Sunday, May 21, 2017

What is a Light (or Ultralight) Canister Stove?

The words "light" and "ultralight" get thrown around like so much chump change.  Marketers play fast and loose with those terms hoping to score a few more gear sales.  Is there a way we can assign real meaning to these terms?
An FMS-116T "Gnat" stove weighs less than two ounces.
Actually, there is.  We can "grade on the curve."

What the heck do I mean by that?  Well, when I was in school, some instructors would look at the scores on their tests, expecting to see a "normal" (bell shaped) curve.  If the center of the curve didn't line up with "average" performance, they might adjust the test scores.  In other words, students were judged not just on their test scores alone but on how well they did in relation to the class as a whole.  This is referred to as "grading on the curve."

So also, we can judge canister stoves not just on their weight alone but also on how their weights compare to other stoves in their class.
Some stoves today weigh under one ounce, giving new meaning to the term "ultralight."
With that in mind, take a look at the below chart.  This chart applies to upright (top mounted) canister stoves only.  Obviously "integrated" canister stoves (like a Jetboil or Reactor) and remote canister stoves (like an MSR WindPro or Kovea Spider) have to have their own categories in order for those categories to be meaningful.
Upright Canister Gas Stove
Weight Classes
(Less Than or Equal To)
Moderate< 4< 113
Light< 3< 85
Ultralight (UL)< 2< 57
Super Ultralight (SUL)< 1< 28

Upright canister stoves today weigh as little as 25 grams – less than one ounce! There are five commercially available stoves that weigh less than two ounces.

Given the light weight of stoves available today, it's reasonable to insist on that a stove be truly light in order for it to belong to the class of "ultralight" and to be even more demanding of weight savings for a stove to earn the title "super ultralight."
We give meaning to terms like "light" and "ultralight" by categorizing stoves relative to one another.
Here then are four examples:
Top row, right:  MSR Pocket Rocket, 3.1 oz (Midweight) 
Top row, left:  MSR Pocket Rocket 2, 2.6 oz (Light)
Bottom Row, left:  FMS-116T ("Gnat"), 1.7 oz (Ultralight)
Bottom Row, right:  BRS-3000T, 0.9 oz, (Super Ultralight)
In summary, based on what is available today, real meaning can be given to terms like "light" and "ultralight" by looking at a given stove's weight in relation to other stoves.  Based on those relative weights, I have created the following upright canister stove weight classes:
  • SUL:  If an upright canister stove weighs less than or equal to an ounce (28 g), it's super ultralight.
  • UL:  If a stove weighs less than or equal to two ounces (57 g) but more than one ounce, then it's ultralight.
  • Light:  If a stove weighs less than or equal to three ounces (85 g) but more than two ounces, then it's light.  
  • Moderate:  If a stove weighs less than or equal to four ounces (113 g) but more than three ounces , then it's moderate.  
  • Heavy:  If it weighs more than a quarter pound (4 oz/113 g), then, by modern standards, it's heavy.  
The above is a reasonable categorization, given the state of the art and the stoves commonly available today.

Next time you read an ad or hear a salesman say that a three (or more) ounce stove is "ultralight," just nod your head and say "unh hunh, sure," and have yourself a little chuckle.  Now, you know better.

Thanks for joining me,


For Further Reading:
The Purpose of this Post:
As a brief post script, let me just reflect for a moment.  I wrote this post with two things in mind:
1.  To let people know, particularly those less familiar with backpacking stoves, what's out there.  There are stoves being marketed as "ultralight" that are above three ounces in weight.  That's actually on the heavy end of the scale.  It's not even light let alone ultralight.  If you're shopping for a stove and trying to get your base weight down, you need to know that you can do better.
2.  ALL WEIGHT CATEGORIES ARE ARBITRARY including those that talk about total base weight. I like weight categories insofar as they give me a goal that I can challenge myself with, but I don't like weight categories if they lead to one upmanship or a loss of focus on the true bottom line:  enjoyment.  Reduced gear weight should facilitate the enjoyment of one's hiking.  Increased enjoyment of hiking is the true bottom line, not some arbitrary weight class.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The 1.8 L MSR Windburner vs the 1.8 L Jetboil Sumo

Recently, I was asked what the weight "penalty" is in carrying the 1.8 L MSR Windburner vs. the 1.8 L Jetboil Sumo.  Excellent question.  I have both, so I pulled out my scale, and I created the below table of weights.

For full reviews of the Windburner, please see:
For a more comprehensive look at Integrated canister stoves, please see:
For a look at the entire realm of Canister Stoves, please see:
An MSR Windburner warming up.

