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Makaira Metalworks Stainless Pack Stove

Report by André Corterier
Initial Report August 2007
Field Report October 2007
Long Term Report December 2007

Makaira Metalworks Stainless Pack Stove

Personal Biographical Information:
Name: André Corterier
Gender: M
Age: 35
Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Weight: 80 kg (175 lb)
Shoe Size: 46 (EUR), 12 (US)
Email: andreDOTcorterierATfreenetDOTde
Home: Bonn, Germany

Backpacking Background:
I have started out with backpacking slowly – single-day 24 km (15 mi) jaunts by myself or even shorter hikes in the company of my little daughter. I am getting started on longer hikes, as a lightweight packer and tarp or hammock-camper. I’ve begun upgrading my old gear and am now carrying a dry FSO weight (everything carried From the Skin Out except food, fuel and water) of about 9 kg (20 lb) for three-season camping.

Initial Report:

Year of manufacture: 2007
Date received: 30 July 2007
Manufacturer: DeFeet International

Weight: listed: 6.3 oz (179 g)
measured: 178 g (6.3 oz)

Dimensions: listed: 4.25 in by 4.675 in (108 mm by 117 mm
measured: 108 mm by 123 mm (4.25 in by 4.84 in)

Initial Impression:
Makaira Stove pre-assembly The stove consists of five flat pieces of metal, each with a lot of holes in it and a few tabs at the edges. Four of them are practically identical - these make up the walls of the stove - while the fifth serves as a bottom grille. It fits together easily and, to me, looks likely a vaguely Asian piece of art.

Setting Up:
The stove is easy to set up. The flat wall pieces easily fit into one another. I checked the accompanying instructions early (wondering what one could possibly need instructions for) and they pointed out that the grille has tabs on only three of its sides, which makes fitting the fourth wall piece easier. That was helpful, though I assume I would have figured it out on my own (eventually). The sidewall pieces provide four slits into which I can fit the grille. As the sidewall pieces are bilaterally symmetrical, the lowest and second lowest slit correspond in height to the highest and second highest - if one were to turn the stove around. I find this neat. I don't know quite why, but I've been completely absorbed in playing with this thing for quite some time now. It's just so neat!

Supposed Use:
The bottom setting for the grille is the one which corresponds to the stove's primary raison d'être: wood burning. The instructions say to fill the bottom two thirds of it with tinder, and add twigs (pencil size at largest) to the top.

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.

Stove with 5 minutes of fire wood

Trying Out:
I tried the stove out on a recent excursion with my daughters. We were at an altitude of about 200 m (650 ft), in warm (25 C /75 F), dry weather. It had rained rather a lot in the week previously, but not on this day or the day before. There was a mild breeze.

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.

lighting up I then proceeded to light the stove. As the stove is compact and light, this was easily accomplished by lifting it up in one hand and holding a lighter to the finer flammable material at the bottom. It appears, however, as though I should have gathered a bit more of the really fine kindling (this, I hear, is a common mistake with fire builders, and I can testify that I, at least, regularly make it at the beginning of the camp fire season). Generally speaking, kindling cannot be too small and one cannot have too much of it. In fact, speaking from my own past experience, usually the reverse (of both) is true.

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.

Houston, we have ignition I had some white smoke come out of the stove at first, indicating that not all of the wood I had gathered had been as dry as it seemed. This quickly stopped as the heat generated by the fire dried the moist twigs inside the stove before consuming them also.

The Makaira SPS in action Once the fire seemed well under way, I placed some additional wood onto the stove and placed the pot on top of it. While the water was heating, I prepared the food I meant to cook and occasionally inserted some more of the gathered twigs through the sides of the stove. It took about ten minutes for the water to reach a boil (I intend to time this properly in the future in order to come up with a more definitive value). I noticed that, as with a previous wood stove I built myself, it is rather susceptible to the contents of the pot boiling over. The water (etc.) which overflows the sides of the pot flows down on the outside and is guided straight into the fire. This can actually put out the fire and make restarting it hard what with all the wet muck now in it. With this initial try, I was more lucky. I noticed it flowing over and was able to take the pot off the stove quickly when I did. The fire hadn't gone out entirely, and by adding a few more dry twigs I could get it going again. With the wood I had gathered, the stove kept burning for two minutes or so after the water had reached a boil and even after the flames had gone out, the few glowing coals left kept the pasta inside my 3 cup aluminum pot (with an insulated lid) boiling for another two.

