While preparing for a backpacking trip in the Colorado Rockies this coming weekend (early-November), I had to consider the appropriateness of my ultralight alcohol stove and my powerful remote canister stove systems. I concluded that both would be functional, but that with an extra $50 purchase I could have a perfectly optimized kit.
This “Fast & Light” setup is suitable for solo backpackers and couples who are:
- Willing to carry an extra 5-ish ounces (140 grams) for a stove system with fast boil times, an intuitive operation, and good fuel efficiency;
- Able to reliably find replacement fuel canisters, which are sold primarily at specialty outdoor retail stores; and,
- Not deterred by the relatively high fuel expense, relative to alcohol and liquid fuel (e.g. white gas).
For some backpackers, Fast & Light will be perfect year-round, or at least outside of the winter months. But for me, I take it along only on solo trips in the shoulder seasons when large volumes of hot water will be desired, to help keep me comfortable despite brisk daytime conditions, long nights, sub-freezing overnight lows, and perhaps only low or moderate physical exertion. Imagine making each day a hot breakfast and morning coffee, mid-day coffee or tea, hot dinner, and hot nighttime tea.
For such extensive cooking I could use my alcohol stove. But its slow boil times would frustrate me, and its low fuel efficiency would partially offset its feathery base weight. Alternatively, I could use my remote canister stove. It would be faster and more fuel efficient, but unnecessarily heavy and overkill (because I wouldn’t fully utilize its sturdiness or its cold-weather performance).
This setup has sufficient firepower to melt snow, but I would not make a habit of it. Other stoves are better suited for this application, notably my winter backpacking stove system.
Gear List: Upright Canister Backpacking Stove System for Soloists & Couples
My complete kit is below. It need not be replicated exactly, but it’s a good starting point.
Save weight by using the 3.9-oz fuel canister (3.5 oz empty, 1.6-oz reduction) and a plastic or metal mug (or none at all, up to a 3.3-oz reduction). And drop the cost by purchasing a $2 Starbucks mug, and a stove and pot made of heavier aluminum and/or steel, not titanium.
- 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
Tweaks for a two-person fast & light backpacking stove
To use this setup as a two-person stove, make these changes.
- Use a larger pot, at least a 1.3L if not a 2L. Note my discussion below about heavy pots and stove strength.
- Bring an eating container (my recommendation: a 1L grease pot for $10), plus an extra hot drink container and utensil.
Discussion and alternatives
The stove is the most interesting item in this kit, but let me quickly address some of the other categories.
My pot is the most expensive item in this kit, at $60. The reason: I have used the Evernew Titanium Ultralight 900 ml for over a decade (I’m on my third, I think), and I already own it.
As a durable but less expensive option, consider:
A wide-and-short pot like the Evernew will be more fuel-efficient than a deep pot, although it’s not a deal-breaker like it can be for the Super Cat Stove. The ability to “nest” a canister into the pot is not an advantage, IMO, as it simply transfers dirt into the pot. Instead, fill the pot with extra food, and let the canister float inside your pack.
Hot drink container
When I pack this stove, the conditions are often such that I enjoy a hot drink to go. With its screw-top lid, the Nalgene allows this. Also, with its wide-mouth opening, pouring hot liquids into it is relatively easy and safe.
If you don’t need a hot drink to go, then use a $2 reusable plastic cup from Startucks or spend substantially more on the Snow Peak Double Wall 450 or similar.
Ultralight stove models
The SupaLite and Snow Peak LiteMax are both made by Kovea and are nearly identical. The biggest difference is that the SupaLite retails for $50; the Litemax, for $60. A penny saved is a penny earned.
The Supalite should not be paired with large pots. I will primarily use it with the 900 ml Evernew, and on occasion maybe a two-liter MSR. But if I were regularly using a 2L+ pot, I would use a stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket or Snow Peak Gigapower (or Gigapower Auto) that is more sturdily designed, in terms of its materials and architecture. I could easily argue that the Supalite/Litemax is “stupid light” because of this issue.
I was indifferent to this feature, which adds weight and expense, and which is redundant with the Bic lighter that I always carry on backpacking trips (for fire-starting, if for no other reason).
The Soto OD-1R Micro interested me because it is the lightest regulated stove and therefore will perform better in cold temperatures than non-regulated upright canister stoves. But I concluded that this feature was unimportant to me: I plan to use the Supalite to heat up a maximum of 1.5 liters of water at a time in temperatures ranging from 10’s to 50’s. That will take less than 10 minutes.
For cold ambient temperatures to have a significant effect on the stove performance, the stove run time would have to be longer. In very cold temperatures, I can bring the canister up to body temperature by keeping it in my jacket or sleeping bag prior to use.
- Independent components are more versatile, because they can mixed-and-matched;
- A stove was less expensive than an entire system (because I already own multiple pots); and,
- The superior fuel efficiency of integrated stoves does not offset the higher base weight unless the stove is used extensively, like on long trips and by large groups. Even then, it’s a marginal difference. The true advantage of an integrated stove is its convenience.
Pros & cons versus my other stove systems
Versus alcohol stoves
The Dirtbag and Cadillac are lighter, with most of the weight-savings being due to the stove and the fuel bottle/canister. Both burn alcohol, which is more widely available than gas canisters but has less firepower.
So, if you are willing to carry a few extra ounces in exchange for faster boiling times, and if you can reliably purchase replacement canisters, then opt for Fast & Light. If you prioritize weight above speed, and/or if replacement canisters will be difficult to find, then go with alcohol.
Versus a remote canister stove
Hot & Heavy is more suitable for larger pots (e.g. one- or two-gallon sized): its design is more stable and its pot supports are stronger. In contrast, upright stoves are scarily top-heavy if paired with large pots, and ultralight upright stoves like the Kovea Supalite may not have the long-term strength to support the weight. Finally, Hot & Heavy shares the same core components as my winter backpacking stove.
So, stick with a remote canister stove if you want:
- A single stove that can be used for 3-season group backpacking and for winter backpacking as a soloist or with 2-3 other people; and/or,
- To use one- or two-gallon pots, which are too heavy and tip-prone for upright canister stoves.
Questions or feedback? Please leave a comment.
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