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,


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Integrated Canister Stoves – The State of the Art

I thought I'd conduct a survey of the integrated canister stoves available today (e.g. Jetboil, Reactor, etc.).  I therefore give you:  Integrated Canister Stoves – The State of the Art.
Integrated Canister Stoves
Left to right:  Jetboil Joule, Jetboil Sumo, original Jetboil PCS, Jetboil Sol

I recently posted a table of "regular" upright (top-mounted) canister stoves in my Upright Canister Stoves – The State of the Art article.  Today's article is in the same vein – but it pertains to a different class of stoves, i.e. those stoves that are "integrated" in that they are not just a burner but rather are a complete system that includes both a pot and a burner that are designed to work together.  Typically such stoves are the high end product for a given company and are usually highly efficient and have special features like heat exchangers and frequently have regulator valves.

A Jetboil Joule, left.  An MSR Reactor (2.5 Liter size), right

Click to enlarge this graphic:
A comparative table of integrated canister stoves in order by brand and then stove within brand.
Click to enlarge
Absent from this table are stoves from Kovea and Fire Maple as well as some other lesser known integrated canister stoves.  I'll keep adding to this table as time permits.

How do you pick which one might suit your needs?  Well, the table above may be sufficient alone, but let me make some additional comments:

If you think you'll be facing windy conditions on a regular basis, then there is no better choice than an MSR integrated canister stove, either the Reactor or the Windburner.  These MSR stoves scoff at wind.  They are just the absolutely most "bombproof" stoves in wind, bar none.  I've been on multiple desert trips where Jetboil stoves wouldn't stay lit in gusty winds and I just couldn't boil water – at all.  In those same conditions, my MSR Windburner acted as though nothing unusual were occurring.  These MSR stoves are amazingly wind proof.  Did I mention amazing?

The Reactor is geared towards mountaineers and is a powerful stove suitable for snow melting.  It can also burn through a lot of fuel if you let it. The Reactor is quite expensive. The Windburner is more targeted towards backpackers and is at a far more reasonable price.

When the Windburner came out, Jetboil started advertising the rail upon which the pot rests as a "windscreen."  Ha!  What a joke.  The Jetboil may have many features, but a windscreen is not one of them.  Saying that a Jetboil has a built in windscreen is wishful thinking and is just marketing spin on the part of Jetboil.

Doubt my word?  Check out the two videos on this blog post:  Jetboil Sol vs. MSR Windburner – Wind Testing.  NOTE:  In the video, you'll hear me call the Windburner the "Windboiler" which was the name of the stove until Jetboil threatened legal action.  MSR renamed the Windboiler to the Windburner, but I had already made and posted the video.  In your mind, just substitute "Windburner" every time you hear me say "Windboiler."  They are one and the same stove.

If you're going to be operating in temperatures below 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit), then it behooves you to get a stove with a regulator valve.  Why?  See my recent article:  Gas Stoves in Cold Weather – Regulator Valves and Inverted Canisters.  Yes, they cost more, but they perform better in cold weather – read the article.  It will explain the whys and wherefores of cold weather canister stove technology as well as offer tips and tricks.

High Elevation
Don't worry about it.  You heard me right; don't worry about high elevation with respect to canister gas stoves.  The spiel about elevation affecting canister gas stoves in a negative way is a myth.  It got started in the 1970's when 100% n-butane (normal butane) was used as a fuel.  N-butane is a lousy cold weather fuel.  When people went high (where it was cold), the stoves often didn't work.  Thus gas stoves got associated with not working well at high elevation when in fact with 100% n-butane, they wouldn't have worked any better at sea level.  The really issue was a crappy fuel.

Today, we don't use just straight n-butane.  We use fairly sophisticated blends of propane, isobutane, and n-butane.  These blends work a heck of a lot better in cold weather than 100% n-butane. High elevation has nothing to do with it, so don't worry about it.

Real Cooking
Once I was out with some friends at a beautiful lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  They caught some nice, tasty trout.  They had a Jetboil.  They boiled the trout.  Yuck!  What a waste of precious trout!  The next day, they caught more trout and wisely came to me (I didn't have a Jetboil with me on that trip) and traded their fish for some time on my stove.  Yum!  It was delicious!

