So much fuel!

5:58 p.m. on March 22, 2011 (EDT)
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So I'm pretty new at all this, and in my search for a stove I've found so many different types of fuel it's left me utterly confused. Here's what I've seen:

white gas, kerosene, unleaded auto fuel, alcohol, butane, isopropane

and then on top of that, some fuel canisters sit directly beneath the stove, while some have a line coming from the stove attaching the canister on the side. There's so much out there! I just want a light, reliable stove to heat water. Preferably with a fuel that will last me and not burn too quickly.

6:26 p.m. on March 22, 2011 (EDT)
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If you don't plan on using it when it's near or below freezing or in windy conditions then butane is the way to go.  It's quicker to set up, easier to use and more compact. 

If you are going to use it in colder weather or above the treeline or other windy places a liquid fuel stove like the MSR whisperlite is the way to go. 

If you're car camping, propane is just as easy to use as butane but also works in cold weather.  Propane stoves and fuel bottles are too heavy if you're going to backpack. 

12:31 a.m. on March 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Hi allielibs, to simplify matters, I suggest a canister stove; one in particular, the Coleman exponent powered by Powermax canisters. These come in three flavors: (1)the Xpert: 4 legs, 12,000 Btu's (2) Xtreme: 3 legs, 14,000 Btu's (3) Xpedition: 2 burners 10,000 Btu's each. The positives for this family of stoves are: (1) unlike typical canisters, Powermax canisters are aluminum and easily recyclable (2) Powermax canisters aren't hampered by the cold weather constraints that WISam mentions because they use an ingenious liquid fuel feed system. If you're interested in the science behind this method, I can post links that explain the behavior of gases...

Another stove that can run in liquid feed mode(but no canister recycle) is the MSR Rapidfire. Here's an informative POST about the virtues of the Rapidfire. Both Exponent and Rapidfire stoves can be found on eBay at very affordable prices, but are no longer manufactured due to the infinite wisdom of their respective parent companies.

10:05 a.m. on March 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Good advice from WISam and Abman.

I have not personally used stoves that use Powemax, so I can't offer an opinion there.

Here's the way I look at it:

>For use in warm weather, DIY Alcohol stoves are amazing. They are extremely light and small (2in, 1oz), heat food and water for personal use well, and fuel can be obtained just about anywhere (even more than white gas).  The drawbacks are: short burn time on one fill (10-40 min depending on type), difficult or even impossible to use in cold temps, lower fuel efficiency per once, and you don't have any output control for finer cooking.  For extremely fast and light travel and simplicity, the coke can Alc stove is an amazing tool.

>For use in temps a bit colder, isobutane offers greater fuel efficiency in terms of energy output per once of fuel, and higher operating temps. But you carry more weight in the form of the stove itself as well as the fuel canisters, which for anything over a weekend, you are likely going to need multiple canisters (depending on much or little cooking). You also have to carry the weight of those canisters around with you after they are empty until you can dispose of them properly.

>For the highest performance, and use in nearly unlimited conditions, a multifuel or white gas canister stove is best. A liquid fuel stove uses fuels that provide the greatest efficiency and highest heat output.  They can be used in extremely low temps. They usually provide fine adjustment of the flame level and heat output, for more controlled cooking. White Gas and Auto gas are available in many places, and the multi-fuel models expand that latitude to many more locations. Canister stoves use dedicated, reusable canisters for fuel, so you can choose the volume suitable for each trip's length and needs, and you do not create waste by discarding  used canisters. (or have the hassle to recycle them) You also pay a premium in weight- the stove and fuel bottles are a little heavier than other options.

>For car camping, multi burner propane stoves are great.

I do not own a Isobutane stove though I have used them, but I decided that it didn't make sense for me personally to get one, but to go with a canister stove for some trips, and Alcohol stoves for the rest. Here's my reasoning:

> butane stove are limited in the range condition in which they can be  used, fuel can be problematic to obtain as only outfitter locations will have them, and the canisters must be carried around once empty and  be disposed of or recycled properly afterword.

>Alch stoves are by far the lightest, do not need any special fuel bottle (any plastic drink bottle will do), fuel is the easiest to obtain, and are rewarding to make and use.

