Cooking Systems – Save the best for last!
The short story: i have been converted and now cook with denatured alcohol. I got a titanium Caldera Cone (plus titanium floor insert) matched to my Snow Peak 600 Titanium mug and now my stove and pot weigh 5.95 ounces! A fuel bottle, filled with enough to boil 2 cups of water eight times, adds 4.75 ounces. This is a big weight and bulk savings compared to all my old kits. I can boil two cups of water, all i ever need for both rehydrating food (2/3-1 cup) and having a hot beverage (the remainder), in about 5 minutes on 1/2 ounce of fuel. (Tests performed at low altitude ~ 2,000 ft, but low temps ~ 15 F.) And it is super duper quiet!
I had to make two adjustments to the Snow Peak. I ordered an aftermarket titanium lid, and i added some silicone tubing to the handles so that they can be easily held while the pot is hot. I got both ideas from Jason Klass.
The Caldera Cone (CC) is really neat. It comes with an alcohol stove and a combo unit windscreen/pot-stand. All the elements of this design work together to maximize efficiency. Each CC is sized specifically for an individual cooking pot so that the pot is held the best distance from the flame created by the stove, and so that the windscreen/pot-holder channels heat to the right places. I ordered the optional “floor” for the stove and am so pleased with that choice. I cannot believe that these are optional instead of mandatory! Not only does the addition of the floor help to reflect heat into the cooking process instead of it being lost into the earth, it is much safer.
The main reason it took me so long to try an alcohol stove system was a concern about safety. Denatured alcohol is clear and invisible, even the flames are nearly impossible to see. Some forest fires have been started by people using denatured alcohol stoves. Like any system, it can be used properly or improperly and there are a few things one can do to make it safer. Adding a drop or three of food coloring to your fuel makes it easy to see the fuel in liquid form (though the flames are still tough to see). I chose green because it reminds me of the Mr Yuck poison stickers of my youth. Using a floor is also a fantastic safety aid. Even being very careful, it is difficult not to spill a few drops of the fuel when you are going for the primer pan, as one does in cold weather. If you have your stove centered on a metal floor before you add the fuel, any excess will burn on the metal and not the forest floor.
The caldera cone and floor easily fit against the walls inside my bear canister. The stove fits inside my cook pot. This protects both items and provides a kitchen with a minimal footprint inside my pack. A full kitchen kit with fuel for at least 4 days at 10.7 ounces! Incredible!!
Here are some pics and stats on my previous kitchen kits. For the John Muir Trail in 2012, i carried an old MSR pot, the MSR pocket rocket, and used canister fuel. This pot alone weighs 15.7 ounces. The pocket rocket weighs 4 ounces. And an almost empty fuel canister weighs 6.9 ounces. A full canister weighs 12.6 ounces. One of the many problems with the fuel canister system is that there is no way to accurately gauge how much fuel is left in a canister. At re-supply points, you have to decide: do i go to the next resupply point hoping that this canister has enough fuel to get me there, do i buy a new canister, do i carry both the old canister and the new canister, or do i leave a used canister with an unknown amount of fuel here for someone else? Another problem is that you are really not supposed to use a windscreen with a fuel canister stove. Makes sense. Do not trap and aim heat at your compressed gas canister that has a light torch on top. But that does make it take far longer to boil water in the field with these systems. This system weighs 19.6 ounces, or 1 1/4 pounds – without any fuel!! OH – and they are REALLY LOUD!
I got this pot, the GSI Pinnacle Soloist because it is smaller, lighter, and a fuel canister fits inside of the pot! Pretty cool feature and not a bad system. The soloist weighs 8.4 ounces and it does still have way more capacity than i need on solo hikes, so i looked for another solution. I found another GSI pot, the Haulite Minimalist. This is a nice little pot. Weighing in at 6.45 ounces with all its accessories, it is not as light as Snow Peak, but it has a few cool features. The pot cozy is very convenient. It also comes with a pot gripper thingy so you can pick it up when it is hot. The pot gripper has a magnet inside it which is great if one cooks with fuel canisters because the pot gripper will stick to your fuel can and you will not lose it nor set it down in the dirt. The lid is pretty much trash. It is much heavier than it needs to be and it has a thick rubbery seal that extends past the edge of the pot, so that when you are cooking, it is difficult to not burn/melt the lid.
This is my primary backup pot and the one i will use when taking other folks (who do not have their own gear) out backpacking with me. My dad and i are planning to hike the AT through Shenandoah National Park in January and this will probably be his pot for that trip. Given that it is still a very useful pot, i am going to order a new lid for it from the good folks at four dog stoves!
If any of this is unclear or you would like more information, do feel free to ask questions! I have made my first official youtube video, and may begin adding some video components to future blogs and gear reviews. Ideally, i will wait until i have moved this blog to its new hosting place and can directly embed video, but if my multitude of readers have burning questions that only a video can answer, things could go another way…