Across Sarek in winter - some gear

English, Teori-praktik Some odds and ends that I brought across Sarek this winter that might be worth mentioning.
By Jörgen Johansson

The pack I used was an ULA Ohm. Not exactly constructed for winter use, I imagine, but it worked fine. Only disadvantage was that the mesh was clogged with a bit of ice and snow one afternoon when a cold, hard wind was blowing. Since it was pretty cold, these patches of ice stuck for a while, making the mesh a bit less elastic than it normally is. No big deal though, I would bring it again since I do not do that much winter backpacking these days. My Golite Jam would be better, but it is too small for a trip like this. A Golite Pinnacle would work well, I suppose

I always carry my tent stuffed into the big back pocket on the Ohm as well as on my other pack, the Golite Jam. There it is always handy, can dry out a bit if wet and does not soak the rest of my gear on those occasions. I do not see any need for a separarate stuff sack for my tent. The tent is a Black Diamond Firstlight which I only use in winter, but then gladly.

The trip through Sarek was in remembrance of a trip I made in 1981. One piece of gear was along then as well, my trusty old Helly-Hansen mittens made of pile, with a nylon shell. They are really big, since I want to have plenty of room for my fleece gloves inside when it is really cold. The shell is not the least bit waterproof, which makes them dry out real fast. They are still the best and most reliable mittens I have used.

The shovel I used was was a Snowclaw. Quite adequate for digging a place to sit and minor work. In an emergency you can dig a snow cave I imagine, but if you plan to dig a lot and live in snowcaves every night I certainly would bring a real shovel. The Snowclaw weighs 300 grams and is shown with my cup, so as to give you a hint of the size.

Lately I have started using Mini Tortillas as bread. They are soft and 8 of them weigh 200 grams. They are easy to stash in the pack with sturdy packages that keep them fresh for a long, long time. I hade some problems with them freezing together when it was -10-20 C, but nothing that really was a bother. I either roll part of a beer sausage or some pieces of hard cheese inside the tortilla and eat it like that.

The sunglasses I used was called Sport Eyz. They weigh only 10 grams and are a lot tougher than they look. Of course, for hard wind I use a pair of regular ski goggles that protects from windwhipped snow and does not let it enter, but they are big and unwieldy when not needed. On this trip I never used them.

The Sport Eyz fits very well on top of my regular eye glasses as well, as can be seen. A real advantage in my opinion.

Comments in English below or at Utsidan here.

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2010-04-26   0 kommentarer

Across Sarek in winter - gear list

English; Turer I have earlier written about my wintry trip through Sarek NP in northern Sweden. In this article I will focus on some of the gear I brought along. In fact, I repeated a trip made 29 years ago, in 1981, but with much less gear, sweat and swearwords. In 1981 I started out with 42 kilos on my back, this time it was 17 kilos and it was not on my back for much of the trip. I dragged it behind me in The Incredible Rulk.
By Jörgen Johansson

Total Gear list (all weights in grams)
(Usually) worn
820 Anorak Paramo Velez blå XL
660 Trousers Paramo Cascada
34 Gloves thin fleece
75 Cap Paramo
110 Boxer shorts BPL merino stl M
185 Boot covers Lillsport
1200 Ski boots Alpina TR 10 size 47
102 Socks Donner merino
246 Undershirt BPL Hoody merino L
120 Mittens Helly Hansen pile
70 2 water bottles Arla Smoothie 330 ml
28 Whistle, metal, police
2800 Skis Fischer E99 Crown
485 Skipoles Komperdell XC Mountain 145 cm
30 Kneewarmers, cut off wool sock
10 Sunglasses Sporteyz
7007 Total worn

155 Gas canister Primus 230
155 Gas canister Primus 230
100 Gas canister Primus 100
36 Water container Platypus soft 2 l
5 Pot lid; pie plate alu foil
180 Cooking pot Primus EtaPower 1,2 l
45 Cup, plastic 300 ml
210 Burner, Primus Spider hose canister incl bag
100 Burner Primus Micron top mounted canister incl bag
16 "Upsidedown cradle" for canister; micro wave soup bowl
10 Cell foam insulation for canister
8 Spoon titanium
20 Lighter Bic
26 Windscreen BPL titanium foil 22*82 cm

366 Primaloft pants Cocoon PRO 60 Endurance Side Zip Pant XL
316 Primaloft jacket Cocoon Pullover L
410 Down jacket WM Flight XL
112 Socks, pile, huge (for sleeping)
210 Long johns, wool Stillongs L
134 Socks Smartwool Mountaineering (for sleeping)
260 Undershirt WoolPower wool/polyester
20 Pack sack for clothing, sil nylon homemade

