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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Jetboil Joule – Preview

I've been loaned a Jetboil Joule for the purposes of conducting a review.  I haven't started the review process just yet (I'm still working on the new MSR Windboiler), but I thought I'd post some photos and make a few remarks.

The Jetboil Joule is a powerhouse of a stove, designed for snow melting and cold weather.  It's an inverted canister stove which gives it a 20 Fahrenheit degree cold weather advantage over regular upright canister stoves. If you're not familiar with how and why an inverted canister stove confers a cold weather advantage on the user, please read my article in Seattle Backpackers Magazine, Stoves for Cold Weather II.

The Jetboil Line Up
So, first, how does the Jetboil Joule compare size wise to other Jetboils?
Jetboil stoves L to R:   Joule, Sumo, PCS (the original Jetboil), and Sol
The Joule is quite frankly massive.  It's a much bigger backpacking stove set up than any I can think of except perhaps a two burner rig such as the Coleman Xpedition, but even the Coleman Xpedition doesn't take up as much space in one's pack.

It's fairly heavy too at 28 oz/790 g.  That's over three quarters of a kilogram, which is fairly heavy for a stove, even an integrated stove system like the Joule.

But that weight and size may well be worth it if you've got some serious snow melting to do.  It's very clearly targeting mountaineers and serious cold weather travelers.

The Competition
How does the Joule compare to the competition?  Well, the only other integrated canister stove system that has comparable capacity is the 2.5 L version of the MSR Reactor.
The Jetboil Joule, left, and the 2.5 L MSR Reactor, right.
Also of note is the height of the stove when set up.  Here is the Joule, again alongside the 2.5 L MSR Reactor.
The Jetboil Joule, left, and the 2.5 L MSR Reactor, right.
The Jetboil Joule is as you can see, a fairly tall set up.  I will address system stability in my review.

Well, that's all for today; just a quick preview of the Jetboil Joule.  More to follow.

HJ



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lighting the Windboiler

The new Windboiler stove from MSR does not come with a built-in piezoelectric ignition.  It works fine to light the stove with a match or butane lighter, but it's always nice to know what your options are.  So, I thought I'd try a couple of quick lighting experiments.

1.  Firesteel
First, I tried a firesteel.
A firesteel from Light My Fire
If you're not familiar with a firesteel, they're a fairly simple means of lighting things.  You take the steel striker, which is the silvery object on the left in my hand in the above photo, and scrape it rapidly and with force along the firesteel which is the object with the red base in my hand.  A shower of sparks results.  Now, sparks will light some things but not others.  For example, good luck lighting just a stick alone with a firesteel.  But try a firesteel on something fluffy and airy like a spread out cotton ball or dryer lint, and it will work just fine.

OK, so what about lighting stoves?  Well, it works well on some, but it's a bit harder on others.  The trick usually is to strike from directly above.  I tried it on the new Windboiler, and...
The rim around the Windboiler's burner and the wide head are ideal for lighting with a firesteel.
And it's perfect.  I mean it works really, really well.  It can be a trick to light some stoves with a firesteel, but the Windboiler makes it look easy.  The rim around the Windboiler appears to contain and concentrate the heavier-than-air fuel gasses.  The burner head of the Windboiler is nice and wide and catches all the sparks.  I tried lighting the Windboiler several times with a couple of different firesteels, and I got the stove to light on the first try every time.   That's pretty good; many stoves take multiple tries before they'll light with a firesteel.  Basically, a firesteel is eminently practical with a Windboiler.

The MSR Windboiler in operation
2.  Hand held Piezoelectric
Next, I thought I'd try a handheld piezoelectric ignition.
Hand held piezoelectric ignitions from Kovea (top) and MSR (bottom)
I tried varying the gas flow and placing the igniters in different places on the burner head, all to no avail.  Bottom line:  It just didn't work.


So, nothing earth shattering here, but it's nice to know what your options are.  I know many people like having a firesteel along, so it's nice to know that a fire steel works really, really well on a Windboiler.  The peizo bit?  It's just a "nice to know".

There you have it.  All in a day's work here at Adventures in Stoving.

Thank you for joining me,

HJ

MSR Windboiler Posts

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

MSR Windboiler – Hanging Kit

Several people have asked me if the MSR Windboiler will work with a hanging kit.  Yes, it will.   MSR sells a hanging kit specifically designed for the Windboiler.  The Windboiler's hanging kit wasn't available when I got my stove, but I thought I'd try a hanging kit intended for the Reactor.  It worked well.  If one already has the Reactor hanging kit, I'm not sure that you'd need to buy a Windboiler hanging kit although I'm sure it would be a better fit.

