Thursday, 19 August 2010

New Stove System

Currently, I have an Evernew DX System. That is to say, I have the Evernew Ultralight Titanium DX Stand and the Evernew Ultralight Titanium Alcohol Stove. My pot is an MSR Titan Kettle. This allows me to boil 500ml of water which is all we need when hillwalking and I can drink from it comfortably too. 500ml is two cups of hot chocolate, and its one re-hydrated meal. Therefore, whilst camping, we heat up 500ml, three times in the evening and once in the morning before getting some porridge on as well. Hitherto, I had been using a Coleman F1 Power PZ stove which always worked well, but was a reasonably heavy set-up to carry compared to the DX system. I was also seduced by the bewitching prospect of wood-burning - it appealed to my sense of wilderness and to my desire for versatility. It still does.

Several people who follow this journal of mine, and thank you all for that, have indicated to me that the information content is one of the reasons they follow it. I hope that this does not do them a disservice - I am not going to review the DX System in detail as various people have already done so and the whole thing does not get any better with repetition. Thus, have a look at the links below. There are probably others, but these are some of the most detailed and they are blogs that I like - Babelfish5's video is excellent:

Joe Newton

So, to some basics: the DX System and Alcohol Stove is 85g. Full stop. Done. That's damned light. The MSR Titan Kettle is 121g with lid. 200ml of meths in a 250ml Evian bottle is 195g.

However, it has begun to appear to me that the DX system is not, without some real effort, that well suited to hillwalking. Some may disagree, but one of its key attributes is the versatility of a wood-burning stove. This it does quite well, but there are others that do this better - the Bushbuddy Ultra is a prime example (thanks Andy Howell) as is the Four Dog Stoves Lt1 (Joe Newton again). Neither are alcohol stoves as well, so they are less versatile as wood-burning options in the UK hills and mountains are limited so, I would venture to suggest, they are not ideally suited to that theatre. Lower level walking, certainly. This issue also reduces the value of the DX System but, were it a good alcohol stove, that might not matter. The DX stand itself serves as a potstand and partial windshield. I say partial as it really does not shield the alcohol stove from the wind very much so another windshield is necessary. That I normally make out of kitchen foil and a paper clip. It lasts two or three outings before being retired but it's light and easy to use. I punch holes in the bottom to permit airflow.

However, I have noticed that, even with a windshield, it can take some time for 500ml to heat up and, in really windy conditions, rolling boils are very difficult indeed. The reason for this is that the wind may be prevented from hitting the DX by a further windshield, but the pot cools down quickly as a result of the convective effect of the wind. Titanium, in my experience, cools down damned fast so this is an issue. The Trail Designs Caldera Cone does not suffer from this effect as the pot is completely encased in the shield. However, this is not a wood-burner, unless you get the Trail Designs Ti-Tri instead, which Chris Townsend loves. If you're going to do that, you might as well get the Inferno addition too. Thus, with the DX System, you have to find a sheltered place to cook in order to get the full benefit. We don't always have that many options in inclement weather so a 'temperamental' stove like that is not necessarily the most convenient choice. With the Trail Designs systems, you really don't need to find such a sheltered place. Also, query whether those systems are usable in the porch of a tent like the Fly Creek where, let's be honest, the door is so sharply sloping you would not want to cook there with the DX System nor, probably, a top-mounted canister stove.

That said, the problem with the Ti-Tri is that it is not  particularly lightweight - with the caddy, it's 292g (albeit, that is ULOG's assessment including instructions and esbit tablets - let's say c.270g instead). That does include a fuel bottle too, however. Add 200ml of meths and your total cooking set-up is c.450g. Add the MSR Titan Kettle into this (you'll see why later when I get to the MSR Reactor) and it's c.560g. We're starting to get a touch on the heavy side now. The Caldera Cone setup, for the MSR Titan Kettle, is c.160g including bottle and caddy. You could, I assume, ditch the top of the caddy and stick it in your food stuffsack like that and shave c.35-40g. That, again, includes a fuel bottle. In fact a 35g bottle is rather heavy and 250ml water bottle (Evian etc) is only 15g - but there you go. We're in semantics perhaps. Further, from what I can see, the Ti-Tri need not be taken completely and you could just take the alcohol part of it if you wanted to. When hill and mountain walking, that might make some sense.

