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.
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
- Contingent: Depends 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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