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MSR, Snow Peak, and Backpacker's Pantry 1-L + 1.5-L Backpacking Cooksets

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by the Product Review Staff | 2003-06-29 03:00:00-06

Introduction

Most hardcore solo ultralight hikers choose miniscule, titanium "pots" that are more appropriately described as "cups". However, this style remains on the fringe and the defacto standard for a lightweight hiker's cook kit is a 1-L pot in either titanium or aluminum.

For hiking partners who share their cooking gear, the "fringe" seems to get by on a single 1.5-L pot, but many duos like the convenience of a two pot system so two courses can be prepared simultaneously (e.g., on two stoves) or in an efficient production line (where one pot is on the stove while the other is serving actively as an eating bowl for the food just cooked).

Herein we focus on two-pot cooksets that include nesting 1.0- and 1.5-liter pots:

  • Backpacker's Pantry Evolution Soloist Cookset
  • MSR DuraLite Mini Cookset
  • MSR Titan Mini Cookset
  • Snow Peak Trek Combo, Combo Ti, and Combo NS

Review Criteria

Boil Time

We were amazed at how much emphasis people place on boil time and fuel efficiency in their cook systems. Both performance measures can differ significantly depending on fuel type, stove design, wind screen design, wind, air temperature, water temperature, etc. To try to predict the impact of these factors on boil time or fuel efficiency is absolutely futile. Further, we learned in testing boil times using this cookware in a 68*F kitchen that the data had zero impact on actual boil times in the field. Further, after analyzing the sensitivity of boil time and fuel efficiency to these factors, stove design and wind played a far more important role than pot design. Now, we are by no means advocating that you should ignore the pot design, but chances are, it's really not going to matter in the field. You simply can't save enough weight in fuel on a week-long hike by selecting one pot design over another to actually make a difference. So, we are going to focus on more practical aspects of cookset performance, including weight, packability, durability, and cost.

Having said that, we did decide to report the results of some kitchen counter boil tests. Just take them with a grain of salt. Here's a summary:

  • 24 ounces of 50 degree water in a 1-L pot
  • 32 ounces of 50 degree water in a 1.5-L pot
  • 24 ounces of 32 degree water in a 1-L pot
  • 32 ounces of 32 degree water in a 1.5-L pot

We used a Snow Peak GigaPower Ti Auto canister stove with a full 220-g canister for each test with no windscreen and a lid on each pot. The time to boil was determined at when the temperature of the water reached 210*F as measured remotely by an insulated wire temperature sensor.

We did find that, all conditions being equal (e.g., in the kitchen) the MSR Duralite was the fastest cooker. We assigned it a score of 1.0 based on it having the fastest average time required to boil a given amount of water in various tests. Other cookware were compared by dividing their average times with the average time of the Duralite Cookware. The following table summarizes these results.

MSR Duralite Mini 1.00
Backpacker's Pantry Evolution Soloist 1.04
MSR Titan Mini 1.08
Snow Peak Trek Combo Ti 1.31

Conclusion: There is little practical difference in boil time between the Duralite, Evolution, or Titan cooksets. The Trek Combo was a slow boiler, due primarily in part, we suspect, to its high height-to-diameter ratio, which negatively effects the amount of surface area allowed for heat transfer at the contact surface between pot and water. In general, the Snow Peak Trek Combo boiled slower in the field as well, while no meaningful differences were observed among the other three cooksets in field conditions.

Weight

We measured the weight of each cook set on a NIST-certified scale. The weight included only the cookware - pots, lids, and handles - and no stow bag.

MSR Titan Mini 9.6 oz
Snow Peak Trek Combo Ti 13.1 oz
Backpacker's Pantry Evolution Soloist 16.2 oz
MSR Duralite Mini 17.1 oz
Snow Peak Trek Combo NS 17.9 oz
Snow Peak Trek Combo 19.9 oz

As expected, the titanium cooksets were the lightest, with the MSR Titan Mini blowing away the rest of the field. The Snow Peak Trek Combo Ti really wasn't really light enough to justify its price premium over the Evolution, especially considering its slow boil time results described above.

Packability

The big advantage of the Snow Peak cooksets were their ability to pack well. They easily stuffed either vertically or on their side, giving us flexible options for location. The MSR and Backpacker's Pantry cooksets, with their more traditional dimensions, required more attention in packing. This was most important when packing the cooksets in frameless pack, where a mispacked 1.5-L pot could easily wreak havoc on the ability of the pack to flex to your spine.

Durability

Coatings and Cleanability. The Trek Combo NS, Evolution Soloist, and Duralite Mini cooksets all had nonstick coatings. When new, they all performed similarly but were certainly not miracle workers. None of the coatings were really thick enough to prevent scorching (as per manufacturer claims), but we do think that the presence of these coatings minimized scorching. In comparative scorch-resistance tests, however, we did observe the least amount of scorching in the Evolution Soloist. The bottom line is, when you are cooking, you still need to pay attention to the process or your food will burn.

More important is the ability of the coatings to ease cleanup. We felt that for most meals (in the absence of scorching, of course), the nonstick cookware offered distinct advantages - food simply rinsed out. However, greasy foods could not be cleansed from the cookware in the absence of soap, where plain water rinsed out the uncoated pots just fine. So we ignored manufacturer recommendations and subjected all of our cooksets to continuous washing with sand, dirt, and gravel. Of the three cooksets with coatings, we found that the Evolution Soloist cookset was not only the easiest to clean, but was also the most scratch-resistant, showing little wear of the coating over six months of pretty hard abuse. In comparison, the coating on the Trek Combo NS cookset was nearly worn to the metal after subjecting it to similar abuse. The Duralite Mini showed visible scratching, but still remained reasonably functional for scorch-resistance.

Of the uncoated pots, the MSR Titan Mini was the easiest to clean - it offered a titanium surface texture that was far smoother than the Trek Combo Ti. As expected, the uncoated aluminum cookset, the Trek Combo, was the most difficult pot to clean.

Durability. The Duralite Mini cookset gets the nod for most durable cookset in this review. Because it's hard anodized, it tends to be stronger than a comparable weight of aluminum. However, if we were to assign a durability:weight ratio for cookware, the Trek Combo Ti would win top honors. It withstood several our "let's run over it with a snowmobile on concrete and see what happens" better than the others, due in part to the thicker titanium walls that make it heavier than the Titan mini cookset. For most experienced lightweight hikers, durability tends to be a is a less meaningful performance criterion.

Summary

The cheapest cookset in this review - the Evolution Soloist - was by no means the worst performer. In contrast, we thought this cookset defined a new sweet spot for cookware pricing. It was the lightest non-titanium cookset in the review, had the best nonstick coating in terms of both durability and its ability to resist scorching, and was the easiest to clean. And at the high end of the scale, the MSR Titan Mini offers the best overall performance-to-weight ratio, but you pay for it. Thus, we are pleased to award the Trail's Best Award to these two products.

Trail's Best Award Backpacker's Pantry Evolution Soloist $34
  Snow Peak Trek Combo $45
  MSR Duralite Mini $50
  Snow Peak Trek Combo NS $80
Trail's Best Award MSR Titan Mini $90
  Snow Peak Trek Combo Ti $90

Citation

"MSR, Snow Peak, and Backpacker's Pantry 1-L + 1.5-L Backpacking Cooksets," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00098.html, 2003-06-29 03:00:00-06.

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