>Canister stoves are the boss for all demanding situations and trips- they are reliable, work in extreme cold, burn hot and efficiently, have output control, and fuel is easier to obtain than isobutane.

For my needs, an alc stove does wonderfully for three season personal use, and for everything else the canister stove does the job perfectly.

Good luck.

11:25 a.m. on March 23, 2011 (EDT)
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An important consideration is the type of cooking you'll be doing. If(as you stated), all you're doing is boiling water to make prepackaged meals/instant oatmeal/hot chocolate, any number of stoves will accomplish that goal; the aptly named MSR Pocket Rocket makes up for what it lacks in finesse(the ability to simmer), with its' blow torch-like capabilities at melting snow/ice, and boiling water. I prefer having the ability to simmer, as well as melt/boil; food tastes so much better when it's not cremated. I also avoid stoves that lack stability(like the Pocket Rocket) due to a high center of gravity, or lack of adequate pot supports; food tastes so much better when you don't have to reclaim it from the dirt...

9:07 p.m. on March 23, 2011 (EDT)
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If you want to narrow your search and get closer to the "perfect" stove, try answering these questions:

When will you use it? summer, winter, both..

Where? Below tree line, desert, glacier, tundra, the US or Africa...

How long are your trips? overnight, week long, expeditions

How many people in your group? Cooking for 1, 2 or 10 people..

As stated earlier, what type of cooking? super simple or fancy

What type of budget you have?

How heavy do you travel?

 

Each fuel and stove is usually better suited for a particular type of adventure. A do-it-all reliable stove (the Primus Omnifuel comes to mind) will set you back some $$ but can be used for almost everything. Check the reviews on trailspace for clues.

11:48 a.m. on March 24, 2011 (EDT)
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I like Franc's approach.

I love my whisperlite. It's simple and reliable. It can be used mostly everywhere over or under treeline. White gas is easily found in the states and Canada. Good maintenancewill keep it going forever and is a nice thing to do while you linger in post expeditions blues. ;-) Canister though is usually simpler and less messy.

12:52 p.m. on March 24, 2011 (EDT)
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.... Another stove that can run in liquid feed mode(but no canister recycle) is the MSR Rapidfire. Here's an informative POST about the virtues of the Rapidfire. Both Exponent and Rapidfire stoves can be found on eBay at very affordable prices, but are no longer manufactured due to the infinite wisdom of their respective parent companies.

First, all the industry-standard threaded canisters, propane cylinders, Camping Gaz canisters, and the Gaz puncture-type canisters (the 100 and 200 series) CAN be recycled. Jetboil makes a puncture tool that can be used to provide the final venting, but anything that punctures the canister works too. Our local garbage collection company has been doing this for at least 15 years.

The Rapidfire has been replaced by the WindPro. But the idea of the inverted canister, used with remote canister stoves has been around for years, as I have posted way too many times here on Trailspace (and the old rec.backcountry.useful and rec.climbing.useful). The technique was well known and often discussed with the stove manufacturers at the OR Show and elsewhere as one of the methods for getting around the cold weather problem, with Coleman and Primus coming out with stands to hold the inverted canisters, and some years later Jetboil using the idea for their Helios line. Coleman dropped the Powermax stoves largely because they had far too many different kinds of connections. They would probably drop the Camping Gaz non-threaded connector (same size and construction as the industry standard threaded connector, except without the threads) if Gaz stoves and lanterns were not so popular in Europe (Coleman acquired Gaz several years ago).

I started using the inverted canister approach with my Primus MFS quite a few years ago in cold weather, though I usually use liquid fuel with the MFS most of the time. It is true that the stove needs to have a generator tube type of design for best operation, though this is not absolutely necessary if you pay attention to what you are doing. And you clearly cannot use the inverted canister approach with the screw-on stove tops (except with the interesting little Brunton adapter).

