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Monday, December 12, 2016

Review: The Snow Peak GeoShield

The GeoShield is a new remote canister gas stove from Snow Peak of Japan.

What's that?  You're not sure exactly what a "remote" canister stove is?  No worries.  See:  What is a Remote Canister Stove?  It's worth knowing the differences between the two major types of canister stoves.
 The Snow Peak GeoShield remote canister gas stove
The GeoShield is a really interesting stove.  It's different.  It consists of three main components:
  1. The burner, which does not have legs; the burner mounts directly to the windscreen.
  2. The windscreen, which is series of aluminum plates.
  3. A base plate which serves as a heat reflector.
The rather interesting burner of the Snow Peak GeoShield.
The burner does not have legs but instead mounts directly to the windscreen.
The GeoShield's base plate/heat reflector and the windscreen, shown here snapped together.
An optional hand held piezoelectric ignition comes with the stove.  The ignition is actually a nice one, but I'm not really big on separate piezoelectric ignitions.  When an ignition is built into a stove, it's super convenient.  If I have to fish around in my pack for it, I may as well bring a conventional lighter or a fire steel which can light other things besides just a stove.  Piezoelectric ignitions are in general single purpose:  They will light your stove but nothing else.  Piezoelectric ignitions do fail, particularly at higher elevations, so one should always bring a second source of ignition (matches, lighter, fire steel, etc.).  If I'm going to have to bring a secondary source of ignition anyway, I don't see the advantage of a detached piezoelectric ignition.
The hand held piezoelectric ignition that comes with the Snow Peak GeoShield stove.
Now, if you saw up above how large the windscreen looks when fully assembled, take heart.  The Snow Peak engineers actually have something kind of nifty here.  Everything folds up into a pretty small package.
The base plate and windscreen fold up and fit into the small pouch, shown at right.
The pouch comes with instructions printed directly on the pouch.
 To assemble the windscreen, one simply pulls on the cable that holds everything together, and then wraps the cable around the provided cleat on the windscreen.

To assemble the windscreen, simply pull the cable taut, and wrap the cable around the cleat as shown.
 Once the windscreen is assembled, the base plate snaps into place in the provided slots.
The clips on the base plate snap onto the strip of metal in the grooves in the windscreen.
The stove then clips on to the windscreen.  The windscreen, baseplate, and stove act as one single assembly when all is snapped together.  The windscreen has a high configuration (for pots larger than the diameter of the windscreen) and a low configuration (for pots smaller than the windscreen).  One simply swaps the base plate and the burner to switch between the two configurations.
The stove,base plate, and windscreen, all snapped together.
The configuration show here is the "high" configuration where the burner is at the height of the windscreen.
The high configuration allows one to use pots that are larger in diameter than the windscreen,
If this all sounds like a lot of fiddling around, well, it is, kind of, but it's really not all that bad.  With a couple of practice runs, I could assemble everything in about 40 to 45 seconds.  It's certainly easier than pumping and priming a white gasoline or kerosene type stove.

And what do you get for all this?  Well, a really large, stable cooking platform.  I mean this thing is solid.  It's perfect for Scouts, families with children, or any group that might be worried about inexperienced users knocking over a pot.  It would also be great for anyone who wants superb stability or a big cooking platform.  You could easily put a 5 or 6 liter pot on this thing, with no problem.  
My daughter, the Adventures in Stoving spokesmodel, cooking on a Snow Peak GeoShield with a 2.6 liter pot.
I have absolutely no fear of that pot tipping over and scalding her.  The GeoShield is extremely stable.
This is a great stove for families with children, Cub Scouts, younger Boy or Girl Scouts, etc.
I could see this stove being used for guided trips, horse/mule packing, motorcycle touring etc.  The GeoShield would be ideal for any trip where space were at a premium but a large, stable cooking surface were needed.
When packed, the GeoShield is incredibly compact for such a large stove.
For size reference, the stove is shown here with a 230 g canister of gas.
Something else to note is that the GeoShield does have a generator (a "pre-heat loop"), so it can be safely used with the canister inverted for cold weather use.  See Stoves for Cold Weather II for details.

