Thursday, November 24, 2016

Can I Use Any Brand of Gas Canister?

Most stove companies have warnings on their backpacking stove instructions that only their brand of gas canisters should be used with their stoves.  Really?
A backpacking type canister of gas.
Um, no.  All of the threaded canisters (which at least in North America are all that are available anymore for backpacking type stoves) use a 7/16ths UNEF thread.  They're all compatible with one another from the point of the mechanical connection, and gas is gas.  There aren't any blends of canister gas out there that are incompatible with one stove or another.

And besides that, there's a lot to suggest that all the major brands except Coleman are made by the same company in South Korea.

The newer orange label Coleman canisters do not work with many brands of stoves.  The older green label Coleman canisters typically have worked fine.

A few years ago, I noticed MSR changed the shape of their canisters, the hue of their red color, and their caps instead of flat were more raised, had a more separated pull tab, and had a little hole and a square on top.  The following year, Snow Peak Canisters, which had relatively flat caps with “Snow Peak” molded into them became… you guessed it, more raised, had a more separated pull tab, and had a little hole and a square on top, and whereas they had always been labeled “made in Japan”, they now were clearly labeled “made in Korea”.
An old Snow Peak canister, left, and a new Snow Peak canister, right.
Note how caps have changed and that the shape of the canister has changed subtly.
Curious, I started looking at a number of different brands.  They all had the same caps, and the canister shapes were all now the same.
Gas canister from three major brands.  All have the same shape.  All have the same cap.
I looked at Primus, Optimus, Olicamp, MSR, Jetboil, Brunton, Snow Peak, and Burton.  All of these brands now had the same caps and the same canister shape, and all were made in Korea.  The only exception I could find was Coleman which is made in France.

It was pretty clear to me that whereas before there had been a diversity of canister caps, countries of origin, and canister shapes, there now was only one.  They were now all being made by the same manufacturer.

A little research revealed that the Taeyang Industrial Co. Ltd. of South Korea was the largest manufacturer of gas canisters in the world, controlling about 75% of the market.  Then, I found this photo of a Kovea gas canister on-line:
A canister of Kovea brand gas, clearly marked "Taeyang Ind. Co., Ltd.".  Note canister cap.
The cap?  You guessed it, raised, with a little hole and a square on the top, and unlike many of the major brands who for whatever reason don’t want to let on (and I have asked, directly) who makes their canisters, Kovea prints it right on the side of the canister:  “Taeyang Industrial Co. Ltd.”.

So, pretty much all the major brands are actually manufactured by the same company.  The blend of gas and the labeling may vary, but the physical canister is identical.

Before, when there were a greater number of manufacturers, one could interchange canisters because of the 7/16 UNEF standard thread.  Now, they are literally identical.

Why do stove companies say to only use their brand?  Well, to sell more canisters for one, but also for liability.  If you use some other brand of canister and something bad happens, they can say in court, "well, we warned you not to use other brands of canisters."

While it doesn't really matter which brand* of canister one buys, gas blends do vary.  The composition of gas in a canister, typically some mix of propane, isobutane, and "plain" butane, doesn't matter too much in warmer weather, say no colder than 50 Fahrenheit/10 Celsius, but the colder one goes, the more the blend of gas matters.  In cold weather, the general rule of thumb is to avoid butane and stick to canisters that have a propane-isobutane blend.  Propane is generally the best cold weather fuel – but if it's mixed with just plain butane, avoid that brand.  An isobutane blend, even if it contains less propane than another brand, is going to perform best in cold weather.  For more on this subject see What's the Best Brand of Gas for Cold Weather?.

The bottom line?  Except in cold weather, just buy whatever is cheapest.

I hope this is helpful,


*I'm speaking here of major brands in developed countries.  China, for example, has many smaller manufacturers of gas canisters.  Chinese canisters have reputation for leaky valves and for having impurities in the gas that can clog stoves.  Many travellers simply refuse to buy Chinese made canisters even if they are the cheapest in a given area.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Soto WindMaster – World's Lightest Gas Stove with Piezo Ignition

I've talked about the Soto WindMaster (OD-1RX) upright canister gas in several of my posts lately.  The WindMaster's claim to fame is that a) it is the world's lightest (67 g/2.3 oz) upright canister gas stove with piezoelectric ignition and b) that it has superior wind handling capability.

I was really skeptical about this stove at first. As it turns out, it's one of my favorite canister gas stoves.  Ever.

UPDATE 27 November 2016:  I have added a point by point consideration of the stove based on my "What Makes a Good Backpacking Stove?" framework in the appendix
The Soto WindMaster (OD-1RX)
Why was I skeptical?  Well, the name of the stove sort of tells you why I was skeptical.  Soto is making the claim that their stove handles wind well.  An upright canister stove?  A master of the wind?  Really?

Let me explain. There are two general classes of canister gas backpacking stoves:  upright and remote.
An upright canister stove, left (a Soto Amicus), and a remote canister stove right (a Snow Peak GeoShield).
An upright canister stove screws directly onto the top of a canister of gas.  The advantage here is weight:  There's no need to have "legs" to support the burner.  The canister itself supports the stove.  Also, there is no need of any means to bring the fuel to the stove since the stove is directly attached to the canister.  Upright canister stoves are light, plentiful, affordable, compact, and simple.

