In the beginning was the Coleman F1 UltraLight. A tiny 16,400 BTU blowtorch that weighed 3.1 ounces, with a flame pattern that mimicked Coleman’s larger stoves, it brought high power and low weight to new levels for canister stoves. However, it came in two pieces, was a pain in the neck to put together, and was highly unstable with a pot on it. “Simmer” was a concept utterly foreign to it; when we say blowtorch, we aren’t kidding. Still, it opened up a new world for backpackers. And, years later, our original unit still works like it was brand new, a testament to the build quality.
Since then, a number of new players have hit the market from virtually every serious manufacturer. And, better still, some of them have piezo ignitors. There’s a lot of discussion about piezos in the blogosphere, with many people faulting them for poor performance at cold temperatures. That’s certainly true, but since the majority of people do the majority of their backpacking at above freezing temperatures, they’re a handy item to have on a stove. Our opinion is that piezo ignition is well worth the extra weight for the convenience of instant lighting 80% of the time. So…what are some of the new piezo equipped micro stoves like, and how do they compare to the Coleman F1? We got our hands on a couple and put them through the wringer to see what we would find!
One, the Snow Peak GS-100A, is a 10,000 BTU micro with metal pot supports that fold out, solving the problem of Coleman’s 2-piece design, and providing a much larger surface for pots and pans. It comes in a small hard-sided plastic container to protect it; a nice touch, although it means that it won’t fit inside the GSI Pinnacle Dualist while in its case. Weight is a measly 3 ounces;that’s actually lighter than the Coleman, even with the larger pot support and piezo ignitor! That’s an impressive accomplishment. Build quality is solid; it’s not pretty, but it works. And at a retail of $49.95, piezo included…who cares? Equally impressive is Snow Peak’s guarantee…you own it, it works. Period. As long as you don’t abuse it. Don’t be a jerk, treat it reasonably well, and if it fails, they’ll take care of you.
The Brunton Raptor is an 11,000 BTU unit with jewel-like build quality that uses an innovative double-folding pot support design that allows it to fold down into a tiny package, yet provide a larger area for a pot to sit on than either the Coleman or the Snow Peak. With the larger pot support, it’s no surprise that it’s heavier; 4.4 ounces is what our scale says. It comes in a little nylon bag, perfect for stuffing into whatever space you want. It’s definitely a work of art…but does its performance live up to the build quality and style? Price is a little higher than the Snow Peak, at $61. Warranty is one year, definitely not as good as Snow Peak’s…but given the build quality and the fact that every few years it’s worth getting the new stuff that works better, we’re not concerned.
So, how did they perform? Let’s start with the typical boil tests, with both units in full-on blowtorch modes. We stuck both units on MSR canisters, brand new and full, used the pot from the abovementioned GSI Pinnacle Dualist with the cover on, filled with the standard 1 liter of water. Water temperature was 70 degrees, ambient temperature was 70 degrees, and the test was done indoors to make sure there was no wind effect. And…the times were so close to identical that we honestly can’t say which is faster. The Brunton came in at 5:19, the Snow Peak at 5:23. These times don’t come close to those of the Jetboil Helios or MSR Reactor, but for tiny, inexpensive stoves, they’re MORE than acceptable!
Then, came field use. We were lucky enough to get a relatively broad range of weather…some cold, some damp, some nice and dry. However, “cold” was a relative term; it’s the time of year when sub-freezing temperatures are hard to come by, so all tests were at 35F or above. Both units performed admirably, with no significant problems. Both boiled our water for morning coffee and tea without a hitch…hey, we know what’s important! However, when we got into things like making Lundberg brown rice couscous (yes, there is such a thing, made to meet the needs of people who have issues with wheat), the Brunton came to the fore. By most standards, the simmer control on the Snow Peak was good, but the Brunton was almost beyond belief. We turned it down, then down more, then more…to the point where less than half the surface area of the burner was lit. Even then, the flame was perfectly blue, and smooth as silk. If I could get my home gas range to work half as well, I’d be thrilled! It simply allows a different level of camp cooking than we’ve ever been able to have before. One quirk, though; the Brunton has to be tightened down VERY firmly to the canister to make metal-to-metal contact and keep the stove from rocking. The Snow Peak has a rubber washer that handles that task; it’s a slightly simpler, more effective system.
Getting them lit is a different story. The Brunton piezo ignitor worked “acceptably”…meaning, most of the time a few snaps got it lit. However, as it got wetter, it worked less well. The Snow Peak, on the other hand, had a piezo from Zeus’ hand (for people less geeky than me, Zeus threw lightning bolts around). Snap, it lit. Nicely done!
So…how do you choose? Well, both stoves are excellent…we’d be thrilled with either one. If you value low price, low weight, rock-solid construction…Snow Peak. If you value better pot support, smaller packable size, and simmer control, get the Brunton. For our needs, our pick is the Brunton; the incredibly solid pot support and the fantastic temperature control outweigh the Snow Peak’s lower price, hyper-lightweight construction, and great ignition. Tough call, though, and when we have better weather (meaning COLDER weather) to see how they work in winter camp…well, who knows what will happen! Now, given that we’re excited by the quality of THESE microstoves, it’s clearly time to try some others…Primus, MSR, even Coleman have new models with piezo ignition. Stay tuned!