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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Jetboil Helios Cooking System > Test Report by Richard Lyon

JETBOIL HELIOS COOKING SYSTEM
TEST SERIES BY RICHARD LYON
LONG-TERM REPORT
April 20, 2009

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
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TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Richard Lyon
EMAIL: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
AGE: 62
LOCATION: Dallas, Texas USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
WEIGHT: 205 lb (93.00 kg)

I've been backpacking for 45 years, on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1985. I do a weeklong trip every summer and frequently take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain at elevations of 5000 - 13000 feet (1500-5000 meters). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too. While always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight camper, and I usually chose a bit of extra weight over foregoing camp conveniences that I've come to expect.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION and SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
Almost ready for cooking
Manufacturer: Jetboil, Inc.
Website: www.jetboil.com The photographs in my Initial Report come from this website.
Dimensions, listed and measured: 4.5 x 8.25 in (115 mm x 210 mm) inside diameter (packed). Measured dimensions of individual components stated below.
Listed weight: 28 oz/793 g
Measured weight: 28.6 oz/811 g without fuel canister; 35.4 oz/975 g with full 100 g (3.5 oz) fuel canister.
Includes: Helios is a seven-piece set, as described below. It comes with printed instructions, in English, French, German, and Spanish; the instructions can be accessed at Jetboil's website.
MSRP: $159.95 US
Accessories and related product: Jetboil offers a compatible 3-liter (3.2 qt) FluxRing® pot (MSRP $59.95) for use with Helios. The Helios Guide System (MSRP $199.95) includes this larger pot as well as all Helios components. As do most stove manufacturers, Jetboil recommends using only its own proprietary brand of propane-butane fuel (brand name "Jetpower") with its stoves. While this is ordinarily sold separately from the cooking system, Jetboil kindly provided a 100 g (3.5 oz) canister with my Helios.
Warranty: One year limited warranty to the original purchaser, with proof of purchase required.

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION and FIRST IMPRESSION

It's not a stove, it's a cooking system

Jetboil markets Helios as "the easiest to use, most efficient, high capacity system available for outdoor cooking." Range and capacity are Jetboil's main selling points. Jetboil's claims on its website that Helios has a "measured Useable Temperature Range" of -10 to 100 F (-23 to 38 C). Jetboil also posts a sustainable boil time of three minutes for one liter, a 25% improvement over its next-larger system, which has a 1.5 liter (1.6 qt) cooking pot.

Helios has seven pieces. Six are used for cooking:

-- A 2-liter (2.1 qt) metal pot with built-in FluxRing® heat exchanger affixed around the outside of the base. This pot has two orange, slightly curved, fold-out arms, each 5 in/13 cm in length, and a small ring on the side opposite the handles. All Jetboil cooking vessels have a neoprene cozy encircling the sides; Helios's is slate grey in color, with "JETBOIL" and the company's logo and web address printed on two sides. The inside of the pot is marked in half-liter increments. The pot is three inches (7 cm) deep and at 11.25 oz/319 g is the heaviest component.

-- A flexible black plastic lid (2.12 oz/60 g) that snaps over the lip of the pot. This looks a bit like a small Frisbee, and Jetboil notes that the lid "makes a good 'flying disc' for added fun around camp."

-- Helios burner with attached fuel line. The fuel line is 11 in/28 cm (listed and measured) long, and at the canister end has a valve with fold-out handle for controlling the volume of gas into the burner, and also a fixed circular knob that slides into a groove on the fuel can stabilizer to allow liquid feed. The piezo igniter has a button starter in plastic housing that slides along the fuel line. This piece weighs 6.25 oz/177 g.

-- A copper-colored burner stand with three fold-out arms, weighing 3.4 oz/96 g. When folded out the arms support the pot, sitting just inside the heat exchanger ring.

-- A 0.9 oz/25 g black hard plastic fuel can stabilizer with folding legs. As noted, a groove on the center of this piece allows holding the canister in place with its valve on the bottom to permit a liquid feed into the fuel line. Each leg of the stabilizer has two grooves. A 100 g (3.5 oz) Jetpower canister's base fits firmly into the inner set of grooves, and a 225 g (7.8 oz) Primus canister similarly fits into the outer set. I believe that Jetpower fuel is also available in this larger size.

