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Gear List || Stable backpacking stove system for groups & Philmont

The Hot & Heavy Stove System, configured for 2 people

The Hot & Heavy Stove System, configured for 2 people


This is a multi-part series about my trail-tested backpacking stove systems. Start reading with the Introduction, or view all posts in the series.


With a few tweaks, my favorite solo backpacking stove system, The Cadillac, is a viable 2-person setup. But it’s a good solution only for those who are highly weight-conscious and/or who have unreliable access to pressurized gas canisters. Another go-to setup, Fast & Light, could also be used as a group stove, but for large pots I prefer a more stable base.

For casual couples and for cook groups of three or more, this Hot & Heavy system is the best choice. Yes, it does weigh and cost more than the aforementioned systems, but with its powerful output, stable platform, and extra pot capacity I can heat up large amounts of water quickly. I have used Hot & Heavy to prepare breakfasts and dinners for five adult males on 7-day trips, and to indulge Amanda with near instantaneous cups of coffee and with hot wash-water before bed. It is a common setup at Philmont Scout Ranch.

Gear List

This list assumes a 1-person cook group, in order to create apples-to-apples comparisons with other recommended systems. For each additional person, add an eating bowl, drinking container, and utensil. Budget per person about 5 oz and $10-$20, plus another $5-10 if no one will be eating from the group pot.

  • Critical = A must-have, no exceptions
  • Suggested = A valuable addition, few reasons not to bring
  • Optional = Not critical, but worth consideration
  • Depends = Contingent on trip objectives, conditions, and/or other selections
  • Unnecessary = Unlikely to need and/or can be improvised

Canister versus liquid fuel

When I need or want a stove with significant firepower, I don’t look to alcohol, solid fuel, or wood. There are really only two viable options: canister gas or liquid fuel.

Of these, I have a strong preference for canister stoves. They are easier to assemble, prepare, and operate; and there is no risk of soiling me or my gear with noxious white gas, gasoline, or diesel.

Canister stoves aren’t without tradeoffs, of course. The primary problem is the canister: they are difficult to find outside of speciality outdoor stores; they can be recycled, but not refilled or reused; and they are relatively expensive, which increases the system’s operating costs.

Managing Hot & Heavy in Colorado’s Maroon Bells Wilderness. With its powerful stove and big pot, I can quickly heat up water for groups of 2+.

Managing Hot & Heavy in Colorado’s Maroon Bells Wilderness. With its powerful stove and big pot, I can quickly heat up water for groups of 2+.

Other options

If I did not already own the MSR WindPro as part of my winter backpacking stove system, I might have selected a different canister stove to use on large group trips and on casual trips with 2+ people.

An upright canister stove like the classic Snow Peak GigaPower Auto is a few ounces lighter and $50 less than the WindPro. Boil times and fuel efficiency are about the same, but it’s not nearly as sturdy — I would try to maintain a two-liter pot limit, and I would watch a one-gallon pot very carefully.

Integrated stoves like the JetBoil Sumo are superbly fast and efficient, and their operation is even easier than a non-integrated system. However, not all integrated stoves are appropriate for group use: some do not simmer well, and others lack adequate water capacity.

Finally, MSR offers the Whisperlite Universal, which can be powered by both canister gas and liquid fuel. The $40 premium may prove worthwhile if you will sometimes need a liquid fuel stove (e.g. winter thru-hike with limited access to canisters) and/or if you will want the option of using a more economical fuel source.

Mid-morning breakfast and coffee for two while on the Aspen Four Pass Loop, which I was able to prepare in about 10 minutes from start to finish thanks to the firepower and large pot capacity.

Mid-morning breakfast and coffee for two while on the Aspen Four Pass Loop, which I was able to prepare in about 10 minutes from start to finish thanks to the firepower and large pot capacity.

In-depth discussion

Stove

The WindPro is a solid choice from one of the most trusted name in backpacking stoves, MSR. It performs well year-round; it’s stable and strong enough for big pots; and it’s reasonably light. The Kovea Spider ($65, 6 oz) may be a good alternative: it’s less expensive, more compact, and slightly lighter. Besides its specs, I’m not familiar with it, however.

To use a 3-season canister stove as a winter stove, too, it must have a “pre-heat tube” so that it can run a liquid feed. Some of the other lighter and less expensive remote canister models like the Olicamp Xcelerator Ultra Titanium Stove ($70, 3.5 oz) do not have one and thus are not appropriate for regular winter use.

