A Stove for the Trail – Revisited

I changed my mind. Sigh. Again. It’s not that I’m too proud to change my mind. I will readily admit that I don’t know everything. In fact, I know that I don’t know many things. Wait, is that true? I’m not sure I’m ready to admit that yet. That depends too much on the definition of the word “many” (Am I starting to sound kind of like Bill Clinton to anybody?).

I wish I could grow such an amazing wisdom beard.

I wish I could grow such an amazing wisdom beard.

Even so, I “wisely” stated three and a half months ago that I wasn’t going to bring a stove on the trail. My arguments sounded reasonable at the time. I’m more of a snacker than a meal person. I’m also not into the nitty gritty of heavy cooking while camping out; I find it cumbersome. When I’m done hiking at the end of the day, I’d chew my arm off while waiting for my food to cook. A stove adds weight, not to mention the necessary pots and utensils. It’s difficult and painful to use my hands in the cold (I have Raynaud’s), so it would be tricky to use a stove.

Several people tried to convince me otherwise. Not having a stove really limits what you can eat. Dehydrated meals are light such that they counteract the added weight of the stove. There’s nothing to bolster spirits at the end of a long day better than a hot meal. Hot food will warm you to the core after having been in frigid rainy weather for hours or even days.

And yet I persisted for many months.

But do you know what happened? It got cold. I’d announced my decision not to bring a stove on September 20, 2012, a day with a high temperature of 85 and a low temperature of 50 in the DC area. And of course I’ve been through enough cold winters to know better, but – human nature – how soon we forget.

December 1 was the first time it really occurred to me that I had spoken too soon. I was standing outside of my local REI waiting in 30 degree weather for the members-only used gear sale to begin. And it hurt. Moving keeps the blood flowing and the body heat up. Standing does not.

As I pondered the increasingly lazy circulation of my blood and my white fingers and toes, it occurred to me how wonderful a cup of hot water would have been at that instant. Instead, I had a bottle of cold water. I was thirsty, yet drinking it was torture. Then I visualized myself cocooned in my sleeping bag every evening to keep warm while drinking cold water. This did not bode well.

The second noteworthy element of my reversal occurred over the past few months. I had been diligently assessing my diet and trying to figure out the foods I’ll be eating on the trail. And I finally began to acknowledge that the list was pretty short. Beef jerky, almond butter, and bars will only get me so far, so I decided to poke around some of the dehydrated food websites.

Maybe I should take this portable microwave on my trek.

Maybe I should take this portable microwave on my trek.

To be honest, I’ve never had a dehydrated meal in my entire life. Yeah, OK, when I was a kid, we were big into rehydrating mashed potato flakes, but that doesn’t really count. So, having done some research on dehydrated meals, I was surprised to find out that you just have to add boiling water, mix, and let it sit for a few minutes before digging into piping hot meals with veggies, meat, carbs, etc. Seriously? That’s like the camping equivalent of cooking in a microwave (which is my specialty).

Fine. I cried uncle. I’ll bring a stove.

I know that many people make their own lightweight stoves out of cat food tins and soda cans, but I’m pretty sure that I’m willing to pay for something easier to handle (i.e. with a fuel canister). Remember, it’s been pulling teeth getting me to come to terms with the idea of using a stove; I want it to be as simple to use as possible – without fear that I’ll burn down a forest (remember my menorah?). Besides, I’m not entirely convinced that the lightweight stoves save weight inasmuch as the fuel can be heavier and less efficient.

As of last week, I’d narrowed my options to a shortlist of two: a JetBoil Zip OR MSR MicroRocket stove with GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist Cookset.

What's behind door number one?

What’s behind door number one?

The JetBoil “stove” is really a comprehensive interlocking cooking system. Each Jetboil stove includes a flame burner with built-in wind shield, a cooking pot that also doubles as a cup/bowl, and a lid that snaps on and has both a built-in pour spout and strainer. Also, there is a plastic cover for the flame burner (that doubles as a measuring cup), and both the stove burner and a 100g fuel canister easily fit into the pot for storage.

As far as specs, the Zip model:
– costs $80
– weighs about 12 ounces
– has a .8 liter (3.3 cups) capacity pot/cup
– burns about 10 liters of water per 100g canister of fuel

What's behind door number two?

What’s behind door number two?

