Friday, November 19, 2010

Product Review - Trail Designs Caldera Keg-H & Ti-Tri Keg-H

Rating: 4.5 out of 5: Highly Recommended

Pictured is my version of the Trail Designs Caldera Keg-H. The system comes complete with Heineken pot & lid, aluminum cone (which acts both as a wind screen and a very stable pot support), "Beer Bands" - one of which holds the can at the correct height in the cone while the other goes at the top of the can to make the surface cool enough to drink from and pick up, a 12-10 Alcohol "Pepsi Can" type stove, fuel bottle, plastic cup, and an insulating sleeve with lid, all of which nests perfectly and is kept together inside a silnylon stuff sack. The complete system weighs in at a very nice 6.2 ounces.


Since my backpacking motto is "bring everything you need, and nothing you don't", I decided there was more stuff than I needed in this kit. Therefore I only use the pot & lid, cone, Ti Gram Cracker Esbit stove (not included), and the beer bands, all of which I pack in a small cuben fiber stuff sack. My version of this stove weighs in at 2.85 ounces, less than half of what the fully loaded kit weighs, and yet it still has everything I need to boil water for my freezer bag cooking (FBC) meals, coffee, and tea.

This seems like the ideal ultralight cooking system, right? But what if you run out of fuel? Make a fire and cook over that? Not ideal, especially with a tall narrow pot that falls over easily. The aluminum cone would melt if you tried to use it over a wood fire. Hence my request for a cone made out of titanium, referred to at TD as a Ti-Tri (titanium tri fuel...alcohol, esbit, or wood). This is an "off the menu" request for the Heineken pot, but Rand and Russ over at Trail Designs are always open to special requests.

Other than the titanium cone's ability to handle the heat of a wood fire, it is also much more durable than the standard aluminum cone. My gear is intended to be durable enough for a multi-month thru-hike such as the 2663 mile Pacific Crest Trail, so this is an important consideration for me.

Besides, I don't care who you are...this ti-cone is sexy! (I may be addicted to titanium - a healthy habit I suppose).

The testing in this review is based on about 2,600' elevation (my house), at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As mentioned above, I used a Trail Designs titanium  Gram Cracker Esbit stove. I have found this little 0.10 ounce stove to really help slow and concentrate the burn, making it much more efficient. More on that in another post some day.

As you compare the two cones side by side, they are quite different, even though they are intended for the same pot. The titanium cone on the right has a large cut-out at the top to enable you to feed the wood fire while you are cooking. My assumption is that this will make the unit much less efficient in Esbit or Alcohol mode because the hot air will be able to escape much quicker than with the aluminum model on the left.

With 2 cups of cold tap water in each pot, I lit both Esbit cubes, centered the cones over them, and set each pot on at the same time. My first test resulted in the aluminum cone bringing the water to a boil in about 9 minutes, and the titanium cone in about 12 minutes. This is a huge difference, and considering the fact that fuel is normally much less efficient at higher elevations, and the Esbit cubes only tend to burn for about 12 minutes or so, the "sexy" titanium unit might not boil my 2 cups of water up in the mountains.

This photo is very similar to the one above, but if you look closely, I moved the bands up quite a bit, which lowered the Heineken pots. Running the same test again, now the aluminum cone boiled water in about 12 1/2 minutes, and the titanium cone 13 minutes. Lowering the pots resulted in slowing both units down, and also slowing the Esbit burning down, as both fuel cubes burned for over 15 minutes. This tells me if I am patient, I can probably get a good rolling boil at higher elevations with the Ti-Tri cone.

Not yet satisfied with the results of my new Ti-Tri, I set out to increase the efficiency of the titanium cone. Since the large opening is only needed in wood burning mode, I decided to make a removable cover for it. I had some thin aluminum flashing material in the garage, so I fashioned a cover that would stay in place and also be easy to add or remove depending on the fuel I used. This resulted in a 10 minute boil time, much better than the 12 minutes without it! I'm still not quite sure why it took longer to boil water in this unit vs. the aluminum one, but there are still some differences between the two cones. I bet Rand or Russ could give us a scientific explanation for the difference.

To set the Ti-Tri Keg-H up for burning wood, insert your titanium tent stakes (not included in my stove weight above because I don't bring extras for the stove) through the holes in the cone. This provides a level platform to support the Heineken pot.

Start a small wood fire a little smaller than the bottom diameter of the cone, then place the cone over it and keep feeding the fire until the flame is burning strong. Next set the pot on top of the stakes, and continue to feed the fire with small sticks. This wood burning mode is intended as a backup for me. If you intend on using wood as your primary source of fuel, as I did on my PCT section A hike, I recommend adding the optional Inferno insert, which makes it burn much more easily and efficiently.

My first test in wood burning mode took about 12 minutes to boil water. This time would have been reduced significantly had I done a better job keeping the fire burning strong. Two times the flame went out and I had to add more sticks and blow on it to get it to relight, which was really no big deal. In my experience, a fire this small in diameter is much more difficult to keep going than one a bit wider. After my water boiled, I let the fire burn down and go out. The coals stayed hot for quite a while, and eventually burned down to a small pile of ashes.

I really like both units, but I lean towards the Ti-Tri Keg-H system because of its more durable titanium construction and because of the wood burning option. I neglected to mention earlier, but it weighed the same as the aluminum cone at 0.95 ounces, until I added the 0.10 ounce removable door. I gave a rating of 4.5 for both units for two reasons; 1) While the Heineken can is more durable than say a Fosters can, I'm still concerned that it won't last through a several month hike. This of course could be remedied by sending a few extra cans in advance with your mail drop packages. 2) The aluminum cone it is not all that durable, and with the titanium cone, I had to add the removable door to get the unit to be more efficient. (Russ did warn me that this narrow/tall system would be less efficient than a wide/short one). Yes I'm being picky, but a rating 4.5 out of 5 is almost perfect!  If your goal is to carry the lightest, and in the case of the Ti-Tri most flexible stove system possible, one of these just might be right for you! Happy Trails!

