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Gear Review Extra: Multi-fuel Stoves

This is going to get a little geeky, so take a look at my recent sock review if you don’t get excited about this kind of thing. For those that do – read on and confess all in the forum – it’s a safe place.

I reckon that the new breed of stove that can take isobutane/propane gas canisters as well as liquid fuels such as white gas could change the way backpackers view stoves forever. Liquid fuel stoves were once the preserve of mountaineers and explorers that operate in very cold temperatures, where normal isobutane/propane gas canisters cease to be efficient, as well as those travelling where a consistent fuel supply can’t be guaranteed. The excellent MSR WhisperLite Internationale (it’s exotic because it has an ‘e’ on the end) has been the choice of international travellers for years due to the wide range of fuels it can burn, ranging from unleaded petrol to aviation fuel. But not gas canisters. This has always perturbed me – remote gas canister stoves have been available alongside remote feed liquid fuels stoves but it’s only recently that they’ve been widely available combined.

There are now a few manufacturers offering this kind of thing, and I think they are pretty useful for winter backpacking. I hate using liquid fuels such as white gas – especially the cost of proprietary rebranded ‘stove fuel’ which is essentially a petroleum distillate available cheaply from paint suppliers as ‘panel wipe’ – as I find the handling inevitably results in smells and heartbreak. In mildly chilly weather I can get away with isobutane/propane gas canisters (with as little n-butane as possible as it’s rubbish in the cold) through keeping the canister warm; with stoves that have a preheat tube you can invert the gas canister to create a liquid-feed stove that I find works down to about -10ºC. Much below -10ºC I start to get annoyed and switch and switch to the liquid fuel stove that spends 360 days of the year in my gear cupboard. So that’s two stoves, both pretty similar – ultimately vapourising a liquid fuel source – and both pretty expensive. But now, like a popular shampoo/conditioner combo – I only need to take one stove into the shower hills.

Primus OmniLite Ti RRP: £175

Primus has a superb stove pedigree and the OmniLite Ti -a titanium version of the popular OmniFuel – has won multiple awards. As the name suggests, the use of titanium body and pan supports has resulted in a pretty low weight, allowing for the inclusion of a glove-friendly control valve close to the stove as well as the main fuel valve close to the canister/pump. This dual valve control permits fine flame adjustment and efficient simmering, and is noticeably absent from the other stoves despite similar weights. The main valve – seen here atop the gas canister – screws onto the liquid fuel pump permitting a tool-free interchange should an alternative fuel be required. The pump (not shown) is self-bleeding, meaning the fuel line is emptied of fuel before disassembly by simply turning the fuel bottle over until the flame goes out (after around a minute). There are three different jets included – with bores tuned to the particular fuel to provide maximum efficiency. They’re pretty small, but easy to swap in the field using the supplied multi-tool and only minimal disassembly, and anything that minimises soot and blockages is to be encouraged!

Due to far-from-Arctic conditions I have primarily used this stove with gas canisters, and the lack of preheat tube – designed to vapourise the liquid fuel before it reaches the jet – doesn’t seem to affect the performance of the stove in inverted canister formation. I assume the same mechanism that vapourises the white gas/petrol/paraffin can also deal with liquid gas.

This is a superb stove – fully deserving of the plaudits and I’m struggling to find anything to fault other than the high price. But even at £175 I think it’s worth it for the quality and longevity.

Fuels: white gas, petrol, paraffin, jet fuel, diesel, canister gas Weight: Stove – 222g, Pump – 103g

MSR Whisperlite Universal RRP: £125

I’ve managed to snag one of the first WhisperLite Universal stoves to enter the UK, keen to see if the latest incarnation of the WhisperLite Internationale lives up to the reputation of its predecessors. There is a noticeable change to the pot support/legs, with flat metal replacing the bent wire arrangement on the classic WhisperLite. Other than this, the basic stove is little changed, with a ported burner rather than the more common roarer. It’s still noisy. The large preheat tube is visible protruding through the burner head – a visible confirmation that this stove will deal with liquid feed canisters as well as a wide range of petroleum fuels. A clever plastic leg arrangement clips on to the main valve to support an inverted canister. In order to utilise liquid fuel both the jet and fuel adaptor must be changed. In common with the OmniLite Ti the WhisperLite Universal is supplied with three jets tailored to the three main fuel types. Swapping these is a simple process – the priming cup is unscrewed by hand and this and the priming wick can be removed followed by the fuel line. The included spanner makes it easy to swap the jets and reassemble. A very quick process. This disassembly also reveals the clever shaker needle – a simple method of removing jet blockages by simply shaking the stove. As well as replacing the jets the fuel adaptor at the end of the hose needs swapping – a threaded adaptor for the gas canister Lindal valve and a push-fit brass insert for the liquid fuel pump. Both are marked with the appropriate jet to be used with that fuel. The self-bleed fuel line is present in the MSR pump, but is oddly not mentioned in any of the literature.

