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Canister stoves

Anyone know at what altitude a canister stove is no longer able to function?
How about temperatures at which they become weak?

I need a small simple stove (thinking pocket rocket). I think the highest I would use it would be 12k or so, and maybe down to 0 degrees. I see there is different blends of fuel for colder weather. I don't need to cook a full on meal, typically just boil 1 or 2 cups of water.

Any thoughts?
Doug Forbes

Hi hvydrt: Pocket Rocket is a great little stove - I use mine quite a bit, even in pretty rough conditions (right now, I am mostly using MSR stoves)

Actually, according to general mountain literature and my own personal experience, canister stoves perform better -- with any given ambient temperature -- in higher altitudes due to higher relative pressure inside the canister compared to the increasingly lower atmospheric pressure as altitude is gained. As ambient temperature drops, so does canister stove performance due to decreased canister internal pressure. Since ambient temperature drops as altitude is gained (about 3 degrees per 1,000ft.), it becomes a balancing act at high elevations between the benefit of relatively lower atmospheric pressure and the power loss caused by declining ambient temperature. The real life scoop: I have found that at 8,000 ft. (San Gabriels) I can use a blended-fuel stove (propane/butane mix) down to about 25 deg. F. and realize close to full heating performance. I can use the same stove at 12,000 ft. (Sierra) down to about 15 deg. F. and realize the same performance (and once at 14,495 ft. on Whitney in the summit hut on a winter day at 2 deg. F.). All of this is dependent on burn times/duration of 10 minutes or less. At longer burn times, the cannister begins to cool enough (a by product of fuel vaporization) to cause a marked decrease in performance - so such tasks as melting snow or long food cooking times become very difficult at lower temperatures no matter what the elevation.

My choices (generally):
1.) Below 5,000 ft. and at temperatures above freezing = Blended fuel canister stove or Alcohol burning stove.
2.) 5,000 to 10,000 ft. and at temperatures above 20 deg. F. = Blended Fuel cannister stove if no snow melting and burn times stay below 10 minutes; Gasoline burning stove if temperature below 20 deg. F. or for snow melting, etc.
3.) Above 10,000 feet and below 20 deg. F. = Gasoline burning stove (and leaning toward Kerosene in really rough conditions -- safer in tents if ventilation is maintained in winter Sierra and such)
4.) Weight and pack volume restrictions rule sometimes, so I fight back by carrying a tiny cannister stove and use all the tricks I can muster to up the performance in colder temperatures (pre-heat canister by keeping it overnight in the sleeping bag or heat a pan of water and place the stove with attached canister in the warm water during cooking to stave off the cartridge cooling during longer burns and all that other pain-in-the arse stuff.

Good luck....My head is spinning....I need a mountain fix this weekend...

Doug F.

Dayum, good post Doug. Wish I could add something. Cool

I really like my Snow Peak Titanium small whatsitcalled stove. Cooked real well at the highest it's been, 10,064 on Baldy. That's about all I can say due to my limited knowledge on cooking using stuff other than hexamine and trioxane, etc.

Thanks a lot Doug. It sounds like I can get by with a pocket rocket for most trips. I might look for a used liquid fuel stove for more harsh conditions. Thanks again.

While usually I take a white gas stove when I camp in the Sierra Nevada (usually at 11,500 to 12,000' elev.), I have often used at that altitude a $25 cannister stove (Peak) and it has always worked fine (even in the winter). I too usually just boil water for meals. The cannister stove will be slower to boil water than the white gas stove, but it's a trade-off for the extra work involved in setting up a white gas stove (pressurizing the fuel bottle, priming the stove).

IF I'm doing an overnight trip during winter, I always take a canister stove with an extra canister (needed for melting snow). The ease of use negates the extra bulk of the extra canister. Just keep the canister off the cold ground/snow, and use the propane/butane mix should work OK. Sometimes I'll even take the canister on two night trips, but anything longer and the benefits of the liquid fuel stove makes it more practical.

Re: Canister stoves

hvydrt wrote:
Anyone know at what altitude a canister stove is no longer able to function?

Depends on the gas mix, delivery system and the Thermodynamic properties that govern operation at lower temps and pressure. Above 10,000 ft and below 10F the operating efficiency of most compressed gas canister stoves goes to shyte and white gas/liquid fuel stoves becomes a necessity.

I've used canister stoves up to about 12,000' or so with no problems.  I've also used them in 0-10 degree temperatures at around 7,000-8,000' with no problems.  I always try to warm up the canister a bit (carry it around in my jacket or put it in my sleeping bag) and then find that a piece of blue foam to sit it on helps, especially when using it in the snow.  Anyway, I've never felt the need for a white gas stove.  I currently own a Snowpeak canister stove.

