The Jetboil Helios cooking system is unlike any other setup that I have used or tested. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted or for lovers of lightweight simplistic cooking systems. I am used to using solo cook sets, so testing and reviewing the Helios was somewhat of a new experience for me. The Helios is a highly technical, group cooking system designed to accommodate the larger capacity cooking needs of 3-5 people at a time. As a result the Helios is not necessarily a small or lightweight set, but considering it serves the needs of up to five people, I feel that the extra weight is a fair trade-off when you divide it among five hikers. When packed the Helios set measures 4.5″ tall by 8.25″ in diameter and weighs 28.9 oz (822g) by my scales.
Jetboil’s Unique Cook System Design
According to the Jetboil website, the Helios is hailed as being “the easiest to use, most efficient, high capacity system available for outdoor cooking”. Just like their best-selling PCS personal cooking system, the Helios is a self-contained, purpose-built, all-in-one system that gives you everything you need to be up and running very quickly right out of the box. They are not really designed to be integrated with any of your other cooking gear.
Jetboil stoves also use a unique method for dispersing heat across the bottom of the pan or pot, something they call the FluxRing. The FluxRing is a heat exchanger ring that is permanently affixed to the bottom of their pans and consists of a series of thin metal pleats that improve fuel efficiency and deliver even heating. The FluxRing is quite delicate and comes with a protective lid to cover up the pleats so they do not get damaged when the pot is not in use.
Components of the Helios
The Jetboil Helios comes as a complete set that consists of seven components:
- 2 liter FluxRing pot with neoprene cozy and heat-resistant fold-out handles
- Pot-supporting adjustable-flame burner base
- Push-button Piezo igniter sparking assembly
- Folding fuel can stabilizer (tripod)
- Snap-on transparent windscreen
- Plastic pot lid and bottom FluxRing cover that each double as plates
The pot that comes with the Helios set has a 2 liter capacity; there is an optional 3 liter pot that can be purchased separately. The inside of the pot is marked in half-liter increments. The pot has two orange, slightly curved, fold-out arms, each approximately 5 inches in length. I found my first issue with the Helios related to the handles. Unlike other pots that have similar fold out handles, the Helios handles do not snap into place at either the closed or open positions. This results in two very long, curved handles that flap about wildly as you are moving the pot around. This is especially annoying when you are trying to remove or store the Helios kit from inside your backpack. They get caught up on everything.
There is a flexible black plastic lid that snaps over the top edge of the pot. It actually looks a bit like a small Frisbee, and Jetboil even mentions on their website that the lid “makes a good ‘flying disc’ for added fun around camp.” Both the pot lid and the FluxRing cover are described as doubling up as plates, but when I tried to use them as such they were far too flexible and floppy to be useful. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want your hard earned hot trail dinner in your lap.
The main component of the Helios stove is the burner and attached fuel line. The copper-colored burner base has three fold-out arms. When folded out the arms support the 2 liter pot, sitting just inside the FluxRing heat exchanger. The attached fuel line measures 11 inches long, and at the canister end has an adjustable valve with a fold-out wire handle that is used for controlling the amount of gas to the burner. On the top side of the adjustable valve is a circular knob that slides into a groove on the top of the folding canister stabilizer (tripod) and snaps firmly into place.
The folding canister stabilizer is made from a hard black plastic. Each leg of the stabilizer has two notches. A JetBoil 3.5oz canister fits firmly into the inner set of grooves, and a 7.8oz SnowPeak Giga Power canister seems to fit into the outer set. I believe that other brands of canister fuels will also fit these notches but I did not have any to test with.
The piezo spark igniter has a red button starter in plastic housing that attaches along the fuel line and reaches about three quarters of the way along. I’ve read other reviews that have found fault with the piezo ignition system, but this particular product fired up first time every time without any issue. The flexible plastic windscreen has a pair of metal snaps at each end and three female metal snaps on short arms that extend into the center and attach to male snaps on the copper-colored stove burner base. I was surprised how securely the windscreen attached and how stable it was. Despite looking a little ridiculous it functions very effectively. The final piece is the bright orange plastic cover for FluxRing that goes on the bottom of the pot. It attaches to the bottom of the pot using two tabs that hold it in place so it won’t fall off. As with the plastic pot lid, Jetboil suggests that the FluxRing cover can double as a plate, but it is far too floppy in my opinion.
