While it is possible to subsist on cold food only, the length of time a long-distance hiker spends on the trail makes it harder psychologically to keep that practice up for long before missing a hot dinner.
There are several types of cook system suitable for a weight-conscious backpacker, categorized by which fuel type they use. Principally those are alcohol (e.g. meths), gas (meaning some mix of butane, isobutane and/or propane), wood (locally gathered kindling) and solid fuel (namely Esbit tablets). Some stoves even allow for 2-3 of these fuels to be used which certainly mitigates the risk of running out of fuel, an ever-present issue when there can be a week between supply points.
While I strongly considered a Caldera Cone with Inferno option I finally went with a standard gas consider stove. The reasons are:
- simplicity (no gathering wood each day and no prep time, just turn a handle and the fire is ready to rock and roll);
- ease of resupply (alcohol is even easier but on the AT at least gas is supposed to be easy enough; the story light be different on another trail);
- cleanliness (esbit, wood and alcohol are all messy or at least potentially messy to carry and require effort to keep protected, and only alcohol of those three burns cleanly leaving no residue on your cookware);
- speed: a gas stove can boil 500ml of water in maybe 3 minutes (from the time you set it down on the ground also), the others take several times longer than that (including prep time) and may require clean-up afterwards
- safety: I was probably 50:50 between alcohol and gas in mid-2013 but the spate of serious wildfires in the western US just shone a light on the issue of safety. Gas canister stoves are much safer than any other stove type. I don’t want to take any chance of being That Guy.
My choice of stove is the Soto OD-1RX Windmaster (67g / 2.4oz). It has a reasonable resistance to wind (the name being a clue) due to a recessed burner head which means I won’t need to carry a dedicated windshield; instead I will just set it up in the lee of a rock, log, backpack, my body, etc. It is very fuel efficient (especially if you turn the burner down to a third and wait a few extra seconds for the water to boil), very light and is by all accounts very well made so ought to hold up well on trail.
The only ‘feature’ I dislike is that the pot support has to be removed to store the stove meaning there is a chance of losing the pot support which would render the stove nearly useless. I am actually hoping they release an updated version before Spring 2014 that correct this problem. Otherwise I will have to look into some method of securing the support (e.g. button magnet to attach it to the stove neck or canister) and make sure my support manager has quick access to ordering a replacement!
(Click a thumbnail to see a larger image)
I shall make ‘fresh’ meals and boil water for dehydrated ‘freezer bag’ meals, pasta, cous-cous, ramen noodles or oatmeal in a 900ml Evernew Titanium cooking pot (110g / 3.9oz). I’m going with the not-non-stick version to save weight.
And drink out of a simple 400ml GSI Cascadian polypro drinking mug (70g / 2.5oz). You can get a bit tired of everything being made of titanium and drinking out of metal beakers just reminds me of school lunches. And that’s not a good thing.
And eat with a 21cm MSR Folding Spoon and Fork (10g / 0.4oz each). Sporks can be annoying in that they let drips through the tines when used for liquids and don’t let you easily grab and twirl noodles when used as fork. So for a small weight penalty I prefer two dedicated pieces.