Playing with stoves

My recent short stay at Maeneira gave me a chance to play about with some stoves.  Although I’ve tinkered with meths stoves in the back garden, I’ve always used a gas stove on trips. The smell of meths turns my stomach. However, the introduction of Fuel4 Bioethanol meant access to a fuel with the same calorific value as meths, but without the noxious smell.

The other issue with most meths stoves is that you either waste fuel by letting them burn out or have a tricky job pouring the fuel back into your fuel bottle. However, a number of people have been raving about Zelph StarLyte stoves, which have some absorbent wadding to contain the meths. This means they are spill proof. They also have a lid, which means you can extinguish them and store the excess fuel in the stove.

Anyway, I prevaricated about ordering one (or two) from the US. Then I came across Speedster Backpacking Products. The stoves are very similar to the Zelph ones but made in the UK. Not only that, I was attracted to the folding windshield and pot support. My order was fulfilled quickly. I was impressed with the quality of both the stove and the windshield/pot support.

DSC02214 Speedster stove

My day lazing around Maeneira meant I had plenty of time to play about with both the Speedster and a BushBuddy Ultra that I had bought second-hand on OM. As you can see above, the stove is simplicity itself. A screw top tin with some wadding and a wire mesh retainer (weight 14g).

DSC02215Speedster stove and screen

The screen is a six-sided concertina with a cutout for a pot handle and ventilation slots at the base. There are three wire fold out pot supports. It weighs 72g including a small pouch for storage. I also used a foil base (wt 32g) to avoid scorching the grass.

DSC02207Stove setup

To complete the setup, I had a Tibetan pot (wt 148g), which came with the BushBuddy. I took a pot grab, in case the handles got too hot. However, this wasn’t necessary for the Speedster setup. I took a “snuffer” to extinguish the stove, which was the top of a Trangia gel stove (wt 7g). An old tin lid would do as well. I used a Torjet lighter (20g), which has a strong flame and I carry in my toilet kit.

DSC02206Speedster stove and screen

Instead of taking the 750ml bottle of bioethanol, I decanted some into a Vargo fuel bottle, which was lighter and easier to fill the stove from a closable nozzle. So how did it do?

My first boil was in dead calm conditions and it boiled 400ml of water in less than five minutes. Not bad at all. There was next to no soot deposit and no smell either. The snuffer made it easy to extinguish as well. Later on in windier conditions, it took a bit longer to boil, emphasising how sensitive ethanol/meths fuels are to breezes. I used the Speedster several times and quite liked it.

Would I be a convert to a liquid fuel stove? I can see some attractions, but overall, I think I prefer gas. Gas is quicker and instant. It’s also easier to do more than one boil. With liquid fuel, it pays to boil all the water you need in one go. I took an Aladdin insulated mug (wt 148g) so that my post meal tea could stay hot while my food rehydrated. Bioethanol is cleaner than meths, but there’s still some soot, whereas gas is totally clean.

In terms of weight, it depends what you take. the Speedster setup of stove, screen/support, foil base, snuffer, pot and mug weighed 432g. My TGOC setup of Snow Peak GST 100, Primus windshield, canister feet, Evernew Pasta pot (doubles as mug) weighed 267g. If I substituted my Evernew 600ml pot plus MSR Mug (with cosy), the total weight rises to 344g. A 100g gas canister weighs 190g and lasts about one week. My TGOC setup with a 100 gas canister weighs only marginally more than the Speedster setup without fuel.

In the end, I think there’s not a lot in it, but for me the convenience of gas wins for most situations. That’s not to say I won’t use the Speedster again. I think it has it’s place in certain circumstances.

IMG_1484BushBuddy Ultra

 I also had the opportunity to try my BushBuddy Ultra. I was really lucky to pick up one of these as they are no longer made. The Ultra is the lightest BushBuddy, weighing 140g. It’s a simple but robust wood burning stove consisting of a double walled burner base and a pot support.

