A few weeks ago, Kevin Bailey contacted me via email about his new Vertex Ultralight Backpacking Stove, which he has created and is currently trying to bring to the market via Kickstarter. After checking out his video and reading though some of the info on his Kickstarter page, I was a bit interested. So, I gave him some of my immediate thoughts based on what I saw. I also told him that I would be interested in checking one out and using it personally, and could then provide him with some more feedback if he was interested. He said sure, and put one of his stoves in the mail for me!
A couple of days later, the package was dropped off in my mailbox. When I opened it up, I found a Vertex stove in all steel, as well as 2 extra side walls, but in titanium. (At the time that Kevin shipped the stove to me, he did not have a fuel support tray in titanium in-hand, so he just sent the one in steel.) Of course, he also included the black ripstop nylon stuff sack to store all of the separate stove components while not in use. And while the package I received was not packaged as they will be once he begins sending them out to the Kickstarter backers, I found that there was still some attention to detail in the packaging of the individual pieces. They were each wrapped in plastic and was very nice…
So, the first thing I did after unpacking all the pieces was weigh everything, then I put the pieces together and took a few measurements. Here are the numbers I came up with:
- (Individual) Steel Side Wall Plates: 0.668 oz (18.94 g)
- (Individual) Titanium Side Wall Plates: 0.386 oz (10.93 g)
- Steel Fuel Support Tray: 0.362 oz (10.27 g)
- Ripstop Nylon Stuff Sack: 0.276 oz (7.82 g)
As I said, Kevin did not have a titanium fuel support tray available when he mailed me the stove, although, I believe he will at some point. So, using the steel fuel support tray, the total weight with the steel sides comes to 1.7 oz, or 48.15 grams (actually, 0.1 oz less than stated). The total weight of the steel fuel support tray with the titanium sides comes to 1.135 oz, or 32.13 grams. (He is estimating that the total weight of an all titanium stove will come in around 1 oz total.) If I add the weight of the black, ripstop nylon stuff sack, the all steel version comes in at 1.974 oz, or 55.97 grams, whereas the steel fuel support with the titanium side walls comes in at 1.41 oz, or 39.95 grams!
After weighing all the individual pieces, I assembled the stove and took a few measurements. The total height (from top to bottom) of the stove is 3 inches, or 7.62 cm. The width at the widest point of the stove is 2 & 13/16 inches, or 7.142 cm. The length of the stove is 4 & 5/8 inches, or 11.74 cm (measured from the inside). However, likely the most important measurement when it comes to Esbit stoves, is the measurement from the fuel support tray to the top of the stove, or where the bottom of the cook pot will rest. With the Vertex stove, that measurement is 1.5 inches, or 3.81 cm. (Click HERE for a basic analysis/explanation of Esbit height vs efficiency.)
Now, since the notable, measurable, specifics are done, how about some of the more subjective attributes of the stove…
The first thing I was interested in was how easy it was to assemble the stove. In the video on the Kickstarter page, one can see how quickly Kevin assembled the stove, however, I was curious to see if it was really that easy for me to do. After assembling the stove the first time, I will say that I found it to be a bit strange-feeling, however, I will admit that after assembling it a few more times, it became a bit more familiar, and as a result, a bit “easier.” Saying this, I find that it is somewhat easier to assemble if I do so over a flat surface which will help guide the pieces together. It is possible to assemble while holding the stove up in the air, but at this point (for me) it takes more concentration to do so successfully. All-in-all, I think that this will not be an issue for most users, however, I do suggest to practice assembling/disassembling it a few times to get familiar with it…
Other than this, I was also wondering about the overall strength and stability of the stove. As far as strength is concerned, once the stove is properly assembled, the stove is very strong in my opinion (whether it be the steel version, or the titanium version). I have only used a 0.6L pot with it, however, I would have no issues with using a much larger cook pot with it… While I have not tested it, I feel like this stove will easily be able to handle any size cook pot that one would use with it, especially for backpacking. (As a point-of-reference, I have assembled the stove using the titanium walls and set a 12 inch cast iron skillet, with an 8 inch cast iron skillet inside it, on the stove and it showed no signs of weakness…)
As far as stability is concerned, the only reason I worry about this is because the stove is oval-shaped instead of circular, or square, or rectangular…. The stove comes to a point on each end, and this makes me wonder if it is less stable than one of the other shapes I mentioned because of this… Maybe I am just imagining something in my head here… but it is a concern I do have. However, to be fair, nothing has happened even remotely to reinforce this concern…
