Boiling time vs fuel efficiency, which is more important to a backpacker? If you’re a long-distance backpacker hiking a remote route without access to easy resupplies, you probably care more about making your stove fuel last as long as possible, and not whether you can shave another 30 or seconds off the time it takes you to boil 2 cups of water.
How to Conserve Stove Fuel
If your stove burns isobutane canister fuel, you can maximize your fuel supply by turning your stove “down” so it takes longer to boil water, but uses less fuel to achieve the same result. It’s the same principle at work as the time the government imposed a 55 mph speed limit to help conserve fuel during the gas crisis. You’ll get there eventually, but just a bit slower and without burning as much fuel.
The other thing you can do is to protect your stove from the wind, which is the biggest threat out there to canister stove efficiency. But windscreens can be a little tricky with canister stoves because the heat they reflect can make a canister overheat and explode like a hand grenade. That’s why most canister stove companies don’t offer them and go out of their way to warn people about using them.
Canister Stove Fuel Efficiency
John Fong, the owner of Flat Cat Gear, set out to optimize canister stove fuel efficiency by creating a safe windscreen for canister stoves that would conserve fuel and be easy to pack inside of mug-sized cook pots 700-750 ml in size. If you know John, this is the kind of problem that he likes to tackle. He’s good at assembling alcohol, Esbit, and canister stove systems that are really efficient, pack up inside their cook pots (no small feat) and can be used from everything from simmering and pan-frying, to dry and steam baking. If you want a taste of what I mean, check out his freely downloadable “Epicurean Cookbook“. It has recipes for biscuits, deep-dish pizza, lasagna, quiche, and many other palate pleasers that you can cook with backpacking stoves when you get tired of eating freeze-dried meals.
John’s goal in making the Ocelot Windscreen System was to minimize the amount of canister stove fuel needed to boil two cups of water from a starting water temperature of 70 degrees in real-world conditions, including wind. To this end, he benchmarked the effect of wind on canister stove performance with wind tunnel tests, comparing stoves with and without an Ocelot windscreen.
He found that wind just kills canister stove fuel economy. Take the MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe, which has one of the best wind-shedding stove head designs out there and similar to the stove head used on the Soto Windmaster. Add a little wind, and the fuel required by the Pocket Rocket Deluxe nearly doubles. MSR also notes, “For open-flame-burner canister stoves, like an MSR Pocket Rocket, a 5 mph (8 kph) wind can cause as much as three times more fuel use in a given cooking period” (source MSR: How Much Fuel Should I Carry?).
The wind tunnel benchmarks that John has run against other less sophisticated stoves like the BRS300T show an even bigger impact of wind on their fuel utilization. The bottom line is that a windscreen can save a significant amount of canister stove fuel if you cook in windy conditions, which many of us do. While it’s true that can buy a stove like an MSR Reactor or MSR Windburner which are 100% windproof or a Jetboil which is somewhat less so, these units are much heavier and bulkier than the ultralight mug-based stove systems used by many hikers.
Ocelot Windscreen Components
The Ocelot Windscreen System consists of one or two parts depending on your stove. If you have an upright canister stove, you need a burner plate, which is positioned below the stove head and is used to suspend the 360-degree windscreen. If you have a Kovea Spider, which is a remote inverted canister stove, you just need the windscreen which is supported by the pot stand’s arms. All of the windscreen parts are designed to fit inside your pot for packability.
It takes a little practice to mount the burner plate on your stove, but it’s a simple task to pick up. John’s written documentation could probably benefit from some short instructional videos that show how to set up each stove, but it is pretty intuitive once you see a video of how it all works.
The windscreens are much shorter than you might expect and still provide ample air supply to the burner heads without causing the canisters to overheat, as long as you run the stove at low power. I can’t emphasize that point more. For optimal fuel efficiency, you want to run your stove at one-third to one-half of its full power. The goal is not boiling speed, but fuel efficiency.
I’ve used the Ocelot with a Pocket Rocket 2/Evernew Pasta Pot combination and a Kovea Spider/ Amicus Cookset on backpacking trips found and both units to be easy to use and effective. I didn’t keep track of the amount of fuel I used or the wind speed when I used both units but I did run the stoves on low power and they operated fine, without blowing up and causing a fireball. The packability of the components is outstanding and there’s no reason not to use the Ocelot windscreen system if you use a canister stove regularly.
That said, I’m probably not the ideal customer for the Ocelot windscreen since I’m not a habitual canister stove user and prefer using Esbit, Wood, or Liquid Fuel stoves on my trips instead. It’s much easier to predict how much fuel I’ll need on a trip using them, it’s easy to see how much fuel I have remaining, and they’re much more compact to carry than a gas canister (or 2, 3, and 4 gas canisters at once). But for longer trips, more remote trips, or if I had to cook for multiple people, I could see using an Ocelot to lower my fuel consumption and improve my ability to forecast how much fuel I need to carry.
Ocelot Stove Compatibility (Current)
- MSR PocketRocket (Original), PocketRocket 2 & PocketRocket Deluxe
- BRS 3000t
- Soto Amicus, Soto WindMaster (3 Flex & 4 Flex)
- Kovea Spider
- Fire Maple 300T (Hornet or Wasp)
Ocelot Cook Pot Compatibility (Partial)
- Snow Peak Trek 700
- Evernew Small Pasta pot 700 ml (ECA521)
- Evernew Ultralight Ti 500 Mug (ECA266)
- TOAKS Titanium 600 ml
- TOAKS, Titanium 650 ml Mug
- TOAKS Titanium 750ml Pot
- Imusa 10 cm Mug
- And many more (click for full list)
Flat Cat Gear’s Ocelot Canister Windscreen System is easy to use and packs away into mug-sized cookpots for easy and compact transport. It is designed for people who use canister stoves with 700-750 ml mugs because they’re so lightweight, compact, and packable. Fuel optimization is achieved by using a stove-specific windscreen and by cooking at one-third to one-half of full power. As long as you don’t mind waiting a little longer for your water to boil or food to cook, it’s a great way to make a canister of isobutane stove fuel last longer, by eliminating one of the chief factors that make canister stove use inefficient, namely the wind.
Disclosure: Flat Car Gear provided the author with this product for review.
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