However, when one continues that analysis, high-level walking might be enabled by taking a 100g gas canister and a Gosystem Fly(Ti) or whatever the derivatives are given this is made by the same Chinese company with different names stamped on them.  An absolutely superb and comprehensive review can be found on Mac E's blog, Stayin' Alive as well some initial analysis and great images. The major complication is that this suffers from the usual drop in performance towards the end of a canister and you'll be at the end of a canister more often with a 100g canister. So is that perfect either? No. Will it suffer in the wind - yes. Is it the answer? Who knows? It's bloody light though - 250g total for a 100g canister and the Fly(Ti).

So Mac E moves on to look at the MSR Reactor. Possibly the most efficient and effective canister stove on the planet at the moment, the Reactor has only one failing - weight. Bear in mind that it comes with a 1.0l pot (it's actually 1.5l, but you shouldn't fill it higher than 1.0l, even though you could if you wanted) so, to analyse it properly, you need to add in the weight of your pot to the equation. The Reactor, and a 100g canister, would be 480+200 = 680g. The Ti-Tri system, with it's complete versatility and effective windshield, would be 560g when compared favourably. The MSR Reactor is much, much quicker to boil 500ml of water however. The Fly(Ti), as I have said, would be 250+114 (for the pot) = 364g.

Other factors
Another, often overlooked factor, is the effect on the environment. I'd love to be corrected, I really would, but I can find no reference to canisters being re-fuelled. They are simply landfill or, if you have an understanding council, metal recycling. This is pretty poor from the likes of Primus, MSR and Coleman, it seems to me, that they don't offer some sort of recycling service or disposal service - I don't accept "business reasons" as an excuse - we all have to protect the world we live in for future generations. If they all got together and jointly funded it, it could easily work (deposit points as certain shops etc). Metal recycling is not the best option as the energy/carbon footprint in manufacturing canisters must be significant - if they could be re-fuelled, that must be a better option. I did contact my local council this morning and they told me that all gas canisters are refused for obvious reasons. I know in the US they will be accepted if the pressure is completely removed from them but clearly we don't have that in London yet.

Finally, Andy Howell makes a point I have often made in relation to bivys - woodburners will always enhance the experience in a way that canister stoves (and perhaps even alcohol stoves) simply cannot do. There's a solace and romanticism - a kind of connection with the wilderness - that having a woodburner enhances. Disagree? So be it, but have you used one?

Conclusions? Not really...
So, in the light of that, the Ti-Tri and Caldera Cone take a giant leap or two forward. What will I get? I don't know but I certainly don't need it in the Alps so it's a decision I can take some weeks hence. I have to admit, I am rather swayed by the environmental argument as the birth of my first child approaches. What sort of father am I if I cannot teach him that the world around him is precious? This is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of all the cooking methods available - it is my own analysis, for my own purposes, of what considerations will apply to the replacement of the Evernew DX System. My thought processes might be of interest, however.


  1. A quick comment on cannister re-use (from a layperson). It's not my field but I suspect there are strict requirements for fatigue resistance of re-usuable presurised gas cannisters. If you look at the refillable propane cans you'll find they are all very heavy and thick walled. My guess is that this is to do with meeting a design lifetime criterion which might be expressed in terms of the numer of times they can be pressurised without failure/or more likely how many times they can be brough up to pressure and depressurised before a given probability arises that a fatigue crack of critical length has formed. The thinner walled disposable cannisters probably do not meet such design criteria (you don't have to grow cracks very big before the can is perforated). I would be very surprised if reusable cans havn't been considered by teh ourdoors industry but I suspect they would bring a weight penalty too great for the customer base they are aimed at.

