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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove
Test Report Series by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: February 25, 2008
Field Report: May 6, 2008
Long Term Report: July 6, 2008
Vargo Decagon alcohol stove
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, and most other outdoor activities but backpacking is my favorite pastime. I enjoy hiking with friends and family or solo. I hike throughout the year and actually hike less in the hot humid months of summer. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. However, I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food or water.
The Decagon is an alcohol stove, so obviously it is not complicated and has no moving parts. It is made of titanium so it is light but still fairly tough, much more so than my homemade soda can stoves. The base (stability plate) of the stove measures 4 1/4 inches (12 cm) across and is slightly bigger than the stove's main body. It has several cutouts all around the circumference to further reduce weight. The main body of the stove measures 2 1/4 inches (6 cm) across and is approximately 1 1/4 inches (3 cm) tall. It fits very nicely, all be it snuggly, down inside my MSR Ti Kettle (see photo on left). In fact, it seems as if it were custom made for this pot. The stove features 24 jets which are located on the side but very near the top of the stove. The stove is not pressurized at all like some alcohol stoves as the fill hole is never sealed when in use. The fill hole is located in the center of the stove but quite a ways down inside a larger recessed portion of the stove (see top photo). It is small but the big depression it is down in should make filling a breeze if the small hole does not impede filling. Since the stove is not painted, the weld that connects the top of the stove to the base is faintly visible but not unsightly. And finally, the stove has three pot supports built (pressed or molded) into the main body. They protrude up about 1/4 inches (0.64 cm) above the top of the stove's main body.
The Vargo website is down as of this writing (but now back up as of actually posting) but the card on which the stove was attached had this to say about the Decagon. "The titanium Decagon stove was designed to withstand the abuse of being used everyday while hiking for many months without fear of breaking. The large center hole makes filling the stove a snap. The bottom "stability plate" keeps the stove from tipping and prevents your pot from spilling." It also lists these features.
* easy to fill and empty
* 15 minute burn time
* boils 2 cups of water in 5-6 minute
* stability plate prevents tipping
* requires virtually no maintenance
* strong and durable design
* simple to use with reliable performance
If the looks of the stove are any indication of performance, then this will be a great little stove. About the only thing I could even remotely consider a flaw is the fact that the base is not perfectly flat. I noticed this when I set it down on the kitchen table. However, since the ground in the woods is seldom perfectly flat I don't see this as a problem. I suspect my stove base was bent slightly by some strong lad in packaging...This photo shows the slight bend in the stability plate.
The card gives very clear instructions. In summary it calls for filling with denatured alcohol via the center hole, igniting, let burn until flames start coming out the jets (approximately 1 to 2 minutes) and putting pot on stove. If the stove needs extinguished before it runs out of fuel the flame can be blown out. Then wait for stove to cool before transferring the remaining fuel back into the fuel container. Also air dry before putting the stove away.
The card gives several warning that bare repeating here. First, of course the stove is designed for denatured alcohol so do not use any other type fuel. It could blow up! If alcohol must be added, let the stove cool first. Also, never overfill. Interestingly, the capacity is not listed and I don't see any marks on the stove on the inside part of the fill hole to indicate full, so I will proceed cautiously and start with about 1 oz (30 ml) and see how that works. Hopefully, I won't need over an ounce and will see if I can use even less for most meals.
I plan to use the Decagon for all my cooking during the upcoming backpacking season. I will also use it on dayhikes in cooler weather when I feel like a warm cup of cocoa.
In testing I will be mostly cooking the type meals that just require boiling water as this makes the most sense when using this type stove. My testing will verify the manufactures claim of 15 minutes burn time. Unless the stove puts out very low BTUs I don't expect to need a 15 minute burn time very often though it would be handy when cooking rice. I am very curious if the stove allows shorter burn times by using less fuel. It appears that in order to prime the stove a certain amount of fuel must be in the stove in order to raise the fuel level above the fill hole in the center. I will certainly note whether I can use just enough alcohol to boil 2 cups (0.47 L) of water (usually 5 to 6 minutes worth of fuel in most alcohol stoves). In doing the above I will report on the time and amount of fuel it takes to boil 2 cups (0.47 L) of water and how much fuel it takes to run the stove 15 minutes.
