-Tri Cone is a well made product.

        The Ti-Tri Cone has a clear edge here.  The main cone, inferno option inner cone, and floor roll up into a little package.  Now, that's pretty sweet.
        The main cone, inner cone ("Inferno Option"), and the floor.
        The fire grate fits on the floor of the pot; the two tent stakes fit inside the rolled up cone; the wire support for the grate rolls up and stores next to the rolled up cone; and there's still room inside for more.  I can toss in a lighter, measuring cup, alcohol stove, spoon, a couple of ESBIT cubes, etc.
        A packed up Ti-Tri Cone (left).  A packed up BushBuddy (right).
        By contrast, a BushBuddy in the pot means you generally won't get too much else in the pot.  Now, don't get me wrong.  The BushBuddy's trick of simply rotating the pot supports 180 degrees and storing them within the body of the BushBuddy is brilliant, but the BushBuddy just isn't as compact as a Tri-Ti Cone.
        The BushBuddy's pot supports rotate 180 degrees and store inside.
        You can fit an alcohol stove or some ESBIT inside, but the BushBuddy isn't quite as space efficient as a Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone.

        Ease of Set Up
        The BushBuddy is a snap.  Pull out the pot supports, rotate 180 degrees so that the pot supports point up, and set the pot supports in the grove that runs along the top of the BushBuddy.  You're done.  It might take all of about 30 seconds, if that.  On the other hand, the Ti-Tri Cone has an outer cone to assemble, the floor to emplace, the wire roll to position, the grate to set atop the wire roll, the inner cone must be connected, and the two tent stakes must be slid through their respective holes,  Clearly the BushBuddy is the winner here.

        However, we're talking about a wood fire here.  Compared to gathering wood, building a fire lay, and getting a fire started, I don't think either set up is particularly bad.  In the context of the amount of work that a wood fire requires, the set up on either one is not a big deal.

        Ease of Take Down
        As you might expect, it's more work to pack up a Ti-Tri Cone with the Inferno Option.  I don't think it's a huge hassle, especially after you've done it a couple of times, but it is more work.  The one thing I do notice is that my hands get dirtier when taking down a Ti-Tri Cone after wood burning.  I guess one just needs to be prepared for that and pack some baby wipes.

        Ease of Cooking
        The real difference here is capacity.  Even though the Ti-Tri Cone packs smaller, it sets up larger.  The larger capacity means you load once for a boil.
        The Ti-Tri Cone (left) has a much larger fire box than the BushBuddy (right).
        The smaller BushBuddy needed to be fed repeatedly while in use in order to get a boil.  If you're wanting to do cooking that requires coals for even heating, the Ti-Tri Cone holds more coals and provides more sustained, even heat.  I've been able to prepare things like a four egg omelet, which is pretty thick when cooked in a small backpacking type pan, without any problems on a wood-fired Ti-Tri Cone.
        An omelet prepared on a wood-fired Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone
        Non-Wood Use
        OK, here's where the Ti-Tri Cone just plain beats the BushBuddy.  Yes, you can kludge up a way to run an alcohol or ESBIT stove with a BushBuddy, but it really doesn't work that well, particularly in wind.
        An alcohol stove in use with a BushBuddy.  It works.  Kind of.
        On the other hand, the Ti-Tri Cone is an alcohol stove set up of the first order.  The Ti-Tri Cone is also an excellent ESBIT set up.  Really it is excellence in non-wood mode that sets the Ti-Tri Cone apart.  The BushBuddy is great if you're going to be able to burn wood a high percentage of the time and only occasionally have to burn alcohol or ESBIT.  If however you're going to do any significant portion of a trip with non-wood fuels, the Ti-Tri Cone wins hands down.

        Wind Resistance
        The Ti-Tri Cone system uses the highly effective Caldera Cone as its pot support and windscreen.  Except for the handle cut out, the pot has no gap between itself and the upper edge of the windcreen.
        The tight fitting Caldera Cone windsreen.  
        On the other hand, the BushBuddy has a 360 degree gap that allows wind to sweep through.
        There is a gap that wind can blow through between the pot and the stove with a BushBuddy Ultra.
        With wood, efficiency is a little less critical since if the wind blows away your heat you can presumably just add some more wood to make up the difference.  In higher winds, a stove without good wind resistance can be a problem.

        If one is using alcohol or ESBIT, then wind resistance is quite a bit more critical.  The Ti-Tri Cone is the clear winner in the wind resistance category.

        Just below, I've put down the weights corresponding to the various modes that one could run a Ti-Tri Cone in.  These weights are measured on my kitchen gram scale.  Note that I'm using a Ti-Tri Cone sized for a 1300ml Evernew pot which does not need stakes when used with alcohol.  Smaller pots will require the use of stakes.  Each stake weighs 7g.