The other option would require that I purchase the stove and pot separately, worth noting but not a big deal. The MicroRocket is a small, tri-fold stove that also easily secures into a fuel canister. The Halulite Minimalist includes a pot, lid with sip-hole, folding spork, small silicone pot holder for cooking, and a cozy for holding the hot pot while eating. Both a fuel canister and the MicroRocket stove could fit into the Minimalist for storage.

As far as specs for this option:
– costs $88 ($60 for stove, $28 for pot)
– weighs about 9 ounces (2.6 for stove, 6.3 for pot)
– has a .6 liter (2.5 cups) capacity pot/cup
– burns about 7 liters of water per 100g canister of fuel

And I suppose a pot would be helpful, for good measure.

And I suppose a pot would be helpful, for good measure.

Having narrowed it down to these two options, I took a walk to my local Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) last week. When one of the employees asked if I needed help, I dove right into my dilemma. Without missing a beat, he told me that he personally found the Jetboil bulky, and I could easily serve my purpose with the MicroRocket/GSI Minimalist combo, a more compact (and altogether lighter) option.

Then, last weekend I went to my local REI and repeated the exercise. I did note that the JetBoil physically takes up more space than the Minimalist pot and started convincing myself it was too bulky. Then, I spoke with a woman that works there (and incidentally has thru-hiked the A.T.), and she pointed out that you can only cook as much food/water as will fit into the pot. Since the JetBoil has a larger capacity (.8 liters vs .6 liters), it might be worth ignoring its bulk.

So, now I’m – duh duh DUH – back to square one. OK, I’m not totally back to square one. I’m back to square seventy three in this decision-making process, give or take. I’ll get there…eventually. I’ll buy a stove and will have hot food. And it will be grand, grand I tell you!

Meandering on,



33 thoughts on “A Stove for the Trail – Revisited

  1. It’s amazing how far stoves have come. The big thing used to be the msr whisper lite stoves. A year ago when hiking on the a.t. I saw tons of the jet boil stoves. No matter what you choose it will be a good choice. Just use it before you Get out on the trail.

  2. I do enjoy reading your posts. Are you going to be able to blog while you are on your hike? (having never hiked before I don’t know about phone signals etc.) I feel like I’m sharing your journey already and would hate to miss the hike. Your blog is inspiring me to go on a mini hike with my children. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks! It’s so exciting to hear that I can serve as inspiration.

      I plan to blog during my trek. I’ll most likely have to wait until I hit trail towns every 3-4 days to have cell reception. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

  3. One more reason for having a stove…. heat up more water than you need, pour the extra boiled water into your water bottle and put it at the bottom of your sleeping bag to warm it up. That water can be used for drinking or cooking the next morning. I did that when I was up on the Chilcout Trail and I was muddy, wet, cold, and heading towards misearable. That little bit of warmth in my sleeping bag was heaven.

  4. I did my share of backpacking (although never more than a week) a few years ago, and I was quite happy with the microrocket (or equivalent). I think it is pretty neat to be able to use different pots or mugs, if the need occurs. Maybe you might want to heat a tiny bit of water in a metal mug (tea?, coffee? a small package of soup? The second option would to that more easily. Maybe you can also choose a different, lighter, cheaper pot if needed ( I used a recycled small aluminum pan)? My favorite meal was a package of instant rice (can’t beat the price and weight) with a package of those indian prepackaged food (can’t beat the taste/$ ratio, and always available in international section of main food stores). I sometimes used 2 pans, by the way.

    Another point, are they using the same canister? availability of those canister along the trail is key, I think.

    Good luck.

    • Both the stoves I’m deciding between use the same canister, and I believe you can find them everywhere along the trail. Yeah, it might be useful to have flexibility with the MicroRocket, although my priority at this point is just to have a “system” in place. Whether that means the MicroRocket/Minimalist combo or the JetBoil, simplicity is key.

      I’ll definitely have to keep in mind the “international” section of the grocery store when I’m looking for a change of pace. Those pre-packaged meals are pretty good.

  5. Two good choices. I personally own a JetBoil. Either way, I think you’ll be happy to have a stove. Warm food/drink is nice after a long day of hiking and/or in cold weather.

  6. Yay It’s nice to have a stove– I am looking forward to warm meals and hot apple cider. Anyway, I own a jet boil, pocket rocket, and an alcohol stove/gsi minimalist.

    This is basically my setup for the AT:

    (but an 8oz fuel bottle instead.. the fuel (heet) is sold for $1.50 at all gas stations) … the minimalist is huge for me. I’ve been eating meals out of it and have never used the full capacity yet.

