2011-09-12

Revisiting the Stove Debate

Last time I talked stoves, I addressed the total weight of different types of stoves & how efficient each was in relation to its weight.
After some lingering thoughts worked themselves into more complete arguments, I'd like to talk about total weight vs. volume, or each stove's ability to boil water and melt snow in regards to its weight. For example, what stove would be best to bring on a solo fast & light hike, a group fast & light hike, alpine climb, etc.
To keep it simple, let's just stick to isobutane.
More specifically, let's try & solve my little dilemma of whether or not I should purchase a Jetboil Sol/Sol Ti to replace my MSR Reactor.

Total Weight & Volume:
Jetboil Sol   10.5 oz, 0.8L
Jetboil Sol Ti   8.5 oz, 0.8L
MSR Reactor   19 oz, 1.7L

Weight per Volume:
Jetboil Sol   13.1 oz/L
Jetboil Sol Ti   10.6 oz/L
MSR Reactor   11.1 oz/L

The Jetboil Sol Ti has the lowest weight per capacity, followed very closely by the MSR Reactor, at only 0.5 oz more per liter.

Any deal-breaking difference between the Sol Ti and the Reactor? YES.

Difference #1: The Sol Ti has only a 0.8L pot while the Reactor has a 1.7L pot. The Sol Ti would be great for solo use and fast & light adventures, but wouldn't provide enough water in one boil for two people cooking dinner, as most of the time, you need 0.5 liters of water for a meal. The Reactor has the upper hand when you're boiling water for two people and hot drinks or melting snow. I like its larger pot for the times it is necessary. Plus, all three stoves have micro-regulators, so there should be no difference in cold weather performance in regards to gas flow (maybe there is one in cold weather regarding the following point?)

Difference #2: I do not personally know through experience how the Jetboil stoves (in general) do in the wind, but this is what Jetboil said to me in an e-mail: 'Wind can sometimes be a bit of an issue with dispersing the flame and if powerful enough, causing the flame to go out as it doesn't have direct protection against it. Other than the metal shroud that covers the bottom of the cup and attaches to the burner. Placing your hands around that area can help to reduce the winds effect on the stove.'
The major difference I see between Jetboils and the Reactor is the stove to pot contact. On Jetboils, the 'windscreen' somewhat protects the flame and there is a heat exchanger, but on the Reactor, there is no exposed flame; it uses radiant heat. The pot has 100% contact with the stove head, capturing nearly all the heat under the pot and in the heat exchanger. It works so well, you can't really warm your hands next to the stove, as so little heat escapes (I might be nitpicking if I complain about this). Which stove would work better in the wind? I think it's pretty obvious the Reactor is the windy weather king. It's certainly proved its supremacy in all the places I've used it.

(Want to make your canister stove perform better in the wind? Go here.)

So, is there a big enough difference to make me buy a Jetboil Sol Ti, especially with it being on sale right now? Nope.
I'll stick with my Reactor, which has been my workhorse for the past three years.
Thank you, MSR.

Post-Publication Addendum:
My friend, Ti, says she has found the Jetboils (or isobutane in general) to be inoperable at -20F & colder.
You just can't keep the fuel warm enough, even if stuffed in your jacket or sleeping bag all day or night.

Hendrik has some great introductory reviews at his Hiking in Finland site:
Reactor first impressions, Reactor review, & Jetboil Sol Ti

An anonymous reader asked about putting the 1.8L Jetboil Sumo pot on a Sol stove... here's what I found:

Sumo 1.8L pot: 12.5 oz
Sol Ti 0.8L pot: 6.3 oz
Sol Ti stove kit: 8.5 oz

8.5 - 6.3 = 2.2 oz for just the stove**
12.5 + 2.2 = 14.7 oz for the Sumo pot & Sol stove (4.3 oz lighter than the Reactor)

Additional advantage: the Sol stove kit and Sumo pot are purchased separately, creating a versatile stove arsenal, with two different sized pots for different types of trips, unlike the Reactor.
However, I think the additional 4.3 oz for the Reactor is worth its weight for the wind-resistance.

** When I e-mailed Jetboil about the weight of a Sumo on a Sol stove, they said, 'Your methodology would be correct in determining an approximate system weight.'

I had the opportunity to take a peek at the Soto Muka at REI in Anchorage. Seems like a sweet stove.
A customer pressurized a full 24 oz fuel bottle, requiring 84 pumps... its only drawback.
Its quite a bit lighter than all other liquid fuel stoves, though. Might be worth purchasing, especially if you're not going to see 40 below.

13 comments:

  1. Biggest problem I've found with JetBoil is the poor performance in cold weather. Anything below -20 and it just freaks out, even if you've kept the fuel canister in the bottom of your sleeping bag.

    I went the Trangia route with the option of a pressurized fuel bottle system. Jury's still out, but I'm pretty impressed so far. Wind is simply no object with the thing- it's completely enclosed.

    Have used the Reactor, Dragonfly, WhisperLite for various applications (expedition climbing, walk-in Dall sheep hunt, alpine climbing).

    Thanks for the round-up on the Sol-Ti. I looked at it- but like you, got hung up on the small capacity.

