Going Lighter Guide: Stoves & Cooking

Bob and Honey Stove

Bob Cartwright on a Pembrokeshire Beach with his Honey Stove

Stoves! Most avid backpackers have a collection of stoves and stove systems. I don’t consider myself an avid collector but I realise I have around 10 fully functional stoves at the moment, and there are probably more hiding in the depths of my part storage places! Bob Cartwright has a collection of stoves going back over years and he really ought to open a backpacking stove museum.

In this section we are not just going to look at pure weight but some of the other factors that are associated with lightweight backing: fuel sources; adaptability; multi functionality and so on.

A lot here rally does depend on what kind of hiking and backpacking you are involved in. An ideal stove for a single overnight might be very different to the system you might use for a multi day or even multi month trip!

Horses for courses should be our motto here. I’m not going to recommend a particular fuel source or even particular stove, although I will talk you through what I am using more often than not.

Like many people I guess I like the romantic notion of making camp in a beautiful spot and building a fire, or using a backpacking wood burner stove and then sitting around with friends talking about a glorious day of hiking or the spenders of the fabulous natural environment. But life is seldom that romantic. More often than not I stumble into camp at the end of a long day, throw up the tent quickly, check that I have water and disappear inside the tent to lie flat out until the morning comes around. On days like this I just want to get something hot inside of me quickly with the minimum of fuss. The last time I properly used a wood burner on a multi day walk was at Derry Lodge in the Cairngorms. It was a glorious evening but one that had quite a bit of a breeze. My main concern that night was not to burn the whole place down. The only other times I have been able to properly play with stoves is on walks with Bob Cartwright where the hiking played second fiddle to the playing with gear — sorry, that should read the scientific evaluation of gear!

Of course, you would be mad to backpack these days with a full on Trangia system (although some still do). The weight of various bits of kit doesn’t vary that much.


Gas Canisters

Gas canister stoves are, of course, the most popular and in many ways the most convenient. My diminutive canister stove is the Crux stove which weighs in at about 85 grams. This is pretty light and an impressive performer but you can get even smaller stoves these days that weigh half as much. But then what’s 40 grams amongst friends?

Gas Canister stoves can get very high tech. The Jetboil system is very popular and similar system from the likes of MSR operate in the same space. The stove system incorporates a cooking pot which is a heat exchanger which makes the system very fuel efficient. These systems are very expensive really for what they are and I would never ever use one. Why?

Like many canister systems you end up with something that is pretty tall and not that stable on the ground. I am the kind of person who is always cooking in the vestibule of my shelter. And I am very clumsy. Through bitter experience I have come to appreciate cooking systems that are more stable, have a wider base and are closer to the ground!

The next thing that I don’t like is that I have often seen gas canister stoves break while out on the trail. And sometimes while the stove is OK a gas bottle valve  malfunctions. I remember an entertaining evening at a campsite in the High Pyrenees, a fellow camper dancing around the camping ground as his canister spewed forth a stream of pressurised fuel.

I also am wary of these now on environmental grounds. Care should be taken to dispose of these canister properly. Some major gear stores and hardware stores allow you to recycle them but then gear stores and hardware stores are increasingly hard to find. The last thing I would want is my gas canister to end up in landfill. And an exploding gas canister in even an industrial incinerator is not a very pleasant thing for the system there. Camp in colder weather and your canister stove won’t be operating very efficiently anyway.

So, I haven’t used a canister stove for years and years. I still have my little Crux stove. And I still have four or five canister that still seem to be full of fuel. Maybe I shall use them on an overnight.


Alcohol Stoves

These days alcohol stoves are pretty lightweight and at their basic they offer a design which is about as simple as you can get. My go-to stove in the Evernew Titanium Burner which weighs just 35 grams. It is virtually bombproof and a design that can really pump out heat quickly. On a cold and wet evening in Scotland I am always pleased that I have e this stove with me.

