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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Makaira Stainless Pack Stove SPS > Test Report by Andre Corterier
Makaira Metalworks Stainless Pack StoveReport by André Corterier
Initial Report August 2007
Field Report October 2007
Long Term Report December 2007
Personal Biographical Information:
Year of manufacture: 2007
listed: 4.25 in by 4.675 in (108 mm by 117 mm
The second lowest setting can be used, according to the manufacturer, with an alcohol stove. I have two such stoves with which I intend to try this out. I had thought that I would likely want to take an alternate method of heating a meal along, in case a rainstorm just before dinner makes gathering enough dry tinder impossible or at least a lot more bother than I'm willing to go through. An ultralight alcohol stove, along with some alcohol (a sprinkle of which might also help in igniting the wood stove) came to mind. However, my SuperCat stove (self-made according to instructions easily found online), which at 6 g (0.21 oz) is the lightest stove I have, requires the pot to sit right on the stove in order to pressurize it. This also means that it does not require a separate pot support, which is part of the fantastic weight saving the SuperCat stove has gotten me used to. However, I should be able to use the Makaira Stainless Pack Stove as a support for the SuperCat stove on its highest setting (or the bottom one, with the stove turned around). This would actually help, as the self-made alcohol stove is rather susceptible to uneven ground. I usually carry a self-made stove support with it (a cat food dish for another 6 g / 0.21 oz), so I can leave that at home!
The setting one step higher than the second lowest (or using the reverse side of the second lowest by turning the stove around) is supposedly useful for burning Esbit or similar solid fuel tabs. I haven't burnt much Esbit since my days with the German Army but I'll see if I can get some so I can try that out, too. I guess Esbit shavings might also make for a good fire starter so it looks as though having some Esbit along as a wet weather backup might be an alternative to the SuperCat stove.
Gathering fire wood took about 5 minutes. It was easy to find small, very small and even smaller twigs, dry leaves, grass etc. lying around on the forest floor. While the lower portions of the forest duff were still moist, the top layer appeared bone dry.
I proceeded to stuff the stove with the gathered materials, starting with the smallest and slowly working my way up towards the pencil-sized twigs. I had not gathered a lot of leaves or grass and had, in fact, in the interest of getting to the fun part of the experiment faster, not discarded a few sticks somewhat larger in diameter than a pencil.
I took the shortcut of adding a small splash of alcohol to the mix. To do so, I turned the stove upside down (grabbing it with one hand in such a way that the contents were kept inside the stove) and dribbled some alcohol through the hole in the center of the grille with the other hand. I then attempted lighting the stove as described previously, and it easily caught fire.
By the time I was done eating, the stove was cold to the touch again, somewhat soot smudged and slightly discoloured (the manufacturer states on its website that "this is normal and in no way effects [sic] it's [sic] peformance"). I took it apart, brushed the loose bits of soot off the flat pieces with some dirt and packed the stove again.
So far, my one recommendation to the manufacturer would be to see if they can make the exact same thing out of thinner steel or even titanium with just enough strength to reliably support, say, a two litre (2.2 quarts) pot full of boiling water. Dropping the weight by about half would seem to put this method of cooking into a weight area where it's quite competitive with other lightweight or even ultralight methods. And of course, it always has the added benefit of being a real fire - something that appeals to the caveman inside me.
While I have always managed to get a fire started in the stove, I have yet to be confident that it will work ahead of time. I don't seem to be as good at building and lighting a fire as I'd liked to think. The white smoke generated by the fire each and every time also seems to indicate that the wood I'm finding to build a fire with is less dry than I thought.