1:04 p.m. on March 24, 2011 (EDT)
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...Canister stoves use dedicated, reusable canisters for fuel, so you can choose the volume suitable for each trip's length and needs, and you do not create waste by discarding  used canisters. (or have the hassle to recycle them) You also pay a premium in weight- the stove and fuel bottles are a little heavier than other options.

gonzan,

I don't quite understand this comment. "Canisters" is the term for the compressed gas stove fuel containers. Given the context of the rest of the paragraph, I think you were talking about liquid fuel stoves and their fuel bottles. The canisters (the screw-on and Gaz non-threaded) can be refilled, though the manufacturers recommend strongly against doing so (the rubber gasket wears pretty quickly and develops leaks).

But assuming you really did mean liquid fuel stoves and their fuel bottles, there is a point at which liquid fuel is more weight-efficient than compressed gas stoves. That point is at about 5 person-days. In part this comes about because you have to carry the empty canisters out. Since here in California, recycling canisters is no problem (just put the empty canister in the recycle bin), there is no more hassle to recycling than just putting them in the correct bin when you take your other discards out (the green one for compostables, the blue one for recyclables, and the black one for everything else).

1:33 p.m. on March 24, 2011 (EDT)
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Sorry, misapplication of the term- Bil is 100% correct.  I meant liquid fuel and their bottles. I haven't looked the products and just flip flopped the term.

8:12 p.m. on March 29, 2011 (EDT)
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So I'm pretty new at all this, and in my search for a stove I've found so many different types of fuel it's left me utterly confused. Here's what I've seen:

white gas, kerosene, unleaded auto fuel, alcohol, butane, isopropane

and then on top of that, some fuel canisters sit directly beneath the stove, while some have a line coming from the stove attaching the canister on the side. There's so much out there! I just want a light, reliable stove to heat water. Preferably with a fuel that will last me and not burn too quickly.

Yes, it is a bit confusing.  However, you can simplify things a bit if you break things down into broad classes:

Gas (typically an isobutane/propane/butane blend for trail use)

Liquid fuel (typically white gasoline and kerosene)

Alcohol (yes it is a liquid but usually it's treated differently)

Solid fuel (hexamine, wood, etc.)

 

Gas is generally the most convenient, but it's a bit more expensive for fuel and has limitations in cold weather.

 

Liquid fuel is much cheaper than gas, but the stoves are typically more expensive, typically heavier, and generally require priming.  On the plus side, they'll work well in very cold weather.

 

Alcohol stoves are usually ultralight and are generally very simple, often with no moving parts -- which makes them very reliable.  A lot of people make their own stove out of cat food cans, soft drink cans, etc.  On the negative side, the fuel can spill more easily than most stoves, many have no simmering capability, and alcohol stoves are slow.

 

Solid fueled stoves can be ultralight (such as an Esbit burning stove) or a bit heavier but using locally found fuel (sticks, pine cones, etc.)  Since you don't have to carry fuel for stoves that use locally found fuels, the overall set up can be quite light even though the stove itself may not be all that light per se.

 

Hope that helps,

 

HJ

11:35 a.m. on March 30, 2011 (EDT)
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[with Alcohol stoves] On the negative side, the fuel can spill more easily than most stoves, many have no simmering capability, and alcohol stoves are slow.

 

He is quite correct, just about all alc stove designs do not completely contain the fuel, so it is possible to spill some. Unless you are using it inside a tent, which you should never do, a small amount of spilled alc is not an issue. Alcohol is quite easy to extinguish, far more so than the other fuels. Smothering the flame with any cloth will put it out immediately.

It is also true that alcohol stoves aren't capable of the same heat output as either Liquid or Canister stoves. Those will, on average, boil one quart of water in 4-5 minutes, though some are faster. How quickly alc stoves take to boil one Qt. varies greatly on the design and quality of the build. Well made pressurized ones will boil one Qt. in 6-7 min., while the non-pressurized ones may take anywhere from 7-12 minutes. 

11:36 a.m. on March 30, 2011 (EDT)
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And Welcome to Trailspace, Hikin-Jim! There is a wonderful community of experienced and helpful  people here.

