Monday, February 20, 2012

Using A Canister Stove In The Cold

An often asked question is whether or not a canister stove can be used in the winter. Well, the answer is, "it depends." The fundamental problem is that the fuel in canister stoves needs to be warm in order for the stove to operate. For more information about canister stoves and how they work, take a look at this. To be completely safe, you probably shouldn't use a canister stove in the winter, or if you do, definitely to make sure to test out your stove and fuel before you use it as your sole source of cooking heat. I was able to use my stove (SnowPeak LiteMax using the JetBoil 4 season mix) when the ambient temperature was about 27F (-3C) at about 1500 ft (500m) elevation. Also, you should be able to use the stove at a lower temperature at a higher elevation (since there is less atmospheric pressure keeping the gas in the canister).

So, what can you do to use your stove in the winter? Well, first, make sure that you are using a "4 season" fuel mix. This basically means that the fuel is some sort of isobutane mix (isobutane has a lower boiling temperature then butane). Second, use a full canister. Third, you have to keep the fuel canister warm -- if the canister is cold, your food will stay cold as well.

Although it is probably self evident as to how to keep the canister warm, I went ahead and explicitly wrote it out below.

Warm up the canister
The first thing that you'll need to do is warm up the canister. That means, if you are still out and about, to take the canister and keep it under your jacket to warm it up. If you're setting in for the night, then you'll want to keep the canister with you inside your sleeping bag. All you have to remember is, if the fuel canister is cold, then your food will stay cold.
(Optional) Heat up some water to keep the canister warm
This step may be omitted if you are only going to use the stove for a short period of time. However, if you plan on doing some prolonged cooking, you'll first want to heat up some water to use to keep your canister warm. So, heat up some water until it is warm to the touch, not boiling, and transfer it to a pot that is large enough to hold the canister (or you can just heat up the water in the other pot). Place the canister stove into the warm water (don't submerge the entire thing) and proceed with your cooking as you would have normally. As you can see, I'm also using a pot cozy to keep the pot insulated to keep the water warm longer.

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