IMG_1482Three sizes of wood for burning

The first thing to do was to get some wood to burn. I graded it into three thicknesses: small twigs for kindling, medium-sized twigs to get the fire going and larger ones to feed it once the fire was established. I also had Hammaro card as tinder. I protected the BushBuddy from the wind with a fold out aluminium screen (208g) that I’d bought ages ago.

IMG_1485Lighting the BushBuddy

I had read that it can be tricky to light wood burning stoves, so I was careful to layer the stove with small twigs as kindling before adding the medium-sized twigs and tinder paper. Because the wood was so dry, it caught very easily and soon the twigs were alight.

IMG_1487All systems go!

Once the stove was burning well I put on the pot. I fed the fire with the larger pieces of wood. I didn’t do any timing, but the pot came to the boil quite quickly.

IMG_1489Success!

I was glad I’d taken a pot grab as it made removing the pot a lot easier. I found the BushBuddy very easy to use and surprisingly quick and efficient. Once the fire got going, it was also relatively smokeless (not that you would use it in a tent). There wasn’t a huge amount of soot on the pot, either.

IMG_1492

I can see the attractions of the BushBuddy in wilderness situations where wood is obtainable. Supplemented with a meths stove when wood is either unobtainable or wet, it would be a good choice. If fuel is plentiful, then the extra weight would be offset by not having to carry much or any fuel. Additionally, running out of fuel is less of an issue and there’s nothing to fail or break.

In summer, I could see myself taking the BushBuddy and the Speedster stove as a change. However, I think gas remains the most convenient option. It’s cleaner and  probably slightly lighter under most circumstances.

Diclosure: all products used were purchased with my own money. I have no affiliations with any of the manufacturers mentioned.

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21 thoughts on “Playing with stoves”

  1. Great write up Robin. Thanks for sharing. I also use gas mainly due to its speed and convenience but you do hear of mechanical failures and that niggles me. I like the look of the speedster set up. Could be tempted.

  2. I am the guy who sold you the Bushbuddy. Great to see it out and about and in action. These things weren’t meant to sit around in a cupboard:-). If you practise, you can get quite a consistent heat and, as you say, the secondary combustion means very little smoke.

    Like you, I prefer gas in the real world – quick, clean, odourless, even if there is more to potentially go wrong.

    1. Thanks it’s a great stove. I’m sure I’ll be using it again. I was surprised how easy it was to light and use.

  3. nice to see experimenting with meths Robin.

    I find one major advantage of meths or solid fuel is that one doesn’t have to babysit the stove to be ready to turn off the gas to save fuel. Just start with the fuel you need and do something else (or just turn off and chill).

    But i cant see how your weight comparisons really have any meaning to anyone, even yourself? The individual weights are useful, but comparing of the setups as described is not like with like. Comparing a mugless set up with one which uses a 150g mug and then stating its heavier…. ? What’s the point? !

    1. Thing is, who cooks for any length of time in the outdoors? Any cooking rarely exceeds the time it takes to boil water or heat something through – minutes. It’s not as though you’re slow cooking a casserole for two hours;-)

    2. With the Tibetan pot setup, unless I want to drink from the pot (no thanks), I need a mug. An insulated mug is best, then I can divide the heated water between a rehydrated meal and a cup of tea. In an insulated mug, the tea will remain hot until I drink it. With the Snow Peak setup I used for the TGOC, the Evernew Pasta pot doubled as pot and mug. Because gas can be turned on and off, I didn’t need to heat water until after my meal. I couldn’t use the Pasta pot with the meths setup because the pot diameter is too small for the Speedster windshield/pot support.

      Hence, the comparison for the two setups is for the meths setup with a dedicated mug and the gas setup with a combined mug/pot. The reason for the comparison was just to think out loud whether I might have been advantageous to use this particular meths setup for the TGOC.

      One possible change would be to use the Speedster stove with a Pocket Stove as support and windshield, meaning I could use the Pasta pot (or similar) as a pot and a mug. However, I’d need to make an insulated cosy as well and probably boil some extra water after using some for a rehydrated meal. I suspect the Pocket Stove is not as effective as a windshield compared with the Speedster.