UPDATE 13 November 2014:  I spoke with someone at MSR.  MSR doesn't recommend using the Reactor hanging kit with the Windboiler.  Because the center of gravity will be quite high, they believe that there's a chance that the stove could invert.  I hope to get a Windboiler hanging kit when they become available and report on the differences.

I've posted a photo below.  Obviously it's not a "big wall" climbing situation, but you get the idea. The point is that it works.
The new MSR Windboiler, suspended via a hanging kit.
Now, the Reactor's burner is wider at the base than the Windboiler's.  There's a little bit of clumsiness where the "elbows" fitted onto the cables come around the base of the Windboiler, but it really doesn't hurt anything.
The "elbows" on a Reactor hanging kit stick out a bit on a Windboiler.  It looks a bit odd, but it works just fine.
The pot which locks to the burner is extremely secure when used with a hanging kit.

There you have it:  A very brief report.  The Windboiler with a hanging kit:  It works.

I thank you for joining me,

HJ

MSR Windboiler Posts

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The MSR Windboiler – Trail Report #1

I took the new MSR Windboiler out for some further testing.  I'm not quite ready to write the final review just yet, but I've got a pretty good sense of the stove now.  This post is what I call a "Trail Report".  I take the stove out on the trail and I report how well it did or did not do.

MSR Windboiler Posts
So, further testing.  Our destination for testing is Mt. Williamson (8248'/2514m) in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Mt. Williamson (8248'/2514m), west face.
The summit of Mt. Williamson is exposed and typically fairly windy, perfect for testing a stove that claims to have good wind resistance.
View from the summit of Mt. Williamson looking out into the Mojave Desert. 
It was windy, but it wasn't quite as windy as I had hoped.  Still, I was able to get some good testing in.

Wind Resistance
First:  Wind resistance.  The stove did very well on the exposed summit of Mt. Williamson.  There were no problems when wind gusts would pick up.  I got a boil of 500 ml of water in approximately 2:10.  The water temperature was approximately 60F/15C.
The new MSR Windboiler on the summit of Mt. Williamson
Heat Indicator Testing
The Windboiler comes with a "heat indicator," a wire that is designed to glow redly quickly so that one knows that the burner is on and hot.  I wanted to check the functioning of the indicator.  Indeed, the heat indicator does glow quickly red, well before the rest of the burner is fully red.
The MSR Windboiler's Heat Indicator wire glows a bright red.
The indicator wire was a little harder to see once the burner fully warmed up, but by then of course, one hardly needed an indicator wire to tell that the burner is on.
The Windboiler's burner glows red.
Pot Stability
Naturally, I wanted to test pot stability.  The Windboiler is a fairly tall stove, but it's actually pretty stable.  Here's a photo of my five year old daughter stirring the pot as we make lunch.  No problems with the stove being "tippy."  Now notice:  I do not have the canister stand on.  No issues with stability.  Note that I'm using a 227g sized canister here.  I do recommend the canister stand be used since it's so small and light, but if for some reason you didn't want to use it, things are reasonably stable with a 227g canister.  I think you'd be well advised to always use the canister legs with a smaller canister.
The Adventures in Stoving spokesmodel, demonstrating how stable the unit is.
The Windboiler with Children
I got a question recently about whether or not the Windboiler could be staked down for extra stability around children.  I had to admit that I didn't know.  So I thought I'd try it out.

The canister stand of the Windboiler doesn't have any loops or holes that one could run a stake through, but if you turn the canister over, you'll notice that there's a fair amount of clearance between the bottom of the canister and the canister stand.
There is a gap between the canister stand and the bottom of the canister.
Now, say you had a pair of "shepard's hook" type stakes.
Two titanium shepard's hook type stakes.
All you'd have to do is loop the end of the hook over the triangular portion of the canister stand.
The Windboiler's canister stand, staked down.
Now, I said there was some clearance under there, but is it enough to still fit on the canister?  Turns out there is.
A canister atop the staked down canister stand.
Here, I used two stakes.  It was reasonably secure.  It would probably be even more secure with three stakes.  Notice that I'm using a 227g sized canister.  With a smaller canister, there might not be enough clearance underneath the canister, but in that case, one could just loop the hook over the outer set of notches on the canister stand.

