Category Archives: camping

Butane Refill Tool, Revisited

It’s been 4 years since I did my little review on Camping In Taiwan’s butane refill tool, so I think we’re about due for a follow up. This revisit isn’t so much about the tool, but about the durability of the canisters themselves: are they safe to refill? What about rust? Will they eventually rupture?  The TL;DR answer is that canisters are sufficiently over-designed to allow numerous refills and even some degree of overfilling.

As a kind of proof, here is my 5-year-old MSR IsoButane canister, refilled 30+ times, and still going strong:

Snow Peak GigaPower run on MSR IsoButane canister, refilled with 100% butane

A note, that some low-quality butane fuels did cause some flecks and orange-coloured flames temporarily when using the canister in inverted mode with another stove. These seem to depend entirely on the quality of your refills (cheaper fuel = potentially more impurities). When using the canister in normal, upright mode (pictured), the flames always register clear and blue.

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Clean, blue flame

I have not noticed any rattling or structural integrity issues of the canister either – moisture contamination, if it is happening, doesn’t seem to be a large concern.  The more important factor than stress from refilling is wear and tear on the fitting’s seal – a few times during cold weather, the valve has stuck open when removing the stove (oops!). It closed itself again after a few seconds, but considering these canisters aren’t meant to last forever, I would look at the seal as the likeliest point of failure. I will likely retire the canister if (when) the sticking issue gets worse.

Over the course of my summer and fall hiking and camping, I have consumed at least 12 225g bayonet-style cylinders refilling the MSR canister. That’s about 24 full refills, though in reality I did many more partial refills. I manage to get my refills for about $1 each, which means over the course of the 4 years, I’ve spend $12 on fuel. Comparable 225g IsoButane canisters go for about $7.25, meaning I saved myself $75 on fuel over 4 years! The refill tool has certainly  paid for itself!

And the stove using the refilled canister still makes coffee just fine, too!

 

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Coffee!

 

Happy Stoving!

DIY Snow Peak GigaPower Windscreen

My snow peak GigaPower stove has been a great companion on day-hikes and trips when I haven’t wanted to haul out my bigger Coleman 2-burner (only really useful for car-camping) or my MSR WhisperLite. The fact that it actually simmers unlike the WhisperLite has also made it my go-to stove for any real backcountry cooking – that is to say, anything that requires more heat adjustment than boiling water.

But the shortcoming of this stove is its windscreen – or rather that lack thereof.  I was using my MSR aluminum-foil windscreen, but that lead to hot canisters (dangerous) and it was annoying to reach down and risk burning fingers to try adjusting the valve.

Snow Peak offers their own nice, lightweight, no-fuss windscreen for the GigaPower on their website:

…but of course, me being the hack that I am,  spending $12.50 for what is essentially an metal plate with holes is just hard to justify to myself.  So I made my own DIY prototype, with an unused aluminium pan from a broken camping cookset:

IMG_0417At 50g, this is the exact same weight as a bonafide Snow Peak windscreen – theirs is made of stainless steel – but at a fraction of the cost. Go to a garage sale, or Canadian Tire, and you can often find these plates for a dollar or two amongst someone’s camping gear or in the discount section.

But how does it work? Pretty well, actually! Being slightly deeper than the official GigaPower wind screen, my small pot set is almost cradled:

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Despite a fan blowing at full 6 feet away, the flame remains upright
The Snow Peak windscreen leaves a 1/2″ gap between the legs and the bottom of a pot

The fan test showed good results with the windscreen. The stove was able to boil water! Without any windscreen, the flame’s heat just blew away too quickly to even warm the pot of water in a reasonable amount of time.

 

Flame comparison:

IMG_0402 IMG_0403

….and viewed from the top:

IMG_0407IMG_0401

All in all, a respectable prototype from a DIY project that took 15 minutes!

