Coleman 550B Multi-Fuel Stove
This stove is the heavyweight big brother to the Coleman Apex 455/450 stoves. Almost identical burner, gen tube, and valve design, but with a much different tank and pump. The 550 has an integral tank under the burner like the GI stoves (520) your granddaddy used in WWII and Korea and uses the standard Coleman pump design your daddy used on his two burner table top stove (413), his kerosene/gasoline lanterns (200/220/228) and his ol' 500/501/502 backpacking stove.
Everything this stove does well, other stoves do better and therefore it is not on the top of my list for backpacking. I like it, it is small, robust/rugged, simple to operate and one of my favorite packable (i.e. small size important, weight not so much) kerosene burners, just a bit lower on the list than my ol' Optimus 96. I have a sweet spot for old brass Swedish stoves and for kerosene burners. First because brass just looks like class and kero doesn't go 'foop' when you light it. I keep my 550 set up for kerosene as the integrated tank/valve/burner doesn't tend to leak kero all over the place between cooking sessions like the remote tank backpacking stoves (apex,wisperlite,dragonfly,optimus96). But let's get to the review.
1) As a backpacking liquid fuel stove it is a bit heavy. The apex, whisperlite, fyrestorm and most all remote tank stoves are much lighter.
2) As a white gas stove, the Coleman 400/442/508/533 burner primes a lot easier with less probability of flooding. (the 550 doesn't have the air/fuel mixing in the tank like the 450/455 apex stoves nor does have that 'fireproof felt' inside the burner to soak up liquid fuel like the 400/442/508/533 stoves so flooding on light is more likely). The MSR (whisperlite/dragonfly), SVEA123 and the Optius (8R/96) all use a priming bowl design which are less likely to flood. One might say that these latter stoves use a 'controlled flood' to fill the priming bowl so technically they flood every time you light them.
3) The burner output is about 7.5-8.5kBTU/hr depending on which fuel you use and how much you pump it up. Most stoves operate at 10kBTU/hr with the exception of the ol' SVEA 123 and Optimus 8R/96 (~5kBTU/hr).
So in summary you have a backpacking stove that is heavier, harder to prime and lower heat output than most others backpacking stoves on the market. But the one piece design (i.e. integral fuel tank) and multi fuel (i.e. kerosene) features are the key selling points. If you don't mind the extra weight and might need to burn gasoline or kerosene the 550 is a solid performer. Once you master the art of the prime this stove grows on you.
White Gas/Gasoline: Pump it up, open the fuel valve to let out just enough fuel to wet the burner, then turn the valve off. Light the wet burner and let it burn until it is just about out, then open the valve full until the stove heats up the gen tube and burns blue.
Kerosene: As kero won't burn by itself you need to prime with priming paste or alcohol. I use alcohol, about 1/8oz on a cold burner, light and then wait for the prime to just about burn out, then open the valve full until the stove heats up the gen tupe and burns blue.
If you see liquid full on the tank or the flame is a tall yellow fireball, turn the fuel off and wait.
When I am done cooking and the stove is cooled down, I unscrew the tank cap to release the tank pressure before I pack up the stove. A stove with pressure in the tank is a stove that is more likely to leak in your pack. Of all my kero stoves the 550 is the one that tends to get the least fuel on the stuff sack and my pack. The stove can burn low and hold its prime (it has the same burner and gen tube design as the Apex) but the valve control is so course that it is hard to fine tune the burn point.
One last observation, cooking with anything large than a 2 quart pot will result in thermal feedback from the burner to the tank which will make the valve assembly and tank hot. With any backpacking stove with a fuel tank under the burner limit pots to 2 quarts or smaller and never use a encompassing wind screen.
In closing if you like the form factor (integral tank under the burner) of the ol' WWII GI pocket stove (520) and are thinking about a 442 but might need to burn kero then the 550 could be the stove for you. Elsewise, review your priorities and find a better fit for your needs.
Price Paid: $50
I own a 550 stove and love the crap out of it. Yes, you need to clean it once in a while, but unlike other light stoves, this stove is a workhorse.
I first used a Peak 1 stove in Boy Scouts in the '80s which is similar to the Coleman stove. They are reliable and boil water in 5 minutes to 8 minutes.
I have no complaint about this stove, and believe that there is no perfect stove, only you the controller can make a stove perfect. So all you guys out there complaining will still keep complaining when a better stove comes out.
Price Paid: 35 GBP
This is my first petrol/white gas stove. It flares up on lighting but settles to a roaring blue flame within 5-10 seconds - have a flame ready at the burner when you turn on the control valve to avoid flooding.
Powerful and controllable, the only real disadvantages are the location of the control knob right next to the heat shield (you get a blister on your thumb until you're used to it) and the stench of white gas when you turn it off.
I can't say it's brilliantly made (in the US; mine is a NOS army surplus model), and the pan support/windshield is pretty flimsy, but no-one has problems with them falling apart.
Its best feature is that it works in freezing temperatures when everyone else can't get their butane stoves to light. Will be OK for a couple of nights' camping and a lot of tea drinking on a full tank.
Price Paid: 35 GBP
Petrol stoves aren't for the faint-hearted. You have to handle volatile fuel when filling them and they tend to go "woof" when you light them. That aside, this stove works pretty well if you follow the instructions carefully, it's economical on fuel and it settles to a nice clean blue flame within about 10 seconds of lighting up.
Top tips: have a lighter flame ready at the burner before you turn on the gas, or it will flood and take ages to settle down - you can't get near it when it's flaring up to add those essential extra post-light up pumps, so you need to minimise the warm-up time. Also don't run it at absolute full power ("HI") as it tends to lose pressure and flame out, leaving sooty stains on your pans. Just back it off a little and it will run happily.
I haven't tried the stove on paraffin (kerosene) yet as nowhere round here sells preheating paste. Received wisdom is that paraffin gives longer run time, slightly less heat, more soot but is, of course, a lot safer than Coleman fuel or petrol.
My stove is actually an army surplus model and only came with a kerosene generator tube, but I purchased the Coleman fuel generator as well. If the British Army run their 550B stoves on kerosene then it must be OK.
This is the 550B model Multi Fuel stove. Mine is the silver PEAK 1 version. The newer ones are copper colored Exponent models with the same 550B model number. Aside from that, I don't know if there are any differences or not.
For previous Coleman experience, I had a Coleman Sportster model 502 when I was a Boy Scout in 1970, and I have an Army model 1950 Vietnam Era Squad stove. I've also had the large dual burner "Camp Stoves". Also gas lanterns and propane stoves and lanterns.
My stove came with the instruction sheet, kerosene generator tube/needle, a wrench and a nice nylon stuff bag.
I followed the instructions, filled it with Coleman fuel (white gas) and lit it. This thing settles down to a nice blue flame right away, unlike older Coleman stoves I've had in the past. I boiled up some tea water and experimented with the 'Control Knob'.
the Control Knob takes a little getting used to; but with some practice you get very good flame control, and on mine, a very low flame for simmering.
As with all Coleman single burner pack stoves, it seems bulky and heavy compared to newer skeleton stoves and separate fuel bottles with hoses etc. What is has going for it is quick lighting, control from full blast to a low simmer and modular simplicity. That makes this stove acceptable for many backpackers.
I'm glad I bought it, so far it has passed the 'Initial Impression' test.
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