Handle Functionality
One of things I really like about the Windboiler is that the handle can actually be used as a handle.  I found that I had good control and that the handle wasn't at all floppy.  There was no side to side movement.  Pouring was very steady.  Note in the photo below that I picked up the entire unit, including the gas canister.  No problem.  Plenty of leverage.
Pouring using the Windboiler's excellent handle.
Photo credit: Hikin' Joyce (my daughter)
Heat Control and Simmering Ability
The Windboiler's burner is substantially different than it's predecessor, the Reactor.  The Windboiler's heat output is far more controllable.  But just how controllable?  Will it go down far enough to really simmer?

Before I answer that question, let me define what I mean by simmer.  A true simmer is the ability to hold the heat at a level such that the water inside the pot is at a very low boil.  In other words, a true simmer is just barely boiling.  Here's what a low boil might look like, in the photo below.  Note that there are just a few small bubbles.  The pot is not at a roiling boil.
An example of a very low boil.
I ran a series of tests where I would bring the water up to a full roiling boil, and then turn down the heat.  As I turned down the heat, I noticed that the stove would start to "growl".  As I turned down the heat further, the growling would start to pulse.  At very low heat, the stove would make a bit of a sputtering sound and then go out.  The flame would always go out before I could get to a level where the stove would simmer.  This was true atop breezy Mt. Williamson, and this was true in still air tests on my back patio.



So, how did I get the photo above of a very low boil?  Well, I took the pot off the stove for a minute and turned down the heat as far as I could.  I put the pot back on, and, voila, I got a low boil.  But I couldn't hold it at a low boil.  The boil's intensity would gradually increase until it would reach what I would describe as a moderate boil.  If one truly needed a very low simmer, taking the pot on and off a few times would do the trick, but I could not get a true simmer using the valve adjustment alone.

So, given the really good heat control that one does have on a Windboiler, am I just being picky?  Well, possibly, but if one uses the true definition of simmer, the Windboiler isn't quite there.  Flame control is good.  Flame control is a dramatic improvement over the Reactor.  But simmer?  No, not if you use a strict definition.

Size
I want to give people an idea of the Windboiler's size, so here are some photos that will hopefully give you a good sense of the Windboiler's size.  The Windboiler is just a bit shorter, perhaps 2 cm, than a one liter Nalgene bottle.
A Windboiler, left, next to a one liter Nalgene bottle.
The Windboiler is just a bit wider than a one liter Nalgene bottle.
A one liter Nalgene bottle fits inside a Windboiler pot.
The Windboiler's Cup/Bowl
As I mentioned in my First Look report, the Windboiler's cup/bowl is very functional.  My daughter likes that it holds a nice cup of hot cocoa.
Hot cocoa in a Windboiler's cup.
My wife and I like that the hot cocoa doesn't go down my daughter's shirt.
The Windboiler's lid fits on the cup and helps prevent spills
I'm somewhat humorously using my daughter here, but I'm illustrating a real point:  The lid fits, fits well, and minimizes spills.  I think this could be a really handy feature for when one needs to wear mittens or gloves.

Do note that the cup is rather hot when filled with boiling water.  One needs to let it sit a bit or use a bandana or something to hold the cup.

The Cozy 
I noticed that the cup/bowl on the Windboiler can be really difficult to remove if it slides too far up the sides of the Windboiler's pot.  I asked MSR about this.  They replied that the cozy is intended to "lock" into place and prevent the cup/bowl from going up too far.  Mine doesn't lock, I informed them.   They said that they were aware of a problem with an early production run of the stoves and that they would send out a replacement cozy to anyone who requested one.  Good to know.

To remove the cozy, simply lift up on the tab underneath the handle as shown below and slide the cozy down, off the pot.
Lifting the tab shown here allows one to remove the pot cozy.
Then slide the new cozy onto the pot and let it lock onto the bracket welded to the side of the pot.
To put on a new cozy:
Aline the handle on the bracket shown here and slide the cozy up until it engages with the bracket.
Since I had to take the cozy off anyway, I took a look at it.  It's a very different structure than the neoprene cozy I've seen on other pots.
The MSR Windboiler's pot cozy.  Note plastic latticework.
The cozy does work in terms of insulating the pot from one's hands, but I found it uncomfortably hot to hold the pot by the cozy.  The Windboiler's handle is a good one, and I recommend that you just use the handle.