  2. Well done Maz on such a detailed analysis, sadly I have used most of the stoves mentioned and continue to seek the ideal stove for my uses. My current setups are, gas with the Gosystem Fly(Ti) equivalent Monatauk Gnat, for wood, alcohol and esbit it is the Ti Tri accompanied by the tried and tested up Evernew 900 (short) pot. Regarding the Ti Tri I am about to take delivery of the sidewinder which will eliminate the need for a caddy and thus save weight. A write up will follow. A bushbuddy lurks in the cupboard and if I want wood burning only, then that is the burner I would take.

    In the end like much else it is dependent on the user and the locale you are visiting.

  3. Very well articulated Maz, I agree with what you're saying and in the end we choose which compromises are acceptable. Looking at the options above I personally would go for the Ti Tri with a meths burner unless I really needed long trip and harsh weather efficiency in which case I'd go for the Reactor. For trips up to 5 days or perhaps a week I think the Ti Tri using meths with wood burning as an option is the way to go. I assume you're happy to use a single potso the Cone is the most efficient windshield. I've used a cone outdoors in a hail storm with a meths burner and also used it a porch smaller than the Fly Creek again without a problem. That said I seem to recall reports from some bloggers that the burner that comes with the Caldera Cone is a bit wild, maybe not suited to porch use.

    Is it possible to store the cone flat between the layers of your Z-Lite mat. If it is you could forget about the caddy.

    p.s. Thanks for the generous comments re the Fly and Reactor reviews, just telling as I found it to be honest.

  4. Dave: Perhaps I'm cynical, but I suspect the reason is commercial rather than physical or structural. Whilst I accept that there will likely be all sorts of legal restraints on canister use, and I'm not suggesting refuelling by the user - instead the return of canisters to the manufacturer after use - the infrastructure to manufacture canisters from new already exists to fulfil existing demand so I suspect it is cheaper to manufacture from scratch than refuel. I doubt that the likes of Primus & MSR discounted the idea for purely structural reasons. I suspect the reality is it's not commercially viable for them to change their existing manufacturing infrastructure. It seems unlikely to me that any company would be able to manufacture a canister that could be potentially dangerous after one use. Canisters must have more structural integrity than that. Following that logic, it must be possible to determine the absolute maximum number of safe uses of a canister. It must be more than, say two or three which could, if dealt with properly, halve the number of canisters being manufactured (and therefore thrown away). That process has no commercial advantage for the manufacturer as that infrastructure is not in place so it would cost a great deal to engage in any sort of recycling process. I'm no physicist or engineer so I suspect you're right about stress and safety but I don't accept, without more, that that is the reason. I'm also no climate Chang fanatic & nor do I deny it either. It seems obvious time there needs to be a sea change & commercialism must take a back seat sometimes. Otherwise, I can always vote with my feet, without any malice or ill-feeling, & tell my son the reason we wait 8mins for a brew instead of 2 is that we're trying to do our little bit to preserve the planet we love. As gram counters, we of all people appreciate the maxim "every little bit helps".

    NB: Thanks for the compliment! I agree it depends on where you are going and I think the Ti-Tri is probably one of my best bets - Caldera Cone only for hillwalking and the full version for lower level stuff. It's something to think about.

    Mac: Yes - the MSR Titan is all I need for boiling and drinking - we eat re-hydrated grub so all we need to do is boil water for food and hot chocolate. There's a bit of porridge in the morning too but my pal has a mug for his hot chocolate and he uses that for porridge. Nice idea with the Z-Lite - I'm about to post on that - it DOES NOT fit the backsystem for the Gorilla without some butchery, which I have yet to do. Still - that's a good idea. Could even work with the platypus pocket. As for the comments on your blog - I really enjoy it and I firmly believe that if someone takes the time and trouble to do something like that you ought to acknowledge it - cheers mate. Just wish you came to the UK a bit more so we could meet up and do some hills!