Here's what I came up with:
MSR Windburner 1.8 L Jetboil Sumo 1.8 L
Grams Ounces Grams Ounces
Burner 200 7.0 150 5.3
Pot 227 8.0 196 6.9
Cozy 71 2.5 53 1.9
Lid 20 0.7 24 0.9
Bowl 54 1.9 47 1.7
Stand 20 0.7 26 0.9
TOTAL 592 20.8 496 17.6
Difference 96 3.2

Basically, at least on my scale, there's a 3.2 ounce difference when a Windburner is compared to the Jetboil Sumo.  OK, not so good.
A 1.8 L MSR Windburner, left.  A 1.8 L Jetboil Sumo, right.
But there is a trade off here.  The gain with the Windburner is wind proofness.  Jetboils just aren't very good in wind.  Take a good look at the two videos at this link:  Wind Testing – Windburner vs. Jetboil.
A Jetboil's heat exchanger is completely open to the wind.
A Windburner will act like nothing is happening in conditions that shut a Jetboil down.  Those three ounces get you a stove that will work in conditions in which a Jetboil won't.  I always bring a Windburner for desert hiking.  It's always freaking windy in the desert.  The Windburner works; the Jetboil doesn't; screw the 3.2 ounces.
A Jetboil's heat exchanger is open.  Wind can blow in one side and out the other.
A Windburner's heat exchanger is enclosed.  Air enters only through the burner and exits only through the vents.
There are some "side" benefits that you're getting with the Windburner:
  • A functional bowl of about 850 ml vs. a not terribly functional bowl of about 400 ml with the Sumo.  The Sumo's bowl has notches cut in the side (so it will clip on to the bottom of the pot).  Things spill out through those notches.
  • A snap tight lid that you can pour with using only one hand.
  • A handle that actually functions as a handle.  A Jetboil's "handle" really isn't.
The 1.8 L Windburner has a very useful 850 ml bowl.
You can kind of use the 1.8 L Jetboil's 400 ml pot protector as a bowl, but it's better left at home.
The above side benefits are all well and fine, but if you don't need the wind proofness, honestly, I think the weight of a Windburner is hard to justify.
MSR Windburner radiant burner, left.  Jetboil conventional burner, right.
The Windburner's burner is amazingly windproof, but it's heavy.
When it is windy, the Windburner is your best friend ever.  Even in moderate winds where people often will build rock walls or crawl behind some boulders to cook, yeah, those techniques work, but sometimes I'm just beat and don't want to screw with it.  A Windburner cooks.  Period.  No screwing around.  Wherever you plop your self down, that's where you cook.
Cooking after a late arrival in camp.
Sometimes, you just don't want to screw around.
So, there's a weight and features comparison between the two stoves.  I hope you found the post useful.


The MSR Windburner in a desert wash.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The MSR Windburner – New 1.8 Liter Size

The MSR Windburner is basically your best friend in really windy conditions.  Hungry?  Windburner.  Done.

Recently, I pulled into camp late, exhausted.  I didn't want to screw around with building a rock wall or crawling behind some boulders to cook.  With the Windburner, it basically doesn't matter.  There's no screwing around with trying to get your stove to work in wind.  It just works.  Boy, was I glad I had brought a Windburner that trip.

UPDATE 12 May 2017:  I have now created a Comparison of the 1.8 L MSR Windburner with the 1.8 L Jetboil Sumo.

For a more comprehensive look at Integrated canister stoves, please see:
For a look at the entire realm of Canister Stoves, please see:
The MSR Windburner with 1.8 L pot.
I think many people look at the Windburner as only a "personal" cooking system (i.e. for just one person), which it is – in its original form.  But no more.

When I wrote my initial review of the MSR Windburner, that's all that was available, a "personal" system with a one liter pot.  Yes, the Windburner is fast enough that you could just take turns, but if you had a meal that required a bit more capacity or you wanted to eat together, the Windburner, back then, really wasn't your set up.  Then MSR introduced their new 1.8 liter pot for the Windburner.
NOTE:  The burner is the same size for all versions of the Windburner.  All Windburner pots and pans fit with all Windburner burners.  The 1.8 L pot will, for example, work with the burner from a 1.0 L set.  Likewise the pan will fit the burner from either a 1.8 L set or a 1.0 L set.
The 1.8 L pot for the MSR Windburner
Now, I could just make this a slam-dunk review.  I mean, the 1.0 L size is a really great stove, so I could just say "same stove, bigger size, works great, the end," and be done with it, but I thought I'd say just a bit more – and there are a few changes as well that I thought I'd point out.

The bulk of the system is in fact the same, so by all means you should read my original review:  The New MSR Windburner.

Let me just say here that since the publication of my original review just over three years ago, the Windburner has become my absolute favorite desert backpacking stove.  Why?  Because it's always freaking windy in the desert.  Really windy.  And, no, sticking it behind a rock just doesn't cut it in high gusty winds.
The Whitewater River flowing into the California desert from the San Bernardino Mountains
When the desert winds come wailing down those desert canyons, there's no better stove than the MSR Windburner (well, maybe the MSR Reactor, but that's the same technology).  Trip after trip, the Windburner has earned my trust and confidence.  Whether desert canyons, open plains, or windswept ridges, this is the stove to have if you're going out into windy conditions.  If you're interested in my real world testing of the Windburner, please see my latest trip report:
The Road to Hell is Paved with... Weather Balloons?

