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ULTIMATE SURVIVAL TECHNOLOGIES WETFIRE STOVE
TEST SERIES BY CHRISTOPHER NICOLAI
LONG-TERM REPORT
January 14, 2010

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Christopher Nicolai
EMAIL: thebootfitters at yahoo dot com
AGE: 35
LOCATION: Seattle, Washington & Minneapolis, Minnesota
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 172 lb (78.00 kg)

I have been backpacking for 10+ years in locales from Chile to Alaska. I have experienced temps from -30 F (-34 C) to 100 F (38 C), heavy precipitation in virtually all forms, and winds exceeding 75 mph (120 km/h) - in everything from desert to rainforest to glaciated peaks. Most of my trips are 1-4 nights climbing/backpacking less than 15 miles/day (24 km/day) in the Pacific Northwest mountains or canoeing in Northern Minnesota. I prefer to pack a tarp and minimal gear -- less than 20 lb (9 kg) -- for backpacking, but may carry twice that on alpine climbs or winter trips to accommodate suitable gear and shelter.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

IMAGE 1
What you need to boil water...


Manufacturer: Ultimate Survival Technologies
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: www.ultimatesurvival.com
MSRP: N/A
Listed Weight: 0.46 oz (13.04 g)
Measured Weight: 0.39 oz (11 g)

Collapsed Dimensions (from product webpage):
Length: 3 1/8" (7.9 cm)
Width: 1 1/4" (3.2 cm)
Height: 1 3/4" (4.4 cm)

Measured Dimensions:
Length: 2 7/8" (7.3 cm)
Width: 1 1/8" (2.9 cm)
Height: 2" (5.1 cm)

WetFire Cubes listed weight (from product webpage):
Per cube: 0.2 oz (5.67 g)

WetFire Cubes measured weight:
One cube: 0.14 oz (4 g)
Average of ten cubes: 0.17 oz (4.9 oz)

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

This thing is light. No, really... it is super light! I'm tellin' ya... it's one of the lightest stoves I've ever seen! It looks simple in design, but sturdy. And I'm excited to have the opportunity to try it out!

Though the stove is marketed as "all-purpose" on the Ultimate Survival Technologies (UST) website, my initial impression is that a user would be hard-pressed to try to prepare more than a single-serving meal using this stove. However, it strikes me as an ideal solution for an ultralight stove to bring along on summit attempts, day hikes, or other situations where an emergency may arise. I plan to test the limits of what the stove can be used for and include the results in subsequent reports.

The WetFire Stove came packaged in a small zipped plastic bag that the instructions suggest can be used for storage of the stove. The stove came packaged with one piece of WetFire tinder, UST's proprietary universal lighting material that is "safe, odorless, easy-to-carry, and unaffected by wind or water." UST was also generous enough to supply two extra boxes of the WetFire tinder, each with eight cubes.

The stove itself is made of a thin titanium. It has a small rectangular platform with lipped sides, just large enough to hold a piece of WetFire tinder. Three thin legs are attached to the bottom of the platform via a small rivet that allows the legs to rotate and open such that the legs form a tripod that can support a pot.

The instructions are simple and easy to understand. Essentially, they suggest to find a suitable level place clear of debris; place a cube of WetFire tinder in the middle; light the cube; and place the pot on top. I've tried this a couple times already, and (not surprisingly) it really is that simple.

IMAGE 2
The instructions


TRYING IT OUT

I was so excited to get the stove that I had to try it out immediately! So I conducted the first controlled trial with the stove. Using cooking thermometer and a stopwatch as my recording instruments, I placed a measured 8 fl. oz. (0.2366 L) of tap water measured at a temperature of 40 F (4.4 C) into a 1 L titanium pot with a lid. I then lit the stove with one cube of WetFire tinder and placed the pot on top. The figures below represent the measured water temperature after each time elapsed.