Now, don't get me wrong, a Jetboil is a great stove, but it's tall and skinny.  It's really not meant for frying fish.  It's great for boiling water, but it's lousy for doing any real cooking.  Yes, you can use their little steel adapter and then use some other pot or pan on a Jetboil burner, but that sort of defeats the purpose.   I mean the great efficiency of a Jetboil is due to it's special heat exchanger pot.  Absent that pot, a Jetboil burner is pretty ordinary.  Oh, and yeah, you have to keep track of the steel thingy to use with other pots – and it's extra weight.  You're better off with a Jetboil Mini-Mo or a Primus Eta Express stove system which have wider pots.  The Eta Express is the wider of the two and has a really nice non-stick coating.  For those who want to do real cooking and use an integrated canister stove, the Eta Express is actually a really nice option.  For my review of the Eta Express, here's a link: Review – The Primus Eta Express stove system.  Note also that the Eta Express system can use any pot or pan without any adapters or modifications.  There's no steel thingy to carry and keep track of with the Eta Express.

The Jetboil Zip is the low price leader.  If you're looking to save bucks, the Zip might be your best option.  However, be aware that the Zip has no ignition and has only 800 ml capacity.

The Jetboil Flash series is a nice moderately priced (for an integrated canister stove) option that has a built in piezoelectric ignition.

If you want to save a little weight, the 800 ml size pots that come with the Zip, Flash Lite, and Micro Mo might be a good option, but realize that you can only boil about 500 ml at a time (two cups).  That's basically just dinner alone when using an 800 ml pot.  If you want dinner and a cup of tea or hot chocolate, then you'll probably want to get the full one liter size.  NOTE:  You have to leave some "margin for error" at the top of a pot of a Jetboil type stove because the can rapidly boil over, so you typically only want to boil about 500 ml of water with an 800 ml Jetboil pot and only boil 750 ml of water with a one liter Jetboil pot.

If you need more capacity, Jetboil sells a 1.8 L pot called the Sumo.  Jetboil also sells a frying pan for use with its stoves.  I have not used the Jetboil frying pan, but in general it has gotten a lot of negative reviews.  Most people say "save your money."

MSR has 1.0, 1.7, and 2.5 liter pots available for its Reactor system and 1.0 and 1.8 L pots available for its Windburner system.  MSR also has a frying pan available for its Windburner system.  I have not yet tested the frying pan.

Primus has 1.0, 1.8, and 3.0 liter pots available for it's Eta Express system, but note that you can use any pot or pan with the Eta Express system.

The Primus Eta Express system is the most versatile integrated canister stove system.

Hikin' Jim's Pick
If I had to take my pick, my pick would probably be the Primus Eta Express system for all around general use. All of the stove systems herein listed are good integrated canister stove systems.  I don't dislike any of them (note that I have not tried the Primus Eta Lite series of stoves), but I think the Eta Express system is the most versatile.  With the Eta Express I can use any pot or pan without having an adapter, and it's wide and has a good non-stick coating, so I can do real cooking in it if I want to.

However, were I facing wind, I would pick a Reactor or Windburner.  Were I facing cold, I'd pick one of the regulator valved stoves which will in general perform better in cold weather.  The Eta Express does not have a regulator valve.

Deal alert!  This is going to sound like I'm selling something (I'm not; I receive no benefit from the purchase of any stove), but I do note that as of this writing Massdrop has the Eta Express on sale for $75 to $80, depending on how many people sign up for the "drop" (group buy).  That's a heck of a price for a MSRP $130 stove system. A "drop" on Massdrop only lasts about a week or so.  If you want to sign up for Massdrop, here's a link:  https://www.massdrop.com/r/ETFBT7. I do get some benefit from that link, maybe a free T shirt or something if enough people sign up (and buy something).  If you use that link, I thank you, but please just buy what you need.  I have plenty of T shirts.

Final Remarks
So, there's my survey of the state of the art of integrated canister stove.  I'll add more (I'm reviewing a Kovea stove now) as time permits.