      I included the individual weights so I could see the weights of various combinations that I could use. My conclusion is that, in most circumstances, there’s not a lot to choose between the weight of a meths setup and a gas setup. Other factors are probably more important and you pay your money and make your choice.

  4. I have an MSR Pocket Rocket but I’m an alcoholic, always use meths when I can. I like that I can tailor the amount of fuel I take on a trip according to how many days I’m out, when used with a pot cosy it works out around a tablespoon a day.
    Using wood for fuel is still something I haven’t delved into but it makes a lot of sense. If it’s dry and you can find it, your fuel is already out there.
    Nice post 🙂
    ~ Fozzie

    1. I really hate the smell of meths, which has put me off liquid fuel stoves. However, bioethanol has changed that so I’m open to experiment. I reckon wood stoves are a very interesting option for long distance trails, especially where resupplying for fuel is difficult.

  5. I moved away from the Meths based Trangia because one has to carry a lot of fuel for four or five days in the field – much heavier than the equivalent gas canister.

    I also found that in cold conditions, it was exceedingly difficult to get the trangia started – again an issue that doesn’t afflict a gas stove.

    The other downside is that sometimes the meths gets on things it shouldn’t, such as utensils etc – on these occasions one can taste it and it tastes much worse than the smell! 🙂

  6. Hi Robin, always good to have a stove trial. It clears away some of those questions that tend to lurk in the back of the mind.
    My findings, and I am only writing here about longer trips not 1 nighters is that meths or similar is best. I have the little stove your tested and I have no complaints about it except that it isn’t as good as using the 12-10 stove with the fantastic protection offered by the caldera cone.
    The wood burning stove for me is just not an option because there is no point in taking 2 stoves as would be required certainly in the northern parts of the UK.
    Gas stoves are great but can go wrong as happened to me with an Optimus Crux when the regulator jammed open and they also can suffer if very windy. On a long trip you need reliability and as long as meths is available I will use it all the time.
    Ps. I have absolutely no problems commenting on your WordPress blog.

    1. I’ve never had a gas stove go wrong yet, but that’s not to say it can’t happen. On the Challenge, Bob Cartwright had a gas canister that was leaking. Fortunately he smelt it and screwing the stove on then off the canister cured it. The possibility of canister failure is why I took two 100 canisters rather than one larger one.

      One thing you can be certain is that a meths stove has nothing to go wrong. I think a wood burner is an additional item rather than something you could take on its own. It makes sense in some circumstances. As with all things, there’s advantages and disadvantages to each system.

  7. I’ve had 3 gas stoves go wrong in 30 years. Not a high failure rate, but enough that I’m cautious. If I’m using gas, I now carry a back-up burner, which isn’t as much of penalty was it sounds, as it’s an Alpkit Kraku which hardly weighs anything. But outside proper winter conditions, I now use meths nearly all the time. That’s not really weight (though I save a few grams on shorter trips), I just like it better, and I dislike the waste and non-recylability of gas canisters.

  8. For me.
    Flat Cat Gear.. Sorted

    Flat Cat Leapord, meths or Esbit
    & if Gas, Kovea Spider stove with Flat Cat shield.
    Sold everything else.
    And Jon’s customer support is second to none.
    Happy… ☺

  9. Have you considered Trail Designs Caldera cone systems? Have used the Ti-Tri with inferno insert and the result is really good for o combo fuel stove. Last summer in norway we managed to go almost only with wood during our trip in Jotunheimen where trees are very sparse. But even with small twigs we managed to cook food for two persons.

    1. Yes, but I was drawn to the Speedster stove as it is cheaper and more packable. I’m sure the Caldera is more efficient.

      1. The price is definitely a bit high. Packability is no problem as the whole system fits inside the pot.

  10. Robin,

    Wondering if you have had a chance to try the backcountry boiler? I had a bush buddy and now that I have a backcountry boiler, I don’t use the bushbuddy much. It seems to me that the bush buddy doesn’t burn as well and is more fiddly.

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