-- A clear flexible plastic windscreen, 2.7 in/7 cm wide and 31 in/79 cm long when fully extended. This has a pair mating metal snaps at each end and three female snaps on short arms that extend into the center and affix to male snaps on the burner base. The windscreen weighs 2.6 oz/74 g.

The seventh piece is a bright orange plastic cover for the bottom of the unit when it is stored. This has two tabs and doubles as a dinner plate. It weighs 2.1 oz/60 g.

A self-contained system

By using the snap-on plate and pot lid Helios is entirely self-contained, not requiring a separate piece for storage - another Jetboil trait. With the burner detached from its stand all components and a small Jetpower canister nest neatly inside the pot for storage, with ample room for my closed-up Jetset utensils (see my separate Owner Review). The plastic cover/plate protects the heat exchanger from scratches or dents during storage. The pot lid snaps over the lip of the pot firmly enough so that when I inverted the pot with the rest of the system inside nothing fell out.

Easy to Assemble

The box includes easy-to-read directions, and set-up is intuitive.
IMAGE 2
Packed Helios

Remove the lid and plate from the pot; attach the burner to its stand by slipping two tabs over the inside of the base, being sure that a small arm on the burner fits into a notch on the stand; fold out the three arms on the burner base; fold out the stabilizer legs; screw a canister into the fuel line and set on the stabilizer (either "upside down," with the flat valve of the canister on the bottom, or with the canister's base inside the grooves on the stabilizer); flex the windscreen around the burner base and snap its ends together and its arms to the burner base; and place the pot atop the arms of the base (after igniting). When attached to the base the windscreen sits about one-half inch (~1 cm) above the ground, allowing the fuel line to fit underneath.

Why "Jet" is part of its name

For my Helios's maiden voyage, in my side yard, I used a half-full 100 g can of Jetpower I had on hand. I turned the valve to full "On" position, hit the piezo button, and Pow! a fierce and noisy flame 5 inches (13 cm) in the air. I really was reminded of an airplane ignition. At 50 F/10 C, about 200 ft/60 m above sea level, with gusty winds, it took 2 minutes 55 seconds for one liter, uncovered, to reach a rolling boil. Immediately I swapped out the Jetpower can for a larger can of Primus fuel, turned the valve, hit the piezo, and achieved the same results with a fresh liter of cold tap water. Both of these tests were done with a liquid feed. Since the button on the underside of the fuel line valve, not the canister itself, slides into the stabilizer's groove, any size canister with a Lindal valve may be used in this mode. As noted the larger Primus canister fits into the outer grooves on the stabilizer legs for a "standard" application.

I had only one minor problem in these trials. It is slightly difficult to turn the fuel line valve off completely; I had to lift the canister and fuel line to get it fully closed.

Limitations on use

In addition to standard warnings about carbon dioxide, never using indoors, keeping fuel canisters away from heat, and the like, the instructions provide guidance to avoid several possible misapplications:

-- Set the pot lid upside down over the pot when cooking, rather than snapping it on, to avoid upsetting the pot when removing the lid. (This is good advice. As noted the lid fits tightly when snapped on and it might be difficult and mildly dangerous to try to force it off a hot pot.)

-- Always use the burner base's pot supports; never set a pot directly on the burner.

-- Extend the pot handles when cooking or they will become too hot to handle.

-- Use only low settings when the pot is near capacity, to avoid the contents' boiling over. (This prompts a test criterion: what is the pot's usable capacity?)

-- While other makers' "normal, flat-bottomed cookware" may be used on the burner unit, Helios is not compatible with Jetboil's Fry Pan (nuts!), GCS 1.5 liter cooking pot, or PCS cooking cup, each of which has a smaller diameter heat exchanger on its base.

-- Use the windscreen only with a Helios pot. This warning is also printed on the windscreen. (I'm not quite sure why this is so but I shall do as I have been told.)



Fit in my pack

Helios isn't a small system but I had no trouble fitting it into the three packs I use most often in winter: my Mystery Ranch BDSB expedition pack, my R2 custom pack, and my Mystery Ranch Mountain Monkey day pack. (Each of these is separately reviewed if the reader cares to check their dimensions.)

