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Makaira Metalworks Stainless Pack Stove (SPS)

 Test series by Andrew Mytys

Tester's Biographical Information:
Reviewer:Andrew Mytys
Email:amytys@gmail.com
Homepage:Andy's Lightweight Backpacking Site
Location:Michigan
Age:40
Height:6'1" (183 cm)
Weight:165 lbs (75 kg)
Backcountry Mug-Shot

     Backpacking Background:

I consider myself a lightweight hiker, carrying the lightest gear I can find that provides a comfortable wilderness experience and supports my goals. Although my pack weight might label me as an "Ultralight Weenie," I carry "luxury items" that hard-core ultralighters would shun; e.g. a 23 oz (652 g) sleeping pad. Depending on the level of insects present and if I'm hiking solo or not, I might pack a hammock, tent, or tarp. My base weight for three-season hiking is in the sub-8 to 10 pound (3.5 - 4.6 kg) range, unless regulations force me to carry a bear canister.


Product Information:
Manufacturer:Makaira Metalworks (http://www.makairametal.com)
Item:Stainless Pack Stove (SPS)
Listed Weight:6.3 oz (179 g)
Weight as Delivered:6.7 oz (190 g), including 0.4 oz (11 g) linen storage pouch
Listed Dimensions:4 1/4 inches (108 mm) per side square x 4 7/8 inches (124 mm) high
Measured Dimensions:4 1/4 inches (108 mm) per side square x 4 7/8 inches (124 mm) high
Packed Size:4 1/4 inches (108 mm) wide x 4 7/8 inches (124 mm) high x 3/16 inches (4.75 mm) thick
MSRP:$50.00 US
Year of manufacture:2007

Product Description:

A stainless steel backpacking stove that packs flat for convenient storage - the stove is compatible with multiple fuel sources, including wood, foraged bio, paper trash, solid fuel tablets (e.g. Esbit) and alcohol burners.


Makaira Metalworks Stainless Pack Stove (SPS)



Initial Report: - August 07, 2007


The Makaira Metalworks Stainless Pack Stove (SPS) is a stainless steel backpacking stove that packs flat for convenient storage. The stove comes with a linen storage pouch that keeps soot from the stove from being transferred to nearby items and minimizes the chances of gear being scratched or punctured by the stove's edges.

Disassembled, the stove consists of four plates measuring 4 1/4 inches (108 mm) wide x 4 7/8 inches (124 mm) high and a slightly smaller fifth plate that becomes the stove's floor. Assembly of the stove is a simple task. I interlocked two of the stoves plates together to form a corner and positioned the stove's floor into one of three notches. The notch closest to the ground is used for burning wood, foraged bio, and paper trash. The middle notch allows the stove to support an alcohol stove with the flame at an appropriate distance from the pot, while the upper notch is recommended for use with solid fuel like Esbit tablets. With the floor in place, I simply connected the third wall to the stove and then locked the fourth wall into position. When assembled, the stove resembles a cube. It has cutout vents along its sides and floor in a pattern that reminds me of a Celtic design.

Assembly of the Makaira Metalworks Stainless Pack Stove

I see myself primarily using this stove with wood and other forms of bio-fuel. In my opinion, the beauty of this stove is that one does not need to carry fuel with it, translating into an overall weight savings for the lightweight backpacker. To use it with an alcohol stove or fuel tablet seems counter to its lightweight nature, as the stove becomes nothing more than an ultra-heavy pot stand. I do, however, plan to carry a single fuel tab in my kit as a backup, in case I find myself in extremely wet conditions where workable tinder is not readily available.

Ready for a Light

Flame On!:

To use the stove, I filled it 3/4 full with dry leaves and grass, and placed a nest of small, dry twigs on top. Then I lit a match and pushed it into the stove's lower side ports in an effort to ignite the kindling. Once the leaves were on fire, I pulled away. The fire soon went out.

After experimenting for a while, I found it best to hold the match under the stove, allowing the flame from the match to light the kindling through the stove's floor air-vents, then moving the match along the floor to light the kindling in another location. After repeating this a few times, I gently blew air into the stove at its base, perpendicular to the side wall. I found that it was important to get the tinder ignited and burning hot as fast as possible in order to get the sticks at the top level to catch fire. I also found that the fire could not be left alone for long - as the firebox does not hold much fuel, a newly lit fire has not developed enough hot embers to be able to re-ignite itself by simply adding more wood to the mix.

Once the fire was going, I placed my pot on top of the stove. The flames quickly engulfed the pot, burning up its sides. I found that I could easily add more fuel to the stove without removing the pot - I just slipped sticks into the stove underneath the pot through the gaps formed along the top of the stove. At this point, even if the fire went out, there were enough coals at the bottom of the stove such that I could place a few sticks into the stove, blow across the coals, and resuscitate the fire.

With a reliable fire going, I was able to get 2 cups of water boiling in less than 5 minutes using a titanium pot, and about 6.5 minutes using a stainless steel pot. I found that the stove could easily heat water faster or slower, simply by altering the amount of fresh wood I slipped into the stove - the more wood I tossed into the stove, the hotter the fire became and the faster the water boiled.

Pot Engulfed in Flames

Selecting the Right Pot:

The stove's size is such that, in my opinion, a pot of at least 6-inches (15 cm) in diameter should be used - the stove is definitely too large to adequately support smaller pots like my MSR Titan Kettle or my Snow Peak Titanium Mug. It seems to be well suited for my Evernew Titanium 1.3 l pot.

When using wood as a fuel source for the stove, the flames emitted from the stove tended to be uncontrollable, engulfing pots placed on top of the stove (see image, right). Because of this, I recommend removing any rubber grips that might be present on pot handles or, better yet, removing the pot handles altogether. I definitely feel that a separate pot lifter is called for when using the SPS stove as a wood-burning stove.

A New Frontier - the Pros and Cons of Using Wood Fires:

In playing around with the SPS Stove for a week, I've already came up with a rather large list of negative aspects to using the stove, as well as a list of positives. While the negatives outweigh the positives in number, I find the pros to be a compelling argument for sticking with the SPS stove. It will be interesting to see how my opinion changes throughout the course of this test series.

Cons:
  • The unpredictable nature of wood based flames dictates extreme caution. Users need to ensure the area around the stove is clear of flammable material, and water or a small pile of sand should be on hand as an added precaution. The floor of the SPS has a grated design to it, which on one hand promotes air-flow from underneath, while at the same time allow burning hot ash to fall though the base of the stove onto the ground below.
  • Smoke from the fire saturates my clothes and skin, quickly transferring its smell to my sleeping bag, tent, and any other gear I use.
  • The soot from the burning fire covers my pot and the stove itself. Handling these items after use leaves soot on my fingers, and I have to wash it off or risk leaving black marks on whatever I proceed to touch.
  • The stove isn't compatible with small, ultralight pots such as the MSR Titan Kettle.
  • The stove remains burning hot after use unless it is doused with water, which in itself is a good idea as the water not only serves to cool the stove to a safe temperature, but also disarms any hot ash and embers that are in the immediate area. All that water, however, adds weight to the pack unless a natural water source is nearby.
Pros:
  • Having to rely on nature for fuel adds a new dimension to my outdoors experience - it allows me to realize a closer relationship with the world around me. With the SPS stove, I have to be aware of what's in my surroundings, being on the lookout for proper fire-building materials, particularly in terms of kindling, which is key in the use of this stove. Because of the unpredictable nature of the flames, I have to be much more careful in my choice of cooking area and site preparation.
  • The stove is actually an environmentally friendly solution. There's no plastic or aluminum packaging that the fuel came in to dispose of, there is no transportation involved in getting the fuel from the "factory" to the "retailer" to my pack, etc.
  • Using the SPS stove requires a bit of fire-building skill. I'm relatively new to building and maintaining small fires, as opposed to just piling on a ton of wood and making a bonfire. Before a proper fire was built such that small twigs would catch fire, my initial trials with the SPS stove required 10 or more matches, multiple re-fills of kindling, etc. I expect my success rate to increase as testing progresses, with the ultimate goal of being able to start a proper fire with just one-match, under wet conditions.
  • The stove is a lighter alternative to carrying alcohol, white gas, canister, and other non-organic fuel based solutions.
  • The stove packs down flat and takes little space in the pack.

Possible Improvements:

  • I'd like to see a three-sided, triangular version of this stove. Such a design would weigh less that the stove I'm currently testing, and allow smaller pots to be used with the stove.
  • I'd also like to see a solid floor on the stove. While this might require more "blowing" by the user to get a fire going, it would prevent coals and hot ash from falling to the ground underneath the stove. One can never be too careful when surrounded by pines and other tinderbox type material.