        Ti-Tri Cone   Grams  Ounces
        Full Wood Mode (Inferno Option) 126 4.44
        Minimum Wood Mode (with floor) 77 2.72
        Non-LNT Wood Mode (no floor) 59 2.08
        Alcohol Mode (no stakes) 60 2.12
        ESBIT Mode (with stakes) 57 2.01

        By contrast, the BushBuddy weighs 139g/4.9 ounces on my scale.  No matter what configuration in which the Ti-Tri Cone is used, the Ti-Tri Cone is lighter.

        Keep in mind also that you'll need a windscreen for the BushBuddy if you use alcohol or ESBIT.  The weight of a windscreen will add weight to the above listed weight.

        Pot Stability
        Both stoves provide good pot stability.  I'd say the edge goes to the Ti-Tri Cone, particularly in sloping or uneven terrain.
        Two Evernew 1300ml pots on (left) a Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone and (right) a BushBuddy Ultra.  The Ti-Tri Cone is more stable in varied terrain.
        The Bushbuddy Ultra is $120.00 Canadian Dollars including shipping to addresses within Canada and $128.00 Canadian Dollars including shipping to the United States including Alaska and Hawaii.  No pot is included.

        The price of a Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone will vary with the options you select.  For the full wood burning set up listed below, the price is $130.00 US dollars which does not include shipping.  No pot is included, but a 20% discount is offered if you buy a pot along with the Ti-Tri Cone.  Shipping to my location is $6.37 for the below listed components.  Shipping to your location may vary.  California residents must pay sales tax which I believe is 7.6% in the county where Trail Designs is located.

        The BushBuddy is slightly less and includes shipping but the Ti-Tri Cone set up includes more, and Trail Designs offers a 20% discount if you buy a pot for your set. Take your pick.

        Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone Component List
        a)  Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone (outer cone)
        b)  Two titanium tent stakes
        c)  12-10 alcohol stove
        d)  "Gram Cracker" ESBIT stove with drip plate
        e)  Inferno insert (inner cone)
        f)  Fire grate and wire support
        g)  Floor
        h)  Tyvek sacks to house the various components.
        i)  Fuel bottle (for alcohol)
        j)  Small measuring cup (for measuring alcohol)

        LNT Considerations
        I have experienced some scorching of the ground after using the Ti-Tri Cone for an extended period of time (long periods of testing with multiple items cooked in a row) despite using the floor.  I have not experienced scorching with normal use.
        Superficial scorch mark left on the ground by a Ti-Tri Cone
        The scorch marks are very shallow and easily removed, but one should clear the ground before use and inspect the ground after use.

        I have experienced no scorch marks when using a BushBuddy Ultra.  Indeed, the bottom of a BushBuddy doesn't even get hot while in use.

        It's also worth mentioning that with either stove, fuel consumption is far less than with an open fire.  Using less fuel means that there is less impact on the environment.

        Here, the BushBuddy wins, no question about it.  With the BushBuddy, you can use pretty much any pot, kettle, or pan.
        A BushBuddy Ultra with a 1300ml Evernew pot
        The same BushBuddy with a 1000ml Snow Peak pot
        Note however that if you want to pack the BushBuddy in your pot that you'll need a relatively tall pot.  A BushBuddy will not fit in a shorter pot.  The BushBuddy Ultra is sized to fit well in a Snow Peak Trek 900 pot.
        A BushBuddy Ultra will not fit in, for example, an Evernew 1300ml pot.  A taller pot is needed.
        With a Ti-Tri Cone, you are generally restricted to whatever pot the Cone was built for.  Each Ti-Tri Cone is sized for a particular pot.  The Ti-Tri Cone seen here is sized for a 1300ml Evernew pot.  However, I have been able to balance a pan on top of the edges of the cone.  In other words, I actually have a few more options than just the pot the Ti-Tri Cone was made for.
        Cooking scrambled eggs in a pan placed on top of a Ti-Tri Cone
        Note:  I would not try cooking with a pan placed on top of an aluminum Caldera Cone.

        Overall, I prefer the Ti-Tri Cone because of it's lighter weight, greater capacity, better packability, wind resistance, better stability, and ability to run equally well on wood and non-wood fuels.  Particularly where I live where wood fire bans are a fact of life, the ability to run equally well on wood and non-wood fuels is key.

        Moreover, I would think that for anyone who camps both above and below tree line that the Ti-Tri Cone would be the wood burning stove of choice.

        So, there you have it, a quick look at the BushBuddy Ultra and the Ti-Tri Cone in terms of how they compare to one another.

        I thank you for joining me on another Adventure In Stoving.


        The two stoves featured in this comparison were provided by BPL members Christian D. and Randy N.  Thank you to Christian and Randy!

        Other wood fired backpacking stove posts:

        Posts on the Caldera Cone: