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M The Myth of Pressure Regulators

by Roger Caffin

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Article Summary:

A number of recent canister stove models feature a pressure regulator in place of a needle valve, and the marketing spin and claims for the virtues of the pressure regulator are bordering on the absurd. Specifically, there are claims that a pressure regulator will allow the stove and canister to operate better in several ways at colder temperatures than a needle-valve stove. We had better add here that some of the worst claims come from retail outlets, which suggests that they know very little about science.

We present here a detailed scientific analysis of how a pressure regulator works and compare it to how a needle valve works, and show there is almost no difference. We then examine the claimed advantage of having a constant pressure behind the jet, and show it is somewhere between minimal and zero under normal use. We look at the claimed difference in the operation of a pressure regulator stove compared to a needle valve stove, and test using the laws of physics and common sense. We also look as some minutiae, such as calculating just how the pressure might change while boiling a litre of water.

Despite all the debunking of the pressure regulator myth, some people claim test data showing improved performance in the cold for their stove. We are willing to accept their figures, and in Part 2 we will examine just what is going on. The explanation is quite simple, but it has nothing to do with the pressure regulator.