OK, so this is a great stove if you want a big cooking surface but need something that packs away small, and it can be used for colder weather than regular upright canister stoves.  What is it not good for?

Well, smaller pots for one thing.  The Windscreen has one setting.  Big.  In addition, the burner head is fairly wide.  Flames go up around the sides of a small pot and are wasted.  This really isn't a stove for small pots.  I really wouldn't recommend the stove for pots of less than 1.5 liters, and those pots would best be wider than tall.
A small 550 ml pot on the GeoShield.
Notice how much empty space is around the burner with such a small pot.
The GeoShield really doesn't work well with small pots.
And then there's my major complaint regarding the stove:  The Windscreen.  It's really not all that great of a windscreen in my opinion.  It's a great, stable platform, but it's only marginal as a windscreen.  Oh, it's fine in light breezes, but if the wind picks up at all, even moderate breezes go right through the rather airy windscreen.  I suppose that they deliberately put all the holes in the windscreen to reduce its weight, but those holes do allow a lot of wind to pass through.  In addition, it's not a full 360 degree windscreen.  The opening at the rear of the windscreen is large enough that I can put my whole hand through it.
There is a gap in the windscreen large enough to pass one's hand through it.
The windscreen is also too short to be fully effective.  Normally, one would want the windscreen to extend up 75% of the way up the side of the pot when the pot is on the stove.  Because of it's design, the GeoShield's windscreen is only going to have about a finger's width of coverage when in low mode, and none at all in high mode.
The windscreen only extends up the side of the pot about the width of a finger.  It's not enough.
The windscreen has a lot of holes in it.  While the hole no doubt reduce weight, they also allow the wind to come in.
Really, in anything more than mild breezes, you have to bring a separate windscreen if you want to protect the GeoShield's burner from wind.
The GeoShield's flame being forced over to the left in a light to moderate breeze.
The Snow Peak GeoShield
What's good about it?
  • Very stable
  • Large cooking surface
  • Packs up really small for a cooking platform of it's size
  • Reasonable "fiddle factor" when considering how compact it is when stowed and yet how large it is when deployed.
  • Has a generator ("pre-heat loop"), so it can be used safely with the canister inverted for cold weather use.  See Stoves for Cold Weather II for details.
What's not so good about it?
  • You really need to carry a separate windscreen in anything more than a light breeze
  • Heavy for its class (see Appendix, below)
  • The durability of the base plate and its connection to the windscreen is somewhat uncertain
  • Limited to larger pots and pans only.  

The Snow Peak GeoShield  – recommended for:
  • Families with small children, Scouts, or any young, inexperienced user.
  • Those who need a large cooking surface that packs up small
  • Anyone needing a large, stable cooking surface.
  • Base camping, trailhead camping, etc.
  • Winter use (but study up on this; there are limits)
The Snow Peak GeoShield  – not recommended for:
  • Soloists or anyone who uses small pots
  • The weight conscious (although what is heavy to one isn't necessarily heavy to another)
I thank you for joining me,

HJ


Appendix.  A point by point consideration of those things which make for a good stove.
  1. Suitability – Is this stove suitable for what I want to do?
    • Cooking  – The GeoShield 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 – The GeoShield has superior cold weather performance when compared to upright canister stoves.  The GeoShield will handle windy conditions well if you bring a separate windscreen for it.  The windscreen that comes with the stove is inadequate by itself.
    • Capacity  – The GeoShield can support pots of nearly any size from about 250 ml  to about six liters (possibly more), but anything smaller than 1500 ml will be really inefficient.  Best use is for pot sizes of two liters and up, and that's for pots that are wider than they are tall.
  2. Reliability/Robustness – Can it “take a licking and keep on ticking?”
    • I found the stove to be quite solid.  The attachment of the base plate to the windscreen may not last long term, but if it did fail, one could simply lay the base plate on the ground below the burner.
    • 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 GeoShield's weights are as follows:
    • Burner.  210 g/7.4 oz.
    • Windscreen. 151 g/5.3 oz
    • Base plate.  29 g/1 oz
    • Handheld piezoelectric ignition.  14 g/0.5 oz
    • Stove bags.  5 g/0.2 oz (each)
    • Total 390 g/13.8 oz without ignition or stove bags.
    • Grand Total 414 g/14.6 oz with ignition and both stove bags.
  4. Price – MSRP $100, a bit on the high side, but it is a lot of stove. Always look for sales. Never be in a hurry to purchase gear.  MassDrop has offered this stove for sale.  You might bug them to run another "drop" on this stove if you want one.  See also Disclosures, below.
  5. Stability – Best stability of just about any backpacking type stove anywhere.
  6. Efficiency (i.e. fuel economy) – Well, it depends.  If you bring a separate windscreen, it will do fine as long you don't go heavy on the gas.  The GeoShield has a big burner and will eat gas if you run it on high.  Would you run your automobile with the pedal always pressed all the way down to the floor?  Well, not if you wanted reasonable gas mileage.  So it is with the GeoShield.  Run it at a reasonable setting, and it will do fine.  If you don't bring a separate windscreen, and it's a windy day, you may eat through a lot gas trying to heat things up.
  7. Windproofness –  Poor to fair at best with the provided windscreen.  Excellent if you bring a good windscreen to supplement the one that comes with the stove.  Because it is a remote canister stove, a full 360 degree windscreen can and should be used.
  8. Compactness – The GeoShield is very compact for a stove of its size.
  9. Ease of use – Some set up is required, generally more than most remote canister stoves, but not as much as with a white gasoline or kerosene type stove.
  10. Ease of maintenance/field repair –  Like most canister gas stoves, tools and spares are not included with the stove.  In my testing, I never encountered a problem with the stove, but I haven't had the stove long enough to really have a good sense of whether or not it's maintenance free or not.  Inasmuch as it is a canister stove, I do not anticipate a great deal of maintenance headaches.
  11. Speed – Decent speed, but the speed will vary with the conditions, fuel, and type of pot.  Honestly, I think you should be worried more about fuel economy (efficiency) in the back country than speed.  As long as the speed is reasonable, focus on conserving fuel over fast boil times.
  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 GeoShield 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.
    • Fuel economy.  Reasonable on the GeoShield, but remember, much depends on you.  See Fuel Economy with Stoves.
    • 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.  Neither is allowing boiling water to spill onto the canister.  It probably won't explode, but do you really want to chance it? 
    • 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 cold.  If the liquid fuel inside the canister goes to the burner before 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.

Disclosures.
The stove used in this review was provided to me free of charge by Massdrop, an on-line retailer.  I receive no remuneration from Massdrop for this or any other review.  

I have purchased several items from Massdrop, but I did so as an ordinary customer; I received no discounts.  I once did receive some free socks from Massdrop.  I actually have a job and can afford to buy my own socks, so I don't think the socks in question will sway my opinion one way or the other with regard to my reviews.  However, if Massdrop wants to send my wife and I on a two week all expenses paid trip to some exotic locale, I might have to seriously rethink my review process.  Given Massdrop's somewhat limited resources, I suspect we're pretty safe here. 

You will note that I did mention Massdrop in my review as one possible place to obtain the stove reviewed.  I receive no compensation for my recommendation; indeed the recommendation was unsolicited and was based on my personal opinion alone.  Neither do I receive any compensation if you, the reader, make a purchase from Massdrop.  However, I do like dark chocolate, so if you save enough money by purchasing through Massdrop, by all means feel free to spend the cash saved on buying me chocolate.  65% or better cacao content, please.

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