Thanks for joining me,


Disclosures:  Massdrop provided me with an Eta Express stove system for the purposes of my review.  I assume that the reason that Massdrop is now offering the Eta Express system on sale is that my review just came out.  Note that I do not receive any compensation from Massdrop for my reviews other than my getting to keep the stove that I reviewed.  Inasmuch as I actually really liked the Eta Express, I suppose you could say that is a benefit, but I try really hard to review stoves objectively regardless of their personal appeal.  I for example don't do a lot of winter group trips, but I've spent a considerable amount of time working with the Reactor and Joule stoves simply because they're fascinating stoves and deserve a fair shake.  I receive no percentage of any sales, no salary from any outdoors brand, and have no financial relationship with any stove company.  I have purchased items from Massdrop using my own money just as anyone else from the buying public would.  I did get some free socks from Massdrop at one point, partly to get my opinion of them.  I don't really consider socks a financial relationship, but there you have it; my cards are all on the table.  Now, if Massdrop offered me a six pack of beer or some nice thank you chocolates, it would be rude of me to refuse, now wouldn't it?  Are you listening, Massdrop? I like dark chocolate, OK?

As I wrote above, i
f you want to sign up for Massdrop, here's a link:  https://www.massdrop.com/r/ETFBT7. I do get some benefit from that link, maybe a free T shirt or something, if enough people sign up (and make a purchase).  If you use that link, thank you very much, but please don't feel obligated.

Appendix I – MSR vs. Jetboil Integrated Canister Stoves

It's interesting the direction that Jetboil has taken since they were sold to Johnson Outdoor.  They now have not one but three 800 ml size offerings:
-The Zip, $80 (economy model)
-The Flash Lite, $100 (middle of the road model)
-The Micro Mo, $130 (high end model)

They only have two 1000 ml offerings:
-The Flash, $100 (middle of the road model)
-The MiniMo, $135 (high end model)

One 1800 ml offering:
-The Sumo, $140

And one 2500 ml offering:
-The Joule, $200

MSR by contrast has fewer offerings, and those offerings are more specialized.  Clearly MSR is only trying to compete on the high end and isn't even trying to touch the Zip.

MSR has
Two 1000 ml offerings:
-1.0 L Windburner, $140
-1.0 L Reactor, $200

Two 1700/1800 ml offerings:
-1.8 L Windburner, $160
-1.7 L Reactor, $220

And one 2500 ml offering:
-2.5 L Reactor, $240

I don't believe that MSR plans to offer a 2500 ml version of the Windburner.

Both the Joule and 2.5 L Reactor are fairly specialized set ups that would be used frequently for snow melting where the greater capacity would be advantageous.  The Joule incidentally is the fastest backpacking stove I have ever seen, bar none.  The Joule blows the Reactor away in terms of speed.

Appendix II – Table in HTML form

Below is an HTML version of the above table which may be easier to read in some browsers.
Adventures In Stoving -- https://AdventuresInStoving.blogspot.com
Brand Stove BTU Grams Oz's Size $$'s Pros Cons Comments
Jetboil Flash 4,500 397 14.0 1.0 L $100 Moderate price Not as good in cold weather as regulated burners Basic 1 liter Jetboil
Jetboil Flash Lite 4,500 312 11.0 0.8 L $100 Moderate price Not as good in cold weather as regulated burners Basic 0.8 liter Jetboil
Jetboil Joule 10,000 715 25.2 2.5 L $200 Fastest stove ever.  Regulator valve; inverted canister. Fuel hog.  Unstable.  Only uses 100 and 230 g size canisters.  Big and klunky.   Best cold weather Jetboil.
Jetboil Micro Mo 6,000 340 12.0 0.8 L $140 Regulator valve Better in cold weather than Flash
Jetboil Mini Mo 6,000 415 14.6 1.0 L $130 Regulator valve.  Wider pot for easier access Better in cold weather than Flash
Jetboil Zip 4,500 333 11.7 0.8 L $80 Least Expensive No piezo ignition.   Economy model Jetboil
MSR Reactor 9,000 417 14.7 1.0 L $200 Regulator valve, extremely  wind resistant.  Good handle. No piezo ignition.  Expensive. Very fast.  Turn down to save fuel.  Very popular with mountaineer for snow melting.
MSR Windburner 7,000 432 15.2 1.0 L $140 Regulator valve, extremely  wind resistant. Nice handle. Heaviest 1 liter integrated canister stove. No piezo ignition.   More targeted towards backpackers whereas the Reactor is more toward mountaineers.
Primus Eta Express 8,900 395 13.9 1.0 L $130 Wide pot; easy access.  Nice non-stick coating "Windscreen" is a joke; leave it at home. Very fast.  Turn down to save fuel.  Very good unit overall despite bad windscreen.
Primus Eta Lite 4,500 360 12.7 0.5 L $105 Haven't ever seen; can't comment.
Primus Eta Lite+ 4,500 390 13.8 0.5 L $115 Haven't ever seen; can't comment.
Adventures In Stoving -- https://AdventuresInStoving.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review – The Primus Eta Express Stove System

The Primus Eta Express stove system is an upright integrated canister gas stove system (something along the lines of a Jetboil).  I really liked this wider pot approach (as compared to a typical skinny Jetboil or an MSR Windburner pot), but before I give you my final analysis of the system, let's go through the features.
The Primus Eta Express stove system
The system features a really nice ceramic based non-stick coated one liter pot with a well shielded, built in heat exchanger.  The pot has volumetric markings on the side wall at 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9 liters.  The markings are clearly visible on both the inside and outside of the pot.  The exterior of the pot is hard anodized.

Note:  This pot is also available in 1.8 L and 3.0 L sizes.
The one liter pot (with heat exchanger) of the Primus Eta Express stove system.
Note volumetric markings on the side of the pot.
With the way the heat exchanger is protected, you've got little to worry about when packing it or setting it down on the ground in camp.  The guard of the heat exchanger will itself conduct heat to the contents of the pot making it all the more efficient.  Boils were noticeably fast even on low flame settings. This is a very efficient set up with excellent fuel economy.

The non-stick coating feels silky smooth and slick to the touch.  Nothing stuck to it even when I overcooked some noodles – which could be a real mess on a non-coated pot.
The glossy, slick non-stick coating of the Primus Eta Express pot
The Primus Eta Express stove system comes with a red plastic bowl that nests inside the pot.  The bowl is actually quite functional, in marked contrast to the little plastic cup that protects the heat exchanger on a Jetboil.  I've never found the cup on a Jetboil very useful, but the bowl on the Primus Eta Express stove system is pretty nice bowl.  Now, for a soloist, you'd probably want to leave the bowl at home, but for a team of two, one person could eat out of the pot (if you were cooking in the pot, not out of a bag) and the other out of the bowl.

The bowl also protects the pot from any scratches if you store either the stove or a canister in the pot.  There's a small rectangle of foam that can be laid on the bottom of the pot if so desired such that the bowl does not rest directly on the non-stick coating.
The Primus Eta Express stove system's bowl nests neatly inside the pot
The Primus Eta Express stove system can accommodate both the stove and a 110 g canister of fuel inside.
Both the stove and a 110 g canister will fit inside the Primus Eta Express stove system
The canister sticks up a little bit, but that's not a problem since the lid has a raised portion that serves as a means to pick up the lid off the pot.  The lid also has a built in colander for draining, say, pasta or vegetables.
The lid of the Primus Eta Express stove system has a built in colander.
One grabs the lid by the insulated red portion.
The pot handles well insulated so that one does not burn one's hands when picking up the pot.  The handles are long and provide ample leverage.

Central to any stove system is of course the stove itself.  The Primus Express stove is a nice, well made stove, but at 98 g/3.5 oz is a bit heavy for its class.  Many comparable stoves are about one ounce lighter.  Yes, that's "only" an ounce, but remember that if on average one can shave just two ounces off of each piece of gear, one would reduce their pack weight by about ten pounds (assuming that one is a typical backpacker that carries 80 - 100 items in their pack).  As Colin Fletcher put it so well:  "Take care of the ounces, and the pounds will take care of themselves."

The stove comes in a little roll top type bag with a plastic clip closure.  The stove bag is tough and well made, but at 25 g/0.9 oz, it's a bit heavy in my opinion.  I'd probably just toss my stove directly in the red plastic bowl or wrap my stove in a bandana and leave the stove bag at home.
The stove bag for a Primus Eta Express stove
The Primus Eta Express stove comes with a piezoelectric ignition.  Should you dislike the ignition, it can be removed.  The ignition is very functional but is a little bit big and isn't quite as sophisticated as the ignition systems coming out from some other manufacturers, most notably Soto.  The ignition also sticks up above the burner where it is prone to snagging.  Still, the ignition works well and is super convenient.  Note however that no ignition system is every 100%, particularly at elevations above 10,000 feet (about 3,000 meters).  Always carry a back up means of ignition.  Always.  Personally, I like a fire steel, but flint wheel type lighter or matches are other good means of ignition.