SUMMARY

I'm a Jetboil junkie, an addiction that's changed my backcountry cooking for the better. Since buying my Jetboil PCS in 2004 I have progressed from strictly just-add-boiling-water meals to occasional multi-course meals cooked from scratch. I'm looking forward to testing Helios, the company's newest product, this winter.



FIELD REPORT

FIELD CONDITIONS

I've used the Helios on one backpacking trip, three day hikes, and one car-camping trip, and tested its mettle in two other field locations.

First backpacking use occurred over the New Year's holiday when I and three companions did an overnight ski tour in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, elevations from about 7000-8000 feet (2100-2400 m). On both ski days we encountered snow squalls and temperatures from 15-20 F (-9 to -7 C) , with constant and often gusty winds. The Helios was used to prepare hot tea upon reaching our campsite, later that evening for dinner, the following morning for breakfast and to melt snow for our daily water ration, and again for tea after reaching the trailhead on our return ski. Because of its capacity and speed on the first use, the Helios became the group's stove for tea and snow-melting, though it served only two of us for meals. Both meals required only boiling. The cooked portion of dinner was dehydrated packaged stew (Cache Lake Minnesota Minestrone with Beef) that needed about twenty-five minutes' total simmering; breakfast was dehydrated wheat cereal (also from Cache Lake) to which we added sugar and several dehydrated fruits.

The Helios got some additional use on this trip in more typical Yellowstone winter temperatures. Following the overnight I renewed my backcountry first aid certification at a two-day course at the old Buffalo Ranch in the Lamar Valley. After the snow stopped the mercury plummeted to daytime highs of 7 F (-14 C) and a low of -24 F (-31 C) at night. Although the ranch has a heated building with a kitchen, I did take the Helios outside one morning to test performance in the frigid weather. After the course I did a day ski in the Park, in the bright sun at about -5 F (-21 C). Upon returning to our car I fired up the Helios for some instant cocoa.

Day hikes occurred in North Texas in mostly fair weather, with temperatures from 40-70 F (4-21 C), often with gusty prairie winds. I used the Helios to prepare tea at the end of each hike, and for hot soup for lunch on one. The Helios was my stove on a two-person overnight car-camping trip in mid-February, also near home, with temperatures at 38 F (3 C) at dinnertime and slightly warmer at breakfast the next morning. This trip was the first occasion I used the Helios for frying as well as boiling. Elevation probably didn't exceed 500 feet (150 m).

OBSERVATIONS

The reader may find this a rather boring report, as I have very little to say about the Helios's performance. Every time I used it (a) the piezo fired on the first attempt, igniting the stove, and (b) the water in the 2L pot came to a boil quickly, even at the altitude and bitter cold in Yellowstone. On the coldest morning (at the Buffalo Ranch) a rolling boil for about 1 liter/quart occurred at about six minutes; it took a bit longer for 1.5 liters/quarts on the ski overnight. Both times I used the plastic cover, bottom resting on the pot's lip as Jetboil suggests, to facilitate boiling.

Dinner on the Yellowstone overnight was the stove's best performance. I have found that many Cache Lake meals need soaking before cooking fully to re-hydrate rice or other grains. (In hindsight, this was a poor choice for a winter trip.) Usually I'll let them steep in cold water for fifteen minutes or so before starting the stove. That wasn't prudent in the below-freezing temperatures so, after bringing the pot with the meal to a boil, I lowered the flame to allow a fifteen minute pre-cooking simmer, then turned up the flame slightly to finish cooking. The valve on the Helios made this as easy as adjusting my kitchen range at home. Every other use for boiling water was as simple, uneventful, and successful as this.

All use in Yellowstone was done with the canister, a 230-gram (8.1 oz) Jetpower, inverted. I set up the windscreen for dinner and breakfast use but dispensed with it at tea time, and never had a problem with wind thanks to the integrated heat exchanger on the cooking pot. The screen can be tricky to put together and in Yellowstone I had to remove my gloves to finish the job the first time. All other stove assembly steps, however, including threading the hose to the canister, were accomplished with heavy gloves on.

I stored the fuel canister inside a pocket on my ski parka during the day and inside my sleeping bag at night. At the Buffalo Ranch I kept it in the cabin before my trial run there. I cannot report on fuel efficiency beyond saying that the one can of Jetpower had fuel to spare at the end of my trip. I had bought it upon arrival in Montana and, following my usual custom, donated the partially spent canister to the Park Service.