Canister Stand
One of the things that's different here are the new, and I think improved, canister stand (sometimes also called a "canister legs" or "canister feet").
The new 1.8 L version of the Windburner comes with improved canister legs.
There were some complaints that the original canister stand that came with the Windburner took too much room and was too fragile.  MSR quickly put out an improved version 2.  This current version is the third version that I'm aware of, and it's a good one as far as I'm concerned.

The new Windburner canister stand folds
What's new and improved?  It stretchy and it folds.  There's nothing brittle or fragile about it.  You can easily find a place to pack it inside the capacious 1.8 L pot.
There's plenty of room inside the 1.8 L pot for a spoon, lighter, and the canister stand.
The new canister stand fits any size of canister.  One never knows what you may find in a small town.  All that may be available is some other brand of canister, a canister that does not have the same diameter as an MSR canister.  Coleman 220 g canisters for example are a little bit bigger than MSR 227 g canisters.  Likewise, the old Primus 220 g canisters are a little smaller than MSR 227 g canisters. If you've only got two settings on your canister stand (the width of an MSR 110 g or 227 g sized canister), good luck with other brands, especially if you're traveling in Asia where who knows what you'll find.  The new Windburner canister stand stretches and will fit just about any canister diameter from about 8 cm to about 12 cm.

What Fits Inside?

First, I wrap everything in a bandana, see above, so that I don't scratch up the pot.  With that in mind, the following will fit:
  • A 110 g sized canister fits easily with room to spare the burner, the 110 g canister, a spoon, the canister stand, and a large windproof torch type lighter.
  • A 227 g sized canister fits the burner, the 227 g canister, the canister stand, and a small lighter.  The canister stand is a bit of a trick, but if you fiddle with it a bit, it all fits.  I couldn't fit my particular spoon into the pot with the 227 g canister, but different spoons may fit.
  • A 450 g sized canister will fit, but not much else will fit.  You cannot fit in the burner if you put a 450 g sized canister inside.  The canister stand and a lighter will fit even with a 450 g size canister.  NOTE:  MSR does not recommend the 450 g size for use with the Windburner since the resultant assembly would be so tall.
The pot is fairly deep, so a 8.5"/21 cm spoon is a good fit.
Recommended Utensils
The 1.8 L pot is about 7 inches/17.5 cm deep.  I think a spoon (or other untensil) of about 8.5 inches/21.5 cm is about right.  In order to fit your spoon in the pot, you'll want a collapsing or folding spoon.  I recommend plastic so that you don't scratch up the nice anodized pot.  

The 1.8 L Windburner's bowl is a very functional 850 ml size.
The pot lid snaps to the bowl in addition to the pot.

The Bowl
The bowl has a nice improvement over the original:  It doesn't get jammed onto the pot.  On the original, sometimes the bowl would ride up too far on the pot, and it was all you could do to get it off again.  MSR, thankfully, has corrected the problem, and the bowl pops on and off the pot easily.

As with the original, the pot lid fits the bowl equally well as it fits the pot.  The bowl is a full 850 ml (about 29 fluid ounces) in size, which is great for mixing things in – or eating out of.  The bowl is well marked with volume increments.
The bowl has English units up through 24 oz/3 cups or metric units to 600 ml
For travel with two, one person can eat out of the bowl and the other out of the pot. No measuring cup is needed since both the bowl and the pot have volumetric markings.

Functional Pot Size
The pot has volume markings up to 44 oz and 1.4 L.
Maximum recommended fill is 1.0 L.
Maximum recommended fill is 1.0 liter for safety, however, I think that if a person were careful and the pot were on firm ground, 1.5 liters would be practical.  There's a lot of power in this stove, and a boil over is a real possibility.  Your best bet is to keep the stove on a relatively low setting if you're going to put more in it than the recommended maximum amount.  DO NOT let the stove boil over.  If the stove boils over, 212 Fahrenheit/100 C water will be spilling onto the canister beneath.  What's the maximum temperature specification of the canister per the EN 417 standard?  50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).  Boiling water is twice as hot as the specification.  That could get ugly.  Do not let the stove boil over.

The vents on the Windburner are on three sides of the pot.
Turn the side without the vents into the wind.
Wind Tips and Tricks
I haven't seen this documented anywhere on MSR's site, but I always turn the portion of the pot without vents into the wind.  This gives the best results in my experience.

Sometimes getting the stove lit can be a bit of a trick in high winds.  Regular matches and regular lighters don't work very well.  Personally, I like using a torch style lighter like the Soto Pocket Torch.  Note however any lighter with a piezoelectric ignition will become unreliable somewhere around elevations of 8000'/2400m or higher.  Fire steels also work well in windy conditions and are not affected by elevation.

In addition to the new 1.8 L pot (seen at left in blue), MSR has also introduced a Windburner skillet.
What Else Is New?
MSR has also introduced a hard anodized frying pan/skillet for use with the Windburner.  In my testing, I found the skillet to be a very capable cooking implement.
A very nice, moist omelette prepared in a Windburner skillet.

