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Canister Stoves and Altitude
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Terry Morris
(TerryM) - F

Locale: Northern California
Canister Stoves and Altitude on 08/06/2007 16:46:05 MDT Print View

I'm planning a trip in the Sierras this month (August) and was on my way to buy a Snowpeak GigaPower, to replace my ancient heavy, firestreaming Svea. However, I was told by a worker at the gearshop that canisters don't work very well,or maybe not at all, between 6,000 -8000 feet especially if it is at all cold. He did say that when you get up to even higher altitudes then the decrease in air pressure overcomes the problems with the cold., it is just that particular altitude zone that is problematic.

So now I am at a loss. I've searched the forums here but don't see anything relating to this 6-8k altitude zone and canister stove use. I've hiked for years with leaky smelly fuel bottles in my pack and don't want to go back there. I haven't been converted to the alcohol concept, either, but the fact is that I really like to camp above the timberline at about 6-8k ft.

So what is your experience? Do canisters get inefficient enough to cause a big problems in this zone? Do you guys have any suggestions?

(cuzzettj) - MLife

Locale: NorCal - South Bay
Buy It on 08/06/2007 17:13:27 MDT Print View

Go ahead and get it. I have used mine for at least 4 years I Yosemite, Stanislaus, Emigrant Wilderness, and tons of other places. They work fine. Some people have issues. I use the MSR versions and have never had issues, except with a canister. But I usually bring one used and one full because I cook multiple meals. You should be good to go. Just remember to find a sheltered place if it is windy. And they say don't use a wind screen. I never have.

Thanks for reading.

Eric Noble
(ericnoble) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Canister Stoves and Altitude on 08/06/2007 17:26:22 MDT Print View

Terry, I live at 6,000 feet and my canister stoves work great. I have a Brunton Crux and a Coleman Xtreme. It sounds like the worker at the gear shop was a little confused. Cold can be an issue for canister stoves not built for it, like my Crux and the GigaPower. At about the lower 20s F canister stoves will fail. The Xtreme is kind of like a white gas stove and will go much lower. Altitude is an issue for the time it takes to boil water and eventually lack of oxygen to support combustion. Any stove has a problem at that point. Check out all the great articles about stove performance on the site. Roger Caffin goes into great detail.

Shawn Basil
(Bearpaw) - F

Locale: Southeast
Cold more than altitude.... on 08/06/2007 18:13:30 MDT Print View

I did notice this summer, around 7700 feet (2350 m) on the Tahoe Rim Trail, that my SP Gigapower was a little temperamental, but at the mid-50 degree F (~ 12-15 C) temps I was in, this was an inconvenience of an extra 30 seconds boil time for 16 ounces (473 mL) of water. It simply wasn't a major deal and certainly not a matter of failure.

Conversely, at 9,000-11,000 ft (2750-3350 m), the burn rate was near normal. I was surprised by this, so maybe there is something to what the salesman offerred. However, this was an inconvenience at worst, not a failure issue by any means.

However, at sea level in mid-30's F (1-3 C), boil times increased by nearly 70-80%, and at one point I had to shove a cold cannister inside my down sweater in order to warm it up enough to continue cooking breakfast.

If I expect temps to consistently get to freezing or below, I'll still lug my Whisperlite, though I'm considering a switch to an inverted cannister stove.

For the Sierras this month, while cooking during daylight hours, I can't imagine the Gigapower being problematic at all. In truth, if temps mirror those of last month, you could boil water with no problem at the coldest moments of predawn.

Tony Beasley
(tbeasley) - MLife

Locale: Pigeon House Mt from the Castle
Re: Canister Stoves and Altitude on 08/06/2007 20:00:43 MDT Print View

Hi Terry,

There is some great information about canister pressures vs temperatures (P/T curves) on Roger Caffins site


Brett .
(Brett1234) - F

Locale: CA
Terry, buy it: re:"Canister Stoves and Altitude on 08/06/2007 20:01:53 MDT Print View

Terry I have used my GigaPower at 12,300ft with no flame problems. Opposite of what I originally posted, the boiling temperature of water decreases with decreasing air pressure so your water will boil at a certain combination of altitude and systemic heat loss but not be as hot (Thanks for correcting me, guys).
Use a windscreen to reduce heat loss; and use a cozy for your meal or drink (reflectix is cheap, light, and works well).
As Shawn pointed out, temperature is more critical with canister stoves; for winter use an inverted canister with a pre-heat tube in the burner section would be ideal. So two stoves would have you covered year-round.

