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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Trail Designs Caldera Cone System > Test Report by Kerri Larkin

CALDERA CONE AND 12-10 ALCOHOL STOVE
TEST SERIES BY KERRI LARKIN
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - March 08, 2011
FIELD REPORT - May 27, 2011
LONG TERM REPORT - July 27, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kerri Larkin
EMAIL: kerrilarkin AT yahoo DOT com
AGE: 50
LOCATION: Sydney, Australia
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 284 lb (129.00 kg)

I've been a car-camper and bushwalker for thirty years. Mostly I do day hikes as my passion is photography, which means I walk very slowly! I've returned to walking after some years away due to injuries and I'm learning to use Ultralight gear (and my new hammock!). I've traveled most of eastern Australia, walking in landscapes as diverse as tropical rainforest, snow fields, beaches and deserts. My fortieth birthday was spent trekking in Nepal which was a truly life changing experience.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS


IMAGE 1



Manufacturer: Trail Designs
Year of Manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Website: Trail Designs
MSRP:
Caldera Cone: US$34.95
12-10 Stove: US$ 14.95

Listed Weight:
Cladera Cone: 0.1-2.8 oz (28-78 g)
Stove: 0.5 oz (16g)

Measured Weight:
Caldera Cone: 1.6 oz (44 g)
12-10 Stove: 0.5 oz (15 g)

Dimensions:
Storage Container: 7" x 3 3/4" (180 mm x 95 mm diameter)
Caldera Cone (folded): 51/2" x 31/2" (140 mm x 90 mm) Approximately
Caldera Cone (assembled): top diameter = 5" (130 mm), bottom diameter = 71/2" (190 mm)
12-10 Stove: 11/2" x 3/14" (80 mm x 40 mm)

Other details:
The Caldera Cone and 12-10 stove are bundled with a fuel bottle, measuring cup and storage container. Weights for the accessories are given below:

Storage container 2.3 oz (66 g)
Fuel bottle: 0.6 oz (18 g)
Measuring cup: 0.07 0z (2 g)

Total system weight (including cone and stove): 5.2 oz (146 g)

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

This is a test I've been wanting to do for ages! The Trail Designs Caldera Cone is somewhat of a legend among backpackers and I wanted to know why. Anyone who doesn't use a canister (gas) stove will have heard of the Caldera Cone, an aluminium windshield built to fit a specific cooking pot. In my case, that's a 5" (130 mm) aluminium pot and the Caldera Cone fits it perfectly.

When my package arrived, I was surprised at how good it looked: a shrink-wrapped plastic tube filled with goodies. The whole package was perhaps a bit larger than I was expecting but then I'm not used to traveling with such an elaborate cooking system. The real bulk of the tube is the actual Caldera Cone, which is made from a single, beautifully crafted, piece of aluminium.

After slipping the shrink-wrap off, I unscrewed the storage tube, which is called a Caldera Caddy, to find a plethora of instruction books and warning stickers. There was a warning label on the stove, one on the Caldera Cone, and more warnings in the instruction books. I was beginning to wonder about the safety of any system that requires so many warnings, but then remembered the litigious times we live in. It's good to see a company being cautious without stopping production out of fear of being sued. There's a very blunt warning on the stove package that says something like, if I didn't agree to accept that the company can't be held responsible for how I use it, I should return it for a full refund. There's another sticker on the Cone that warns about unrolling it cautiously so it doesn't suddenly spring open (we don't want to amputate any body parts)! All common sense really, but I guess it has to be said nowadays.

IMAGE 4
Warnings everywhere!



So let's take a closer look at what Trail Designs offer in the Caldera Cone kit. Firstly, and most obviously, there's the Caldera Cone itself. I'm not particularly technical so I can't tell you about aluminium gauges and strengths, but I can tell you this looks the part. All the cuts are very clean and the oval air vents are beautifully pressed out. It's very quickly apparent, however, why the Cone comes with its own storage container; the edges of the aluminium are very sharp, meaning a bit of care is required when handling the Cone. Also, it means it's not something I'd want rolling around in my pack. It seems like it could shred clothing, or even packs, fairly quickly.

IMAGE 2
A comprehensive cooking system. Just add pot!



For a lightweight stove, the Caldera Cone is quite solid - far more solid than any windscreen I've used before - because unlike most systems, the windscreen is also the pot stand. So, while the Cone may appear heavier, it eliminates the need for extra pegs or any other technological pfaffery to support a pot. Further, although it appears quite solid, the clever way the ends of the Cone are joined mean it's not only very strong, it's still very light at 1.6 oz (44 g). Putting the Caldera Cone together is a simple matter of sliding the vertical rib on one end into the vertical rib on the other end. These ribs form the join and once connected they are very strong.

