Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Cooking on ice

Now that the wedding is over the kit embargo has had it's sanctions relaxed slightly, however I already have most of what I need and the "want list" is exactly just that. A list mainly of "wants" rather than needs. My thoughts have been turning recently to boosting my current kit to get me that little bit further in winter conditions and one area in which I felt that my gear was letting me down in the cold was my cook kit.

I have in the past messed around making my own meths burning stoves from old discarded Irn-Bru can's and the like. Although these do work and are about as light as you can get I find myself shunning these systems for the stuff that's faff free. When I'm cold and tired and want a hot cuppa or dinner in me, I simply cannot be arsed dicking about measuring out meths into a wee stove that's so light that it needs a wind shield to stop it from blowing away rather than preventing the flames going out! I want to just stick my pot on the thing, wheech the scraper down my firesteel and be clutching a hot cuppa in my slowly thawing fingers asap. Weight and bulk and cost were still always considerations and so my system evolved into the one below. The pot is an Alpkit Mytimug, Stove is a Markill peak ignition (an old Vaude brand that seems to have been dropped/replaced), firesteel, folding spork and a homemade windshield from the foil tray of a disposable barbecue. The whole lot including gas just fits nicely into the pot creating a very usable and compact cook kit.

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Although the kit works well for me it has it's limitations. I think the worst experience I had with it was the night I spent in a snow hole last year. I had the the gas canister sitting on my duo-mat to keep it off the snow and even though I was cupping the canister in my hands to keep it warm the condensation that formed on it immediately froze it to the mat. It took an age to just get the water in the pan warm enough to to be considered a hot drink and it never reached the boil. During the night I slept with the canister in my sleeping bag so it was nice and warm to begin with in the morning but it was the same story a few seconds after getting the stove lit.

After some careful consideration I made a couple of purchases and I reckon I'm pretty much sorted for cooking on ice now. To start with I needed a new stove, one that could cope in the cold but still be compact, light and most importantly faff free. So, after unsuccessfully trying to see what pots I could fit my old MSR Dragonfly into whilst also turning a blind eye to the weight, I eventually gave in and went on the hunt for a remote canister gas stove. There was much web hunting and fondling in shops before I eventually settled on this baby, the Primus Express Spider.

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It's a well made bit of kit with the kind of solid construction I would expect from the likes of Primus. It starts off folded up fairly compact as you can see above. The legs fold out smoothly with solid stops so that the pan supports are evenly spaced in a low and stable tripod. The braided hose is smooth and plenty long enough to keep the canister in the sleeping bag with me. There is a pre-heat tube around the burner head to vaporise the fuel if it's so cold that I need to liquid feed the gas. The control valve swivels nicely on the braided hose to help with this but here is where the stove's only fault (that I can see so far) is. The valve is on the top of the canister rather than to the side. This means that when the canister is inverted for liquid feed the control will be underneath and potentially awkward to use. I reckon I'll manage fine though and it shouldn't be too big an issue. The feet even have a little cut-outs where you could stick a couple of thin tent pegs through to hold the thing down on uneven ground. Deliberate or a happy coincidence? I'm not sure but it looks like a good idea to me.

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Next I needed a bigger pot as there was no way I could fit the Express Spider in the Mytimug. Also, when the stove arrived I tried the mug on it and it only just sits on the pan supports. A millimetre off centre and it falls off the inside of the supports. Apart from the physical dimensions of the stove I wanted something bigger for melting snow and with a decent handle as I have found that the wire handles on the Mytimug can get hot if the flame from the stove is licking up on that side. It still had to be fairly compact and not cost a fortune so I quickly ruled out Titanium as a material choice. The slight weight loss for a fairly hefty price increase just aren't worth it in my books anymore (see what happens when you get all responsible, married and have to pay a mortgage!) so Aluminium was the way to go. I spent some time carrying out fruitless web searches and eventually took a gamble on the Litech Trek Kettle also made by Primus.

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Although it was a gamble it was a good one and seems to have paid off. The gas and stove easily fit inside with plenty of room to spare for firesteel, spork, windshield, a cloth etc. It fits on the stove well and should be easier to melt snow into due to the larger volume, there are decent sized folding handles that are insulated and a spout for easier pouring. It feels slightly strange handling a pot that is so thick after years of paper thin titanium but this is no bad thing. The extra wall thickness and non stick coating mean that should I ever decide to cook real food in there rather than just boiling water it should be a skoosh to clean.

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I haven't used the new kit in the hills for real yet, just played with it in the kitchen at home but I'm pretty certain I have chosen well and don't foresee any big issues. I'll have to make a bigger windshield I think and although the kit is bigger and slightly heavier than the summer one it is still pretty compact and infinitely more usable. I'm looking forward to using it anger and really can't wait till my next wildcamp dinner. I just hope the snow lasts long enough!

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10 comments:

  1. A fine post. Still not convinced of gas (cuz I have wood =), but this looks nice.

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  2. I go a spider myself recently, hope to try it out for the first time this coming weekend...

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  3. Thanks Hendrik, I'd be interested in trying a wood burning stove but the availability of fuels would worry me somewhat. (and that's without the politicians help) If I ever get round to making one I may keep it in the car for for an "interesting" way to get a brew on.

    Fraser, Let me know how you get on with it. I think my outdoor adventures this weekend will be curtailed to just a day hike...if I'm lucky.

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  4. Two nice setups there, the Markill is pretty compact the way it folds up. Although mine isn't an actual Markill branded one it's identical and performs really well, combined with a Mytimug it was better than my Jetboil!!

    I removed the piezo as I always have a lighter and going through a 'Lightweight' phase I removed the fold out part of the potstand as I figured it didn't need it for a Mytimug. I didn't mind doing it on a cheapy copy but wouldn't have butchered a Markill :-)

    The Express Spider is probably what I'd choose if I was getting a remote gas stove, I haven't read a bad report anywhere. The Litech pot should be a good one, I think it's identical to the 1.0l Eta Power version but without the heat exchanger which in my experience didn't do much anyway.

    Curious though why you decided on a tall narrowish pot rather than a short wider one?

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  5. Hi Richard, yeah the Peak ignition is a wee gem. Although I always carry the Firesteel I have rarely had to use it as the Piezo igniter is still going strong on mine 3 yrs later. It stopped once when the pin got a little bent when packing, I prised it back into shape with my keys and it's been fine ever since. Maybe I should just take it off? In fact I wonder how much weight I could save by just going through my pack and being ruthless about uneeded, surplus or duplicated items. Keeping pack weight down is good but I try not to be too anal about it these day's.

    Why the tall pot? Well, a while ago I got an Alpkit Mytipot for group trips to be used communally for melting snow and boiling waer when Louise and I are out and I just can't get on with it. It's hard to explain but it feels strange packing it into my pack and it seems like a lot of wasted internal space inside the pot after I pack the stove, gas and bits 'n bobs into it. Maybe it just feels alien after using the Mytimug for so long?

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  6. Interesting post thanks. Bit concerned about you openly distinguishing between wants and needs but I will let that pass. I like the look of the stove to replace my old Dragonfly stove. I have also got the Litech Kettle. I don't really like the lid but luckily the MSR titan kettle lid fits perfectly. This info may be of no use to you, if so sorry about that.

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  7. Thanks Ben, I need to be carefull these day's...the wife has been known to pop by here from time to time. She likes the shiny shiny too but she's a bit more practical than me.

    No worry's about the extra info...that's what this blogging lark is all about, sharing the knowledge and being part of the outdoor community.

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  8. Good point but practicality can be taken too far :)

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  9. I stumbled across your blog trying to find some info on that Primus pot. How has it held up for you, now that it's a year later?

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  10. I like it a lot Will. In fact, if you look at the most recent post you'll see it was used on the hill only two days ago.

    The handles are great, it's easy to clean (non stick) and I think I prefer the extra volume inside the pot now. It makes it easier to cook in, melt snow and store brew/cooking related bits and bobs inside.

    It's definitely become my "go to" pot now when packing and I suspect that'll contine even into the summer.

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