1288 Tent Black Diamond Firstlight (no pegs, no bags, 3 mm cords)
36 4 Snow anchors, silnylon, homemade
52 Pillow, inflatable, bag-in-box wine bag
400 Pad, closed cell EVA Goodpad 190*60*1,4, slightly trimmed
260 Pad, inflatable, Thermarest Neoair Small
96 Dry bag for sleeping bag 13 l Sea to Summit
640 Quilt Primaloft ripstop/bugnet, homemade 2 cm loft
22 Pack sack quilt silnylon homemade
884 Sleeping bag WM Ultralite Super Long

66 Firestarting (water proof matches, small candles etc)
42 Blood stopper, heavy bandage
30 Sports tape, for blisters, support and repairs
25 Repair gear
84 Spare glasses and sun visors in hard box
50 Medical (bandaids, pain relief etc)
55 Swiss Army Knife incl scissors and tweezers
40 Map
24 Compass Silva Ranger 27, mirror
88 GPS GPS Garmin Geko 101 inkl batt
22 Dry bag safety gear, Sea to Summit 2 l silnylon

10 Tickets
10 Skin ointment Swedish Defense
458 Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
252 Card reader/hard disc Jobo, storage photos incl bag
144 Tripod for camera, metall and carbon fiber, partly homemade
100 Mobile phone Nokia
30 Dry bag camera 8 l Sea to Summit Silnylon
65 Head lamp Zipka Plus
25 Money, credit card, drivers license in ziploc bag
25 Pencil and note paper
655 Pack ULA Ohm Large 57 l
1268 Pulk, Paris sawed off, 980 mm
140 Belt and cord for towing pulk
115 Snow goggles, for hard wind, Cebe
300 Snowclaw, "shovel"
50 Sun screen pf 30
10 Toothbrush and length of dental floss
25 Thermometer
25 Toilet paper 10 m in zip loc bag

10773 Pack, base weight
17780 Equipment, base weight
6706 Food and fuel

17479 Pack, total weight
24486 Equipment, total weight

'Base weight' is what I always carry in my pack, 'equipment' is a k a skin out weight. Total weight includes food and fuel.

The weight of the three big ones (carry, shelter and sleep) was:
4127 grams (excluding the Rulk).
5536 grams (including the Rulk)

Maybe my rule of thumb for 3-season backpacking, 3 kilos for the three big ones a k a '343' should be replaced by '443' for winter trips?

Comments in Swedish here at Utsidan, in English below. For other articles on this trip, search for "Across Sarek".

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2010-04-19   6 kommentarer

Across Sarek in winter - sleep system

English; Teori-Praktik The sleep system I used on my fairly cold ski trip across Sarek this winter worked better than any system I have so far used. I never slept better or warmer on any winter trip that I can remember. So I thought I'd share my system.
By Jörgen Johansson

Starting with the foundations I used a 14 mm EVA closed cell foam called Goodpad. This is a very priceworthy, high quality pad that is a good sized 600 mm wide by 1900 long. With pads 500 mm wide most people, not even a skinny beanpole like yours truly, cannot sleep on their backs with arms at the side without these limbs ending up un-insulated. With a 600 mm wide pad I can. Since I am 1910 mm tall the pad is almost long enough for me as well. Of course, everyone should trim a pad like this to fit their size and sleeping style. I've only trimmed the lower half, where my legs are, down to 400 mm in width. This brings the weight down to 400 grams.

On top of the closed cell pad I always use (even in summer) something that softens my night. So far nothing has even come close to comfort than the Thermarest Neoair. I use a size small, which is 1200 mm long. Since I use it for softness anything longer is in my mind completely unneccessary, since it is my hips and torso that needs the comfort.

I think the combination of insulative properties that the two pads brought, combined with the exquisite softness of a moderately inflated Neoair explains much of my excellent sleep. This was the first time I used the Neoair in winter and I had no problems with frost or ice inside, inspite of the fact that I filled it by use of mouth and lungs. I assume that remnants of moisture left after emptying it in the morning froze pretty fast since the mornings averaged about -15 C. But this was not noticable or did in any way I could detect infer with the function of the mattress. The Neoair Small weighs 260 grams.

The heart of the sleep system is of course the sleeping bag. I use a Western Mountaineering Ultralite Super which is graded to -7 or -9C (with collar). A very good sleeping bag for early, early spring and late, late fall, but not really a bag for Scandinavian winters. In spite of this I've used it in winter for several years, beacause I can beef it up with a quilt. I need the long variant, which harbors people up to 198 cm and weighs 885 grams.

This photo shows how I add a homemade synthetic quilt on top of the sleeping bag. The ripstop in both sleeping bag and quilt are hard to tell apart, but the back of the quilt is made of bug net which contrasts nicely.

The quilt was especially made for this trip, after testing the system for several years using my homemade down quilt. However, sleep systems in winter do suffer from condensation. The moisture that is given off by the sleeper and also by damp clothing that might be in the sleeping bag travels through the insulation. If we have a temperature of maybe 10-20 C inside the sleeping bag and -10-20 C on the outside, the moisture will condense somewhere in the insulation. In deep winter it will of course freeze.

This is particulary bothersome with down insulation. Synthetics handle this kind of moisture much better, but is heavier for the same amount of loft.

The above photo is taken in my tent on a trip last winter. As the sun was shining through the tent door I held the quilt up and shot a picture of it. You can see how the down (highest quality Polish goose down +800) is gathered in moist lumps and the sun shining through the fabric around them. This was after three nights of -10-20 C temperatures. Of course, the insulative properties of this quilt was not very good with the down in this condition. To restore it you have to get inside a heated building or be able to build a fire, both things not really an option going through Sarek in winter.

Obviously adding a quilt on top of your sleeping bag is not very practical if you toss and turn with your sleeping bag during the night, since the quilt might end up underneath you, where it won't do much good. Since I sleep on my side and turn inside the bag my quilt stays very nicely on top of me all night.

So this year I decided to go for a synthetic quilt, hoping that this combination would give me the best of both worlds; the low weight and high loft of the down and the more enduring loft of the synthetic insulation when exposed to moisture.

I had an old, homemade synthetic quilt that weighed 1100 grams, with only about 50% of the original loft left. Not an option. There are few makers of synthetic quilts that are light and warm these days. Fanatic Fringe seems to have gone out of business and Backpackinglight were sold out and their new line would not arrive until June. So I dug out the old quilt, opened it up at the seems and got two pieces of nice and lite ripstop nylon. This I kept and the insulation went to meet its maker (?).

My idea was to use the thin ripstop on top, where the DWR would shed moisture/frost that sometimes falls from my tent canopy, and on the other side of the insulation I would use a very light bug netting (25 g/sqm) I had come across. The theory being that it would ventilate better and weigh less than ripstop. In summer it might catch all kinds of debris, but since I wasn't going to use it except in winter, I didn't worry about this.

For insulation I choose Primaloft One (200 g/sqm) with a reported thickness. Both this and the bug netting was ordered from

As can be seen at the photo above I attached the insulation to the fabric using the time honored method by Ray Jardine; pieces of synthetic yarn were stitched through the fabrics and the insulation and knotted loosely (to let the loft remain unscathed) at 400 mm intervals. Since I had a bit of extra Primaloft I added an extra piece for double thickness where my torso would be, as can be seen above. Three thin elastics were added to hold the quilt in place on top of the sleeping bag.
I also knew that a safety pin that attached the quilt to the sleeping bag right below my chin was a very good way of keeping the quilt from slipping down towards my waist during the night. The weight of my quilt was 640 grams.

My insulative clothing is of course also a part of my sleep system. When having set up camp and retired into my tent at dusk I took of the BPL Merino Hoody that I used for skiing all day. Instead I donned my trusty old Woolpower pullover for something dry next to the skin. On top of this went the hoody, to dry it out as much as possible. I then donned my BPL Cocoon Pullover (see photos courtesy This is what I used for my torso during three of the five nights. For the other two nights I added my down jacket, WM Flash. The Cocoon weighs 320 grams and the Flash 410 grams. These two jackets was quite enough to keep me comfortably warm during the day. I seldom used the Flash jacket except on cold mornings and evenings around camp.
Below the waist I kept my BPL Merino Shorts. I took of my Paramo Cascada ski pants, added a pair of woolen Stil long johns plus the wonderful BPL Cocoon Endurance Side Zip Pants insulated with Primaloft. They weigh 365 grams. On my feet I added a pair of thich and dry Smartwool Mountaineering socks, put my damp day socks (Donner merino) on top of these and added a pair of gigantic nylon pile socks on top of it all.

With this gear plus gloves I slept warmly, softly and fitfully for five nights, the coldest being around -22 C, the warmest being -12 C.

Please comment at Utsidan in Swedish or below in English.

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2010-04-09   6 kommentarer

Across Sarek in winter - hydration system

English; Teori-Praktik An important detail on winter trips is to stay hydrated. When you have to melt snow for all drinking and cooking and low temperatures make it difficult to keep water in a liquid state, it is all to easy not to drink enough. I'll describe a system that I find very satisfactory that I used on my latest trip, described here.
By Jörgen Johansson
To stay satisfactorily hydrated I need about the same input as during 3-season hikes. This means about 300 ml every hour and maybe double that when I take a meal. And I'm rather keen on my meals. I stop for lunch summer and winter and cook myself a meal and I stop and cook afternoon coffee around 1500 hours. Both these instances give me opportunity to melt snow for drinking water. So I don't carry huge amounts of water.

Using this system means that I see no need for Thermos bottles, which I also find a bit on the heavy side. But I know that many winter hikers and skiers only cook morning and night swear by them. Especially if you try to make as much mileage as possible, and take as few and short breaks as possible, like Arctic expeditions. Many, not only expeditioners, do use a Thermos for a lunch consisting of fruit or blueberry soup.
Me, I have simply chosen another approach which means that I don't really hunt mileage but consider breaks and hot meals an important part of my vacation. However, irrespective of this, I do think that carrying all the liquid you need for a whole day in Thermos bottles is heavy and impractical, which means that my system could very well be used as a complement to hot soups in Thermos bottles. You just have to carry/transport larger amounts of water if you want to have a whole days supply of water along.

The above photo shows the transportation devices I use. After having breakfast I put the small plastic bottles, from Arla Smoothies of 300-330 ml, in the pockets of my anorak or pants to keep them from freezing. I usually give the water an extra boost on the stove, bringing it up to 30-40 C before filling the bottles.

That way the water will stay unfrozen even in very cold weather. I've had no problems down to -20--25 C and from my Army days I know that a bottle kept in the "groin pockets" of my pants will stay liquid in temperatures well below that.

After one hour of skiing I drink one of the 300 ml bottles, together with a handful of chocolate, raisins and nuts. No matter what the circumstances, especially if the weather is inclement, I know that I need water and calories in order to stay comfortable and in control. But actually doing this sometimes takes some self discipline, maybe combined with experience. It is always easier to just keep on plodding when the weather is lousy.

After two hours and the intermittent breaks the small bottles are empty. I then bring out the bigger Platypus 2 l. It has been rolled up in my insulated pants or jacket at the top of the pack. The amount of liquid kept there depends on how many hours I plan to travel before cooking, and melting snow, again. Usually this means that I maximum carry 1-1,5 liters in all three bottles together.

When it is time for lunch I also melt enough snow to refill the bottles, and the same thing goes for when I make afternoon coffee. It's a very simple system that has worked very well for me.

One important reason for carrying two small bottles extra, instead of only the big one can be seen above. The first thing I do in the morning is heating water for both those bottles. I heat the water to maybe 60-80 C, that is hot, but not really boiling. I don't want to risk scalding myself miles from nowhere. I then place the small bottles inside my frozen ski boots and let them sit there for the next hour or so.

During this time I sit in my sleeping bag, inside my tent, and cook and eat breakfast. When it is time to get on my feet I take the small bottles and place them in my trouser pockets, after which I don the now, if not toasty warm, at least comfortably thawed boots.

I imagine that most outdoor people over time will evolve their own system for staying hydrated. The biggest problem for me once upon a time, however, was that I did not make sure that I got enough water to drink during strenous days in the cold. If you are in that situation maybe my system can serve as inspiration for evolving your own.

Discuss in Swedish on Utsidan here, and below in English.

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2010-04-04   6 kommentarer

Across Sarek in winter - the rulk rebooted

English Turer Another chapter in the epic story of the incredible Rulk was written when I spent a week in March crossing a wintry Sarek. Temperatures were between minus 10-20 C most of the time and my gear was pulled behind me in a combination of pulk and pack most of the time. I started out with 17 kilos, including 7 kilos of food and fuel for 6-7 days. You will find a description of the trip here.
By Jörgen Johansson
For those of you not familiar with The Incredible Rulk you will find an article here about last years trip and an article here, at on how it was made. In brief, a rulk is a combination of rucksack, or pack, and pulk. The construction enables you to switch very rapidly between pulling it behind you and carrying it on your back.

Last years version was a piece of aluminium sheeting, this years version was the real thing. That is a commercially manufactured pulk for a very decent price. A Paris pulk that was cut off to the same lenght as my full pack. The cut off Paris was 960 mm long and weigted 1400 grams including the webbing belt and lines to pull it. This system was exactly the same as last years. There was a weight penalty, the cut off Paris sled weighs about 500 grams more than last years version aluminum version. It was worth every gram...

The pack was a 57 litre ULA Ohm backpack that was slightly roomier than last years Golite Jam2 (52 l). Since last years trip was for only three days and this was twice as long I needed the extra space for more food and fuel.

The closed cell foam pad goes on top of the pack in pulk mode. It's easily strapped in place using waist belt and sternum strap of the pack.
As with the aluminium version I attached the rulk to the pack using plastic hooks (normally used for attaching flags to flagpoles as well as some boating carabiners I came across). These were hooked around the carbon fiber "frame" of the Ohm. Last year they were hooked into the attachments for the compression straps on the frameless Jam2.

The hooks were connected with and short pieces of cord with Prusik knots that allowed me to cinch the pulk very tight to the pack. And also to adapt easily to the fact that the pack shrunk as I filled my belly with all kinds of goodies.

I used the same simple pulling system as last year. A web belt with a buckle and the cord attached. I can honestly say that with the weight I was pulling I felt absolutely no need for any padded belt.

The whole glorious Rulk in action! Here I am on my way through the gateway of the famous Rapa Valley.

The construction worked very well. It tracked very much better than the aluminium flat bottom solution of yesteryear and slid like a dream in my ski tracks. It was in fact often faster than my skis, noticable going downhill. Still, I fell that the simple cord pull is OK even if the pulk sometimes passes you. I prefer not to burden the construction with pulling stakes that make it more difficult to switch into backpack mode. But I might change my mind, and others might make different choices.

Here on a particulary topsy turvy passage a carried the rulk on my back. The foam pad is simply tied on top, using the pulling cord. It takes about 2-3 minutes to switch from one mode to another. This includes blowing my nose and gazing briefly at the horizon.

I only carried the rulk on my back twice. The second time was at the end of the trip, while decending a steep hill with birch forest and soft snow that had me sinking to my knees even with skiis. Here the light pack on my back worked very well, although I didn't do any fancy telemark turns. I was in fact happy to slip slide down the hill with not more than one nose dive.

I love to cook a meal or coffee sitting on my pad, with my legs stretched out and a tree or a rock as backrest. But the rulk can of course be structured into the perfect armchair. Just stick it in the snow at the appropriate angle, lean back and close your eyes and listen to the snow melt on your stove.

Sticking the rulk in the snow and adding the Snow Claw at right angles makes a good wind screen for the stove, when necessary.

Here is an example of how you can use the rulk as a snow anchor, sticking it down or digging it down as much as you deem necessary. You can see that spindrift has collected on the lee side of it during the night.

To sum it up, it is almost too easy to pull such a light weight as I had behind you on a pulk when skiing in most conditions. It is almost as if you were skiing without any gear at all. And when circumstances are against the use of a pulk you simply put it on your back and you are not worse of than you would have been without a rulk for starters. For this reason I'm a bit suspicious against adding a pole system instead of cords for pulling the thing. But considering the fact that I pull it 95% of the time, maybe I have to change my mind on that account. Something collapsible maybee....

Please comment here on Utsidan in Swedish, or below in English.

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2010-04-01   3 kommentarer

Skurka - Alaska Yukon expedition is on its way

English, Turer A couple of days ago on March 20 2010 Andrew Skurka caught a plane to Alaska to begin the Alaska-Yukon Expedition (AYE), a 7 500 kilometer and 7-month-long ski/trek/packraft adventure that begins and ends thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle in northwestern Alaska.
Av Jörgen Johansson

We have written about Andy Skurka before and now he has started his great project for this year. There is loads to be read about this trip on his webpage, but I find his gear list well worth reading and it would be interesting to have some of our readers comment on it.

This is something that could be called a 5-season trip. At least Andrew will bring gear for arctic, winter, spring, summer and fall. So there are different kinds of gear depending on the conditions. But interesting to notice is that his pack baseweight (includes stuff that he always carries, irrespective of food and fuel) for the different seasons are as follows:

Arctic = 8,3 kilograms
Winter = 9,1 kilograms
Spring = 9,0 kilograms
Summer = 8,5 kilograms
Fall = 9,0 kilograms

The weight of all his gear (skin out) is:
Arctic = 15,0 kilograms
Winter = 15,8 kilograms
Spring = 10,9 kilograms
Summer = 10,4 kilograms
Fall = 11,9 kilograms

These are obviously pretty low weights for a trip in the Arctic, well comparable to my Scandinavian mountains but much more desolate. I have just returned from a weeks skiing in Sarek National Park and my gear for that week, which I guess will have to be called Arctic or Winter depending on what you're used to, had the following weight:

Base weight = 10,8 kilos
Skin out weight = 17,5 kilos

I recommend that you visit Andrew's site and look at his gear list, which could be download here:

Please comment either on Utsidan (in Swedish) or below, in English.

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2010-03-24   2 kommentarer

Caffin on canister stoves in deep cold

Teori-Praktik; English In my quest for the optimal stove for my upcoming ski trip through Sarek National Park I have turned to Roger Caffin. Roger, living in Sydney, is the Senior Editor for Technology at Backpacking and also an editor of Roger started walking in the Boy Scouts and, like myself, started going "lightweight" as he got older - around 2000. Roger has written more indepth articles on stoves, with a scientific bent (he's a PhD), than anyone I know. His articles on these subjects at are a recommended read, well worth the subscription fee alone. By the way, all photos below are by Roger and all are from Australia. Maybe not what the Crododile Dundee movies has made you prepared for?
By Jörgen Johansson

Jörgen: Roger, as you know from my article the ground rules are deep cold and two fairly similar stoves. Both have a burner on legs and a hose connecting the burner to the fuel container. The containers are filled with butane/propane mixes or white gas/petrol. No top-mounted gas canisters. Of course the pots and windscreens should be identical and therefore of no importance to this comparison. And since I from my own experiences considera canister stove to be quite practical down to minus 18-20 C (provided I keep the canister in my pocket or sleeping bag when not using it), let's keep in mind that we are talking about temperatures below that.
To start with I listed six factors that I considered relevant for the comparison:
-Fuel consumption/weight
-Ease of use (lighting up, shutting down etc)
-Usability in tent/vestibule-Mechanical reliability
-Works well even in extreme cold

I will ask you to comment on all these factors in turn, but first; would you like to comment on the selection? Have I missed some important factor?

Roger: Well, I would add user safety to the list..

Jörgen: Fine, I'll add it and we'll get back to it. Let's first talk about weight. To begin with let's look at the hardware. I've put down the canister as a winner, but the difference might not be that big. What do you say?

Roger: No hesitation here. There are quite a few stoves today which can take either white gas or canister, so the actual stove weight is the same. But the weight of a fuel tank and pump is always greater than the weight of a canister. In addition, you have to add the weight of cleaning and repair gear to the white gas stove - stuff you rarely need with a canister stove. Mind you, many white gas stoves are far heavier - compare the XGK with the almost any remote canister stove.

Jörgen: A comparison of canister and white gas stove weights would have to include fuel consumption and transport vessels etc, which means that one kind of stove could be lighter on short trips and another on longer. My own mpression is that, generally speaking, a canister stove comes out ahead. What are your experiences?

Roger: Well, the fuel tank and pump are always heavier than the canister. If you carry extra fuel you need an extra container of some sort. But there are several more factors here to consider. The first is that butane/propane mix has a higher energy content than white gas, by weight. What's more, in the field you end up using a lot more white gas than a simple calculation would suggest. Part of the reason for this is that you use up a surprising amount of white gas when priming the stove to get it going.

Another reason relates to the ease of relighting a canister stove. This means there is no hesitation about turning it off, while the hassles of restarting a white gas stove mean that users
often leave it running at low power even when not actually doing anything with it. Over all, it is quite common to find that white gas consumption runs between 50% and 100% heavier than butane/propane. That extra weight starts to add up over a few days.

Jörgen: OK, what about ease of use. To me the canister stoves seems toc ome out as winners. What do you say?

Roger: All I can do is laugh. The hassles of running a white gas stove compared to 'connect, turn on and light' with a canister stove make it a complete walk-over. When the canister stove has a piezo-lighter as well, the mismatch becomes ridiculous. Canister stoves are just so easy to use in comparison.

Jörgen: To me cooking inside the tent in winter is of paramount importance to my comfort. Both morning and night I want to be able sit in my sleepingbag with the stove beside me and melt snow as well as cook. My top-mounted canister stove has worked great for this. How do remote canister stoves compare to gasoline stoves in this aspect?

Roger: Oh, I hear you about sitting comfortably inside your tent! We often get bad weather up in the mountains here in Australia, and I always cook in the vestibule of my tent.
My wife lies in her sleeping bag further inside the tent and demands to be fed. This while the storm howls outside...

Let's first compare ease of use between a top-mount and a remote canister stove. Basically, there is very little difference between the two. In fact, one of the things I like about the remote canister stove is the fact that it is lower to the ground than a top-mount. Otherwise, it is still just 'connect, turn on and light'.

I had better add a point here about inverted canister stoves. Basically they are just remote canister stoves, but they include a preheat tube similar to that found on white gas stoves. (Not all remote canister stoves have the preheat tube: check!) The preheat tube allows you to start with a dead-cold canister and cook happily down to about -25 C. That is a huge advantage.

The only thing you have to do is to start the stove at a low power for maybe 10 - 20 seconds - but you can start the stove with the pot already on it. In many cases you can start with the canister upright and then invert it after that time.

One really major advantage of remote canister stoves is that the operation inside the canister is quite different. With an upright canister the energy used to vaporise the fuel come initially from the liquid gas inside the canister. As a result the liquid gas cools down, possibly to the point where it no longer evaporates enough to drive the stove.

This can be dangerous in the cold. Even if it continues to work, the evaporation will be preferentially extracting the propane and leaving the butane. It is quite common for users to complain that their canister is 2/3 full but nothing is coming out of it. Butane boils at -0.5 C: if the propane has been used up and the butane is sitting at -5 C, you have a dead canister.

But when you invert the canister the evaporation of the liquid happens in the preheat tube at the stove, using energy from the flame. The canister does not cool down. The pressure used to
drive the stove comes from the static vapour pressure of the fuel in the canister - a pressure which stays constant as the static vapour pressure stays as constant as the temperature.

The other really major advantage of the inverted canister stove is that the fuel extracted from the canister is the original liquid butane/propane mix. This means that the percentage of propane left in the canister stays constant, all the way to empty. You don't end up with a canister 2/3 full of non-boiling butane. In effect, the propane provides the driving pressure which is given by the pump in a white gas stove.

Jörgen: Another factor of importance in deep cold is mechanical reliability. Are there screws, gaskets, springs and stuff that can fall out or break? Is it recommended to bring tools and spares? Fixing stuff like that in bitter cold is not what I want to do. It seems to me that the canister is a simpler construction with fewer things that can go wrong. What do you say?

Roger: Servicing a stove as the sun goes down and the temperature drops way below freezing can be a bit worrying. I've done it for both sorts of stoves. In the case of the white gas stoves it was always a messy job. I was not always successful either, so it was biscuits and chocolate for dinner.

In the case of the remote canister stoves I have serviced in the field it was all pretty simple. I removed the valve and wiped it clean and screwed it back in place. Then I removed the jet, cleaned it with a proper little bit of jet-cleaning wire (a careful poke and a wiggle) and replaced it. That took only a couple of minutes and then we had the stove roaring away for dinner. But having to service a canister stove in the field is pretty rare in my experience.

Jörgen: You wanted to add safety for the user to my list. What are you thinking of?

Roger: I've used many white gas stoves in the past and been rather close to some scary incidents. I've lost parts of a sleeping bag and a pack when someone else mishandled white
gas, a long way from civilisation. I've seen the safety valve on a stove release and a huge flame shoot out of it. I know some people who ended up with huge amounts of plastic surgery after a white gas tank exploded. So white gas frankly scares me a bit. It's even worse when you are clumsy with gloves on. I don't see canister stoves presenting those sorts of risks.

And that does not cover the risks of starting a stove in a tent. With a canister stove there is no flare-up at the start, so you can light one even in a small vestibule or even an emergency bivy quite safely. But priming a white gas stove can easily involve a fireball of flame - MSR actually mentions this with the XGK stove. Very few people are willing to risk that inside a tent vestibule! But if there is a howling storm outside or you are in an emergency situation, your options are not great.

Jörgen: To sum it all up; since the issue for me is not if canister stoves work in winter, which I already know that they do provided you keep the canister reasonably warm, but will they work in really, really deep cold. Can I trust them to melt my snow and boil my food under almost any circumstances. On this I give the victory to the gasoline stoves out of, Iguess, tradition and hearsay, since I haven't tried any of them in bitter cold. What do you think?

Roger: That's a lot more complicated. A standard 70% butane / 30% propane canister will give off fuel down to -25 C. An 80% iso-butane / 20% propane canister is almost as good. Canisters with less propane are not so good, and should be avoided. (They are aimed more at the family camping market.) But what matters here is the temperature of the fuel in the canister, not the ambient temperature. As you have indicated, if you can warm the canister up beforehand then you can use it to considerably lower temperatures.

The next thing to consider is how you run the stove. If you put the canister out by itself sitting on the snow it is going to drop down to ambient fairly quickly, and that could kill the stove. On the other hand, if you insulate the canister from the snow and let it pick up a bit of radiant heat from the stove - through a gap in the windshield for instance, then you can keep the contents warm enough. Obviously you do NOT let the canister get too hot for safety reasons, but as long as you can put your hand on it (ie <40>

If you are going to be travelling at -30 C for some time you will inevitably be carrying more gear than a summer walker. You may well be using a pulk or sled to carry some of this gear, and that allows you to carry a bit more weight. At the same time, finding water is going to be more difficult, so you may need to melt a lot of snow. Doing so can literally double your fuel consumption. Under these cold condition it may be worth while considering the use of small LPG containers such as those made by Coleman. These containers hold a larger weight of fuel, and the LPG or propane will work down close to -40 C - without being warmed.

Anyone contemplating travelling below -20 C should be careful to test their stoves and other gear fairly thoroughly close to home. Grease and O-rings may need to be changed for these temperatures. Cheap O-rings can go very hard and leak at -20 C. Viton O-rings are good between -26 C and +200 C, Nitrile O-rings are good between -40 C and +105 C, and PU
O-rings are good between -50 C and +105 C. It's a pity that Viton cannot go lower in temperature; the +105 C upper limit for Nitrile and PU is really a bit low for safe use near
the stove. (But these materials are OK when used on the remote canister connection.) More esoteric rubber are available - at a price.

Many plastics can shatter at the lower temperatures, and can be even more fragile if they have been soaking in fuel for a while. That applies especially to plastic pumps in fuel
tanks: you may need to change them to all-metal ones. I have heard of some pumps reliably disintegrating below -20 C. Below -40 C is (to quote a friend) 'freaking cold'. It requires extremely specialised gear and skill, and I don't have enough experience there to comment.

Jörgen: By the way, all the photos show a Powermax canister från Coleman. Does this mean that those are the only ones that will work under the circumstances you've described? As you're probably aware, Primus and Optimus are Swedish companies and very popular here.

Roger: N-butane is n-butane, iso-butane is iso-butane, and propane is propane.
Lindal valves are Lindal valves from Lindal Group (except for Chinese rip-offs) Canisters are all US Dept of Transport (DOT) approved.

The only thing that matters is the fuel composition - eg 70% butane / 30% propane. There are small variations in the odorant used, but they all have to meet DOT specifications. The reality is that the paint and the brand on the outside of the canisters means NOTHING.. Most canisters of gas are made and filled by one (or two) companies in Korea. That includes Primus. I am not sure who fills the Powermax canisters though - possibly an American company.

Most stoves are made by one Korean company or one of a couple of Chines companies, and that does include Primus and Optimus. And of course, the Chinese rip off the designs and sell clones real cheap. The clones do sometimes have bad variations though.

Jörgen: Thanks Roger. I'll have to sit back and digest all this for a while and weigh my different options. I hope to give my conclusions in an upcoming article soon. And anyone that wants to dig deeper into the tests and research Roger has done on stoves should check at

Discuss in Swedish here at Utsidan and put comments in English here below.

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2010-02-05   0 kommentarer

Canister vs white - gas in winter

Teori Praktik; English I've used a top mounted canister gas stove for several winters, down to minus 18-20 C. It has worked fine. However, for really deep cold, say below minus 25 C or so, it is undisputed that white gas or kerosene rules. Or is it?
By Jörgen Johansson
My question is simply; do I really need something else than a gas canister stove even for deep and bitter cold?
So I thought I'd simply list some of the pros and cons, for these types of stoves as I see them. It will be a combination of my own experiences and what I've read and heard. I will then lean back and wait for the response from people reading what I've written. Maybe then I can write a second article on this subject where I formulate some of the opinions and experiences that will have surfaced after this process.
I will look at a number of factors that I think are important for any stove in deep cold and then give my verdict on what I think performs best. The ground rules are, as mentioned, deep cold and two fairly similar stoves. Both have a burner on legs and a hose connecting the burner to the fuel container. The containers are filled with butane/propane mixes or white gas or petrol. No topmounted gas canisters.
Examples of the canister stoves could be Primus Spider or MSR Wind pro. White gas could be Optimus Nova+ or Markill Pheonix. Of course the pots and windscreens should be identical and therefore of no importance to this comparison. And since I from my own experiences consider a canister stove to be quite practical down to minus 18-20 C, please remember that we are talking about temperatures below that.

The factors I feel to be relevant for my own way of operating in the winter are the following. Feel free to comment on my selection:
-Ease of use (lighting up, shutting down etc)
-Usability in tent/foretent
-Works well even in extreme cold
-Fuel consumption/weight
-Mechanical reliability

Factors like availability of fuel in all corners of the world as well as price I will keep out of this discussion. Let's just assume that for this particular trip in deep cold both fuels are just as available and that differences in price is of no importance since we have unlimited funds. At least when it comes to backpacking gear. At least according to our spouses....

Looking at the above factors and trying to appoint a winner for each factor when choosing between canister gas and white gas I come up with the following:

-Weight = canister
-Ease of use = canister
-Usability in tent = canister
-Works well in extreme cold = white gas
-Fuel consumption = canister
-Mechanical reliability = canister

So far it seems ridiculously simple. The canister stove wins on all counts excepting one. However, let's not make the common mistake of thinking that all the above factors have equal importance.
Since we are talking about extreme cold this factor is obviously more important than for instance weight. If a stove doesn't melt your water and cook your food in extreme cold it's obviously useless and the fact that it's ligth doesn't really matter. In fact, all the above factors except reliability in extreme cold is of course the reason for many people to use canister stoves when it's not that cold.
However, if a canister stove could be considered to be reliable, if not super, in extreme cold, then all the other factors would give the canister stove a landslide victory. And to me it seems that it does. That is, work, if not optimally, in deep cold.
In order for a canister stove to work reliably in deep cold there are as far as I can see two tricks that does the trick:
-You should do your best to keep the canister warmer than the surrounding air
-You should turn it upside down while using it

Since both these are easily accomplished it seems to me that the canister stove wins hands down even in deep cold. But I could be wrong. Please give me your take on this.

Comments in English below, comments in Swedish at this link at

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2010-01-31   5 kommentarer