Sunday, 17 November 2013

Trail Designs 600ml Titanium Pot & Sidewinder Stove Review

Trail Designs have been the masters of lightweight hiking stoves for some time. They combine great performance, in all conditions, but remain very light, tough, and pack small. There are of course lighter stoves out there but they often involve too much compromise. Trail Designs always seems to find that sweet spot and I’m a huge fan.

The 600ml Titanium Pot & Sidewinder package is no different. For the solo hiker I would say it’s near perfect. Light, efficient, burns 3 fuel types and packs very small, what more could you ask for?

600ml Sidewinder stove with supplied foil lid

For $99.95 you get a 600ml titanium pan, heavy duty foil lid, Titanium Ti-Tri cone with tyvek storage sleeve, a very nice Zelph Starlyte alcohol stove, GramCracker esbit stove, small fuel bottle, measuring cup, 2 titanium stakes and a small foil base. You don’t need to carry all of this of course, more on what I take later.
Everything except the fuel-bottle and stakes are protected inside the pan during transit

600ml is the smallest pan that I would consider for a solo hiker. A pots volume is measured right up to the brim which actually gives far less useable space, around 500ml in this case. Most solo meals need 400-500ml so this is just big enough. 

Lightweight, quality, pan with insulated handles and a simple spout

The pan is made from high quality titanium and looks like an Evernew item. It’s not marked as such but the quality, and finish, are the same. It has useful internal volume markings at 200 and 400ml and a small pouring spout.  Two folding, and insulated, handles complete the features.

Volume markings at 200 & 400ml

To reduce weight a titanium lid is not supplied. Instead you get a piece of heavy duty aluminium foil. I had expected to receive this as a flat piece of aluminium, as shown in the product photo, which would need cutting and forming into a lid. However, mine came ready made with a nice foil tape handle on it. I don’t know if I was just lucky or if this is how they all are supplied but making your own will not be a big deal for most. I’m happy with a simple, light, lid like this but it has a couple of disadvantages. Cosmetically the aluminium will soon look battered and old. It will need constant tweaking to keep it fitting properly. The biggest problem though is that it has very sharp edges that will eventually cut through any storage sack you house it in. I think a nylon sack would fare better than the cuben I used which is very sensitive to abrasion. I’ve since replaced my lid with one made from 3 layers of kitchen foil, which is much softer, and I’ve added some insulation material to the top portion to stiffen it up. The lid isn’t a deal breaker by a long way but it is a compromise over a purpose made one. If this is an issue then you can buy a slightly heavier stove with a proper titanium lid.

Old lid (left) after 50 days use. New lid (right)

A nicely cut Titanium Ti-Tri cone is included which acts as the pan support and windshield. This really supports the pan well and the chance of it falling over is very low no matter how rough the ground you place it on. I was very pleased to see that there had been some improvements to the construction since my previous Trail Designs stove. The cone is supplied as a flat, one piece, sheet of titanium and the ends are slotted together to form a cone. One side of the joint is stiffened up with a second layer of titanium and on the old version it’s held together with an steel (?) rivet. It works fine but rusts quickly and that rust, not only looks bad, but can stain your pan. The new cone’s are spot welded which eliminates the rivet and is a significant improvement. The cone can be rolled up and slipped into the tyvek sleeve for storage in the pan.

Spot welding is a big improvement over the previously used rivets

The cone has air vents and a number of drilled holes for the supplied stakes. These stakes are for supporting the pan at different heights depending on what fuel you are burning. I normally only use the Starlyte stove and with that you don’t need the stakes as the pan sits flush, with its lip supported, by the cone. If you use esbit (lower holes) or wood (upper holes) then you will need the stakes.

