There are National Parks, State Parks, BLM, National Forests, Conservancies, and who-knows-what. On a "long trail," you're going to pass through areas governed by a multitude of land management agencies – each with their own rules governing stoves. How on earth can anyone comply with all the different rules!? You need:
One Stove to Hike Them All.
|Sauron knows canister stoves meet the regulations of all land management agencies|
For example, all of the four southern most National Forests in California require (if you read their obscure websites carefully enough) a "shut off valve" (example: San Bernardino National Forest) – all year, every year, irrespective of fire danger levels. That pretty much lets out alcohol.
Other National Forests specifically prohibit tablet stoves. For example from Pisgah National Forest:
The use of commercially available portable lanterns, stoves, or heating equipment that utilize gas or pressurized liquid fuel is allowed. The stove must have an ON/OFF switch. No alcohol stoves. No hexamine or solid fuel cubes. [emphasis added]Yes, of course, fire restrictions vary with conditions, but really, if you want to comply with the all the regs, all the time – regulations that may change as you proceed on your hike – there's really only one good lightweight solution: A canister gas stove.
This is not meant to discourage those who prefer another fuel. By all means, check with the various land management agencies along your route. In many places, if it's been a wet year, there will be no fire restrictions.
1. The longer the trail, the more jurisdictions. On something like the PCT, CDT, etc. there are just too many agencies to check with them all. I personally would just get a canister stove because it's the one lightweight option that complies with all regulations. I'm not going to even think about identifying and calling/writing all of the various agencies along, say, the PCT.
2. The regulations can change mid-hike. Many agencies don't issue summer fire restrictions until June or July. In really dry years, fire restrictions can be increased every month throughout the summer. A stove that starts out in compliance may not be in compliance by the end of a hike.
3. A canister stove will be OK every year, everywhere. Sure, some other type of stove may be OK this year, but what about next year? A canister stove is going to comply with the regs this year, next year, and every year. And a canister stove will comply with regulations all over the US. Other types of stoves may not permitted in some areas.
Is this how it should be? I would argue no. ESBIT for example is the very safest possible fuel in terms of fire safety. Banning ESBIT is sort of like banning seat belts to promote automotive safety! Why do agencies ban ESBIT? Ignorance and bureaucracy. There's just no logical, science based reason to ban ESBIT.
However, until agencies like the US Forest Service get out of the Dark Ages, these are the regs. For now, it is only a canister stove that is a) lightweight and b) meets all regulations.
NOTE: It's relatively rare, but occasionally there are 100% fire bans, a ban where no flames of any kind are permitted. I've even seen entire National Forests closed during times of extreme fire danger. A canister stove will comply with all regulations except of course a total, 100% fire ban. Often major trail corridors are exempt from such total bans or at least canister stoves are exempted. It's impossible to predict when such a total ban will occur, but generally land management agencies go out of their way to publicize such bans for indeed they are exceptional.
|Canister gas stoves. |
A Soto Amicus, left, and an MSR Pocket Rocket 2, right.
Types of Canister Stoves
OK, so it's a canister stove. Now, which one? Well, that's up to you, but you may want to check out my thoughts on: What Makes a Good Backpacking Stove?
Before we go on, let me describe the three general classes of canister stoves. I'll then break those down in detail further on.
The types are:
- Upright (top mounted) canister stoves. These are the type of canister stoves that screw directly onto the canister. The stoves in the photo above are upright canister stoves. Generally these are the most compact, lightest, and least expensive. On the downside, they tend to be more vulnerable to wind and pot stability on some is limited.
- Integrated canister stoves. Think Jetboil. This type of stove is sold as a set and includes a pot and stove that are designed to work together. They may also include some type of cup or bowl. Often the pot on this type of stove will have a heat exchanger for improved efficiency (fuel economy). This tends to be the most expensive type of canister stove, but you do get complete set and don't have to buy a separate pot.
