Camp Stoves Demand Respect

1:57 p.m. on May 16, 2005 (EDT)
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Here is another article on gear care that I would like yalls professional opinion on. Again, please be brutally honest with your feedback. -Thanks a bunch.

Camp Stoves Demand Respect

Two in a Series of Five Camping Gear Care Articles

I love home cooked meals, hot and fresh, prepared with care. It gives me more energy and keeps me healthy. The same is true when I

4:13 p.m. on May 17, 2005 (EDT)
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Good set of things to pay attention to to keep the stove in working order.

You might add that if you time the boil time when the stove is new or just overhauled, you can get an idea of how close to needing an overhaul it is. You mention that things like O-rings, gaskets, pump leathers wear, burners clog, etc. A significantly boil time can indicate that things need attention. The test should be standardized. For example, fill the fuel bottle to the full line, pump 20 strokes (or 30 or whatever the manufacturer recommends), use the same 1 liter (or whatever size) pot each time, filled to the same level, and so on. Important thing is to do the test consistently.

Also, a close visual inspection of things like gaskets on fuel tanks, O-rings, and other things that can be easily seen will show problems.

This kind of recommendation can't be made too strongly. I have seen far too many people show up for my backpacking and winter camping courses who had no idea how to light their stoves, even though there are prerequisites of experience before registering for the courses.

6:08 p.m. on May 17, 2005 (EDT)
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Nice addition! Good points. I'll add them to the article. Can I credit you directly or just say "Bill S at Trailspace.com says: ..."?

6:37 p.m. on May 17, 2005 (EDT)
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Bill, Just curious, what kind of stoves are you talking about? I've got a few different ones (canister, white gas,etc.)and none were that hard to figure out if you read the instructions first. The Nova is a bit complicated I admit, but the book covers it all. I'm a bit surprised that someone would go winter camping without a clue as to how to start their stove, but maybe that's just me.

7:13 p.m. on May 17, 2005 (EDT)
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credit as you wish, directly, indirectly, whatever.

7:19 p.m. on May 17, 2005 (EDT)
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I spoke with MSR a few years ago and talked to them about bottle pressure safety. It was my opinion that a crude pump with a leather gasket was incapable of creating enough pressure to rupture a fuel bottle, so I pumped my XGK 500 times. Since then I normally pump it about 100 times to start and another 50 whenever it slows down. At this pressure a thin fast stream of gas comes out when you prime - not a trickle - be prepared to shut it off then light it. I find the stoves work better at higher pressure.

That said the danger is that a fuel bottle will over pressure and burst causing a fuel air explosion. This happens if you wrap a windscreen around a fresh compressed gas bottle on a hot day... Or if you use a cheapo fuel bottle.

You can't clean a white gas stove too often...
Jim S

7:50 p.m. on May 17, 2005 (EDT)
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Well, Tom, that's because you are an experienced, nerdy, outdoor gear freak {;=>D

I do agree that stoves are actually pretty simple, basic pieces of gear. But in this modern day and age, where so many people think that the city park is "wilderness" and their idea of roughing it is the Motel 6 and Mickey D's, I am continually astounded at the number of people who do not know even the most basic knowledge. Kids are not raised camping and hiking for the most part. Remember that something like 90 percent of the US population lives in urban and suburban communities, and only something like 10 percent in rural areas - and the Census Bureau projects it to get even worse than that.

Plus "manual? I don' need no stinkin' manual". How many people read instruction sheets or manuals these days? Most folks expect to just throw a switch or push a button and, LO! Magic happens! I work with scouts a lot, as most on this website know. A disturbingly large number are pyros. Yet, almost none can light a fire (or stove) with one or two matches. One of the most fire-crazed kids I had go through would use literally a box of matches to get a fire lit, even given dry kindling. When using a liquid fuel stove (even an alcohol stove), he would often get 2 and 3 foot tall flames and fuel spilled all over the table.

I have seen the same thing every year in the camping courses I direct for adults. It is almost every type of stove - liquid or compressed gas. How can you go wrong with a canister stove with a piezo lighter, you ask? Well, just watch a few newbies and you will see some astounding things.

Typical blunder with liquid fuel stoves is overpriming. If you have a priming flame taller than 2 or 3 inches above the burner, you have over-primed. Overpriming clogs burner jets rapidly, chars the wick in the stem of stoves like the Svea 123 or Primus 71L, and builds the lacquers in fuel lines much more rapidly than if the stove is treated properly.

