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Stainless Steel vs. Titanium Cook Sets

I am thinking about getting a new high quality titanium cook set I currently own a high quality stainless steel that I have had for quite some time. What I am looking for is what are the advantages & disadvantages of the two like warpage, heat transfer & etc. I know that titanium is a lot lighter but other than that I don't know. So what first hand pros and cons have you all encountered?

Well I'll tell you what my basic experience has been, which isn't saying much maybe.

Stainless steel is heavier duty, can be used over a fire, or more properly, over coals, and holds heat better. To me it seems to boil water faster in cold windy conditions than titanium, each given a windscreen and equal sized pots, btu's etc. But that's based on using my MSR whisperlite, YMMV. The titanium will heat up quicker but also looses heat quicker.

Titanium weighs about 1/3 of stainless, is still durable, but will not take as much abuse. It scorches easier, but not a problem if you use a stove that simmers well, like a canister stove.

I prefer titanium for fast and light trips, it also works great on alcohol stoves.

I would go for anodized aluminum over stainless or titanium. Titanium has poorer heat transfer properties, so it doesn't cook as efficiently as aluminum. The darker surface of anodized aluminum gives more efficient transfer of heat from the flame. And you can get anodized aluminum pots now that are close to the same weight as titanium.

lambertiana is correct about the darker surface, one of my hiking buddies blackens his pots on purpose for this reason.

Funny you should ask this question today. I was searching through boxes in the storage facility for some items for a course I am teaching this weekend and came across a post that Jim S made in the course of some experiments that he and I were making on efficiency of cooking on backpacking stoves. Jim, being an engineer who loves to experiment like a scientist, did a whole lot of experiments, while I, as a scientist who likes to think up the theoretical explanations, tried to explain away his results. The article was posted on rec.backcountry.useful when it was part of Views From The Top. It may still be in Dave and Alicia's archives.

To briefly summarize:

The most efficient heat transfer is with an anodized aluminum pot (like the GSI pots and their later imitators from MSR and others), combined with a heat exhanger (like MSR's) and proper windshield. (Be very careful with windshields with stoves that sit atop the fuel container, like the compressed gas stoves that screw on top of the canister or the Svea 123 - you can reflect enough heat back on the fuel tank to explode the fuel!). The pots with the attached heat exchanger (JetBoil, Primus EtaPower, MSR's system) are a recognition of this efficiency booster. These pots are anodized a dark color that transfers infrared (that's the heat part of the spectrum) very well. Plus most of them have engraved grooves on the outside bottom that serve a heat exchanger function. Aluminum spreads the heat well and evenly (as well as cast iron, but much faster), so burning and scorching things is minimized.

Titanium pots, while much lighter than anything else, are poor heat conductors (that's why the SR71 was made of titanium - dissipate the heat generated at hypersonic speeds). But Ti pots are so thin that the heat will pass through pretty readily. BUT this means that there is a little circular hot spot that matches your stove's burner. Not a problem when boiling water, but it will scorch snow when you try to melt it without first putting enough water to a half-inch depth in the pot (been there, done that, and everything tasted like scorched snow for the rest of the 3 week climbing trip - most godawful taste you can imagine!). You can readily burn soups, pasta, and other things if you aren't pretty careful. The heat exchanger and windshield are important here as well. Ti pots are also dark to pass the heat well, even though they are very poor at a uniform distribution of the heat.

Stainless is popular because it is easy to clean. But you want to blacken it to absorb the heat better. Jim S experimented with painting pots with black header paint. This worked very well. However, he cured the paint in his kitchen oven, which created fumes that required opening all doors and windows, plus getting a fan out. His wife did not appreciate this use of her oven, as I recall. Again, the heat exchanger and windshield boost efficiency quite a bit (about 20%, according to his writeup). But it still fell short of the anodized aluminum and titanium pots.

Non-anodized aluminum works well, though again, better when blackened.

Over the years, I have accumulated all sorts of pots and cooking kits. One thing that Jim noted in his experiments is that cooking systems, such as the Sigg cooker for the Svea 123 and the Bibler and Markill hanging stoves (and Jim's numerous homebrew imitations of the Bibler and Markill) work very well by having a windshield/flame director arrangement that keeps the flame directed very close to the pot's sides. The MSR SuperFly hanging kit is a similar arrangement. I have found that the SuperFly with the GSI pots boils water in incredibly short times - fast enough for a liter that I better have the rest of the meal ready to go before I light the SuperFly (down around 2 minutes or less). These days, I use only the GSI pots, sometimes with the MSR heat exchanger, with the SuperFly, Primus MFS, MSR XGK, and MSR SimmerLite, always with the appropriate windshield, and always with the pot lid until reaching boiling. This goes for the casual weekend backpack and for the extended expedition and everything in between. The stainless and titanium cook kits haven't been used in at least 10 years.

Bill, do you have the Halulite pots as shown in this link?

I looked at these a while back, I have also looked at snow peak.

I have older aluminum from MSR, but you say you like GSI best huh?

I don't have the Halulite. The ones I have from GSI were out about a year before MSR came out with their version. The MSR ones are very similar, but my GSI have held up so well, I haven't gotten any pots since. Well, except for GSI's small wok - stirfry in the backcountry, YUM!

I find that ti pots do indeed warp at the base, probably from overheating. Now that there are good anodized alu sets, ti pots and pans look rather specialist and expensive. Alu pots mean you don't have to concentrate so much on stirring the food: there's nothing worse than ruining your meal to save a few grams.

A set with one non-stick coated pot, plastic pot grip (not the fold out wire things) and a frying pan with edges that are not too steep (think pancakes!), would be great. The ones I have were black on the outside already, or they quickly got that way. I think they are optimus (the neoprene pot warmer is pretty useless as it shrunk).



I've got the GSI Soloist cookset--I just love Christmas presents I select myself! And while it's not been entirely through the ringer just yet, it's done great so far. It's made of their Halulite alloy, which is very light and seems thus far to act very much anodized Al, as far as I can tell. Will be trying it out again soon. Note, however, that the new version (which I noted for sale on the REI website after I was bragging this thing up to some friends) is described as "anodized aluminum", or was last I checked. Not sure if GSI changed, documentation improper or what, but there you have it.

My experience with my MSR TI kettle is that it does take longer to boil water .. i spray-painted the bottom with matte black BBQ paint to help. for me, the extra minute or so is worth the weight reduction. i only boil water and all my "cooking" is done by pouring the water in a dehydrated bag of food :)

I carry an aluminum 4 quart pot and an aluminum perculator. The total cost of the 2 is $1.25 (rummage sales). I have no complaint with either. Once in the past when 4 of us were out we had a 6 quart aluminum pot. We were low on fuel so used that pot to boil water for drinking over the open fire. Other than blackening the pot temporarily it worked just fine. No warped bottom. I like aluminum.

August 14, 2020
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