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cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby CO Native » Tue Dec 13, 2011 9:35 am

Here is some helpful information about canister fuels--

Butane boiling point: 31 degrees F
Isobutane boiling point: 11 degrees F
Propane boiling point : -43 degrees F

In other words pick your fuel well. A canister of pure Butane will be useless below 30 degrees.
Snow Peak Giga Power fuel only claims to work well down to 17 degrees.

The reason Propane is not a common fuel used in backpacking canisters is the pressure it creates significantly higher (nearly 5 times that of butane). This requires much thicker metal walls of the canister making the system heavy. (Think green Coleman propane canisters at Walmart.)

The best solution to using canisters well in cold temperatures is to purchase a canister that has a mix of fuels that includes propane, and combine that with a stove that inverts the fuel canister and preheats the liquid fuel before vaporization. If you buy a good mix but use an upright setup in temperatures below 11 degrees then your stove will work fine but only until the propane component of the mix has been used up. You will only be burning propane as the other fuels in the canister will remain in their liquid state. Propane is usually only a small percentage of the mix. By inverting the stove the fuel line will fill with the liquid rather than drawing the gas off the top. This allows the propane to push the rest of the fuels down the line. The fuel line then passes through or near the flame of the burner pre-heating the fuel so that when it's time to be vaporized for burning it has been warmed to the point that all the fuels vaporize quickly and burn. With this setup and fuel you should be able to reliably use your canister stove to -43.

The only canister stoves I know that do this properly are the Jetboil helios, Primus EtaPackLite, MSR WindPro, and the SnowPeak L1 Crabstove. Though with both the Primus and the MSR I believe you have to buy a separate stand to hold the fuel inverted. Of these choices, I personally think the Helios is the best.

Even with these setups running perfect you'll still have some startup work to do. (Usually people use cansiters because they are so fast and easy.) Because you don't have a flame to start off starting the stove goes much better if you've kept the fuel warm. You still need to watch for some initial flare up as well as the isobutane and butane may come out liquid initially and then quickly vaporize as the propane burns.

I still usually tell people not to waste their time on canister stoves for winter camping though. White gas is so much more reliable in all conditions that it's all I use in winter. In my mind the best all around stove is the MSR XKG Ex multi fuel. Take care of that stove and you'll be passing it on to your grand kids. The other thing I like about white gas is that I can take as much fuel as I want. With canisters it's extremely hard to determine how full they are and if it's not enough you have to go buy a completely full one for your trip.

Hope this is helpful.

***
Edit - I should add that the temperatures listed above are for these fuels at sea level. As Scott noted their boiling point drops as you gain altitude.
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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby CO Native » Tue Dec 13, 2011 9:44 am

I found a good chart about fuel mixes. I see why people have been having success with the Powermax fuel. It's 40 percent propane. So at least for 40 percent of the fuel in that one most any canister stove will work down to -43F.

canisterdetails.jpg
canisterdetails.jpg (133.59 KiB) Viewed 2417 times
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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby Bean » Tue Dec 13, 2011 9:48 am

Keep in mind that as you burn fuel, the temperature of the canister gets colder. Keeping the canister in/on the snow can actually keep the canister (a little) warmer than "insulating" it.
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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby Dex » Tue Dec 13, 2011 9:53 am

Double post
Last edited by Dex on Tue Dec 13, 2011 10:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby Dex » Tue Dec 13, 2011 9:55 am

Johnson wrote:
Dex wrote:I'd suggest you compare the price of the Soto with the other canister stove you might buy. The Soto at $70 possibly $56 with a 20% REI discount is in the range of other stoves.

The soto gets very good reviews on REI

http://www.rei.com/product/785338/soto-od-1r-micro-regulator-stove?preferredSku=7853380017?cm_mmc&mr:trackingCode=ED40B1FE-FB85-DE11-B7F3-0019B9C043EB&mr:referralID=NA


I tried the Soto and was real excited to use it but last December on our Uncompahgre trip I saw first hand how it compared to the standard Jetboil..... the Jetboil killed my Soto. I ended up returning it and got the Jetboil Sol.


I can see how that could be the case - the Sol is a heat exchanger, has a wind screen and maybe a regulator like the Soto.

http://shop.jetboil.com/index.php/sol-cooking-ti.html
Jetboil Thermo-Regulate™ Burner Technology to deliver consistent heat output down to 20˚ F

I see you can find them under $100 on line now. If, I were looking for a new stove and pot I'd probably go with the Sol.