Wow, sounds great, right?  So what's the disadvantage?  Well, notice how high the stove and pot are in the photo above.  Since the stove mounts on top of the canister, it sits higher up, more exposed to wind.  

Can't you use a windscreen?  Well, yes, kind of, but BE CAREFUL.  If you trap too much heat in the enclosed space around the fuel canister, the canister could overheat.  Heat the canister sufficiently, and it could burst, spewing highly flammable gas all around.  Let's see, flammable gas spraying all around a flame.  Say, that might be, um, bad, couldn't it?  Well, let's just say this could be your "last supper."  Most manufacturers strongly recommend against the use of a windscreen with an upright canister stove.  There's more to say here, but rather than go on and on, if you're interested in the subject of windscreens, I suggest you check out my blog post on Windscreens.  Another disadvantage to upright canister stoves is that they aren't all that great in cold temperatures.  Even with the best fuel, you probably don't want to go much below 20F/-7C.  There are tricks in cold weather.  If you're interested see: Canister Gas in Cold Weather.

Now, on the other hand, a remote canister stove has the fuel off to the side.  Fuel is delivered to the burner via a fuel hose or line of some type.  The advantages here are:  1. The stove sits lower to the ground, so it's more stable and more out of the wind, 2. The stove can be used with a full 360 degree windscreen with no risk of overheating the canister, and 3. Many remote canister stoves can be run with the canister inverted for cold weather operation.  If you're going to run a stove with the canister inverted, do your homework first.  Not all remote canister stoves can handle inverted canisters.  For starters, check out my article in Seattle Backpackers Magazine:  Stoves for Cold Weather II.  

The disadvantages to a remote canister are stove are:  1.  It takes up more space in your pack, 2. It weighs more, and 3. It typically costs more.  There are also fewer choices with remote canister stove than upright canister stoves, but there are some good ones out there.  If you're interested in a remote canister stove,  I suggest you check out the Kovea Spider remote canister stove. 

OK, enough background.  Here's the point:  The WindMaster is an upright canister stove.  In other words, the WindMaster is the kind of stove that does the worst in wind.  So, yeah, I was a little skeptical.  An upright canister stove that's good in wind?  Yeah, right.  But then I tested it.  

Please take a look at this video:

The test in the video wasn't the only test I ran.  I ran dozens of tests over a long period of time.   My conclusion:  Soto really has succeeded in making a more windproof upright canister stove.
In every test, the Soto WindMaster (left) boiled faster than the Microregulator which is basically the same stove but without the wind resistant burner head.
Well, um, if this stove is so great, why isn't it the number one best seller?  Well, several reasons:
  1. It's kind of tall (see photo below).  It's not bad, but it is a little on the tall side.  I can't lay it on it's side in the bottom of my 550 ml mug-type pot.
  2. The pot support is kind of, uh, well, "different". I'll explain more, below.
  3. It's expensive.  It's about $75 MSRP.  (Note Campsaver* has them on sale right now for $52.47 which is a deal).
If you can handle the size and the pot support, I'll explain why I think the WindMaster might be worth the price (especially if you can get it on sale).

By the way, Soto has come out with a new, more affordable stove, the Amicus.  The Amicus has the same style burner head as the WindMaster.  Is the Amicus as good in wind as the WindMaster?  I don't know yet, but keep an eye on my blog.  I plan to post a review of the new Amicus some time in the next four to six weeks.

*Disclosure:  I have no relationship with Campsaver, financial or otherwise.  I don't think I've ever purchased anything from them.  Someone tipped me off to this sale; I pass the tip on to you.  As I say, I have not done business with them.  This link in no way constitutes an endorsement.  Caveat emptor.
The Soto Microregulator, left, and the Soto WindMaster, right.  The WindMaster is somewhat taller than average.
OK, so what's this about the pot support?  Well, it's detachable.  This is a feature that you're either going to love or you're going to hate.  It works for me, but a lot of people apparently didn't like it or weren't willing to try it.  There are actually two pot supports available for the WindMaster.  I'll discuss the basic one that comes with the stove first and then the optional, larger "4Flex" pot support later.

The basic pot support is actually pretty good.  It provides plenty of support and is pretty grippy.  It supports small diameter pots well, including something as small as a standard Sierra cup.  And it's not hard to take on and off.  All it takes is a little practice.  I can even do it wearing fleece mittens.
The pot support attaches easily with just a bit of practice – even in midweight fleece mittens
So that little metal bit in my left hand, above, is the pot support.  It's kind of a flat color.  If you drop it, it's hard to find.  My solution is to use a Sea to Summit mini carabiner (9 grams) to immediately clip the pot support to the valve handle the second I remove the support from the stove.
A Sea to Summit mini carabiner
In the photo below, you can see the carabiner hanging off the valve handle. The carabiner hanging there takes a bit of getting used to when you turn the valve handle, but it's no big deal.
A Soto WindMaster in use.
Note carabiner hanging on the valve handle.
OK, so I've talked about the relative wind proofness of the WindMaster.  How does it work?  Well, for one, the burner head is recessed which tends to guide the flames up toward the pot and limits the amount that wind can blow the flames off course.  Second, the lower portion of the burner head is angled such that wind naturally flows down, around, and away from the burner head.
The Soto WindMaster, left, has a recessed burner head.  Note that you can barely see the flame.
Most stoves have an open burner head, such as the stove on the right.
Note how the flame on the stove on the right is being blown over to the left by the wind.  Goodbye, heat.
I actually kind of enjoyed watching just how well the Soto WindMaster's burner head worked.  In test after test, I could see an open burner's flame being blown to one side or another whereas the WindMaster's flame was still centered on the pot.

