Preview: Trail Designs Kojin Stove, a StarLyte replacement || Russ Zandbergen interview

While I am frequently linked with the Super Cat Stove and was a longtime user, for the last three years I have relied on a more engineered system that is more fuel-efficient, wind-resistant, and stable. Its cornerstone is the Trail Designs Sidewinder Cone.

Trail Designs has just released the Kojin Stove, which is meant to be paired with the Sidewinder. It has a significant advantage over  TD’s longtime flagship stove, the 12-10, because it can be stowed inside an Evernew 600 ml and 900 ml pot. It performs similarly to the Zelph StarLyte, but will be available directly from Trail Designs as a standalone product and as part of its Sidewinder package.

I interviewed Trail Designs owner Russ Zandberger about the new Kojin.


The new Kojin stove weighs 16 grams and can be stowed inside the Evernew 600 and 900 ml pots.

Q | What’s the significance of its name, “Kojin”?

Kojin is the Japanese god of fire, the hearth, and the kitchen.

Q | Besides its significantly smaller size, what are the other major differences between the Kojin and 12-10?

The 12-10 stove was our ONLY stove for years. Twelve, I think.

The smaller size allows it to be stowed inside the Evernew 600 ml and 900 ml pots, along with the sidewinder cone. That’s a big win for Sidewinder users.

The Kojin will function well with the Sidewinder Ti-Tri Cone. The pot can be put directly on the cone. No stakes are required for an alcohol burn.

This was the primary reason for us doing the new burner. We resold the Zelph StarLyte when Dan would sell it to us. The Kojin replaces the StarLyte quite well.

The 12-10 will not go away. The 12-10 performs better with large 3- to 5-cup boils. The Kojin seems to have a sweet spot at about 2-cup boils. We will still recommend the 12-10 if the customers plans include boiling 4 cups of water at one time.

My brother has been testing with 4 and 5 cups of water in a 2-quart pot.

Left to right: the Trail Designs 12-10 and new Kojin, and the Zelph StarLyte

Q | How much engineering went into the Kojin? It looks incredibly simple: an oversized Dermatone tin with some fiberglass-like material inside. What am I missing?

In terms of the final design, you are missing only one thing: the lid seal. It’s a silicone material that will not be damaged by using the lid to snuff out the burner. We buy the raw material and make the seal.

More engineering went into the Kojin than you might think, but not as much as for the 12-10. We got lucky in finding that filler materiel. I will keep this part a trade secret as long as I can.

I was working to a performance goal. Many versions were made and tested. The final design was driven by actual performance data — boil time and fuel use. Many of the iterations were more complicated than the final design.

The fiberglass-like material in the Kojin is a trade secret for now. The cap liner is covered with silicone.

Q | What are the ordering details?

It will distributed through our website only. It will be an option with some systems, notably the Sidewinders. And it can be purchased separately for $12. We expect existing Sidewinder owners to want it as an upgrade for the Starlyte.

It’s available now.

We will continue to offer the 12-10 as a standalone stove.

Unlike the 12-10, the Kojin will fit inside an Evernew 600 ml and 900 ml pot, along the Sidewinder cone.



Disclosure. I strive to offer field-tested information, insights, and advice, and I have a long-term incentive to be a trustworthy source. I do not publish sponsored content or native advertising, and I do not accept payments in exchange for reviews. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products.

This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby in exchange for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors like REI or Amazon, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links.

Additional disclosure. Three years ago Trail Designs gave me a Sidewinder Cone, and more recently the Kojin Stove. Trail Designs had no expectations in return, but promote these products anyway because I think they’re excellent.

Posted in , on February 18, 2018
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25 Comments

  1. Gordon on February 18, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    For $12, I might buy one just to have it, but in what sense is it an “upgrade” from the StarLyte? They both weigh 16 grams, and they “perform[.] similarly”. Ease of use? (I’m not trying to be a PITA, here – I’m just curious if there really is a difference.)

    I’ve been boiling a liter using the StarLyte. Based on this review, I’ll get out the 12-10 I got originally, and see if I get better performance.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 18, 2018 at 9:30 pm

      I don’t think it’s a meaningful upgrade vs the StarLyte. It’s meant as a replacement, since they were not longer able to get them anymore (for reasons I promised not to discuss, nothing bad, just business stuff). The perk for new buyers is that they won’t need to spend an extra $12 on top of what is already an expensive purchase.