The Helios works for frying too, although the pot's right-angled and somewhat high sides can make flipping a fish fillet or pancake a more difficult job than in a true frying pan. I cut the fillet into smallish pieces and made silver-dollar sized pancakes, and turned them with the fork from my Jetset utensils (subject of an other reviews on this site).

I have become used to the fact that the flame continues undiminished for several seconds after I turn the valve off. That's due to the stove's burning the fuel in the fuel line, which I suppose is good from a safety point of view. The delay isn't so long as to impact cooking results. I don't plan any backcountry Hollandaise sauce or similar delicate item requiring a so precise a cooking time, and if a pot threatens to boil over (hasn't happened yet) I can always take it off the fire. And I don't need to grope frantically for a pot gripper; the handles fixed to the pot make that an easy job.

SUMMARY

Reliable, quick, and easy to store and use - what more can I ask of a backcountry stove? So far the Helios has been a great addition to my pack. As indicated in my profile above and in other reviews I've submitted to this site, I'm not much bothered by its weight, though there are definitely lighter alternatives in my gear closet that I might prefer for a difficult solo hike. My ultralight friends on the Yellowstone overnight didn't appear to be bothered either. Both were willing to forego their usual chiding my mid-fat style in return for a hot drink five minutes after setting up camp.


LONG-TERM REPORT

FIELD CONDITIONS

I have carried my Helios on three backpacking trips in north Texas and the Texas Hill Country in late winter and early spring. Temperatures were 50-70 F (10-21 C) during the day (including dinnertime) and between 38-50 F (3-10 C) first thing in the morning for breakfast. All use occurred in dry weather, at an altitude that never exceeded 500 feet (140 m). I used the stove to cook for two on one overnighter and one two-night trip, and for only me on another two-night trip. Dinners were Cache Lake freeze-dried meals on four nights; the fifth was a farro and fresh vegetable stew. Breakfasts varied from instant oatmeal to Cache Lake pancakes. At all dinners I first prepared the meal, then fired up the Helios for after-dinner hot drinks (tea and cocoa). The order was reversed for breakfast - boiling water for coffee first, then food.

My Helios got its toughest test yet when car camping overnight in Montana in early April in connection with a retreat sponsored by a non-profit organization for which I've done some volunteer work. I used the stove to prepare dinner and breakfast for four. Dinner was at 20 F (-7 C) in a driving snowstorm, and our menu choice was Bear Creek Country Kitchens Darn Good Chili, with several additional ingredients added to the packaged contents. This is a personal favorite in cold weather, but it has one drawback - it requires at least twenty minutes' uncovered simmering for the freeze-dried ingredients to absorb enough water to achieve maximum tastiness and consistency. On this dreary evening the total simmering time (at about 5500 ft/1600 m), after reaching a boil, was just over half an hour. No problems at all despite the wind and snow, and no problems the next morning when I awakened early to make coffee, then oatmeal with fruit.

The snow had stopped, the wind had died down, and the temperature had dropped to 5 F (-15 C). The Helios fired up immediately and each time I had a pot full (6 cups/1.5 liters) of boiling water in about four minutes.

Later that day, back in civilization, I used the Helios to brew cocoa for two of us who had chosen to spend the afternoon fishing a Paradise Valley spring creek. Still clear and calm, but now up to 40 F (4 C) at our slightly lower elevation. About one liter/quart reached a rolling boil in three minutes.

OBSERVATIONS

As in my Field Report I have little to say about the cooking performance of the Helios. It worked as it should every time, with nary a piezo problem, blown-out flame, displaced pot, or even a sputtering flame. The pot's size and shape combined with four wide legs on the base make this a very stable stove, minimizing tipover risk. With a backcountry stove no bad news is definitely good news; here I consider it superlative performance.