I've used a cannister stove (Jetboil) at 19.2k' below 10F, and it performed just as well as at sea level.  As someone mentioned above, the key is to keep the cannister from getting cold as the fuel pressure drops.  I did this with a home-made windshield that fit tightly around the stove; to keep some of the heat off the stove's flame on the cannister.  Manufacturers' warning about over-heating the cannister don't apply if operating at low enough temperatures where you are actually worried about the stove's performance.

Another trick, which was once used by climbers in the Alps, is to have a copper wire with one end stuck in the flame and the other wrapped around the cannister.  I tried this, but found it too much trouble keeping the wire properly set.

On a side note, the piezo igniters that comes with many stoves now days don't work well at higher altitudes due to the low oxygen level.   I just use the regular Bic lighters, which reportly work even above 8000m.

muddeer wrote:
I've used a cannister stove (Jetboil) at 19.2k' below 10F, and it performed just as well as at sea level.  .

The boiling time must have taken longer at low atmospheric pressures.

He219 wrote:
muddeer wrote:
I've used a cannister stove (Jetboil) at 19.2k' below 10F, and it performed just as well as at sea level.  .

The boiling time must have taken longer at low atmospheric pressures.

Actually, it's the opposite I believe.  Lower atmospheric pressure means the water boils at a lower temperature; i.e., shorter time to bring water to boil for the same amount of heat added.

At higher altitudes the water will boil at a lower temperature, thus the food won't cook as fast at that temp and cooking time is increased. Also, at higher altitudes the water generally starts off at a relatively lower temperature - so you may still end up using a similar amount of fuel and taking a similar amount of time compared to sea level.

Water boils around 212 F at sea level and around 160 F at 29,000 ft. (Everest).

I think. Don't get us engineers started.

Interesting. Will have to try my Jetboil at high altitudes.
Good info, thanks.

Excellent info gentlemen; thank you.

Just to throw another tidbit into the mix:

Just got back from Canada this past week.  Went and did some hiking in the Elbow Falls area.  Temps were below freezing but not sub-zero (Farenheit zero that is).  Tried the Esbit stove that uses solid fuel cubes.  Advantage of the solid fuel cubes is that one can take them on a plane.

Result:  pretty poor.  Could not bring to boil ~0.5L cold but already liquid water in a covered pot even with full cube burn (approx 10 - 12 min).  Did get plenty hot and had some nice hot chocolate, but a bit disappointing, not that I expected it to be as good as my cannister or white gas stoves.  Probably not suitable for melting snow.  

Note:  I did not use a windscreen, and I only burned one cube.  I may try multiple simultaneous cubes next time.

Question 1:  Any tips from fuel cube burning stove veterans out there?

Question 2:  Anyone ever tried Vargo's Triad XE stove?  It burns either alcohol or fuel cubes.  Thought it might be a nice ultra light option in summer.  Lemme know if you've got some beta on it.  Thnx!

I've been using Hexamine (European) and Trixane (USGI) stove stuff for a long time. I keep a hexy stove with some blocks in my emergency gear, as a backup for my stove. If there is an emergency, I could theoretically burn other fuel in the hexy stove, whereas once I'm out of isobutane-propane for my canister stove, it's dead weight.

I exclusively use my canister stove for outings now, aside from survival-oriented trips.

Went out and did Mt. Waterman (8038') this past Saturday, 1/12/2008.  Brought my Esbit stove to melt snow.  Results:  Miserable failure

I tried to melt enough snow for 0.5 L of water.  I started with approx. 0.25" of liquid water in the bottom of the pot and then added snow.  After using four fuel cubes over a 30 minute+ period, I was able to melt the snow, but it was just slightly warm and was no where near the boiling point.  The water temperature was not even suitable for tea or hot chocolate let alone cooking.  

Problems encountered:
1.  Fuel cubes difficult to light in moderate wind.
2.  Takes a heck of a long time to heat water.
3.  Relatively difficult to load additional cubes to keep fire going.
4.  Required four cubes just to get slightly warm water in relatively small amounts.
5.  Since stove sits directly on whatever pad you're using to prevent melting down into the snow, the pad gets melted even when covered with double alum. foil.

Maybe an Esbit stove would be OK for making hot chocolate out of already liquid water on a day with little or no wind, other wise, I really don't see much utility in them.

Moral of the story:  Stick with cannister or white gas/multifuel stoves.

THey make good backups, and I use them if I'm making a single can of chili, for example. They don't take up space, and I don't put the chili in a bowl, just keep it in the can, heat it, and eat it. I like it for that. I've not tried that above... 8,000ft before? Forum Index -> Gear & Fitness
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