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Reviews > Cook and Food Storage Gear > Stoves > Trail Designs Caldera Ti-Tri System > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Trail Designs Caldera Ti-Tri System
By Raymond Estrella

January 06, 2011


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 50
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 215 lb (97.50 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, plus many western states and Minnesota. 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 near to it 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 meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.

The Product

Caldera Ti-Tri with stove
Manufacturer: Trail Designs LLC
Web site:
Product: Caldera Ti-Tri System (for MSR Titan Kettle)
Year manufactured: 2009
MSRP: US $79.95
Weight listed: N/A
Stove weight: 0.5 oz (14 g)
Caldera Cone weight: 1.4 oz (40 g)
GramCracker solid fuel kit weight: 0.2 oz (7 g)
Caldera Caddy weight: 2.5 oz (71 g)

Product Description

The Caldera Ti-Tri (hereafter referred to as the Ti-Tri) is the titanium version of Trail Designs' signature product, the Caldera Cone System. The differences are in the name. Let me explain.

The "Ti" refers to the titanium from which this model is made instead of the aluminum of the regular model. Making the system from a material that is impervious to heat allows the use of a third heat source, hence the "Tri". Whereas the original could use an alcohol or Esbit stove the Ti-Tri can be set up to use wood fuel to provide the heat.

All the goodies

Shown above are the parts and accessories sent with the system. The main item is the Ti-Tri titanium cone custom sized to fit my MSR Titan Kettle (see review). Also shown is the titanium GramCracker solid fuel kit, the 12-10 alcohol stove with integrated primer pan, fuel bottle kit with measuring cup, two titanium stakes for wood-burning mode, and the Caldera Caddy to hold and protect everything.

It needs to be noted that the Caldera Ti-Tri is not made to fit every backpacking pot produced. There is a list on the website of pots and mugs that it works for.

The cone is assembled by sliding together the mating dovetail joints. This gives me a cone that sits with the wide end down as seen in the photo at the top of the review. (The alcohol stove can be seen sitting where it goes too.) The narrow end has been sized to just allow me to slide my Titan Kettle through it. The pot is actually held by the rim of the pot sitting on the edge of the cone. The handle of my Kettle protrudes through the wide opening in the upper part of the cone. Here is a shot of the Ti-Tri with my Titan Kettle in place.

Alcohol/Esbit mode

By supporting the pot the Ti-Tri eliminates the need for a pot stand. It 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. It should be noted that the Esbit-burning GramCracker is used in this same mode.

Another benefit of the cone shape is that it lets the sides of the pot conduct and transfer the heat that is normally wasted as there is some space between the pot walls and the cone.

To use in wood-burning mode the two provided titanium shepherds-hook stakes are inserted through the round holes seen near the top of the cone. The stakes form a support for the pot to sit on keeping it high. This allows a wood fire to be started inside; the pot is set on top once the fire going well. Now the opening that the handles protruded through in the previous mode can be used to feed additional pieces of wood as needed to complete the cooking/boil. Here is a shot of the Ti-Tri in wood-burning mode.

Wood mode

The company sells an additional Inferno Insert that makes wood burning more efficient, but as I did not plan to burn wood I did not buy it.

Stored in the CaddyThe stove is a 12-10 Pepsi can-style alcohol stove. (Actually mine is a Diet Dr Pepper stove ;-) The cone has been made not only at a diameter to support my Titan Kettle but at a height to make the stove sit at the optimum distance from the bottom of my pot for its most efficient burn. Each Caldera Cone is fine tuned in this manner.

The Caldera Caddy is a plastic screw-top container that is used to hold everything and keep the cone from being bent while sitting in my pack. The Ti-Tri rolls up and is inserted into the caddy. Once let go it expands to fit around the inside, and the stove and other pieces can then be added. Trail Designs suggests that the caddy may also be used to eat and drink from to save weight and space by eliminating dedicated items. As may be seen the caddy (with parts inside) is about the size of a Nalgene bottle.

Field Conditions

My first backpacking use with the Caldera Ti-Tri was at a primitive campground called Indian Flats that is off the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) north of Warner Springs. It rained almost the entire time I was there (having started the day with snow). It was about 38 F (3 C) and raining when I used the stove.

Next was a 50 mile (80 km) backpacking trip that started in San Bernardino National Forest, skirted two Indian Reservations and ended northern San Diego County. This up-and-down hike saw lingering snow in the trails on rocky terrain up high and sandy desert terrain lower. The temperatures ranged from 25 F to 42 F (-4 to 6 C) and it was very windy.

I used it two evenings on a 40 mile (64 km) PCT hike from Campo to Mt Laguna. It was very cold and very wet. 37 F (3 C) the first night, 39 F (4 C) the next.

Next I went up to Mt San Jacinto State Park in a big snowstorm. I stayed at 9000 ft (2743 m) in Tamarack Valley. Temps ranged from 22 F (-6 C) when I started and got down to 15 F (-9) in my tent. It snowed all day and most the night.

Dave and I both used it on another 35 mile (56 km) PCT hike that saw us camp at Dove Spring.

