I much prefer using pressurized fuel stoves and I have been mostly using Jetboil brand stoves since the first model came out. The benefit of being able to turn it on quickly, without priming, is huge when I want to get water going after a long day. I have never had to do any maintenance on my stoves even after using them for hundreds of days and I’ve never had one fail on me in the field.
Of course I’ve heard “But you’ll lose pressure in the cold” more than a few times in the past and for as long as I can remember there has been a never ending debate between using liquid fuel (white gas, etc) and pressurized fuel with cold weather performance being at the center of the debate. Over the years I have developed a few tricks to boost cold weather performance for pressurized fuel and I have been successful in some extremely cold temperatures.
The reason pressurized fuel stoves don’t work as well in the cold is that the tank loses pressure from built up moisture on the tank (which then freezes onto it) and just being cold in general. Also as you use some of the fuel you obviously lose pressure due to having less fuel. Unlike white gas or other liquid fuel stoves the fuel is not primed, or heated, it relies on the can pressure to change the liquid fuel in the pressurized canister into a vapor in order to burn. As the pressure drops so does heat output which often results in water that never actually boils.
Who Says You Can’t Prime It? (well the manufactures do I guess…)
Before you continue reading please note that I’m not telling you to do the following, I’m only telling you what has worked for me in the past. It is not recommended by any manufacturer, (it will in fact say not to do the following on your canister), to do what I do in order to prime pressurized fuel canisters.
If you attempt any action found on this webpage then you do so at your own risk. I disclaim any liability for injury, injury resulting in death, any damages or loss of any kind by anyone attempting any action found on this webpage.
Over the years I’ve heard lots of ways people deal with pressurized fuel in the cold. Everything from holding lighters directly against the canister to creating canister warming devices by wrapping copper wire around the tank and into the flame. While these seemed either a bit too “edgy” or complicated for me the over all idea seemed sound, I needed to warm the canister some how.
For some time now I have successfully relied on a simple candle placed roughly 6-12″ below my canister. After setting up my kitchen area I cut a small shelf in the snow below the stove area. I then take apart my avalanche shovel and use the shaft to create a vertical tunnel from the shelf to where my canister will be placed. I place the candle on the shelf directly in line with the vertical tunnel to allow slow, slight but steady heat up to the canister. In very cold temperatures (say below -20C) I have found placing the blade of my shovel over the opening of the shelf helps focus the heat upwards.
Now you may be thinking that the extra weight of a candle is just another negative for me but I have found it to actually be a positive. First of all I already carry a couple of candles with me regardless of the trip. They provide warmth in a snow cave and provide an easy way to get a fire going with frozen wood, in the case I need extra warmth in an emergency. Candles also provide light while cooking and therefore saves headlamp battery time for when I really need it. I have found that one “mountaineering” candle usually provides priming for 2-3 days depending on water.
Stopping Moisture Buildup
In the past my partners and I would take turns removing the moisture off the canisters by heating them with our hands and scraping the ice off with old ID cards. Then one day I came up with the idea to create a canister sleeve out of a closed cell foam camping pad. You can buy these usually blue or yellow closed cell foam pads for very cheap and with a little duct tape it is easy to create a tight and durable sleeve that will keep moisture off the top and sides of your fuel canister.
Step 1: Cut a strip of foam to the height of the canister you are using. You want this strip of foam to rest slightly below where the canister starts to curve. If you go above this curve then you will have a small air pocket. Wrap the foam strip around the can and cut it to size. You want to make this piece fit as tight as possible around the canister to have a solid seal. Duct tape the foam strip around the canister using one long piece that overlaps onto itself.
Step 2: Keep the foam on the canister, place it onto a piece of foam and use it to draw a circle. Cut the circle out, this will cover the top of the canister.
Step 3: Turn the canister upside down and place it over the foam circle you just cut out. Make sure the canister is centered over the circle, press it into the foam and twist it a few times to imprint the nozzle into the foam circle.
Step 4: Cut the imprinted nozzle area out and make sure it fits nicely onto the canister.
Step 5: Duct tape the circle to the strip of foam already on the canister. Keep the foam on the canister while tapping in order to get a good solid product. When attaching the stove you will be twisting it onto the canister and there will be resistance between the stove and the foam so a little extra tape is a good idea.
I have made several different designs and this one is not only the simplest but provides tight contact between the canister and the foam.
Foam Cooking Pad
I have recently started placing my stove on a closed cell foam pad in order to keep the canister arms from sinking into the snow and it also provides an area to place items I need for cooking/eating (knife, spork, cup, etc). I cut the pad to the height of my packed stove in order to wrap it around the stove for packing and make it a little wider in order to have space for the items mentioned above. I cut a 5cm wide hole in the middle for the candle heat to reach the canister. Simple design but very effective.
Even when I use the above tricks canisters will loose pressure when they are almost empty so it is important to recognize when a canister can no longer bring water to a boil. When this happens I use the almost empty canister for melting snow and throw on a fresh canister to bring the water to boil. Generally this will only be an issue if you have either brought older, half used canisters or you are on a longer trip requiring multiple canisters.
On longer trips canisters are great because you can crush them after they are empty in order to compress your pack. Purchasing and carrying the Jetboil ‘Crunch It’ tool is well worth it for longer trips or if you wish to recycle old canisters without having to go to a canister drop off location.
Water Is Life
In the end what is most important is being able to make water from snow while backcountry skiing. However one wishes to get there is up to them but I’m fairly certain my old liquid fuel store will continue collecting dust in my gear closet.