Another surprisingly common blunder is placing the windscreen improperly. I have even seen a professional guide place the screen of an XGK so that the heat was directed onto the pump of the fuel bottle - melted the plastic and the result was a spectacular jet of flame. For that matter, how can you break the plastic pump stem of an MSR stove, if you treat it with any awareness at all? I have never broken the plastic pump of any MSR stove in the over 30 years since I got my first XGK.

As Kirby notes, all too many people do no maintenance at all, then are surprised when their stove fails somewhere in the middle of the trip. Lots of people have no mechanical experience - consider how many people you have seen using a screwdriver as a prying tool, or using an ax as a hammer (most people do not know the difference between a hand ax and a hatchet, surprisingly enough).

A quote from an MSR guy (head of the tech department at the time) - "if people would only read the directions that come with their stoves, I would be out of a job."

You said "I'm a bit surprised that someone would go winter camping without a clue as to how to start their stove," Yeah, well, I am continually surprised at how many people go out in the snow wearing cotton clothes, or worse, blue jeans. I think a lot of the people who show up to the courses do not read the prerequisite experience part of the flyer, and expect to be handheld and taught everything from scratch. Too many do not even know how to set up their tents. Yeah, you do have to start somewhere, which is one of the goals of forums like Trailspace and Mountain Community. But, you would think, wouldn't you, that if the course description says "extensive previous 3-season experience required" before taking the winter course, they would at least know about setting up a tent and lighting a stove.

Sigh!!!

Hey, they also ought to know about navigating in the woods. And that's why I give the land nav workshop "Finding Your Way" at various places each year. I start with the basics of map and compass, and work up to using GPS receivers, lots of hands on, hiking around with the map, compass and GPSR, and a full weekend. If you know anybody in the Calif area who needs this sort of knowledge, next time is at the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge at Donner Pass. It's non-commercial, for the Lodge. You can get your meals and lodging there. http://www.sierraclub.org/outings/lodges/ctl/activities.asp
The hidden agenda, of course, is getting people into the woods and learning to appreciate the environment. And maybe joining the Sierra Club.

2:29 a.m. on May 18, 2005 (EDT)
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Bill, I must confess to being more "nerdy" than experienced-just ask Jim. I brought along a new Optimus Nova on our short winter trip to Yosemite, but I had fired it up a few times at home, book in hand, so I knew how to turn it off-it has that weird flip valve on the pump where you have to turn the bottle over before unhooking it. Apparently if you don't do that, you spew gas all over the place when you disconnect the fuel line.

I also must admit the first couple of times I fired up my XGK, I had one flare-up due to a bit of an overprime, but I pretty quickly caught on to the "less is more" for priming. Plus my first stove was a Svea 123 so I learned about priming with that one. How anyone can break an MSR pump mystifies me though. Mine is one of the old plastic ones and it's pretty sturdy so I wonder what the heck they were doing to it.

I can see how a 5 pole winter tent could be a challenge, but that's what backyards are for. My little sleeve Flashlight only has a few parts so it's pretty obvious where everything goes. Jim's VE25 or Mountain Tent (I think it's one of those 2)has a few more poles but it still wasn't that hard to put up.

Maybe what you need to do is have a "pre-qualification" test day where everyone shows up at a local park with their tents and stoves and proves they can actually put them up or start them.

I remember when I used to teach scuba diving that so-called certified divers would show up for boat dives and have no idea how to fasten the regulator onto the tank valve or how to hook up their BC's. Really made me wonder how they got certified in the first place. Just proves this kind of mind-set isn't limited to backpackers.

The Donner trip sounds pretty cool. It's really pretty up there.

7:54 a.m. on May 18, 2005 (EDT)
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manuals

While reading the manual is a good idea, they're not always to be trusted. For example, here's what MSR has to say about pre-heating my Whisperlite Internationale:

"1. Open the Control Valve until fuel flow through the Jet and fills the Priming Cup 1/2 full."

What happens when you light that half-full priming cup? You end up with the nasty 2-3 foot flame Bill was talking about. (In my experience, that stove requires just enough fuel to saturate the priming wick.)

So yes, read the manual, but also spend time getting to know your stove and adjusting your usage to real-world conditions. (Pluys, how can anybody resist geeking out in the back yard with a new piece of gear?!?!?)