Pot

Plan .75-1L of water capacity per person, with some consideration for appetites and cooking styles. I find that a 2-liter pot is ideal for Amanda and me: in one shot, I can heat enough water for hot drinks and meals. My 2L titanium MSR pot has been discontinued; instead, consider the comparable Evernew Ultralight 2.6L or the more economical GSI Halulite 2L.

Because the extra weight of a larger pot is relatively minimal, it is counterproductive to save weight by skimping on pot volume. My largest pot is the discontinued Open Country 4-Quart, which is good for groups up to about 5-6 people; for a similarly economical option, consider the Trangia 4.5L Cook Pot. In both cases, expect them to get dinged and to bend. For better durability, go with the aforementioned GSI Halulite (in 3.2L or 4.7L) or a hard-to-find 1-gallon titanium pot.

For cook groups of more than 5-6, I bring a second Hot & Heavy system. A 1.5-gallon or 2-gallon pot would not fit well inside any of my backpacks. And the relatively slow boil times begin to test my patience.

Eating containers

Each person in my group is given an individual meal ration. The group pot is for heating water only; the “cooking” happens in each person’s individual eating container, into which we decant water from the group pot.

Because several of my favorite breakfast and dinner recipes benefit from a short simmer, I insist that every member of the cook group have a metal container that can be put directly on the stove. Most members bring their pot from their solo stove system, which probably looks like The Dirtbag or The Cadillac. Shot-and-wide pots are best; with a side-burning stove like the WindPro, narrow pots waste fuel.

Fuel container

Budget .25 oz of fuel per 16 oz of boiling water. Unlike liquid fuel stoves, little fuel is wasted when starting a canister stove.

Fuel canisters are available in 4-, 8-, and 12-oz sizes; the fuel canister weighs another 3-8 oz. I generally buy the 12-oz size, which are the most economical. I’m generally not concerned with the extra weight: I’m probably the most fit member of the group, and our itinerary is probably not too ambitious.

Other components

In the other posts in this series, I have already discussed at length other system components: drinking containers, pot lifters, utensils, and ignition. I won’t repeat myself here.

 

 

What comments or questions do you have about Hot & Heavy? If you use a different stove for groups of 2+, share it and explain why.


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16 Responses to Gear List || Stable backpacking stove system for groups & Philmont

  1. Cory December 27, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    Great information! Just thought I’d mention that the Kovea Spider is designed for liquid feed also.The stove sometimes gets an odd pulsating sound when the canister is upside down, but it works fine.

    • Andrew Skurka December 28, 2015 at 8:45 am #

      Good catch, thanks. When I looked at the product photo I missed the tube — it’s designed differently than others I’ve seen. Page has been updated.

  2. Andrew B. December 27, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

    I’ll second Cory’s comment about the Kovea Spider. It has a pre-heat loop located at the burner that makes running it in an inverted canister liquid-feed mode possible. I’m curious, is there some other reason why you think this kind of stove isn’t appropriate for regular winter use?

    • Andrew Skurka December 28, 2015 at 8:44 am #

      So long as it has a pre-heat tube, it’s good to go for winter use.

  3. Joe S December 28, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for writing this up. I purchased a heavy and bulky canister stove (Primus Eta Power Trail) years ago for group backpacking. I’m looking for something lighter. I also need the ability to both boil water and simmer. I’m wary of upright stoves due to stability and the need to be careful with windscreen placement. I prefer the “remote” canister setups like the Windpro and the Spider.

    I think I’m going to purchase the MSR Windpro because it was a wider flame than the Kovea Spider, which in my experience can cause hot spots on the pot and pan. I don’t think I need the extra weight of the Whisperlite. I won’t backpack in sub freezing temps.

  4. Robert December 28, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    Whats with the bear canister in the picture? I thought that Yosemite was the only one that made people use them.

    • Andrew Skurka December 28, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

      They are required elsewhere too. In Colorado, the two places I know of are Rocky Mountain National Park and upper West Maroon Creek in Maroon Bell-Snowmass Wilderness, through which the Four Pass Loop travels.