- End of Initial Report -

Field Report: - October 19, 2007


Field Locations and Conditions:

September 12-13, 2007 - Waterloo State Recreation Area, Jackson County, Michigan
Hike Description:A two-day jaunt in the Waterloo Recreation Area.
Working Temperature Range:58 F / 14 C  to  64 F / 18 C
Humidity:70 - 100%
Types of fuel used:Dry pine needles, oak leaves, twigs, and paper found along trail.
Precipitation:None
Maximum Wind Speed:Calm - no winds

October 10-14, 2007 - High Country Pathway, Pigeon River Country State Forest, Montmorency County, Michigan
Hike Description:A five-day hike along a 74 mile (120 km) loop through rolling glacial moraines, outwash plains, floodings, and swamps. The area was cut of all its timber over 100 years ago, with today's heavily forested land being all second growth. Logging is still actively practiced in this area, although it is "managed" by the forest service. In terms of potential fuel sources, trees commonly found in the area include pine (jack, white, and red), maple, beech, birch, aspen, and oak. In the swamps, cedar, spruce, fir, tamarack, ash, birch, and maple can be found.
Working Temperature Range:40 F / 4 C  to  43 F / 6 C
Humidity:63 - 100% (used in light rain)
Types of fuel used:Dry leaves from ferns, dry pine needles, dry sticks, red pine bark, and yellow birch bark.
Precipitation:Rain throughout course of trip (most nights) meant wet natural fuel sources and, in one instance, cooking in light rain.
Maximum Wind Speed:6 mph / 10 km/h


Gathering Fuel - The areas I hiked in were covered in fuel - paper trash, dry leaves, pine needles, twigs, bark, etc. I had no problem finding fuel to use with the stove. I didn't have to gather it as I hiked either - there was more than enough usable debris in the areas I set up camp in to get a fire going in the Makaira stove.

Building a Fire in the Stove - Lighting a fire in the stove was not as easy as gathering fuel. I first attempted to light the ends of leaves, paper, and pine needles that were sticking out of the stove's grating, hoping the flame would burn down into the stove and ignite the kindling within. This plan simply did not work. My next idea was to hold the flame off of a butane lighter underneath the stove, allowing the flame to burn up through the grated floor of the stove and ignite the kindling within. While this produced a lot of smoke, I just couldn't get a large enough, and hot enough, fire started to reliably spread and ignite my twigs. I found that when I tried to create the initial fire within the stove, it was easy to have either not enough or too much tinder in the stove. Having the right type - and just enough - kindling in the stove is a fine art in itself. Even when using the driest of tinder, I found it best to have a crumpled piece of paper at the bottom of the stove to use as a starter, as the paper held a flame well and burned very hot. It seems that technique and patience are required in order to get optimal performance out of the Makaira stove.

Once a fire has been established, I found that feeding additional sticks into the stove was a relatively simple task - I just slipped twigs into the gaps underneath the pot. This activity has proved to be safe and effective - I haven't felt myself in danger of having my fingers burnt while exercising this process.

A Convenient Roll of Yellow Birch Bark Using the Stove in Wet Conditions - In wet conditions, I found that I had two choices - I could either cook under my tent's vestibule or under an umbrella using a fuel source that was easy to light, had a predictable flame, and was not prone to flare ups (e.g. Esbit Tablets) or I could just use natural materials that would burn when wet, such as birch bark. Due to the oils contained in birch bark, it will catch fire easily and burn even when wet. Birch bark is easily stripped off downed birch trees, and, in the areas I hiked in, is often found curled up in sections on the forest floor. The image to the right shows a roll of yellow birch bark strapped to the outside of my pack - after finding this roll of fuel, I carried and used it for a few days. I found the birch bark fires to be the easiest to create - the birch bark was easy to light and, once lit, would burn even when rain and wind were present. As long as I had a supply of birch bark on hand, I had no issues with cooking in the rain.

I also used Esbit tablets with the Makaira SPS Stove. The Esbit system allowed me to cook under my tent's vestibule without fear that flames might flare up and burn my house down. The Esbit tablets also produced a reliable and predictable flame that I didn't have to constantly watch or feed, which gave me a rest from the typical ritual that cooking with wood in the SPS stove involves. However, I still feel that the Makaira stove is just too heavy to be used as a simple pot stand for Esbit or alcohol stove users - sources of fuel other than those that can be picked up along the trail should be reserved for emergency purposes only.