Now, how wind proof is the WindMaster?  Is it as windproof as say the high tech MSR Windburner? Um, no.  No way.  The Windburner is a freaking miracle of windproofness.  If you expect to be in seriously windswept areas and really need just absolutely rock steady performance in wind, then get the MSR Windburner not the Soto WindMaster.

However, the Windburner* is larger, heavier, and more expensive than the WindMaster.  If you do your homework and find that an upright canister stove is right for you, the WindMaster will offer far better performance in wind than other similar stoves.  How do you "do your homework?"  Well, you might check out my post, What Makes a Good Backpacking Stove?

*The Windburner is on sale at REI for $99 right now which is a pretty good price considering that MSRP is $130.
Disclosure:  I receive no remuneration from REI for mentioning them here.  I just happen to know that they have the Windburner on sale right now.  I am however an REI customer, and I do occasionally make purchases from them.
Soto WindMaster, left, with a recessed burner head.  Soto Microregulator, right, with an open burner head.
Note how the Microregulator's flame is blown off to the left whereas the WindMaster's is not.
Much ado has been made about stoves with regulator valves being able to really cook lately.  I kind of laugh.  Yes, Jetboil made a big deal about how you can really control the flame on their relatively new MiniMo regulator valved stove.  Why do I laugh?  Because Soto has been doing it all along. Soto is really ahead of other stove companies in terms of technology, so I laugh when other companies make a big deal about something that Soto has been doing for several years.  Soto would never have put out stoves with crappy burner control like that on the first generation regulator valved Jetboils.
Noodle dish prepared on a Soto WindMaster.
You can actually cook with the Soto WindMaster, to include fine simmering.
Now, another thing about the WindMaster:  The "Stealth" ignition.  Soto's Stealth ignition (found on several Soto stoves) is the best in the industry.  Period.  Nobody's ignition is as sophisticated and reliable as Soto's.  Many companies sort of bolt this big kludgy ignition thing to the side of their stoves and then have a wire running up the side of the burner column.  The ignition system then ends with an exposed wire directly in the flame.  This wire often warps in the heat or snags on things – and fails.  Soto has a much more elegant control and runs their wire up through the inside of the burner column.  Then, at the top of the burner column, instead of a little wire sticking out just waiting to be snagged, they put a much more stable strip of metal that doesn't jut out the way wire ignitions do.  Notice also, in the photo below, that the ignition point is in the center of the burner.  This has two advantages:  1) It's a heck of a lot less likely to snag on something when located in center of a burner than an ignition on the rim of a burner and 2) there's a sort of "island" in the center of the burner head that the ignition point sits in.  The ignition point is less exposed to heat and is less likely to become warped or otherwise damaged.
The ignition point of Soto's Stealth ignition is the strip of silver colored metal (not a wire) in the center of the burner head.
Now, notice something else in the photo, above.  Look at the pot supports.  Those are not that little pot support we saw before.  This is the optional "4Flex" pot support that can be purchased to supplement the pot support that comes with the stove.  The 4Flex offers a wide surface for larger pots.
A 2.6 liter pot on a a Soto WindMaster equipped with the optional 4Flex pot support.  Really stable.
In fact, the supports are not the worry here; the small size of the canister is.
Canister "feet" can help but are not absolutely required.
 I found the 4Flex to be a really nice option with large pots (as in group cooking or snow melting).
The WindMaster's optional 4Flex pot support offers excellent stability for larger pots.
I've gone from skeptic to convert.  I really like the quality and flexibility of the WindMaster – as well as it's ability to handle wind.  If I go out solo or with one other person, I can take the basic pot support.  I don't have to take up a lot of room in my kit with an unnecessarily large pot support.  On the other hand, on trips with a larger group or larger pots – or pans as in fish frying, pancakes, etc. – I take the 4Flex, and then I don't have to worry about my pot being "tippy."  With the 4Flex, even fairly large pots are very stable.  The one thing you might worry about with large pots is not the pot supports at all but rather the canister.  A large pot with a small canister at the base could be a little tippy on uneven ground.  Several companies offer canister "feet" that one could purchase if one were concerned.  I didn't find them necessary,

A final note:  On local hikes, I might do stove testing, but on my "big" hikes where it's a really a special hike, I don't do stove testing.  I take stoves that I like and trust.  The last couple of photos were from my hike on the John Muir Trail this past summer.  In other words, this isn't a stove that I test and then stick on a shelf never to be seen or heard from again.  No, this is a stove I actually use.  I have dozens and dozens of stoves sent to me for free from companies that would like me to do a review.  I can pretty much use any stove I like.  If a stove makes it on a trip where I'm not testing, you know it's a good stove.

The Soto WindMaster

What's Good About It?
  • World's lightest canister gas stove with piezoelectric ignition  (67 g/2.3 oz).
  • Superior wind handling
  • Reliable, sophisticated piezoelectric ignition
  • Good pot stability on both large and small pots with multiple pot support options
What's Not So Good About It?
  • A little on the tall side.
  • More expensive than many comparable stoves
  • The smaller pot support is easy to lose – unless you use a mini carabiner and always clip the support to the valve handle when you take the pot support off.
The Soto WindMaster:  Highly Recommended.