I'm just curious - how did the Soto perform?



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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby climbing_rob » Tue Dec 13, 2011 10:16 am

CO Native wrote:Here is some helpful information about canister fuels--

Butane boiling point: 31 degrees F
Isobutane boiling point: 11 degrees F
Propane boiling point : -43 degrees F

In other words pick your fuel well. A canister of pure Butane will be useless below 30 degrees.
Snow Peak Giga Power fuel only claims to work well down to 17 degrees.

The reason Propane is not a common fuel used in backpacking canisters is the pressure it creates significantly higher (nearly 5 times that of butane). This requires much thicker metal walls of the canister making the system heavy. (Think green Coleman propane canisters at Walmart.)

...

The only canister stoves I know that do this properly are the Jetboil helios, Primus EtaPackLite, MSR WindPro, and the SnowPeak L1 Crabstove.

...

I still usually tell people not to waste their time on canister stoves for winter camping though. White gas is so much more reliable in all conditions that it's all I use in winter.

Hope this is helpful.
.
Very nice synopsis. I have both the Helios and the SnowPeak Crab stove. I use the Helios HX pot when I use the crab stove, as I think I like the crab stove slightly better. Not much different though, really can't pick a favorite.

Well actually I can: neither. I've tried and tried to "warm up" to inverted canister stoves, and keep going back to my trusty old white gas wisperlite. Non-inverted canister stoves? Fugedaboudid. Folks claim that these work in the bitter cold, well maybe, for a liter or so until the cannister chills, which is very, very quickly due to the gas expansion. If you use them in your tent as a hanging system, this seems to work OK. Sure makes me nervous though, and I really haven't tried this system.

Anyway, I also roughed out efficiency, basically total weight of fuel/pot/stove for longer trips, and the wisperlite liquid option wins. Short trips (2-3 nights) maybe its a wash or slight advantage for the inverted canister.

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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby Prairie Native » Tue Dec 13, 2011 11:44 am

Thanks for all the replies!! Its great seeing all of this information in one place!


One thing I dont understand though: why is everyone questioning methods of getting the fire started? I always throw a few lighters in my pocket and are at body temp when I need them. Even camping at the bottom of kelso ridge last year in -30ish conditions we got them to light (just not the stove).
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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby TomPierce » Tue Dec 13, 2011 1:03 pm

CO Native wrote:In my mind the best all around stove is the MSR XKG Ex multi fuel.


Finally! All this talk about using cannister stoves in the winter reminds me of trying to put the proverbial square peg in a round hole. :lol: If all you can afford is one stove, sure, it's overkill. But if winter is your thing it's hard to beat an XGK. Just my opinion.

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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby Scott P » Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:00 pm

I see why people have been having success with the Powermax fuel. It's 40 percent propane. So at least for 40 percent of the fuel in that one most any canister stove will work down to -43F.


In addition to fuel mix, another reason is the weighted fuel pickup line (similar in theory to the inverted canister on the Helios and other stoves):

Image

The weighted fuel line always recieves fuel from the bottom of the cannister, therefore even in extremely cold temps, it still works.

It is unfortunate that the fuel is getting harder to find. :( Unlike white gas, you just turn the thing on and light it, without having to pumping and priming the stove in -20F temperatures.
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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby martynda » Tue Dec 13, 2011 3:38 pm

This has been my personal experience, so take it with a grain of salt:

For a winter one nigher for 1-2 people, a canister stove works just fine (I use the Soto one). You will be able to make a quick meal and melt 3-4 liters of water if you keep the canister warm. After you're done cooking with it, the canister will be incredibly cold, but it still needs to go in your sleeping bag for warmth. Put the canister inside a sock and then in your sleeping bag, it will keep it from touching you and making you miserable every time. The reason I say one nighter - if the canister gets too cold or runs out, you're close enough to making out so your life is not in danger.

For long trips with many people where you're expecting to be running the stove for multiple hours a day, use liquid fuel.

I've heard that some elite mountaineers use canister stoves for alpine style Himalayan trips and most mere mortals think that it will work for them too. However, these guys like Steve House or David Gottlieb also survive on 1L of water and a handful of Gu gels per day.