Time Temp
-------------- --------------------------
0 min 40 F (4.4 C)
2 min 105 F (40.6 C)
4 min 150 F (65.6 C)
6 min 172 F ( 77.8 C)
7:45 168 F (75.6 C) --> Flame extinguished by burning out.

I tried the stove on another occasion on a day hike at the top of a local peak, but without attempting to heat any water. I found a relatively sheltered location where the wind speed was under 2 mph (3.2 km/h), and I lit a cube of tinder. Presumably owing some to the slight breeze, the cube extinguished itself within 6 minutes and 30 seconds.

OBSERVATIONS:
First of all, the stove appeared to be more stable than I would have anticipated for such thin legs. It easily held the 1 L pot.

I was a little disappointed that the water did not boil, but perhaps my starting temperature was too cold. Unfortunately, the flame started to die down approximately 7 minutes into the experiment, which is evident from the temperature data between 6 minutes and the point it extinguished.

I discovered a major unexpected inconvenience (for me) in that the residue from the WetFire tinder cube turned the outside of my pot very black and covered in soot. While a black pot may be more efficient at conducting heat, it is messy to put back into a backpack with other items. (Not to mention it is messy to simply clean up.) I plan to find an older small metal cup or pot that I can use with this stove so I don't have to be concerned with getting my good pots dirty.

IMAGE 3
Stove in action



I thank Ultimate Survival Technologies and BGT for the opportunity to test this stove! Please check back in a couple months to read about actual field usage in my field report.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have used the stove on three more actual outings since the initial report: two day hikes in the Cascade Mountains of Central Washington and one day hike in Northern Minnesota. I have also conducted three more controlled trials since the initial report. The coldest temperature in which I've tested the stove was just barely above freezing. The warmest temperature was 50 F (10 C). The highest elevation was ~4000 ft (1220 M); the lowest was 900 ft (275 M). I recorded windspeeds as high as 8 mph (13 km/h) in the vicinity of the testing locations, but the flame itself was never subjected to more than a very light breeze. I used a wind screen if the air was noticeably moving. There was some snow on the ground for the test in Northern Minnesota, but it was not actively precipitating during any of the tests.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The short story is that I have been quite underwhelmed by the performance of the stove. I will temper that a bit by clarifying that the stove unit itself is still impressive by how small, light, and packable it is. However, the WetFire tinder cubes have left a lot to be desired as a fuel for this stove, in my opinion. Except in a contrived situation, they have not been able to produce enough heat to boil even 8 oz (0.24 L) of water. And they leave an undesirable sticky black residue on the bottom and sides of the pot. I will temper that a bit also by clarifying that the WetFire tinder cubes are amazing at starting fires, but that's not the context of this test.

The longest a single cube has remained lit was in my original trial shown in the initial report at 7 minutes and 45 seconds. The shortest time a cube stayed lit during my trials was under 3 minutes and 30 seconds. During all four field trials and three controlled trials with a single cube, the cube stayed lit an average of just over 6 minutes. During all these trials, the water never reached the boiling point. In fact, the highest water temperature recorded during the controlled trials with a single cube was 172 F (77.8 C).

During one field test on top of a small local peak near Seattle, Washington, I attempted to make some tea with the heated water, even though it did not reach the boiling point. I shouldn't have tried... very little tea flavor was imparted into the water and it was only lukewarm after I had steeped the teabag for a minute or two.

IMAGE 4
In use in Washington


The only instance I was able to get the water to boil thus far is when the water started at a temperature of 90 F (32 C), and I used two cubes in the tray of the stove at the same time. During this trial, the water reached a recorded temperature of 210 F (99 C) and was actively boiling by 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

The statistics below show the results of the three trials conducted in the yard, with an outside ambient air temperature of 49 F (9.4 C) and no breeze at all. I started each trial with 8 oz (0.24 L) of water. I covered the pot with several layers of tin foil to retain the heat, and I measured the water temperature with a kitchen thermometer stuck into the water through the tin foil.