      • Gordon on February 18, 2018 at 9:48 pm

        OK, I can understand their wanting to have their own stove in that form factor. It took me a long time to get Zelph’s attention when I went to buy my StarLyte. But now I see a StarLyte XL3 at Zelph’s. I guess I should get around more.

  2. John on February 18, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    Described on BPL as a cosmetic tin with ceramic insulation.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 18, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      I wonder how they talk about the Super Cat Stove.

  3. Peter on February 19, 2018 at 5:54 am

    My 12-10 that came with my Ti-Tri still sits unopened and unused. I bought the Zelph stove which makes more sense because it fits in the pot. I’m glad they made this change and I might order one just to try it.

  4. Peter on February 19, 2018 at 6:00 am

    Shipping is $9.48. I think I’ll pass.

    • Gordon on February 19, 2018 at 8:22 am

      I guess that is shipping *and handling*. Well, there is no free lunch. Of course, not that many backpackers stop to cook lunch. 😉

      The current cook set I have from Trail Designs (bought based on one of Andrews’ reviews) is for my wife and I. I’m thinking of getting a solo setup (saves weight!), so the shipping cost will not be such an issue.

  5. Bernd on February 19, 2018 at 11:32 am

    I would like to recommend the “speedster stove” for european customers.

    It is similar in design and function (except the silicone filling) and has less shipping costs.

    • gene curp on February 21, 2018 at 5:49 am

      I recently received my SpeedsterBackpacingProducts stove. Fine performance and fuel economy. The tin is, however, noticeably delicate of very thin metal. Not as robust as Starlyte I have been using for last couple years. Speedster is also a screw top tin like the Trail Designs.

  6. Ron Jameson on February 19, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    Can you use yellow heet with it? Seems it said denatured alcohol only.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 19, 2018 at 12:33 pm

      I’ve never heard of an alcohol stove that was only compatible with denatured alcohol and not HEET. It’s possible that some stoves perform marginally different with one fuel or the other, but I doubt it would be noticeable in the field, and I doubt the construction of the stove would not permit one of the fuels.

  7. Andy V on February 19, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    Andrew can you compare burn times and boil times with the three stoves using your 900ml pot and windscreen please

  8. Sean on February 20, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    I to am interested in burn time and fuel economy I’m ordering my titri for my 900 pot but I like the fact of 1/2oz fuel for 2 cup boil with the modified. I would imagine the kojin is full bore and 1oz of fuel needed.? I guess I could always make a simer ring for it.

  9. gene curp on February 21, 2018 at 5:53 am

    I love using the Starlyte with the Sidewinder. I don’t have to carry the tent stakes! I can reseal the stove and save the leftover fuel. It is small and fits in my pot. All these advanages over the 12-10 apply to the new Kojin burner. Plus the lid has a silicon liner seal so it can be used to snuff the flame and still remain airtight to store leftover fuel. I’m stoked. (And it is green).

  10. Patrick on February 22, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    As somebody who almost exclusively does 4 cup boils, is there an alternative to the 12-10 that offers better performance? I was intrigued until I read that it was designed more for a smaller volume.

  11. John Deacon on April 13, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    I have read some complaints online that Russ has unfairly copied the Zelph and this is just a knockoff and he should have just kept the StarLyte because of fairness. I have used the StarLyte for over 30 nights the last 2 years with the Sidewinder. I have been generally happy with it but always wished the green plastic cap was metal to make it easy to extinguish the fire. Placing the bottom of my pot on it usually takes 2 or 3 attempts to get the flame to go out since it needs to perfectly seal the top of the stove to extinguish the flame. I think the metal cap of the Kojin is a huge improvement. I bought one last week and can confirm it is much easier to put of the fire with the cap than the bottom of the pot. Just set it on top and its out.
    It is a definite improvement and not a knockoff.

  12. Janette R. on May 19, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    So after lengthy research, especially on this website, I bit the bullet and built out a system with the evernew 1.3L pot and accompanying trail design bundle.

    Tried it out and I am not impressed. The Kojin kept burning out. Used everclear first (had it on hand and the instructions explicitly said I could) and it kept burning out prematurely/wouldn’t hold a consistent flame. Tried heet next and kept getting the same results. Not sure what the issue is.

    My problem? Trail Designs explicitly says in their warranty you can return everything within 15 days “…for any reason.” So I contacted them and they essentially told me a resounding “no” and “too bad” and “we’ve sold thousands of these, it’s your problem.”

