Have you ever pondered the question: If I chose the lightest stove in each category and used it as efficiently as I could, how would the cooking system carry weights compare for different usage levels and trip lengths? My inquisitive mind couldn’t resist the challenge, so I rounded up the lightest/most efficient white gas, remote canister, top mount canister, integrated canister, alcohol, and fuel tab stoves commercially available and pursued answers to the following questions:
- What is the real carry weight of stove plus fuel for different cooking systems?
- How do I calculate the amount of fuel I need for a trip?
- How much does fuel efficiency make up for stove weight on a longer trip?
- What is the comparative cost for stove plus fuel?
- Considering the fuel cost, which cooking system is the most economical and weight efficient?
These are, of course, difficult questions. There are many variables involved, and the answers depend on the type of trip you are taking and its location. No matter. This project provides a lot of insights into the issues, and will increase your understanding of how the weight and efficiency of different cooking systems compare, how they affect the weight you carry on your back, and how they affect your wallet. In this article you will find information to help you choose the cooking system(s) that meets your needs, and dial in the amount of fuel that you actually need to take on your trips.
Cooking Systems Compared
In this section I describe the cooking systems I chose for comparison. Their weights are summarized in Table 1 below.
For comparison, the weight of each cooking system needs to include a fuel container. Three bottle sizes are available for a white gas stove – the “11-ounce bottle” has a fill capacity of 10 fluid ounces, the “22-ounce bottle” holds 20 fluid ounces, and the “33-ounce bottle” holds 30 fluid ounces. Fuel canisters for canister stoves generally come in 4-ounce and 8-ounce sizes, although there is some variation among different brands of fuel. For comparability, I included the empty weight of the fuel canisters as part of the cooking system. In the alcohol cooking system, I listed the 375 milliliter Platypus Little Nipper and 0.5 liter and 1 liter Platypus flasks, all with a red dispenser cap. The fuel tab stove does not have a fuel container, other than the packaging for the individual fuel tabs, which can be left at home and the fuel tabs carried in a plastic bag.
I experimented a lot to find the “perfect windscreen” for each stove, which of course doesn’t exist. In the process I managed to fry a top mount canister stove by using a tight windscreen with it, and I discovered the KiteScreen invented by Jim Wood (http://jwbasecamp.com/Articles/KiteScreen/index.html). Read more about what I learned about windscreens in my companion articles Stove Windscreen Dynamics and Design: Part I Wind Effects on Stove Performance and Part II Practical Applications for the Field. For this project I chose to use the manufacturers’ aluminum windscreen and heat reflector with the white gas and remote canister stoves, the KiteScreen for the top mount canister and integrated canister stoves, and a traditional tight aluminum windscreen and heat reflector for the alcohol and fuel tab stoves.
|Cooking System||Fuel Container Capacity/Container Weight Empty (oz)||Total Weight (oz)||Cooking System Total Weight Includes:|
|White Gas||10 fl oz/ 3||14||Burner, empty fuel bottle, pump, windscreen, heat reflector|
|20 fl oz/ 5||16|
|30 fl oz/ 6.8||17.8|
|Remote Canister||4 oz/ 4.1||13.3||Burner, empty fuel canister, windscreen, heat reflector|
|8 oz / 4.6||13.8|
|Top mount Canister||4 oz/ 4.1||8.0||Burner, empty fuel canister, KiteScreen|
|8 oz/ 4.6||8.5|
|Integrated Canister||4 oz/ 4.1||13.9||Burner, cozy, heat exchanger, empty fuel canister, KiteScreen|
|8 oz/ 4.6||14.4|
|Alcohol||13 fl oz/ 0.6||2.4||Burner, pot stand, fuel flask, windscreen, heat reflector|
|17 fl oz/0 .8||2.6|
|34 fl oz/ 0.9||2.7|
|Fuel Tab||0.5 oz/ 0||2.1||Fuel holder/pot stand, windscreen, heat reflector|
|Note: Each total weight includes an empty fuel container. Three fuel bottle sizes are available for the white gas stove, with capacities of 10, 20, and 30 fluid ounces. Canister fuel container sizes are typically 4 and 8 ounces (113 or 225 grams), and that refers to the weight of the fuel inside. Alcohol containers included are the Platypus Little Nipper and 0.5 and 1-liter Platypus flasks.|
- The white gas stove with fuel container was the heaviest of the lot, followed closely by the integrated canister stove and then the remote canister stove.