Or if it is a short trip use alcohol.

Edited by Brett1234 on 08/07/2007 03:52:56 MDT.

James Schipper
(monospot) - MLife
boiling temp of water on 08/06/2007 20:14:54 MDT Print View

I think you've got that backwards Brett. The boiling temp of water decreases with decreasing pressure. 212 deg F at 29.9 inHg,202 at 24.9 (roughly 5000 depending on atmospheric conditions), 194 at 20.4 (about 10,000ft)and so on. Here are the formulas for pressure estimation and boiling point. These formulas don't work at extremes (ie a vacuum) only normal atmospheric conditions.

Pressure (in. Hg) = 29.921* (1-6.8753*0.000001 * altitude, ft.)^5.2559
Boiling point = 49.161 * Ln (in. Hg) + 44.932

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Re: boiling temp of water on 08/06/2007 20:43:59 MDT Print View

"The boiling temp of water decreases with decreasing pressure."

Yup, that's why boiling foods takes longer at altitude.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Canister Stoves and Altitude on 08/07/2007 00:38:40 MDT Print View

The affect of this particular GigaPower altitude anomaly would be minor, and limited to a narrow temperature band, if it's true at all. I would personally dismiss it.

Bottom line is that all upright canister stoves will stop working when it gets much below freezing. Do not plan on beating the cold by gaining altitude.

I've used a variety of canister stoves (MSR, Snowpeak, Jetboil) extensively in this altitude range with no problems when above freezing. They certainly work fine when it's not cold.

Fuel brand/mixture does affect stove performance. Some of the Snowpeak fuel is 30/70 propane/butane which has a higher pressure and lower operating temp than the more common 20/80. I use the 30/70 mix when I know it will be cold, and a 20/80 mix if I expect hot weather. But either should operate down to freezing at the elevations you are concerned about (including 6K to 8K feet).

Edited by jbrinkmanboi on 08/07/2007 00:39:11 MDT.

Graham Williams
(crackers) - F
me seven on 08/07/2007 09:52:28 MDT Print View

I've had no problems with cannister stoves below 4500 meters. Friends of mine have used cannisters above 5000 meters.

I use heat exchangers to keep the cannisters warm in cold conditions.

You should have no problems at all.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: me seven on 08/07/2007 11:11:24 MDT Print View

crackers wrote: "I use heat exchangers to keep the cannisters warm in cold conditions."

Tell us more Graham. I'm not familiar with this type of heat exchanger.

The aforementioned inverted canister stove with preheat tube is a good option, but requires a different stove.

Terry Morris
(TerryM) - F

Locale: Northern California
Stoves, Altitude, and temperatures on 08/07/2007 16:38:10 MDT Print View

Thank you all for your insights and experiences with backpacking stoves.

Tony, the link to Roger Caffin's fuel site,, was especially helpful. It does look like temperatures at about freezing could lead to all sorts of problems, like only being able to use less than half of the gas in the canister, which means more extra canisters or figuring out how to keep it warm.

So that leads to more questions:

Using an inverted canister with a preheat tube sounds like a good idea, but then I'd need a bigger stove to support the pot. Any suggestions on lightweight stoves and a setup for safely supporting a pot? What brands have people used?

Grahamn mentions a heat exchanger for the canister. I'd like to hear more about that, and other ways to keep the canister warm as that would allow me to use the light weight GigaPower. From Roger Caffins' info it looks like you need to keep the canister at least 50F for really good operation and to be able to use most of the gas, and definately above freezing for it to work at all. I did read Roger's warnings on not letting the canister get too hot to touch, so feel free to let me know your homemade set-ups and I promise not to blow myself up. I'm careful in the kitchen, I did manage to survive my flame throwing Svea!

What I probably need to know is what sort of evening temps I can expect at 6-8K in the Sierras in August- Sept in the high country above Toulomene Meadows. When i have camped there before I noticed frost in the mornings so I was thinking that it was at freezing, but perhaps not. I'm not quite sure how to go about getting that info. If it is in the 40's and I bring the 30% propane canisters then perhaps I don't have to be that concerned (I'm not a winter camper)

Any thoughts on that or a website with high elevation daily temperatures?