TRIAL 1 -- Used one cube of WetFire tinder, fully intact.
0 Min - 60 F (15.6 C)
1 Min - 70 F (21.1 C)
2 Min - 101 F (38.3 C)
3 Min - 120 F (48.9 C)
4 Min - 128 F (53.3 C)
5 Min - 130 F (54.4 C)
5:33 - Flame extinguished

Notes: Having tried one cube intact on the trial described in the initial report, my first trial here, and all three field tests without any success, I decided to try breaking the cube up into smaller pieces for the second trial.

TRIAL 2 -- Used one cube of WetFire tinder, broken into four smaller pieces
0 Min - 60 F (15.6 C)
1 Min - 82 F (27.8 C)
2 Min - 108 F (42.2 C)
3 Min - 125 F (51.7 C)
3:26 - Flame extinguished

Notes: It appeared that breaking the cube up into smaller pieces heated the water more quickly than an intact cube, so I decided that I would try breaking up two cubes into smaller pieces and fitting them all into the tray of the stove. Just to be certain I would also be able to bring the water to the boiling point, the starting temperature of the water was 90 F (32.2 C).

TRIAL 3 -- Used two cubes of WetFire tinder, broken into smaller pieces
0 Min - 90 F (32.2 C)
1 Min - 129 F (53.9 C)
2 Min - 167 F (75.0 C)
3 Min - 198 F (92.2 C)
3:30 - 210 F (98.9 C) -- Reached a full, rolling boil!
4 Min - 210 F (98.9 C)
5 Min - 210 F (98.9 C)
6 Min - 210 F (98.9 C)
7 Min - 199 F (92.8 C)
7:31 - Flame extinguished

Notes: I was happy to see that it IS possible to get water boiling with this stove, even if it means using two cubes of WetFire tinder. Future field tests and controlled trials will be conducted to determine whether it is possible to use two cubes to bring water to a boil from a lower starting point.


SUMMARY & FUTURE TEST PLANS

I have used this stove in the field a total of four times without an success in boiling water. In a total of four controlled experiments, the only time I was able to get water to boil was by using two cubes of the supplied fuel. I was hoping to be able to use the stove to actually cook -- or at least boil water for tea -- but given that it has had only limited success in even boiling water, I have not found it suitable for attempting any cooking in the field.

The black residue that the WetFire tinder cubes leave on the pots when burning is very messy. I have resorted to storing the pot that I'm using for this test inside a sealed plastic bag to avoid contaminating my other gear with the residue. This is definitely not convenient.

IMAGE 5
In use in Minnesota


Now that I have discovered that using two cubes of fuel can actually get the water to boil, I plan to try this in the field on an actual outing. During the final stage of testing, I also plan to explore some alternative fuel sources that may be used in conjunction with this stove.


This concludes my field report.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I have used the stove with the WetFire tinder cubes on two day hikes in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington. The temperature on both outings was approximately 45 F (7 C), and there was very little wind. The elevation at which the stove was used was approximately 4,000 ft (1220 M).

I have also conducted three more controlled trials since the field report. These trials all took place outside my home in a sheltered area near sea level. There was a light breeze blowing. I used a windscreen in all trials, but I still saw the flame flickering from the breeze. The ambient air temperature was 49 F (9 C).

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The stove with the WetFire tinder cubes performed similarly to the uses described in the field report. The flame died after about six minutes, and the water in the pot never reached the boiling point.

Toward the end of the testing period, I purchased a pack of 12 Esbit fuel tabs. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to try these out in the field. (My baby daughter decided to arrive eight days before the due date and thwarted a couple intended outings, but I forgive her!) However, I did try these out under controlled conditions.

Interestingly, an Esbit fuel tab fit perfectly in the stove tray... almost as if it were designed specifically to hold this type of fuel.