There is one minor problem with the 1.8 L MSR Windburner pot, and I'm a little disappointed here.  This same problem existed in the original version of the Windburner, and I really would have expected MSR to have corrected this by now.  The problem is simply this:  MSR hasn't really figured out a good way to secure the pot cozy in place.  Why does that matter?  Well, if the pot cozy slides up, as it sometimes does, then the lid will not seal fully.  You'll get a little dribble under the pour spot which will go down inside the cozy.
Using the pour spout on the the lid of the MSR Windburner.
Nice feature, but you have to make sure the pot cozy is moved down a few mm or it won't seal.
A little dribble isn't too big of a problem if you're just using water, but soups etc can be a big mess if they go down inside the honey comb plastic under the surface of the cozy.
You don't want food spills to go down inside the plastic honeycomb of the pot cozy.
The "fix" is fairly simple:  Just manually slide down the cozy a couple of mm and then seal the pot lid.  This isn't too big of a deal, but you do have to remember to do it.  My preference would be for MSR to have corrected the issue.  The pot cozy should, in my opinion, be designed such that it just can't slide up past a certain point and cause a leak, no matter how minor that leak may be.
Slide the pot cozy down a couple of mm in order to get the lid to seal properly.
The MSR Windburner is such a nice, well-thought out system that it's a shame to have this one minor flaw, and, yes, in the greater scheme of things, this is a pretty nit-picky complaint.  Hey, I'm a stove nerd; what can I say?  :)  Overall, it's a great system.  This little flaw certainly doesn't keep it out of my pack.

Summary – The MSR Windburner, 1.8 L Size

What's Good About It?
  • Utterly bombproof in wind
  • Good fuel efficiency and good speed
  • Nice bowl (with volume markings)
  • Nice pot capacity for two (and can accommodate spoon, lighter, etc.)
  • Robust and durable
  • Good heat control (It can do a lot more than just boil water)
  • Twelve attachment openings (so that it doesn't matter which way you turn the pot)
  • A handle that actually works

What's Not So Good About It?
  • If the pot cozy slides up, the lid may not seal properly for pouring.
  • It would be nice if they could make it an ounce or two lighter.  Note that the Windburner is about the same as other stoves in this class; this is just a "wish list" kind of a thing.
The MSR Windburner, 1.8 L Size:  Highly Recommended

Please see also all weights and technical data in Appendices I and II, below.

Thanks for joining me on another Adventure In Stoving,


Appendix I – Component Weights

Windburner stove system with 1.8 L  pot
Item Grams Ounces
Burner 200 7.0
Pot 227 8.0
Cozy 71 2.5
Lid 20 0.7
Bowl 54 1.9
Stand 20 0.7
TOTAL 592 20.8
Manufacturer's stated weight is 19.25 oz whereas my measured weight is 20.8 oz, about a 1.5 oz difference.  They may not be including the canister stand in their weight or perhaps the bowl.  My weights include everything that comes with the set.

Windburner skillet
Item Grams Ounces
Pan 234 8.3
Note:  All weight were measured in grams.  There may be minor inconsistencies in weights stated in ounces due to rounding or cumulative errors.

Appendix II – Manufacturer and Technical Data

Date Available:  January 2016.  Currently available as of this writing
Manufacturer:  Mountain Safety Research (MSR), a subsidiary of Cascade Designs.
Manufacturer's Website:  http://www.cascadedesigns.com/MSR
MSRP:  $160 for the Windburner system with 1.8 L pot.  $140 for the Windburner system with 1.0 L pot.  $90 for just the 1.8 L pot.  $70 for just the skillet.
Weight (measured):  See Appendix I
Materials:  Aluminum pot.  Plastic and nylon cozy.  Polypropylene bowl and lid.  Burner is primarily steel with brass threads.  The regulator valve assembly is brass.  The burner grip is plastic.
Packed dimensions:  8" x 5" (20.5 cm x 12.5 cm).
Size/Model tested:  1.8 L pot.
Colors available:  Blue or black.
Requirements:   A standard threaded canister of gas, sold separately.
Warranty Information:  Contact Cascade Designs through their website (see above).

The author, climbing a wind-swept desert ridge near Desert Hot Springs, California.
The MSR Windburner is the ultimate desert cooking machine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Canister Stoves, Compared – A Compendium of Canister Stoves

Canister gas stoves are the most popular type of stove for backpackers today, but what type makes sense for what use? It's not always clear what the advantages of say a Jetboil are compared to say a Pocket Rocket. Why are some canister stoves better in cold weather than others? Let's see if we can get a high level view and make sense of the world of canister gas stoves.

Canister gas stoves.
A Soto Amicus, left, and an MSR Pocket Rocket 2, right.
Types of Canister Stoves
Three are three general classes of canister stoves.  I'll say a little in brief here and then break things down in detail further on.