As I said before, the Cone is made to fit my specific pot and Trail Designs makes Cones to fit a good range of pots, including the popular Evernew range. When my pot is inserted into the narrow end of the Cone, the lip of the pot sits snugly against the rim of the Cone offering a very solid feeling platform. This is something I find very important. After using a number of homemade stoves I've always been concerned about the stability of the stove and my pot. A spilled meal is bad but starting a bushfire from a toppled stove would be unthinkable.

Next, there's the 12-10 stove. Like most lightweight alcohol stoves, it appears to be made from recycled drink cans. Having said that, it's still a very nicely made stove. I haven't yet figured out how it's held together, whether it's glued or just a very tight fit, but either way, it's nicely put together. Many homemade stoves, and a few commercial ones, can feel quite flimsy due to the aluminium drink can materials, however, the 12-10 feels quite sturdy. Obviously I wouldn't stand on it, but it does feel as if it will cope with the rigors of camp life quite well.

IMAGE 3
The 12-10 stove is "optimised" for use in the Caldera Cone



The 12-10 appears to be somewhat different in design to most homemade alcohol stoves and Trail Designs says this is because it needs to be optimised to work in the lower oxygen , higher temperature environment within the Caldera Cone. Instead of being a side-burner stove this is a centre burner, and, instead of the row of holes on the outside of the stove being where the flames erupt, on this stove they are air intakes helping to pre-heat the air before it enters the centre chamber to burn.

Trail Designs states that priming the stove is unnecessary in all but the coldest weather, although the 12-10 has an integrated primer pan, which further adds to the stability of the stove.

The Caldera Caddy is made of food-grade soft plastic and Trail Designs suggest the container can be used as a mug or bowl, thus eliminating the need to carry those items. I think I'll be a bit cautious about using it that way as there is no insulation on the Caddy, so a hot cup of tea will most certainly result in burnt fingers. Wrapping a bandanna or some silicone tape around the edge may prevent the burn factor, but anything hot would no doubt cool rather quickly. I'll report further on the Caddy during the testing.

My kit also contained a plastic fuel bottle with a bung and a screw-top lid. The bung makes it easy to squirt fuel into the supplied measuring cup.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

The instructions for both the Caldera Cone and the 12-10 are clear and full of photos. The operating instructions can be a little hard to find in amongst all the general warnings, but really, this system needs very little in the way of instructions. There was a small booklet for each of the components, and an extra small sheet suggesting how to fill the fuel bottle once the bung is inserted.

For those who have not used a stove before, the instructions fit in the Caddy for use on field trips.

TRYING IT OUT

I couldn't wait to get out and try this stove system, and I wasn't disappointed when I did. The instructions suggest it should take 15 ml (0.5 fl oz) to boil two cups of water. I loaded the water into my pot, added 15 ml of denatured alcohol (it's called methylated spirits here), to the centre of the stove, and assembled the cone. The stove lights with a bit of a 'whump' which is a great way of knowing it's actually alight as the flame is invisible mostly. The stove needed no priming or waiting for it to 'bloom' like a traditional side-burner. The instructions say that it takes about 20-30 seconds to reach full flame and that after that the pot can be placed on the Cone. This was all so simple to do! I slipped the pot into the Cone and had nothing to do other than watch the seconds tick by on my stopwatch.

That's one of the differences I noticed immediately; there's nothing to see or do while the water boils. I'm used to a wood-burning stove which needs constant attention, or having big gaps in my wind shield which allow me to watch the pretty flames dancing. There's none of that with the Caldera Cone. No sound of burning, no visible flame, and not even a great deal of heat coming out the top of the Cone. I felt kinda at a loss. I realise tending the stove has become one of my relaxation rituals and that the Caldera Cone won't give me that opportunity. Ah well, I guess I'll just have to sit back and watch my surroundings instead. It'll be tough, but I'm sure I'll get used to it.

IMAGE 5
Nothing to see here folks. The Caldera doing its job.



It was about 79 degrees (26 Celsius) when I did my first test with the system. It took about seven minutes for the fuel to burn out and my water was not quite boiling. After the stove cooled a bit I added some more fuel, set it going again, and within a minute I had a rolling boil so the estimate of 15 ml (0.5 fl oz) to boil was fairly close. Having said that, there was no wind, the water was not terribly cold and it was a nice warm day. I'm guessing I'll need to add more fuel as the weather cools down. Still, from this first test, it seems like this will be quite an efficient system.

IMAGE 6
A rolling boil in about seven minutes



I'm not seeing any way to alter the heat output of the stove so I'm guessing this will not be a stove for cooking with as such, but more for boiling water to rehydrate food or make a cuppa tea. That's okay by me as that's the kind of 'cooking' I mostly do at camp, so it will suit perfectly. It may be a consideration for trail gourmets though. I guess a bit of trail ingenuity could come up with a couple of ways to insulate the pot from the flame to give more of a simmer effect? Oh what fun I'm going to have testing this stove!

