Upright Canister Stoves – the State of the Art
Before we examine the current state of canister gas stoves, let's take a quick look at how we got here. If you're not into the back story, head to the section where I conduct a survey of current offerings and then explore the current state of the art of the most popular type, the "topper" or upright canister gas stove.
A modern Soto Amicus, an upright type canister gas stove
Early Beginnings Canister gas stoves for backpacking started really coming into their own in the 1970's. In the United States at least, there was a great upsurge in interest in backpacking. Those new to backpacking often found white gas stoves – the most common type of stove at the time – somewhat "inaccessible." The conditions were ripe for a new kind of stove, an easier to use stove. Thus, the canister gas stove was ushered in. Some of the early gas stoves were really kludgey, and most used 100% n-butane, which doesn't work at all well in cold temperatures. Early gas stoves used canisters that had no valve. One physically had to puncture the steel of the canister to get the gas to flow, and one had to empty the canister completely before changing canisters. One constantly ran the risk of having the valve open in one's pack – and having an empty stove come supper time.
A vintage Camping Gaz S-206 stove.
We've come a long way since then.
I thought now, forty years or so after canister gas backpacking stoves really came into their own, that it might be worth doing something of an inventory on "the State of the Art".
Now, there are enough canister stoves out there that no one can cover them all. Here, I'm going to restrict myself to the most popular type, the upright canister stove, and even then I'm only going to hit maybe 75% of what's out there. Hopefully it's a representative selection that gives you some sense of where upright canister stoves are today.
If you're not sure what an upright canister stove is (as opposed to a remote canister stove), you might check out this article:
Canister Stoves of TodayI've compiled a list of many of the upright canister gas stove available today. I don't really have a way of building a dynamic html type table here on Massdrop, so I'm going to have to include the table as a static jpg image. If this is too hard to read, say so in the comments, and I'll create a dynamic html table on my blog that can be linked to from here.
UPDATE 18 March 2017: I've gone ahead and created a dynamic HTML version of the below on my blog if it's helpful: https://adventuresinstoving.blogspot.com/2017/03/upright-canister-stoves-state-of-art.html
You'll notice right away, a couple of glaring omissions: The MSR Pocket Rocket and MSR Micro Rocket.
I mean, c'mon, Jim, how can you not include the MSR Pocket Rocket, one of the most popular and iconic of upright canister stoves?
Well, the Pocket and Micro Rockets have been discontinued as of January 2017. There are still some kicking around in inventory, but they are officially now replaced by the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. For the sake of brevity, I'm just going to list the PR2. As it happens, I recently reviewed the PR2:
The uber compact BRS-3000T
TrendsA number of things have come into being over time with respect to canister gas stoves. Things like:
- Canister standardization. Only a few years ago, there were five backpacking canister types available in the US. Now, there is only one: The "standard threaded" 7/16ths UNEF canister. See also: https://adventuresinstoving.blogspot.com/2012/01/gas-canisters-101.html However, caution. The newer Coleman brand canisters with the orange label do not work with many brands of stoves. See: https://adventuresinstoving.blogspot.com/2017/03/coleman-canister-gas-caution.html
- Diversity of options. Now, there are not only upright canister stoves (with the burner directly atop the canister), there are remote canister stoves where the burner is off to the side but also integrated canister stoves such as the Jetboil and the Windboiler.
- Ignition systems. Whereas canister stoves were in the beginning a match-lit affair, now fire is available at the touch of a button.
- Compactness. My dad's old Camping Gas S-206 canister stove was probably about the size of a liter Nalgene bottle. See photo, above. The pot stands kind of folded off to one side, but you couldn't take the canister off, and by no stretch of the imagination was it compact. Now, canister stoves can be held in the palm of one's hand.
- Foreign competition. Whereas stoves mainly used to come from Europe or the United states, the swing has been to Asia, first Japan and Korea, and now China. The greatest innovations are now coming from the East.
- Significant reductions in weight, I'll touch on this further in the next section.
Come to the Light...One of the most welcome trends in canister stoves has been a great reduction in weight. Gone are the heavy steel parts of yesteryear – generally. Cheaper stoves are still very much heavy (with notable exceptions like the BRS-3000T). Now, however, one has the option to get lighter stoves. Of particular note are stoves constructed with titanium. Titanium is strong even when cross sectionally thin and, if it's a good alloy, quite durable in high heat. A few years ago, it was common for major brand stoves to be 3 or 4 ounces (approximately 85 and 110 grams, respectively). Now, major brands are generally in the 2 ounce range (57 to 85 g), and ultralight stoves are as low as an astounding 25 g
Well, yes, but, Jim, that's all very well and fine, but my alcohol stove weighs less than half of what the very lightest canister stove weighs, and I don't have to carry that frickin' heavy steel canister. Why are you using the word "light" and "canister stove" in the same sentence?
