Canister stoves work best at a temperature of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, but what happens when the temperature drops? You end up with a sputtering, stuttery, inefficient mess of a cooking system that may or may not even bring your water to a boil. What can you do? Let’s start with the basics.
The basics of canister stoves
Let’s start out with how these things work, and why temperatures pose a problem. Canister stoves function by having a high internal pressure inside the fuel canister (lots of fuel inside a small area), which forces the fuel through the stove to the burning unit, where it’s ignited. When the temperature of the fuel inside drops, this pressure decreases (pressure increases with temperature) and the stove no longer gets a smooth, steady, well mixed fuel source. This causes stuttering at the burner and reduces the efficiency. When the pressure gets low enough the temperature of the flame will drop as well, as it’s getting less and less fuel, and it will eventually stop burning properly, or even sputter and go out. With the right tips, you can make sure that this doesn’t happen to you, and you’ll always have a safe, reliable burn for those back-country cook-offs.
What is the best winter fuel?
Most agree that an 80/20 blend of isobutane and propane will burn the best in the winter. This burns cleaner, and provides higher pressures at lower temperatures. MSR and Jetboil both produce fuel canisters filled with this optimum pressure. Other brands may use blends that are less optimal, so always check before you purchase. These are often labeled on the can.
What can we do when the temperature drops?
Primarily, you want to keep the fuel canister itself warm. Good options for keeping the fuel source warm include:
1. Keeping the canister inside your sleeping bag while you sleep. This way it’s ready for cooking when you wake up.
2. Warming the fuel canister with your hands before (not while) cooking. Just hold onto it for a while and your hands will warm it up.
3. Stuffing the fuel canister inside your jacket or pants pocket for a few minutes before using it.
4. Pack your fuel canister close to your body, perhaps against your back, while hiking. You can also store it inside a jacket or shirt for insulation.
Now, this said, never ever attempt to heat a cold fuel can with flame or any source of heat. This will cause the pressure to increase inside the canister rapidly, and may result in leaks or even explosions. That’s bad. You don’t want to blow up.
Some stoves are better than others
Upright canister systems are the most popular systems out there. They include the MSR pocket rocket, the Gigapower from Snowpeak and others. These systems feed the fuel to the stove in a gas state, directly to the burner. They’re typically very light and easy to use. But, they’re not without their problems. As this type of stove depends directly on the fuel pressure to provide a consistent source of fuel, and thus an efficient burn, when the temperature hits around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (low pressure), they’re almost useless.
Alternatives to this are stoves that allow for liquid feeding. My favorite example of this is the MSR Windpro 2. These stoves connect to the fuel source via a metal tube, and the canister sits away from the stove itself. This allows the user to invert the canister, transitioning from a gas feed to a direct liquid feed to the stove. The effect is immediately obvious. You’ll lose some efficiency in the burning process, but the flame will increase in heat and size instantly, changing a sputtering mess to a fiery torch of satisfaction. Since the burner is away from the canister, you can also use wind screens on these burners, blocking the wind from the flame. These also perform better when the fuel level is low.
Pure liquid fuel stoves are available, and are better suited for more extreme temperatures. They have pumps to provide pressure to the liquid fuel manually, and work great at nearly any temperature. These are heavy, require liquid fuels to be refilled, and are typically expensive. A solid example here is the MSR Wisperlite 2, and the Dragonfly.
Again, never try to heat a fuel can with any source of heat other than your own body heat. You don’t want to blow up.
Never attempt to create a tight wind screen/ barrier around upright canister stoves, as the heat from the flame may be trapped against the fuel can. You don’t want to blow up.
Never attempt to cross incompatible fuels with different stoves. Always check with the manufacturer to find out what fuels work with your stoves. Most Isobutane/propane mixtures can be used with similar stoves (jetboild, MSR, and snowpeak all play well together) but always check first. You don’t want to blow up.
Some manufacturers do produce wind screens for use with their particular up right canister stoves, and these are safe as long as you use them with their intended counterparts, but don’t try to mix them with other products, and discontinue use if the heat starts making it to the canister. You don’t want to blow up.
Never modify a stove or canister in any way. You don’t want to blow up.
If you have any questions
Feel free to post below, or contact the manufacturer. Safety is always imperative when using any combustible chemical.
Happy camping, and remember; don’t blow up.