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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Trail Designs Caldera Cone Keg F System > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Trail Designs Caldera Keg F Stove System
By Raymond Estrella
OWNER REVIEW

September 27, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 51
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 215 lb (97.50 kg)

I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly UL, I try to be as light as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.

The Product

Manufacturer: Trail Designs
Web site: www.traildesigns.com
Product: Caldera Keg F Stove System
Year manufactured: 2010
MSRP: US $59.95
Weight listed (Cone & stove): 2.7 oz (77 g)
Stove weight: 0.5 oz (15 g)
Caldera Cone weight: 1.3 oz (38 g)
Keg weight: 1.2 oz (35 g)
Caldera Caddy weight: 3 oz (86 g)
Beer Band weight : 0.18 oz (5 g)
Cozy weight: 0.25 oz (7 g)
Total weight packed (w/out fuel bottle): 6.61 oz (187 g)

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

The Caldera Cone Keg F from Trail Designs is the lightest cooking system I have ever used with a total weight for the Caldera Cone (which is a pot stand and wind screen), stove, and beer-can pot of 3 oz (88 g)! While I thought that a system of this weight may be for moderate conditions only I ended up using it when I don't even take my canister stoves. Read on for the details.

Product Description

The Caldera Cone Keg F (hereafter referred to as the Keg) is said by the makers to be "The lightest all-in-one kitchen on the planet." They also claim that "The Caldera Keg is the lightest, most stable, wind resistant, and efficient cooking system you can buy."

System broken down


Shown above are the parts and accessories sent with the system. The main item is the aluminum Caldera Cone sized to fit the included Foster's beer can, mine is the Ale, but Lager is used also. (Sadly it came empty…) The top of the Foster's can has been removed and retained as a lid. Then there is the 12-10 alcohol stove with integrated primer pan, fuel bottle kit with measuring cup, two Beer Bands, a Reflectix insulating cozy, and the Caldera Caddy to hold and protect everything. Look at the bottom of the red "F" on the Foster's can. A pressure formed ridge can be seen running around the can.

The Caldera Cone is assembled by sliding together the mating dovetail joints, one of which has a titanium re-enforcement. This gives me a cone that sits with the wide end down as seen in the photo below. (The alcohol stove can be seen sitting where it goes too.) The narrow end has been sized to just allow me to slide the Fosters can, or keg through it. The can is actually held by the formed ring sitting on the edge of the cone.

Keg in Cone, Keg in Cozy


By supporting the keg with the cone this eliminates the need for a pot stand, plus the conical shape is very stable, resisting tip-overs unbelievably well. The cone also acts as a windscreen with just enough engineered slots cut into the cone to allow air for proper fuel burn while still protecting the stove from being blown out, or having its heat wasted. The slots at the top create a draw pulling the heat up.

Another benefit of the cone shape is that it holds the hot gasses coming off the stove next to the pot walls increasing the surface area being heated. This is heat that is normally wasted in a traditional pot/windscreen setup making the Caldera cone approach more fuel efficient.

The camo-colored Beer Bands are thick silicone bands that can be used to place around the can to act as a grip spot, or they can be placed around the lip of the keg to keep me from burning my lips when using the keg as a cup for hot liquids. Another use for the bands is to place on a Foster's can that I source myself to cut the top off of and use as another pot. Since the new can would not have a formed ridge to hold the keg in place the Beer Band can be placed where I want the new can to sit.

The Reflectix cozy works to pick up the keg once my water is boiling (better than the Beer Band in my experience) and to use as a heat guard when drinking from the keg.

The volume at formed ring of my keg is 15 fl oz (444 ml). Most of my freeze dried meals take more than that so I put marks on the side of the keg at 16 and 18 oz (473 and 532 ml).

Before taking in the field I ran some tests to check the timing and efficiency of the Keg using two types of fuel. Here are the results.

Timed boil in house. 2 cups (473 ml) water. Bubbles releasing at 5:00. Full boil at 7:00. It took 0.95 fl oz (28 ml) of HEET.

Timed boil in house. 2 cups water. Bubbles releasing at 5:20. Full boil at 7:30. It took 0.75 fl oz (22 ml) of Everclear 190.

While the HEET, which is 99% methanol, burned hotter and boiled the water faster the Everclear (95% ethanol, 5% water) was more efficient. The fumes from the HEET are atrocious and I decided to use only Everclear with the Keg F system.

Loaded for travel. No TSA it's not beer.


The Caldera Caddy is a plastic screw-top container that is used to hold everything and keep the cone and Foster's can from being bent or crushed while sitting in my pack. The Foster's can goes in first with the lid under the can, then the Caldera Cone rolls up and is inserted into the can. Once let go it expands to fit around the inside. The cozy and fuel bottle then go inside and the stove caps it all. Screw the top portion of the Caddy on and it is ready for travel. Trail Designs suggests that the caddy may be used to eat and drink out of also to save weight and space of dedicated items. They have the caddy custom made for this application out of food grade plastic.

Field Conditions

How freaking peaceful is that?


I took the Keg F on five multi-day winter trips in northern Minnesota. Most of the trips were on the North Country Trail in the Paul Bunyan State Forest and Chippewa National Forest. The most memorable trip was 3 days backpacking in Voyageurs National Park where we were just a couple miles from the border of Canada. It got down to -31 F (-35 C) on that trip. As a norm though the temps averaged around 0 F (-18 C) and all camp sites were on snow.

This fall I also took it on a four-day backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail along Lake Superior's North Shore. This trip saw some rain, but mostly nice days with temps between 82 and 44 F (28 to 7 C). The trail varies in elevation from 600 to 1800 ft (180 to 550 m). The picture above is from this trip, waiting for dinner at the Gooseberry River.