Of course, most any stove will boil water, but many light weight stoves sacrifice pot stability when reducing weight. I am not overly concerned in a super stable support, but I want my stove to be fairly stable when my supper is sitting on it and it's cold and or windy and I'm tired and just want to eat supper and get in my sleeping bag.
The stove is advertises as fairly durable so I will report on any durability issues. Of course, this means that I will treat the stove a little less delicately than I do my "Pepsi can" alcohol stoves but I won't just try to be rough with it. Being made of titanium I seriously doubt there will be any rusting but I will note any type of wear that may show.
I will report on how user friendly the stove is. Is it fussy to fill or hard to prime? How does it fit inside my cook set? I have already answered this question and am pleased that it fits in my MSR Ti Kettle almost perfectly.
Anticipated Testing Locations and Conditions
I will be making several short overnight hikes and a few longer hikes over the next 4 months. I will be testing in the Southeastern US with trips into the local mountains of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. However, most testing would be done in Northeast Alabama. Elevations will generally be less than 4000 ft (1219 m).
Winters in the southeastern US are generally mild, with some short stints of very cold weather. I generally see some rain while backpacking, often in the form of sleet and ice in the winter. Spring is just around the corner and should bring warmer weather.
This concludes my Initial Report. Please check back in approximately 2 months for my Field Report to see how the Decagon is doing. I would also like to thank BackpackGearTest and Vargo for letting me test this stove.
Field Report: May 6, 2008
Testing Locations and Conditions.
I have used the Decagon on three overnight hikes. All trips were local (can you say high gas prices) and elevations ranged from about 700 to 1200 ft (200 to 360 m) Actually, one trip to North Carolina was canceled due to icy trail conditions (can you say wimp). The trips were on trails down and around a scenic creek where I like to camp when long trips are impractical. The 3 hikes were about 6 miles (10 km) round trip each.
On the first overnighter the low was 34 (1 C) but the hike in was quite warm at 55 F (13 C). The low on the second trip was only 57 F (14 c) and the high was 64 F (18 C), again hiking in. The last hike was very nice with a high of 73 F (23 C) hiking in and a crisp 51 F (11 C) early the next morning. All three trips were dry.
Field Test Results
First of all, I used the decagon to cook and or heat simple meals and heat water for cocoa. I used an MSR Ti-Kettle for all cooking. I used a 10 CC (0.34 fl oz) syringe to measure out fuel. I estimated 3 syringes full as 1 oz (30 ml). The first time I used the stove I begain by heating one cup (0.24 L) of cocoa for my supper. I was unsure how much fuel it would take to boil the water so I put in 2 syringes worth which is about 2/3 of an ounce (20 ml), reasoning that this should be plenty if an ounce will boil 2 cups (0.47 L). I lit the stove and waited just over a minute for the outer ring (jets) to catch and then set my water on to boil. However, the water never really boiled even though the water was plenty hot to make cocoa. I did see tell-tale bubbles building on the bottom and up the sides of my pan at around the 9 minute mark and a few actual bubbles at 10 minutes. It then began to die down and the stove went out right at 12 minutes and 20 seconds. Right before it went out it sputtered a little and made a little pop-pop sound. Anyways, I poured this water into my Styrofoam cup, added my cocoa and sipped it as I went about fixing supper.
Before starting I had to wait for the stove to cool enough to pick up. Fortunately, this was only a few minutes but I noticed just a little alcohol was left inside. I decided to see how pouring this back up would work. And how did that go? I managed to hit the small opening on my fuel bottle (an 8 oz (0.24 L) peroxide bottle) with most of what came out of the jets but some went down the sides of my fuel bottle. There wasn't a lot left to begin with but I didn't want to put the stove back inside the MSR Ti Kettle with even a trace of alcohol left so I decided to hold the stove on edge and held my lighter up to the damp area where I had just poured up the last bit of alcohol. I was surprised that it flamed up a tiny bit but after this the stove was completely dry of any fuel.
I carried a 15 oz (0.44L) can of beef stew for this trip because it was cold weather and I wanted something a little more substantial than Ramen noodles. After the fuel pour up experiment I decided to use a full ounce (30 ml) of fuel. Not only did the beef stew come to what looked like a good boil, I thought the stove would never go out. It took nearly 15 minutes before it got real hot but it was bubbling enough that I got splattered when stirring it. At around 20 minutes the stove flame weakened considerably but still burned another 2 minutes before finally dying. In those last 2 minutes I left the lid off and I could actually see the heat diminishing as it went from a fairly vigorous boil to a slow burp-plop type boil. I had to wait a good 5 minutes for my beef stew to cool enough to eat and it was still hot enough that I had to eat it gingerly. I heated another cup of water with about half and ounce (15 ml) of fuel. I got up early the next morning and skipped breakfast altogether.
The next overnighter was a lot warmer and I boiled water for Ramen noodles for supper but skipped the hot cocoa. I used an ounce (30 ml) of fuel for 2 cups (0.47 L) of water, and while it looked like it did get a little hotter than the first try, I would not say it was a vigorous boil. I added my noodles as soon as I saw the same bubbles appearing on the bottom. It took a few minutes for it to start back bubbling and I decided it was done at 15 minutes so I tried to put the stove out...which proved to be easier said than done. Blowing on it did do the trick but I had to puff 3 times to get it completely out. I thought I might need to use my extra pan I had sitting handy by covering the stove with it. I poured the left over back in the fuel bottle but there wasn't much. I expected to see more since I had seen a 22 minute burn earlier on the same amount of fuel I just burned only 15 minutes. But what I really should have done was put the stove out and waited a few minutes for it to cool, added a little more fuel and relight it for heating my cleanup water.
I had cocoa and oatmeal for breakfast. I decided to try and guess how much fuel to pour in instead of using the syringe. I got a little too fast and ended up running the cone depression over before the fuel could work its way into the chamber. I went ahead and lit the stove and the fuel around it (wet area on the stove and rock I was using for stove platform). This must have accelerated the priming time because it got going in only about 30 seconds. Luckly, I had my 1.5 cup (0.35 L) of water ready to go on the stove. I let this get hot, poured off a cup (0.24 L) for my cocoa and left the remaining in the pan for my oatmeal. After a few minutes I decided this was done so I put the stove out. I just left what ever alcohol that was still in the stove and after finishing my breakfast I used a half ounce (15 ml) more (a guess) of fuel to heat a little water for cleanup. This went out in 7 minutes but was plenty hot to clean my pan.
On my last overnighter I had scalloped potatoes but skipped the milk and butter the recipe called for. I used 2 cups (0.47 L) of water and let it heat about 5 minutes. It was not boiling but I added most of the bag of potatoes. I just let this cook until the stove went out but did stir it occasionally. It took a full 24 minutes for the stove to die. I might add, it was not quite dark when I started the stove. The photo at the begining of the Field Report shows the stove right after I lit it. The photos below show how the stove looked near the end (note how dark it had become) and what my scalloped potatoes looked like.
Flame becomes very mild after about 20 minutes
And this is what the boil looks like
I then added my seasoning to my pan and waited for it to cool. I went over and played with the some of the adjustments on a tent I had just set up for the first time. I was a little surprised that the water I saw on top was gone when I went back to eat. I guess the milk and butter is an important ingredient as the potatoes were a little bland. Fortunately I had a Little Debbie brownie with me so I just ate about half of the potatoes and a brownie. I heated a little more water for cleanup. I had oatmeal and cocoa for breakfast and the results were pretty much like the last time.
In between the last 2 overnighters I also heated some red beans and rice at home on my deck. Again the stove burned well over 20 minutes. It took right at 15 minutes to get a good boil going but I would say it was a genuine boil. I took a short video of this and put it on the internet. If interested, this can be viewed by going to Vimeo.com and searching using the word "decagon". So far, my video is the only one that shows up using that search term. And how did the red beans and rice taste? I took a bite right as the stove went out and I was pleased to find this was the most done I have ever tasted them using an ounce (30 ml) of fuel. And after letting them sit another 10 minutes they tasted done! On previous attempts with several different homemade alcohol stoves I will just say they were a bit tough.