    Yeah. So I’m contacting the BBB and filing a claim with my bank. What if I didn’t have a problem and just didn’t like the stove overall? Well then I still would be out almost a hundred dollars (much more if you buy the pot along with it separately) because they flat out don’t honor their warranty and argued with me about this fact despite having the darn warranty right here in front of my hands!!!

    Horrible company, worse customer service, don’t hold your breath. Total joke and gives the cottage industry a horrible name.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 21, 2018 at 9:06 am

      I can’t speak for TD’s business policies, but I’ve never heard of anyone having an experience like this with a TD stove system. I have had dozens of clients buy a TD stove prior to or after a guided trip with me, and the response is universally positive. I also have a half-dozen demo stoves, none of which have displayed an issue like the one you described. I’m also certain that you’re not alone in buying a TD stove after reading some of the posts on this website, and you are the first person to have share a negative experience (there may be others, but they’ve have not written anything here).

      Hope you and TD can get it figured out.

      • Janette R. on May 21, 2018 at 4:28 pm

        With all due respect, their business policies do matter.

        I have learned a lot from you and the plethora of information you have provided via this website–to the point that I currently own both your backpack and tent, and they are amazing. Since you have extensively used this cooking system from TD, I bit the bullet and purchased from them because of your experience and positivity using their system.

        Now I am sure I’m not using the stove right. But you know what? I don’t have any experience using alcohol stoves and that’s due to the fact (that you yourself have pointed out on this site) that brick and mortar stores like REI don’t sell them. A lot of us backpackers are new to the concept for that very reason and is still a daunting initiative to try out ourselves, even with a dirtbag setup you have laid out–it’s just not that easy a thing to do by yourself without guidance.

        So I buy from what seems like a trusted cottage company and now it took a threat of legal action for them to finally agree to their own warranty! Mr. Skurka, that’s unacceptable. And your readers should know that fact before they take the risk (like I did) and purchase nearly a hundred dollar setup from a company that has no phone number to call. That’s right. Their customer service is an email. I have them saved. And they were rude, condescending, and demanded I take pictures of the stove itself and send them before they would even consider a replacement. That’s unacceptable! Especially when you can return for quote “…any reason.”

        Ultimately, many of your readers trust you and what you use. Clearly the performance of the stove is not my issue, but their business practices are, thus I am leaving the review here because it is one of few places I can, next to a formal complaint with the BBB. Next time, focus on that fact please, and not what may very well be my ineptitude with alcohol stoves. The fact that a company refuses to honor their warranty is completely valid, and you should speak to that fact.

        On a different note, I wanted to thank you immensely for your amazing website and all of the venerable experience you have shared for free. It has inspired me to be a better and lighter backpacker and have learned innumerable MacGyverisms from your teachings! Keep up the great work!

        • Chernobyl on December 28, 2018 at 3:44 pm

          Did you really threaten to write a BBB complaint (which literally does NOTHING) and sue over an $18 stove? What a joke. In fact, your entire diatribe just reeks of entitlement, are you seriously telling another person what they should speak about? Really? I wouldn’t have issued a refund at all and would have just laughed in your face when you threatened to sue over an $18 stove lol. Maybe they were “rude and condescending” because you sound unreasonable and unable to accept that maybe it was YOU who failed and not their long proven product and then the first thing you do is threaten their business? Next time focus on your failures and not trying to sue someone over something that costs less than a pizza that you couldn’t figure out.

          • Janette R. on February 25, 2019 at 12:00 am

            You should read what I posted more carefully. I purchased a $100 bundle, not “…something that costs less than a pizza”. Despite any ineptitude on my part, they refused to honor their own warranty policy, which to reiterate, anything can be returned: “…for any reason.” That was until I had to literally threaten a lawsuit, in which they reluctantly honored (which seems an absolute horrific scenario to you, have your ever tried to return an item?) their own existing warranty.

            The Kojin is a new product. Not as you put it: “…their long proven product”, so please, c’mon.

            Yes, I am utterly entitled to expect a company to honor their own warranty…wow time to rethink my life choices, eh? What a concept.

            And now that time has progressed with reflection, I did buy the 1.3L setup and I don’t believe their Kojin stove is very effective for a larger pot with more volume to heat up, even though they sell it as such. Perhaps all the .9L setups work wonderfully. But as Skurka himself has noted, for hungrier hikers or those in a duo trek, the .9L might not suffice. Would not recommend the 1.3L or larger. Let alone someone like me who’s 6’6” and 225lbs.

            Cheers friend, good luck in your endeavors but try reading a post in it’s entirety before negligent judgement. Doesn’t do anyone any good on a terrific website like this.



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