  5. Maz - great post, highly detailed and well researched as usual. I just wanted to add a couple of things: I have used my Bushcooker LT1 at higher altitudes. My recent Hardanger trip was all over 1100m and 'treeless' yet I still managed to find and use fuel, even in some pretty foul conditions. The key to that is finding sheltered camp sites. However, the LT1 would have certainly benefited from a windscreen (something I'll expand on in an upcoming post). In my opinion the Bushbuddy Ultra is still the better wood burner (that can be augmented with an alcohol stove if required) and would be the one I would use in future.

    I like to 'walk high, camp low' when I'm using UL gear but if you prefer the high ground I would probably suggest a lightweight gas stove that could be used safely in a vestibule, is more wind resistant and is not reliant on you scavenging suitable fuel sources.

    If I had to rationalise my stove collection to a bare minimum I would keep the Bushbuddy Ultra for '3-season' use and my Optimus Crux gas burner (with Primus wind-shield) for winter.

  6. Thanks Joe. My only issue with hillwalking is that finding suitable fuel at higher altitudes has struck me as harder which I why I am thinking the Ti-Tri might well be the best of both worlds. I have been thinking very carefully about gas stoves but there are several issues which do really concern me and the environmental aspect is a major one. If I can find a reasonable way to recycle the canisters then I'll be persuaded but probably not otherwise.

    Where did you find fuel in the Hardanger?

  7. Hey Maz, I have to admit with being pretty taken with the Caldera cone which I use with my Tibetan 1100 pan. It is efficient and is very economical on the fuel. It's just beginning to look pretty beaten up now and you do have to be careful it does not blow away in the wind. Before that for about 6 years I have been using a clickstand system with a trangia burner. Again a superb bit of kit and bomb proof although the fuel efficiency is not half that of the Caldera. Been toying with a Primus spider for winter use in the tent when I want to cook with the doors closed, although not that happy using cannisters.

  8. The Caldera just seems a great piece of kit & I think I'm right when I say that the Ti-Tri could be split to take just the Caldera part - ULOG seem to sell one for the Titan Kettle. Think I may be sold!

    We have started the TMB & I'm doing this from our first hotel just before starting so will be replying intermittently so please forgive me!!

  9. Great post, Maz. Very informative.

    I'm very happy with my Bushbuddy Ultra. It is possible, although certainly harder, to find burnable fuel above treeline, but I tend to carry a ziploc bag with me and fill it with twigs as I walk. That way, when I arrive in camp, I have a nice collection of dry wood ready to make a cuppa.

    The only time I use a canister stove these days is if there are fire restrictions.

  10. The Bushbuddy certainly seems to be the premier woodburning unit and there's a lot to be said for the atmosphere created by a woodburning unit. What I like about the Ti-Tri, especially as they have a smaller version, is versatility especially as there is now a smaller version. Ziploc bags are a favourite of mine - I keep my meths in them, the campwash we took to the Alps, contact lenses, food. They're superb. Costco hide them now when I arrive through the doors...

  11. Here, in Ukraine and Russia, we actually do re-use canisters. The reason, though, is cost, not ecology. I never did it myself, but I know a lot of people who do this regularly. As their experience shows, the weakest link is not in metal, but in the valve. It cannot hold the pressure after several recharges. I am not sure whether it is some kind of material fatigue or just some kind of clogging.
    I think manufacturers do not do this because it would involve too much human labour. The valve design also might call for change, resulting in cost and weight increase.

  12. Sergei - I intend to look at this more closely with my local council in the first instance and suppliers of canisters after that. I find it hard to believe there is not some way to deal with this other than landfill.

  13. Here, in Ukraine and Russia, we actually do re-use canisters. The reason, though, is cost, not ecology. I never did it myself, but I know a lot of people who do this regularly. As their experience shows, the weakest link is not in metal, but in the valve. It cannot hold the pressure after several recharges. I am not sure whether it is some kind of material fatigue or just some kind of clogging.
    I think manufacturers do not do this because it would involve too much human labour. The valve design also might call for change, resulting in cost and weight increase.