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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby hotrod » Wed Dec 14, 2011 12:14 pm

I guess I'm living in the dark ages. In winter I still use my trusty Svea. Sounds like a jet engine but has never failed me.
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Re: cannister stoves in winter/high altitude

Postby coloradokevin » Wed Dec 14, 2011 12:32 pm

Prairie Native wrote:I recently got a jet boil because in my last few trips my whisper lite has just been a peice. Its ruined a few trips where we have set up a high camp and wanted to melt snow for food/drinking water. I've recently heard that cannisters are terrible with cold and altitude. So am I just s.o.l.?


Out of curiosity, what was wrong with your Whisperlite?

I've used the MSR stove line for the last 20 years, with either the XGK, Whisperlite, or Dragonfly. I've generally found these stoves to be reliable, albeit more of a pain to setup and prime when compared with a canister stove. for melting snow in Colorado winter conditions, the MSR lineup is really pretty hard to beat. I've used them below -20F in the past, and they'll beat a canister stove hands-down in those conditions. For me, the one problem I've run across was that some of the plastic pumps weren't designed very well. Two of these have broken on me in the course of a few hundred nights with these stoves, and one of the breaks put the stove totally out of commission (the other break allowed me to keep using the pump until it cold be replaced). I should also mention that someone else was setting up the stove both times that they broke. MSR has a replacement pump part, and it appears to have been beefed up. No problems since I got the replacement.

Anyway, I know some people have used the Jetboil in winter. I haven't used that stove at all, so I can't speak to its ability to work in those conditions. I will say that my one backcountry canister stove experience was less than spectacular. I have a Snowpeak Giga stove that I bought probably ten years ago. That thing is all but worthless once the temps start to get near/below freezing. I've tried running the stove on MSR iso/pro fuel for colder weather, and it would simply flame out on this blend. As such, I haven't been very happy with canister stove performance in winter, though my experience has been isolated to a couple of stoves, and it does sound like the designs have been evolving to improve cold-weather performance. Regardless, the liquid fueled stoves (ie: MSR Whisperlite) are still going to perform better in the conditions that you'd encounter in a Colorado winter.


Prairie Native wrote:I do maintain the whisper lite. It wasnt pressurizing and I was using white gas. It also takes up 4 times the space in my pack that the cannister does. Such a pain to lug around the stove, gas bottle and cookware just to boil a few cups of water for food and water. As long as I can get enough for a dehydrated meal and some drinking water im good. So even a brand new gas cannister every time I go wont fire up in cold above treeline?


Did you try troubleshooting this problem to see what was causing the stove to not pressurize? This problem can occur if the part of the pump plunger that forms the seal has dried out (called the "pump cup" --- it should be described in your instruction manaul). On my older stoves I believe this part was composed of leather, which could dry out over time. The newer stove appears to be made with some sort of synthetic material (either that, or it is a newer and smoother leather).

Anyway, while it doesn't really provide a great winter snow melting solution, I can recommend that you try an alcohol stove for perfect warm weather reliability, and ease of use. After growing tired of the weight/bulk of my MSR stoves in the summer months, and due to my general disdain for the canister stove, I've switched to a Trangia Westwind for summer use. After using this stove for about 6 seasons, I really have come to love it. It isn't the fanciest stove, and it doesn't boil the fastest. But, it has nothing to break, it always lights for me, and it gets the job done at a very light weight. Stove manufacturers always seem to compete based on boil times. For winter snow melting ability, I'd consider that an important trait. For summer hiking/climbing, not so much. I typically light the Trangia, set up camp, and my water is boiling by the time I have the tent up. I don't think it is really suitable for trips where snow melting is going to be an obvious requirement, but I will say that I was able to boil water with this stove in below zero temperatures on top of Cameron Pass one winter -- so, winter emergency use is not out of the question with it.

If you are interested in trying that option, it is only a $25 gamble, and gives you another piece of gear to play with: http://www.amazon.com/Trangia-Westwind-Stove-with-Burner/dp/B0055EBPSC



TomPierce wrote:Finally! All this talk about using cannister stoves in the winter reminds me of trying to put the proverbial square peg in a round hole. :lol: If all you can afford is one stove, sure, it's overkill. But if winter is your thing it's hard to beat an XGK. Just my opinion.

-Tom


That is true! Actually, the XGK was my first backpacking stove :) And, it was complete overkill for my first five years or so using it. Eventually I put it through its paces in much colder and harsher conditions, and it never did fail me. Sadly, it left me in my stolen vehicle in 2003 or so, right after I moved to CO :(

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