Stove/Fuel Choice for Italy

In Italy, we hope to cut our costs down somewhat by cooking as many of our meals as possible. But, the availability of stove fuels is somewhat different that North America, meaning that choosing a stove is a little hard. White gas (camping fuel), and the standard EN417-threaded butane canisters so plentiful here are quite scant in most of Europe – Italy included. Across the pond, Campingaz’ dominance in the market means that its own proprietary canisters are ubiquitous throughout much of the continent, to the chagrin of many tourists, who won’t have much luck finding EN417 butane canisters for their stoves in all but the largest cities in Italy.*

*Update: We have completed our tour of Italy, and in fact did not have too much difficulty locating the EN417-threaded canisters.  We purchased our refill at an odd little “Liquigas” shop in Siena, a chain which appears to be unique to Italy. There are more of these shops, and so our advice would be to start the search there. The cylindrical, hairspray-type bayonet canister were no where to be found in the country whatsoever.

I, myself, am not a fan of the Campingaz canister system nor their stoves, which are relatively heavy and seem (to me) to be of inferior fit-and-finish to many MSR, Snow Peak, and Primus stoves. While MSR offers the Superfly stove which can fit both the EN417 and Campingaz canisters, it also happens to be fairly heavy and large – not something I’d want for travelling light. So, I broke down and ordered a stove that has consistently been praised for its light wight and compactness, performance, durability + quality of build, and simmering ability: the Snow Peak GigaPower SS Stove. But, you can’t have everything: the GigaPower runs only on the EN417 canisters.

Snow Peak GigaPower butane stove

In one of my earlier posts, I talked about cutting costs by using a butane can refill tool; you can top-off a used canister with one of the spray-paint shaped bayonet cans available in most hardware/grocery stores. In Italy, these cans are also supposedly common, and so I plan on finding one GigaPower canister in the camping stores of Firenze (Florence) where we fly in, and then continuing to refill that can as we travel on through the small hill-towns of Tuscany.

Another helpful tip for tourists: if you are willing to pay a small premium, many plumbing shops/hardware stores in Italian cities sell the EN417-threaded canisters for brazing torches, which can be used in a pinch.

Italy Trip: Itinerary in Brief

The planning continues, and now I’ve managed to figure out all the stops, the route and where we will camp on our journey from Florence to Rome, Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi coast. The aeroplane has been booked – leaving May 31 from Toronto Pearson, to arrive June 1 in Florence. We will be returning almost 3 weeks later, flying out on June 18th with 2 layovers (Frankfurt, Germany, and Washington, D.C.) before we arrive back in Toronto.

The Itinerary in Brief:


5/31 –  18:40 departure from Toronto
6/1 – 14:00 arrival in Florence! —-> Rest-up day.
6/2 – Touring Florence, seeing the sights.
6/3 – Florence to San Gimignano: 74km
       – 8:00 departure by bike
       – ETA 17:00
       – 17:00 – 20:00; dinner + evening in town
       – 21:00; Lodging – arrival @ Camping Baschetto di Piemma
6/4 – San Gimignano to Colleoli: 53km
       – 8:00 -13:00; breakfast/tour/lunch
       – 13:00 Depart
       – ETA 19:30 Colleoli
       – Lodging: Local Agriturismo
6/5 – Colleoli to Pisa: 43km
       – 8:00 Depart
       – ETA 13:00 Pisa
       – 13:00-17:00; Visit Leaning tour + duomo, museums, and explore town + got to market for food
       – 17:00; Lodging @ Camping Torre Pendente + Dinner
6/6 – Pisa to Orciano Pisano: 43km
       – 8:00-11:00; breakfast, early morning exploring town
       – 11:30 Depart, after lunch
       – ETA 17:30 Orciano
       – Lodging @ Camping Elena Country House
6/7 –  Orciano Pisano to Castagneto Carducci: 49km
       – 9:00 Depart
       – 13:00-14:30 Stop @ Rosignano Marittimo for sights, lunch
       – ETA 18:00 Castagneto
       – Lodging @ Camping Belmare
6/8 – Castagneto Carducci to Scarlino: 57km
       – 9:00 Depart
       – ETA 17:00
       – Lodging @  Camping Baia dei Gabbiani
6/9 – Scarlino to Grossetto: 40km
       -8:00 Depart
       – ETA 16:00
       – Lodging @ Agriturismo Il Querciolo
       – 16:30–21:00 Ride into town, Dinner, explore sights.
6/10 – Grossetto to Montalto di Castro: 73km

