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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > PackaFeather XL Stove > Owner Review by Bob Dorenfeld



PackaFeather XL Ultralight Backpacking Stove
Owner Review By Bob Dorenfeld
November 20, 2014

Tester Bio
Name: Bob Dorenfeld

 

I'm an active hiker, snowshoer, skier, and backpacker.  Home base is the Southern Colorado Rockies, where I'll hike from 7000 ft (2100 m) to alpine tundra, with desert trips at lower altitudes.  Six to 12 miles (10 to 20 km) daily is my norm, with elevation gains up to 4000 ft (1200 m).  Many of my backpack trips are two or three nights, other trips are longer, and I usually carry about 30 lb (14 kg).  My style is lightweight but not obsessively so - extras like binoculars, camera, and notebook make my trips more enjoyable.

Email: geartest(at)sageandspruce(dot)net
Age: 56
Location: Salida, Colorado, USA
Gender: M
Height: 5' 6" (1.68 m)
Weight: 140 lb (64 kg)


Product Overview

Manufacturer:   PackaFeather 
Website:  www.packafeather.com
MSRP:   US$32.97 
Stated Weight:  1.4 oz (45 g)
Measured Weight:  1.4 oz (45 g)
Fuel type:  Alcohol
Fuel capacity:  2 fl oz (60 ml)
Materials:  aluminum, brass, and stainless steel; plastic travel lid
Dimensions (in use):  Cylinder 2.5 in (6.4 cm) high x 3.625 in (9.2 cm) diameter
Dimensions (closed for travel):  Cylinder 1.625 in (4.1 cm) high x 3.625 in (9.2 cm) diameter
Optional Accessory:  Fuel Bottle Kit, US$3.79

 stove parts
PackaFeather XL stove: 5 parts, plus the optional Fuel Bottle Kit (at left)
The PackaFeather XL cook stove is a simple and lightweight appliance that uses alcohol fuel to heat water and prepare hot food while on the trail.  Out of the box there are five components, and one moving part.  When in use there are three stove components: a fuel cup, the stove body which covers and vents the fuel cup, and the circular pot stand which sits on top of the body.  The moving part is a stiff wire handle attached to a worm gear mounted on the stove body's side, and when turned it opens and closes the metal band covering seven air holes in the body's side.  A fourth component, the snuffer cap, is used to help extinguish the stove flame when no longer needed.  Finally, the fifth component is a plastic cap used to secure all of the stove parts when disassembled and stacked together for storage and travel.  The XL stove will burn almost any type of alcohol, although fuels will vary in BTU output and performance.  PackaFeather recommends the XL for smaller-diameter pots, less than 4 in (10 cm) as measured across the bottom.

PackaFeather also offers a second stove design and a number of optional stove components.  Reviewed here, in addition to the XL stove, is the Fuel Bottle Kit.

Why an alcohol stove?    

Sometime early last spring, while pouring over trail guides and maps getting ready for the new hiking season, I wondered if I still needed my white-gas camping stove.  It's all I've ever used for backpacking, but lately my trail cooking needs have become very simple: hot water for tea or coffee, hot water for my home-made dehydrated dinners, hot water for oatmeal in the morning.  Hmmm, is there a pattern here?  After looking at some half-dozen models on the market, I settled on this PackaFeather XL.  Most alcohol stoves are lightweight, but the PackaFeather impressed me with its clever design and operating features.  Although alcohol fuel will burn in any kind of metal cup, I wanted to have some control over the flame.  Plus, alcohol has several advantages over white gas and compressed liquid fuels: it's safe around nylon and other plastics, has very little odor, and it's easy to find at a wide variety of stores. 

Field Performance    

During the 2014 hiking season I used the XL stove on 12 backpack trips for a total of about 30 days and some 50 uses (mornings and evenings).  The lowest altitude was at 5500 ft (1700 m), and highest was at 11,500 ft (3500 m).  Lowest temperature was 25 F(-4 C) and highest was 85 F (29 C).  Weather at my campsites varied from still to moderately windy (up to 15 mph (24 kph)), and from dry to humid and rainy.

stove in handI found the PackaFeather XL very easy to operate (much easier than a white gas appliance).  After unpacking the stove components, I could set the fuel cup on a non-combustible level surface (flat rock, bare dirt, thin piece of metal).  But I wanted to combine a fireproof base with windscreen, and I found that the XL fit perfectly inside an old Sigg white-gas stove base (see photos below).  Windscreens are essential with alcohol stoves, since the non-pressurized flame is very sensitive to the slightest breeze.  I cut a piece of aluminum flashing to fit in the Sigg base and to surround the stove.  Since the non-totally-enclosed fuel is also susceptible to being spilled, it's a good idea to protect the ground directly under and next to the stove. The Sigg base does that while also serving as a container for my entire stove system, including the XL, pot, and lid.  Any flexible aluminum windscreen can also be used to surround the stove in place of a separate stove base. 

Next, I pour 1-2 oz (30-60 ml) of alcohol into the fuel cup, then place the stove body over the cup, with the fuel vent at the top.  Then I insert the wire-mesh pot stand using its three offset pins that insert just one way into the stove body, where friction holds it fairly tight.  One more task: I need to open the side vents by turning the side-mounted control rod about five times counter-clockwise to its fully-open position.  cookingAfter waiting 30-60 seconds to allow some alcohol fumes to rise, I'll dip a twig into the fuel, remove and light it, then light the alcohol.  I almost always get a satisfying low-volume whhuuummmppphhh.  But be careful:  unlike white gas or other petroleum fuels, alcohol burns with a practically clear flame in daylight (at night it appears more bluish).  I like to hold my palm down above the flame for a second to see if it's burning.  That's it - no priming or pressure adjustments.  Also note that this stove is silent when burning, nice when I'd rather listen to the wild sounds around my campsite than the roar of a stove.

