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

Trail Designs Caldera Ti-Tri ULC Stove System
By Raymond Estrella

May 09, 2012


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 51
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
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 ultralight, 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, LLC
Web site:
Product: Caldera Ti-Tri ULC Stove System (for Snow Peak Trek 700 pot)
Year manufactured: 2010
MSRP: US $69.95
Weight listed: varies depending on pot size
Actual weights of mine are below
Stove weight: 0.5 oz (14 g)
Caldera Cone weight: 0.8 oz (23 g)
Stake weight: came with two Ti hook stakes at 0.28 oz (8 g) ea.
Later replaced w/ two Terra Nova Ti stakes that weigh 0.07 oz (2 g) ea.
Total weight incl. stakes: 1.45 oz (41 g)

Product Description

ULC parts and pieces

The Trails Designs Caldera Ti-Tri ULC Stove System (hereafter referred to as the ULC) is the smallest form-factor of all of the Trail Designs 3-Fuel Ti-Tri systems. It is designed to fit inside very small pots and mugs and is aimed at the Ultra-Light crowd, hence the name; Ultra Light Compact. The "Ti" in the name refers to the titanium from which this model is made instead of the aluminum of the regular 2-fuel original Caldera Cone system (more on this later). Making the system from a material that is resistant to heat allows the use of a third heat source, hence the "Tri". Whereas the original could use an alcohol or GramCracker Esbit stove, the Ti-Tri can also be set up to use wood as fuel.

In its basic configuration the ULC comes with the items shown. The main item is the titanium Caldera Cone custom sized to fit my Snow Peak Trek 700 pot. (This is not the pot shown in the above picture which is courtesy of Trail Designs.) Also included are the 12-10 alcohol stove with integrated primer pan, the titanium GramCracker solid fuel kit, fuel bottle kit with measuring cup, and two titanium stakes. (Split-floor shown is an option.)

ULC collage

I ordered mine "stripped down" as I already had all of the extras with my standard Ti-Tri (see review). Packed upThe great guys at Trail Designs were happy to sell me just the Caldera Cone, 12-10 stove and stakes. (I later replaced the stakes.) The picture above is all that I choose to carry.

The cone is assembled by sliding together the mating dove-tail joints at the edge of the cone. The stakes slide through holes in the top of the cone to provide a support for my Snow Peak Trek 700 pot. The stakes in the pictures above are in the lower position. This is for alcohol or Esbit use and is optimized for my pot, holding it at the best height to receive the most heat from the stove. When wood is used as the fuel source the stakes go in the upper position. When set up for wood the notch in the cone is open for feeding the fuel to the fire.

As may be seen, the pot sits tightly in the top of the cone. This keeps heat from escaping too quickly raising the efficiency of the system.

Besides holding my pot the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone acts as a wind screen, protecting the flame. Engineered slotted holes are placed in optimal positions to allow air to feed the stove while directing the flame upwards.

Of course the best thing about the ULC is the fact that it will fit inside my Trek 700 pot (which is really just a big mug), as seen above. Not only will the cone and stove fit inside there is even room for my 2.25 oz (67 ml) fuel bottle. The stakes I use will even fit inside the pasta drain-slot in the lid letting me have everything in one very compact package as seen to the right in what should be actual size. (4.12 in/10.4 cm wide in case your screen setting is not the same as mine.)

Field Conditions

When I first got the ULC I used it in California for a few trips, until I got my Ti-Tri Fissure, after which the ULC went to Minnesota for the rest of its life. From what I can figure out I used the ULC for at least 11 days of backpacking in California, much of it on the Pacific Crest Trail, including sections near Lake Moreno (the first place I used it) and the Mojave area. It went on one trip to the Sespe Wilderness, one to Fisherman's Camp in Cleveland National Forest, and one trip in the Angeles National Forest that saw me unable to get where I wanted due to snow, so I stealth camped at a lake I wasn't supposed to be at. (Do Rangers read this? Oh, oh…)

Up here in Minnesota it went on my first backpacking trips along the North Country Trail in Paul Bunyan State Forest and trips in Maplewood and Itasca State Parks and one trip on the Halverson Trail just outside of Itasca. A bonus trip was to the Sheyenne National Grasslands in North Dakota. I carried it up here for at least 10 days that I can recall.

The temps used at have actually been cold most of the time, with the Sespe trip being the lone warm-temp trip. It has been used from about 80 F (27 C) to a low of about 5 F (-15 C) making cider in the morning on the Halverson Trail. Elevations have ranged from 1,000 to 8,000 ft (300 to 2,400 m). Here is a shot one late afternoon on the North Country Trail; the temperature was right at freezing and heading down.