I used it on a 14 mile (23 km) in and out hike to Fisherman's Camp in Cleveland National Forest. It hit a low of 41 F (5 C).

Lastly I used it Sawmill Camp, another primitive campground off the PCT in the Angeles National Forest at 5200 ft (1585 m) elevation. It was cool and windy. Here is a shot as I am adding fuel before firing the Ti-Tri up for dinner.

And some alcohol for the stove


I suppose I should tell you Dear Reader that although I have been backpacking for over three decades and have used many types of stoves for cooking I have never wanted to use an alcohol stove. I have watched people fight with their stoves, trying to keep them lit and scrambling to build makeshift (or better) wind blocks. Watching them run out of fuel after spending 10 minutes to try to get ˝ L of water to boil. Making dozens of stoves but not being happy with the final result. Many of them have used my canister stove instead.

Last year as part of my ever-lightening pack-load project I had been following some discussions about alcohol stoves and was surprised by the amount of rave reviews for the Caldera Cone system from Trail Designs. What was astounding to me was that I did not read of anybody who was unhappy with one. A trip to their web site made me realize that here is a chance to try alcohol without the endless nights playing with cat food and pop cans, making wire pot stands, and making roof flashing wind screens, all of which I was wary of in the first place. I was quite willing to let somebody else do the work for something that works. (I hoped.) So I bit the bullet and had one made to fit my Titan Kettle as it was the pot I brought on all my light weight low volume trips already (paired with my tiny Crux stove).

The first time I put it together in my office I was blown away by what a nicely designed piece of flat titanium this is. I used it in the office and got a boil of ˝ L in 6 minutes. Great. Off to the backcountry.

My first trip with it was a crazy snowy day that saw me unable to get to my trailhead due to road conditions. I headed south for two other spots ending up in northern San Diego County where it was just raining and cold. As I was in a tiny tent there was no way I was going to try using the Ti-Tri in its vestibule so I had to use it on a picnic table in the windy rainy night. It fired right up and I set my water on for freeze dried dinner and retreated to the tent. I kept worrying that it would go out and checked it every 90 seconds or so, but it was flaming away. AT 7 minutes I went over to find it bubbling away, ready to go.

The next week saw me up where I had been trying to go on the prior trip. There it was very windy. That time I just set the stove on the down-wind side of the same tent and the Ti-Tri worked great. Getting it started was a bit tricky though. Here is a shot from that trip. The Ti-Tri is in the caddy next to my yellow food sack.

Waiting for dinner in the desert

All of my trips with the Ti-Tri have seen it boil our water (1/2 L or so each boil) right around the 6-7 minute mark. It has never taken more than 0.75 oz (22.2 ml) of fuel to do so. Because I still fear running out I usually start with 1 oz (29.6 ml) of fuel but always have extra which I suck back out of the stove with a little syringe. In cold weather I will sometimes just dump another cup of water in and let it keep burning to heat water for cider or coffee. The leftover fuel will not bring this amount to a full boil but will heat it enough for drinking right away.

I loved the Ti-Tri and took it on all of my solo trips after that. (And a couple that I shared it with Dave too.) I even decided to try it on a winter hike at Mt San Jacinto State Park. I was only going up for a quick overnighter to test a tent in the storm that was supposed to hit that afternoon or evening. The creek at Tamarack usually runs all year (sometimes it is a bit challenging to find a place to get to it) and so I did not have to melt snow. I just needed to boil water for dinner and hot drinks. What I did not plan on was the storm hitting almost as soon as I started hiking. I had to set up in the snow and it never stopped. So for the first time I got to use the Ti-Tri in the vestibule of a brand new tent.

I set it on my blue foam sit pad to keep the stove from melting into the snow. (Instead it melted just a little bit of a round dent in my pad.) It was about 20 F (-7 C) when I fired it up. The water had to be just above freezing and it took 9 minutes to get a boil, using all but a few drops of a full oz (29.6 ml) of fuel. Here is a shot of it heating away in my vestibule.

No frozen dinner tonight

I have only burned Everclear 190-proof grain alcohol in my Ti-Tri's stove. It works great and I don't have to worry about Dave going blind if he drinks my stove fuel…

Because the areas I hike in usually have burning restrictions I have never used, or even planned to, the Ti-Tri in wood mode. I do like the idea that if something were to cause me to spend more time afield than planned I can always fall back on wood as a secondary fuel source. And as I always carry a dozen ti hook stakes as a matter of course I don't have to bring separate ones for the Ti-Tri.

While I absolutely loved the weight and efficiency of my Ti-Tri, I did not care for the volume it took in my pack. With the caddy and my pot separate it was actually bigger than the two other canister systems I have been using. But it is a fraction of the weight of them. One thing I really like is only having to carry a tiny 1.25 oz (36 ml) flat bottle of fuel on an overnight trip. Canister- schmanister…

The size issues made me look to other designs by Trail Designs as the guys have been busy addressing this same concern. But that is a story for another day. Or another Owner's Review at least. Stay tuned.

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

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