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


Disclosures:  I received the WindMaster stove free of charge from a third party (not Soto in other words) for the purpose of this review.  I purchased the 4Flex support with my own money.   I am not compensated for my reviews except for the trivial amount of money I receive from the ads on my blog (about $1.00 USD per day at last check).  The income from my blog pays for fuel and occasional parts and accessories, but I in no way derive my living from my blog.  My blog is basically a hobby which leaves me free to review stoves any dang way I please.  

Appendix – "What Makes a Good Backpacking Stove?"

An evaluation of the Soto Windmaster based on my fourteen point "What Makes a Good Backpacking Stove?" framework.

  1. Suitability – Is this stove suitable for what I want to do?
    • Cooking  – The Windmaster can pretty much support any type of cooking from high heat, rapid boiling and snow melting to slow simmering.  The fine control of the flame is very good.
    • Conditions – Like all upright canister stoves, the WindMaster would not be my first choice for temperatures under 20 Fahrenheit/-7 Celsius.  The WindMaster may be used at all elevations although the piezoelectric ignition will be less reliable above 10,000 feet/3000 meters in elevation.  No matter what elevation one uses a stove with a built in ignition, always carry a second source of ignition (non-piezo lighter, matches, firesteel, etc.).  The WindMaster will handle windy conditions better than most upright canister stoves but would not be a good choice for extremely windy conditions.
    • Capacity  – The Windmaster can easily support pots from about 250 ml (depending on proportions) to about 2000 ml with the basic pot support, but over 1500 ml, you'd have to be a bit cautious about using a small canister.  With the larger 4Flex pot supports, 1500 ml to 3500 ml, probably larger, pots can be accommodated, but one might want to use canister "feet" to make the whole assembly more stable.
  2. Reliability/Robustness – Can it “take a licking and keep on ticking?”
    I found the stove to be quite solid.  Some have complained that the basic pot support is "flimsy."  I did not find it so, and found it to be quite solid once properly emplaced on the burner head.  As with all canister stoves, one must keep the threaded area clean, and one should avoid spilling food on the burner head.  Do not set the stove down in the dirt if you can avoid it.  One should also keep the canister threads clean lest abrasives (dirt, grit, etc.) get into the threads of your stove.  Always use the cap on the canister when not in use.  Avoid Coleman brand canisters which don't have a cap  or save a cap from another brand and use it if you buy a Coleman canister.  Why Coleman doesn't provide a cap on their canisters is beyond me.  Dumb idea, Coleman.
  3. Weight  –  The WindMaster weighs 67 g/2.3 oz which is in line with other major stove brands (MSR, Snow Peak, Optimus, Primus, etc.).  There are titanium stoves coming out of China, some by Fire Maple which is actually a decent brand, that are lighter, but you will sacrifice pot stability and the ability to handle wind.  Some will find this trade off acceptable; others will want to carry the extra ounce to get better pot stability and windproofness.  It is a choice; the choice is yours.
  4. Price – Do I have mortgage my home to afford this thing? 
    At MSRP $75, the WindMaster is in the upper range of upright canister stoves.  The WindMaster offers high quality construction and engineering, good pot stability, an excellent ignition, and superior wind performance.  Some will consider it worth the price; others will not.  Always look for sales. Never be in a hurry to purchase gear.
  5. Stability – Pot stability is well above average for upright canister stoves.  The detailed engineering of the pot supports makes them more grippy than most.
  6. Efficiency (i.e. fuel economy) – The WindMaster has better fuel economy than most upright canister stoves, particularly in wind.  The WindMaster will not have as good fuel economy as an integrated canister stove like a Jetboil  unless one uses a heat exchanger pot in which case the fuel economy of a WindMaster may rival that of a Jetboil.  
  7. Windproofness –  The WindMaster is of a design that gives it better performance in wind than other upright canister stoves.  This is one of the chief features of the stove (hence the name).  One should not use a full 360 degree windscreen with the WindMaster or any upright canister stove.  Overheating the canister could result in an explosion.  See my post on Windscreens for ideas and precautions related to windscreens with upright canister stoves.
  8. Compactness – The WindMaster is reasonably compact for its class, but it is taller than most upright canister stoves.  There are many upright canister stoves that are significantly more packable.
  9. Ease of use – Generally, the WindMaster is a pretty easy to use stove, but it does have the detachable pot support.  I found that I could put on the pot support with one hand, even in midweight mittens, and I didn't think it was a big deal, but some people just absolutely hate the detachable pot support.  You must make provision to not lose the post support.  I clip mine to the valve handle when not in use.
  10. Ease of maintenance/field repair –  Like most upright canister gas stoves, tools and spares are not included with the stove.  Note that in four years of using the stove, I encountered no instances where I needed to perform maintenance or repairs on the stove.  Spares and tools are more typically included with liquid fuel or multi fuel stoves.
  11. Speed – Please refer to the video in the main body of the review.  Basically, I found the stove to be fast.  Boil times will vary with conditions, but the WindMaster is far less affected by wind (the chief enemy of good boil times) than other upright canister stoves.  No, I won't quote an exact time.  Such quotes are fairly irrelevant since there are no standards for test conditions.  The water temperature, air temperature, fuel used, valve setting, elevation above sea level, and type of pot will all cause the boil time to change.  I found boil times to be in line with other major stove brands and faster in wind.
  12. Noise – Average. About the same as most ported gas stoves, i.e. fairly quiet.  Not as quiet as an alcohol stove but no where near as loud as a liquid fueled stove with a "roarer" type burner (e.g. Primus Omnifuel, MSR XGK or DragonFly, Optimus Nova, etc.)
  13. Fuel considerations (availability/versatility/morality) 
    • Availability.   The WindMaster uses standard threaded canisters.  One can use any reputable brand of canister gas.  See Can I Use Any Brand of Gas Canister?  Standard threaded canisters are widely available in the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.  Availability may be limited elsewhere.  In some areas, particularly in France, non-threaded canisters are the norm.  In the Middle East and Eastern Europe, only puncture type canisters (no valve) may be available.  No matter where you are planning to go, check the availability of fuel.
    • Versatility.  Generally, only threaded canisters may be used, but there are adapters that will allow one to use non-threaded valved canisters, puncture type canisters, 100% propane canisters, and 100% butane bayonet-connector type canisters.  Always check availability of adapters before embarking on a trip.  If possible, obtain and test adapters in advance.  Some adapters from China are of extremely poor (i.e. dangerous) quality.  Liquid fuels such as alcohol, gasoline, or kerosene may not be used.
    • Morality/Ethics.  Canister gas is generally considered to be better for the environment than wood fires. Use of wood fires a) often lead to an area being stripped of wood and b) have significantly higher fire danger.  However, on the other hand, while canisters can be re-cycled, most of the canisters wind up in the land fill.  Even recycling of canisters takes energy and other resources and is not as low impact, environmentally, as a liquid fueled stove or alcohol stove.  Some people have gone back to liquid fueled stoves (gasoline or kerosene) or alcohol stoves to reduce their environmental impact. 
  14. Safety/Legality.  
    • General.  Standard threaded canisters are generally considered safe; however, do not allow the temperature of the canister to exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).  Leaving a canister in the back window of a car on a hot day is not a good idea.