In both liquid fuel and gas canister configuration the stove performs well – the braided fuel line is a slightly stiff and makes it easy to flip the stove when no pan is present – hardly a massive issue but worth remembering. The heat output is controlled by a main valve local to the fuel source – in both cases the adjustment is positive and glove friendly, with small graduations that permit fine tuning and the release of an appropriate amount of fuel to make priming safe. The quality of the stove is high – all the joints are well brazed and feature strong, rugged components, and the included spares pack and tools are simultaneously comprehensive and minimalist. I find the plastic fuel pump less convincing – I’ve never had an issue with it and I appreciate the weight saving, but I think I’d prefer something more rugged especially in freezing conditions. If the price of the OmniLite Ti is a deterrent the WhisperLite Universal is an extremely worthy alternative – in fact other than the bling-factor of titanium it’s hard to justify the extra £50 expenditure…

Fuels: white gas, petrol, paraffin, aviation fuel,  canister gas Weight: Stove – 265g, Pump – 64g

Edelrid Hexon RRP £110

It’s German, well-engineered and hassle-free. Upon opening the box I was immediately drawn to the spares and toolkit – each O-ring itemised and packed cleverly in zip-lock bags and bundled with a multi-tool in a really classy plastic screwtop cylinder. It’s the little things that make this a wonderful stove. One jet to accommodate the full range of fuels – there’s a chance it’ll clog more when using sooty fuels like paraffin, but thanks to a nice filtration system built into the base of the jet I’m not sure that this will actually be too much of an issue. So – no jet to swap when changing fuels and no fuel adaptor to change either. In a similar fashion to the OmniLite Ti the threaded canister adaptor simply screws onto the liquid fuel pump without the need for tools. It seems pretty obvious to me and I’m not sure why MSR don’t do something similar. The pump assembly itself features a pleasing amount of metal, as well as the self-bleed system to de-pressurise the fuel bottle before disassembly. My main disappointment is the main valve adjuster – it’s a small metal knurled knob which isn’t easy to operate with gloves on or with cold fingers, and could easily have been fitted with something larger. I like the fact that this valve is horizontal though – it makes operation easier with an inverted canister.

The design is quite unique, and beautiful in its simplicity. The braided hose is flexible enough to permit manipulation without upsetting the stove, and a really smooth rotating connection makes canister inversion simple. The preheat tube travels over the roarer burner – with a kink in it to enable easy jet removal – and simply enters the base of the burner. That’s about it, and explains the low weight – the whole package is almost as light as the OmniLite Ti in fact. The stove structure and folding wire legs/pot supports makes for a quite bulky folded package, but the nicely flexible hose wraps around everything to keep it sensible. I have to admit that this stove has found itself in my pack more than any other – the simplicity and quality of construction makes up for the less-than-ideal valve, and the price makes this extremely good value.

Fuels: white gas, petrol, paraffin, aviation fuel, canister gas Weight: Stove – 227g, Pump – 109g

Go System Gemini Extreme RRP: £120

I was so disappointed with the Gemini Extreme. Go System are experts in gas – making blow torches and lanterns in addition to a wide range of gas stoves, and this probably explains the shortcomings of this – their attempt at a multifuel stove. Remarkably similar to the bombproof MSR XGK Expedition stove (extremely similar in fact) it’s a substantial and stable stove with large rotating pot supports/legs and a non-fuel-specific jet with shaker in a roarer burner. A preheat tube is joined to a flexible braided hose which ends with a horizontal main valve reminiscent of that found on the Hexon – just slightly poorer quality. The valve has no +/- markings but thankfully functions on the normal ‘lefty-loosey, righty-tighty‘ principle. The poorly translated instruction manual suggests the supplied circle of mesh is placed over the burner when used with canister gas – I have no idea why – and in this arrangement the stove works well with good flame adjustment permitting simmering.

To use the stove with liquid fuel the gas adaptor needs to be removed using the included multi-tool – the soft brass fitting is already showing signs of rounding thanks to the poorly-made multi-tool – revealing a thread with two O-rings. This is then screwed into the liquid fuel pump with the multi-tool again. The obvious problem here is when it comes to separating the stove and fuel bottle – I find the notion of keeping the stove permanently attached to pump and fuel bottle baffling, and having to use a poor-quality multi-tool each time equally annoying. Of course, of far more concern is the quality of the fuel pump. The plastic moulding was immediately suspect, with marks in the surface and poor finishing not confidence- inspiring when pressurising highly-flammable liquid. When testing the stove at home prior to use outdoors I noticed a slow leak coming from this connection – something of particular concern when the stove is already alight and not in a position to be relocated. When the stove was extinguished – there is no self-bleed system incidentally – I removed the fuel line from the pump to check the integrity of the O-rings and removed a substantial quantity of the brass thread with it. As a result, my experience of using this stove with liquid fuels is pretty limited – along with the leak the main fuel valve was decidedly digital (either on or off) which caused issues when releasing a small quantity of fuel for priming purposes or trying to simmer. Even discounting this particular fuel pump as a one-off quality control failure the need to use a tool to disconnect the fuel line puts me off using the Gemini Extreme for anything other than canister gas, for which there are far cheaper, lighter and better quality alternatives.

Fuels: white gas, petrol, paraffin, canister gas Weight: Stove – 355g, Pump – 88g

Agree with Phil? Let us know what you think on our forum.

 

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Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each walker's responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.