The White Monkey Talks Gear: Stoves
Watch any old Western movie and you’ll see the cowpokes sitting around a fire, slowing turning a spit with some part of a cow on it.
Now that’s some grub ain’t it partner? I love talking cowboy.
Yes, it’s a wonderful idea, but those guys are bringing in camping and cooking gear on horses, maybe a wagon. And they are probably cowboys, meaning there are cows around for them to partake of.
As a backpacker, you don’t fall into this category. You are bringing in on your back what you’ll cook with.
Again, there’s that whole romance of cooking over an open fire. The Writer and I are all about that.
But sometimes there’s a fire ban where you’re hiking; or it’s raining monkeys (cat and dog humor there); or you just need to cook something fast and get going.
Enter the backpacking stove.
Truth be told, most backpacking “meals” consist of boiling water. You add the go-to package, that would be Ramon noodles, and you’re done. You just don’t have the capacity to carry a lot. So, you’re rehydrating meals with hot water, or making oatmeal or one of those freeze-dried meals where you, again, add hot water.
There are all kinds of stoves. Some can burn several different fuels, everything from camp fuel to gasoline to kerosene.
But for most backpackers, especially scouts, you want something small and light. And safe and easy to light.
There are a variety of these stoves made by different companies, but the one The Writer and I use is the MSR Pocket Rocket. You have to love the name.
Here’s the basics: it weighs three ounces (yes, that’s right); it fits inside its own plastic container and is only four inches tall; it has fold-out legs forming a fairly stable tripod effect to hold your pot of water; it has an adjustable flame.
It uses a canister you can pick up at any camping store – and has a specialized fuel called isopro, which is sort of like a combination of propane and camping fuel. The canister weighs about four ounces. The fuel comes in four-ounce or eight-ounce sizes, so you’re looking at 8 ounces or 12 ounces total for the canister
All told, you’re looking at 11 ounces to 15 ounces, depending on your canister size, for your fuel and stove. Not bad at all.
A few more tidbits, depending on the weather, it takes about four minutes to bring two cups of water to a boil. For the four-ounce size, expect to get about 50 minutes of cooking – that’s if you don’t keep it wide open. For using it at max flame, the specs say to expect about 26 minutes of burn time.
Put it this way, in average 80 to 90 degree weather, it will take you about five minutes give or take to get water boiling. So estimate you can do that ten times before you’re out of fuel.
And, the stove and fuel will fit inside most backpacking cook sets, saving space.
A few downsides. The fuel isn’t cheap, but not bad. You have to find and use the specific canisters. Again, they are pretty readily available, but not if you’re in the backcountry for a long time.
It’s best to use a windscreen – aluminum foil wrapped around is fine. And they aren’t the most stable if you have a big pot, so make sure the ground is as level as possible.
Those canisters also don’t do well in really cold weather. You can expect to get about half the fuel when it’s really cold. And you really don’t know when the canister is going to run out – you just have to shake it and hope there’s enough fuel – there’s no gauge.
And finally, they are not really good for the environment. They have to be disposed of because they can’t be reused and refueled. And if you are going on an extended trip, you’ll have to pack those empty canisters back out with you, so you’re not saving a great deal of weight.
Overall, the pocket rocket and versions by other companies are the best choice of scouts and pretty much everyone on a short two-three day hike. For about 40 bucks, you’ve got a great stove that will last you for a long time, is easy to light (just need a lighter or match), and is as safe as any out there.
Let’s put it this way, it gets Five Stars from REI, and that’s with more than 250 ratings.
I asked my buddy, Zen Monkey, to show you a few picks. In case you were wondering that’s his hiking stick he’s holding.