      The valve on a canister can stick in the open position when you disconnect the stove.  NEVER disconnect the stove near a candle or other open flame or hot surface.  Disaster may result if the valve sticks open.  If the valve does stick in the open position, simply replace the burner on the canister and try again.  If the valve on the canister continues to stick, leave the burner on the stove and control the gas with the valve on the burner.
    • Fire safety and regulations.  In terms of fire safety, canisters are fairly safe, but care must be taken not to allow the canister to tip over while the stove is in use.  If the liquid fuel inside the canister hits the flame, a fireball several feet in diameter may erupt.  This may cause an injury, a fire, or worse.  Canister stoves are generally allowed during most fire bans in the western United States whereas alcohol and wood stoves are generally not allowed.  Regulations may vary elsewhere.  A California Campfire Permit is required in California for stoves of all types.   There are also total fire bans that are sometimes invoked.  Always check with the local land management agency where you intend to hike.
      Canister stoves do not require priming and are free from the dangers of priming.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's All This About the Soto Amicus?

OK, so, what's all this about the Soto Amicus?  I mean why all the fuss?  There are dozens of upright canister gas stoves available out there.  Primus, MSR, Optimus, Snow Peak, Jetboil, etc. – in short, all the major stove companies – have upright canister stoves out on the market, in fact, most of those companies have multiple stoves available.  So who cares about just one more upright canister gas stove?  Big deal.  Yawn.

Well, maybe.  But maybe not.  Maybe there's more to it than that.  Let's keep reading, and we shall see.

UPDATE 18 December 2017:  My finalized Review of the Soto Amicus is now available.
The New Soto Amicus
OK, so why am I excited?  Well, I'll tell you.  But rather than a long winded technical explanation, just watch this short, three minute video, and then let's go from there.

OK, now did you see that in the video?  The stove on the left, the Soto Windmaster, beat the stove on the right by almost a full minute.

And did you catch what I said?  The Windmaster won every time.  And believe you me, I ran test after test after test.  Due to the circumstances of my life, this stove, the Windmaster, is probably the most thoroughly tested of any stove I own.

Let me explain:
I had a job end a few years ago.  I had been with the company for over 21 years, but they let me go.  I hadn't looked for a job in a long, long time.  The world had changed.  There really wasn't much of an internet when I had last looked for job.  Now I was a tech worker around 50 years old.  There's a tremendous prejudice in the tech sector against older workers.  I had three mouths to feed.  I was desperate for money.  When I had work, I would work as many hours as humanly possible.  So, sorry stove hobby, but you're on hold.

But of course I never stopped hiking during that time.  Job hunting is the very worst sort of mental torture.  My escape was to set aside one day per week for hiking.  And I brought stoves.  And on many of those trips, this rather intriguing Windmaster.  So this stove is tested.

OK, so, um, weren't we talking about the Amicus?  Why are you going on and on about the Windmaster?

Oh, right.  Now, the Windmaster is actually the best upright canister stove available today in the US market (in my opinion) – and it isn't selling well.  Why?  Well for one, it's pretty expensive for an upright canister stove.  At $75 MSRP, it's tough to sell stoves when one can just go get an MSR PocketRocket or a Snow Peak GigaPower for about $40.  [Note:  Campsaver* has the Windmaster and the Amicus for way less than MSRP].  Two, the Windmaster has a detachable pot support (easy to lose) which just about nobody likes.  Three, the Windmaster is a pretty tall stove and doesn't fit into a lot of smaller pots.