       -8:00 Depart
       – ETA 18:00
       – Lodging @ Camping Pionier Etrusco

6/11 – Montalto di Castro to Civitavecchia: 43km
       – 9:00 Depart
       – ETA 14:00 Civitavecchia
       – 15:30; FR5 Commuter ‘Ferrovie Regionale’ into Rome
       – ETA 16:00 Roma
       – Lodging @ Cheap B&B near Termini Station
6/12-13 – ROMA!
       – Two full days of exploration, sights, rome.
       – Lodging @ Cheap B&B near Termini Station
6/14 – Rome to Amalfi (by Train)
       – 8:00 Breakfast/ Packup
       -9:40 Train form Termini Stn. to Vietri-Amalfi
       – ETA 13:10 Amalfi
       – 13:30; Hotel check-in/drop off bikes, lunch
       – 14:30-21:00; Explore area/sights + market for groceries
       – Lodging @ Hotel
6/15 – Amalfi Coast!
       – More exploration & sight-seeing
6/16 – Amalfi to Pompei (by Train)
       – 8:00-12:00; Morning in Amalfi, breakfast
       – 12:00 Hotel checkout/ pack-up + lunch
       – 13:15; Depart from Vietri-Amalfi Stn.
       – ETA 14:05 Pompei Stn.
       – Explore the scenery/countryside by bicycle until evening
       – Lodging @ Hotel
6/17 – Pompei to Napoli (by Train)
        – 7:30; Early breakfast
        – 9:00-15:00 Explore Pompeii Ruins + On-The-Go lunch
        – 16:00; Depart Pompei Stn.
        – ETA 16:30 Napoli Centrale Stn.
        – 16:50; hotel check in, lock up bikes in room
        – Dinner, Exploration & Night on the Town
6/18 – Napoli/ Last-day Packup + Flight
        – 9:00 wakeup + breakfast
        – 10:30 Head to Naples Airport
        – 13:10 Departing flight
        – ETA 23:10 Toronto Pearson

Most of the beginning of the jorney is by bicycle, is the far-less-crowded Tuscant leg of the journey. Shortly after Civitavecchia, the only direct-route roads become crowded, fast-traffic Via Regionale (Regional Highways) – not nice for cycling. Therefore, for the rest of the trip, we will be bring our bicycles on the train with us as we travel which adds ~5.00 to each train ticket), and use them for sight-seeing and local rides in town. The economic and short 30 minute and 1hr Ferrovie Regionale (Regional Train) rides will allow us to see the Bay of Naples, Pompei and the Amalfi Coast without taking a longer trip, and without risking our necks on the hillier/more crowded roadways of south-western Italy. 

Homemade White Gas "Still"

Almost everybody is familiar with the venerable Coleman suitcase stoves and pressurized lanterns – both of which run on what is known in N. America as “white gasoline”. White gas, camp fuel and naphta are all different names for the same fuel. It is essentially a more refined version of gasoline (petrol for those of you in the UK!), with fewer smelly, carcinogenic compounds like benzene, toluene and octane-boosters. These additives are good for cars, but can clog stove generators and jets as they form viscous gums, which is why the more refined white gas does without them.

Unfortunately, the camp fuels sold at stores aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Here, a 3.78L (1 US Gallon) can of the cheapest camp fuel fetches about $15.50. Well, what about regular gasoline then? It’s relatively cheap, and readily available, but can clog stoves and burns with an odour. Following my grade 11 chemistry background, I decided to try making a “gasoline still”. Because chemicals like hexane and octane boil at lower temperatures than other additives, boiling gasoline will yield vapours of chemicals I want, and the chemicals I don’t want stay in the retort. The gasses pass through a tube and condense to liquid, then drip into a separate container.

Disclaimer: What I have done here is extremely dangerous, with potential for serious burns/loss of hair and/or dignity. If you should attempt to follow my example, godspeed to you! But, I do not accept any liability. 