SUMMARY

So far, the Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 stove system seems impressive. It's efficient, so easy to use, easily transportable and comes with its own carrying case. It does take more room in a pack than a simple alfoil wind shield, but it's way more efficient too. The Caldera Cone system may mean I end up having to carry less fuel, but that's never a bad thing.

The Cone is sturdy enough to hold a pot full of water rock-solidly, and significantly increases the efficiency of the 12-10 stove. The stove itself is slightly larger than most homemade soda can stoves but has been 'optimised' to work most efficiently inside the Cone.

I'm looking forward to getting to know this system much better, and to the opportunity to relax while my stove does its job without fuss, rather than having to constantly tinker with it.

That concludes my Initial Report on the Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 stove system. I'd like to thank Trail Designs and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this equipment and look forward to posting my Field report in about two months.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Since my Initial Report, I've had the pleasure of using the Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 Alcohol Stove on two more camping trips, as shown below:

Yuragir National Park
Dates: April 7-9 2011 (2 nights)
Season: Autumn
Temperature Range: 14 C to 26 C (57 F - 79 F)
Winds: Mild to Moderate

IMAGE 1
Rugged coastline of Yuragir NP



My first trip was to Boorkoom Camping area within the Yuragir National Park on the North Coast of New South Wales (Australia). I spent a very pleasant couple of autumn nights using the Caldera system as my only stove. The nights were obviously cool and the days very mild and sunny. This camping area is very close to the sea, so has minimal elevation, and was very open grasslands.

Yuragir National Park
Dates: May 13-20 (6 nights)
Season: Late Autumn
Temperature Range: 6 C to 21 C (42 F - 70 F)
Winds: Mild to Strong

This was my first visit to the Station Creek Camping Area, a heavily treed site with heavy dews and one nights rain. The area is a marked contrast to the open expanses of Boorkoom and felt very wet by comparison, even on sunny days. Most days were overcast and quite cool, but a couple of sunny days helped bring the place alive with wildlife.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

So how did the Caldera Cone system and 12-10 stove perform? In a word, brilliantly! I love this system. Now I understand why it is so venerated. It has performed flawlessly every time I've used it and even works well in the rain due to the Cone enclosing the stove so closely. I have found I've needed to use 17-20 ml (0.57-0.68 fl oz) of fuel rather than the advertised 15 ml, but that's a minimal difference and is probably more accounted for by my overfilling the pot (I never measure how much water I put in) rather than a defect in the stove.

I've not amputated any fingers removing the Cone from the Caddy yet, but I am always very careful. So far, the Cone has fitted together easily every time. I do sometimes struggle to get it back in to the caddy and although it will go in either right way up or upside down, it's much harder to fit the stove and accessories if the Cone is inserted upside down. Then again, it's harder to get out of the caddy if placed right-side up.. The aluminium of the Cone can be prone to denting if mishandled, but can be returned to normal shape with minimal effort. I wondered if there would be any stretch in the Cone material allowing the pot to slip or fall in to the centre but this has not happened so far. One of the interesting things is that it can be a bit fiddly to remove the pot from the Cone when it's empty (like when I'm showing off to my friends) but when full, the pot comes straight out without disturbing the Cone.

Although I wasn't sure of the durability of the Caddy it has banged around in my pack and been dropped with no adverse effects. Indeed, due to the sharp edges on the Cone, I wouldn't want to put the Cone in my pack without such a container. I must confess, I haven't been game to use the Caddy as a bowl, or the lid of the Caddy as a mug as it struck me there would be two problems with that. Firstly, burnt fingers, and secondly, my tea would not stay warm very long in the Caddy. I'd rather carry an extra insulated mug and bowl.

The 12-10 stove has proven fairly easy to light although it can be a little tricky getting the fuel into the priming pan at times. Once, I found that insufficient fuel in the priming pan meant the stove failed to ignite, but otherwise it has remained simple, clean and efficient. The 12-10 is quick to cool after use so I can pack the system away as soon as I've finished my tea.

Together, the Caldera Cone and 12-10 stove have proven to be quiet, efficient, user-friendly, and above all, fun. It's a real joy to use a system that is so well designed and built. I love the solid feel of the Cone too; it's so much easier to use than fiddling around with aluminium foil wind screens. Although the 12-10 and Caldera Cone may be bigger than some home-built soda-can stoves, it is so much more usable and, most importantly, so much safer due to the pot being held solidly rather than balanced precariously on a couple of tent pegs. With this system, the fire is totally enclosed and the whole thing is much harder to accidentally knock over due to the conical shape.

IMAGE 2
The perfect spot for a hammock camp!

