Earlier this month the unseasonably warm weather tempted me and My Taller Half to take a trip out to Teesdale with the tent. We haven’t been out and about much this year, so this was the first opportunity to try out my new toy in the field.
A bit of an impulse buy, my Caldera Ti Tri Sidewinder camping stove is a three-in-one ultra lightweight stove, allowing you to cook using meths, solid fuel or wood. As I’ve previously blogged, it got very good reviews from the walking magazine TGO. Here’s my review so far…
The first thing to say is that, although you can only buy this stove direct from the US manufacturer Trail Designs in dollars, I had a very pleasant buying experience. The website is a bit daunting, as there are so many bits and bobs on it – if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for you can feel a bit lost. However, they are a very approachable bunch and I’ve had some friendly email exchanges with co-founder Rand Lindsly (pre- and post-sale). If you don’t know what you want, just ask.
Trail Designs’ speciality is titanium. This is not cheap. Then you have to add US postage. On the plus side, buying in dollars turned out to be very easy – I just used my credit card in the usual way – and there’s the added advantage of a favourable exchange rate. A $186 dollar purchase cost me £118. That’s still a lot of money for a stove.
What’s so good about this stove to make me order it from the US and spend ££££s? I’ve always used a Trangia. Bullet proof, versatile, reliable: Trangias are brilliant pieces of kit. But when I go solo camping I find it a little bit on the weighty side. I’m unconvinced by gas stoves. No reason (I’ve never tried one) I just have a prejudice about them. My Caldera stove weighs almost nothing. But the main reason I bought it is that I can light real (but tiny) fires on it. Do I need any other reason?
It might be a cool piece of kit, but it is not an easy beast to master. The meths burner is quite easy, but I’m used to the Trangia where I can stub out the flame or make it simmer. With enough fuel I can cook quite complicated meals on the Trangia. The Caldera burner (like most meths burners actually) cannot be put out. This means you have to plan ahead how long you want it to burn for – otherwise you waste fuel. I also have only one pot with the Caldera, whereas with the Trangia I had two pots, a frying pan and a kettle.
On the plus side, the Caldera + meths burner is very snug, and it’s very safe once set up. And it’s made from a recycled coke can – how cool is that?
The real challenge was learning how to use the wood burner. I’ve had long, hard and smoky lessons about just how dry those twigs really are, and I’ve learnt that tiny fires need constant nurturing – turn your back for five minutes and your fire will definitely have gone out.
After many attempts, I finally mastered the art of a one-match fire. We decided we were ready to take it camping with us. The Trangia, for the first time ever, stayed at home.
In the field
Off to Teesdale we went for the weekend (you can read about the trip here).
There are two problems with using the wood burner in a campsite: the fire can be very smoky, and it scorches the grass. We decided to stick to the meths burner on site and play with the wood burner out ‘in the bush’.
The meths burner was a joy to use. The only hiccup was that the floor plate had a tendency to curl up – it takes more effort than we realised to get it flat after being rolled up with the stove. (Did I tell you? The whole stove rolls up in a little cone and sits inside the pan). Oh, and without the weight of the pan the stove can blow away in strong wind. But once everything is in position you can just leave it until the meths burns out. It’s incredibly sturdy, and there are no escaping flames to worry about. Simples.
Now for the real test: using the wood burner. We ambled off to the river bank and eventually found a quiet spot. I’ve never made a ‘wild fire’ before, and although I knew it would not make a mess, I was very aware that the landowner might take a different view. It was so hot and dry, lighting the fire was easy and it made barely any smoke. The only thing to scupper our plans was the heat – it was just too hot to cook up a proper meal. We settled for cup-a-soup and fire-toasted bread. Very nice it was too.
Once you stop feeding the fire it goes out very quickly, and we were soon ready to pack up. The fire had burned the moss off the stone we were cooking on, so if anything we left things cleaner than when we’d arrived, but otherwise there was virtually no sign that we’d lit a fire.
I really like my new stove, and I hope I get to play with the wood burner as much as the meths burner. It’s not a novice stove though. If you’re tempted to get one you will need to practise at home before relying on it in the field. Fire safety is a much bigger issue than with the meths burner, as it does produce sparks. Smoke can be a bit of a problem if the wood isn’t very dry. I’m hoping my fires will get less smoky as my fire lighting skills improve.
I’m very pleased with my new toy, but I still have a lot to learn.