The types are:
  • Upright (top mounted) canister stoves.  These are the type of canister stoves that screw directly onto the canister.  The stoves in the photo above are upright canister stoves.  Generally these are the most compact, lightest, and least expensive.  On the downside, they tend to be more vulnerable to wind and pot stability on some is limited.
  • Integrated canister stoves.  Think Jetboil.  This type of stove is sold as a set and includes a pot and stove that are designed to work together.  They may also include some type of cup or bowl.  Often the pot on this type of stove will have a heat exchanger for improved efficiency (fuel economy).  This tends to be the most expensive type of canister stove, but you do get complete set and don't have to buy a separate pot.
  • Remote canister stoves.  This type of canister stove consists of a burner that is connected to the fuel via a hose.  This type of stove can be used with a full 360 degree windscreen without the danger of overheating the canister, has good pot stability, and, on certain models, can be run with the canister upside down (inverted) for greatly improved cold weather operation.  On the down side, remote canister stoves are typically more expensive, heavier, and bulkier than upright canister stoves.  However, remote canister stoves are typically less expensive than integrated canister stoves.
Upright (Top Mounted) Canister Stoves
I recently wrote up a sort of "survey" of what's out there in terms of the typical upright canister gas stove.  The survey is in order by weight, lightest to heaviest, and lists a lot of facts like MSRP, weight, and BTU's/hr as well as my personal remarks.  See:
Upright Canister Stoves – the State of the Art.

Of the stoves that have come out in the last year or so, my two personal favorites are shown above, the Soto Amicus and the MSR Pocket Rocket 2.  If you have any interest in either of those two stoves, I have an article that compares them:   The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 vs. the Soto Amicus.

The Soto WindMaster operating in the Sierra Nevada on a PCT/JMT section hike.

This isn't exactly a new stove, but another one of my favorites is a stove that came out several years ago, the Soto WindMaster, which is the world's lightest stove with piezoelectric ignition.

One note on upright canister stoves:  You should not use a full 360 degree windscreen on them. If you fully enclose the canister and burner, you can overheat the canister.  That might be, uh, bad.  Explosion, flying shrapnel, you know, bad.  Don't do that.  Upright canister stoves do need to be protected from wind, but you need to be safe.  Please see:  Canister Stoves and Wind.

Integrated Canister Stoves
Some people of course are going to want something "more" than an upright canister stove, something like, say, a Jetboil.  This class of stoves is typically referred to as an "integrated" canister stove.  They're a little heavier, but they really save fuel and they're oh-so-convenient.

I've got a survey article on this type of stove:
Integrated Canister Stoves – The State of the Art.

A Primus Eta Express stove system is one example of an integrated canister stove.
One review I completed recently is for the Primus Eta Express stove system (see photo above).

Another popular integrated canister stove – a stove that is utterly "bomb proof" in wind – is the MSR WindBurner (see photo below).

Note:  The Windburner was originally named the Windboiler.  If you see or hear "Windboiler" instead of "Windburner" in my blog or in my videos, don't freak out.  They are one and the same stove.

The MSR Windburner

And of course there's always the Jetboil line of stoves.  I wrote a review of the Jetboil Sol which was featured in Seattle Backpacker's Magazine.  This review should give you some idea of the general features of a Jetboil even if you're considering other Jetboil models (Zip, Flash, Flash Lite, MiniMo, MicroMo, etc.).

Remote Canister Stoves
There are several reasons you might want to go with a remote canister stove.
1.  Stability.  They're generally lower to the ground and wider.  They're typically better for bigger pots as in group cooking.  Families with small children, Scouts, etc. may in particular value the improved pot stability of this type of stove.
2.  Wind resistance.  With an upright canister stove where the fuel is directly under the burner, if you put a windscreen around the stove, you also put a windscreen around the fuel.  Overheat a canister, and Boom!  You can kiss your dinner and possibly a whole lot more goodbye.  With a remote canister stove, the fuel is off to one side, connected by a hose.  A windscreen separates the fuel from the flame.  In other words, a windscreen actually makes a remote canister stove safer (the opposite of an upright canister stove).
3.  Cold weather operation.  If a given remote canister stove has a way to vaporize the fuel before the fuel reaches the burner head, then the stove can be run with the canister upside down (inverted). Hunh? Who cares?  Well, you do if you're out in cold weather.  If you're headed out into cold weather, a remote canister stove capable of inverted operation will handle the cold weather better than any other canister stove.  This is a bit complicated, so I've written a separate article on it.  Please see:  Gas Stoves in Cold Weather – Regulator Valves and Inverted Canisters.

I don't have a survey article (yet) on remote canister stoves, but below are some links to remote canister stoves I've reviewed:
Below is a photo of a remote canister stove, a Kovea Spider, running in inverted mode.  Note how the fuel is connected to the stove via a hose.  Note also the use of a full, 360 degree windscreen (don't do this with an upright type canister stove!).
A Kovea Spider remote canister stove.
Note how the canister is upside-down (inverted).
In addition to all of the above, there are a whole lot more articles on my blog if you want to geek out on stoves.  You can Google search to your heart's content.  If you prefix your Google search with "site:AdventuresInStoving", then Google will search just my blog.

Now, whatever stove you pick, I hope it serves you well out there on the trail.  Of course, even the safest designs need a smart operator in order to be safe.  So, be careful out there – but of course enjoy.

Happy hiking,


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

One Stove to Hike Them All

There's a dozen land management agencies out there.  What stove is acceptable to them all?