1:21 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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I'm new here as well. While I'm not "camping" per se I am in Afghanistan right now. I ordered a Jet Boil "Flash" and I can't say how I got the fuel here but, the thing is amazing. When Im gone away from my "PB" patrol Base, I take the 100 gram fuel can with me it burns for about 60 minutes and its lite. after a few deployment one really does get tired of MRE's so I have family mail me food i can cook. Not only can I use the Mug the jet boil comes with to cook but it comes with an attatchment that you can put on so I can use a frying pan when Im at the base to cook my meals. It cooks Ramen noodles in about 2 minutes, and a large cambels chunky can i about 3.5 or so. Hope maybe this helps.

1:43 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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I've got one of the original JetBoil PCS's.  They're a nice piece of equipment.  They're popular for a reason.

 

HJ

3:08 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Okay everyone, thanks so much! I've narrowed it down to either the Brunton Raptor or the MSR WindPro, which subsequently are both very popular models. 

Just two things:

What's a Btu?

And Bill (or anyone), what's the advantage of having a canister you can tip upside-down (invert)?

And if you'd like, let me know if you know any horror stories or serious drawbacks to the models I'm looking at =]

 

Thanks again! 

3:23 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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Oh and price isn't an issue. I can use a coupon and my REI dividend to get the MSR for $30. And the Brunton is about $30 retail. 

3:27 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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A BTU is a British Thermal Unit.  It's a measure of heat.  Stove power ratings are typically given in BTU's/hour.

 

An inverted canister (like the Windpro) can be run in much colder weather, and you can use a full windscreen with them. More information in this article:  http://seattlebackpackersmagazine.com/2011/03/31/stoves-for-cold-weather-ii

 

Upright canister stoves (like the Raptor) are more compact, lighter, and cheaper, but not as good for cold, nor are they as stable (generally) or good in wind.

 

HJ

3:30 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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allie - A BTU is the British thermal Unit used to measure theramal (heat)energy..One unit is the amount of energy to heat one pound of water to one degree fahrenheight..So thats how they measure the gas or fuel for your stove..I cant say anything about the stoves you have chosen but I am interested in Bills reply as well..Happy Hiking allie

5:00 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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I would definitely say go with the MSR Windpro. Not because the Brunton Raptor is a bad stove. but because it is a remote canister stove. With the type where the burner extends from the top of the canister you have a few significant drawbacks:

>You cannot use a full wind screen without overheating the canister, which results in explosion and being enveloped in fire.  Not happy.

>It raises the top of the stove really high, with a pot of boiling water perched on top. Especially with a mini canister, this makes for some precarious cooking. There usually aren't nice smooth flat places in the outdoors ideal for balancing acts.

>The canister cannot be inverted while in use, thus making it impossible to fully use all the fuel in cold temps.

The fuel line of the windpro solves all those problems. MSR is very reliable.

7:13 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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As most stoves work well in the temp range that most people will go camping/backpacking in, it is a matter of preference. As has been said, the extremes of cold require certain types of stoves (or knowing tricks with canisters). One thing that I have not seen stated above is that alcohol stoves produce a flame that is hard to see, and I have seen this cause some dangerous situations when people have tried to add more fuel when they thought  the fire was out or tried to handle it too soon thinking the fire was out. I have also seen them turn over when in use more than any other type of stove (that is in my experience). I would suggest that you not rely an alcohol stove until you have had some serious practice with it at home. Just my two cents.

7:53 p.m. on April 1, 2011 (EDT)
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As most stoves work well in the temp range that most people will go camping/backpacking in...

Hmm.  Dunno about that.  I've been out plenty of times in weather where I wouldn't want an upright canister stove.  I think the type of stove best for a particular individual is going to depend a lot on what you want from the stove and where you intend to hike.  Just some thoughts.

 

HJ

8:30 a.m. on April 2, 2011 (EDT)
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Most people are fair weather campers Jim. The vast majority of even backpackers I know are not going out in extremes of weather.  Thus, my statement. And I have used an upright canister stove in temps as low as 17* with no real problems. Granted, I slept with the canister in my bag and on one occasion had to put the canister in a pot of water (cold water) but it was not a real problem. But the statement you qoute is referring to most people.

