Winter Gear: Canister Stoves
Winter Gear: Canister Stoves
The following appeared in the 2021 Nov/Dec issue of Adirondac Magazine
By Tom Hart
Canister stoves offer a convenient and relatively lightweight means of either cooking meals and preparing hot drinks in the backcountry or providing hot water for an unanticipated night out in the woods. Canister stoves generally provide good performance down to 20°F, so if you are a hard-core winter camper staying out in colder temperatures, look to liquid fuel stoves.
The Jetboil MiniMo cooking system is a favorite canister-style stove of mine. Jetboil has been a strong choice among through-hikers based on light weight, compact design, and fast boiling time (half a liter of water in one hundred seconds). Its efficiency is due in part to the unique FluxRing cooking cup design, which captures most of the burner’s heat, allowing an insulated cozy to be used on the outside of the metal one-liter cup.
I had not been a fan of this design, because the tall cup design seemed a bit tippy and using a spoon to get to the goodies was inconvenient. Several new designs address these issues. The MiniMo’s cooking pot is lower and broader, allowing more stability and spoon angle that allows better access for cooking, especially during simmering, which the stove does well. You do have to wait an additional thirty-five seconds to boil water, compared to the Flash model. Spoon angle makes a real difference for eating, too! The system weighs 14.6 ounces (without canister). The stove packs efficiently, with the burner fitting into the pot, sideways, along with a small canister.
Newer versions include the MicroMo stove, which is a bit smaller and weighs only 12 ounces, and the Stash, a beautifully minimalist design coming in at 7 ounces, yet is still capable of boiling twelve liters of water from a single small canister (hundred-gram size).
How do these work in the field? Remarkably well. You can make them work even better by adding a sheet of foil for a windscreen or ground cover. In cooler weather, a four-season fuel mix comprised of iso-butane and propane improves performance. In truly cold weather, there are some tricks to employ with any stove. It helps to warm the fuel, which can be accomplished by keeping it inside your jacket, in a sleeping bag, or near your back in your pack. Just tuck the canister inside your jacket as you get ready to use the stove.
Once the stove is going, place it in a container with some warm water in it (the Micro- and MiniMo have a small plastic bowl at the bottom of the pot kit that is perfect for this). This step keeps the canister well above 32°F in cold weather.
Why do this? Here comes some physics. The two fuels in the canister—propane and iso-butane—vaporize at different temperatures. Propane remains a gas until -42°F but iso-butane only to +10°F. Temperatures need to be higher than these minimums in order to produce enough pressure to run the stove. As the stove burns, more propane than iso-butane is used, until at some point only iso-butane may be left, and it can’t produce enough pressure at 20°F to run the stove. You may still hear fuel left in the canister, but the stove just won’t work. A little water bath lets the two gases vaporize at closer rates to keep the stove going.
Why not just use propane? The vapor pressure of propane alone requires a stronger canister (like those heavy green bottles) to safely contain the gas at normal temperatures. Having a canister explode in your car on a hot summer day probably doesn’t qualify as fun.
There are certainly other stoves to consider, but if you are out on a winter backcountry or high-altitude hike, prudent preparation might include a small stove in your pack, like the Jetboil Stash, for the unintended overnight stay. Even a small, wick-based alcohol stove at around 3 ounces (homemade aluminum can version) or 6 ounces (Trangia brass version) with fuel would be a good idea to at least make a few hot water bottles to help get you through the night.
ADK member and environmental scientist Tom Hart reviews gear for Adirondac from his home in Lake Placid, New York.
Photo Credit: Ben Brosseau