Sunday, February 2, 2014

180 Stove Review - Part 1

Cooking over a fire is nothing new. A skill worth having, but
just comes down to whether you want to or not.

I've come a long ways in the art of cooking over a fire. I use to exclusively cook with a white gas stove for many years, but have now developed a love for cooking over an open flame. Although it is not an essential skill, it is definitely a practical one worth acquiring, as it can be useful when your stove malfunctions, or you unexpectedly run out of fuel. Cooking over a fire is nothing new, as it has been employed for eons, but there has been a resurgence of a similar open fire method - cooking using a twig stove.

I'm not sure as to the primary reason behind the rise of twig stoves, as I've seen many variations and styles recently. But there certainly are reasons to justify it's purpose, usefulness and popularity. First off, it's environmentally friendly. You use a lot less wood to cook with a twig stove, than a grill over a fire pit. The flame is contained in a smaller area and directed straight beneath the pot, thus efficiently utilizing the concentrated heat. It is also much more wind resistant, first due to the sides of the stove encircling the fire, and secondly, because you can place the stove wherever you want. But most importantly, the stove doesn't require you to harvest big pieces of wood. The fuel is practically all around you on the ground - from twigs, pine cones, bark, and even moose droppings! This goes a long way in not only eliminating your reliance on fossil fuels, but also all the energy spent extracting, refining, and having it shipped to you. You just gather and utilize the fuel around you, while leaving the other form behind, so it can be recycled naturally.

The 180 Stove - one of many new designs of twig
stoves that have recently emerged.

There are also the financial implications. Twig stoves generally cost less than most gas stoves, whether white gas or ones that use pressurized gas canisters. There is also the cost of gas itself. With the upswing in the cost of energy, all it's other forms derived from oil have come up in price too. You can't save anymore money than what nature provides for free. Besides, who doesn't want more money in their pocket?

Then there are the practical reasons. Twig stoves are fairly simple designs that are usually made of very durable material - such as stainless steel and titanium. Not only will they most likely last a lifetime, but are fairly light too, easily the equivalent of other types of stoves, and quite often less. Talking about weight, as you don't have to carry fuel with you, that's where you will really notice a difference. No fuel AND fuel container(s) means less weight (and space) on your back when you are portaging. 

Why pay for fuel which nature provides for free?

One other big benefit to a twig stove, is its simple design that has no moving parts. Not that the twig stove can't be broken, (Usually due to carelessness or neglect.) but if it is looked after, you'll probably never have to deal with a repair or breakdown ever. That means more weight savings, as you won't even have to take a stove repair kit as well. These stoves really are a 'buy once, last forever' type of equipment that you can't go wrong with.

Well, I've had several opportunities to try different twig stoves over the years, but recently, I came upon another type that caught my attention - the 180 Stove. From what I could see, I liked many of its features, and was really curious about how well it performed. I sent an email to the owners to see if I could review it. They were more than happy to accommodate, and not only sent me the 180 stove, but the even smaller and lighter 180VL stove plus the snow and ash tray too! How do you like that? As you can imagine, I was eagerly looking forward to getting it and trying it out. 

The lighter and more compact 180 VL Stove. Have
your cake and eat it too!

Last year, I had the opportunity to take the 180 Stove with me on a half a dozen trips over 46 days. I think it's obvious I put the 180 Stove to good use. With this much time spent using the stove, I was able to get a good feel for its performance and design, and provide an objective review of it. There was many things I loved about the stove, but I did find one issue that detracted from it's great design. The good news is, that it can easily be remedied with some small changes. But before we get into that, let's talk about all the good points.

This stove is made of 24 gauge, high quality 304 (18/8) stainless steel. (In short, really good quality stainless steel.) Sure, it can be lighter if made of titanium, but it is a nice compromise between cost and weight. However, if weight is an issue, this is somewhat addressed with a sister design which I will mention later on. Although there isn't an option for titanium, you can't go wrong with good quality stainless steel. These stoves are built to last. No corrosion, pitting, and minimal warping. It is as durable as they come. The only thing you'll see change, is the usual scorch/sooty marks after they are first used. Other than that, they are guaranteed to last for many years of use.

You can't go wrong with good quality 18/8 stainless steel
for a twig stove. A good compromise between
weight, cost, and durability.

The design of the stove is my favourite. Reminds me of a little wood stove. Simply 3 sides, and three cross members atop to hold everything together rock-solid. And I mean rock solid. This stove easily handles a big heavy pot and you'll experience very little movement. The other good thing about this design is that the whole set-up is low to the ground - a low center of gravity if you want to call it that. This assures that there is little chance the pot (and stove) will tip over, unlike many others which have a more traditional vertical design that are more prone to tipping. The 180 VL Stove is a bit different as it has a triangular design to save weight. Therefore it has only 2 sides and 2 cross-members, reducing the footprint and therefore the size of pots you can place on top. Therefore, the VL version is more suited to solo trippers that are looking for the lightest and most compact stove, or trippers that don't mind compromising weight for functionality. Just be mindful, that some of the features of one versus the other don't necessarily cross over. 

Weight is a big thing these days when it comes to outdoor excursions. Although paddlers are not as weight conscious as backpackers, we certainly do take it into account, especially when trips involve a lot of portages. In either case, you won't be disappointed. The 180 Stove only weighs 286 grams, whereas as the smaller 180 VL Stove weighs in at a miserly 167 grams! That is pretty darn light! As a comparison, my favourite white gas stove, the MSR Dragonfly weighs 365g, not including the fuel bottle. Other highly regarded multi-fuel stoves weigh even more, so it is no rocket science as to the numbers. You can't go wrong in this department. On a side note, I also take the ash/snow tray, which adds another 167g, which of course negates the weigh savings and brings it closer to the weight of a gas stove and empty fuel bottle, but as you know, you don't need one to use it. I'll speak more about this further on.

Who doesn't want a compact stove for packing? Not only does
the 180 Stove pack small, but is not susceptible
 to damage when packed either!

Lastly, the 180 Stove packs down pretty compact. When disassembled and strapped together, you have a physical footprint of 17.8cm(L)x8.3cm(W)x1.5cm(H). Know of any gas stove or twig stoves that pack down this small? I didn't think so. And the other amazing thing to this pack form is, is that it is as durable in this arrangement as it is when set-up! No need to worry about damaging it at all. Rigid and compact, you can easily slide it into a small space or crevice in your pack or barrel without worry. This is an smart design that you won't have to worry about pulling your stove out in more pieces than it came with.

Part 2 Coming soon!

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