- Remote canister stoves. This type of canister stove consists of a burner that is connected to the fuel via a hose. This type of stove can be used with a full 360 degree windscreen without the danger of overheating the canister, has good pot stability, and, on certain models, can be run with the canister upside down (inverted) for greatly improved cold weather operation. On the down side, remote canister stoves are typically more expensive, heavier, and bulkier than upright canister stoves. However, remote canister stoves are typically less expensive than integrated canister stoves.
I recently wrote up a sort of "survey" of what's out there in terms of the typical upright canister gas stove. The survey is in order by weight, lightest to heaviest, and lists a lot of facts like MSRP, weight, and BTU's/hr as well as my personal remarks. See: Upright Canister Stoves – the State of the Art.
Of the stoves that have come out in the last year or so, my two personal favorites are shown above, the Soto Amicus and the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. If you have any interest in either of those two stoves, I have an article that compares them: The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 vs. the Soto Amicus.
|The Soto WindMaster operating in the Sierra Nevada on a PCT/JMT section hike.|
This isn't exactly a new stove, but another one of my favorites is a stove that came out several years ago, the Soto WindMaster, which is the world's lightest stove with piezoelectric ignition.
One note on upright canister stoves: You should not use a full 360 degree windscreen on them. If you fully enclose the canister and burner, you can overheat the canister. That might be, uh, bad. Explosion, flying shrapnel, you know, bad. Don't do that. Upright canister stoves do need to be protected from wind, but you need to be safe. Please see: Canister Stoves and Wind.
Integrated Canister Stoves
Some people of course are going to want something "more" than an upright canister stove, something like, say, a Jetboil. This class of stoves is typically referred to as an "integrated" canister stove. They're a little heavier, but they really save fuel and they're oh-so-convenient.
|A Primus Eta Express stove system is one example of an integrated canister stove.|
One review I completed recently is for the Primus Eta Express stove system (see photo above).
Another popular integrated canister stove – a stove that is utterly "bomb proof" in wind – is the MSR WindBurner (see photo below).
Note: The Windburner was originally named the Windboiler. If you see or hear "Windboiler" instead of "Windburner" in my blog or in my videos, don't freak out. They are one and the same stove.
|The MSR Windburner|
And of course there's always the Jetboil line of stoves. I wrote a review of the Jetboil Sol which was featured in Seattle Backpacker's Magazine. This review should give you some idea of the general features of a Jetboil even if you're considering other Jetboil models (Zip, Flash, Flash Lite, MiniMo, MicroMo, etc.).
Remote Canister Stoves
There are several reasons you might want to go with a remote canister stove.
1. Stability. They're generally lower to the ground and wider. They're typically better for bigger pots as in group cooking. Families with small children, Scouts, etc. may in particular value the improved pot stability of this type of stove.
2. Wind resistance. With an upright canister stove where the fuel is directly under the burner, if you put a windscreen around the stove, you also put a windscreen around the fuel. Overheat a canister, and Boom! You can kiss your dinner and possibly a whole lot more goodbye. With a remote canister stove, the fuel is off to one side, connected by a hose. A windscreen separates the fuel from the flame. In other words, a windscreen actually makes a remote canister stove safer (the opposite of an upright canister stove).
3. Cold weather operation. If a given remote canister stove has a way to vaporize the fuel before the fuel reaches the burner head, then the stove can be run with the canister upside down (inverted). Hunh? Who cares? Well, you do if you're out in cold weather. If you're headed out into cold weather, a remote canister stove capable of inverted operation will handle the cold weather better than any other canister stove. This is a bit complicated, so I've written a separate article on it. Please see: Gas Stoves in Cold Weather – Regulator Valves and Inverted Canisters.
I don't have a survey article (yet) on remote canister stoves, but below are some links to remote canister stoves I've reviewed:
|A Kovea Spider remote canister stove.|
Note how the canister is upside-down (inverted).
In addition to all of the above, there are a whole lot more articles on my blog if you want to geek out on stoves. You can Google search to your heart's content. If you prefix your Google search with "site:AdventuresInStoving", then Google will search just my blog.
Now, whatever stove you pick, I hope it serves you well out there on the trail. Of course, even the safest designs need a smart operator in order to be safe. So, be careful out there – but of course enjoy.