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Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 01/31/2012 13:23:38 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 01/31/2012 15:23:12 MST Print View

Great report! (Just a little late for the TWO new stoves I bought last month). I appreciate real-world, but still controlled testing. I don't really care how well stoves work at 70 degrees- freezing or below is when you want it to work!

One question related to the canister stoves-
Were all the tests with full or nearly full canisters, or did you compare results as a canister approached empty? There's been lots of discussion related to the propane burning off faster than Isobutane so that the canister doesn't do as well as it nears empty.

Of course we seldom NEED to cook in the tent. It's sure a lot more comfortable though- out of the wind or falling snow, snug in a sleeping bag. In winter probably 90% of my snow melting and cooking has been in a tent or just outside the door. I'd rather carry steel propane cylinders and cook inside than carry light white gas containers and cook outside.

And finally...
When measuring time to go from frozen to boil- consider set up time and "fiddle factor". True the Reactor took 3 minutes longer than the Simmerlite. I have a feeling that the time from pulling the Reactor out of your pack to having a hot cuppa is going to be faster than the Simmerlite. There's no setup- while the Simmerlite has windscreen setup, fuel bottle attachment, pumping, and priming.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Re: Re: Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 01/31/2012 16:06:46 MST Print View

That pumping takes quite a while! I was on a group trip in the late 1980's. I had a MSR Whisperlite and everyone else had Bluet canister stoves. The rest of the group would have finished breakfast by the time I got my water boiling!

I'd also like to hear about the almost empty canister performance. Maybe run it until almost empty, put it back in the freezer and run another test?

Edited by hikinggranny on 01/31/2012 16:07:35 MST.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: Re: Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 01/31/2012 16:51:40 MST Print View

To Brad:

EXCELLENT report and a very good writing style I might add. A pleasure to read.

Very interesting results. I really hadn't given the Primus Express much consideration heretofore. And that's absolutely fascinating that the Reactor worked as well as it did in such cold weather. That's worth a separate report all its own.

A few questions, if I may:
1. I notice that a Coleman Xpert was in some of the photos. I'm wondering if you could comment as to why an Xpert (or Xtreme) did not make the final cut of stoves considered for the report.
2. I generally consider the "floor" of the WindPro's operational temperature range to be about 0F/-18C at 1013mBar pressure. Did you get a sense over the course of your testing whether or not the WindPro might be a better stove in the upper half of your -20F to +20F testing range?
3. Do you know when your Soto Muka was produced? I tested an early model Muka and found that I took me over 250 strokes on the pump to get the indicator to "pop out" (the bottle was about 1/7th full). I wonder if the pump I used was different than the one you used since you report that you didn't need more strokes than say on an MSR pump. Does your Muka include a production date on the packaging or stove anywhere?
4. And final question, even at the lower end of the temperature range, say -10F to -20F, were you still able to use a Reactor? And did you perchance try using the Reactor with a canister that was 2/3rds or more depleted (i.e. no propane left)?

Thanks for the great report, and I hope you have time to respond to my inquiries.

Adventures In Stoving

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 01/31/2012 16:56:15 MST Print View

Brad, good review.
I have to beg to differ with you about the dangers of white gas. You are probably one of the small minority that has never seen a fireball or flare up of a white gas stove. I have seen enough for the both of us, some intentional, but most totally innocent, all a major risk. If you spend enough time in scouting you will see the fireball- mostly caused by adults.
In the photo below (I've shared it before) my stove was being used by a retired Scout Master while snow camping. I had the windscreen around the stove and the pump/bottle outside the screen. I was inside the igloo so I didn't witness the pyrotechnics that could cause the pump to melt like that.
I've never had this kind of problem with a canister, inverted or otherwise.

Here is the pump up close
Melted pump 1

Here is the set up I was using, with the Scout Masters pump attached to my stove. Notice the melted pump in the top right. He had the same stove and pump! I had my Coleman there for my own use thinking he knew how to use the white gas stove since he had the same stoveMelted pump 2

Edited by bestbuilder on 01/31/2012 21:09:02 MST.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: White Gas Explosions on 01/31/2012 18:19:43 MST Print View

Yes, white gas can be dangerous and so can a Q-tip if not used properly. That picture is a good reminder of that.

I have used white gas stoves for 40 years and have never seen a fireball or explosion -- probably because I am usually by myself. Most of this has been with Svea 123s and two MSR Stoves (a Whisperlite purchased in the 80's and a DragonFly purchased a few years ago). I still have all these stoves and still use them occasionally. Over the years I have talked to others who have experienced problems, and all seemed to point to the same problem: user error. Most important is to follow the directions. Check gaskets and o-rings as instructed, and with MSR perform the annual maintenance. This is what I do not like about the MSR stoves -- the complexity of the pump and the required maintenance, which I perform faithfully. Also important with the MSR is to lube the needle and properly insert it into the pump. Do all of this correctly and it is very unlikely you will experience a problem.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: White Gas Explosions on 01/31/2012 18:38:58 MST Print View

"Check gaskets and o-rings as instructed"

This was always the important part, to me.