1:40 p.m. on April 2, 2011 (EDT)
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allie asked -

And Bill (or anyone), what's the advantage of having a canister you can tip upside-down (invert)?

as did denis -

I cant say anything about the stoves you have chosen but I am interested in Bills reply as well.

Seems like I have answered this question at least a dozen times in the past 6 months here on Trailspace.

Explorer Robby and Hikin Jim meanwhile are debating what kind of weather "most" people go out into. (hey folks, when it comes to weather, ya gets what ya gets - every time I ask my son, the atmospheric scientist, to arrange the weather to my liking for the trek I am about to embark upon, he says "I'm not that kind of an atmospheric scientist!")

allie,

The short answer to your question is at the end of this post.

The details are first - Brunton, MSR, Primus, Optimus, Trangia, Sigg, and Coleman (with its plethora of subsidiaries and brand names) all make good stoves, IF you follow the directions (yes, that means reading the directions that come with them) and do a little maintenance once in a while (that isn't directed to you personally, allie, but to a number of people who pop up here and on other sites to complain bitterly about their brand new stove that has utterly failed, deny what the very knowledgable and helpful people try to advise them, and blame everything on the manufacturer).

Anyway, at what you indicate is your stage of learning and near-term intended usage, canister stoves are the easiest to use. As for the choice between the two you mention, the Raptor is the smallest and lightest, but is a bit slower to boil. The Windpro is more stable, slightly faster to boil, and allows using a windshield that completely surrounds the burner area.

As has been mentioned, one disadvantage of the compressed gas (canister) stoves is the poor (or no) performance at low temperatures. Getting the canisters with a mixture of gases helps mitigate the problem (look for canisters that use isobutane plus propane with no butane by MSR and Markill - more expensive, but worth it for the cold problem). Speaking of expense, larger canisters are significantly cheaper per ounce of fuel than the small ones, though the tiny ones are more compact for short backpacks.

Of the various solutions for the cold problem - yes, some people sleep with their canisters. This is only effective for a short use of the stove. The problem is that the pressure to feed the gas to the stove comes from evaporating the fuel. This evaporation requires drawing heat from the fuel (hence cooling the remaining liquified fuel) and to some extent the environment. When the remaining liquified fuel drops below the vaporization temperature of each component of the mixture (32F/0C for butane, 10F/-12C for isobutane, -40F or C for propane), that component no longer contributes to the pressure. So at, say, 20F, butane is no longer evaporating, but the propane continues to vaporize and feed the stove. But since propane is only 20% of the mix for most brands, the stove quits after about 1/5 of the fuel is burned.

So sleeping with the canister will probably get you through breakfast - now what? You could set the canister in a shallow pan of water - as long as the water is liquid (hence above 32F), the canister can draw heat from the water and keep burning. Just don't use hot water! (you will get flaring from the stove). You could also use a hand warmer or toe warmer (the toe warmers are a good size to stick in the concave cavity in the bottom of the canister, plus usually have adhesive to keep it in place). Primus makes (or used to make - haven't seen them in a while) a "cold weather" kit, which was essentially one of the little handwarmers. Little Hotties is one brand. But the handwarmers do not work as well at altitude - they need oxygen to react with the charcoal in the handwarmer.

OR -- if you have a remote burner (as the Windpro does), you can invert the canister. In this case, as long as there is some propane still in the fuel mix, the stove will work down to -20 or -30 deg reasonably well (I have used my Primus MFS down to -20F this way). In this case, the vapor providing the pressure forces the liquified gas through the hose to the burner. If the stove has a generator tube that runs up next to the burner (as with the Windpro or my Primus MFS), the liquified gas is vaporized and gives smooth burning. This does work with remote burner stoves that lack the generator tube, if you are careful.

So the short answer to your question is - the advantage to a canister setup that can be inverted (not merely tipped on its side) is that you can operate the stove at much lower temperatures without resorting to liquid water or handwarmers.

An alternative answer is that liquid fuel stoves are more versatile in the long run and for more extended trips, particularly if you are traveling to Third World countries.

2:49 p.m. on April 2, 2011 (EDT)
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@ Bill sorry you get to play with alot of neat toy's..I also learn more when you post...I generally never jump into a stove thread...

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