Well, yeah, OK, for shorter trips, I have to concede that alcohol is still lighter (and ESBIT lighter still), but when you start looking at week long trips, canister gas looks a whole lot better. I "did the math" recently; you can check out my numbers at the below link. Don't like my numbers? No problem. There's a downloadable spreadsheet at the end so you can plug in numbers that make sense for you.
But of course, lighter isn't automatically better. Every stove is a series of trade offs. Got a really cheap and light stove? Well they probably had to cut corners somewhere, and quality control might just be one of the cuts. For example the lightest stove , the Brothers Deng Jie (BRS) BRS-3000T, has had enough failure reports that I'm really recommending testing before one takes it out on the trail. The reasons for and types of testing are described in my review of the BRS-3000T.
Which Light is Right?OK, so say you're in the market for a really light stove. Which one might you pick? Well, there's the Brothers Deng Jie (BRS) BRS-3000T, which is the absolute lightest and the most compact, but, as I said, there's always a trade off. Pot stability and quality control are sorely lacking in the BRS-3000T. But dang is it light, and you can get it for as little as $15, sometimes less.
Then there's the Fire Maple FMS-300T. Notice the similarity in the names? The overall look of the 3000T was knocked off from the 300T. The 300T is a much more solidly built stove, and it's quite compact. However, while quality control is generally good, pot stability is not. Now, does it matter? Well, for a lot of people, it won't. A lot of people are fine with a diminutive stove that they have to be a little careful on. For others, this might be a deal killer. For people with small children, Boy Scouts, etc., this might not be a good choice. The FMS-300T is sold in the US under the Olicamp brand as the Ion Micro, but you can buy them cheaper under other brand names on eBay etc.
For only 3 grams more than the 300T, there's the FMS-116T. The 116T has a wider burner head which provides a more dispersed flame which helps prevent hot spots on the bottom of your pan. The 116T also has a much wider span to its pot supports which in turn provide better pot stability. The FMS-116T is sold in the US under the Olicamp brand as the Kinetic Ultra, but you can buy them as the Monotauk Gnat and other brands on eBay, etc., often for less.
Then there's the Snow Peak LiteMax and the Kovea Supalite. These stoves are both made by Kovea and are highly similar. The LiteMax is slightly lighter and has a higher BTU output. The LiteMax is 6 grams heavier than the 116T, but that's not the whole story. The LiteMax (and the SupaLite) are unusually compact for a stove that has such a wide span to its pot supports. The LiteMax, when laid on its side at the bottom of a pot is remarkably compact, particularly for a stove with such a wide span to its pot supports. Note that when the stove is sold under the Kovea brand, the price is typically much more reasonable.
Kovea Supalite review:
So, there are your four ultralight entries, all involving the use of titanium construction:
For those desiring the most compact, I think the FMS-300T might be your best choice although if by luck you get one of the good BRS-3000T's in the quality control crap shoot, then you'd be fine.
For those wanting a bit more dispersed flame and better pot stability, there are the FMS-116T and the LiteMax (or SupaLite), the advantage of lightest weight going to the 116T and the advantage of the most compact going to the LiteMax. Both have reasonably good pot stability for an ultralight stove, with the LiteMax having the better pot stability.
- Brothers Deng Jie (BRS) BRS-3000T
- Fire Maple FMS-300T
- Fire Maple FMS-116T
- Snow Peak LiteMax (or it's near identical twin the Kovea SupaLite)
The Soto Amicus cranking out the BTU's.
Value for the DollarOf course, not everyone is going to want to shell out for a really nice titanium stove (or take the quality control gamble with a cheap one). I included in my table of stoves, several stoves for $40 or less. My pick for best value? The Soto Amicus. The Soto Amicus is part of a new sub-class of upright canisters stoves: wind resistant. In wind, the Amicus with its recessed burner out performs other burners. See my full review at the following link:
MSRP on the Amicus is $40 which is already good ($45 if you want the piezo ignition version), but Camp Saver has been blowing them out at 20% off if you use coupon code BRLPSOT20 which takes your price down to $32 for no piezo and $36 with the piezo. Pretty darned good value for such a nice little stove if you ask me. Shoot, maybe Massdrop will run a drop on the Amicus?
There are less expensive stoves out there. You can go on to eBay or Alibaba and get all kinds of cheap stoves from China. I don't pretend to be familiar with them all. Some are good; others are spotty in their quality. Unless there's something outstanding that has brought a particular stove to my attention (such as the world's lightest, the BRS-3000T), I just am not aware of every last stove out there. A lot of people report good results with eBay or Alibaba purchased stoves. If you're willing to take the potential risks, I say go for it, but of course caveat emptor. Remember, if you get injured by an El Cheapo bought via eBay or Alibaba, you've got no legal recourse.
The one Chinese brand that really has a consistently good reputation is Fire Maple, but their stoves aren't the amazingly cheap $10 ones.
