Up next in the camp kitchen is the new Primus EtaPacklight stove, and Will Stewart gives us a run down on its operation and his impressions.
Stoves, to my mind, are usually classifiable as a necessary evil, as far as their use in backpacking is concerned. I’m leery of anything that increases my pack weight, especially in a circumstance like this where I can count on making a fire to cook with instead. But sadly there are often times when it’s just not an option! Most notably, when local weather (i.e. dry spells) or local laws prohibit open fires. The latter is an all too common circumstance, as I hear it, for our brethren overseas. Then of course there are folks who just plain old prefer the simplicity of cooking on a predictable flame! This is a hard point to argue, as it can sometimes get cumbersome rigging a pot or skillet over an open fire without a proper stand. A good stove, however, has this feature built in, and has the added benefit of a direct, concentrated flame to heat your meal (versus a bed of coals). There are also times when it may just be a pain in the rump to get a fire going or when you want a quicker, easier hot meal; heavy rain or deep winter are not the most fun times to collect firewood!
A quick internet search of available backpacking stoves will reveal quite a spectrum of sizes and styles, but one company will inevitably be at the top of most recommendations–Primus. To say the least, this company has been around for a while. They produced the first soot-free kerosene stove in 1892, named the Primus (No. 1). It quickly became the ‘standard’ and was in fact amongst the gear of Roald Amundsen when he became the first to visit the South Pole in 1911. The first folks to reach the top of Everest were using (you guessed it) a Primus to cook with. They currently produce no less than 25 stoves (aside from lanterns, tents, pots, and other accessories) from ultra-lightweights to large, family-type stoves. I was lucky enough to play with one from their Eta series, the EtaPackLite. It is currently their lightest two-person stove in the Eta line. I must disagree a bit with their classification however: this is more a cooking system than a simple stove!
The EtaPackLite comes in a deceptively small package measuring roughly 5” x 6.5”, and contained neatly in a small mesh/nylon drawstring pouch. To the uninitiated, there appears to be a great many pieces of equipment inside as well, including a pot with folding handle, plastic serving bowl, small plate, locking plastic pot cover, wind screen, and the stove apparatus itself. There is also enough room inside the stowed setup for a fuel canister. The stove has three ‘arms’ that can be folded for stowing the stove in the main pot, but when extended provide secure support for the wind screen as well as for the pot. The whole setup rests on the round base of the stove itself, roughly 4” wide. Out of the box, this kit includes everything you need for a mobile camp kitchen except fuel (a canister of which costs less than five dollars) and utensils. Not too shabby, eh? Incidentally, the package also comes with an expansive set of model-specific instructions, making this easy to utilize for any layperson.
The two biggest questions that I have about any new stove are how efficient will it cook (or how quickly will it get my water boiling) and how lightweight is it? If it’s too slow it won’t be worth taking, and if it weighs too much it’s getting left behind. Considering all that is included in the EtaPackLite, the weight is very endearing at 21 ounces! This Primus model is rated at an impressive 80% efficiency, due largely to the heat-exchanger system at the base of the pot. Now, I’m not terribly interested in the nitty-gritty of boiling time (for example altitude, wind speed, whether Saturn was aligned with Pluto), but I do understand that some degree of standardization is required for reporting this figure. During my initial testing, it was 74 degrees Fahrenheit with little to no wind, at 980 feet above sea level. Testing endpoint was time to a rolling boil for one liter of room-temperature water with the lid in place, at the highest flame setting. In no more than a minute and a half I was watching a rolling boil. Impressive! And apparently a watched pot does boil…
I took the EtaPackLite on three trips: one overnight and two dayhikes. On both the dayhikes it was used to prepare a quick lunch and tea. The use on the overnight was a little more robust, preparing a dinner of dehydrated pasta (which may have originally been made from cardboard), hot chocolate, and oatmeal and coffee in the morning. Setting up the stove was quick and simple each time. The base provided more than adequate support for even a full pot of water/food. I was lucky enough not to have to deal with inclement weather on any trip, but the wind screen did guard against some fairly strong winds. Cleanup was also a breeze thanks to the non-stick coating in the pot and the stove is as easy to stow as it is to set up. It took up no more room in my pack than my normal coffee can billy pot does, but provided quite a bit more versatility. I must confess I enjoyed being spoiled by being able to get hot food or brew in an instant, without the prep associated with getting a fire going. And really there are no added chores for cleanup (or certainly no more than what is required to safely extinguish a fire). The half-mesh pouch also means any soot/gunk left over on the pot won’t dirty up the inside of your rucksack.
After a fair amount of use, I have a new appreciation for the versatility of a good stove! I’ve used several others which apparently give backpacking stoves a bad name; much less simple to setup, less quick to cook, and way heavier! The EtaPackLite really packs a punch, however, in that it provides everything you need to cook, serve and eat, in a size suitable for even a quick dayhike. The base of this Primus provides ample stability on any decent surface, and the support arms offer no less security for even a full pot. I’m really impressed with the fuel efficiency as well; I still haven’t managed to burn through a whole container of fuel across three trips to the woods! So overall, I can’t find a good reason not to recommend the EtaPackLite to anyone in the market for a top-quality, lightweight wilderness/backpacking cooking system. It may just be gas fumes talking, but this Primus has my head swimming!