Stakes in upper holes for wood-burning

The Starlyte stove is made by Zelph and fits perfectly with this package. It’s a much smaller, and flatter, stove than Trail Designs own model which would be too big to store inside the pan. This is a “modified” Starlyte stove in that it has a ring around the burner giving a more controlled flame when used with smaller pans. It’s also the safest alcohol stove I have ever used. The stove is filled with absorbent wadding that soaks up any fuel. You can turn this stove upside down, and as long as it has not been overfilled, no fuel will leak out. It’s also possible to transport the stove full of fuel and a brightly coloured cap is supplied for that purpose. This is a useful feature and on a quick overnighter you might not need to carry a fuel bottle at all. To conserve fuel I often carried the stove partially filled by extinguishing the flame as soon as a rolling boil has been reached. Once cooled it’s on with the cap and it can be carried in your pot and no fuel will leak out.

Modified Starlyte stove showing burner ring and plastic cap

A GramCracker esbit stove is also included and this is a simple titanium fuel tablet holder, with some wings, that gives a slower, more controlled, burn. Those wings certainly save fuel but as I was never able to quite get 2 full rolling boils out of a single tablet I don’t really use them. If I’m going to burn 1 fuel tab per boil then it might as well happen quicker. To be fair you can just about squeeze two boils from a single tab if you don’t need a full rolling boil. Mostly you don’t, the water will be plenty warm enough, but if I’m using unfiltered water then I want it to boil fully, at least for a few seconds. I don’t carry esbit that much on long hikes, because it’s so much harder to find in trail towns, so normally leave the GramCracker at home.

My MYOG foil lid is more storage friendly

One of the great things about these Titanium Ti-Tri stoves is that they can also burn wood. This is something I would only do when I was low on other fuel, simply because of the extra time it takes to collect the wood and the increased boil time when burning it, but it’s great to have that option. I didn't order the optional inferno wood-burner upgrade, if I’m only going to use wood 1 or 2 times on a 4-5 month hike that extra weight is not worth it. However, even without the inferno it works well as a wood stove and is not that much slower than the best wood burners I have used.

As standard you get a small piece of aluminium for a floor but you can pay extra for a larger titanium model. I find the aluminium to be too small if you are using the stove anywhere where there is any vegetation, it’s very easy to set fire to something! This wasn't a problem on my recent PCT hike as there is normally plenty of clear areas to cook. However in areas were there is a lot of vegetation that can't be easily cleared, such as Scotland, then you need to be careful. I don’t have either of the 2 optional titanium floors but the smaller, single piece, floor looks too small. I would want the 2-piece, split floor. Because I don’t burn wood very often a lighter option is to make one from 3 sheets of aluminium kitchen foil. This provides great protection for vegetation but you can’t use it for wood-burning, it will melt! 

Full-sized MYOG foil base

I’ve not mentioned boil times anywhere in this review because I’ve never measured them! I don’t care if one stove is 2 seconds faster than another. My review comes from using this stove for 50-60 nights of my PCT hike and what I can say is that it is as quick and fuel efficient as any I have used. I’m more than happy with its performance in all conditions.

I do care about weight though! I’ve included the weight of all the supplied items as well as my homemade bits so you can compare. I don’t carry everything here and normally take the items highlighted which comes in at a trail weight of 142g.

600ml titanium pot 66g
Supplied foil lid 7g
Homemade lid (not supplied) 6g
Zelph stove including plastic cap 16g
GramCracker Stove  4g
Measuring cup 1g
Ti-Tri Titanium cone and tyvek storage sleeve 29g
Homemade foil base (not supplied) 2g
Homemade cuben storage sack (not supplied) 4g
Stakes 12g
Fuel-bottle 20g
500ml soda fuel-bottle (not supplied) 18g

Packed ready for the trail (cuben sack is not included)

This is a great stove that I highly recommend for solo hikers looking for a light and efficient setup. Having the option to burn wood can be very useful as is the small pack size. The lid is very light but will always be more of a compromise than a proper "fitted" lid. If this is a problem, and it isn't for me, then have a look at the official Evernew 600ml version. Not the cheapest of stoves but the quality makes it good value and a stove like this should last for many, many years. 

As always I chose and paid full price for this stove. I was not asked to review it and I have no connections with Trail Designs. Always like to make that clear!