Now, for those not wanting to gamble on eBay or Alibaba stoves, there are stoves available from US dealers (and I assume also in Europe and elsewhere). Many people consider the Kovea Power Nano to be a really good stove in terms of value-for-the dollar (and it is), but with the Amicus on sale for about the same price, I myself would go for the Amicus so long as the good prices remain available. Note: Camp Saver also had the Soto WindMaster marked down, but they sold out of those. I don't know how long the Amicus will remain available at its current price.
Now, if the Amicus isn't cheap enough, and you don't want to go the eBay or Alibaba stove route, there's always the Primus Classic Trail route. It's generally available for about $20 which is a heck of a price, and it's a perfectly functional stove. In fact, it has much better pot stability than any ultralight stove out there. And it's freaking heavy. I hear the Navy ties them together for use as storm anchors in heavy seas. OK, just kidding about the Navy, but seriously, this is a really heavy steel stove, roughly 8 times heavier than the lightest stove on my list. But it is a decent stove, and the price is right.
A Soto WindMaster in use on my John Muir Trail section hike last summer (2016). Note that I'm using the optional 4 Flex pot support here instead of the standard pot support.
Cold WeatherNow, upright canister stoves can struggle in cold weather, even if you know which gas to choose. If you're not sure which brands are best or how to pick, I suggest the following:
And in general, you can use any brand of canister with any brand of stove (despite the propaganda from most manufacturers). I go into why here:
OK, Jim, great. So I can gain some advantage if I know how to pick the right gas for cold weather, but you said my stove might still struggle. Isn't there anything can I do about that?
Ah. Indeed you can. And here is where technology enters in. Stoves with regulated valves offer some advantages – if they're built right. See:
My pick for the best of the regulated valve bunch is the Soto WindMaster. However, read my review. Its detachable pot support, while effective and stable, isn't for everyone. I think you really have to have a procedure in place to not lose the pot support or you could wind up with an unpleasantly cold dinner.
See my review, here: https://adventuresinstoving.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-soto-windmaster-worlds-lightest-gas.html
Actually, the WindMaster is my pick for best overall stove on the market today. It's not the absolute lightest (67 g/2.4 oz), and it's definitely not the cheapest ($75 MSRP), but to me it's the best balance between the various features, and the design and construction are top quality. Note that MSRP is just a number. Camp Saver had them marked down by $15 recently, and Gossamer Gear had them for $10 off last I checked. There may well be other deals. Always shop around. The secret to gear deals is to never be in a hurry. Oh, and there's always Massdrop of course.
There aren't a whole lot of regulated valve upright canister stoves out there. You've got two from Soto, the Micro Regulator and the WindMaster (the WindMaster being the obvious pick in my opinion), and one new one from, of all people, Jetboil.
Jetboil has left its normal bailiwick, integrated canister stoves, and has come up with a non-integrated, just-plain-regular upright canister stove: the Jetboil Mighty Mo. Will it sell? I don't know, but Jetboil has a certain mystique to its brand, so perhaps the Mighty Mo will sell even though this isn't Jetboil's home turf. Jetboil typically has relied on tight integration with a heat exchanger pot to get its fast boils. Most Jetboils are only about 4,000 - 6,000 BTU/hr in terms of their output. The Mighty Mo has no heat exchanger pot. How is Jetboil going to keep up its reputation for fast boils without a heat exchanger? By throwing fuel at it. The Mighty Mo is a 10,000 BTU/hr stove, roughly double the typical output of a Jetboil. And you'll pay for it in fuel economy. Of course there's no rule that says you have to run a stove on high. So, don't. All stoves should be run on a mid range flame for fuel economy, but particularly on a high output stove like the Mighty Mo, one needs to turn down the flame or you'll eat through a lot of fuel.
The Mighty Mo is MSRP $50. The WindMaster is MSRP $75 (but as I mentioned can be found on sale as of this writing at Gossamer Gear for $65). Sometimes you get what you pay for. The regulator on the WindMaster is far more sophisticated than the large, kludgey looking thing on the Mighty Mo's valve. The piezo on the WindMaster is light years ahead of the Mighty Mo. The Mighty Mo just has the ignition bolted to the side of the burner column whereas the WindMaster has the ignition integrated into the burner column. The Mighty Mo just has a wire sticking out of the burner and into the flame for it's spark point. A wire sticking into the flame is going to take a beating – not to mention just getting plain old physically snagged on something. The WindMaster by contrast has a solid strip of metal that lies, protected, down inside the recessed burner head. The WindMaster is obviously better... but is more expensive and the Soto brand is not as well known as the Jetboil brand. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Concluding RemarksWell, unless I want to write a post longer than the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary, I'd better wrap it up. Have a look at the table, above, which covers a lot more stoves that I can discuss here. Lack of mention here is due to time and space constraints and is not a reflection on any of the stoves not mentioned.
Did I neglect your favorite stove? Did I leave something important out? Let me know in the comments section, below. Do check out my just "absolutely amazing" (ahem) blog if you're at interested in stoves (or suffering from insomnia): https://adventuresinstoving.blogspot.com
Thanks for your time, and stove on!