    Hope you find something you like 🙂

    • Honestly, your AT setup looks intimidating to me, but more power to ya.

      Thanks for the feedback on the Minimalist. How have you used it? Like, do you literally cook food in it, or do you boil water and pour it into another container (like dehydrated meal bag or something)? If you cook food in it, what kind of food and how much?

  7. ok, for my 2 cents worth. I ended up with the msr pocket rocket that I purchased in Hot Springs after I had problems with my msr dragonfly (very bulky stove). I toiled with the Jetboil and at times wished that I had purchased it for the one reason that the jetboil design heats faster and requires less fuel than the pocket rocket. But, I saw many people having problems with the Jetboil’s built in igniter failing. In the end you will be happy with either choice.

      • It really depends on cooking style. For instance, I would cook two hot items, and use the water from one to re hydrate the other (hot dogs and potatoes for instance) and heat water for tea. I only cooked supper, breakfast and lunch ate cold. I carried an 8 oz can and a 3.5 oz can for back up (semper paratus, but only needed the back up twice before I was able to restock). I think I went through the equivalent of 4 – 8oz can. I hiked with a guy who had the same cooking regiment and he used only 1- 3.5 oz can with his jet boil per my 8 oz can. Cost of a can is around $4 for 3.5 oz and $7-8…all in all you may be talking about 15-20 bucks difference in fuel costs between a pocket rocket and a jet boil, in the end its a wash when you compare purchase price of each stove. (and that’s the short of it :).

      • Pretty much, unless I forgot one of the spots that I purchased fuel (old and forgetful), Ok, you caught me, maybe 5 – 8oz cans. First 2 weeks I used my dragonfly with white fuel, then switched to the pocket rocket. I used one 3.5 oz backup canister completely, and have come home with an 8oz canister at least half full. Yes, I guess heating the water for dogs/potato combination and tea is the equivalent of cooking 2 meals a day.

      • Whoa! I had no perspective (I’ve never owned my own stove…). For all I knew, I was going to be buying a canister every time I hit a trail town. Yeah, that definitely eliminates the fuel-cost factor from my decision-making process ($20 isn’t going to break me). Now I can focus on the other factors.

        Thanks for the perspective!

  8. just FYI, I also used the whisperlite international MSR. Not really bulky (it folds pretty neatly), but requires a bit more work/maintenance (in particular the pumping to get the gas in the correct pressure was sometimes a bit of a pain). Could save a few bucks if you can find some gas by the once on the trail (but if not, I have to buy a whole gallon, and find a way to give away what you don’t need), but I don’t think I would recommend it. They claim you can use car gas in a pinch, but tried it once, and it was an horrible mess, and it took me 2 hours to clean it properly. Not a simple solution.

  9. I use a Jetboil, and it’s served me pretty well. You can lighten it by leaving the tripod attachment and cup at home – just be careful not to knock it over while cooking! For what it offers, it’s not terribly heavy, I carried mine with me from Stormville, NY to Monson, ME and then mailed it home to save weight before starting the 100 Mile Wilderness. I don’t mind eating cold food most of the time, but in March and April, having a stove would be almost a necessity. If you do get tired of carrying it, you could always mail it ahead in a bounce box. I think this would work especially well in New Hampshire which has some of the toughest sections of trail, but also features abundant food sources in the AMC huts. You could mail your Jetboil ahead to Gorham from Hanover or Glencliff, do work for stay in the Whites, and have hot food for breakfast and dinner without carrying a stove. Oh, and one last point about the Jetboil, it was 100% reliable on the AT, but now the igniter doesn’t work and I have to use a lighter to start cooking. I don’t know if it was caused by general wear and tear or if the post office abused it on the long journey from Maine. Overall, I’d give the Jetboil an A-

    • Thanks for the ideas! I hadn’t thought about bounce-boxing it. And I’ve heard about the work-for-stay thing, but I hadn’t really thought about it. I’m intrigued.

  10. You should check out the BioLite stove. It uses twigs for fuel (nothing to carry) AND it generates power to recharge your USB-powered electrical devices like iPods and phones. I just bought one for my son and one for myself. (www.biolitestove.com)

  11. Pingback: Gregory Packs: They’ve got my back. « My Meandering Trail

  12. Pingback: It’s just about time for me to Jet(Boil). « My Meandering Trail

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