Thanks again to you all

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Stoves, Altitude, and temperatures on 08/07/2007 17:02:25 MDT Print View

I don't know of any truly UL inverted canister stoves, but the Coleman Fyrestorm is popular. Probably only a consideration if you get into winter camping due to it's weight and bulk.

You interpreted Roger Caffin's info as I did. From personal experience I would expect 30% propane to work reasonably well into the 40's.

I've seen graphs of average daily temperatures with essentially continuous readings, but I don't know the source. The graphs indicated another phenomenon that I have experienced - the temp drops fairly steadily through most of the night, but it drops abruptly (as much as several degrees ) right before dawn. I think if you are cooking in the evenings before dark you should be fine.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
bogus on 08/07/2007 23:39:26 MDT Print View

That dude doesn't know what he's talking about. There is no dead zone for canisters around that elevation. No worries.

(ofelas) - F

Locale: On the Edge
Flamethrower benefits on 09/14/2007 17:07:31 MDT Print View

Interesting SVEA is one piece of kit I'd be loath to exchange for a less versatile stove...but that's possibly because I winter backpack/snowshoe a lot, and I pretty much use the same gear all year round...

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Canister Stoves and Altitude on 09/14/2007 17:23:27 MDT Print View

> I was told by a worker at the gearshop that canisters don't work very well,or maybe not at all, between 6,000 -8000 feet especially if it is at all cold.
Well, well, fancy that...
Total Crap about the 6,000-8,000 feet bit. That's not even high.

But an upright canister stove will have problems around and below freezing (0 C) UNLESS you keep the canister warm. I used a canister for 3 months in France and there were plenty of evenings and mornings around freezing. But I used a windscreen to help keep the canister warm and monitored the canister temperature.

If you are having freezing problems, try this. Grab a bowl or a plate and put 1/2" of water in it, then sit the canister in the water. As long as the water is above freezing (ie it's not ice!) it will supply heat to the canister. Butane boils at -0.5 C, so you will help keep the butane boiling this way.

Do NOT use hot water for this!! Anything up to 'cool to the touch' is fine though.


Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Canister Stoves and Altitude on 09/15/2007 19:12:59 MDT Print View

As far as I know, the same as with water, the boiling point for butane also decreases with increasing altitude. -0.5 C is for sea level. Somewhere I read the -11 C figure for 3000 meters but I don't have the formula.
So many times I've used butane canisters below freezing (not too much but definitely below) with no problems at all but it was always at altitude... in general, and unless you hike in a very cold place, butane canisters work well unless in deep winter, on snow, etc. Then you need to do something else than just switching it on

Edited by inaki on 09/15/2007 19:13:38 MDT.

John Coyle

Locale: NorCal
Canister Stoves and Altitude on 09/16/2007 16:01:31 MDT Print View

I have hiked in the Sierra in the Lake Tahoe area with a Giga Power canister stove and haven't had any altitude related problems. I now use a Coleman F1 ultralight and haven't had any altitude problems with that either. In fact, the main problems I've have with canister stoves are related to air temperature, wind and instability; but these things are not insurmountable. I'm surprised a gear store would make such an altitude related claim about a canister stove. I am not as knowledgeable about backpacking gear as Rodger and the BackpackingLight staff, but lately when I go into a gear store, even a "Big Box" store like REI, I seem to know more than the people working there. I must be getting more knowledgable about backpacking from being a member of BackpackingLight--or maybe the gear sales people are getting less knowledgable!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Canister Stoves and Altitude on 09/16/2007 21:58:32 MDT Print View

Hi Inaki

> the boiling point for butane also decreases with increasing altitude. -0.5 C is for sea level. Somewhere I read the -11 C figure for 3000 meters
Could be so. At -10 C the vapour pressure is about 0.7 atmospheres. I forget what the air pressure is at 3,000 m.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Canister Stoves and Altitude on 09/17/2007 19:31:03 MDT Print View

I just returned from two week long trips in the Sierra. Both mostly above 9000 feet. My Snow-Peak Gigapower stove functioned superbly. I use a FireLite SUL-1100 pot with a Snow-Peak Titanium bowl modified for a super wind screen.

SnowPeak GigaPower Stove with FireLite SUL-1100 pot
SnowPeak Giga-Power Stove with FireLite SUL-1100 Pot
SnowPeak GigaPower Stove with SnowPeak Titanium Bowl as windscreenSnowPeak GigaPower with windscreen

Edited by redleader on 09/17/2007 19:53:30 MDT.