I finally broke down and picked up a mini backpacking stove. I’ve used a Coleman exponent for many, many years. And it is my absolute favorite, but it does take up some room. I’ve eyeballed a couple of the mini stoves but just wasn’t sure I’d want to haul the fuel canisters over the white gas. White gas is so flexible and easy to use, and you can haul quite a bit of fuel in a dedicated fuel bottle the size of your average water bottle. (Mine is an older Nalgene style that holds about double what the MSR red metal bottles). So I can cook several meals a day for many many days on that.
However the vast majority of my camping trips are single or double overnights, so it’s a bit of overkill. So I was looking for something small, and efficient for the quick overnight trips that was a bit lighter. I’ve been looking at the Primus butane stove at Walmart for $19 for a while and almost grabbed it, but was in a Walmart quite a ways from home and it had the folding Sterno Dynamo for the same price. Of course that made for a tough decision.
The whole kit and caboodle (Still need to figure out what a caboodle is LOL)
The Sterno folds up a tad smaller than the Primus, so it fits inside my Stanley Adventure set perfectly with the coffee press parts. (See this review). The primary difference between the two was the Primus had a maximum 10,000 BTU output while the Sterno has a maximum of 6,500. If you run the calculations, they end up using fairly close to the same amount of fuel. However, the higher BTU output does not correlate to an equal speed increase while cooking. (The nature of thermal transfer through solid and liquid mediums varies). Thus, even though the Primus can boil water 25% faster, it uses 33% more fuel at peak setting.
The Primus can boil 10 oz of water in 3 minutes and the Sterno boils it in 4. So there is a very slight drop in fuel usage with the Sterno. This equates to about a 8% gain in fuel economy with the Sterno Dynamo. Not a big difference by any means. Considering the typical run time of a standard sized canister is from 1 to 3 hours. (Expected 1.5 average), that 8% equates to about 7 minutes per canister. There are so many variables that in essence, the two could be considered equal. (I plan to record burn times on canisters for the next year to get a real world average).
So I decided to go with the slightly smaller Sterno. Took it out for a test run today. Perfect timing as we had a small blizzard blowing through. Nothing big, just 3 inches of snow and 20 mph winds. The static air temp was 14 and the windchill was close to zero. Those who know me, know this is my favorite kind of gear testing weather. 🙂
So I took a hike up to the camping area in our local park. (Driving was pretty bad so I didn’t want to risk going up the big hills in the van so I hiked from the park entrance). Here is what I did. I built a french press out of my Stanley (See the link here).
First thing to notice is the stove unfolds in a rotating manor (That is why it is so sturdy, no “Folding” parts to create weak points. the entire stove rotates around a central bezel. Ingenious idea. The little feet flip out to give it a bit more surface area for holding the pot.
The Piezoelectric igniter works like a charm, doesn’t take much pressure to pinch the switch and presto, flame. The wire control to turn the valve works perfectly and does not get hot, so you can adjust the flame as needed. In fact the only complaint I have about the whole thing is the lever doesn’t stay in the folded up position when you go to store it, so it can be a bit of a pain to put back in the box. Not a big issue at all though.
I filled the cup with snow and started it melting. As the snow to water ratio is 10 to 1 on average, I had to add snow a couple times until I had 10 oz of water. (This did hinder the heat test slightly, as each time I added snow, is cooled the water back off). I did a boil burn test using water from my canteen separately and used the times from that for the official test. Melting the snow took about 7 minutes total, so each time i added another scoop of snow it added another minute to the boil time.
All in all, it’s an impressive and amazingly small stove that works very well. It has found it’s way into my day pack with a canister of gas, and I’ll continue to keep the exponent and larger fuel bottle in my primary base-camp pack. Only time will tell if I end up preferring to carry the mini stove with the bulkier fuel can’s, but for backpacking and short trips, it really does seem like a great way to go.
If you’ve been putting off getting a small camp stove because you’ve looked at the more expensive whisper lights and other high end stoves. This guy can be had for $19 or less. (I got it for $14.95 on clearance) it’s a fairly inexpensive way to test the waters.
Enjoy your backpacking and hiking trips and always keep some hot coffee handy with this little guy.