Summary Thus Far
This is not a fast stove. In fact, I would characterize it as very slow. However, I have no complaints as I am usually not in that big of a hurry when camping out. The Vargo Decagon did a good job heating water and actually seemed to heat thicker things better. I am not sure if it actually got the beef stew any hotter than plain water but I seemed like it did. I feel that the red beans and rice got even hotter. I have no idea why though? And even though the stove is slow to heat, slow can be a good thing. I found that I didn't have any trouble with oatmeal sticking like I have with hotter burning stoves.
If I had to find anything to complain about it would be the fact that my burn time and boil time have not matched the manufactures claims. The boil time for 2 cups (0.47 L) was at least 9 or 10 minutes when it is supposed to be 5 to 6 minutes. On the plus side, the total burn time was anywhere from 22 to 24 minutes when it is only supposed to burn 15 minutes. I think that the stove just runs a little cooler which not only decreases boil time; it allows the stove to burn much longer than advertised. That said, all in all I am very satisfied with the performance of the Vargo Decagon stove.
This concludes my Field Report. Please check back in approximately 2 months for my Long Term Report to see how the stove is doing. I would also like to thank BackpackGearTest and Vargo for letting me test this stove.
Long Term Report: July 6, 2008
Testing Location and Conditions.
I have used the Decagon on two more overnight hikes for a total of five during the entire testing period. The last two trips were on trails down and around a scenic creek where I like to camp when long trips are impractical. Both hikes were about 6 miles (10 km) round trip each. Elevations ranged from about 700 to 1200 ft (200 to 360 m)
The first overnighter was on June 6th and the low was 77 F (25 C) but it was 81 F (27 C) when I cooked supper. Surprisingly, the next overnighter on July 4th was slightly cooler. I rained some so that helped cool things off. The low was 75 F (24 C).
Long Term Test Results
The stove's performance has remained consistent with previous experiences so I'm not going to re-plow that ground but I did notice I never mentioned the stability of the stove in my Field Report. In that regard the stove itself is real stable. There is little danger of knocking the Decagon over. But pot stability is another matter. I found my MSR Ti Kettle was fairly precarious on the stove and I had to be careful when stirring things or when simply putting it on the stove. To be fair, I found this to be the case with several similar stoves except for one on which the pot actually locks onto the burner. Maybe I am slightly spoiled with that stove... I also tried the stove with a fry pan. That was a true test of my dexterity. I could have used at least one more hand...
On the June 6th overnighter I cooked bacon and eggs for supper using my JetBoil fry pan. It was quite a struggle to keep this pan balanced on the stove but the low cooking temperature of the Decagon was a plus. I had less sticking issues than usual with the lower cooking temperatures. I used only 2/3 oz (20 ml) of alcohol measured from a syringe and the flame was still going strong when I finished all cooking. After the usual 2 minute stove priming I poured in a little oil and let that warm about a minute before placing the precooked bacon in the pan. I had to put the pan off center quite a bit to keep it on the stove but the weight of the bacon actually helped balance the pan a little better. I will place it in the pan first next time. It took about 3 minutes to sizzle the bacon and the eggs fried in about the same time so I had my supper finished in 9 minutes from lighting the stove. It continued to burn strong another 2 minutes and then weakly for another minute. The bacon stuck a little and my eggs stuck even more but I managed to turn them without busting the yolks which was an improvement from the last time I cooked eggs with another stove. When the eggs were finished, I added a little water to the pan and let it heat the remaining 3 minutes while the stove burned the remaining fuel. The water got hot but not boiling hot so I was surprised at how easily the stuck part of the egg just scraped out with my plastic spatula.
I had my standard boring cocoa and oatmeal for breakfast the next morning but I like it so I guess that's what matters. On the July 4th overnighter I did not cook supper but did use the stove for hot cocoa and oatmeal for breakfast.
This is a good little stove. It is certainly light enough for even the most gram conscious weenies. It is very fuel efficient which also helps in saving weight. The low heat output actually makes scorching food less likely but I did have some slight sticking issues when preparing bacon and eggs. The downside to this is it boils water and heats food slower than I am used to. I did not find this to be a problem but if fast cooking is important then I would advise looking at other stove options. Personally, I liked the stove and plan to continue using it.
This concludes my testing of the Vargo Decagon Stove. My thanks to both Vargo and BackpackGearTest for the pleasure of participating in this test.
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