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Trail Designs Caldera Cone Alcohol Stove System

The Caldera Cone is a very cleverly designed alcohol stove system. The base configuration includes an alcohol stove, a fuel bottle, measuring cup, a combination pot holder/wind screen (The Cone), and two plastic tumblers that can be used as cups or bowls and screw together to store the system in your pack. This helps keep the metal edges of the Cone from ripping up any of the gear in your pack and can prevent fuel from spreading to your pack contents if it leaks out of your fuel bottle.

Trail Designs Caldera Cone
Trail Designs Caldera Cone

The cone itself is cut for a specific pot size. This makes it possible to use the wind screen as a pot holder and helps position the stove at an optimal distance from the bottom of your pot for increased burn efficiency. This can be problematic if you use different pots for different seasons, like me, but if you don’t, it’s not an issue.

Test Focus

I plan on doing some long multi-week section hikes next year and an alcohol stove will make it easier for me to resupply fuel because I can get denatured alcohol at any hardware or paint store. Trying to find isobutane canisters, which is what I prefer to use on shorter backpacking trips,  is nearly impossible in smaller towns and US postal regulations prevent me from shipping them to myself in a mail drop.

For testing purposes, I used Trail Design’s most popular, aluminum Caldera Cone system which retails for $34.95. They also make several more expensive variations on this kit including titanium Cones,  add-ons that can be used to burn wood or esbit tablets, or a so-called Sidewinder system that can be packed in a wide pot instead of the plastic tumblers.

When evaluating alcohol stoves, burn time and even fuel efficiency are less important to me than packability. My backpack is so light on most trips that a few more ounces of alcohol fuel is not going to have any substantive impact on my existence, especially if I can resupply stove fuel every 3-5 days. Packability and the volume a piece of gear takes are far more important considerations because it might mean I have to take a bigger heavier backpack instead of a smaller UL one and suffer an even greater weight penalty.

Caldera Cone Components
Plastic tumbers, fuel bottle, stove, pot, and aluminum pot stand

In testing the Caldera Cone, I wanted to see if I’d like using a pot stand for cooking since I don’t normally use one during the rest of the year and whether I’d like the way the Caldera Cone packs up in my backpack on a real trip – in this case, 5 days of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Maine’s 100 mile wilderness.

Caldera Cone Observations

After using the Caldera Cone for 5 days, I have mixed feelings about it. Overall, I like the system a lot but it’s a big divergence from the highly packable canister based system I prefer to use most of the time. Here are some of pros and cons that I observed using it.

Pros

  1. The Caldera Cone is a great pot stand and wind screen. It positions the stove flame height perfectly with the titanium Snow Peak pot I was using and eliminates the need to do any priming (in summer temperatures.)
  2. The Cone is robust enough to last for many backpacking trips if not years of use, unlike windscreens made out of softer materials that have to replaced at least once a year.
  3. The stove included with the Caldera Cone system works very well. It’s easy to light, robust enough to take a beating, and provides a good flame pattern for both narrow/tall pots and flat/wide ones.
  4. The pot I was using was just wide enough to slip around one of the plastic tumblers, making for reasonably efficient packing, although I still needed an additional silnylon bag to hang the stove and pot from my bear bag line.
  5. Packing the fuel bottle in the plastic tumblers helps prevent catastrophic fuel leaks inside my backpack and provides additional piece of mind.

Cons

  1. Although I think the plastic tumblers are good for packing the wind screen, I don’t have any use for them since I eat all of my meals and drink my tea straight out of my cook pot. I’d much prefer packing the Cone components inside my pot/lid and ditching the tumblers.
  2. I use different sized pots for different seasons of the year. I’m not sure I want to buy different sized Cones for each of them and I would rather have a pot stand/wind screen system that is more general purpose.
  3. It’s difficult to see how much fuel you have left in the alcohol stove when cooking a meal or when the flame goes out.
Snow Peak 700 wraps around Caldera Cone Caddy
Snow Peak 700 wraps around Caldera Cone Caddy

Conclusion

It seems to me that the classic Caldera Cone stove system is designed more for fuel efficiency than packability. While clever, the plastic tumblers don’t add any real value for me and I think I’d prefer the Trail Designs  Sidewinder System that lets you stow the wind screen and stove in a wide bottom pot like the Evernew Titanium 1.3 L, which I already own and like to use on longer trips and in colder weather.