There are National Parks, State Parks, BLM, National Forests, Conservancies, and who-knows-what.  On a "long trail," you're going to pass through areas governed by a multitude of land management agencies – each with their own rules governing stoves.  How on earth can anyone comply with all the different rules!?  You need:
One Stove to Hike Them All.
Sauron knows canister stoves meet the regulations of all land management agencies
If you're a long trail hiker, you're looking for something light.  ESBIT and alcohol often come up, but they're often restricted or completely against regulations.

For example, all of the four southern most National Forests in California require (if you read their obscure websites carefully enough) a "shut off valve" (example:  San Bernardino National Forest)  – all year, every year, irrespective of fire danger levels.  That pretty much lets out alcohol.

Other National Forests specifically prohibit tablet stoves.  For example from Pisgah National Forest:
The use of commercially available portable lanterns, stoves, or heating equipment that utilize gas or pressurized liquid fuel is allowed. The stove must have an ON/OFF switch. No alcohol stoves. No hexamine or solid fuel cubes. [emphasis added]
Yes, of course, fire restrictions vary with conditions, but really, if you want to comply with the all the regs, all the time – regulations that may change as you proceed on your hike – there's really only one good lightweight solution:  A canister gas stove.

This is not meant to discourage those who prefer another fuel.  By all means, check with the various land management agencies along your route.  In many places, if it's been a wet year, there will be no fire restrictions.

1.  The longer the trail, the more jurisdictions.  On something like the PCT, CDT, etc. there are just too many agencies to check with them all.  I personally would just get a canister stove because it's the one lightweight option that complies with all regulations.  I'm not going to even think about identifying and calling/writing all of the various agencies along, say, the PCT.
2.  The regulations can change mid-hike.  Many agencies don't issue summer fire restrictions until June or July.  In really dry years, fire restrictions can be increased every month throughout the summer.  A stove that starts out in compliance may not be in compliance by the end of a hike.
3.  A canister stove will be OK every year, everywhere.  Sure, some other type of stove may be OK this year, but what about next year?  A canister stove is going to comply with the regs this year, next year, and every year.  And a canister stove will comply with regulations all over the US.  Other types of stoves may not permitted in some areas.

Is this how it should be?  I would argue no.  ESBIT for example is the very safest possible fuel in terms of fire safety.  Banning ESBIT is sort of like banning seat belts to promote automotive safety!  Why do agencies ban ESBIT?  Ignorance and bureaucracy.  There's just no logical, science based reason to ban ESBIT.

However, until agencies like the US Forest Service get out of the Dark Ages, these are the regs.  For now, it is only a canister stove that is a) lightweight and b) meets all regulations.

NOTE:  It's relatively rare, but occasionally there are 100% fire bans, a ban where no flames of any kind are permitted.  I've even seen entire National Forests closed during times of extreme fire danger.  A canister stove will comply with all regulations except of course a total, 100% fire ban.  Often major trail corridors are exempt from such total bans or at least canister stoves are exempted.  It's impossible to predict when such a total ban will occur, but generally land management agencies go out of their way to publicize such bans for indeed they are exceptional.
Canister gas stoves.
A Soto Amicus, left, and an MSR Pocket Rocket 2, right.

What Are the Choices?
OK, so it's a canister stove. Now, which one?  Well, that's up to you, but you may want to check out my thoughts on:  What Makes a Good Backpacking Stove?

Once you've got an idea as to criteria by which to choose, what are the choices? Well, there are three different general classes of canister stoves (upright, integrated, and remote), and within each general type, there are dozens to choose from.  I will here refer you to my article:  Canister Stoves, Compared, which discusses the three classes in relation to one another and has links to various reviews as well as to summary tables that allow you to compare the attributes of various stoves, side by side.

Given, the regulations (at least in the US) as they are currently constituted as of this writing, really, the only lightweight option that complies with all regulations all the time is a canister stove.  Please use the resources provided in this post to figure out what your needs are and to review the many canister stoves that are available.

Whatever stove you pick, I hope it serves you well in the wild.

Happy stoving,


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How Much Gas Do I Need for My Jetboil? (or other high efficiency stove)

Here's a perennial question:  How much gas do I need for my Jetboil?  And, really, this would apply to not only Jetboils but to any high efficiency stove set up.
A one liter pot from Primus.
Note the heat exchanger at the bottom of the pot.
Generally, a "high efficiency stove set up" means an integrated canister stove (Jetboil, Reactor, Windburner, Eta Express, etc), but there's no reason that you can't go out and just get a heat exchanger pot and create your own high efficiency stove set up.  Combine your existing stove with a heat exchanger pot, turn it down to a moderate flame, and you've got your own high efficiency stove set up.

What's out there in terms of ready made high efficiency stove systems?  You might want to take a look at my article Integrated Canister Stoves – The State of the Art.

But back to the original question:  How much gas do I need for my Jetboil (or other high efficiency stove set up)?