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  2. Ti, thanks for the beta. I would have been surprised at isobutane working below zero! My plan is to use it as much as I can this winter, but good to know it's not possible at -20.
    Which Trangia stove? The Multifuel X2? If I'm not using denatured alcohol or isobutane, I go straight to my XGK or Dragonfly.
    Yeah, the Sol Ti is only 'light' cuz it's so small.

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  3. How does the Jetboil react if you put it on 20/80 mix of isobutan?
    Also, have you checked out the Sumo? bigger cup for the Jetboil

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  4. I haven't used a Jetboil, personally. I don't think there should be any problem with whatever fuel you attach to the stove. Most 'isobutane' cans are an 80/20 mix of isobutane & propane.

    Regarding the Sumo, here we go...
    The Sumo 1.8L pot, itself, weighs 12.5 oz.
    The 0.8L Sol Ti pot weighs 6.3 oz.
    The Sol Ti stove kit is 8.5 oz, minus 6.3 for the pot equals 2.2 oz (theoretically) for the stove only. 12.5 (Sumo) plus 2.2 (Sol stove) equals 14.7 oz.
    If this truly is what a Sumo and Sol stove combo weigh, that's 4.3 oz lighter than the Reactor. Additional advantage: you have to purchase the stove kit, then get the Sumo pot separately, so you'd have a very versatile stove arsenal, with a small and large pot for all types of trips.
    That sounds good to me. Thanks for the thought!
    Might need to reconsider that purchase, now!

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  5. What about throwing boil time and fuel consumption into the mix. I've not used the Reactor, and only saw the Jetboil in use recently (Paige B had one during the Classic). The Jetboil was crazy fast, and the fuel consumption figures others have quoted are pretty phenomenal.

    I've been thinking about getting one, just so expensive.

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  6. My Reactor is insanely fast, as well. I would imagine the stoves are about the same boil time. Supposedly, according to the numbers, the Jetboil is more efficient. But, when you factor in the wind issue, as I have discussed in the post and talked with Jetboil about, I really doubt the Jetboil is more efficient, since the wind can blow out the flame. The Reactor is totally impervious to wind.
    I think, overall, the Reactor is probably more efficient in a realistic outdoor setting: hiking, rafting, climbing, etc.
    I see the Jetboil in the wind similar to not using a windscreen with a liquid-fuel stove.

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  7. I think it needs to be addressed that the Jetboil is like every other stove out there... it uses an exposed flame.
    The Reactor is more like an electric range, using radiant heat. The element heats up and glows bright orange, just like a range top.
    The radiant heat design allows the flame(?) to be protected, while a stove like the Jetboil cannot totally enclose the flame, otherwise it will go out due to lack of oxygen. A flame cannot be enclosed, but an radiant-heat element can be. This is where new stove designs should be heading, to make the most efficient, weather-resistant stoves to date. So far, I only know of MSR that has done this.

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  8. You've got me thinking about getting a Reactor, especially if it works well fairly cold temps.

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  9. Dave, if you're willing to wait, I plan on testing mine extensively this winter. I can let you know how it does, as it shouldn't be too long before I have a good review, with Fairbanks' fall coming to an abrupt end.
    I'll keep ya posted. Be well.

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  10. Interesting post, Josh. I own both the Reactor and the Sol Ti. Both ace stoves, I'd say similarly fast (we speak seconds in difference here) and only the volume is the difference (Lets not talk Sumo pot atm). For Spring to autumn I reckon the Sol Ti is the way to go, just because of pack size and weight. 0,8 liter should be enough for two persons, and if you need more, go for a second boil which theoretically should be even consuming less gas than the Reactor if you go for the full 1,7 liter.

    For winter I really don't know about gas. It seems it just doesn't work when the thermometer drops significantly (-20°C and more) so a wood fire, if possible, is my preferred method to melt snow/ cook. There's the Soto Muka stove which is wickedly light and should be a serious contender for fast & light winter adventures, btw.

    Anyhow. Keep your MSR if it works for you, or get a Sol Ti if you do a lot of solo trips and find you can do with 0,8 liters of volume =)

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  11. True for solo trips, the Sol Ti has the crown.
    I originally looked at the Muka, but was skeptical and figured it needed more work after reading Backpacker Magazine's review and how their triceps got tired from incessant pumping needed to keep the pressure up. Crazy light, though, and extremely well thought out. Some of its features are jaw-dropping for a liquid fuel stove.
    Have you used one or know of the same pressure problem?
    Thanks for sharing.

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  12. The Muka is not that light. It's 11oz with the pump and the fuel bottles are huge. An MSR Simmerlite weighs 8.5oz with the pump and even the MSR WhisperLite weighs 11oz with the pump.

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  13. Yeah, true, the only catch is the SimmerLite doesn't do that well in super cold temps and the WhisperLite is the only piece of junk MSR has ever produced, IMHO.
    Not sure how the Muka compares in usage to either, but it's in the same weight range as those two.
    As for the fuel bottles, larger is more efficient as they carry far more fuel for only a fraction more weight. Plus, cold temps decrease fuel efficiency; I'd much rather have a bigger bottle.

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