I can't comment on the long term reliability of the ignition on a Primus Eta Express stove, but I do note that the spark wire sits directly in the flame at all times.
The flame of a Primus Eta Express stove.  The yellow portion of the flame is where the ignition is.
The valve knob works well and provides excellent flame control.  The stove simmers well.  Users of heavy mittens or gloves might have trouble gripping the knob.  Most manufacturers use a wire handle that is easier to grip when wearing mittens or gloves.  It's interesting that Primus here differs in their approach.  I wouldn't say this is necessarily a negative, but it is something to think about and be aware of.
The Primus Eta Express stove is roughly as big around as the base of a 110 g canister.
The pot supports of the Primus Eta Express stove are wide with grippy, well defined teeth.  I find that Primus is doing a really good job, better than other stove manufacturers (except maybe Soto), with make sharply defined teeth on their pot supports that really grip a pot well.  The one criticism of the pot supports that I have is that they don't fold well out of the way.  They take a lot of room up.
Left to right:  Primus Eta Express stove, Kovea Supalite (aka "Camp 56"), and a Markill Hot Rod.
Note how far to the left the pot supports stick out on the Eta Express stove.
Just about every stove manufacturer out there has figured out a way to make things a bit more compact than the Primus Eta Express stove's pot supports.  They're not horrible in terms of the space they take up, but there is room for improvement.  In terms of function, they are excellent pot supports, far above average.
Most stoves use folding pot supports to save space.  The Primus Eta Express stove takes up more room than average.
Left to right:  MSR Pocket Rocket, Primus Eta Express stove, MSR Pocket Rocket 2, Kovea Supalite
The Primus Eta Express stove system comes with a little partial windscreen that fits neatly around the pot for efficient packing.
The Primus Eta Express stove comes with a small windscreen
 The windscreen has a slot in it.  A pot support fits into the slot, and the stove then rests on a red plastic "shelf" attached to the burner.
Slide the pot support with the red "shelf" into the slot on the windscreen
The far ends of the windscreen are held to the other two pot supports by magnets.  I found it pretty easy on and easy off.  I also found it reasonably secure when in place.  The windscreen will not easily fall off although it can shift a bit if you bump it.
The windscreen in place on a Primus Eta Express stove.  Note the large hole in the windscreen.
You will note in the above photo that there is a large hole in the windscreen.  Presumably this hole is to preclude any possibility of the windscreen causing heat build up that might cause a canister explosion.  While the hole removes any chance of an explosion, it also removes any chance that the windscreen will block any wind.  In my testing, I found the windscreen to be of no benefit whatsoever.  Maybe if one were in a lab with very sensitive test equipment, then maybe could detect some subtle improvement in performance brought about by this windscreen, but I was unable to find any perceptible benefit.  It looks like the lawyers killed this one folks, and it's dead on arrival.  The best place for this windscreen?  In the recycle bin.  Seriously, leave this one at home, folks, it's utterly useless.

Now, don't get me wrong.   I said up front that I like this stove system, and indeed I do.  But this windscreen should never have gotten out of the door of the Primus development lab.  It's more gimmick than windscreen.  Perhaps one could use some aluminum foil or heat resistant tape and block off the hole, but as is, it just doesn't work in any discernable way.

The entire system is held together by a mesh bag and is quite compact as a set.  I think the compactness of the Primus Eta Express integrated stove system compares well with the compactness of other integrated stove systems like the Jetboil Flash or the MSR Windburner.
The Primus Eta Express stove system is quite compact for a one liter integrated stove system.
The Primus Eta Express stove system is a really flexible system.  If you want to use a different pot on this system, you just do it.  There's no steel attachment that you have to carry as with a Jetboil.  There are no little screws you have to emplace as with a Primus Eta Lite.  Really, you can use any stove or any pot with this system, swapping things out at will.  Indeed, had you a stove that you really liked, you could presumably just buy the pot and use your existing stove, but do note that the Eta Express stove is ideally suited and tuned for the Eta Express pot.
Simultaneous wind testing using a "control" stove vs. the Primus Eta Express stove.
Note the 0.9 L Primus kettle on the Eta Express stove.  One can use any pot with the Primus Eta Express stove.
Component weights
If you brought along everything that comes in the box, you'd have a total weight of 530 grams/18.7 oz, as shown in the first table below.

But I wouldn't bring everything.  I'd probably leave the bowl at home unless I were traveling with a partner.  I'd also most likely leave the little stove pouch at home, and I'd certainly leave the useless windscreen at home.  Leaving those items at home, your weight would be a far more reasonable 397 g/14.0 oz, as shown in the second table.