*Disclosure:  I have no relationship whatsoever with Campsaver.  I don't get a nickel for telling you about them.  I'm just telling you because they've got a frickin' steal of a deal going on right now as I write this. 

So, enter the Amicus.

Why am I excited?  I'll tell you.  Just look at the burner head.  It has the same type of burner head as Windmaster.
The recessed burner head of the Soto Amicus.
Gone is the detachable pot support, and the MSRP is now thirty dollars less at $45.00.  Now, that's a competitive price when you consider that the new MSR Pocket Rocket II (coming in 2017) also has an MSRP of $45 and the new JetBoil MightyMo has an MSRP of $50.  Soto has finally gotten real with their prices.

So, if this stove has significantly better features and wind handling properties than the competition, then I think that Soto could really go places with this one.  I'll report more on that as I go through my review process.  Stay tuned.

Summary and Next Steps
The above video shows why I think the Soto Amicus has real potential.  Soto really has developed a wind resistant burner technology.  Will the Amicus be as good as the Windmaster?  I honestly don't know. Yet.  But I should have a pretty good some time later this year after I've taken it out into the field over the coming weeks.  Stay tuned.

Good points about the Amicus:
  • The price is good ($45 MSRP with piezo* vs. $75 for their last stove).
  • The weight is in range with the competition (about 2.7 oz/75 g) – and the Amicus has a piezoelectric ignition* whereas many of its competitors do not.
  • Far more compact than its predecessors.
  • Good pot supports (finally!)
  • Best in the business piezoelectric ignition*. Nobody even comes close to Soto's engineering here, not even close.  
  • Potentially outstanding wind resistance (I haven't completed my field tests yet, so it's just "potentially" at this time). 
Soto may have a real winner here.

OK, enough discussion.  I need to get out there and complete my field trials.

As always, I thank you for joining me,


*A version of the Amicus without a piezoelectric ignition is available for $5 less.

The best in breed "Stealth" ignition of the Soto Amicus.  Nobody else even comes close.
No little ceramic doohickey to break.  No unsupported, exposed wire constantly in the flame.
No big plastic or metal thingy glommed onto the side of the burner.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Soto Amicus – First Look

I just took possession of a new Soto Amicus, which is an upright canister stove, i.e. a stove that sits on top of a canister of gas.  This is Soto's third upright canister stove introduced to the US market, and I'm thinking that this may be their strongest entry yet.  We'll see.  I have just started to evaluate the stove.

UPDATE 18 December 2017:  My finalized Review of the Soto Amicus is now available.

So, first impression:  It's small.  Nice.

 I haven't measured it against my Soto Microregulator or my Soto Windmaster, but even without measuring, I'm pretty sure it's smaller than either, and it's certainly smaller than the Windmaster which is considerably taller.

 It comes with a little stuff sack and of course a set of instructions.

 It's roughly as wide as my hand.

 I measure the stove at about 3.5 inches tall (roughly 9 cm) from the base to the tip of the pot supports.
 Now, the thing that Soto has caught a lot of flak for is their pot supports.  Soto makes good stoves, perhaps the best engineering and the best manufacturing quality currently available (at least in the US market with which I am familiar), but people have not liked the ergonomics of Soto's pot supports.

On Soto's first canister stove in the US market, the Microregulator, the pot supports were a little floppy.  You'd rotate them into place, but if you moved the stove or bumped it with a pot, the pot supports would flop back down.  It wasn't a complete design disaster, but it was kind of a hassle, and people complained.

On their second entry, the Windmaster, they had two interchangeable pot supports, a small one that came with the stove, and a large one for bigger pots that was purchased separately.  When in place, they were solid, but you took the supports off to pack up the stove.  The smaller of the two supports was a dull grayish color, and was easily lost.  It never bothered me.  I always used an ultralight mini carabiner and clipped the pot support to the valve handle the minute I took the supports off the stove.  But apparently a lot of people lost the little clip on pot support, which basically rendered the stove unusable – there was nothing to hold up the pot.

So, now Soto's third entry, the Amicus.  I think they've got it right this time.  The pot supports rotate into place but there's a little hook on the outer rim of the burner.
 On the pot support there is a little hole.
One rotates the spring loaded pot support into place, and after the pot support passes the little hook, the spring pulls the support to the right, seating it on the support.  It's actually a very smart piece of engineering.  Once in place, the pot supports do *not* come undone.  And though they're fairly thin, they have some sophisticated reinforcing designed into their shape.  Just yanking them by hand, they feel really solid.  These supports are way more solid that the pot supports on the MSR Pocket Rocket, and the Pocket Rocket has done very well for legions of hikers over time.
I said it at the beginning of this post, but it bears repeating:  No one, and I mean no one, is doing the kind of sophisticated engineering that Soto is doing, and no one is matching Soto's manufacturing precision.  That's not to say that other stoves aren't doing some pretty advanced things, but no one matches Soto's amazing attention to detail in both design and manufacture.  Soto is making the highest quality stoves in the US market, hands down.

There are four serrated pot supports which when emplaced support a pot well.

Soto's first entry, the Microregulator, did fairly well, but the MSRP was $60, placing it at the upper range of upright canister stoves.