With the air vents fully open, I found that the stove generally takes about six minutes to bring 1/2 L of water to a full boil.  Times are longer when the water is very cold, or when a breeze is disturbing the flame.  I use a titanium pot that's slightly wider than it is tall.  It helps to keep the pot covered at all times to conserve heat.  Although it takes a bit longer to heat water and cook than it would with a pressurized stove, I don't mind the extra few minutes - after all, in a beautiful wilderness campsite, what's the hurry?

FlamesTo reduce the heat output, I'll just turn the vent control wire clockwise a couple of turns.  It'll take a minute or two for the flame to settle down, and the difference is noticeable if, for example, I'm cooking oatmeal and want to reduce the risk of it burning on the pot bottom.  (See photos at right)  The wire's knob is sized right for my fingers (even with gloves), and it's never hot to the touch.  The worm gear works well; PackaFeather recommends an occasional dab of mineral lubricating oil (never cooking oil) to keep it operating smoothly.  I've done that twice over the season, and it does help.

Shutting down the stove is also easy:  I remove the pot and completely close the air vent, then place the snuffer cap over the heat vent hole, holding the cap down lightly for about 15 seconds to make sure flame pressure doesn't push it aside (the rubber sleeve keeps the cap from getting hot on my fingers).  Then I'll go about my business around the campsite, and 5 to 10 minutes later the stove will be cool enough to move or pack up.

How much fuel does the XL use?  While I haven't measured very precise amounts over all conditions, the stove seems to consume about 0.3-0.5 fl oz (9-15 ml) for a full pot of water+dehydrated meal, and less fuel than that to heat enough water for one drink.

How much fuel do I take for a 3-day backpack trip?  Usually I'll fill one 375 ml plastic liquor bottle, and I almost always come home with one-third of it left over.  I like to allow extra for spillage and in case I make more hot drinks than planned.

And what is the best fuel?  I've only used methanol (wood alcohol), either from the hardware store or as HEET (yellow bottle) from the auto parts store.  Other types that will work are ethanol, denatured alcohol, and rubbing alcohol.  But methanol has the highest vapor pressure, meaning that it reaches full flame power more quickly that the other types.  However, I'm careful about keeping methanol off of my skin and the ground, since it's very toxic as a liquid and can cause health issues if absorbed in large quantities. 

packedstove kit
Packing up the XL stove is also an easy task (photos, above).  Remove the wire mesh pot stand and wrap it around the fuel cup, flip the stove body upside down and drop the snuffer cap on the bottom of the stove body, drop the fuel cup over the snuffer cap, then snap on the plastic cap.  Takes less time to do than to describe how to do it!  I glued a piece of foam to the bottom of the plastic cap to keep the parts inside from rattling.  For my complete stove kit, I drop the packed XL into my cooking pot (the vent control rod easily wraps around into the pot), the pot goes into its cozy, and that package drops into the Sigg stove screen with the pot lid.  My entire pot/stove package weighs 12 oz (340 g), and a 3-day fuel supply in its container weighs 9 oz (255 g).

I've had only one mishap using the XL stove, and it was my fault.  I had filled the fuel cup too high near the brim, then knocked the stove which caused the alcohol to spill and flare up.  After quickly removing the food pot, I just let the flame burn down in the next couple of minutes.  Except for some blackening on parts of the stove, no harm was done. 

dispensing fuelFor dispensing fuel, I purchased the optional Fuel Bottle Kit, which is a small-diameter stiff plastic tube attached to a cap with an O-ring (photo at right).  This cap will replace the original cap to almost any plastic drink or liquor bottle.  To use, just lift up the tube to a horizontal position and squeeze the bottle to squirt the alcohol into the fuel cup; it's very easy to direct the flow so nothing is wasted onto the ground.  As a bonus, the process is easily reversed to suck up extra fuel from the fuel cup: I just squeeze some air out of the bottle, put the tube into the fuel, and release the bottle.  Very convenient!

Performance of the XL stove was excellent over the various conditions I used it in.  I have to be careful to site my kitchen out of the wind, and choose or create a fairly level spot, but otherwise it's not too picky about location.  One caveat concerning reusing fuel (i.e. saving leftovers from the fuel cup):  I found that over time, the alcohol can absorb water that condenses on the outside of my pot.  This usually happens when I heat very cold creek water.  That extra water in the fuel (alcohol is water soluble) definitely reduces the flame's heat, and during one morning at below-freezing temperatures I never was able to get my coffee hotter than lukewarm.  I might have to replace my current pot (very rounded bottom) with one that has a square edge to encourage the condensing water to roll off to the ground instead of collecting through the fuel vent and into the unburnt alcohol.


Concluding Thoughts    

I am very satisfied with the PackaFeather XL stove.  It's nicely made and durable, even considering the thin and somewhat fragile materials it's made of.  A stove like this does warrant a bit of care, but it has rewarded me with a reliable and very lightweight source of heat for simple cooking and heating water.  I've put a couple of dings and crimps in it, but I can bend them out easily.  The XL is easy to set up and to pack away for transport and storage.  I find it excellent for 3-season backpacking use; for more demanding tasks, like melting snow, I think that a white gas or other type of pressurized stove would be a better choice.

Pros
  - very lightweight
  - easy to set up and pack down
  - flame adjustment design works well
  - good performance in variety of 3-season settings
  - easy to light and to shut down (no priming)
  - silent operation
  - extra fuel can be saved for later
  - good price (about half of a typical pressurized stove)


Cons
 
- lower heat output than petroleum-based pressurized stoves
  - very sensitive to wind, wind screen is necessary
 


 Reviewed By
Bob Dorenfeld
Southern Colorado Mountains





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