The statistics below show the results of the three Esbit fuel trials conducted outside my home, with an outside ambient air temperature of 49 F (9.4 C) and a light breeze. I started the first two trials with 8 oz (0.24 L) of water that was 60 F (15.6 C). I started the third trial with 24 oz (0.72 L) of water at the same temperature in a 3 L pot to test the stability of the stove with a larger pot. I covered the pots with several layers of tin foil to retain the heat, and I measured the water temperature with a kitchen thermometer stuck into the water through the tin foil.


TRIAL 1 -- Used the blackened 1 L pot from other trials.
0 Min - 60 F (15.6 C)
1 Min - 76 F (24.4 C)
2 Min - 108 F (42.2 C)
3 Min - 135 F (57.2 C)
4 Min - 157 F (69.4 C)
5 Min - 182 F (83.3 C)
6 Min - 198 F (92.2 C)
6:40 - Boiling
13:47 - Flame extinguished

Notes: The Esbit fuel left very little residue on the pot. In fact, it appeared to have burned away some of the blackened soot left from the WetFire tinder cubes.


TRIAL 2 -- Used a slightly smaller (0.7 L) titanium pot
0 Min - 60 F (15.6 C)
1 Min - 92 F (33.3 C)
2 Min - 138 F (58.9 C)
3 Min - 162 F (72.2 C)
4 Min - 189 F (87.2 C)
4:30 - Boiling
13:40 - Flame extinguished

Notes: Based on this one observation, it appears that the smaller titanium pot may work more efficiently with this stove and fuel. Of course, one observation isn't enough to draw any definite conclusions. The Esbit fuel did leave a little black residue on the bottom of the pot, but it was very little in comparison to the WetFire Tinder cubes.


TRIAL 3 -- Used a 3 L stainless steel pot with three times the volume of water compared to other trials
0 Min - 60 F (15.6 C)
1 Min - 74 F (23.3 C)
2 Min - 91 F (32.8 C)
3 Min - 107 F (41.7 C)
4 Min - 125 F (51.7 C)
5 Min - 139 F (59.4 C)
6 Min - 149 F (65.0 C)
7 Min - 163 F (72.8 C)
8 Min - 174 F (78.9 C)
9 Min - 184 F (84.4 C)
10 Min - 191 F (88.3 C)
11 Min - 198 F (92.2 C)
12 Min - 203 F (95.0 C)
13 Min - 206 F (96.7 C)
14 Min - 203 F (95.0 C)
15 Min - 199 F (92.8 C)
15:04 - Flame extinguished

Notes: The large 3 L pot was surprisingly stable on the tiny lightweight stove, even when not perfectly centered on the stove arms. While the water never officially reached the full boiling temperature, it was effectively boiling by around 12 minutes. Again, a small amount of black residue was left on the pot.

SUMMARY

As mentioned in the field report, my experience with the WetFire tinder cubes as a fuel for this stove was rather disappointing -- both due to the lackluster heat output as well as the excessive amount of soot material left after burning. In the future, I will stick to using the WetFire tinder cubes in situations where they excel: as a fire starter.

That said, the stove itself is such a simple, lightweight piece of gear, I can't think of any improvements I would request. Even after several uses, the tiny stove showed no indications that it might fall apart. It held everything from a very small pot to a rather large pot quite securely. Fortunately, the tray on the stove can be used with more than one fuel source, and Esbit tabs fit very nicely in the tray.

CONTINUED USE

After having tried the Esbit fuel tabs with this stove in a controlled setting, I am excited to try this combination out in the field. It appears to be a winning combination of very lightweight stove and nearly foolproof fuel. Assuming I have good luck with this in the field, I intend to pack this stove with a few Esbit fuel tabs in my emergency kit that I take with me on all outings. For such a small size and light weight, it offers a great peace of mind for those rare situations that you are caught in an emergency situation.

I don't intend to use it as a primary stove on backpacking trips, as I feel it is not nearly as efficient as other options available. But for emergency use, it is a clear winner, in my opinion!

Many thanks to Ultimate Survival Technologies and BackpackGearTest for allowing me to test this item!

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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