Soto's second entry, the Windmaster, was lighter and with it's two pot  support options, very flexible, but it's MSRP was $70.  When one can get a good solid stove like a Snow Peak GigaPower (a classic upright canister stove design) for $40 as well as other similar stoves for about the same price, is the Windmaster really that much better that one would be willing to pay an additional $30 for it?  Really?  Your stove is worth 175% of a Snow Peak GigaPower or an MSR PocketRocket?   I don't think it sold well enough.

Soto's third entry, the Amicus, has an MSRP of $40 for the version without the piezoelectric ignition and $45 for the version with the "Stealth" ignition.  That's right in the range of the most common upright canister stoves.

By the way, the piezoelectric ignition of Soto's upright canister stoves is the best of any stove available in the US Market.  It's light, it doesn't jut out and catch on things (the wire runs up through the burner column), and it's freaking reliable.

Gone how ever is the regulator valve.  Apparently to get the price down the more complicated valve had to go.  Now, is this a big loss?  Not really.  The regulator valve is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but it was so overhyped.  People thought that some how the regulator valve would allow one to operate the stove at far lower temperatures than other upright canister stoves.  Um, no, not really.  While nice, the relative pressure in the canister is a function of the percentages of the various component gases in the fuel mix (propane, isobutane, and "plain" butane), the elevation above sea level, and the temperature.  A valve holds back the pressure and can only adjust for pressure drops if and only if there is additional pressure available in the canister.  I guess what I'm saying here is that  it's not a big sacrifice to give up the regulator valve.  Most people would not be able to tell the difference between a stove with a regulator valve vs. one with a conventional needle valve.  Incidentally, almost all of the popular upright canister stoves have a conventional needle valve, and they've done just fine for years.  So, like I say, no big sacrifice here.

Will it sell?  We shall see.  How good is it?  Well, check back in a few weeks; I hope to have my evaluation done by mid-December.


Monday, November 14, 2016

The Kovea Hydra – First Look

I'm in the process of reviewing the Hydra stove from Kovea.
The Kovea Hydra
My review will be featured next week on SectionHiker.com, a popular hiking and backpacking blog.  In the mean time, I thought I'd post a sort of "first look" at the Hydra and include some things that will supplement my full review.  When my review is ready, I'll post a link here on my blog.

UPDATE 22 Nov 2016:  My completed review of the Kovea Hydra is now available on SectionHiker.com

The Hydra comes as a nice, complete set that includes a fuel pump, fuel bottle, repair tool, heat reflector, windscreen, spare parts/repair kit, plastic hard case, a canister stand for inverted use, a fuel bottle bag, and of course the burner.  Many stoves are sold without a fuel bottle, so it's a nice feature to have a fuel bottle included with the Hydra.
A Kovea Hydra boxed set.
The bottle bag is a kind of interesting thing.  I haven't seen this with other stoves.  Most people carry the pump in the bottle when out on the trail.  The stove bag protects the pump while in transport.  I think this is a good idea.
The fuel bottle bag of a Kovea Hydra
The bag is sized for the included bottle.  You can put taller bottles in the bag, but they will stick out a bit.  Inasmuch as the pump is what really needs the protection, I suppose one could simply slip the bag on over the top leaving the bottom of the fuel bottle exposed.
The pump will stick out of the bottle bag when used with taller fuel bottles.
The Hydra has three claims to fame:  It's quiet, it's compact, and it works with either canister gas or white gasoline without needing any hardware changes or adjustments.

And compact it is indeed.  There are very few white gasoline type stoves that will fold up this small and fit in my hand.  The Hydra is smaller than a 110g sized canister of gas.
The Kovea Hydra is a study in compactness.
While it is indeed compact when it is folded, the Hydra expands out with impressively wide pot supports that can handle some pretty big pots, up to about 5 L, possibly more.
The Kovea Hydra with the pot supports fully deployed.
It can also support pots down to as small as 500 or so ml.
A 550 ml mug type pot on the Kovea Hydra.  Note how wide the pot supports are.
True to its claims, the Hydra really is a quiet stove.  It's not as quiet as a non-pressurized alcohol stove, but for a canister gas/white gas stove, it's pretty quiet.  The secret is the way that fuel is distributed and dispersed through multiple slits on the burner's periphery.  I don't believe I've seen a burner head like this before.
The very quiet slit burner of the Kovea Hydra.
In my testing, the burner was quiet with both canister and white gas, and the transition between the two required no changes to the burner other than to swap out the fuels.  Both modes, canister gas and white gas, worked very well.

On high, the burner did make more noise, but for a stove that is as powerful as the Hydra, it really is quiet.
The Kovea Hydra on high.
I'm not sure that I would describe the Hydra as a gourmet cook's stove, but I was able to get a workable simmer out of the stove.  The Hydra doesn't have a precisely controlled flame, but if you monkey with it a bit with moderate to low pressure in the tank, you can get a reasonable simmer.
A relatively low boil on the Kovea Hydra
The flame control was sufficient such that I could really simmer my noodles and get them done just the way I like them, with lots of water absorbed.
A ramen noodle dish cooked on the Kovea Hydra.
So, there's a very brief first look at the Kovea Hydra.  There will be more in the full review where I'll go into the results of my testing.  Especially important will be the recommendations I make based on wind testing; pay close attention to those.

I thank you for joining me,


Sunday, November 13, 2016

What Makes a Good Backpacking Stove?

So, what constitutes a good backpacking stove?  Well, if you read stove company advertising literature, you might get the impression that boil times are all that matter.  While I can understand why stove companies might emphasize something they can put a hard number on, I think there's a bit more to it than that.