The "de facto" standard for simple backpacking cooking is the "two cup boil" (about 500 ml).  Why?  Because that's what most freeze dried backpacking type meals require.  Things like ramen also require about 2 cups of water as do other popular backpacking meals like Knorr's rice or pasta.  Of course some meals require more and others less, but 2 cups/500 ml is a pretty good starting place.

But of course, some people will have hot meals once per day, some twice, and still others three times per day.  So, it's not just "two cups" that we've got to worry about but also how often we boil up our two cups.  And of course, there are those who want a hot cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea with their meals.

Let's look at three scenarios and see what we come up with.  I'm going to arbitrarily set up these numbers for a five day trip, just as an example.  You'll need to adjust these numbers if your trip is either shorter or longer.

First, I'll briefly describe each scenario, and then I'll have a chart "doing the math" and comparing the three scenarios.  There will be a discussion section after the numbers and charts.

Scenario 1 ("Minimal")
In Scenario One, I'm going to describe somewhat "minimal" use.  Our backpacker here will not have hot food every meal but rather will have only hot food twice a day.  So, somewhat minimal but hardly extreme.  Now, this is a five day trip, but I'm going to assume that our backpacker will eat breakfast before he or she hits the trail on day one and that he or she will leave the trail after supper on the last day.  This is usually the way I set up my trips, so I think this is a reasonable assumption.  Therefore our backpacker will have four breakfasts and four suppers.  Our backpacker boils 2 cups/500 ml for each hot meal.  If you run your trips differently, adjust these numbers accordingly.

Scenario 2 ("Moderate")
In Scenario Two, I'll describe what I call "moderate" use.  Our backpacker in Scenario Two will eat three hot meals per day.  All else remains the same.

Scenario 3 ("Heavier")
In Scenario Three, I'll describe what I call "heavier" use.  Our backpacker in Scenario Three will eat three hot meals per day and will have one cup of hot beverage per meal.  All else remains the same.

OK, so let's lay this out in a series of comparative charts.

With a high efficiency stove set up, it's perfectly reasonably to boil two cups (500 ml) of water with 5 g of fuel.  Of course you'll want to know the Rules of Stove Fuel Economy so that you don't wind up blowing your grams per boil.

With "minimal" use, we use only 40 grams of fuel for a 5 day trip.  That's pretty good! Since most small ("four ounce") size fuel canisters contain 110 grams of gas, we're totally covered with one canister.  Nice.

With "moderate" use, we're at 68 grams for a 5 day trip.  Note that I used "4.5" as the number of days.  I'm still assuming our backpacker will eat breakfast before starting and eat supper after ending, but recall that in Scenario Two (moderate), our backpacker has a hot lunch every day, so I add in an extra half day to account for the extra meal.  I guess strictly speaking it should be a third of a day, but close enough.  Again, we're well within the capacity of a single 110 g canister of gas.

Even with "heavier" use, were still only at 101 g of fuel used.  Yes, that might be cutting it a little close to bring a single 110 g canister of gas when you plan to use 101 g total. but if you ran low, you could forego you hot beverage at lunch on the last day.

Now, these are fairly rigid scenarios.  Every meal is the same.  But even if you flex things around a bit, so long as you're not boiling more than nine cups/2.1 liters per day (and only six cups/1.4 liters on the first and last day), you're going to be OK with just one small size canister.  That's pretty nice.  That's the advantage of a high efficiency stove set up.   When you can avoid sizing up to the next larger canister (or carrying multiple canisters), a high efficiency stove set up will likely save you weight overall.

Compatible Canisters 
"But Jim!  I have a Jetboil.  Jetboil only sells 100 g canisters of gas.  If I use a non-Jetboil canister the sky will collapse, I'll get a hair lip, and my dog will wet the rug."

Uh, no.  You can pretty much use any brand of canister with any brand of stove.  Pretty much (there are exceptions).  You might want to check out my article Can I Use Any Brand of Gas Canister?

Why anyone would buy Jetboil brand small canisters when you can get more gas for the same price by buying another brand is beyond me.  Yes, it's "only" a 10 g difference, but recall that a two cup boil requires only 5 g of gas with a high efficiency stove set up.  You're giving up two meals every time you buy Jetboil brand small canisters.  No, thanks.

You should always use your own habits to estimate your fuel usage.  Don't just rely on my scenarios.   These scenarios are meant to stimulate your thinking not dictate your fuel usage.

If you're new to this, you might want to be a bit more conservative in terms of your allotment of fuel than what I've outlined above.

If you're melting snow to get water, double all of the above estimates.

I hope you found this post useful.  Thanks for joining me,


Some people, depending on what type of device they are using, may find it easier to read the chart in HTML format.  Here is the chart in HTML format:
Minimal    Moderate    Heavier
H2O (ml) gas (g) H2O (ml) gas (g) H2O (ml) gas (g)
Breakfast 500 5 Breakfast 500 5 Breakfast 750 7.5
Lunch 0 0 Lunch 500 5 Lunch 750 7.5
Dinner 500 5 Dinner 500 5 Dinner 750 7.5
Per Day 10 Per Day 15 Per Day 22.5
Days 4 Days 4.5 Days 4.5
Total 40 Total 68 Total 101

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Do Canister Gas Stoves Work at High Elevation?