I have had good experience incorporating charcoal leftover from other people's fires into the starting mix I put into the Makaira stove. This, I believe, helped the stove light up to a sufficient temperature to burn the not-entirely-dry wood above it with the use of only three matches. Like I said, I'm still a bit away from the ability to light a fire with just one match (when not using paper other prepared lighting aids). Using only things I found lying around, three matches is my record and - like I said - made use of some found charcoal.I have had pretty good experience when using an accelerant. This was usually a few drops of alcohol from my fuel bottle which I still carried. I find this a working compromise - if I can assume that I'll be able to cook a number of meals using wood as fuel on any given trip, it appears reasonable to me to carry my self-made 6 g (0.2 oz) "SuperCat" alcohol stove as a backup with enough fuel for, say two or three meals cooked using alcohol as fuel. This will give me a bit of accelerant to make sure that my wood-cooking episodes aren't, ahem, non-starters. Given the cool factor of an actual fire to cook on (and the fun my daughter is having helping to collect firewood), I'll happily carry what little extra weight the wood stove adds above the fuel weight it still saves. On a long trip (say a week or so), I think this combo would actually weigh less than just the UL alcohol stove and a week's worth of fuel.
I have also used paper as an "accelerant". In this test close to home, I built the fire in much the same way I would build any old campfire (though at a slightly smaller scale), using an old newspaper brought for the occasion. This fire did catch using just one match. However, there was very little actual firewood on the top of this pile, as the volume of my fire nest nearly exceeded the inside volume of the Makaira stove. All this meant is that there was little point in putting a pot on top of it immediately after lighting up. I just let the fire progress until it seemed to be going well (at which point it had consumed most of the flammable substances inside the stove), then added a load of sticks and the pot. If I were the type to burn pages out of my guidebook which pertain to sections I've just walked, I'd say this might evolve into my standard MO.
Esbit as Fuel:
What I've found actually problematic is that the Esbit tabs "melt" as they burn away. The accompanying reduction in size meant that the tablets used at some point fell through the grille. Of course, they thereby stop heating my pot and by the time I've lit another tablet and it's come to a decent burn, the water in my pot has cooled to a degree which means that the second tablet does not get it to a boil, either.
The Esbit tablets I got were smaller than the ones I'm used to from my time with the German Army. They were 32 mm (1.25 in) long, 12 mm (0.5 in) wide and 6 mm (0.25 in) thick. I'm guesstimating that the ones I was issued with the Army were about twice as thick and one and a half times as wide, so about three times the total volume. It might be that such tablets would remain on the grille long enough to bring the water inside my pot to a boil. I'll see if I run across such tablets, and in the alternative will attempt stacking the tablets in such a way that I get a longer "burn before fallout".
Long Term Report:
Lighting such firewood was pretty much the same experience as outlined in my Field Report above. Lighting the fire took a good bit of fiddling, blowing on the early flames from below, and either a longish period with a disposable lighter providing a flame or a bit of accelerant. Then, a fire would start and, emitting the customary white smoke indicative of not-too-dry wood, provide a fire upon which I could boil water.
The process still seems challenging to begin with - and I invariably feel a sense of triumph when I finally managed to get a decent fire to start. In retrospect, I am certain that my firebuilding skill has improved. It's just that circumstances have worsened to an equal degree. I find, however, that using the Makaira SPS in it's primary, wood-burning, function is something I'll look forward to doing again in spring and summer, but fall - around here - does not seem to be the time for it (and me).
The net effect of this is that as days have become colder and wetter, I've come to rely on the alternative method. If it's raining when I want to cook, I don't even try to find dry wood and cook with that, even though it might be possible under a strung tarp as rain cover. The one time I tried, I was getting the collected wood wet while carrying it around, simply because water was dripping off me.
The Makaira Stove and the Seasons:
In summer, which I'd say in this context should include what is usually referred to as late spring and early fall, the wood-burning method was a good alternative. Delaying the hot food by the time it took to gather some firewood and lighting it wasn't a problem, because I wasn't in a hurry to get it. Also, collecting a bunch of pencil-sized dry twigs didn't take very long at all. With a bit of practice (and or judicious use of an accelerant, carried as an emergency alternative fuel) lighting the fire doesn't take long, either.
And, honestly, cooking over a *real* fire is so much more satisfying than mucking about with Esbit or alcohol fuel.
I'd like to thank BackpackGearTest.org and Makaira Metalworks for the chance to test this stove and the provided incentive to improve my firebuilding skills. I am grateful for the lessons learned and will likely take the Makaira SPS along again come drier weather.
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