It seems like all of the stoves I have work reasonably well in warm weather. As I’ve gathered more stoves I began wondering which ones worked best in cold weather and whether or not some were even suitable for cold weather use. The stoves I’ve tested here are all white gas capable, some are equipped with spirit cups (pre-heat cups), one is capable of burning white gas, kerosene and propane/butane, and some have separate fuel tanks. But overall, I observed that performance in cold weather, that is, sub-freezing, really depends on whether or not you can pre-heat the generator, and if the stove doesn’t come equipped to do this, you need to preheat it with fire paste. None of this is new information, so I’m simply posting some practical first-hand experience.
I tested the following stoves at 40 deg F (4.4 deg C) and 17deg F (-8.3 deg C), using the spirit cups, if equipped, every time I fired them up. For those without spirit cups I used preheat paste at the colder temperature. I cold soaked the stoves outdoors for at least two hours before attempting to light them.
Stoves with spirit cups (pre-heat cups):
Prentiss Waber M-1942 Modified, Coleman (or Rogers) M-1950, MSR Whisperlite Internationale, Coleman Denali
The common design feature of all of these stoves is the vertical generator with spirit cup below where the valve is opened allowing the fuel to drip into the spirit cup. The fuel is then ignited heating the generator. Overall, if I gave the stove enough fuel in the spirit cup, they all fired right nicely as the pre-heat fuel burned down.
M-1942 Modified – This is the stove commonly referred to as the 10th Mountain Division stove and is actually a pleasure to use. Its all-stainless-steel-and-brass design makes it a very usable stove even 70 years after it was built. Following the instructions, it ignited perfectly every time I tried it. Made in 1945, this thing keeps surprising me.
M-1950 – This is the stove the US military used from 1951 through 1987. I found this stove to be a little more touchy than the M-1942 stove, though it could have been the specific stove. Having the proper amount of fuel in the spirit cup helped it light properly.
MSR Whisperlite International – This is one of the most popular backpacking stoves of the last 30 years, and after testing it, it is easy to see why. In either temperature, using the spirit cup helped this stove light up every time. Though, when it was 17 deg F, I did fiddle with the control valve because it seemed like it could have burned a little longer to help warm it up. One difference between this stove and the other three in this category is the flame diffuser. This stove is noticeably quieter than the others.
Coleman Denali – This is a short-lived stove produced by Coleman in the 2000s. Easy to light with white gas and even easier with the inverted propane/butane fuel canister, it pulsated a lot but worked fine. I had the flame go out when on the low setting at 17 deg F using Coleman Fuel. When using the propane-butane canister, it was really reliable. One other thing to note is that this stove is really loud. Not simply louder than the Whisperlite, but noticeably louder than the two military stoves.
Stoves without spirit cups (pre-heat cups)
Coleman stoves: 502 Sportster, 576 Peak 1 (Canada), 400 Peak 1, 400A Peak 1, Exponent Feather 442
Coleman 400 Peak 1, 400A Peak 1, 576 Peak 1 – These three stoves have an On/Off valve knob and a separate flame adjustment lever. They all lit fine without preheat paste at 40 degrees F, but it was mandatory, at 17 degrees F. At cold temps, and without the paste, the stove would light and then go out immediately. The 400A is my favorite stove, however, it and the 400 took longer than other 400 series stoves to settle down to the nice blue flame at either temperature. This was a bit disappointing, but I plan to do a little more experimenting to see if this is operator error, a stove maintenance problem, or just the way the stove works. It’s not that this is a huge problem, but simply that it unnecessarily consumes extra fuel.
Coleman Feather 442 and later 400 series – This stove and all 400 series stoves after the 400A, like the Feather 400, 400B, 442 Dual Fuel, and other variants have a similar design. They omit the separate flame control lever and instead fuel is controlled through the one red On/Off lever. Like other stoves without spirit cups, it lights fine at temps above freezing, but it works better with preheat paste when operating below freezing. When using preheat paste, I applied it to the top of the burner, lit it, and let it burn for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. When it burned down, I lit the stove as normal and it began working fine right from the beginning with a nicely controlled blue flame.
Coleman 502 – This stove was made from the 1960s into the 1980s. Because the burner is recessed into the windscreen bowl it was difficult to add the fire paste without the help of a small screwdriver. So, at 40 degrees F the stove worked very nicely, but at 17 degrees F it needed preheat paste, which when used, the stove operated very nicely. While I would not care to carry this stove in my pack, I think it makes a nice year-round, car-camping stove.
There are a few more stoves I’d like to test, but that will have to wait until I can borrow them or buy for cheap.
Finally, there are various features of these stoves, which I like or dislike, so I’m not writing to sway you to choose one over the other. For example, I prefer burner-with-integrated-tank stoves, like the M-1942, M-1950, 400 series and 502. So, for a winter stove used primarily for boiling water, I’d probably choose the M-1942. If you prefer the burner-separate-from-tank stoves, the MSR Whisperlite is an excellent performer. If you want one that’ll burn anything the Coleman Denali, will burn Coleman Fuel, gasoline, kerosene, and propane/butane in canisters. If you’ve already got a Coleman 400 series stove or 502 or similar, buy a tube of preheat paste and you’re good to go.
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