For many years I have used and promoted the Super Cat Alcohol Stove. You may know this design as the Fancy Feast Stove, a plain description I started using since I was unaware that it had a name or that it could be traced back to a creator, Jim Wood. Sorry, Jim, no ill intent meant; hopefully you can excuse me for spending much more time backpacking than reading backpacking forums.
The Super Cat has a number of advantages over other types of backpacking stoves and other alcohol stove designs:
- Readily available fuel source
- Minimal cost to operate
- Cheap and easy to make
- Ultralight and compact
- No parts to break or clog
- Unnecessary additional pot stand
The design is imperfect, however, and in this post I wanted to acknowledge some of its flaws and drawbacks. Some of these problems are inherent to the stove, while others apply to the overall system of Super Cat + DIY Aluminum Foil Windscreen.
Incompatible with “deep” pots
As a side-burner stove, the Super Cat’s flames emit sideways from jets in its vertical walls. When paired with a “deep” pot like the Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset or even the MSR Titan Titanium Kettle, these flames make insufficient contact with the pot’s bottom before the heat escapes up the sides, badly affecting efficiency. The Super Cat must be paired with a squatty pot; for many years, my pick has been the Evernew Titanium 900ml Ultra-Light. If you already own a deep pot and don’t want to replace it, you must find a center-burner stove design, like Roy Robinson’s Cat Stove.
The Super Cat demands a flat-and-level surface, at least for the stove but preferably for the entire system. Flat and level are not synonymous — if you have done any home improvement, you probably know the difference. If your cooking area is not both, there is a higher likelihood that your pot will slide off your stove, resulting in at least some of your hard-earned meal in the dirt. This seems to happen most often when the operator is stirring the food.
Unutilized bloom time
When the jets of an alcohol stove finally emit flames, it is known as blooming. The time needed for a Super Cat to bloom is a function of the number and size of holes — more and larger holes = more oxygen = faster bloom. Due to the Super Cat being a side-burner and doubling as a potstand, it must bloom before a pot can be placed on top. If it has not bloomed, the flame will snuff out, or be so oxygen-deprived that it won’t burn hot enough to achieve a boil. For an unknowing user, this operational requirement can lead to a lot of frustration; and for more experienced users, it amounts to wasted fuel and time.
Poor wind performance
In even a mild breeze, the Aluminum Foil Windscreen struggles to protect the Super Cat’s delicate flame. Sticks and rocks can be used to reinforce the screen’s position, and natural and manmade wind protection (e.g. boulders, low bushes, backpacks, shelters) can help, too. Nonetheless, I have watched wind screens blow across Alaskan tundra and Utah slickrock. And, even when they stay put, you can see and hear that wind is entering the system and affecting its operation.
The Super Cat’s side-burning jets are less than an inch off the ground and can easily ignite grass, leaves, forest duff, and lichen. Trust me, I have seen it happen. A cooking area devoid of such combustible materials is imperative. As a LNT consideration, look for areas that are already clear: rock slabs, flat rocks, sand, gravel, trampled ground, and sterile dirt. It’s equally important to have proper airflow: intake through the bottom of the windscreen, and outflow near the top of the pot. If the system is suffocated of oxygen, the flames can flow downwards.
Not an optimized system
The system’s overall efficiency is a function of the number and size of holes in the stove and the windscreen, the pot shape, and the relative position of the components. Unless you are a stove geek or replicated exactly the system recommended by a stove geek, it is unlikely that your stove is optimized, i.e. that it’s heating water as quickly as it can while still making full use of the fuel. As a DIY project, this is not its nature — your system probably burns too hot (inefficient) or too cool (slow), and/or injects too much or too little oxygen into the system for optimal combustion. In comparison, look at a JetBoil Flash Lite or MSR Reactor, which are complete and perfected systems.