So, for me, this wraps up most things, other than how the stove actually performs… Saying this, I feel like any Esbit stove that can “boil” 3 cups of water (in decent conditions) on a single 14 g Esbit tablet is a “good-enough” stove (for me). Of course though, this is a broad statement… Even some of the best Esbit set-ups may still struggle with bringing 3 cups of water to a full, hard-rolling boil, given the “right” circumstances (such as water temperature, as well as the weather conditions at hand). So, when I say this, I am thinking of water that is not super-cold (dipped from streams with ice in them), and with some occasional winds… (ok, this is still really vague too… sorry folks…)
To find out how this stove performs, I took it with me, unused, on a recent section hike along the AT. I will admit, I typically use a stove a few times before carrying it on the trail with me, but this time I didn’t (mostly due to time constraints). To compensate for this, I carried a few extra Esbit tablets, just in case. (For 2.5 days, I carried three 14 G tabs, and five 4 g tabs, which is still only just over 2 oz of fuel. So, not bad…) I also carried my 0.6L Evernew cook pot to use with the stove. Being that this stove has a “windscreen” built into the design, I did not carry any sort of windscreen.
While using the stove on the trail, I did not bother with timing my boils (I never do this on the trail anyway…) Instead, I guesstimated how much fuel I would need for the amount of water I was boiling, based on the temperature of the water, as well as the amount of wind blowing. This means that for my dinners (which consisted of my 0.6L pot nearly filled with water and Ramen) I used a single 14 g Esbit tablet. In the mornings, when heating water for my coffee (about 300 ml) I used 2 of the 4 g tabs.
Now, let me say, since I have been using my LiteTrail cook kit, I have been using less fuel, as well as opting for the 4 g Esbit tabs over the 14 g Esbit tabs. (IME, the 4 g tabs make it easier to measure my fuel more precisely, has no fishy smell, and leaves much, much less soot than the 14 g tabs.) Saying this, the amount of fuel I used for my dinner above (14 g tabs) is actually a little more than I would now normally use (three 4 g tabs), however, as I mentioned, I did not use this stove before the hike, so did not know what to expect of it, so I leaned towards using a little more rather than a little less.
So, for the big question: How did it do?
The first night as I was setting it up to cook my dinner, a storm was blowing in, which meant the winds were whipping and-a blowing. Thankfully, we had made it to the shelter for the night, so I set the stove up on a ledge near the front of the shelter. I tried to position the stove so that a large log support post would act as a bit of a wind block, however, as it turned out, it didn’t block as much wind as I had hoped. But, by the time I realized this, the stove was already going, and moving it was not an ideal option… Besides, this was a great time to see how well the stove worked in the wind. Check out THIS VIDEO at around 16:12 to see how the stove performed in the wind.
As seen in the video, the wind did not blow the Esbit tablet out, which means it did shield the fuel source from the wind, however, the wind did blow the flame around quite a bit. This means that not all of the heat being produced was allowed to be transferred into the cook pot, and then into the contents, because the wind was sucking much of that heat away with it. For this dinner, the 14 g tablet did not manage to bring the contents of the cook pot (about 375 – 400 ml of cold water & a pack of Ramen) to a full, hard rolling boil. There were small bubbles along the sides, but never a rolling boil.
The next morning, I set the stove up inside the shelter (where the wind couldn’t get to the stove as it did the night before), and heated more water for my morning coffee. I filled the cook pot with about 300 ml of (cold) water and used 2 of the 4 g tablets. This time, my water actually came to a full, hard rolling boil, at which time I removed the pot from the stove, and let the rest of the tabs finish burning out (they were almost burnt out anyway). The next morning I did the same thing, and experienced the same results.
When it came time to cook dinner the second night (which was the same as before: Ramen with about 375 – 400 ml of water) I set up inside the shelter again, where the wind couldn’t reach the stove as it did the night before. This time the contents of my cook pot came to a hard, rolling boil a bit quicker, at which time I removed the pot, then blew out the rest of the Esbit tablet. I estimated that there was about 40% of the 14 g Esbit tablet remaining at this point, which I later used to lightly boil approximately 300 ml of water for a mug of hot tea!