If the MSR pump required more than a dozen or so strokes, then it was a sign that either the fuel bottle was too full, thereby having little air space to pump pressure into, or that the pump's leather gasket was dried out, so the pumping was poorly effective.

Once I got in the habit of oiling the leather gasket before each trip, that problem went away. A field substitute for oil is Chapstick.


Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
questions on 02/01/2012 09:23:57 MST Print View

Just a quick answer to some of your questions-

Several wondered about fuel level in the canisters... I ran them from full to empty. Each canister was designated a stove, ie I labeled one for the WindPro and one for the Reactor. The Reactor burned a canister to completely empty having been used only in the deep freezer conditions; the WindPro likewise burned all its fuel. The WindPro distinctly burns better at the higher end of the temperature range of testing... see the very last chart of the article, where the temps hovered around freezing.

Tad, I've seen melted pump parts before, no doubt... but as mentioned, that's due to operator error. If a stove isn't properly maintained and has leaky gaskets, well, yeah, you'll have problems. With the most cursory, occasional eyeball maintenance I've never had such a problem in over 20 years of using these stoves. Scouts... Hey, I'm an Eagle Scout... I know about the Scouting system, and the kids I went though with and have taught since, well, I know they could find a way to bugger something up given the opportunity. We always just deeply stressed responsibility and respect; it's on the kids to act like adults, in a sense. But, yes, I generally recommend canister stoves for 3-season Scouting.

HJ, I've found that pressurizing ANY nearly-empty white gas bottle takes a whole lotta strokes. I'd guess that a MSR 22-ouncer at 1/7 full would take around 200 strokes for full pressure, though it would certainly operate with fewer... note that the Muka would probably also operate with fewer, though, for both, perhaps not as "optimally." I didn't keep the xpert in because, first and foremost, they're not made any more. My recolection is that it also took the longest of all the stoves tested to reach a boil in the severe conditions outlined... I'll see if I can find data from the xpert just for grins-

EDIT: Oh, just a note on operational "friendliness:" I never bleed the pressure from my white gas bottles during a trip. I pressurize the bottle, use the stove, and continue pressurizing as needed throughout the trip. End result, I never have to start "from scratch" to pump a bottle all the way up, maybe 40-ish? strokes? Never bothered counting, wasn't a big deal-

Edited by 4quietwoods on 02/01/2012 09:30:18 MST.

Michael Matiasek
(matiasek) - F - M
update figures on 02/01/2012 11:13:23 MST Print View

Thanks for the great review! A small request: Could you update your figure legends to include more information on where the data comes from. I am having a hard time telling whether the water used started as a block of ice or not. It would be great to see a volume boiled under the legend and temperature of the water initially. I suspect it is elsewhere in the article but it would be great if you could include it in the legend for clarity. thanks!

Craig Rowland
(craigr) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
Svea 123R on 02/01/2012 12:51:28 MST Print View

Maybe outside the weight requirements for the article, but I'll mention the Svea 123R. I have used a number of white gas stoves through the years and that Svea 123R always works. It's what I take in cold temps for snow camping now. It can melt snow and always works. The lack of a pump and extraneous moving parts makes it very reliable. I also like that the fuel tank is attached to the stove. No pumping is required and I don't get fuel sprayed all over me when disassembling it. I've seen some nasty fireballs with some pump stoves.

The stove weighs 19 ozs. But when you consider the tank is built in and doesn't need to have a repair kit carried it is comparable to modern stoves. The tank holds about 1 hour worth of fuel which is more than enough for 1-2 day trips.

I have a review of mine posted here:

Svea 123R in the snow.

Thanks for your review. I like seeing gear tested in less than optimal conditions. It shakes out the problems quickly.

Edited by craigr on 02/01/2012 13:07:05 MST.

Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: update figures on 02/01/2012 13:34:51 MST Print View

Michael: the volume of water was always one liter, and the other information you request is simply in the caption below each figure.

Michael Matiasek
(matiasek) - F - M
Re: update figures on 02/01/2012 14:11:47 MST Print View

Thanks for your fast response! I think the data would be more clearly presented if the 1 L were added, why make the reader search for it? I will leave it at that.

Also, in the second figure the legend refers to cold tap water. Can you clarify what temperature "cold" is?


Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
3-season values on 02/01/2012 17:22:21 MST Print View

Nope, Michael, I don't have a temperature for "cold," which is why I used the somewhat open-ended word. Given that we had a significant amount of data on sub-zero performance, I wanted to get an idea of how the stoves would perform in more "real-world" 3-season-type conditions that many users would face. The testing conditions for the second set of values were, therefore, not as controlled. Stoves and fuel were placed outside to reach ambient temperature; water either came cold from the tap, or from the tap and then put outside to sit with the stoves and fuel. Some days were in the 20s, some in the 40s... The point was to develop a general feel for moderate-weather performance, to round out or balance the deep cold aspect of the research.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Svea 123R on 02/01/2012 17:37:05 MST Print View


I have a lot of experience with 123s and just love the stove, although I don't use it much these days due the the weight. It is my favorite stove of all time.

In serious winter conditions, I much prefer a MSR DragonFly or even a WhisperLite. The Svea tank can only really hold about 5 oz of fuel, so one still needs to carry an extra fuel container for most trips. It cannot hold a candle to a MSR for snow melting, IMO.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 02/01/2012 19:09:02 MST Print View

Brad, I agree with you about stoves and maintenance. My comment was more geared about people paying attention to what they are doing. The scout handbook requires adult supervision when operating a stove (any kind) but it has been my experience that the Adults are the ones who need supervision.

Last winter we had a dad carry his stove around his igloo site with the valve open spilling almost all the fuel in his large size bottle. He couldn't see it because of the snow. Why/how he didn't smell it is beyond me and thank goodness he didn't light it before someone noticed the fuel smell. It took all night for the smell to dissipate. Needless to say no one lit a match in that area.

Again, I have found Adults are the ones how need the supervision. That is why I prefer not to have white gas stoves around.

I purchased a couple of the coleman's Xtreme's for the troop and have had no problems with them or the operators.

In the photo above the temperature was 16*, it was down to lower then 13* during the night with the stoves left out. Both stoves Xtreme and Dragonfly boiled water in about the same time- I didn't noticed and difference.

The Coleman Xtreme is no longer made but but you can still purchase an "Xpert" which would have been nice to have in the review.

Brad, you had a Coleman in one of your pictures- any info on how it preformed?

Mark Rash
(markrvp) - M

Locale: North Texas
Thanks on 02/01/2012 21:29:13 MST Print View

Thank you for a great article! I have an MSR Reactor stove and I've always been amazed that they don't get more respect here. There was a discussion here some time ago about how the JetBoil was much more fuel efficient than the Reactor, but it would seem from your tests that the Reactor more than holds its own when it comes to fuel efficiency.

I'm taking both a Reactor and Windpro to Philmont in June and I'm very confident they will work great!

Thanks again.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 02/01/2012 22:44:43 MST Print View

Love all the car references in there, Brad. The comparison to an AMC Eagle had me giggling. Once again, a well-written article on a topic worthy of this kind of inspection. I have gone away from, come back to, gone away, come back, etc etc etc my Whisperlite but as you mention in the article, white gas is simply the go-to winter fuel.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Reactor questions on 02/01/2012 22:58:19 MST Print View

Brad - nice work. I have a couple questions about the Reactor. First, in your carts the pot for the Reactor seems to be listed with two differnt weights. In the first chart, with stove weights, pot weights, feul container weights and combined weights, it shows 11.1 oz, while below that in the cahrt that has just pots, it shows 7.7 oz. Am I reading this wrong or is there an error there?

Secondly, I'm wondering if you noticed any significant thermal feedback to the canister from the stove.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: Re: Deep Freeze: A Cold, Hard Look at Winter Stoves on 02/02/2012 00:42:23 MST Print View

Agreed. Great review Brad- it was great to learn about a couple of new stoves. When I saw the Powermax canister in the freezer it really caught my attention. The discontinued Coleman Xtreme was a favorite among many, myself included. I have a sizable stock of canisters and am always watching eBay for new ones. I've also considered getting the adapter, but in the back of my mind I keep thinking that maybe it would be smarter to go back to my Simmerlite...or something else.

I would love to hear your comparison of the Xtreme (the former heavyweight champ) compared to some of these new ones. I know it's kind of pointless to create a review that finds that the best stove is no longer made, but a few of us would love to hear your findings.

The Primus EtaPackLite is the other one I look at. It would be really cool to see a Primus EtaPackLite vs. Primus Express Lander- an inverted isobutane vs. white gas comparison.

After years of futzing with canister stoves in igloos and mountaineering, I dismissed them and went back to white gas. The Coleman Xtreme changed my mind completely about what a cold weather stove could be. I'd love to know if there is actually an improvement somewhere....


Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Reactor Question on 02/02/2012 06:15:07 MST Print View

There is something I don't understand here...

How is it that the Reactor can use up every drop of fuel in the canister? At cold temperatures some fuel will remain as liquid, and unless the canister is inverted, will never make it out the valve. When things get really cold, do you have to keep your hands wrapped around the canister, or does enough heat from the stove radiate down to keep it warm?