SUMMARY

So all up, I can find very little to fault on the Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 stove. It's obvious a lot of thought (and probably many prototypes) have resulted in an efficient and safe design that makes heating water almost too easy. Although I love wood stoves too, I can have water boiling with this system in less time than it takes me to collect the wood for my Bush Cooker. While camping is not about speed for me, it will appeal to some on that point. I think, though, the single biggest gift the Caldera Cone gives is time to sit quietly and watch the world around me rather than fuss over cooking. To me, that's priceless.

IMAGE 3
Even the locals were impressed by the Caldera Cone



I'm going to continue using the Cone in a range of conditions, mostly quite chilly to see if I can find any chinks in the otherwise very fine armour.

Again, I'd like to thanks Trail Designs and BackPackGearTest.org for the opportunity to experience and test the Caldera Cone and 12-10 stove system.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

There's really been no change in the locations I've used the Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 Stove since my Field Report - I've simply revisited them. Perhaps the only change has been in temperature: The last couple of months have been a remarkably cold and wet winter. Temperatures have ranged from daytime highs in the low twenties (68-72 F) to lows of 3C (37F). There haven't been too many opportunities for a long camp due to this being a very, very wet winter.

Still, I've used the Caldera Cone and 12-10 combination around a half dozen times more. I believe I've got a pretty good understanding of this stove now and can still say I love it!

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Since my Field Report, nothing much has changed in the way I use the stove, or how it performs. I'm finding it requires a little extra fuel when both air and water temperatures are low. I've continued to average around the 20 ml (0.7 fl oz) to boil about 400 ml (13.5 fl oz) of water.

As I mentioned previously, this stove still works very well in the rain. If I can shelter it enough to fill the 12-10 and get it to light, it is completely protected once the pot is placed in the cone. This is a really handy feature and raises the Caldera system from being just another stove to a true survival stove in my opinion. There's not too many alcohol stoves that are happy working in the rain.

Wind is a different issue though. Like all stoves, the Caldera has been affected by winds but certainly less so than most stoves I've used; especially homemade stoves using homemade windscreens. There seem to be enough vents in the cone to let sufficient air in for efficient burning, but those vents are easily turned away from the wind. I find it easiest to light the stove when it's outside the Cone normally, but in windy weather it's best to put the stove inside the Cone before lighting.

I'm happy to report I still have all my fingers, despite the dire warnings on the original packaging, but I'm still cautious taking the Cone out of the Caddy and packing it away. Over time, I've found the best way to stow the Cone and stove is by rolling the Cone and inserting it bottom first into the Caddy. Next, I place the pot lifter in with the jaws to the bottom of the Caddy. My fuel bottle and measuring cup go in next and there's still room for a lighter or matches. Because I'm also concurrently testing the Gram Cracker stove, I also put this in the Caddy with a couple of Esbit tablets. Finally, I put the 12-10 stove in upside down as it fits nicely in the top of the Cone, then screw the Caddy lid on.

One of the things that initially seemed like a drawback was that the cooking pot didn't fit inside the Caddy and was an extra piece of loose gear to carry. As I've used this system more, I've come to appreciate that as a positive. Firstly, I can quickly use my pot without having to unpack everything. Secondly, the pot (and the food/water) doesn't taste like methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) which has a foul taste and affects everything it contacts. I've never stored meths in my cooking pot since my very first Trangia stove and every time I open the Caldera Caddy, I remember why.

IMAGE 1
Sunrise Northern New South Wales

SUMMARY

If you've read my previous reports, you'll know I'm hooked on this system now. Although I keep buying or making new stoves, I keep coming back to the sheer simplicity of the Caldera Cone system. This is an elegant design with no obvious flaws. It's efficient and although the system is not very versatile, in that it can only be used with one specific pot, it does everything it claims to. After all, what more do I need from a stove?

When I wrote my Initial Report I stated this was a test I'd been looking forward to in order to determine why the Trail Designs Caldera Cone has such a legendary reputation. Now I know. This is a bombproof stove system which does one thing and does it very well.

I don't need a stove which will simmer for twenty minutes, or has an adjustable flame, or any other fancy things. It just needs to boil water or heat food. That's one of the things that often gets forgotten in the quest to make the "perfect" stove. Yet here, quietly living its legend is the Caldera Cone.

CONTINUED USE

Oh yes! The Trail Designs Caldera Cone and 12-10 Stove are a permanent part of my solo camping kit now. It's become my "go-to" stove and hasn't let me down. It may sound a bit strange, but even seeing the Caddy laying around my gear room provokes a warm feeling as I remember meals I've cooked, and meals yet to come...

Sadly, this concludes my Long Term Report and my testing of the Caldera Cone and 12-10 Stove. I'd truly like to thank Trail Designs and BackpackGearTest.org for giving me a chance to get to know a legend.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Kerri Larkin

Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Trail Designs Caldera Cone System > Test Report by Kerri Larkin



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