Based on my limited use with the Vertex stove in the field, I was not blown away with the results, however, I wasn’t exactly displeased with them either. To be honest, I was actually happy with them. With a little forethought, I feel like this stove will perform just as well as many of the other “successful” Esbit set-ups on the market. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it will perform as efficiently as an Esbit set-up in a Caldera Cone (which I believe to be the most fuel-efficient Esbit set-up), but I don’t think that it is all that far from it… again, with some forethought, as with other Esbit kits…
In my opinion, the Vertex stove will work s intended in most instances, however, in windy situations, I believe that it will need more of a wind break than what it offers for it to continue to work efficiently. This can be done with some folded aluminum foil, or by making the best of natural wind breaks such as a fallen log or large rocks, or even ones own body.
Saying this, and with an “ultralight” mindset, I feel like a titanium version of the stove is the overall best option. As I mentioned above, the titanium walls easily held up my cast iron skillet’s with no issues whatsoever, so in my opinion, strength is not an issue here. But, in my opinion, the stoves weight versus its fuel efficiency is. Since the titanium version is considerably lighter than the steel version (~1 oz vs 1.7 oz), but can still offer the same (or as much as needed) amount of strength, and the same efficiency as the steel version, then in my opinion, titanium is the way to go. However, the problem here is that titanium is more expensive than steel, which is an issue for some folks… But, price does not change the fact that the titanium Vertex stove has a better weight to efficiency ratio than the steel version offers…
Buuuttttt…. I’m not sure what Kevin’s plans are as for offering a titanium version of the Vertex stove. I know that he has mentioned it, but I am not sure if it will eventually be offered as one of the Kickstarter pledge options, or possibly after the initial Kickstarter run is over with, if at all. For this reason, I carried the all steel version on my hike, and have used it to run all of the initial “tests” which I have mentioned in this write-up. And while I do believe the titanium version is a wiser choice, the steel version is still a good-enough stove too. For those looking to get into Esbit stoves (or those already into Esbit stoves), I can’t think of any stand-out reasons not to recommend this stove.
So, in a nutshell, here are my thoughts on the Vertex stove, starting with the “Good”
- It is a stove, a pot stand, and a windscreen, all in one!
- It packs down small.
- It is relatively light-weight (remember, it is 3 things in 1).
- With a bit of forethought, it is efficient.
I can’t really think of anything that I find bad about this stove. But I will say that with Esbit or alcohol stoves, a good windscreen is as important as the stove itself. And while the Vertex stove does incorporate a windscreen into its design, it would be nice to see a bit more of a windscreen somehow integrated into the stove, but I’m not sure how it could be done, and as I mentioned, there are things that can be done to break the wind anyway.
And speaking of alcohol stoves, I should mention that Kevin has designed this stove to also work in conjunction with the popular Trangia alcohol stove. I will admit, I have never used the Trangia stove, nor have any plans of getting one, but they are well-known stoves (although, compared to many alcohol stoves on the market today, somewhat heavier alcohol stoves…) However, the Trangia stove should fit into the cutouts on the side walls of the Vertex stove, in place of the fuel support tray…
One other thing that I would like to mention is that while the supplied stuff sack is a nice touch, for those of us who do count each and every gram that goes into our packs, there is a good chance the supplied stuff sack will not be included. The hard-core gram weenies will likely just throw the stove pieces in a pocket on their pack (if they even have pockets) and take off. But, I prefer to have some sort of way to keep the pieces together, and preferably to help contain any soot that may rub off on other items inside my pack (whether in a side pocket, or inside the pack itself). To do this, I simply grabbed a tyvek envelope I had lying around, cut a corner from it and used the tape (from the top of the envelope) to seal the cut side closed. This resulted in a Tyvek envelope with a (non-closeable) top opening that only weighs 0.070 oz, or 1.98 g! This is a quarter of the weight of the supplied stuff sack, and in my opinion, will function just the same…
So, to finish this post up, I will leave you with a video that takes a closer look at the stove itself, how “easy” it is for me to assemble, as well as me using it to boil some water…
Thanks for stopping by!
Disclaimer: Kevin Bailey, the creator of the Vertex Ultralight Backpacking Stove, supplied me with this stove for the purpose of personal feedback. I was not obligated to share this post with my readers, however, I believe that it is worth sharing. The statements within this post are of my own opinion, which I formed after personally handling and using the stove.