Alcohol stoves don’t have to be totally simplistic through. The spill proof alcohol stove from SBP is tiny, weighs almost nothing and costs £4. What is not to like? For a solo hiker this is an ideal stove. Inside of this almost tiny disc is some absorbent material which soaks up alcohol fuel. It has a capacity of about 50 mm and can burn for 20 minutes or so. You can buy an accessory simmer ring for it, a little piece of material that effectively cuts down the size of the burner hole and allows you to simmer. With this system there is no need to use a pot cozy to rehydrate dried food; you just simply slip on the simmer ring. Once you are finished the lid screws on and there is no danger of you loosing your fuel. Foolproof I hear you say. Well, not quite. I recently cross threaded mine when putting it away. I couldn’t budge the stove and so tried to prize apart the lid from the stove with a knife but I ended up puncturing the very thin stove material. However, a replacement will cost me £4! The issue for me is not the effectiveness of the stove, or the cheap cost of replacement, but the idea that I might be without my stove because of such a malfunction when I’m out on the trail for four days or so without resupply. On an overnight I’d just grin and bear it.

My main concern with an alcohol stove is that you have an open flame to contend with — and remember I am cooking in a vestibule and are very clumsy. Once in the French Mountains I ended up picking up a stove that had fallen over and literally throwing it out of the tent with me following quickly to stamp out the flames. So good alcohol stove will be wide and reasonably low to the ground.

Alcohol for stoves is the byproduct of other industrial process and as such is pretty cheap and low tech, although the formulation changes from brand to brand. It is readily available though not always where you think. In French hiking places you’ll often find this in the hardware store rather than trekking store and it will be labelled alcool de bruyer.

Alcohol is cheap and pretty low tech. There are few parts to go wrong, literally nothing with the Evernew burner (though it is pricey). It is not without its downsides in usage though. The alcohol needs to be warm enough to light. Most of us keep a small container full of the stuff and warm it through in a pocket or under the arm pit for a few minutes before lighting. Most stoves have some kind of guides for how much fuel you are using but on a cold day you will be using far more fuel than on a warm, summer day.  Alcohol may be reasonably cheap but on a two week trip you can sometimes be surprised by how much you use.

SBP Stoves

Evernew Titanium Stove

White Box Alcohol Stove

Vargo Triad Stove

 

Solid Fuel Tablets

These tablets (often called esbits) continue to have a place in backpacking. They can be very effective at warming through a backpacking meal. Typically, I use half a tablet for my needs. I could keep the tablet burning but I often blow it out and then wrap it in a small piece of aluminium foil and it is fresh to use next time. These tablets can be very useful as they are quite compact and can be stashed in resupply drops in advance.

 

Wood Burners

I mentioned these at the top of the article. When you have the opportunity to use them they are wonderful and burn pretty efficiently using the small twigs, sticks and natural tinder that you find on a woodland floor. You’ve probably spotted the downside already. The weather needs to be very warm. I once completed a two week stretch of the High Pyrenees using one of these on all but one evening but sadly Mediterranean sunshine is at something of a premium here in Birmimgham.

 

Multi Fuel Set Ups

These are probably the most useful and versatile for my backpacking needs. I use two systems, the first is the Tri Ti Caldera Cone system and the second is the Honey Stove from backpackinglight.co.uk — actually the later stable also produced the Pocket Stove which isa tiny multi purpose platform.

Both of these systems integrate a windshield and pot support with a system that can support an alcohol burner, a solid fuel tablet burner and a wood burner. The Caldera system comes with a very light and simple beer can stove which., although it is simple and cheap. It is actually a really good alcohol burner. Both of these systems allow you to have your heat source at the optimum distance from your pot of efficient performance. Both are very versatile and I hike with both a lot, but for some reason the Honey Stove Titanium is not as well used as I think it should be. Here are the relative merits and downsides of the two systems.

