Open main menu

Canister Stoves for winter camping

I have a white gas stove that I have used for years during winter backpacking trips. It has never failed to work, but it is heavy and messy. I have been looking at Canister Stoves or a modified canister stove system to replace my white gas stove for winter trips.

Recently I have read many articles (primarily on Backpackerlight.com) about using canister stoves for winter backpacking. Sounds good to me with less mess, only one stove instead of two (or four), and alot less weight. Many of the articles discuss inverted canister stoves or modifications to canister stoves that would allow you to invert them safely. One particular article discusses using the Burton canister stove stand adaptor with specific homemade modifications, with stoves like the Snow Peak Giga or MSR Pocket Rocket. The modifications would allow you to use this type of stove during the winter with the same eefficiency and reliability as a white gas stove. Again sounds goo, but has anyone out there done this without blowing themselves up?

I have used the Colmen Powermax stove and it works great, but Colman is discontinuing this model (and at some point the fuel canisters per the manufacturers factory rep..). Also, I was looking to lighten the load and the Colmen is about 8oz heavier than the modified Snow Peak system... (but still much lighter than most white gas systems).

Has anyone used the modified system or any other inverted canister stove during the winter (typical 10 to 20 deg. F)that they would recommend??

There have been several discussions of using canister stoves on Trailspace in the past. You should search the archives over the past couple of years for a more complete discussion. But here are some of the points.

There are a couple of traditional methods for using butane at temperatures below freezing. For the past 20 years or so, the manufacturers have added propane and/or isobutane, which both vaporize below freezing (propane down to -40F/C and isobutane down to +10F). Some (MSR, Markill, some others) produce canisters containing pure isobutane. The problem with the mixes is that the more volatile gas(es) will vaporize off, leaving the liquified butane behind.

Second, and a safe approach, is to set the canister in a shallow pan of water. As long as the water is above freezing, the butane and other gases will be vaporized, and you can run the stove. Jetboil's bottom cover for their group pot is intended for this as a secondary use, but you can use any flat-bottomed pan that is large enough. This is the only choice for stove-tops that screw directly onto the canister.

A couple of less safe methods (with the manufacturers warning strongly AGAINST their use) involve using copper wire or thin metal strips to wrap around the canister with an end in the flame. The heat is conducted down the copper to the canister. WARNING - it is possible to conduct too much heat to the canister, and for it to thus explode.

Some years ago, several of us (Jim S and I did the most experimentation) discovered that inverting the canister on stoves using a flexible fuel line would allow the pressure provided by the vaporizing propane to force the liquified butane mix to the burner. This was in part inspired by noting that the Coleman X-stoves utilize a hinged fuel pickup that sits in the liquid in the canister, but by some small "accidents" that had happened before those stoves came out. We found that some of the stoves worked very well with an inverted canister and used various jerry-rig approaches. In particular, the Primus Multi-Fuel Stove and its successor Omni series worked extremely well (these burn the butane mixes as well as white gas, kerosene, and other liquid fuels). I and others had discussions with manufacturers at the Outdoor Retailer Show. Coleman's reaction was concern over the non-vaporized liquid butane and flaring and spurting. But we soon realized that the reason the Primus worked so well, with no flaring problems was that they had the generator tube passing through the flame (needed to vaporize the liquid fuels). Primus then made a cradle to hold the canister inverted, and at the same time Coleman modified one of their canister with flexible fuel line stoves to have a generator tube in the flame and a cradle to hold the canister inverted. This past summer Jetboil also came out with a similar stove.

IMPORTANT - For smooth operation without flaring, you must use a stove that has a generator tube that receives heat from the burner, thus vaporizing the liquid butane mix that is being forced through the fuel line of the inverted canister. If you try inverting the canister for any other canister stove with a flexible fuel line, you may get flaring and sputtering.

There are presently several stoves from Coleman, Primus, Optimus, and Jetboil (and I think also Snowpeak) that are designed to use the canister inverted. Use one of those purpose-made stoves.

Bill,

Thanks for the info. As you can see I am new to your Forum, so I din't know there was an archive.

Take a look at this article from backpackinglight. Would you trust this modification?

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/myog_winter_stove_summer_upright_stove_brunton_stnd

Since I don't subscribe to BPL, I can't read the article, and so can't comment. But since several companies make stoves that do use the canisters inverted, I don't think I would bother going to the trouble (and risk) of cobbling up a modification.

I use an MSR Windpro stove, and the canister can be inverted for cold weather use. It also has the generator tube that is heated by the flame, and it works just fine that way.

If you look around, there are several canister stoves on the market now that have the ability to invert the canister. I know that the new Jetboil stove is designed that way (but it is a larger stove/pot combo), and there are a few others. Pretty much any freestanding canister stove can be used with inverted canisters, which is a better option than trying to modify canister-mounted stoves.

Thanks for all the input. The MSR Wind Pro looks like a nice choice. At 6.8oz. it is lighter than using the modified stove stand with my Snow Peak Giga (total 8.6oz.). Sometime I think the people at BPL are a little more, how should I say, experimental then I am willing to be. Going light is my goal, but I am not willing to take some of the risks they have tried.

Thanks again,

Lambertiana,

So you have used this stove with the canister inverted? Was there any tricks to it, or flameups? I have not been able to find any info on MSR's web site on inverting this system, but I have found others that have said they use it that way.