- The top mount canister stove with fuel container was intermediate in weight.
- The alcohol and fuel tab stoves were by far the lightest cooking systems.
Stove Testing Procedure and Results
I lab tested the stoves under a set of standard conditions to ensure that the data are comparable. In each test I measured the time and fuel consumption to boil 1 pint (0.47 L) of water. I subjected the stoves to the following test conditions:
Optimal Conditions – 70 °F air and water, calm
Cold – 40 °F air and water, calm
Wind – 70 °F air and water, 12 mph wind from a box fan
Stove testing setup shown with the KiteScreen protecting a top-mount canister stove (left). Measurement equipment included an analytical scale, signaling digital thermometer, stopwatch, wind meter, and box fan.
I used a 1.5 liter MSR titanium pot 6 inches in diameter for tests with the white gas, remote canister, and top mount canister stoves, the Jetboil cup for Jetboil stove tests, and a 0.85 liter MSR titanium pot for the alcohol and fuel tab stove tests.
Tests were conducted at 6,650 feet elevation, where the boiling temperature of water is 201 °F. Boiling was measured with a signaling digital thermometer at 197 °F with the temperature sensor placed in the same position each time. I used 197 °F for my boil tests so I did not have to contend with the Latent Heat of Vaporization, which takes additional time and energy to overcome, and adds complexity and potential for error. The pot and stove were cooled between test runs.
Fuel for the white gas stove was a fresh can of Coleman fuel. Canister fuel was MSR IsoPro. I used Kleen Strip S-L-X Denatured Alcohol for alcohol stove tests, and Esbit hexamine for the fuel tab stove. Boil time/fuel consumption test procedures are as follows:
- I fueled each stove and recorded the weight of the fuel container plus fuel to the nearest 0.01 gram.
- I started timing when the stove was lit. Priming time for the white gas stove was not included in the boil time.
- I used a moderate flame (very subjective) for the white gas and canister stoves to conserve fuel.
- When boiling (197 °F) was reached I immediately stopped the stove and reweighed the fuel container (or alcohol burner and remaining fuel, or remaining fuel tab). The difference between starting and ending weights was the fuel consumption.
- I repeated each test at least two times until I obtained consistent boil times within 30 seconds under optimal conditions and within 1 minute under windy conditions.
|Cooking System||Average Boil Time (minutes:seconds)||Average Fuel Consumption (grams)|
|Top Mount Canister||3:31||3:23||2:34||6.2||6.5||9.2|
|Note: Test results (boil time and fuel consumption) are for the stoves and windscreens pictured above. Note that there are a few inconsistencies because a moderate flame (which is subjective and hard to duplicate each time) was used for all of the white gas and canister stove tests.|
- Under optimal conditions, boil times for the white gas and canister stoves were in the 2.5 to 3.5 minute range, while alcohol and fuel tab stoves were around 7.5 minutes.
- Cold air and water extended boil times for most stoves, especially the remote canister stove and Jetboil stove.
- Wind (with a windscreen) resulted in somewhat extended boil times for most stoves. For the alcohol and fuel tab stoves, the extra oxygen increased combustion, so the boil time is close to calm conditions but fuel consumption is greatly increased.
- Fuel consumption of the white gas stove under optimal conditions was about the same as the alcohol stove. Priming of the white gas stove consumed about 0.1 ounce of fuel.
- The integrated canister stove was the most fuel efficient of the canister stoves, followed by the top mount canister stove.
- The alcohol and fuel tab stoves consumed much more fuel in windy conditions compared to the other stoves.
- The white gas and fuel tab stoves had the same fuel consumption in cold conditions.
- The integrated canister stove (Jetboil) with the KiteScreen was least affected by wind.
- Despite the use of windscreens, turbulence within the aluminum windscreens (used on all but the integrated top-mount canister stoves) was a persistent problem, which resulted in reduced heating efficiency.
Extrapolating Cooking System Test Results to Field Conditions
Now that we have assembled cooking systems that are as comparable as possible, and lab tested them under controlled conditions to obtain comparable fuel consumption data, we are ready to tackle the challenging task of extrapolating the data to the field. In Part II of this article I will address the questions posed at the beginning of this article, and deal with some of the tricky issues of estimating fuel usage under field conditions and determining how much fuel efficiency compensates for cooking system weight. I even take a shot at estimating the stove plus fuel costs for the life span of the stoves.