Between 2006 and April 2015, I made over one-thousand meals and hot drinks with The Dirtbag. Clearly, that system works.
But it’s also imperfect. I was particularly tired of its poor performance in non-calm air; its unreliable stability was not a winning quality, either. So I upgraded to The Cadillac, and I don’t foresee going back.
The Cadillac is not cheap, especially for an alcohol stove system. What do you get for nearly $200?
1. Ultralight. The entire kit weighs about a half-pound. Drop a few more ounces by leaving behind the mug and measuring cup, and by using a Mini Bic lighter instead of the full-size version.
2. Durable. The pot, mug, and Caldera Cone are all made of titanium. At comparable weights, aluminum and stainless steel will bend and dent much more easily. For comparable durability, these components would have to be heavier.
3. Efficiency. I budget just 0.5 oz of fuel (15 ml) per meal and .3 oz (10 ml) per hot drink, and expect some leftover. Because of the Caldera Cone, fuel efficiency is relatively unaffected by wind. And I never waste fuel, because the Zelph stove absorbs up to 1 oz of unused fuel and will not leak between uses.
Gear List: Premium & ultralight alcohol stove
- Critical: A must-have, no exceptions
- Suggested: A valuable addition, few reasons not to bring
- Optional: Not critical, but worth consideration
- Contingent: Depends on trip objectives, conditions, and/or other selections
- Unnecessary: Unlikely to need and/or can be improvised
More economical options
Not ready to spend almost $200, even if you find these items on sale? I hear you. To create a Cadillac-like system for less, you’ll need to give up most or all of the titanium. Aluminum and stainless steel are much more budget-friendly, though heavier or less durable. A few specific ideas:
- Stanco Non-Stick Grease Pot 1-liter: $50 savings
- Starbucks Reusable Mug: $33 savings when purchased at a Starucks for $2
- Original aluminum Caldera Cone: $45 savings
The cumulative cost-savings of these three changes would drop the out-of-pocket cost to about $75. Versus The Cadillac, this system would be a few ounces heavier, less packable (it will not all fit inside the pot), and less durable. But if you’re on a budget and/or not an avid backpacker, these compromises may be acceptable.
For an even less expensive system, consider The Dirtbag, which costs less than $30 and weighs about the same.
A Cadillac for two+
In the configuration detailed above, The Cadillac is optimized for a soloist. But it can be modified into a worthy 2-person system. Buy a larger pot like the Evernew Ultralite 1.3L, or even the Ultralight 1.9L for two hungry hikers. When ordering the Sidewinder, select its size accordingly. Also, double-up on mugs, spoons, and fuel.
In-depth selection discussion
The Sidewinder Ti-Tri is bundled with Trail Designs’ 12-10 alcohol stove, but I recommend upgrading to the Zelph Modified StarLyte for an extra $12.
The 12-10 is less packable and will not fit inside most solo cookpots: it’s made of 12-oz soda cans, has a wide primer pan, and comes with an even larger protective case. The 12-10 also requires the pot to sit higher inside the Sidewinder, which is achieved by sliding two titanium skewer stakes horizontally through holes in the cone and then resting the pot atop the stakes. It’s not a terrible inconvenience, but I prefer to avoid such fuss when possible.
The Modified StarLyte is a fuel-miser, optimizing every potential BTU. However, it is slow. To avoid mealtime frustration, I typically start the stove before I am done with other camp chores (e.g. shelter set-up, bed-making, map study, end-of-day footcare), and return to the stove after about 5 minutes, checking more periodically thereafter.
If you are willing to sacrifice some fuel-efficiency for improved cook times, purchase the original non-modified StarLyte directly from Zelph. I would highly recommend this option when regularly cooking with very cold water (e.g. fresh snowmelt, near or sub-freezing daytime temperatures), which seems to make the Modified StarLyte intolerably slow.
Unlike the Supercat stove, which is part of The Dirtbag system, a short-and-wide pot is less imperative when using the Sidewinder or Caldera Cone. However, it will still be more fuel efficient than a deep pot.
The Evernew Ultralite 900 has been my go-to pot since 2004. I’ve replaced it just once. And I’ve done little experimentation with other pots, because I’ve never been compelled to. Do you need more of an endorsement?
For those with a smaller appetite, the Ultralite 600 may be sufficient, though you’ll be giving up the option to simultaneously heat up water for both a meal and a hot drink. The Evernew Ultralite 1.3L is suitable for 2-person cook groups, or for solo hikers with really big appetites and/or who want a 2-person option.
The original Caldera Cone is made of aluminum and costs $35. I think it’s worth an extra $45 for the Sidewinder: its titanium is more durable, and it is sufficiently compact to be stored inside my 900 ml pot. Plus, because of extensive use I can generally justify more expensive backpacking equipment.
The Sidewinder comes with a solid fuel stove, and with some additional accessories — the Inferno and titanium floor — can be used as a wood-burning stove. I have not used either, as I have a strong preference for alcohol fuel. Read why.
To consume a meal and a hot drink simultaneously, you’ll need a mug. Obviously, it can be left at home or not included in your kit, but I think this component is a must-have for most backpackers.
Mugs are not complicated and there are many that will do the job satisfactorily. Personally, I prefer a single-wall mug so that I can warm my hands. Handles are unnecessary, but are an appreciated warm-weather feature. I don’t need a cover or cozy — I prefer to finish my coffee quickly and get moving, versus milking it for an hour in camp.
In the Introduction for this multi-part series, I discuss the components that are universally shared among my trail-tested 3-season backpacking stove systems: pot lifter, utensil, and ignition.
What comments or questions do you have about The Cadillac? If you use a different Cadillac-worthy system, please share the details.
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