February 07, 2007

Stoves for Boy Scouts

Another blogging Scoutmaster has posted some questions and ideas about stoves for Boy Scouts. Note: I linked to the February archive since the individual posts don’t seem to be linkable, so go there and scroll down to “Stoves for Scouts” and “Stove Feedback”. They are deciding between propane stoves and white gas stoves, two options that weren’t even on the table for our troop, so I’m a bit surprised.

We don’t use white gas stoves with boys. The stoves are finicky, require regular maintenance, and can have dangerous flare-ups if mistreated or misused. But the major reason is that we don’t want the temptation of white gas being available for starting campfires, because it will be used. That is just too dangerous, besides being against BSA policy on fuels and stoves.

We have used white gas backpacking stoves with our Venture Patrol (older, more responsible Scouts), on high adventure trips, and when snow camping. These are personal stoves, nearly all MSR stoves.

Traditional propane cartridges are just too heavy for backpacking. We take several backpacking trips each year, so we would need separate car camping and backpacking stoves.

In the past, we’ve used the Campingaz stoves, but they are tall and tippy with the large pots used for patrols (as are many backpacking stoves) and don’t really work below freezing, which meant we used white gas stoves when snow camping. We were down to only three stoves, thanks to lost stoves and lost parts, so it was time for new equipment.

We ended up with a pretty tough list of requirements, listed here.

  1. Cartridge fuel
  2. Readily-available fuel
  3. Easy to operate
  4. Rugged and reliable
  5. Stable with large pots
  6. Light enough for backpacking
  7. Affordable, we want two stoves per patrol

Amazingly, there is a stove that meets all these and has a few extra advantages. We chose the Coleman Exponent Xpert stove. Luckily, we didn’t have “non-silly name” as a requirement. Warning, Coleman has several stoves with similar names. The one I’m talking about is a four-legged stove that takes PowerMax cartridges.


Let’s check this out against our requirements.

  1. Cartridge fuel: yes.
  2. Readily-available fuel: yes, the PowerMax cartridges are even stocked at Philmont!
  3. Easy to operate: mostly, it needs to run at low power for the first 30 seconds to heat the generator, after that it is very simple.
  4. Rugged and reliable: I know of two other troops who’ve been using this stove for three years with success.
  5. Stable with large pots: adequate, with four legs and about a six-inch spread.
  6. Light enough for backpacking: not super-light at 13.5 oz., but the same weight as white gas MSR stoves.
  7. Affordable: yes, street price is around $50, Coleman’s price through their non-profit purchase program is $37.90, though we used a half-off sale at Amazon for our order.

These stoves even do a few things that weren’t on our list.

  • They work well below freezing, because of the liquid feed for fuel (thus the generator and warm-up time).
  • The cartridges are recyclable, because they can be punctured with the included “green key”. Might want to tie that “green key” to something so it doesn’t get lost, though.
  • Lots of heat output, which helps for larger pots.
  • Remote fuel canister allows safe use of a windscreen.
  • A Sharpie will write on the canister and not rub off, so fuel can be marked with patrol names.

We might use white gas backpacking stoves for a 50-Miler with no resupply. The weight of cartridges can add up for long trips. I really can’t think of any other Scout outing where our new stoves would not be the right choice. Well, maybe a Venture Patrol “Ten Pound Challenge” ultralight outing.

Backpack Gear Test has multiple reviews of this stove’s three-legged brother. The owner review is especially comprehensive. The only common negatives from those reviews are: weight, can be difficult to attach the canister, and the O-ring seals occasionally come off with the canister. Even the lightweight purists seem to like this stove for winter use.

Thanks to Troop 151, Georgtown, TX and Troop 5, Palo Alto, CA for recommending these stoves.

Update: The Complete Walker IV has a lot more info about this stove, back when it was called Peak 1 Xpert instead of Exponent Xpert. The aluminum Powermax cartridges have a better fuel to weight ratio than other cartridges, and seem to be about 50% more fuel-efficient. Chip Rawlins reports using one 300g cartridge per person on a one week trip, so it might work just fine for a 50 Miler.

Further Update: After a couple of outings, these are working well. The push, twist, and latch motion requires pushing kinda hard and the latch isn’t a sharp snap, so the boys have some trouble with getting the cartridges on. Also, if you read a review that says it the stove burns funny for the first minute or so, you’ve found someone who didn’t read the directions. You need to run it on low for 30 seconds to heat up the generator.

Posted by Walter Underwood (wunder@best.com) at February 7, 2007 10:59 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Are these available in Canada? We had some sort of glitch (I am weak on the details) buying stove fuel in Nova Scotia last summer.

I'm also curious about whether the Sierra Stove (http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/000012.php) made it onto your radar. It looks interesting, but no idea how it works in practice with a bunch of hungry and/or undisciplined scouts.

Posted by: dr2chase at February 8, 2007 06:37 AM

From a quick search of the net, it looks like PowerMax cartridges are available at major outdoor stores in Canada, at least from blog postings in fall 2006.

The Sierra Stove is neat, especially for very long treks with small groups. It looks like it fails on the "large pot stability" and "ease of use" requirements for us.

From the description in Complete Walker IV, you need to be pretty competent with maintaining small cooking fires before using a Sierra Stove. On the other hand, I hear that winter moose turds are a nearly ideal fuel, and collecting those would be an interesting inter-patrol challenge.

For building expertise in small cooking fires, I'm thinking about having a "fire bowl" unit in our Leave No Trace meetings. Building a fire in a 10" diameter space might reduce the size of the bonfires.

http://www.rei.com/online/store/ProductDisplay?catalogId=40000008000&productId=48126124

Posted by: Walter Underwood at February 8, 2007 07:54 PM
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