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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Packing the fuel bottle in the plastic tumblers helps prevent catastrophic fuel leaks inside my backpack and provides additional piece of mind.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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