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.