Using The Jetboil Helios
At first glance the Helios can look quite intimidating. As I mentioned, it is a highly technical stove system with quite a few components, several of which have to be unfolded or snapped into place. However with a little practice (and after finally reading the destructions [http://shop.jetboil.com/files/helios_instr_v1.pdf]) I was able to get fairly proficient at setting up and breaking down the Helios in no time at all. As with all your backpacking gear, practice runs really help.
I was initially concerned that the stove head and connected assembly was either put together incorrectly or required an additional step by me before it was ready for use – it just looked wrong. The curved copper tube that sits directly over the burner head seemed to be out of place. However, after reading the literature that came with the stove I realized that it was exactly as it was supposed to be and the tube was designed to heat up and vaporize the liquid fuel as it travels to the stove head. Unlike other canister stoves that I’ve used, the Jetboil requires the gas canister to be inverted and attached to a separate stabilizer stand away from the burner base. According to Jetboil, the purpose for the inverted canister is so it is able to deliver liquid fuel performance with gas efficiency. I’m not sure if I agree that Jetboil has actually achieved what they set out to.
I found the Helios to work about as effectively as any other good quality gas canister stove, but if anything it is much less fuel efficient. In my tests, even at a low setting, the Helios practically guzzled fuel at a rate far higher than comparable non-inverted style canister stoves. Using the gas canister in an inverted mode to replicate a liquid fuel stove seems to just make it burn through the fuel a heck of a lot faster than running it with the canister the right way up. I also noticed that even though you can control the output of the stove using the adjustable valve, it seems to fluctuate quite badly on low simmering settings almost to the point where I couldn’t even hear if the stove was on.
My first test was to boil one liter (34 fl oz/4 cups) of cold water at high heat to see how quickly the Helios could bring it to a rolling boil. It took just 2:58 mins to bring one liter of cold water to a rolling boil. I repeated the boil test, but this time running the Helios in a more fuel conscious medium heat setting. It took the 3:14 mins to boil one liter on the medium setting.
To test of the simmering or “group cooking” capabilities of the Helios, I decided to scramble four large size eggs. I set the stove to the lowest setting I could manage that didn’t fluctuate and cracked four eggs into the pot. With slow stirring the eggs were ready in 38 seconds, which is pretty darn quick. I had to work especially hard and quickly to avoid the eggs burning in the middle of the pan where the flame was most powerful. It seems as though the FluxRing disperses the flame very well at medium to high heat settings, but doesn’t do quite so well on a low simmering setting. I found it extremely hard to cook on the Helios simply because even at the lowest sustainable power the stove roars and heat the thin pan/pot very quickly.
I tried cleaning up the Helios pot after cooking the eggs by boiling a little bit of water to loosen the stuck on eggs, but it didn’t help very much. In the end I had to scrape out as much of the eggs as possible and pack the pot for cleaning at home later. At home, even after soaking the pot in hot soapy water for several minutes it still took over 20 minutes of scrubbing with a Scotch-Brite pad to get the eggs off the bottom of the pan. I’ve heard of other people having issues with food sticking to the Jetboil pans and I can say that it was definitely a problem for me. They seem to cater more towards boiling water than cooking, which is a shame for a larger capacity cook set like the Helios.
Despite looking complicated, the Helios is a very easy stove to set up and use. It’s built to the same high standards as all of the other Jetboil cooking systems and pushes the boundaries of stove technology and design. It’s great if all you are doing is cooking for large crowds of 4-5 people, but overkill for anything less than that. It has an amazing power output that can boil a liter (4 cups) of water in under 2:58 minutes. However, as advanced as it is and as cool as it looks, it is a very fuel-hungry stove. It burns through gas canisters with all the efficiency of an Apollo mission rocket. Be prepared to buy lots of gas canisters to feed this stove and make sure you buy the largest size you can find.
Brian Green is an avid lightweight backpacker and author of the popular Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 20 years, finally settling in North Carolina. His love of the outdoors started at a very early age, almost as far back as he can remember. Now he spends as much time backpacking as his work schedule and family life will allow.
Disclosure: Jetboil provided sectionhiker.com with a complementary Helios Stove for this review.
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