Saturday, 2 July 2011

New Stove System III (3 Season): The Trail Designs Ti-Tri Sidewinder

It needs no introduction. So many bloggers have taken to this promiscuous little performer that it hardly seems appropriate to review it, yet the stove system forms such an integral part of any wild camp methodology that it seems equally wrong not to address my own reasons for choosing it and my initial impressions of it.

Promiscuous? Really? Well, it could hardly have escaped your notice that the Sidewinder cuddles up to almost any pot - whether it be its first love - the MSR Titan Kettle - or the perennial staple diet of Evernew Ultralight pots, the Sidewinder seems not to discriminate. There is a Ti-Tri Sidewinder for whichever pot you could possibly want to boil your water or stir your porridge in. Perhaps this is one of its true strengths - that it will fit into your existing system unless you are extremely unlucky. Me - I only want to boil water and, in the morning, warm some porridge so a simple 600ml pot is all I need. Trail Designs even make a Sidewinder system for a pot that small. Having realised my old system was not working for me, I started looking for a replacement. So, I ditched my Titan Kettle and Evernew DX system and contacted Trail Designs - that exemplary experience is scribed elsewhere.

Once I removed the Sidewinder from its packaging, I had some decisions to make. With an Evernew Ultralight 600ml, the 12-10 alcohol stove will not fit inside at the same time as the cone and inferno systems. It comes with a small ziplock tub which weighs about 8g. Given I can keep some Hammaro tinder card in there (and dry) along with it, and it protects the stove, I am content to keep it. Also with the Sidewinder is the Trail Designs 150ml meths bottle. Again, it does a perfect job, and weighs the same as any other option, so I am keeping it. Everything else fits comfortably in the Evernew pot, including the inferno titanium mat. In all, with the meths and the tinder card on board, the whole lot amounts to 341g. Given my analysis previously that is perfectly acceptable to me for stove system, pot and fuel. That's the same as the Gosystem Fly (Ti), 600ml pot and a 100ml gas canister and this system is far more versatile. I don't need the two tent pegs for the inferno mode as my Vargo titanium pegs will ft that role and I am sure for a short recess the Fly Creek will stay stable without a couple of pegs...

So what's all the fuss about? The primary failing of the Evernew DX system was the windshield (or lack thereof, regardless of the suggestion the DX tower itself was a windshield). The stove flame was not protected and neither was the pan or pot. Protecting the pan/pot is actually very important as cold air hitting the pan/pot will make heating the water inside take that much longer given the conductivity of titanium. The Caldera Cone system resolves that problem. It is also far more stable in what is usually a windswept and weather-beaten environment that UK hillwalkers find themselves in. I am a huge fan of titanium - it cools so quickly and conducts heat so well that it is an astute choice for an ultralight cooking system. After a few moments both the cone and the stove are cool to the touch - hence my warning above about wind. That it is also strong and light makes it perfect. But of course, you pay for these attributes and many will say aluminium has its place. Trail Designs would disagree I'm sure and, on this, I'm with the Yosemite boys.

Cooking tests are  essential with any stove system analysis and I have had the Sidewinder in alcohol and wood-burning modes. I am unlikely to use the esbit gram-cracker much but I'll look at that as and when I need to.

Alcohol Mode
Were this an academic article, the abstract would read thus: 8mins to a rolling boil for 500ml of cold water in a 10C ambient temperature. Not scintillating performance but the water was cold and it was not exactly warm outside. There was, however, no wind. This matters little to me as the fundamental strength is that this rolling boil, which continued for another 2mins, was achieved on only 20ml of meths. That to me is far more important than the time it took. If I take 150ml of meths on an overnight trip for the two of us, I know that will cover us easily for as many brews as we want, a Fuizion Food feast and a brew and some porridge in the morning. The Evernew DX could not guarantee 60ml would get me a rolling boil at all in bad weather. The 10-12 does not need priming according to Trail Designs, but has a small priming pan anyway and in colder weather, I would advise you use it to avoid wasting meths.

When I took the Sidewinder to the Brecons on a cold, wet wild camp in June, it performed almost exactly as it did in my garden at home. Frugal with meths and the wind whipping through our camp did little to dampen performance. The titanium cooled so quickly that when I tried to boil another 200ml of water having used 20ml to boil 400ml and had some left over, when I ran out, I put the pan to one side and within a few seconds, the alcohol stove was cool enough to refuel and get the water boiling. I loved it.

Woodburning Mode
I make no reference to timing - it simply doesn't matter. This is not a method of cooking for those in a rush - it is a sensual, gratifying and bewitching application of time and effort which repays dividends far beyond those of the simple heating of sustenance. It is an engendered sense of belonging - using the very stuff of the wilderness around you to connect to the adventure of being outdoors. Perhaps it sounds trite and self-satisfied hogwash but wood-burning has its followers for good reason. 

There are many wood-burning stoves which have found favour for precisely these reasons - the Bushbuddy Ultra and its BPL/Ryan Jordan pedigree, the Honey Stove, the Four Dog Stoves Bushcooker and even the Titanium Goat F-Keg (which is, like the ti-Tri, a modular design). All are very similar and have devoted followings, inspiring in their owners exactly the feelings I have described.

