Rating: 5 / 5
First of all, apologies for cross-posting this review. I initially put it n the cookware category and can't move it (Mods feel free to delete the other review).
I have been using this cook system for the last few months, and it is by far the best offering that the folks at Trail Designs has yet come up with. Trail Designs has been hard at work, and the effort shows through in this product. I have some of the older TD Calderas, both aluminum and titanium, and the weak spot in the system has, until now, been the dovetail join that holds it all together. This is now reinforced, and slides smoothly and easily into place
My system is designed to fit around, AND in the Anti Gravity Gear 2 qt anodised aluminum pot. First of all, the nitty gritty:
Outer cone 44g (1.55oz)
Inner cone 25g (0.9oz)
Grate 17g (0.6oz)
Grate support 5g (0.17oz)
2 Ti stakes 17g (0.17oz)
Fuel bottle 18 g (0.18oz)
Measuring cup 2g
Esbit holder (Gram Cracker) 3g (0.1oz) with 'wings', 1g without wings
12-10 alcohol stove 15g (0.5oz)
Ground protector 18g (0.6oz)
There are also some Tyvek sleeves, one to keep the components rolled, the other to keep the grate from scratching your pot.
This is total kit weight, not including fuel, and is for two people, so figure half this much per person.
Complete kit (minus the tyvek and fuel bottle which I forgot to put in the photo) 146g (5.1oz), but note below that most people would never carry the entire kit, depending on whether you wanted the alcohol or Esbit options along with fire mode.
The first thing I tried was wood-burning with the complete set up. This created a fabulously large and quick boiling flame:
When I removed the pot, I had the perfect self-contained fire to sit around and roast marshmallows on:
I then tried the same experiment with just the outer cone (no inner cone, grate, grate support or ground protector), and the results were very similar. In fact, without the inner cone, the SideWinder can hold even more wood, for hotter cooking and longer time between refills. From this second experiment, I determined that, for my uses, the inner stuff, though maybe making it slightly more efficient, environmentally friendly, and less ground scorching, was not really needed. So that cuts another 47g, or 1.7oz from the kit. I also found that I didn't really need the tyvek sleeves, though I didn't weigh them, I think their weight is negligible...
I also tried the SideWinder wth a smaller, AGG 3 cup pot, and this worked just as well.
Now onto Esbit mode:
I forgot to remove the two Ti stakes in this photo, which is kinda dumb as they are not only NOT needed, but reduce the efficiency of the stove in Esbit mode. Needless to say, the wind protection offered from using a windscreen such as this in Esbit mode, as well as having all the heat channeled into the bottom and sides of the pot, makes this the bees knees for esbit officianados (of which I am one).
I found I could also insert the titanium stakes in the holes half-way down the cone and place the smaller pot on them to use it in either Esbit or alcohol mode, the main difference being that I couldn't pack the complete kit into the smaller pot. For me this is not an issue, as I always carry a Caldera Caddy anyway as my bowl/cup/extra protected storage. YMMV
And of course, you can also use the supplied alcohol stove instead, but as I prefer Esbit, I did not try this out (I have tried it on various other Caldera cones and can attest to it's superb efficiency).
All of this packs into my pot, along with matches, bic, pot holder, etc...which is the real beauty of this system:
I then tried it with my MSR WindPro remote canister stove, and you can see why this is such a versatile system!
The SideWinder lends it's un-equalled wind shedding and pot stability to even the best canister stove operation, for a mere 44 grams! Note, I have since also used the SideWinder with a top canister (SnowPeak Giga) and found it works almost as well For safety reasons, neither Trail Designs nor I recommend this set up as there is a real risk of causing you canister to over heat, but in the field I have used this successfully on winter-ish trips by keeping the dovetail staked slightly open. This allows me to monitor the canister temperature as well as reach the flame control valve, but you must use caution and good judgment if you try it with a top-canister stove. With both canister stoves, the pot supports cause the pot to sit above the rim of the cone, which may be slightly less efficient, but this is outweighed by the increased wind protection and stability offered.
So much for backyard testing. What really matters is how it performs in the field, and this was beyond my expectations even based on my back yard tests. The outer cone and Ti stakes have been with us on every trip we've done since we got the stove. Since I don't use the alcohol option, this means a weight of 44g for the cone, 17g for the stakes (even this I don't really count as the stakes double as extra tent pegs I would be carrying anyway) and 3 grams for the Esbit holder. That's it! With this I can cook on fire, sit around the fire and roast marshmallows, have a pot of water on the boil after dinner for as many brews or hot water bottles as we desire, cook with a canister stove, or with Esbit. For less than 50 g (1.8oz) I have a kit that can do it all while shedding wind and keeping my dinner from tipping over, all nestled in my pot. That's less than 1oz per person!!! Frankly, I would give this a 10 out of 5 if it were in my power. I can only really try to compare it to the BushBuddy Ultra (the only other wood-burning stove I've tried), and well, there's no comparison. The BushBuddy can be very unstable, especially with a larger pot, performs poorly in wind, is a fiddle to use Esbit or alcohol with, can't be used at all to shield a canister stove, and weighs more than twice as much compared to the SideWinder components I carry. Even worse, the BushBuddy needs constant feeding of very short and small diameter wood, and doesn't give off enough heat to comfortably sit around and keep warm after cooking. The SideWinder (at least the 2qt version) can be loaded up with lots of wood, of much longer and thicker diameter for a nice small campfire feel. You don't have to constantly stay focused to feed it and break wood small enough.
Is there a down side?? You bet :( The SideWinder can only be made to fit pots that are relatively wider than many pots. Tall, skinny pots, though they won't hold the cone itself, can still be used with it either in wood-burning mode, or by placing the stakes halfway down the pot to support them for Esbit/alcohol mode. An over-sized SideWinder will also work as a windscreen with a canister stove. I can't speak about smaller versions of the SideWinder in terms of wood capacity, etc..., but I'll bet they are still better than the BushBuddy. FYI, everything I have to say about the SideWinder is also true of the original Ti-Tri Caldera Cone, except the cone can't be packed into the pot. So if you have a taller style of pot, it's worth thinking about getting a Ti-Tri for all of the above reasons. But you might want to get the Caddy to go with it...