The pointless metric

As the title says.. Boil time to me is the most useless metric in all of backpacking. I don’t mean that hypothetical – I truly believe it is a completely useless metric. On top of that most “reviews” give boil times when calculated on a stove top in a kitchen. What’s the point? Yes I get that nobody wants to wait 15 minutes for water to boil, but what is 5 minutes compared to 3.45 minutes if the fuel saved is exponential. On top of that, we are in nature, why rush?

I always think about this when I am out backpacking and I bring my optimus Svea 123, Bushbuddy or Jetboil TI. These are all fantastic stoves in their own right, and in the confines of my kitchen the boil times are amazing. However, as soon as any of these stoves get attacked by wind, they turn almost completely useless. The boil time on my Svea 123 goes from kitchen counter 3.5 minutes to a hellish 10 minutes depending on the force of the breeze (I say breeze because these aren’t strong winds I am talking about). Fuel consumption goes from 20ml to 45ml for a simple cup of coffee.

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This holds also true for the Jetboil TI. The jetboil is a monster on the kitchen counter, but as soon as there is a slight breeze all bets are off. The bushbuddy is not even worth discussing when there is a slight breeze. I see it over and over, people hunched around their jetboils begging god for the wind to stop blowing. Many hikers just put up a fortress around their jetboils using a combination of backpack, body, rocks and whatever else can be found. While this works for the Jetboil (flame is somewhat protected from wind), this barely works for the Svea 123 and bushbuddy. With that said, with the choice between many kitchen stoves, I do find the Jetboil to be a better alternative to many other similar (windshield-less) stoves.

Windscreen

Yes of course you can always bring an extra windscreen – I’m sure it’s convenient for some people, for me, not so much. Like everything else in my life, I prefer simplicity to complexity. For certain kitchen sets a windshield can be dangerous. I love the Trangia for it’s simplicty – however the weight is ridiculous which is why I haven’t used a Trangia in years. In any case, I think the Trangia takes the cake for being the most simplistic and useful set of all kitchen sets that can be bought, it is also very fuel efficient and I know that no matter what; 300ml of alcohol will hold for 5 days of hiking with a Trangia, simply because it doesn’t matter how windy or rainy it is, the Trangia performs the same. These days I have replaced my Trangia with a Trail designs caldera cone or Ti-tri fusion as it’s called. I’m not sure there is a better stove on the market.

You can read my full review on the Trail Designs caldera cone / ti-tri fusion here

MSR makes a canister stove now with a built in windscreen. While it has gotten fairly good reviews, I am skeptical myself as I have seen them in action on windy days. My little Trail-designs fusion far out performs even the MSR on any windy day (granted if I am basing my views on the kitchen counter test than the ti-tri gets blown away)

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The metric that needs to prevail:

Without a doubt the single most important metric when considering a stove is the efficiency equation. How much fuel per boil is needed in normal hiking conditions?

Than softer metrics that are harder to quantify but easily just as important: How easy is it to use on a windy day (almost any day in the mountains is windy) Do I have to dig a hole? Make a shield with my body? Search for a massive rock to hide behind? Can I measure exactly how much fuel to bring with me? Can I be certain the amount of fuel I bring will be enough? How will certain conditions effect the fuel consumption?

I don’t know how many times I took my Jetboil TI with me and brought an extra canister “just in case” – I know I’m not alone.

To sum things up:

I hope once and for all we can drop the boil time metric – This by itself might seem interesting, but in reality it is just a marketing ploy and for it’s intent and purpose – pointless.

Posted by Kenneth Shaw

Blogger, photographer and backpacker. If you like my writing or my site don't be afraid to follow me, like or share my posts here on the site. Thanks and enjoy!

3 Comments

  1. Daniel Helander December 9, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    I agree with you.
    You only scratch the surface on it, but the fuel efficiency is not connected to the boil time.

    For example, a gas stove on full will get the job done quickly, but by reducing the flame a little, the boil time increases, but you use less fuel. Up to a point.
    Reducing the flame way down, and the time to boil will be extremely long, while the total fuel consumption is increased again.

    The most consistent, and often lowest consumption, is reached by the system with most effective windscreens such as the Trangia or Caldera Cone systems in my experience.
    I’ve built my own DIY alcohol stove on that principle, and it work great.
    Boil time is however around 7 minutes, but starting the boil and then put up the tent and blow up the NeoAir and shake out the quilt and the water is about done at that point.

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    1. agreed. I’m getting tired of all the reviews where the sole focus is on boil time.. and they are usually done in a kitchen. In anycase I really love my Caldera cone, I think it’s absolutely perfect in nearly all situations and always uses the same amount of fuel.

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  2. […] This one function it has and serves perfectly. Boil time on my kitchen stove (which by the way is the most useless metric in backpacking is a staggering 3 minutes and 47 seconds with .5 liters of water) Fuel consumption is around 5grams […]

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