  5. joe hess December 30, 2015 at 11:15 am #

    Backpacking with my family is what we primarily do. Over the years I have used many of the different stoves in production. Through trial and error we have landed on what works for us (4 of us 2 adults and 2 kids who are growing and are now 11 and 15). The for of us share one stove and eat in shifts as the meals dictate. We go as light as possible on everything we take with us. Also we want easy, fool proof and issue free. the last thing we want is hungry kids waiting on me to fix a stove.
    1. Each of us carry a bowl, old light weight plastic ones from my parents 1980s camp box.
    2. Spork for each of us.
    3. We use my or my sons pocket knife for cuting
    4. I carry an old free plastic coffee mug, and my wife and kids just drink out of a shared nalgene bottle.
    5. Stove: Cold weather we use the MSR wisperlite international that ive had since 1990. And a fuel bottle or two depending on distance.
    6. Stove: Most of the year we use the snopeak titanium lite max. I don’t think it was called that when we bought it.
    7. Pots: When we bought them they were sold separately but now they sell them together. Snopeak 1400 and 900 titanium. We just eat in shifts.
    8. Meals are all assembled at home. We DO NOT use those mountain house type meals. For 4 of us it gets expensive.
    9. Meals: Breakfast is usually just hot water for coffee etc.
    10 Meals. We learned that we prefer a HOT lunch and will cook our dinner for lunch, this provides us with a mid day break and we can find a nice place to stop for cooking and relaxation. We like to do do big miles each day and hike well into the evening and the last thing we/I want to do is to walk into our camp at night feeling tired, and have to set up camp, cook and prep for the next day. The best was that a big mid day meal with 1. give the kids a break and then 2. get them trough the rest of the day.

  6. Joe January 2, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Andrew —

    Interesting discussion! Have you ever experimented with the century-old Svea 123? (Now made by Optimus, originally a Swedish firm now owned by a Swiss corporation).

    Yes, it’s an antique, but it appears to have a loyal following.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    –Joe

    • Andrew Skurka January 2, 2016 at 11:22 pm #

      No experience with it. But at 18 oz, we have better options (i.e. lighter and higher performance) now.

  7. Dadx2 February 1, 2016 at 12:37 am #

    Below what temperature would one have no choice but to resort to a white gas stove?
    I always used alcohol/LPG in the summer and exclusively open wood fires in the winter. Next trip takes us over a large frozen lake, which will take 3 days to cross… I own a 3 year old, but still brand new, XGK (bought at a discount, but never took it out yet due to easy access to wood and weight concerns). I wouldn’t at all be opposed to keeping it unused longer, again, due to its weight, and also it apparently makes quite a racket while on… Is use of alcohol, or any other, stove at all possible? Locale is northern Lake Winnipeg, with expected temperatures of -10°F (typical -20° at night with extremes of -50° in the past). 2 person trip.

    Hope you could answer, but either way thank you for the informative site!
    DX2

    • Andrew Skurka February 1, 2016 at 9:44 am #

      For your upcoming trip, I would definitely recommend a white gas or canister stove, both of which will perform well. Since you have a XGK and since white gas is probably easier to find near Lake Winnipeg than canisters are, I think you should stick with what you have.

      Alcohol is out (the ambient temp is too cold) and obviously wood fires are, too.

  8. Joe S March 2, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

    How unstable are the upright canister stoves? I am about to buy a remote canister stove because I worry about the upright ones tipping. Also, I like the increased efficiency of a windscreen, something too dangerous to use with an upright (due to heating the canister itself).

    • Andrew Skurka March 2, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

      Stability is a function of:

      1- Weight of the pot
      2- Bed surface

      If you are using a heavy pot and you’re not on a flat-and-level surface, you might have problems. I think uprights are okay for 1-2L. Beyond that, the remote canister is safer, and it has the added advantage of being a winter-worthy stove.

  9. Tal July 29, 2016 at 5:36 pm #

    Hello, what about multi fuel stoves?
    I usually use alcohol stove too, but debating on multi fuel vs canister ( I do mostly touring bike).
    What will be you prefer method. Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka July 29, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

      When I am on a thru-hike and need a powerful stove (e.g. to melt snow for water), I have used liquid stoves because the fuel is much more widely available.

      Unless you expect to have occasional options of both canister and liquid on the same trip, multi-fuel stoves generally do not make sense. For example, the MSR Whisperlite Universal (canister + gas) is $140 and 14 oz. In comparison, you could get a pure remote canister stove like the Kovea Spider for $65 and 6 oz, and a pure liquid stove like the MSR Whisperlite for $90 and 11 oz. So you’re in $15 more, but you have two stoves that are both lighter than the universal model.

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