Last were two trips in the Paul Bunyan State Forest on or near the North Country Trail. It too rained on one of these trips and temps made it as low as 35 F (2 C). Here is a shot of it in action at Waboose Lake.

Hauled my Caboose to Waboose Lake


I have also taken it on a couple camping trips in Minnesota to use for coffee in the mornings.

Observations

The Trail Designs Caldera Keg F is my fourth Caldera Cone cooking system. While my Fissure (see review) and ULC are great I was intrigued by the miniscule total weight of this system. I decided to try it and at the same time see if I could successfully use an alcohol stove in the extreme cold of a Minnesota winter.

If I am not with my children I am a very boring eater while backpacking. I rarely cook for breakfast or lunch and eat freeze dried meals for dinner so all I need is something to boil water. The Keg F system does this quite well and does so at a great weight. While a couple of my Ti-Tri systems can pack down a little smaller they are heavier too so the Keg F wins there.

Forming the cone by sliding the two dovetailed joints together was a bit slower than with my other cones. It may have something to do with them being a long joint so having to pull a bit harder on it and having a bit harder time getting them to line up at first.

One difference that I noticed right away was the fact of the cone being made of aluminum as opposed to the titanium of my other Caldera Cones. I seem to be a bit heavy handed and I had kinks in the cone soon after getting it. It bugged me a lot so finally I contacted Trail Designs and bought a replacement cone made from titanium. I should have done this in the first place as it is much easier to put together now and it has not picked up any kinks with just as much use on the new cone now.

The stove is a breeze to fill and light. While it has a priming ring I never need it for my 3-season trips. I use a squirt bottle to hold my alcohol and after squirting the right amount in the center of the stove, I drip a couple drops on the edge. A quick pass with my lighter and it is burning.

Because the meals I bring often need as much as 20 fl oz (591 ml) this puts the water level above the top of the cone taking away some of the efficiency due to the fact that the water above the top (above the formed ridge in the can) is not getting any heat applied to it. Even so I have not seen it take more than 0.8 fl oz (24 ml) of fuel for these boils. Nor has the higher level and corresponding higher center of gravity resulted in a less stable set-up. I have never knocked the Keg F over to date.

The cone makes an excellent wind screen which is nice for the flatter windy part of Minnesota that I live at. If it is blowing too heavy I make sure to turn the cone so the big space below the dovetail joint is away from the wind. Otherwise it does great. The biggest threat in high (or even moderate) wind is the entire setup blowing away as it is so light. Before I form the cone I put my water in the keg, then once the cone is together I stick the stove inside and place the keg in the cone to keep it in place.

I like my Alcohol on Ice

I knew there was a table here.


I have read a lot of arguments, I mean discussions, of the shortcomings of alcohol stoves in cold temperatures. Many contend that they can't really work due to the fact that ethanol (what I use) has a flash point of 62 F (16.6 C). The flash point is the lowest temperature that it can vaporize on its own to form an ignitable mixture in air. Once below that temperature another source of heat is needed to warm the alcohol to the point that it will vaporize enough to catch and then sustain its own vaporization.

The 12-10 stove has a priming ring made for this action in cool (not extreme cold) temps. By lighting some fuel in the ring it warms the body of the stove helping the bulk fuel inside get to a point that it will ignite and burn. This has worked well for me when using my stove in a freezing rain and in fall at freezing temps. But things get a little tougher when the temps creep towards 0 F (-18 C).
Don't put this in your eyes
For many years I have kept my drinking water in my heavy winter shell's inner chest pocket for summit day when on mountaineering trips. I thought about applying the same principle to stove fuel for the Keg F. I used the system for a series of winter overnight trips that I did not need to melt snow for water. (I carried what I needed for the day in my coat and brought 3 L for the rest of the trip in insulated holders that I then wrapped in my gear.) For most trips I only brought enough fuel for one freeze dried meal and one cup of hot cider. I put the ethanol in a flat bottle that formerly held lens cleaner. I kept the bottle in whatever pocket was closest to my skin to keep it warm. This kept my fuel at 98 F (37 C), well above the flash point. On the trips that I brought more fuel I brought two of the small flat bottles rather than use a single larger bottle, but I only kept one in my pocket at a time.

In camp I would get everything ready to go first. Usually this means preparing a spot by digging out a Forest Service picnic table, then getting the cone put together with the empty keg sitting in it and the stove sitting right next to it. Then I pour my water in the keg and quickly pour my body-temp fuel in the stove and stick a lighter into the opening. Once lit (verified by my finger hair disappearing, I can't feel much with my gloves off for long) I place the cone over the stove and wait for steam.

I was very hesitant the first time as to whether it would work or not, planning to eat no-cook food brought along just in case. I used a full ounce (30 ml) thinking it would take longer to boil but when it was boiling away I found that there was still quite a bit of fuel left.

From that point on I purposely used the whole ounce of fuel but as soon as my dinner water was ready I would pour it into my dinner then quickly set the pot back over the stove and pour 8-10 oz (240-300 ml) of water in to heat for cider. The fuel left would not be enough to bring the new water to a boil but had it as hot as I could stand for drinking. I make the cider right in the keg and drink from it.

A friend that I met in Voyageurs National Park asked me to bring the Keg F just to see it in action. (As this was a three-day trip we had white gas stoves for melting snow and cooking.) So I brought in and made hot drinks for us while we got ready for that days snow melting/boiling. It was -2 F (-19 C) at the time of this picture.

Keg F cooking below zero


As may be seen above I made a little stove base of blue foam with a circle of reflective aluminum tape to keep the stove from melting into the snow, or sliding across icy surfaces.

I guess I have proven to myself that the Keg F works at low temps and as I have 8 of the fast winter overnight trips planned for this coming winter I expect I will be using it for all of them.

Ray Estrella

I measure happiness with an altimeter.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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