On the NCT


If you, dear Reader, read the review of my first Caldera Ti-Tri you will know that although I have been backpacking for over three decades and have used many types of stoves for cooking I 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. Watched them run out of fuel after spending 10 minutes to try to get ½ L of water to boil. Listened to them talk of making dozens of stoves but not being happy with the final result. Many of them have used my canister stove instead.

The Caldera Cone Ti-Tri changed my mind in a hurry. After my first few trips I liked the low weight and performance of it so much that I stopped taking any other stove on solo trips. But one thing bothered me about it. Even though the weight was quite low the need to keep the cone protected in a plastic caddy added a lot of volume to my pack. I was used to cooking systems that fit inside my pot of choice.

A series of emails to Trail Designs led me to purchase the ULC for the Snow Peak Trek 700, which I bought just for the ULC. (I had to verify that they could make one for it first.) I loved how small the total package was with everything fitting in the pot and coming in at a total weight of only 6.25 oz (177 g).

When the ULC was first released (and I bought one of the first ones) it was originally made with an aluminum cone. On my first trip with it I used it at Lake Morena County Park on the Pacific Crest Trail. Here is a shot of it boiling my first batch of water.

Original ULC

It worked well but after the first use (a batch of water for Dave and me each) I noticed that the holes had elongated and I determined that the stakes got hot enough to soften the aluminum wall of the cone and when combined with the weight of the water-filled pot they started deforming the holes. The guys at Trail Designs had me send it back and shortly after the Ti-Tri ULC was born. The titanium cone worked great. Plus it had that Ti cool factor.

While discussing stoves on a gear forum I saw that a guy had a shield made that sits on top of the ULC. I was intrigued and emailed to ask if I could buy one for my ULC. They told me they could make me one but that they did not find that it does anything for the efficiency of the system. I bought it and used it on the first half of my trips until I realized that it did nothing at all to help anything. From that point on I decided to listen to Rand. ;-) The picture in the Field Conditions section shows the upper shield in place.

While I have been lightening my pack over the years, reducing volume has been just as important to me. The best thing about the ULC is how small of a package it is. My entire cooking system including up to 2.25 oz (67 ml) of fuel and a small box of matches takes up only 59 cu in (0.97 L) of space in my pack. (Although I usually carry the fuel separate and instead put my washcloth in the pot.) That is far and away the least space I have ever used for my stove/pot/fuel combo. And it should be noted that Trail Designs makes the ULC for even smaller mugs.

One thing I noticed right away was that the ULC is not as efficient as my original Ti-Tri. Part of this is from the smaller size of the pot giving less surface area for the flame to work on, but part is because the ULC has the pot sitting higher on the cone, so heat is not traveling up the sides of the pot also. Here are some notes that I had in my hiking log about the ULC. (Times shown as minutes:seconds)

Timed boils at 900 ft (270 m) elevation; bubbles forming at 6:15, releasing at 7:00, rolling boil at 8:30.

Timed boils at 8000 ft (2440 m) elevation; bubbles forming at 4.30, releasing at 6:00, rolling boil at 8:00. (The difference of the lower boiling point at high elevation was quite apparent here.)

Lower elevation, took almost a full oz (30 ml) ethanol to boil two cups of water.

At high elevation I got a boil (not rolling) out of ¾ oz (22 ml) of ethanol, but ran out of fuel before rolling boil. (Note: I used Everclear 190 proof/95% ethanol for fuel on all trips.)

On average I figure that it took about 15-20% more fuel and 15% more time to boil the same amounts as my original system.

I did get to use it at low temps quite a bit. But the real test was when I hesitantly took it on a December trip to McCarty Lake in Minnesota. The low was forecast to be about 0 F (-18 C) and I had never used alcohol at that low a temperature before. Well it not only worked but it inspired me to spend the following winter with only an alcohol system for every overnight trip that I did not need to melt snow for water. (See my Trail Designs Keg F review.) Here is a shot of the ULC heating my dinner water. It is about 15 F (-9 C) at the time but it was much colder the next morning when I made hot cider.

Snow stove

Minnesota is a very flat state and I see a lot of windy days there. The cone does a wonderful job of protecting the 12-10 stove. I have never had it go out once lit. But the cone is so light that it will blow away once I take the pot off if am not careful.

Because California (the state I was doing the majority of my hiking when I bought it) has a lot of burn restrictions, I never expected or really even wanted to burn wood with the ULC. While it can be used with wood just as I have it, Trail Designs does sell an Inferno insert that makes it burn wood more efficiently.

The titanium cone is very durable. It never got any kinks or creases and besides some heat discoloration looks like new.

As mentioned earlier I went away from the ULC to switch to one of the first Trail Designs Ti-Tri Fissure systems, which was more efficient at a very little weight and volume gain. But I shall always look back on the ULC with fondness as an enjoyable step in my alcohol evolution. I leave with a picture of it packed up and waiting to be used at Fisherman's Camp.


This report was created with the Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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