There's this sort of myth running around out there that somehow operating a canister gas stove at high elevation isn't going to work very well.  Maybe, or so the story goes, you need to use white gasoline (or something) at higher elevations.  This is a persistent myth that has been passed on, hiker to hiker, for years.  I've even seen it on official Boy Scout websites.  And it's just exactly that:  A myth.

A Soto WindMaster canister gas stove running just fine at over 10,500' (3200 m) in the Sierra Nevada in California.
Origins of the Myth
The myth got its start back in the early 1970's when canister gas stoves started seeing more wide spread use.  The fuel used back then was 100% n-butane.  N-butane is a lousy fuel for cold weather.  Backpackers at high elevations encountered something that caused their canister gas stoves to work poorly:  Cold.  And thus the myth was born. The myth is kind of fact based.  Kind of.  I mean gas stoves were genuinely not working well at high elevation – but the elevation itself was not the problem.  The problem was actually the cold, and the problem would have been just as bad or worse at sea level.  Thus, a misinterpretation of real events lead to the myth.  The real problem was cold, but people wrongly concluded that high elevation was to blame.

Modern Canisters
Now, you may be thinking:  "Hikin' Jim, you big dummy, who cares why?  It's still cold to this day at high elevation today, so my canister stove still isn't going to work."

Ah!  Not so fast.  Take a look at a modern backpacking canister.  Typically printed on the side or top you'll see something about propane and isobutane in addition to "butane" (n-butane).  Yes, back in the 1970's they only had n-butane in canisters.  Now, they include propane and frequently isobutane, gasses that both have much better cold weather performance than n-butane alone.

A modern backpacking canister.
Note that it contains not just plain butane (n-butane) but also isobutane and propane.
When multiple gasses are mixed together, they form a blend that has far better cold weather performance.  You still need to consider cold weather, but it's no where near the issue that it once was – and cold weather can impact a gas stove irrespective of elevation.

 Vaporization (Boiling) Point
n-butane    -0.5°C    31°F
isobutane    -12°C    11°F
propane      -42°C   -44°F
The vaporization points of the three gasses commonly used in canister gas.
The vaporization point of a gas blend lies somewhere in between the boiling points of the constituent gasses.

If you are expecting cold weather, which brand of canister gas is the best to use?   See:  What's the best brand of gas for cold weather?

A canister gas stove running just fine at moderately high elevation, about 7200'/2200 m above sea level
Stove Considerations at High Elevation
There are still things to consider when using a stove at high elevation, but these considerations apply to all stoves not just canister gas stoves.

The boiling point of water.  As you climb, the boiling point of water decreases by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit per 1000' of elevation gained (about 1 degree Celsius per 300 m).  At sea level, water boils at 212 Fahrenheit/100 Celsius.  At 10,000'/3300 m, the boiling point of water is 193 Fahrenheit/90 Celsius.  Since the boiling point is lower, all else being equal, water boils faster at higher elevations.

Cooking time.  Since the temperature of boiling water is lower at high elevation, it generally takes longer to cook something.  Note that this doesn't really apply to frying etc. but only to those types of cooking that involve boiling water.

So, while it's faster to boil water at higher elevations, generally cooking takes longer, and you therefore may need more fuel when you cook at higher elevations.  You can offset the need for more fuel by things like "cozy" cooking where you put your food in something insulative so the food will continue to cook even after you're done using your stove.  You should also learn the Tips and Tricks of Good Stove Fuel Economy.

Piezoelectric ignitions.  Piezo based ignition systems often struggle on hand held butane type lighters as low as 5,000'/1500 m elevation.  Piezoelectric ignitions tend to work better on stoves than on lighters, but above 10,000'/3000 m elevation, one may still encounter problems.  You should always bring alternative means to light a stove at any elevation, but it's even more important at elevations above 10,000'/3000 m.  Some common alternative means of ignition include:
  • A non-piezoelectric butane lighter.  In other words, a common flint wheel type lighter such as a Bic brand lighter.
  • Matches.
  • A fire steel (ferro rod).
An MSR Reactor operating just fine at over 23,000'/7000 m elevation on Muztagh Ata (24636'/7509 m) in China.
Photo credit:  Reuben Brimfield.  Used by permission.

The "Proof of the Pudding"
If somehow you're not yet convinced that canister stoves not working at elevation is a myth, don't believe me; believe the mountaineers.  What are more and more world class mountaineers using?  Canister gas stoves.  Note in the above photo that a canister gas stove is being used at over twenty three thousand feet in elevation.  That's over 7,000 meters above sea level.  This is far higher than most of us will ever climb.  Mountaineers know their business.  Mistakes in high elevation mountaineering are frequently fatal.  Why do mountaineers use canister gas stoves?  Because they work.  Use by mountaineers tells us all we need to know about the myth of poor performance by canister stoves at high elevation.  It's just that, a myth.

Thanks for joining me as I engage in a bit of "myth busting."

Happy stoving,