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.

Initial Summary:
I like it. A lot. I'm really looking forward to using it as a self-contained campfire with a couple of buddies (who can help gather fire wood so we can keep it going all evening). My only complaint (as it were) is the weight. For a recent one-week backpacking trip I carried roughly 60 g (2.1 oz) of stove, pot support and windscreen and a fuel bottle with a weight (including alcohol) of about 220 g (7.8 oz). This stove (together with backup fuel for one full dinner or two meagre dinners in really wet weather) puts me at roughly the same weight. As I'd likely be planning to refuel every week or so on longer trips and thus carry only half the fuel on average, it does not - so far - result in any weight saving. I might, on the other hand, whenever I'm in an environment where the foraged fuel for the Makaira stove is abundant, be inclined to eat warm more often and generally have to worry less about whether or not I've packed enough fuel. And of course, as long as I'm not too far away from civilization or in danger of the weather turning *really* nasty, I can leave the backup fuel at home and, should it happen to rain, resolve to quit complaining and take it like a man...

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.

Field Report:

Field Experience:
My experience when trying (and, always, eventually succeeding) to light a fire inside the Makaira Metalworks SPS stove is effectively unchanged from my initial trials which I reported on in my Initial Report above. I have used the Makaira wood stove to cook on five more times during the Field Report phase. Four of these times I used wood, once I used Esbit. Elevations were between 100 and 500 m (330 and 1600 ft) above sea level, temps in the 10 to 20 degree C (50 to 70 F) range.

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:
I've tried using Esbit as fuel and have not been happy with it. While the open grille bottom makes holding a flame to the Esbit tablets conveniently easy, the open sides of the stove do not shield the tablets from wind, and even a very small breeze (like the ones generated by carelessly exhaling) will put the tablets out while they're only just about to catch fire. Of course, careful selection of a fireplace and/or use of a proper windscreen will solve that problem.

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".

Teapot Warmer:
The Makaira SPS as teapot warmer As mentioned in my Initial Report above, I very much appreciate the looks of the Makaira stove - I still think it's a work of art. It has served admirably well as a teapot warmer on our living room table, with a little candle set inside with the grille set to medium height. It does not currently serve in that role because it's still heavily smudged from our last excursion, but I expect to put it to that use again for much of the winter (once I've cleaned it up a bit by scrubbing it with dust).

Long Term Report:

Field Experience:
My field experience has been comparatively boring. It was mostly daytrips, only one overnighter, during the Long Term testing phase, all of them in the local hills (between 100 and 450 m - 330 and 1500 ft). The weather, however, has been challenging - it's been wet, wet, wet, with temperatures not too far above freezing.

I've found dry firewood harder and harder to come by. I've found that even a day after a hard rain, the kind of deadwood which has fallen to lie on top of something else and thus not in direct contact with the ground, is often reasonably dry. However, these days the day after a hard rain generally featured more rain, so that even the deadwood lying high on a pile or still attached to trees tended to be wet. The few places I was still able to find reasonably dry wood were very sheltered, like close to the trunk of a coniferous tree, close to but not in contact with the ground. Even such wood wasn't as bone dry as I'm sure it was during summer and much of early fall, simply because we've had some humidity pretty much 24/7 for a while now.

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).

Esbit works. It takes more care regarding protection from the wind than the wood-burning function, and I need to stack the really small, slender Esbit tabs just right or use bigger ones, so that they don't fall through the stove grille once they've shrunk a bit while burning. If I do it right, the Esbit-burning alternative has provided a reliable alternative with which to ensure a hot meal.

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:
Fall has shown an inverse relationship between my desire for hot food or drink and my ability to provide it with the Makaira stove in its wood-burning function. The colder and wetter it is, the more I want some hot soup or something else to fuel my inner fire. The same circumstances have made it harder for me to find fuel for the stove, which is unfortunate. This means that when I really want the hot product, I use Esbit. Of course, if I'm just going to use an alternative fuel to wood, there are lighter options available than the Makaira SPS.

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 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.

Read more reviews of Makaira Metalworks gear
Read more gear reviews by Andre Corterier

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