Simmering With the SPS Simmering With the Makaira Stove - I found maintaining a "small" flame to simmer on to be a task that required a lot of work, particularly when wood was less than extremely dry. The issue is that the stove's firebox does not hold a lot of fuel, and the small, quick, and short-term nature of the fires built inside mean that small and fast burning soft wood is the material of choice. A small simmer flame will burn out quickly, hence the stove needs to be constantly monitored and fed fuel when simmering. Conversely, a larger fire can be built in the stove and the pot can simply be held at an appropriate distance from the flame in order to maintain a simmer - this latter technique is what I found easiest to implement, and can be seen in the image to the right.

I've also found it best to continuously stir while "simmering" over a full flame, in order to decrease the chances of accidentally burning my meal. With the pot open, ash debris flying in the air from the underlying fire occasionally made its way into my food. Nothing like getting my daily dose of carcinogens.

The Stove Used During Aggressive Hikes - I used the stove only to cook dinners. My requirement was to boil water and, optionally, simmer a dinner mix that was added to the water after it achieved a rolling boil. As an alternative to the fire-based simmer, I could use a foam cozy to keep the water hot for an extended period of time while the pot was off of the stove. The foam cozy really wasn't necessary, as with all the natural sources of fuel at my disposal I didn't have to ration fuel by any means. However, I found the stove, when burning wood as fuel, to be so fussy and time consuming that I preferred to use the stove as little as possible. It seems that the stove needs constant attention to make sure the fire is well fed, but not too well fed. It needs attention to make sure the fire isn't out of control. It needs attention to make sure the fire doesn't go out. It needs a full time baby-sitter!

My fellow hikers use canister and alcohol stoves, and they simply light their stoves, put the pot on, and in a few minutes they've got boiling water. No mess, no fuss. Meanwhile, I have to find fuel, prep fuel (e.g. break sticks apart into appropriate sizes), coax a fire along, monitor a flame that's unpredictable, continuously feed a fire due to a rather limited firebox size, take care not to touch any part of the stove or pot that's covered in soot and then, if I should get some soot on my hands, go through a ritual scrubbing in order to avoid transferring soot on all my gear. With days being rather short this time of year, I find myself walking into camp and having just enough time to pitch my tent and set a food hang before it gets dark. Lately, I've even been relying on other members of my party to take on my share of "group chores," such as setting up a food hang, due to the additional time required in using the Makaira stove - I find myself contributing less and having people handle more tasks "for me" than I feel comfortable with and, at the same time, I still find myself cooking in darkness, where the special considerations involved in using the Makaira SPS Stove are exponentially increased.

I also find that the added fuss in using the stove has taken away time I have to relax at the end of the day and socialize with friends while we prepare and eat our meals. The stove, and my antics with it, have become almost a distraction to those around me as well. People feel sorry for me, and offer the use of their "friendlier" stoves so that I can "catch up" and enjoy my evening - the "romance" of cooking under a wood-burning stove has completely disappeared.

Truth be told, I wouldn't mind fiddling with the stove if I found I had too much time on my hands... using the stove as a diversion from boredom. I could see myself taking on the stove as a "project" if I were hiking short mileage days, or car-camping at the local state park. However, as a hiker who needs to be on the trail from sunrise to sunset in order to make mileage goals, the stove wastes valuable time and becomes more of an irritant than anything else.

Soot-Covered Fingers A Messy Proposition - The image to the right shows my fingers after just grazing the lip of the pot while adding dehydrated ingredients into a pot full of boiling water. I've found the soot that transfers onto my hands to be thick and time consuming to remove. At the same time, I've found it in my best interest to remove it quickly, as it has a tendency to transfer easily onto other items such a clothing, tents, sleeping bags - pretty much whatever I touch.

I've started carrying a Ziploc bag for my sooty pot and cozy (assuming I use an external cozy, the warm pot transfers fresh soot to the cozy instantaneously). This allows me to store my messy pot and cozy in a sealed area without having to worry about soot being transferred onto any of my other gear. Because the pot is so dirty, I refrain from cleaning it until I get to a large water source, where I fill the pot with water and clean it properly (typically, I don't carry 2+ liters of water around reserved to clean my pot and hands). Unfortunately, the greasy contents of the pot will leak out into the Ziploc bag, meaning that I now not only have a sooty pot, sooty cozy, and a sooty bag, but the outside of the pot, cozy, and bag are now also covered in oil - wonderful! I now have an additional mid-day chore on my hands to contend with, in addition to the other time-consuming tasks already associated with using the Makaira stove.

