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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.
Flexibility
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

Price
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,

HJ

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

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