While at the SHOT show in January, we had a chance to see all kinds of products related to the shooting sports. It seems that tactical is the new black. Anything tactical draws a lot of attention. However, there were some mainstream products also on display that probably had more to do with outdoors people than folks just interested in firearms, tactical vests, and kneepads. One of those new products on display was the Brunton Vesta butane stove.
The Brunton Vesta is essentially the fraternal twin of Brunton’s new Bantam stove. The main difference between the two is the Bantam is a liquid feul stove that burns white gas, and, as mentioned, the Vesta uses butane for its operation. Woods Monkey received the new Vesta demo unit a couple of weeks ago to give it a test drive and jot down our thoughts. We specifically requested the Vesta instead of the Bantam, because I am currently more partial to butane stoves. About eight years ago, I did a lot of research and invested in a highly-rated liquid fuel stove. Though I used it for a few years, I never felt 100% about it, but I felt I needed to use it because of the investment I had made.
Some of the issues I had was having to replace the priming pump, maintaining the seals, making sure all the parts were clean from soot, and so forth. Also, I never liked the process of starting the fire. You had to pump the handle to build up some pressure, let some liquid fuel spray out to coat the flame cup, light the fuel in the cup, let it die down a bit, and then turn on the valve to let the pressurized fuel to spray out into the existing flame. It was a bit of hassle. Also, because the fuel line was was so inflexible, it was hard to get it properly attached to the fuel bottle, and it was difficult to get it to pack up in a really compact package. After about four years spent with that system, I finally figured I was due for a new backpacking stove. Once more, I did a lot of research, and picked out a new stove that used butane instead of liquid fuel.
That stove has a Piezo ignition system, which is much easier and faster to get the meal started than my old stove. It can bring a liter of water to a rolling boil about as quickly as any I’ve seen or read about. The fuel it uses is comprised of a propane/iso-butane mix which is considered the best combination, especially for operating at lower temperatures. It packs up with its cup and other parts in a very compact package. For its specific purpose–being an efficient and compact complete cooking system for the minimalist backpacker–it’s probably an ideal solution. Even so, it does have some drawbacks that a lot of people would prefer not to suffer. First, the main “cooking” that is done with this system will generally be heating water to add to freeze-dried meals or to make hot drinks. The reason is that the cooking vessel is a large mug configuration. Yes, you could actually cook things in it like soup, mashed potatoes, noodles, and the like, but it’s not a solution for the person that wants to cook other types of food like pancakes, sausage, eggs over easy and so forth.
Another issue with that particular stove and some other compact butane stoves is that the pot supports are fairly small, and that makes it difficult to have a stable platform for your pot or pan to rest upon without sliding around during the cooking process. Additionally, putting a large pan or pot on top of a stove that’s attached to a butane canister with a rather small footprint makes the whole package rather top heavy, and easy to tip over as well. So, what’s a person to do if they want to wake up in the morning and make some flap jacks without jumping through all kinds of hoops and steps to make it happen? Well, I’d suggest that the person take a look at Brunton’s solution to this dilemma with its new Vesta butane stove.
Unlike a lot of other compact butane stoves, the Vesta’s actual burner head does not attach directly to the butane canister. Instead, the burner head is supported by three flip-out pot supports, and it has a fuel line that runs out from it. The fuel line attaches to the butane canister via a control handle at the other end. The control handle has a valve arm that folds up for easy stowage. In my mind, the Vesta is a bit of a cross-over that gives you the good stuff from both worlds. Since, the burner head is supported by three pot supports and doesn’t sit on top of a canister, it is very stable when set into place. Also, the pot supports have enough surface area to easily use a larger pan or pot with out the worry of it sliding around or being set down off-center. Even so, the pot supports flip over on top of each other to make a flat and compact package for when it’s time to pack up everything.
What I like about the Vesta and other butane systems are their extreme ease of use when getting a flame for cooking. There is no need for properly aligning handles and arms to get the fuel bottle into the right position. You just thread the butane canister onto the control handle. Voila! You’re ready to go. At that point, all you have to do is turn the valve and quickly ignite the butane with a match or lighter. Very simple. There’s no pumping, no priming, or any other wacky procedure to get it to work. In fact, if there wasn’t an instruction manual, it would still be very easy to get this stove to work without any advance knowledge or preparation. There are other stoves that you can’t say that about since they have certain, “Monk”-like (see the TV show) procedures to get started. With the valve arm, you can adjust the amount of fuel hitting the burner head depending on the type of cooking that you want to do. This is another advantage that butane stoves like the Vest have over the liquid fuel type stoves. If you turn down the flame on a liquid fuel stove, you can get some sputtering and more soot on your cookware from the flame. It’s just not as easy to regulate a liquid fuel flame as it is one from a butane fuel source.
Now, that I’ve extolled the virtues of butane stoves, you might be asking if there are any downsides to using butane canisters. Yes, there are, but they are ones I can live with quite easily. First butane stoves don’t do so well once you get around or below freezing termperatures. Even with all the operation steps involved, this is the one area where a liquid fuel stove has the advantage. But, that’s considering that everything’s been maintained properly and the priming process has been done correctly. The second downside to butane canisters is that they cost more than liquid fuel to cook/heat the same amount of water or food. There is more involved in the process of making butane canisters than just producing white gas, hence the higher cost. So, for the weekend backpacker where only a couple of days are going to be involved, the butane canister will work just fine. But, for the longer expeditions of a week or more, you’re going to get more bang for your buck with a liquid fuel stove. Also, the weight of a comparable amount of liquid fuel will probably less since you’re only carrying one fuel canister instead of 3-4 butane canisters.