Soot builds up on the stove as well, and I've found myself putting the stove together and taking it apart using leaves as a buffer between my hands and the stove parts, or by positioning sticks into the holes on the stove's walls and maneuvering the pieces together with the same sort of precision used in knitting.

In addition to the soot factor in using the stove, I've found that all my fires have exhibited a large amount of smoke - whether dry or wet wood was used. I was pleased to find that this smoke didn't contaminate my clothes with a "campfire" smell as I feared it would - in fact, the scent of pine needles, birch bark, and red pine bark is actually quite pleasant. However, I have heath concerns with respect to breathing in all that smoke - something I simple don't have to contend with when using canister or alcohol stoves.

- End of Field Report -

Long-Term Report: - December 23, 2007

During the Long-Term testing period, I used my Makaira Stainless Pack Stove on numerous dayhikes, which allowed me to enjoy a hot lunch while on the trail. My meal prep has been on the simple side, meaning boiling hot water and pouring in ingredients. Given that I have to constantly monitor and nurse the stove with fuel when in use, I have found that I prefer to simmer my meals in a cozy.

The fall season has meant shorter, colder days here in Michigan. Daytime temperatures have ranged from 27 - 73 F (-2 - 22 C). Fuel found at ground level has been mostly damp, due to the thick blanket of leaves on the ground holding in moisture. However, I have been able to find drier fuel by breaking off branches found on the many dead trees that seasonal winds have brought down. For fuel, I used mainly paper trash found in the woods, dried twigs and sections of small tree branches, and bark.

The nice thing about the SPS is that I don't have to keep an inventory of fuel at home. I also don't have to remember to fill and carry a fuel bottle with me into the woods. The stove packs small and flat, allowing it to basically be stowed away in the pack and forgotten about until it's needed. Thanks to inconsiderate litterbugs, plenty of downed trees, and nature's magic fire starter - birch bark - I always had enough fuel for my needs at or near my cooking site. I never felt that I was in a situation where it would be difficult to find suitable fuel or to get a fire started.

The negative aspects of the stove continue to be the time spent starting and tending to the fire, and the resulting mess from cooking on a wood fire. When hiking in groups, I feel that I'm always missing out on the social aspect of meals. I have to spend excessive amounts of time tending to my stove - gathering tinder, prepping the firebox, tending to the fire, and cleaning up after use. I've noticed that those using canister, white gas, alcohol, and even Esbit fuel sources need to pay little attention to their stoves in comparison to my ritual.

When hiking alone, the stove is also a hindrance as my style of hiking focuses on covering a lot of trail. The additional time required to use the SPS translates into the loss of a solid mile each time I use the stove. During the shorter days of the fall and winter seasons, the impact of using the stove has me planning shorter routes. Yes, I could use an alcohol stove or Esbit tablet as a fuel source with the Makaira stove, but that means that the stove basically becomes a $50 pot stand - hardly a good value for the money, in my opinion. In fact, the "value" aspect of this stove is an issue in itself. The $50 price tag on this stove is certainly justifiable, but I feel that the majority of this price is centered around the fact that the stove is hand made, and what the consumer is actually getting for their money is found in the stove's artistry, labor intensive craftsmanship, and quality. Unfortunately, none of these characteristics are appreciated when using the stove to hold a fistful of burning twigs, making the Makaira Stainless Pack Stove one pricey alternative.

In terms of durability, the stove has, as expected, become discolored by flames and covered in soot. The metal walls and floor of the stove have also developed a slight curvature. This bowing means that final assembly is a bit tighter than when the stove was new, and the fourth wall sometimes needs a level of coaxing beyond what "assembly with sticks" can accomplish, meaning my hands might get a little dirty.

Conclusions - I can whittle down the list or pros and cons to just two statements.

  • The stove is lightweight, easy to assemble, compatible with various types of fuel, and it works well.
  • Using the stove with fuel composed of wood and other scavenged bio-material is a pain in the ass.

- End of Long-Term Report -



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