397 g/14.0 oz compares reasonably well with other integrated canister stove systems.

Everything Weights
Item Grams Ounces
Stuff Sack 21 0.7
Windscreen 56 2.0
Stove pouch 25 0.9
Lid 60 2.1
Foam 2 0.1
Bowl 50 1.8
Stove 98 3.5
Pot 218 7.7
Total (weighed) 530 18.7

Minimum Weights
Item Grams Ounces
Stuff Sack 21 0.7
Lid 60 2.1
Stove 98 3.5
Pot 218 7.7
Total (weighed) 397 14.0

MSRP for the entire (see full component list, above) Primus Eta Express stove system is $130.  This compares favorably with a Windburner (MSRP $140) or a Mini-Mo (MSRP $140), but the Primus Eta Express stove does not have a regulated burner.  A regulated burner can give one a distinct advantage in cold weather (see Gas Stoves in Cold Weather – Regulator Valves and Inverted Canisters for further information).  The Primus Eta Express stove does not have this cold weather advantage.  It's a bit higher priced than say a Jetboil Flash (MSRP $100).  I strongly prefer the more flexible (both in terms of cookware and what you can cook) Primus Eta Express stove system, but it remains to be seen whether the system will be economically viable.  I notice that REI was carrying the Primus Eta Express stove system last year but that they are not this year.  This may be an indicator that the Primus Eta Express stove system may not be selling well, but I speculate.

Analysis and Conclusions
Overall, I really liked the system.  Yeah, the windscreen is lousy, but overall, this is a really nice system.  I found the wide pot was much easier to cook in than a tall, skinny pot.  The simmer control is excellent, and I could do real cooking.  The non-stick coating is very good; a spider wouldn't be able to climb up the sides of this pot.  The pot is wide and low enough that it can be used as a frying pan.  It wouldn't be an ideal frying pan, but it would be a reasonable compromise for backpacking, and would be outstanding compared to a tall, thin pot (like a Jetboil).  Eggs, even a single pancake could be cooked herein.  I'd prefer the Eta Express pot 10 to 1 over a tall Jetboil style pot for frying fish.

The real advantage of this system to my mind is in its flexibility.  One gets a very functional complete kit, but one can easily swap out pots or stoves as desired with no adapters or modifications needed.

The Primus Eta Express Stove System

What's good about it?
  • Very flexible #1 – use any pot or pan you like, no adapters, no modifications
  • Very flexible #2 – the wide pot allows one to cook a variety of foods, foods more complex than merely boiling water.  The wide pot can double as something of a frying pan.
  • Highly efficient – fast boils and good fuel economy
  • Excellent non-stick coating
  • Great pot stability
  • Silicone coating on the pot handles
  • Silicone band on pot lid
  • Packs compactly
  • Well protected, durable heat exchanger
What's not so good about it?
  • The windscreen is a joke
  • The stove could be more compact and is too heavy for its class
  • The stove bag could be lighter
  • Spark point on piezoelectric ignition sticks up and can get snagged

The Primus Eta Express Stove System:  Highly recommended (except for the "windscreen")

I thank you for joining me,


Disclosures:  The Primus Eta Express Stove System used in this review was provided to me at no charge by Massdrop, a "group buy" site.  I have no financial stake in Massdrop, neither do I receive any payments for my reviews from Massdrop (or anyone else for that matter).  I have received some free socks as a beta tester as well other stoves for other reviews.  In addition, I have made several purchases with my own money from Massdrop just as any other member of the public would do.  I do not receive any discounts or special pricing from Massdrop.  The fact that Massdrop gave me an all expenses paid trip to Rio de Janeiro in their luxurious corporate jet of course had no influence whatsoever on my review (don't I wish?).  I do hope maybe Massdrop will buy me a beer some day, but we'll just have to see about that.  In the mean time, rest assured that my stove reviews are independent and as free of bias as I can humanly make them.

If you want to, you can join Massdrop via this link:  https://www.massdrop.com/r/ETFBT7.  If enough people sign up and actually buy something, I think I get a free T shirt or something.  Do as you see fit, but you wouldn't want to see me naked, now would you? 

Simul-testing the Primus Eta Express stove against other stoves.
Photos were shot and testing was conducted at:

  • My place of residence, primarily out doors
  • Crystal Cove State Park
  • Angeles National Forest
  • Cleveland National Forest
  • Thomas F. Reilly Wilderness Park