The 2-quart (~2-liter) capacity of the pot supplied with the Helios has been adequate for all the freeze-dried meals and rounds of hot drinks I've prepared for four adults. I haven't had a boil-over, thanks more to my limiting to six cups (~1.5 liters) the water I've boiled than close attention to the pot's contents. This is my usual practice, not a Jetboil recommendation, and I'd rate the usable capacity slightly higher (though less than a full pot, obviously). Chili in Montana came just below the pot's lip after full steeping and the additional ingredients, but even at a gentle simmer not a drop lost to the fire. I purchased the 3-liter (3+ qt) FluxRing pot that comes with the Helios Guide set (it is available as an accessory), and it too has a usable capacity of about one-half cup (~230 ml) less than its contents filled to the brim.

As with my other Jetboil pots the neoprene cozy that encircles the sides really helps keep boiled water warm, even at the sub-freezing temperatures I've encountered. The markings on the side of the pot are very useful for measuring the amount of water to add when beginning a meal.

The pot's handles are a very useful feature. Their coating prevents heat transfer; even without gloves I can grasp the handles when water is boiling to remove the pot from the fire. At first the handles tended to remain in a "closed" position (next to the pot's wall), but after four months' use I've found that they will sometimes fold out on their own. This hasn't caused an imbalance, even when the pot is empty, and it makes it marginally easier to get an easy grip, as I don't have to insert a finger between the handle and the side of the pot to nudge the handle open. The handles also mean that I needn't pack a pot gripper when the Helios is the stove of choice.

In the future I may be tempted to leave the windscreen at home to save some weight and frustration. As noted in my Field Report I can't always assemble it without removing my gloves, and I haven't noticed any appreciable increase in efficiency when it's in place. The FluxRing heat exchanger base on the pot provides wind protection as well as supplying enhanced heating power. With warmer weather coming on, though, it may find its way into the kit as insurance. And it doesn't take up any additional room, as it nests inside the pot with the other pieces of the stove.

The lid and protective bottom cover do serve as plates, as advertised. And even if I've used it as a plate for dinner I can still use the lid for its primary duty - as a lid - immediately after dinner to speed boiling water for tea or cocoa without risk of burning the odd stray bit of food or yielding curry-flavored water. Following Jetboil's suggestion of placing the lid top side down atop the pot means that those bits of food aren't directly exposed to the pot's contents and avoids any tricky removal from a hot pot should the pot lip become stuck in the groove on the lid.

All cooking pieces are easy to clean in boiling water. After each field use I have wiped the burner and burner base with a cloth to remove any grit or grime that's become attached.

No durability issues to report - all components (other than the burnt cover described below) still function as well as my first firing up. The pot has some minor discoloration from coffee steeping, but I've noticed no effect on performance or taste. By using my Jetset utensils I've avoided any scratches on the surface of the pot.

What's Good

What's not to like - a totally reliable, easily operated workhorse of canister cooking system, well suited for group use. I especially like being able to use the lid and base as plates and the built-in gravity feed.

An amusing (in hindsight) incident provided two more good things to say about Jetboil and the Helios. On the wintry Montana trip one of my buddies decided that one more round of tea was in order before bedtime. She lit the burner, filled the pot with water, and placed the pot on the burner - with the base cover still attached. Hey presto, melted plastic on the heat exchanger. Except for the loss of a breakfast plate little harm was done, as it was very easy to scrape the mess off the pot after it has frozen solid. After returning home I called Jetboil's toll-free number to see if I could purchase a replacement cover. No problem, even though neither the lid nor the pot is listed as an accessory on the company's website. For a modest charge Jetboil dispatched one at once. The other good thing besides customer service? Bright orange is the proper color for the base cover, so that anyone not under the influence of vintage bourbon will see it and remove it in a timely manner.

What Would Make Helios Even Better

My design challenge for Jetboil: a frying pan with a FluxRing small enough to nest inside the pot. This would help with my two favorite backcountry food groups, pancakes and trout, which require careful turning that's not always easy with the pot's high sides. I'd go up to the larger pot to acquire such a feature. An accessory frying pan would be an acceptable substitute, at least for me.

Some means of preparing French-press style coffee in the pot. But a press wide enough for the Helios pot seems impractical, so for now it's either cowboy coffee or packing a separate coffee press.

I would like to see the Helios offered with a choice of the 2- or 3-liter pot. The Helios Guide now includes both, so a customer who wants only the larger pot must buy both.

Summary

My Test Report ends here, with thanks to Jetboil and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this terrific stove.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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