The December 08 issue of Rock&Ice has some stove tests that include the Jetboil Helios and Coleman Fyrestorm, both of which use inverted canisters. The Jetboil in their tests did the 1-liter boil test in 2 minutes! And at 18F was still at 3:33, with the Coleman at 3:48 - impressive for canister stoves at a temperature where old-style canisters just died. They also tested the MSR Reactor and Primus Eta Power Express, which are both canister-top screw-on stove tops. These also did well in the low temperature test. The Coleman is a multi-fuel that will use liquid fuels as well.

I am looking at doing the Presidental Range Traverse in the White Mountans this January. To complete the trip in two or three days we have to go fast and light. I am looking for a lightweight canister stove than can be inverted. If we were able to use sleds in this area the choice would be easy. I know the Jetboil Helios, and the MSR Reactor work very well, but are heavy stoves. What about the Fyrestorm? As for the MSR Wind Pro, it sounds like it fits the bill.

For a 2-3 day trip, you are right on the edge of the break-even for weight between a canister stove and a white gas stove. Because of dependability issues in winter, I would use an XGK or maybe a Simmerlite rather than a canister, even though I do use canisters for 2-day weekend snow backpacks. XGK is what I used for a traverse of the southern half of the Presidentials (descent was the easy way on the Washington road, doing the hard part on the way up).

You have obviously had alot more experience in winter camping than I have, so please bear with my novice questions. What do you mean by break-even for weight? Is this based on fuel efficiency for melting snow and boiling water, or on something else? I figured about 73oz for total weight using for canister stove system and 89oz for total weight using white gas. Thats a full pound delta. This is based on three days with two people using one stove. I know a half pound between tow people is not alot, but I'm trying to cut out as much weight as possible.

As for dependability, I absolutely agree that white gas stoves are more dependabile (I have the MSR Wisperlite and it has never failed...), but I've heard that the inverted canister stoves are just as reliable. Granted I have not tried this approch yet, but for an area like the White Mountains with so many bailout points, it would be a good test. What do you think?

The break-even point for the liquid-fuel vs canister trade is indeed the weight. White gas and the butane mixes have about the same heat output per weight of fuel. So using the canonical 8 ounces weight of fuel per person-day when melting snow for your water supply gives 24 ounces of fuel for your 2 people 3 days (remember that fuel amount is measured in fluid ounces, and the weight of white gas is about 3/4 the volume in fluid ounces). The actual amount of fuel depends on how you use your stove. I have seen people use a full liter per day per person (that's about 35 fluid ounces, or 26 ounces weight, more than the canonical number says for your 2 people 3 days). So the real answer will depend on your personal record-keeping. I find that the 8 ounce number is pretty close for my usage (about 11 fluid ounces).

The difference then comes down to the weight of stove and fuel containers. My XGK is 20 ounces, with the fuel bottles about 5 ounces for the 22 ounce capacity (medium bottle). Using the 22 ounce bottles means 2 bottles, and might as well fill the second bottle completely, so about 70 ounces stove weight with fuel, rather much less than your 89 ounces. If I use my Primus MFS for the canister stove, I get 14 ounces for the stove (don't need the pump for canister operation) and 2 large canisters at 20 ounces each fullfor a total of 64 ounces. The 6 ounces different will depend on exactly which stoves you are comparing. The Whisperlite knocks 4 ounces off the XGK weight, bringing it to 2 ounces difference. I don't have the weights for the Jetboil and Coleman stoves with the inverted canisters (not including the pots), but I suspect that the weights are a bit heavier than the MFS, plus you need to use their pots with the heat exchangers, which are heavier than the GFA anodized pots I usually use.

Bottom line is you are talking a few ounces of difference, though it depends on how you use your fuel. If you tend to leave the stove turned on between pots of water, you will use a lot more fuel.

I guess that is one reason I was leaning towards the canisters. If you turn off the stove between pots of water, there is no pre-heating with the canisters. My white gas takes thoes few minutes to heat back up, not to mention the lost fuel, the mess, and the the black smoke that seems to get on everything when taking it appart. The worst is if the tanks leaks...

It all comes down to comfort level. What do I feel most comfortable with. Round and round I go.

I have used my Windpro with the canister inverted. When you invert the canister you can hear a change in the flame, but it burns well. The flame is blue with just a hint of yellow. It was not designed to run this way, so the fuel line will torque a little when you turn over the canister. As long as there is weight on the stove that isn't a problem.

I should add that the manufacturers I have talked to at the OR Show and on the phone all recommend strongly against inverting the canisters on stoves not designed for it. Generally this means ones that do not have a generator tube that passes through the flame. The Primus MFS/Omni series, Coleman Fyrestorm, and Jetboil Helios (and a few others like the old Coleman X-series) are set up that way. My disclaimer - always follow the manufacturers' recommendations (even if many of us have "gotten away with" a lot of these procedures and practices that the manufacturers and fire marshalls have deemed to be dangerous and unsafe).

Hi guys, I've been reading along here learning since I don't have a lot of cold weather / snow experience aside from time I spent working in Minnesota.
One trick Ultralight hikers in the south use for pre heating WG stoves is to place the stove in a small twig fire just long enough to heat it up. I guess they do this to conserve fuel. I've also been told hand sanitizer in the priming cup works as well, haven't tried it.

So I'm wondering if there are any tricks like this for alpine areas, or is it even a concern for most people?

January 16, 2022
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply