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Reviews > Cook and Food Storage Gear > Stoves > Trail Designs Sidewinder Stove System > Owner Review by Ray Estrella

Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri Stove System w/Inferno
By Raymond Estrella

July 07, 2012


NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 51
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 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
Web site:
Product: Sidewinder Ti-Tri Stove System w/Inferno
Year manufactured: 2011
MSRP: US $119.95
Weight listed: varies by pot system is made to fit
Actual weight of parts
Sidewinder and Inferno Cone (in Tyvek sleeve): 1.9 oz (53 g)
Fire grate (in Tyvek sleeve) and stand: 0.7 oz (19 g)
12-10 soda can stove: 0.5 oz (14 g)
Stove protector/bowl: 0.6 oz (17 g)
Gram Cracker solid fuel kit: 0.25 oz (7 g)
Fuel bottle w/ measuring cup: 0.74 oz (21 g)
2 Titanium hook stakes: 0.56 oz (16 g)

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

With the Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri Stove System w/Inferno insert and a few thousand acres/hectares of forest I can cook forever without carrying fuel! Well, with the Sidewinder and a few twigs I did spend over a season boiling water and even cooking without needing alcohol or fuel canisters. Fast, compact, and light weight, it shines for found-fuel use in the back-country. The only thing it doesn't like is heavy rain. Please read on for the details, and enjoy this picture of it heating my dinner on the shores of Hungry Man Lake in Two Inlets State Forest.

Cooking at a lake

Product Description

The Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri Stove System w/Inferno (hereafter called the Sidewinder) is the latest take on the company's extremely popular Caldera Cone Ti-Tri systems. It gets its name by the way the cone (or cones in my case) are stored and carried.

The 3.9 oz (111 g) Open Country 3 Cup (0.71 L) Aluminum Non-Stick Pot, which I bought from Trail Designs also, was the basis for my Sidewinder w/Inferno system.

parts and stuff

Shown above are the parts and accessories sent with the system. The main items are the two titanium cone sections custom sized to fit my Open Country pot. The larger cone is the main Caldera Cone while the smaller one is the Inferno accessory cone. Also shown is the titanium Gram Cracker solid fuel kit, the 12-10 alcohol stove with integrated primer pan, and a honeycomb grate and wire mesh grate-stand for wood-burning mode. There is a Tyvek tube for storing the rolled up cones and another Tyvek sleeve that the fire grate slides into which protects the inside surface of the pot from scratches. As the pot has no handle I got a pot 1.8 oz (51 g) grabber too.

Cone collage

The Sidewinder is assembled by sliding together the mating dovetail joints in the Caldera and Inferno cone sections. For wood-burning use the inverted Inferno cone is placed inside the larger Caldera cone. The grate-stand and grate are then placed at the bottom. The stakes are placed in the upper set of holes as shown in the pictures above. The stakes support the pot and leave the notch open to be used to feed fuel in to the fire.

To use with the 12-10 Pepsi can-style alcohol stove or the Gram Cracker Esbit kit the Inferno, grate, and stakes are not used. Instead the stove or Gram Cracker goes at the bottom inside the Caldera Cone and the pot sits all the way down with its lip being supported by the top of the cone. The height of the Sidewinder is engineered to place the bottom of the pot in the most optimal position for stove efficiency. Note: once I took the picture of the parts I put the stove and Gram Cracker away as I bought the Sidewinder specifically for found-fuel use.

The thing I love about the Caldera Cones is that besides holding the pot they also act 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.

The inverted Inferno insert in conjunction with the raised grate creates a chimney effect with air being pulled into and up through the center of the fire. Meanwhile the air coming through the holes in the outer Caldera cone rushes up between the two cones. It then blasts into the upper holes in the Inferno and creates a secondary after-burn, igniting any unburned gases, making it highly fuel efficient.

Pack it up

To pack the Sidewinder system the two cones are rolled and slid into the Tyvek sleeve. My pot grabber goes into the space in the rolled cones. The grate, in its Tyvek envelope, goes into the bottom of my pot and then the cones go in sideways, hence the name. Miscellaneous parts are packed in the extra spaces then the lid is put on. I bought a small nylon stuff sack to place the whole works in to keep it together and to protect my gear from soot.

Field Conditions

All use of the Sidewinder occurred in Minnesota.

My first use with the Sidewinder was a trip that saw me driving and day-hiking all over Chippewa National and Paul Bunyan State Forests as I pre-scouted locations for the coming winter's snow-packing trips. I stayed on Hungry Man Lake in Two Inlets State Forest where it rained during the night.

Next was on an overnighter on the North Country Trail where I stayed at the official NCT campsite on the north side of Waboose Lake. The low was right at freezing. Below is a nice shot of the Sidewinder and the lake.

I used it on a three-day 34 mi (55 km) loop backpacking trip on the North Country Trail and Woodtick Trail south of Leech Lake in Chippewa National Forest. The first night saw sleet and a low of 19 F (-7 C) and the next was 24 F (-4 C). All these trips were in fall of 2011.

Another lake cooked at

Late spring and summer of 2012 saw a lot of backpacking trips but all were short distance and short duration (2 or 3 days max) as I was coming back from a pretty bad accident that saw my ankle destroyed. (Thank God for modern medicine.) During this time I took the Sidewinder on approximately eight two or three-day backpacking trips and two camping trips. Locations have been along the Red River of the North, Paul Bunyan State Forest, Chippewa National Forest, Lake Bronson and Old Mill State Parks. Temperatures have ranged from lows of 34 F (1 C) to highs of 88 F (31 C) in conditions from sunny, hot and humid to stormy and raining. Here is a shot of it on the South Branch of the Two Rivers.

Oh, a river this time


Until recently almost all of my backpacking has taken place in California, much of it high in the Sierra Nevada, and a good portion in the mountains of southern California. These places often have burn restrictions and I quit even making a campfire where/when permitted back in the 1990s. So I have never been interested in a found-fuel cooking system. Due to work and family issues I had to move to Minnesota in August 2011. As there are almost never burn restrictions there I decided to give myself a project of using a wood (or other combustibles) burning system for at least a season. Having become quite accustomed to my Trail Design alcohol-burning systems (see many reviews) I decided use one of their Ti-Tri's again. I did not use one of my existing systems (which I just would have added an Inferno insert and grate to) because they were all based on tall, narrow pots or mugs. My thoughts that a shallow, wider pot would work better was confirmed by the guys at Trail Designs, whom I have learned to listen to. (They really know their stuff.) But I wanted a system that would fit into the pot it was made for so as not to need to carry a protective caddy also, I like things as compact as possible. The new Sidewinder Ti-Tri was the ticket. It works very well.

I have been blown away by how little fuel it takes to get my water to a boil. I constantly was collecting way too much in preparation of making dinner when I first started using the Sidewinder. Not only does it not take much wood, it does not need to be big pieces either. I got to the point that I just collected dry twigs to get it going and would later toss in a few small chunks of fallen branches about the thickness of my thumb and about 3 in (8 cm) long at the most.

One thing I really did not take into account at first was how dirty the pot would get. I had a protective sack to put it in but decided quite soon to start carrying a small scrub pad to get the worst of the soot off as soon as I was done with dinner. As I got used to the system I found that if I let the fire get going well before I placed the pot on it would stay much cleaner as the secondary burn would be happening better. But it still gets some soot on the pot and cones no matter what.

While I have pretty much only boiled water for freeze-dried or freezer bag meals for the past decade, the need to scrub the outside of my pot made me realize I may as well scrub the inside at the same time, so I started bringing meals that cook in the pot. Things like Chicken Kluski that take up to 20 minutes of simmering, to which I add a package of freeze-dried chicken to boost the calories and give it more "oompf".

Surprisingly it is not that hard to control the heat for simmering. I learned to have a foot-long (30 cm) stick on hand. Once I had the water boiling and added my food I use the stick to scatter the coals to drop the heat. Then I add twigs as needed to keep it at a low boil.

Of course that led to a new problem to deal with. All my freeze-dried meals I stick into my beanie to insulate the food and keep my hand from burning while eating. With the Sidewinder I had a double issue. The pot was pretty hot and it was sooty so I did not want any of my clothes touching it. At first I used a washcloth to hold it thinking I could just rinse it out. Hmmm, if it is too hot I melt my washcloth (MSR small PackTowl) and as the temps dropped last fall my food cooled very fast in the aluminum pot.

So I decided to make a cozy that would both keep my food warm and protect me from the soot and heat. It also keeps my carry sack clean. I used two layers of Reflectix to make a cozy with a lid that is stepped to fit into the lid of the pot. I put a notch in it for the pot-grabber. It works great.

How cozy

Starting the fire is very easy with the Sidewinder when it has the grate in place. Sometime I use a small tinder-tab (like WetFire), making a little "log cabin" starter from twigs. Other times I will use a wad of paper building a "teepee" starter instead. With air being pulled up it gets going pretty quick.

I found it pretty amazing that if I built the fire and let it get burning well before adding the pot I could get 2 to 2-1/2 cups (473-591 ml) of water to a rolling boil in as little as four minutes! That is faster than with the 12-10 alcohol stove it also comes with.

Downsides? A couple, besides the soot factor it does add a bit of time to the meal-making experience finding fuel and getting the fire going. But the only real time I had a problem was a trip that was very rainy. (Well most of them have been this year.) It had rained 4 in (10 cm) in one day just before I left, plus small amounts as I was hiking. I know better than to try to use deadfall on the ground in those conditions and collected some dead wood from a diseased tree that had a few dead branches on one side. Even they were pretty damp. I did not bring a WetFire as I was trying some Fatwood splinters as tinder. Well, I built my starter pile and fired it up to watch it fail miserably. I started over and using my knife made a big pile of shavings, then a few "fuzz-sticks" (sticks with the sides cut so they curl away from the body of the stick) to place on top. I did not have any more paper having used the tiny piece I brought for the first attempt so I broke two storm matches in half and used them on the bottom. That attempt worked and I was able to have dinner, which was good as it was the coldest night of them all and I ended up needing those calories.

Lesson learned? Bring enough tinder! Here is a picture of the Sidewinder happily boiling my water once I got it going that evening.

Yep, another lake

The other negative is what to do when it is raining non-stop? This happened twice this summer, which has been very wet. With just about any other stove I would just use it in my tent's vestibule. (I have done so with my other Trail Designs alcohol systems.) Well that is not really possible with a wood-burner in my opinion. Maybe I could and not catch the tent on fire (rain is pouring on it after all;-) but I would have my quilt and other gear full of smoke. The only thing that I can see to do in this case is to use a small tarp to cook under. After the second time I almost pulled the trigger on a light weight cuben fiber tarp from Z-Packs but decided not to as this is just a project I gave myself. It is not a permanent backpacking change-of-style, just a proof-of-concept. Plus if I am adding weight to my pack for just an overnighter or 2-night trip I may as well have fuel weight as it would be much less. (A cheap nylon tarp would add about 9 oz/255 g, and an expensive cuben tarp would add about 4 oz/113 g. I can carry a lot of fuel at either weight.)

Well I am happy that I did this project and feel comfortable in the knowledge that I can get by without "normal" fuel for my back-country cooking. But I think I will use it just as an emergency device, and go back to my 12-10 alcohol stoves for regular use.

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

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