Backcountry Boiler

Backcountry Boiler

Backcountry Boiler in use

The Backcountry Boiler is an updated version of a very old design, often referred to as a Storm Kettle, Chimney Kettle, Shepherd’s Kettle, or a Kelly Kettle.  A chimney kettle consists of two parts, a bowl where you build a small fire, and an upper portion that is a chimney surrounded by a hollow vessel where you put the water.  The genius of this design is that the heat from the small fire is very efficiently transferred to the surrounding water via the walls of the chimney, allowing you to heat water using a minimum amount of fuel.

Youtube link for a demonstration of how to use it can be found HERE. 

I have owned a large, British Made Storm Kettle for many years, and I have used it mostly for car camping, as it’s too big and bulky for backpacking.  It’s a great way to heat up water for hot chocolate and the like.

Backcountry Boiler, and it's big brother, the Storm Kettle

Backcountry Boiler, and it’s big brother, the Storm Kettle

A few years back, an ultralight hiker named David Montgomery decided to make a lightweight, compact version of a chimney kettle that would be suitable for backpacking.  Some history of his work on the project can be found on the Backcountry Boiler Web Site. The result of his efforts is the Backcountry Boiler.  It’s an aluminum chimney kettle with an insulated neoprene cozy for easy handling when hot, and a a silicone stopper to seal it up when not heating water, which allows it to be used as a canteen as well as a stove.

Total weight for the Backcountry Boiler is 7.7 ounces, including the stuff sack.  (When new, it may have been a tiny bit lighter than that, but mine has a thick layer of carbon, soot and glaze on it from long, hard use.)

There are some optional accessories for the Backcountry boiler, all of which are similarly lightweight.  There is a piece of fireproof felt that weighs 0.4 ounces.  This felt allows the Backcountry boiler to be used with alcohol fuel instead of sticks and twigs.  About 25ml (slightly less than 1 fluid ounce) of alcohol will boil about 16 ounces of water.

Fire Felt is used with alcohol fuel. It sits in the fire bowl.

Fire Felt is used with alcohol fuel. It sits in the fire bowl.

If you are using alcohol fuel, an easy way to carry the alcohol is in a vial that comes with Camelback Elixirs.  Just buy the elixer, dump the elixir tablets into a ziplock bag, and use the vial for a fuel container.  The vial holds about 60 ml of fuel, which is enough for about two boils.  The vial fits nicely in the chimney of the Boiler, so it takes up no additional pack space.  The vial has a desiccant capsule in the lid, so take out the desiccant before you use it to hold fuel.

The elixir vial fits nicely in the chimney of the boiler for packing

The elixir vial fits nicely in the chimney of the boiler for packing

Camelback Elixir vial holds enough alcohol fuel for a couple of boils

Camelback Elixir vial holds enough alcohol fuel for a couple of boils

There is also a pot stand/cup holder accessory that can be used to support a cup or small pot on top of the boiler, allowing you to warm up a cup of soup or the like while the water inside the boiler heats up.

Backcountry Boiler with Pot Stand

Backcountry Boiler with Pot Stand

To heat up water, you first build a small fire in the fire bowl.  Once the fire is lit, you put the chimney on top of the fire bowl, and keep the fire going by feeding small sticks into the top of the chimney. (You can also feed sticks into the hole in the side of the fire bowl, but dropping them down the chimney works better.)  The chimney effect creates a nice draft and draws oxygen through the fire.  The heat transfers rapidly into the water that surrounds the chimney like a jacket.  I’ve found that once I’ve got a small fire going, heating up 16 ounces of water takes about 5 minutes or so.

Backcountry Boiler

Adding small sticks by feeding them into the top of the chimney

The Backcountry Boiler is designed to boil 16 ounces of water at a time, which is enough for about two freeze dried meals.  (If you’re using the boiler as a canteen for water transportation and storage instead of heating, you can fill it up a bit more and carry about 23 ounces of water in it.)

The design is remarkably wind resistant, and assuming you’ve got some dry fuel, will function in pretty much any weather.

If I am just heating up water for one or two people, the Backcountry boiler is my go-to lightweight backpacking stove for warmer weather.  (It’s not really suitable for winter because the design doesn’t work well for melting snow.)  I generally take a few tinder tabs to make starting fires easier, and will typically carry the fire felt and a few ounces of alcohol fuel for times when dry fuel is not available, or I’m too tired/lazy to start a fire, or I’m above tree line and no wood at all is available.

The Backcountry Boiler is one of the the most weight efficient camp cooking stoves I’ve ever used.  With the boiler, stuff sack, the fire felt, the pot stand, 10 tinder tabs, and the Elixir container with 60ml of fuel, the entire kit weighs 10.7 ounces.  While there are a number of alcohol stoves on the market that are lighter than the Backcountry Boiler, this stove is designed to be used primarily with sticks and twigs, obviating the need to carry liquid fuel in most cases.  So, for longer trips especially, where the weight of liquid or gas fuel begins to add up, the Backcountry Boiler is a true ultralight solution.

The Backcountry Boiler is a very elegant piece of kit, and I can recommend it highly for those who are looking to shave some weight off of their backpacking load, especially for longer trips, where the weight saving benefits of using found fuel are much greater.

Sadly, it appears that the Backcountry Boiler is no longer available, and that the company that produced it (Boilerworks) is out of business.

Trail Designs Gatewood Cape and Evernew Ti DX Stove Kit

I had the opportunity to test out a couple of pieces of lightweight backpacking gear, the Evernew TiDX Stove kit, and the Six Moons Designs Gatewood Cape.  I took them both up in the High Uintas Wilderness for a 40 mile hike.  Days were cool, nights below freezing.  I experienced wind, snow, and sleet.

Evernew Ti DX Stove Kit

The Ti DX is an integrated stove kit consisting of a titanium alcohol burner and a pot support that also acts as a windscreen and fire burning grate.  This kit is designed to ulilize the alcohol burner and also will burn wood.  The Evernew alcohol burner is very similar in design to the classic Trangia alcohol burner.  The TiDX stove kit nests perfectly inside of an Evernew 640ml tall pot, which is what I used for my trip.  

Evernew Site

The Evernew set is quite light weight.  Weight is 3.2 ounces for the stove kit, and 5.4 ounces for the pot set (640ml pot nested inside of 400ml cup) and small pack towel.

I used a heavy foil windscreen in addition to the stove kit.  In breezy conditions, I found the foil windscreen to be essential for efficient cooking.

After some use, my conclusion is that this stove kit works quite well with the alcohol burner, but it’s wood burning performance is sub par.

Using the alcohol burner, the stove had no troubles bringing my 600ml of water to a boil.  I didn’t keep careful track of times, but the times seemed to be around 5 minutes or so.  There’s no built-in method of putting the stove out when you’re finished cooking, so I just used the pot or the cup to cover it and snuff it out.

Although alcohol mode was great, wood burning was another matter altogether.  I found that the stove’s small volume made it a bit of a challenge to get my water boiling.  When using wood, it was difficult to keep the heat output consistently high enough to get the water boiling quickly.  Eventually, I would get the water to boil, but only after long sessions of feeding little sticks into the fire.  It probably wouldn’t have been too frustrating, except for the fact that I normally use a Caldera Cone Ti-Tri, which is an excellent woodburner, so the Evernew felt particularly slow in comparison.  See my review of the Caldera Cone here:

Ultimately, while the Evernew is a nicely designed piece of kit and is very light and compact, I think I prefer the Caldera Cone Ti-Tri.  Alcohol burning performance is similar, and the Ti-Tri has much superior wood burning performance.  However, I really do like the Evernew titanium alcohol burner, and I’m going to use it as my burner for my Ti-Tri kit going forward.

Six Moons Designs Gatewood Cape

Six Moons Designs Web Site

The Gatewood Cape is a combination poncho and shelter.  You can wear it like a poncho when you are hiking, and then, using a trekking pole and some stakes, you can turn it into a one-person shelter for the night.

I was quite impressed with the Gatewood Cape when used as a shelter.  It is pretty easy to set up, pitches nice and taut, and it kept me dry and protected from wind, rain, sleet, and light snow.  I didn’t encounter any leaks or other problems.  Interior space is adequate for a person along with some additional gear.

In poncho mode, the Gatewood Cape is less impressive.  Like most ponchos, it’s not great  in high winds, and there really isn’t any good way to keep it from getting blown around.  It is roomy, however, and there’s decent ventilation.  It covers your pack too, so it keeps your pack dry when it’s raining.  However, while it isn’t as great as a dedicated rain suit, it only weighs 11 ounces, which is pretty impressive.  Overall, I think it’s a pretty good solution for a combination shelter and raingear at a very light weight.

However, while I don’t really have any substantive complaints about the Gatewood Cape’s performance, I found that a single combination of shelter and raingear doesn’t fit my style of backpacking all that well.  Typically, I get up early, hike until the afternoon, set up camp, then go off to fish or explore.  However, once I set up my camp and erect my shelter, I don’t have raingear to wear any more.  I like to take raingear along when I leave camp to go fishing, to protect me from the inevitable afternoon mountain storms.  Also, the cape when worn as raingear isn’t very good for fishing in.  It’s too bulky and billowy.

So, for a fast and light approach, I think the Gatewood Cape is brilliant, but for my more relaxed approach, I think I’m better off not combining shelter and rain coat.   That doesn’t mean that I won’t use the Gatewood Cape, however,  It’s good enough as a shelter, that I could see myself bringing it along as a lightweight shelter even if I am not intending to use it as a poncho.

Here’s a Link to youtube video of Gatewood Cape test. that I filmed during a backpacking trip.