17 comments:

  1. Fantastic review! The Caldera Cone system is so elegant in design anyway, but it's great to know how much care and attention Russ and Rand still pay to their customers, and what awesome innovations are still being produced.
    This is one review I'll actually send to Evernote for keeping!

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  2. Great review - you made some impressive weight savings! I read a lot of good things about the Ti-Tri, but for the moment I'm happy with a BushBuddy, although I can appreciate the alternative fuel options the cone offers.

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  3. @Helen
    I know you're a Caldera lover as well. Once you've used one, it's hard not to be!

    Yes, the guys at Trail Design are great. I had heard that they had great customer service, but I first experienced it myself about two years ago. I had just placed an order for some cool ultralight stuff on their website when I found one more thing I wanted to add. I replied to the order confirmation email asking if I could add this one thing. Rand immediately replied and said that he had already shipped my items out, but he would go ahead and send this item I wanted and that I should just to send him a check for it when I got a chance. Now this was only a few dollars, but it was the kind of customer service I'm not used to and never expected. They really seem to care about their customers!

    @ Mark
    I've never tried the BushBuddy, but I've read great things about it. Guess I can't imagine a better system than the TD Ti-Tri. It would be interesting to study both side by side, but I've kind of become a "set it and forget it" guy when I'm backpacking. The wood mode on the Ti-Tri is for me a great backup option, but my go to is Esbit.

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  4. I have the Heineken pot and think it is ok. I use it with meths and find it performs well but not exceptional in the hills. Used it on my last trip and on trips at the start of the year. I need to use it outside of times when it is getting cold as I am sure it would be more efficient. Esbit makes sense to me with it. The concentrated burn would suit the pot shape. Like the custom model you got and good to see Trail Designs do that. I would give the basic stove 3.5 based on my experience with it but that can go up if I get it out on the hills in warmer weather as meths is not that good a fuel when it starts to get cold. But the neat setup and simple use of recycled materials does make me like it.

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  5. @Martin
    I do prefer Esbit over Alcohol, but I strongly suggest the Gram Cracker with Esbit. Makes the burn much more efficient. The only negative with Esbit is the black buildup on the bottom of the stove, but a stuff sack keeps the mess contained.

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  6. Great review, thanks. I am very interested in doing some more research on my 3-season stove system. Did a post on it early this year, but the Ti-Tri Sidewinder is probably top of my list at the moment. I like the versatility and the alcohol stove element is a good one and I also like the prospect of keeping it in a single cook pot.

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  7. Maz,
    I am liking my new .6L Sidewinder very much. I just haven't spent enough time with it for a review yet.

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  8. Frank,
    If you don't have a TD Caldera, you should get one. I must warn you though, it may be addicting. I own several, and continue to think of reasons to buy more.
    John

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  9. excelent review!
    i want one.
    How about the durability of Heineken pot?
    thanks

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  10. creep, glad you liked it.

    The Heineken pot is by far the most durable "beer can" pot I've seen. This is due to the ribbed sides. It is easy to make replacements though...see post http://www.mountainultralight.com/2010/11/make-your-own-beer-can-cook-pot.html

    Ti_Tri is excellent!

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  11. I ordered a Ti H keg system, but opted for a full Ti cone, like the aluminum cone, which I'll only use with the alcohol stove or Esbit. Don't know if I made a mistake in doing this, but I didn't like the idea of packing the extra cone cover piece. I bought the sidewinder system too, which will allow me to burn wood,Esbit or alcohol with the EverNew .9 Ti pot.
    Actually it was you're comparison review that made be purchase the sidewinder for my EverNew pot,

    Thanks,
    Mike aka NCThiker

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  12. Mike,

    If I'm reading that right, you got the regular cone in ti, meaning no opening to feed a wood fire. I think you will be happy that you got ti as it is much more durable, and if you opt to go with wood, you will just have to lift the pot in order to feed the fuel.

    I love my .9L Sidewinder...just used it today during a long hike!

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  13. John,

    Yes, no opening to feed wood, which will add a bit more efficiency when I use alcohol or Esbit as the cone is fully enclosed around the Heineken can.
    The H keg will be my ultralight Esbit cook system, for quick, possibly high mileage,short duration style trips.
    Where as the sidewinder with the Evernew Ti .9 pot will be used for longer duration trips. Probably with esbit or alcohol.
    The GVP Fosters can system with Esbit is about the lightest cook system I've used yet, with its 20oz+ capacity can. I compared (2) Esbit per day to alcohol for a 8 day trip and the Esbit won out, but I don't remember exactly what the weight savings were. Another nice thing with Esbit over alcohol, is not having to worry about a leaky fuel bottle, which has never really happened to me, but it always a possibility?

    NCThiker

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  14. I think you will like both systems. I like having the option for wood fire as a backup, but mostly use Esbit as it seems to be the lightest "set it and forget it" type of fuel. With the .9L Sidewinder, I can get away with just 1 fuel cube per day for a hot breakfast and dinner.

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  15. did you make that cuben stuff sack yourself?

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  16. Actually I didn't make this one, I used one I had purchased from zpacks http://www.zpacks.com/large_image.shtml?accessories/stuffsacks/cuben_small_l.jpg

    Now I just buy some material and make my own...much less expensive and very easy after you have some experience.

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