Not being one to spend much, I skipped the lab equipment and went straight to fabricating this odd contraption:

Gasoline Still – note the high tech device (rag)
used to prevent gases from escaping and causing a fire.

The Zippo lighter fluid can was filled with gasoline and then was boiled (very carefully!) over a candle flame. The gasoline boiled off and went through the straw into the watering can, where it condensed. It took a while, but eventually enough was collected to use.

The watering can was filled with a clear liquid and the Zippo can was filled with a yellow sludge, proving that there were a lot of additives. The clear liquid still smelled a little like gas, but not nearly as much as before. If one were able to control the temperature more, I’m sure the result would be even better.

The “white gas” I distilled burns fine in stoves, still with a bit of an odour, however. I hope to get some  better equipment (and a hot plate for sure) to produce this faster and in greater volume, but as a proof of concept, I’d say it works!

Gear Review: Butane Canister Refill Tool

Update 16/10/17: Wow, 4 years later and this is still the most popular page on my site! The Camping In Taiwan store has changed some URLs, so I updated them accordingly.

Update 13/05/13: It has been noted by someone that the company’s policy of shipping their adaptors in simple sealed, unpadded envelopes can cause problems – the unpadded envelope may rupture, leading to package loss. I suggest voicing any concerns with shipping to the owner.

An $8 piece of equipment which I highly recommend to any canister stove or lantern user is this butane canister refill tool. I managed to find it from the Camping In Taiwan website/webstore, here (scroll down).*

The bayonet-to-threaded refill adapter
With butane, there are two standards: the wide and squat EN417 threaded style canisters used in camping applications, and the thin and tall bayonet-style butane canisters often used in home applications. This above tool allows anyone to refill their isobutane/butane blend EN417-threaded canisters with the bayonet type butane cartridges. The benefit of using these bayonet cans to source fuel is obvious: they are cheap, cheap, cheap! But, because they have a bayonet fuel mount, then this adapter is needed. The adapter converts the large nozzle on these butane cartridges into a smaller nozzle – just large enough to fit into an EN417 valve and refill your favourite isobutane cartridge.
If you are partial to using the small isobutane canisters (like me – I always use the 113g/4oz. cans), so that you aren’t carrying the heavy and larger 227 or 450g cans, then using this refilling adapter will save you even more. Lets do some math:
  • MSR Isobutane (113g): $4.90
  • Primus Isobutane (450g): $10.00
  • North 49-branded Bayonet Canister (227g) : $2.99
  • Generic Bayonet Canister (227g): $1 to $1.50ea (look for these in 4-packs @ your nearest Asian food market)
These work out to (g per $):
  • MSR: 23.1 g/$
  • Primus: 45.0 g/$
  • North 49: 75.9 g/$
  • Generic: 227.0 to 151.3 g/$

The substantial savings become obvious when comparing like that. Note also how much more you get per dollar when using the larger isobutane canisters compared to the smaller ones. Asian markets carry lots of the bayonet cans at dirt cheap prices, since curved woks won’t work on regular electric stove elements, and the butane home ranges are often used instead. But seeing as I don’t live near any Asian food markets, I recently have relied on Canadian Tire’s North 49-branded bayonet cans as fuel (and sadly, have been paying the mark-up on  price).

The break-even amount I have found is 2 full refills, using my MSR 113g and the North 49 refills. The adapter has already paid for itself a few times over.

Its just a small piece of machined aluminum and two rubber seals. Weight: 3g.
Here’s how you use it. You’ll need a kitchen scale, the adapter(duh), a threaded isobutane canister, a butane refill, access to a freezer and a marker.
1. Weight a full EN417 isobutane cartridge. If you don’t have a full can, you can often find the full weights online. I have recorded this weight on the can’s bottom, for future reference:
232g —> the mass of the butane gas (113g) + canister itself ( 119g)
2. After a few weeks, once your can has been mostly used up, weight it again:
My refill apparatus, with mostly empty MSR cartridge ready to be refilled. In my case, a fully empty MSR canister would weigh ~119g
3. Now, put the empty can into the freezer, and let it chill. This will help create a pressure difference, and drive the butane into the canister far more quickly.
4. Remove from freezer, and place the adapter into the valve hole.
5. Take the bayonet can and place it into the orifice in the adapter. Press down firmly. If you don’t it may leak a bit of butane gas (you’ll smell it). Hold it down for a few seconds.
The connector should look like this when ready to go to the next step.
6. Place the refilled can onto the scale, less the adapter. Aim for a similar weight to that of the full canister. Try not to go over. Under filling by any amount is fine, and overfilling by a few grams shouldn’t matter either.
Refilled MSR 113 Cartridge. In reality, the full weight was to be 232g – it is really easy to over shoot the target.