This is where we need to do a bit of a reality check. When I first got into backpacking and hiking and started researching stoves, I had these notions of a lot of winter camping and 10 day back-country trips in the high Sierras where a lot of fuel would be consumed. Truth is, thoughout the years, the longest I’ve stayed out has been just under a week and one large butane canister served me well. Also, I’ve only gone winter camping twice, and that was really quite enough for me. I did not enjoy waking up and getting dressed in the winter time nearly as much as I thought I would. So, I’m not really concerned about trying to use the stove in near freezing temperatures–unless of course it’s an emergency situation. And, if that’s the case, I have other gear to start a regular fire to do what I need. A stove is really more for convenience than it is a true necessity. Also, if I were camping in the winter, I would probably build a fire to cook, since it would also keep me warm, and a stove won’t really help you in the same way that a wood fire can.
After checking everything out in the package and reading the instructions to double-check everything, I packed it back up to take it out in the field with me for a day to do some wildlife photography. As it gets closer to spring, we’re seeing more and more wildlife beginning to stir, and that’s a favored hobby for me. As I packed it, I noticed and really liked the Vesta’s line. It was very flexible and supple, and easy to work with when packing it and when attaching it to a butane canister. It was a true pleasure not to have to fight and finaggle with the fuel line in order to get everything set in place and get the meal started.
Since I was only going to boil water for a Mountain House meal to test how quickly it would bring a liter to boil to compare to other stoves, I turned the valve wide-open for the initial test. It was quite windy out, but I tested it out in the open just to get a feel for how it would perform in other-than-ideal conditons. During this first test, it took five minutes and fifteen seconds to bring a liter of water to a rolling boil. Aside from the wind, it was about 65 degrees at the time that I used the Vesta. While this wasn’t record-setting time, I knew up front that there would be some heat loss with the wind as heavy as it was. That in mind, I set that water to the side and poured in another liter of water (ambient temperature) to do a second test. For that one, I fashioned a wind shield out of a couple of logs and my pack. As expected, it took a much shorter amount of time to bring it to a rolling boil. In fact, it was right at four minutes and forty-five seconds this time with the valve, once again, at full throttle. This was actually a pretty good showing when you compare those times with some of the other top-rated stoves on the market that are more “specialized”. In fact, it was right up there at the top of the list. By “specialized” I’m talking about a stove system that’s really dedicated to just one thing–for instance, just boiling water. As I mentioned earlier, I see this is more of a cross-over type stove that pulls on the strong points of different types. I know that the other butane system I mentioned earlier will boil just a 1/2 liter in two minutes, but, it’s not going to let me do any real cooking on it. So, the Vesta more than held its own even with the open flame system.
After I had completed the first two tests, I came back to the stove again a few days later. I conducted a third test just to confirm my findings and to make sure one of the results wasn’t a “flier”. On that day, the temperature was 71 degrees, and there was a little bit of wind. I did not build a wind shield this time around. Right at four minutes and forty seconds, the water began to roll once more. That was just a few seconds better than the second test where the wind shield was in place, but a few degrees cooler. I’m sure if I had put a wind shield in place during this last test, I could have easily shaved off another fifteen seconds. So, I’m comfortable with the results and how it’s going to perform on average, and actually pretty pleased with it overall. The literature on the Brunton Vesta indicates a boil time for one liter of water at two minutes and forty-five seconds. In all honesty, I’m not sure I fathom how they achieved that boil time. I’m hoping it’s just a typo of some sort. I’d have to see the conditions with which that time was achieved. I don’t know what they consider a “boil”. If they consider a boil when there are multiple streams of bubbles racing to the top from the bottom, then I would concur that it happens a little after the three minute mark or so. But, I judge a boil to occur at the time that the surface of the water actually begins rolling actively. So, there may be some testing differences there. However, the times I took during my own Vesta tests roughly coincide with boil times of other top-tier stoves of this type. So, the Vesta is certainly right in there with the the best of them.
One thing I go back and forth about with myself is the lack of the Piezo electric ignition switch. It is very handy to have one, and not have to use a match or a lighter to light the gas. But, it could add a little bulk and weight, and it might prevent the Vesta from folding up so compactly. When I spoke to the Brunton representative about this, it was indicated that Piezo switches are typically the one part that will need repair or replacement most often. By keeping the switch out of the equation, it simplies the parts and operation, and it helps with Brunton’s ability to offer a lifetime limited warranty on the Vesta. To me, it’s a fair tradeoff, and I can live with it considering all of the virtues that the Brunton Vest offers as a whole package.
We can’t always coordinate our gear reviews with the big outings, and that was the case here. We wanted to turn the review out in a timely fashion, but we’re still going to put the Vesta through its paces in the near future. In the middle of April, we will be going to the annual PWYP gathering, and we’ll have a better opportunity to use the Vesta for several days cooking a variety of meals. Once that experience is done, we’ll update our review with some more detailed information. All in all, I think Brunton’s got a winner with their new Vesta butane stove. It’s compact, and performs very well out in the field. The components are sturdy and well put together, and the emphasis of my appreciation goes to the workability of the fuel line and the control handle. With just a little organizing, the Vesta fits right inside of my cookset with a few other items I keep on hand. Besides economizing space, that also provides a little more protection against the knocks and bumps you experience on the trail. Believe me, I’ve had them. As I always point out, you have to pick what works best for you. But, if you’re looking for a butane stove that’s a great performer, lightweight, and provides a stable platform for whatever you’re looking to fix for dinner, then the Brunton Vesta should be at the top of your list to check out!