2:21 p.m. on May 18, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: manuals

What do yall think of soda can stoves (denatured alcohol) in the winter? How about for altitude? Or just in general...

5:57 p.m. on May 18, 2005 (EDT)
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Re: manuals

I suggest looking at the message boards on The Lightweight Backpacker site http://www.backpacking.net/bbs.html
Do a search or just browse and you'll find dozens of posts on soda can, tuna fish can, cat food can,V-8 can etc. stoves. Many of the posts have links to sites with designs, pics, comparisons, stats, and so on. I've seen a couple dozen different designs. The ultra lightweight guys seem to love them-you can make most of them for next to nothing and a few minutes time with no special tools.
The disadvantage in winter is that alcohol doesn't burn all that hot and cold weather seems to affect them more than a white gas stove. So does high altitude from all the pro and con posts I've read. I made a couple just for the heck of it but haven't used one in "real world conditions".
I know a guy who took one to Yosemite with Jim S and me two winters ago and he seemed to survive okay with it. Don't think I'd want to rely on one for melting a lot of snow. We used a Nova and a Coleman that runs on a Powermax cartridge-much heavier than a soda can, but they put out way more heat as well.
Make a couple and try them out. You can even buy them on eBay, but I wouldn't bother-some designs require nothing more than a Sharpie marker pen, a sharp knife or a pair of scissors, a push pin and a Pepsi can.

8:02 p.m. on May 18, 2005 (EDT)
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Alcohol stoves generally

For some purposes, I think alcohol stoves are excellent. For other purposes, they are a poor choice.

In the case of the soda can stoves, well, they are amusing, and ok for emergencies, but frankly, I have yet to see one that lived up to the hype in terms of efficiency.

What I like about alcohol stoves - Alcohol stoves are intrinsically safer than other fuels, with the possible exception of wood. Since alcohol burns at a lower temperature (except in a particular model of Sigg alcohol stove I haven't seen available in years), if you have an accidental spill and subsequent fire, you will get less severely burned (ok, so a second degree burn is pretty bad, but it's less than a 3rd degree burn). Also, it is the only liquid fuel that you can safely put out with water (gasoline and kerosene float on the water and just spread the fire). This safety feature is what makes it popular with boaters and quite suitable for use with young scouts.

There are several models of commercially made alcohol stoves that work very well in a wide variety of conditions, mostly the higher-end Trangias, one model of Sigg, and an Asian imitation of the high end Trangias. These have a windshield/heat exchanger design that is very efficient at transferring the heat to the contents of the pot. These are quite popular among backcountry skiers in Scandinavia. I have used my Trangia on daytrip ski tours, and find that, starting from stove in the pack, I can get a liter of water up to a boil faster than most people can even get their white gas stoves lit. Melting the snow adds time, of course, as it does with any other stove.

The soda can stoves tend to be open burners on which you place the pot, with very inefficient heat transfer. The smallest Trangias are basically the same, just better made - burner with a pot support, inefficient heat transfer.

The big disadvantages are the lower temperature, which lengthens cook time for anything more than 1 or 2 people, especially in winter, and if you need to refill your water bottles from melted snow. You can gain a lot of efficiency with canister stoves by using one of the Bibler or Markill hanging stoves, or the hanging kit for the MSR Superfly, or Jim S's self-designed and built versions (Jim has also done a version for liquid fuel stoves). You can gain a lot of efficiency with a liquid fuel stove by blackening the pot with header paint, with a good windshield properly used, or with the MSR heat exchanger (heavy enough that it takes 2 or 3 days of cooking for 4 or more people to make up for the weight in fuel savings). The GSI black-anodized aluminum pots with hard-anodized interior are also very efficient at heat transfer. So you can make up for the lighter weight of the soda can stove with the higher output of canister or liquid fuel stoves fairly quickly with enough man-days of meals (break point is at about 10 man-days).

But, hey, if you are going to have the traditional fondue out in the hills during your winter camp, ya gotta have an alcohol burner fondue set, or at least the soda can burner under your pot.

12:15 p.m. on May 26, 2005 (EDT)
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Here is the updated article. Sending it to ezines today.

Camp Stoves Demand Respect

Two in a Series of Five Camping Gear Care Articles

I love home cooked meals, hot and fresh, prepared with care. It gives me more energy and keeps me healthy. The same is true when I

December 28, 2014
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