As in the above picture, I’ve managed to over fill. By adding these extra 11 grams, I have increase the total fuel by ~10%. Since this refilled can is just pure butane now, instead of the usual isobutane/propane mix, the cold-weather performance should be noticeably less exciting. Butane boils at 0C @ sea level, and so this technique will really only work for spring/summer/fall use. Isobutane boils at -12C, and Propane boils at -42C, and so these fuels should work much better in the cold.

However, this allows us to exploit the higher boiling point – we *can* over fill by some degree with impunity. This can occur without the canister bursting because pure butane won’t make as much vapour pressure at room temperature as isobutane/propane will. Slightly overfilling is a good way to cut down weight if you should need more fuel – more fuel for less space and per packaging weight. A way to do this with minimal risk is to let both cans reach room temp, then try at filling a little more. The pressures should equalize to a safe level, and you should still get a little extra fuel added. BUT if something does go wrong, I don’t take any responsibility.

* This is not an advertisement for Camping in Taiwan, nor have I had any compensation for this review.

Trangia Lighting Procedure

A brief follow-up: using my homemade soup-can pot stand, the lighting instructions:

1. The stove and stand are set out. In cold weather, the stove is
set on a plastic soft drink lid to insulate against the ground. 

2. The lid is remove, and the burner is lit. The pot stand is then
carefully placed over the burner. 

3. Wait approximately 30 seconds to let the burner ‘bloom’; the
 flame must come out of the burner’s holes. Often, an audible ‘pop’
noise will signal that the flame has bloomed, and the stove is warmed  up.

4. Now, the stove is ready to cook food! 

5. Unlike ready-made cooksets, this DIY pot stand must be removed
with a pot gripper before the stove can be extinguished. Once the hot
pot stand is removed, the Trangia’s lid is dropped
over the flame to extinguish it. 

Gear Review: Trangia Alcohol Stoves

My first post of the new year will deal with my little Trangia stove I’ve picked up a while ago. Now that I’ve been able to use it on a few day-hikes during the Christmas break, I can confidently review it. The first, and most obvious point, is that this is an alcohol stove; these stoves can burn the commonly found methanol, ethanol and even isopropyl rubbing alcohol. This stove cannot burn anything properly but alcohol – I tried white gasoline and ended up with a sooty, fireball-prone mess – and this could leave much to be desired in a third-world setting where kerosene/autogas (petrol) is all that may be found. But, here in Canada along with the US, most of South America, and Europe, methanol is easily found in nearly every hardware shop. Often it is labelled as ‘methyl hydrate’, and so people overlook it, but 4L can be be had for $10.

Trangia burner w/ homemade soup can pot stand. The port is
wide enough to allow use of the simmer ring.

It is important that I say that the Trangia I review was purely the stove unit and not the cookset. But, here’s what I had to say about the stove in my review for MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-Op):

Great overall little burner – stows away well, is relatively lightweight and has a high heat output for an alcohol stove. What I love about the Trangias is their ability to store unused fuel inside them – this helps to reduce wastage, and on a day-hike, I don’t have to bring a separate fuel bottle. I just end up topping-off the burner and using the fuel left inside.

I sprung for this burner because I was not willing to invest 60+ dollars on a full Trangia kit; instead I hacked apart a soup can and used that as a stand. Don’t hesitate to use this ‘replacement’ in stand-alone configuration; it still boils quickly and is quite wind proof *if* one uses a wind screen.