Below, I'll list my general "framework" for how I evaluate stoves, and then I'll follow that with a brief discussion.
A Soto Windmaster outfitted with the larger Four-Flex pot supports.
Can it handle the size pot I use?  Or is it a top heavy disaster waiting to happen?
So what are my criteria?  Well, here's my fourteen criteria (originally thirteen but my friends say that's bad luck, lol) that I evaluate stoves against, not necessarily in order:
  1. Suitability – Is this stove suitable for what I want to do?  
    • Can it support my style of cooking? 
    • Will it cook well the foods I like to eat?  
    • Can I cook in the temperatures and conditions I plan to hike in?  
    • Does it work well with the type and size of pots and pans I use?  
    • Can it support the different types of trips I like to take? 
    • Can it cook for both solo trips and the number of people I usually travel with?
  2. Reliability/Robustness – Can I count on this thing?  Can it “take a licking and keep on ticking” or do I have to baby it?
  3. Weight – How much weight have I got to lug around?  Remember that you need to look at your cooking system as a whole.  Don't just think about the weight in terms of the burner alone but also consider the fuel, the fuel container (steel? plastic? aluminum?), pump (if any), and any other necessary items.
  4. Price – Do I have mortgage my home to afford this thing?  It's generally a good idea to set a budget for yourself before you get your heart set on a stove only to find out that you can't afford it.
  5. Stability – Will it dump my dinner?  Is the whole assembly "tippy?"
  6. Efficiency (i.e. fuel economy) – Is this thing a gas guzzler?  Or can I cook all week on a single tank of fuel?
  7. Windproofness – Can I cook in real world conditions?  Can I (safely) use a windscreen?  How sensitive is this stove to wind?
  8. Compactness – How much room does the darned thing take in my pack?  Will it poke me in the back?  Can I carry it in the pot that I typically use?
  9. Ease of use – How much fussing around do I have to do to cook with this thing?
  10. Ease of maintenance/field repair –  If a problem occurs how easily can I fix it? Can I fix it in the field or do I have to send it back to the company?  Are tools and spares included with the stove?
  11. Speed – How fast is it?  Am I still waiting for my water to boil when my friends have already finished eating?
  12. Noise – Do I have to buy a hearing aid after using this stove?
  13. Fuel considerations (availability/versatility/morality) – How hard is it to get fuel for this stove where I plan to hike?  Can I use multiple types of fuels? Is it ethical to use this type of fuel (e.g. wood at high altitudes)?
  14. Safety/Legality.  Is this type of stove safe and legal where I plan to go?  Am I going to start a fire with this thing?  Will it flare if it tips over?  (Canister gas stoves frequently do)  Can the fuel spill if I bump the stove?  Does it emit sparks or embers?  Can it smolder and come back to life when I'm not expecting it?  Can it be easily extinguished?  Can I see the flame in broad daylight or am I going to accidentally burn myself in a near-invisible flame?  Can the stove be over-primed and thereby cause a fire?  Can the valve stick in the open position when I disconnect the stove?
The Snow Peak GeoShield will support large pots, but how does it do with small ones?
The first three factors one should consider when buying a stove are:  suitability, suitability, and suitability.  OK, OK, I'm being a little silly here, but seriously, if a stove can't cook foods you like (or are at least willing to eat) or handle the conditions that you will face, then the stove is no good to you, no matter what a high tech wonder it may be.

Take a good long look at the things I've written under suitability.  These are what your stove must measure up to, and it is these that you must address before you decide on a particular stove.

With all of the criteria, these are just things to think about.  There isn't a stove that's going to do well by every measure.  You must weigh the pros and cons and decide which matter most to you.  The frame work is intended to stimulate and guide your thinking as you use your best judgment as to which stove is best for you.
Descending from Glen Pass on the John Muir Trail.
Looks like it might be a little nippy tonight.  How does that stove handle cold?
Some example considerations:
A through hiker might want an itty bitty ultralight stove; they've got to scrimp on every ounce.  Hiking day after day is a huge grind on the human body if you're carrying too much weight.

A "weekend warrior" hiker who never goes out more than two or three days at a time might prefer a stove that can handle some real cooking.

An alpinist who needs to melt snow or he'll have nothing to drink or cook with may want a very powerful stove -- lest he wind up waiting an inordinate amount of time to get water.

A Boy Scout might want a larger stove so that he can cook for an entire patrol.  A small stove won't be very stable with larger pots.

I'm sure you get the picture.  The idea here being that you need to think about the length and type of the trip(s) you plan to take, the number of people you typically cook for, the conditions you'll face, and your style of cooking, minimalist, gourmet, or somewhere in between.  It is only then that one should start considering the other factors I've listed in my "framework" above.

Spend some time thinking through what you want your stove to do for you and what your stove must be capable of handling before you start shopping.
The Pacific Crest Trail at about 13,000 feet/4000 meters.
Looks a little barren up there.  You sure that stove can handle wind?
The criteria listed above are how I look at a stove and decide whether or not it's a good stove.  As I write evaluations, I try to address these points.  However, I can but point out which stoves in a given class are good ones.  You, the reader, must ultimately decide which class of stove is suitable for you and then from that class, make your pick.  I hope this is a helpful framework.

Have fun and be safe,


The Arizona desert.
Wherever you're headed, make sure your stove is equal to the task.