Most of the other cons I identify above are really things I can live with or work around with a little more experience using the Caldera Cone system. For example,there’s no need for me to have a different Caldera Cone for each one of the pots I own because I only use one of them for longer, multi-week trips.

In general, I’d prefer to have a cooking system that works with any pot like a canister stove, but it is what it is. Isobutane will never be as widely available in the rural US (or internationally), as denatured alcohol is today.

Disclosure: Trail Designs provided SectionHiker.com with a complementary Caldera Cone Alcohol Stove System for this review.

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15 comments

  1. So the million dollar question is how much does the complete system weigh as you took it to the wilderness? I love alcohol stoves, but that one looks a little complicated. I have still yet to find one that beats a super cat for my uses.

  2. That's a challenging question for this system because the weight varies depending on the pot used. There are probably close to 100 different cone/pot configurations available and the one I used was just one of them.

    I can tell you what the weights of the components were on the kit I used (snow peak 700 compatible), but not what they'll be for any pot you prefer.

    Plastic Tumblers – 3 oz.

    Caldera Cone – 1.7 oz

    Alcohol Stove 0.5

    I ditched their measuring cup and substituted in a bigger vargo fuel bottle with graduated ounce markings on it and a pop up top. I'd weigh it, but it's still got fuel in it. :-)

    This is another reason why I focused on the volume or packability dimension and not the weight or boil time (also because boil time videos are so boring they make me weep.)

  3. I have the Ti Tri and find it very good, used once so far lol, it weighed less than the cartridge alone for that system. Ok, add fuel, but only take what I need, plus a bit lol. So far I only do day walks occasionally.

  4. Phil,

    I see you are having similar problems with the cone as I had initially. For over 2 days solo, it works pretty well stripped down. As you say, you don’t need most of the stuff they send, just the cone. In your case, maybe the stove, but you likely have several kicking around. Similar to the Brasslite stoves, you can use a piece of heavy duty foil wrapped around the air vents for adjustability… well, within a range of about 5-7 minutes, about doubling the burn length.

    A stripped down caldera cone setup works well. But, overall efficiency is not that greatly enhanced. In the field it uses about 5/8ounce of SLX to boil 2 cups of water. In the lab it requires just over 1/2ounce. With a plain old side burner and wind screen, I burn just under 1 ounce in the field and about ¾ ounce at home….roughly a 1/4 fluid ounce of fuel difference. To go from a piece of aluminum foil to the cone costs about an ounce. So, it takes about 2 days for the cone to break even at two burns per day. The cone alone weighs about 1.625oz. The stove and pot I assume you would bring, anyway. So the difference between an aluminum foil wind screen and a cone is ~1oz. Laying it flat in the hydration sleeve lets it double as some sort of pack stiffener, too. Just take some 1000grit sand paper to all the edges some evening, to insure they are not sharp. It holds up pretty well.

    In many of the areas I hike, fuel alcohol is not available. So, I end up getting gas line antifreeze. Sometimes, heet (Yellow container) is what I can get. Isopropyl alcohol is not suitable. More often, I have to skip it because they do not have any. Make sure you get stuff that says suitable for stove fuel. Some put mineral salts in it which is toxic and can build up a rind on the stove. In general, I don’t plan on finding it, maybe yes…maybe no. So I bring enough for the whole hike. This often means upwards of 20oz of fuel for 7 days. Canisters are about the same but because of the on/off and non-recoverable nature of alcohol stoves, they do slightly better. 7oz of white gas is plenty. Soo, I usually figure a break even point at around 5 days with the old Svea. (For solo work, that is my entire kitchen with a spoon.)

    But, for two or three days with them, you cannot beat the cones. Well designed. The one real flaw is that they are specific to the pot you have. I only use two pots, these days. The K-Mart grease pot at about 3oz(5 cups) and the larger aluminum pot (1.7L at 4.75oz including lid.) I really shouldn’t say a flaw, this is a design requirement, I think. Some will also let you use wood. But, you cannot do that with the aluminum ones.

  5. I had no way to test improved boil time efficiency, and as you can see I punted on that. There are a gazillion people who've drained that swamp already, as you've demonstrated, but I like the trade-off computations you've provided. Very useful.

    I have been intrigued for some time by pot stands/wind screens that fold down flat, which is a better packability model if you can't fit the thing in your pot for storage. I think it's also a better shape for wood stoves, but I'll probably try esbit (again) before trying wood. I don't like the soot/dirt factor.