The Caldera system has a great windshield made of titanium sheet. The cone sheet can be compacted to allow it to sit inside of your pot,  indeed, you order your system to fit your pot. Change your cooking pot and you will more than likely need to buy a new cone. The system comes with the beer can burner mentioned above. It also comes with a tiny if flimsy solid fuel tablet burner. A smaller cone — which packed inside of the main windshield cone — is used to create a wood burning chamber along with a circular grate and a flimsy wire construction which raised the grate above the floor to ensure airflow.

The Caldera system works very well. The Caldera windshield is the most effective of the windshields which means very efficient fuel usage. However, the windshield/pot support does degrade over time and the wood burning attachments are a bit of a fiddle to play with and to store in your pot. It is though a supreme alcohol burning system.

The Honey Stove arrives as a series of six flatpack sheets that can be clicked together using tabs to create a wide hexagon shaped windshield. A flatpack grate can be placed at any one of a number of levels to create the optimum distance between burner and pot — or simply to allow airflow under burning wood. The wind shield creates a naturally stable structure on which to place a wide pan — tiny holes in each plate allow you to run two thin tent pegs through from side to side to provide support for taller and narrower cooking pots. Another insert is designed to carry suspend and support a Trangia burner or the Evernew stove which fits in perfectly. But the Honey stove isn’t finished yet. The system comes with a smaller grate plate that enables you to create a smaller stove with just four of the side panels. This smaller windshield is still wide enough to take my Evernew stove and is perfect for burning solid fuel tablets. The Pocket Stove is essentially this smaller set up without the extra panels to build into the bigger shape. Both the Pocket Stove and the smaller set up for the Honey Stove can still burn wood although you will find the system is not as efficient as the larger Honey Stove set up — you will need dry weather and dry fuel to get anywhere with it.

I come back to these two systems time and time again because of their versatility. If I’m relying just on an alcohol stove I will often use the cone — I have another cone shaped for a double sized pot but this has to be housed in a plastic container which is a bit of unwanted bulk in your pack.

I have completed multi week trips with both of these systems as multi fuel setups. I’ve been happy with both. On my last triplets week I used the Caldera Cone but more often than not I find myself returning to the Honey Stove as once assembled it is far less of a fiddle.

 

So, I’ve settled for three systems. The SBP system is great for overnights and summer weekends.  The Caldera and Honey Stove systems are very versatile setups whatever the season. If I had to choose only one it would be the Honey Stove.

Caldera Cone Tri Ti System from Trail Designs

The Honey Stove Titanium (also available in stainless steel)

The Pocket Stove

 

Conclusions

So, there you go the choice is yours and all of these fuel types have their advantages and they will all serve you well on the trail. I like versatility and I like simple, which is why I don’t use gas canisters on the trail. Increasingly, the gas canisters worry me environmentally although a good heat exchange system like Jet Boil can make them very efficient indeed.

And finally, all of this stoves are very light. To give you an idea of these systems:

My Crux burner (canister) weighs 80 odd grams (and you can get lighter)!

The Evernew Titanium burner weighs 35 grams.

The Gram Cracker Tablet stove weighs about 12 grams.

The Caldera Beer Can Alcohol stove weighs about 15 grams.

My Tri Ti Caldera Cone (and wood burning bits) weighs 92 grams.

The Honey Stove Titanium (all parts and carry case) weighs 180 grams

The Pocket Stove weighs 112 grams.

 

When it comes to weight there is not much in it. On the trail though versatility and reliability come to the fore and for me the choice is the Honey Stove system or the Caldera System. You will no doubt have your own choices and preferences@

Comments

  1. 😉

  2. Waldin Robey. says

    Choose a stove that requires no small replacement parts.A stove for which fuel will be available for every day of your journey. A stove that will not require a special type /size /shape cooking pot. Will it perform in all the situations you may find yourself.After all these comments remember you are only needing to boil a litre of water.

Leave a Reply