While I had the cozy off, I also weighed it.  I was a bit surprised to see that the cozy and handle assembly weighed 49 g/1.7 oz, which struck me as slightly heavy.  The cozy on my Jetboil Sol weighs 24g by comparison (note that the Jetboil Sol has a smaller pot).  I believe the weight is a sort of by product of having a handle that can actually be used as a handle.  A simple neoprene cozy just wouldn't support a decent handle.  If one were truly concerned about weight, one could remove the cozy and leave it at home.  Be sure to bring a bandana or hot pad with which to grip the pot if you remove the cozy and handle.
The Windboiler's pot, sans cozy.

So, there you have it, Trail Report #1 and a few more observations concerning the Windboiler.

I thank you for joining me,

HJ

The author atop peak 8140+ (near Mt. Williamson).
Photo credit:  Hikin' Joyce (my daughter)



Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Soto Pocket Torch Is Back!


Good news!  The Soto Pocket Torch Is Back!

The Soto Pocket Torch has been unavailable in the US for a couple of years.  Apparently there was some kind of importing/licensing/regulatory SNAFU.  We'll they're back.

The Soto Pocket Torch
The Soto Pocket Torch is the uber cool mini butane torch (looks like a mini welder's torch flame instead of a candle flame) that has a regular lighter inside.  Easy to refuel.  When you run out, just pop in a new lighter.
Under the covers lies an ordinary disposable lighter.  Refueling?  Easy.
Why do I like it?  Well, first, it's got a lot more power than an ordinary lighter.  An ordinary lighter's flame wafts about like the flame on a candle.  The flame on the Soto Pocket Torch shoots straight out under force.  This gives you three things:

  1. Windproofness.  It's much harder for the wind to blow out a torch type flame.
  2. Direction.  The Pocket Torch's flame shoots straight out.  On a regular lighter, the flame just drifts generally upward from wherever you place the top of the lighter.  It's hard to get under things.  With the Soto, I can direct the flame exactly where I want it.  I can even get under things.  I love it.
  3. More heat.  Since I can place the flame right where I want it, the heat is focused.  I'm getting more heat right on the spot where I want it rather than a lot of that heat drifting away in the wafting flame of a regular lighter.  I find this especially useful in damp conditions and with ESBIT type fuel.  ESBIT can be a pain to light.
Lighting ESBIT type fuel with a Pocket Torch
I can give the Soto Pocket Torch no better endorsement than to say that I still carry it (See original report from 2011).  Gear that I really like sticks with me.  Gear that doesn't quite cut it tends to wind up in a box somewhere.  

My latest interest is the new high tech Windboiler stove from MSR.  Of course I wanted to test the Windboiler in, well, wind.  What did I light it with?  The Soto Pocket Torch of course.  Easy.  Wind?  No problem.
The Soto Pocket Torch (foreground).  The new MSR Windboiler stove (background).
I carry the Soto Pocket Torch on most of my trips when I'll be camping mostly below 8,000'/2400m.  Note that the piezoelectric ignitions on handheld lighters tend to fail above 8,000'/2400m.  Now, since there's a regular lighter inside, I could take the Pocket Torch on every trip and do just fine.  In other words, you can still light your stove if you camp higher than you expected and you've got the Pocket Torch along.  But do be aware of the limitations of piezo ignitions on handheld lighters.

The Soto Pocket Torch? I highly recommend it.

HJ

P.S.  People have asked me where you can get the Pocket Torch.  I know that Trail Designs has them in stock because I talked to Rand, one of the guys who works there, this morning.  I also notice that they're a dollar cheaper than at REI.  I'm just throwing Trail Designs a little blogging love since I know some of the guys who work there (and because they make one of my favorite ultralight backpacking stoves, the Ti-Tri Sidewinder which I have reviewed here on Adventures in Stoving).  And, hey, I'm saving you a buck, right?  All here at Adventures in Stoving, folks.

Disclosures
The item reviewed here was a gift from my friend Will.  A danged good gift at that.  Thank you, Will.  And also thank you for putting up with me dragging you through the brush, climbing up off trail passes in the Sierra Nevada, and not least of all, testing stoves at every turn.  That's a good friend who not only puts up with your stove testing but also gives you a gift to help you do it.

I have no contacts with Soto but would welcome them if so offered.  Hey, Soto, if you're reading this, contact me at Hikin [dot] Jim [at] Gmail [dot] com.  Send me something to test, would you?