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M Lightweight Stove Systems for Group Cooking Part 1: Basic Framework for Selecting A Cooking Pot and Predicting Fuel Needs

by Ryan Jordan

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Article Summary:

Let's define what we're going to look at first:

Lightweight - Nope, no arbitrary number criteria. Just principles. Liquid gasoline stoves are out - these systems are the realm of what we call “traditional” backpacking, or “just plain heavy”. With the new wave of integrated canister-heat exchanger systems and inverted (liquid-feed) canister systems, liquid fuel stoves are all but obsolete in our community.

Wintry - We won’t necessarily use all of these systems in the dead of winter, but the cold seasons are demanding on small stoves, so they remain the seasons where groups tend to gravitate towards group cook kits. And so, we want to focus on systems that work at cold temperatures and may have to melt snow. We need some BTU’s. Likewise, we can’t be fooling around with volatile gas feeds that cause canister cooling that slows snow melting to mere pokiness.

Groups - Your group may be 2 or 6 or 12. You can sort out what you need in order to scale systems to your group size, but my focus here is on testing single systems that create reasonably large volumes of boiled water in reasonably large volume pots that can be used for groups of 3 to 6. So we’re looking at systems that pack some power. If you came here to optimize solid fuels and tin can alky stove systems, then you’ll be disappointed.

When investigating (and optimizing) the performance of lightweight equipment systems, I try to keep in the back of my mind the performance of more conventional (i.e., "heavyweight") equipment systems. In the context of this study, I have one particular number that haunts me: 5.0 oz per person per day.

This is the amount of white gas that I was trained to carry for winter expeditions using MSR XG-K stoves for melting snow. Depending on the severity of wind and cold, and my amount of water consumption, the actual amounts used on my winter expeditions have ranged from 2.6 oz/person/day to about 4.5 oz/person/day.

Multiply this by a typical four-person ski group carving turns over the course of 7 days in the Tetons, and you are talking about nine pounds of fuel!

Fortunately, we have New Stoves today. They include inverted canister (liquid feed) systems and integrated canister (with heat exchangers that minimize heat loss) systems that are a bit lighter than white gas systems. In addition, they offer safer operation for cooking in vestibules and the like, and less poison (e.g., carbon monoxide) and noxious fumes that make gasoline stoves sometimes unpleasant.

We already know that this crop of New Stoves is attractive for hikers traveling solo or with a partner, even in the winter. Most of these stoves serve up fast boil times and good fuel economy for water volumes up to about 1.5 or 2.0 liters. Climbers and hikers in larger groups, or those that depend solely on melting snow for their cooking and drinking water, however, still gravitate towards gasoline stoves.

Therefore, the primary objective of this series is to identify the range of conditions where the New Stoves might be considered viable alternatives for group travel during the winter, where water volume requirements are on the order of 12+ liters per day (a typical load for a 3-person cook group).

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