  6. Overall, esbit and alcohol are very similar in heat content. The major difference in efficiency between them and other fuels (canister, WG, deisel) is that they burn slowly. A lot less heat is wasted up the sides of the stoves. All stoves will benifit in efficiency from using lowered heat to boil water by wasting less.

    Esbit almost as bad as wood for making a mess. If you don't clean it each time, a sticky residue of gunk will get on stuff that requires laundering to remove. I pretty much gave up on tabs several years ago. No real advantage cept for the size of the stove and fuel bottle. For the extra ounce or so, I avoid it, and the smell.

  7. I used the same system on the AT for 2 1/2 months last year, and although you can argue about it being ultralight (and certainly it isn't minimalist bulk), I am a huge fan.

    We used the cozie system you posted here last year (http://sectionhiker.com/myog-caldera-cone-cozies/) which allowed us to put our FBC meals in one side of the plastic case, while the other part of the cozie insulated the SnowPeak to keep coffee or bullion hot while the meal rehydrated. The system worked well in winds of 40+ mph and single digits, and I can't imagine other alcohol systems working there. We tried several stoves but the Caldera stove gave us the best boil times- I think they are "tuned" to work in the low oxygen environmnet of the cone.

    I still use the same system on every trip- I haven't found anything that works better for me and my style of hiking.

  8. I'm with you on the packability issue. I used a MSR Titan with a Caldera Cone on the New England Trail, and it worked really well for wicked cold weather, which is an issue for alcohol stoves. Still, I opted for the ULC cone and a Mountain Laurel Designs pot for the following summer, and liked it a lot more. The cone packs perfectly inside my pot, along with the stove, and just needs to titanium stakes to hold the pot up inside the cone. Total weight of stove, pot, screen/holder, and stakes is 5 ounces.

    I just looked at Traildesigns' website, and it seems the ULC is considerably more expensive than when I bought it, which is a bit of a bummer. I'll have to baby mine to make sure I don't have to order a new one anytime soon.

  9. DripDry and I used these extensively last year and were pleased with the performance. It worked well in all seasons, from snow to summer heat. Durability seems good for the 100 days I used it, it will probably last at least another 100 days. Fuel efficiency and stability were other key factors. I can get my whole cook kit in the container, including a long handled spoon for FBC cooking.

    Granted they are bulky, but I prefer not to keep the stove in my pot. Working for a chemical company, I try to minimize my exposure to chemicals and their combustion byproducts. Bear bagging size was never an issue since I only use it to boil water and just keep it with my gear.

    The cozies we use were already described in an earlier post: http://sectionhiker.com/myog-caldera-cone-cozies/

  10. Jolly Green Giant

    The Sidewinder is my favorite set-up…but my biggest gripe is that the cones only fit one size pot. Engineering an adjustable cone is easy enough, but I suspect not profitable enough.

  11. Do you still use this with the SP700? How’s the performance been and setup? I saw the post about the cozies as well. Just curious as I’m considering buying a setup for my SP700.

    -Stephen

    • I do, but not in winter. I’m probably going to upgrade to the Trail Designs Tri-Tri sidewinder version this spring with an Evernew 1.3 L pot so I can burn wood on a long 2 week trip I’m taking.

  12. I have an aluminum caldera cone for my snow peak mini solo. It is hands down one of my favorite pieces of gear. I have used it on every backpacking trip I’ve been on for the last year in all seasons, down to 15 degrees and I really don’t see myself using anything else for the foreseeable future. I don’t really see that the plastic tube used to protect the cone is that big of a deal. Inside of it I can fit my spork, a fuel bottle, the measuring cup and my firesteel. It’s really not that big and it weights hardly anything. Actually the plastic tube fits just inside the mini solo pot (half the tube is still sticking out of course) so it makes a compact set with this particular pot (I include a pot cozy made of reflictix). I love not having to worry about how much fuel is left in the canister or fiddle with a windscreen. The system is just plain simple and works in pretty much any weather. Other than for melting snow in winter this is the perfect cook system.

  13. I’m having a hard time choosing either the classic or ULC Ti-Tri system. I have the SP700 and am thinking it’s the best pot to use with this system.

  14. I made a homemade one from aluminum flashing for my Trek Ti 700 and 900 cups. You can use a Trangia burner, if you leave the simmer ring on. Otherwise, the top of the smaller cone (Trek 700) will melt and sag from the intense heat.

    My Caldera Cone clone was the most efficient alcohol stove setup I tried.

    If you have the scratch, buy one from the mfg. It is a very nice concept and you’ll be more than happy with it.

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