Not the fastest boil times I’ll admit ( 7:10 for 2 cups @ room temp), but who’s counting minutes on the trail? It also doesn’t seem to have any problems in winter (unlike canister stoves), and my testing had 2 cups of water boil in 8:30 @ -10C. Comparable to or better than other alky stoves, IMO.

Bottom Line: One of the best and well-rounded alcohol stoves out there.

True to my MEC review, the stove I use isn’t part of a Trangia Cookset. I have a real appreciation of the simpleness of the stove, which makes it near indestructible, albeit at the cost of a few BTUs of heat output. Pressurized stoves of all kinds cannot beat the venerable little Trangia when it comes to durability and the interval between maintenance periods (there IS no maintenance!). For the rough n’ tumble hiker who needs to boil a few cups water for a quick meal or even to frying an egg over-easy, it would be a good choice. For groups above 3 people, you will want to look elsewhere. Here, its benefits are complicated by the low heat output, limited fuel capacity, and large fuel consumption. It *will* take a good 30 minutes or so to bring 3 litres to boil in good conditions, and the low energy density of alcohol fuels means sometimes 2-3 times the volume of petroleum fuel needs to be burnt to cook equivalent meals. 

The results of a boil test. 8:16 for 500mL to a rolling boil @ 0 Celcius
with light wind.

 The benefits vs. an isobutane (canister) stove are obvious – far cheaper fuel costs, cheaper investment in the stove, and they work well even in winter conditions. Also, depending on the configuration of pot stand/wind screen, the alcohol stoves can outclass a canister stove in being lightweight. 


I really do like the Trangia stove units – which can be bought for $12 – and the complete cooksets, but I firmly believe that because of their niche status and lack of other competition (Sigg has not been manufacturing its version for a while), Trangia over-inflates the prices of their cooksets.  Unless I found a 2-person cookset going for $30 or under, they are out of my league, and I feel them overpriced for the quality of the product. I own a Sigg Inoxal mini-cookset, purchased for $15 3 years ago. These pots are beautifully crafted, and well designed. They feature a black-painted aluminum exterior for strength and heat dispersion, but have an 18/8 stainless interior for cooking. This makes them lightweight, but sturdy, scrubbable with rocks + sand, and usable without fears of scratching the cook surface – or getting Alzheimers. Why then does it cost me $30 to buy a trangia mini cookset, which is just plain aluminum? The quality of the pressings isn’t up to Sigg’s snuff either. 

 Packed-up: Homebrew cookset. Sigg Inoxal cookset at right,
Trangia stove, DIY tin-can potstand, 75ml fuel bottle, and MSR windscreen at left. 
Unpacked: Potstand uncovered to show MSR windscreen and  fuel bottle.
The Inoxal cookset’s lid doubles as a frypan. Inside: 2 Guyot squishy bowls,
a compact lighter, folding knife, salt+pepper shaker, and DIY SS spork+knife.

For those minded like I am, purchase only the Trangia burner to use with another cookset. My homemade setup consists of the brass Trangia burner filled 3/4 with alcohol (160g), a steel soup can converted to a potstand (55g), a plastic softdrink lid to insulate the burner in winter (2g), and an MSR aluminum windscreen (45g). Very lightweight, and a good deal more windproof than a stock Trangia mini cookset would be. 


Stay tuned for more bike and gear reviews!

Stitches

It’s Sunday night… I’ve returned from a winter camping trip this weekend, near Acton. On the drive up, the window got stuck in the down position – so, I had a very breezy and chilly ride. 1 foot of snow when I got up to the site, and another foot fell on Saturday night, making the tent sag a bit under the weight. Quite great weather for a winter camp!

Unfortunately, while cutting some wood, I sustained a nasty gash on my knuckle; I was able to see the bone!! Needless to say, I had to get patched up with some gauze, and then head to the hospital for a more permanent ‘fix’. I wasn’t really injured that badly – the blood wasn’t pouring out – so the 2.5 cm cut was held together with 3 stitches. I guess I’ll see how it holds up to swimming tomorrow!