by the Product Review Staff | 2004-01-31 03:00:00-07
Tucked in the back corner of the industry's largest trade show is a closet booth rented by a tiny company with big aspirations to revolutionize backcountry cooking. With the longest lines at the Outdoor Retailer show, the Jetboil booth was buzz central - with good reason - we've been waiting a long time for this hyped product to hit the market. So, when we snuck to the front of line and were given our review sample, we quietly slipped out the side curtain to escape the mob of retailer buyers asking "When? WHEN?"
The Jetboil stove ("Personal Cooking System") is a completely self-contained canister stove and cookpot unit. The 14 oz unit consists of the following components:
We brought the Jetboil back to our hotel room and took it for a spin. The ooh and ahh factor is there - the design and manufacture of the unit are well-executed and the compact package of stove, fuel canister, and cookpot is impressive.
Once the unit was assembled and filled with 2 cups of cold (50 degree F) water from the hotel room bathtub, we fired it up. Like most stoves with piezo ignitions, the Jetboil stove piezo is no stellar performer and was as finicky as most piezo lighters. Once the stove was burning, we eagerly watched the stop watch, with excitement building as the numbers increased onward to the 90 second magic mark that has been the hallmark statistic in manufacturer marketing materials that have generated so much craze over the stove.
Immediately, we noticed that very little heat spills out the side of the stove burner - we could easily hold our fingers only an inch from the burner head and they did not get hot. This is a testament to the effectiveness of the heat exchanging unit. This had us very excited - clearly, the stove is conserving fuel and channeling its BTU's right into the bottom of the cooking cup.
We are eagerly anticipating the boil, with full expectations of steam rolling out the lid's pour spout very soon!
No boil yet. OK, that's fine - after all, we were using cold water, right?
Everything seems to be working as it should! But no boil.
Still no boil. By now our attention deficit has been overspent and we decided to watch a little CNN, keeping a lookout on the Jetboil out of the corner of our eye.
The pot is creaking and moaning and the unit has grabbed our attention again, so we fight for the best viewing position, anticipating an event rivaled only by the overdue eruption of Old Faithful.
Four minutes, fifteen seconds.
We got boil! Steam is rolling out, we are cheering, and hail the stove as a raging success, temporarily forgetting the fact that boil time is two minutes and forty five seconds overdue. But, the fact that the unit is sitting in our posession, and even works, is exciting in and of itself.
We can't say that the 4:15 boil time is definitive. This was hardly a controlled test. It hasn't been repeated. But clearly, it's a far cry from the 90 second claim. Further, we honestly don't care what the boil time is - as long as claim and reality merge within shouting distance. Boil time is simply not important criteria for assessing the Jetboil stove's performance. More important is how efficient the stove is - can we get more mileage (water volume boiled) out of a canister, and can we do so to the extent that the Jetboil is worth the weight? That question will be answered in our upcoming comprehensive performance review of the Jetboil stove.
So, for now, we'll comment on what we see are significant advantages of the Jetboil stove.
First, the package is very compact. Its stored dimensions are 4.1" / 104 mm (diameter) x 7.1" (180 mm) in height. Second, it's a very simple design - no moving parts (except the piezo ignition button and burner control knob). Third, it's a technological achievement - incorporating a heat exchanger that appears to be very effective into a canister stove unit is a market first.
The drawbacks? The Jetboil stove can't be considered a product that has reached its full technological potential. In order to reach a price point that was suitable for a commodity product for retailers, the Jetboil forgoes the use of ultralight metals like titanium in construction of the cooking cup, burner head, and wind screen. Addition of the piezo ignition adds weight and will most certainly cause problems for users, as they have in nearly every other piezo-ignited canister stove, and is not intuitive to remove from the stove. Further, removal of the piezo leaves an option for lighting the stove with a lighter or external sparking device difficult due to the heat-preserving design of the windscreen, which offers little access to the burner head.
Overall, the Jetboil stove meets our expectations. It will likely be a solidly-performing product. For design innovation, it deserves tremendous merit in a market (canister stoves) that has now seen few major innovations since Snow Peak introduced the Giga Power series. And for those reasons, it deserves consideration by lightweight backpackers and mountaineers who perceive its ease of use and simplicity - and possibly, its fuel efficiency - to be worthy of its 14 ounce weight.
However, we can't ignore the fact that there are equally functional (although perhaps, not as efficient) systems as light as 10 oz for boiling a few cups of water:
So, the real question becomes one of efficiency. Can the Jetboil's design efficiency compensate for its added weight? At an MSRP of only $79 for the complete setup, price alone will drive sales, and we give the stove extremely high praise for its high performance-to-price ratio.
The manufacturer tells us that the Jetboil stove will be available at REI and other major retailers in March, with wider distribution in October 2004.
"Jetboil Stove (Personal Cooking System) First Looks (Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2004)," by the Product Review Staff. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00302.html, 2004-01-31 03:00:00-07.