The versatility of the Sidewinder attracts me but the fact that both modes are so effective makes it almost perfect. The inferno insert makes all the difference to wood-burning and frankly not to have it makes little sense to me. The weight penalty is negligible (please, let's be real here) and it improves the efficiency of the woodburning stove exponentially. There sits in the bottom of the inferno a small circular grate which itself sits on a tiny stand which is created by folding a metal grid into a ring. The inferno then sits inside the caldera cone in the opposite direction - the caldera cone tapers at the top so that the base is wider than the rim - the inferno is the converse being narrower at the base. Thread two tent pegs through the holes to suspend your pot and the system awaits some tinder, kindling and wood fuel.

Lighting, even in the wind and rain, is something that takes a little bit of time but is relatively easy. I use a Hammaro tinder card, ripped and feathered, beneath a small pile of dry twigs and, even when slightly wet because of the rain, it lit and began to burn well. The wetter your fuel, the more Hammaro tinder you'll need to use. I used 1 and a half pieces of card (3cm x 3cm) for some quite damp fuel in the rain on my first test of the Sidewinder in wood-burning mode. The fire will keep going as long as you add fuel but you will need to feed it a few times throughout to get a rolling boil for 500ml.

Remember that the flames will lick the sides of your pot so keep the handles away from the dipped opening - this also permits a gap to blow into to get the fire going.

Finding fuel is only a problem if you make it so. There will always be something you can use but you may need to collect it en route during the day rather than waiting until the end of your walk. But there is something rather pleasurable about the prospect of having a fire like this, self-contained though it is, during a long, lazy summer evening.

Unlike Dave Lintern, I don't have a problem with the lack of a caddy - part of the reason I was attracted to the Sidewinder rather than the Ti-Tri proper was the fact it would fit inside the Evernew 600. Also, I suspect that reasonable handling of the tyvek sheath with keep it functioning for some time - that said, some judicious recycling of the odd tyvek envelope here and there and I'll make a few new sheaths just in case, but Dave is right - the thinness of the titanium of pretty much every part of the Sidewinder means it's a keen-edged razor in the wrong hands.

Coiling the sidewinder and the inferno is easily done if it is then tightened from the inside by easing the interior coil tighter with one finger and simultaneously squeezing the whole coil tighter from the outside. Then slipping into the tyvek sheath is much easier. Do the Caldera Cone first then the inferno and make sure both are even along the edges - they'll fit snugly in the 600ml pot. If you have the inferno titanium floor as I do, that will fit in too.

This is simply wonderful piece of kit - versatile, light and effective. In each of its applications there are stoves that may well do a better job and a canister system will likely do that job more quickly but frankly, to have this versatility coupled with almost complete effectiveness is exactly what I am looking for. It is justly popular and I look forward to hill-time with it.


  1. Nice review of the Sidewinder! Interested in those Hammaro tinder cards. Could you point me to where I'd be able to order them?

  2. Try here - - they'll likely be able to order it for you and they're lovely people with a great business. Also, Hike Lite are great - 

  3. Didn't know of Hike Lite yet. Thanks Maz!

  4. I also have the Sidewinder (Evernew 900ml w/inferno) and I recently also got a regular cone with the Evernew 1400ml. Why a second one you ask?

    The 900 and 1400 are the same diameter, only different height which means I can use the 1400 on the 900 sidewinder with inferno, I can also use both in the regular cone together with the Primus ExpressSpider, turning it into a 4 season system. I will have to bend the copper pipe of the Primus to make it exit at the ground, and also cut a small notch for it in the cone. (I could also cut off the pot stand of the Primus.)

    (I tested that the Primus fits today at a local shop as I still haven't actually bought one. :) )

    I think the Caldera design is brilliant, however I wish there was some easy way to secure it to the ground so it doesn't get upset when you pull out the pot. The guys at Trail Designs did tell me that the cone gets looser with use though.

  5. I like the concept of using the caldera cone for the Spider but the reason I bought the spider myself is the stability which would enable me to use it in my tent porch, obviating the need for a windshield. Bloody good idea though. I've found the pot slides out of the sidewinder reasonably easily after time so just keep using it.

  6. My thought was that it would keep the heat close to the pot, just like it does for the esbit and alco stoves.

  7. As I said - bloody good idea, that.

  8. Nice review, thanks for that! Just one minor issue caught my eye:
    "I am a huge fan of titanium - it cools so quickly and conducts heat so
    well that it is an astute choice for an ultralight cooking system."

    Actually, titanium is extremely poor heat conductor. E.g. aluminium conducts heat approximately 10x better! But since it's much harder, you can make kettles a lot thinner, which compensates the poor ability of conducting heat. Don't get me wrong, I too love titanium, but it's not heat conducting where it excels.

  9. The only thing I'd say is that, in my experience, you can have all the empirical comparative statistics you can find at your fingertips but real world performance so often dictates differently. Aluminium may or may not conduct better or worse - the issue for me is that titanium is cool to the touch literally seconds after the heat source has dissipated. A drop or two of water on the lip of a titanium mug makes it cool enough to drink from. That's my experience which means that's all I need. Interesting point though and one I'll research - thank you!

  10. Nice review Maz.I really like the detail you put into these. I've also been thinking about upgrading to the sidewinder because the storage works so much better. I did however find a good use for the caddy - to store my wind shield and fuel for my liquid fuel winter stove and to replace my double walled titanium cup with one of the caddy halves and a caddy cozy.