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Alpine, Survival / February 11, 2016

Gear Review: Olicamp Kinetic Ultra Titanium Backpacking Stove

Written by: Phil Lindeman

There’s nothing more convenient than hot water and a hot meal in the backcountry. And there’s nothing more frustrating than a shoddy backpacking stove.

Sure, you most likely won’t die if your stove stops working. There’s a water purifier and plenty of granola to go around. But think of it this way: Most everyone treks into the woods for a taste of relaxation or adventure, not a taste of broken (or even dangerous) equipment. If you spend the money the gear should work, plain and simple, for years and years to come. And hey, if it’s light and affordable at the same time, that’s a win-win long before you step foot on the trail.

Olicamp, a small backcountry company out of Utah, has the recipe (reliable/light/affordable) down to a science with a line of canister stoves. They’re all minimalistic, made of titanium or nickel-plated steel with foldable arms around burners of different sizes. None weigh more than four ounces, and all except the Xcelerator Ultra Titanium Stove ($69.99) screw directly onto a fuel canister. For an extra $20, the Olicamp stove kits come with a 32-ounce pot that doubles as a canister case, although the stove attachment itself is just barely too thick to fit squeeze inside at the same time. Luckily it comes with a hard plastic case. That’s backcountry cooking at it’s finest: just enough to get the job done.

The best combination of those secret ingredients comes in the Kinetic Ultra titanium stove. At 1.7 grams, it’s just 0.2 grams heavier than Olicamp’s lightest model, the Ion, dubbed “the smallest, lightest and most compact canister stove on the market.” The Kinetic features a much larger burner that’s rated at 9,620 BTUs, easily better than its closest competitor, the MSR Pocket Rocket at three ounces. The arms are also sturdier than the MSR and even the Ion, which is a blessing in the world of canister stoves. The only thing more frustrating than a malfunctioning stove: one that keeps tipping over again and again and again.

 

Photo: Phil Lindeman

Photo: Phil Lindeman

In the field

The standard Olicamp fuel canister ($4.95) is 8.1 ounces and contains an isobutene-propane mixture. It’s advertised as a four-season blend, made to work the same in warm and frigid conditions. The company’s baseline is 101 cups at 5,000 feet.

That’s about 5,000 feet lower than my test site in Breckenridge (water boils faster here because the boiling temperature drops with altitude), so I gave the Olicamp a head start and took it out on a relatively warm and calm day in mid-January. It produced plenty of heat for such a small device, and in less than four minutes the first 32-ounce pot of snow was beginning to boil. Just don’t forget a lighter or matches — the ignition is manual.

I recommend spending the extra $20 on the Olicamp pot. It’s perfectly proportioned for the stove and was stable, even when I bumped and leaned against the wooden deck holding the stove. My usual backcountry pot is a bit fatter and shorter — it tipped over easily. In all honesty, part of it is the stove arms: They might be more stable than most, but they’re still tiny at about 1.2 inches long. I let the flame burn for about 30 minutes at mid-range output, and it stayed bright and strong from start to finish.

The next night I took the Kinetic out in sub-zero weather for a better test of the four-season claim. After letting the stove and fuel canister sit in the cold for about an hour, I screwed it together, turned it on and watched the flame light right away. What a pleasant surprise. This time, it took about six minutes to bring snowmelt to a boil (nothing happens quickly at -7 Fahrenheit) and the flame started to dim after 10 minutes at mid-range.

 

Photo: Phil Lindeman

Photo: Phil Lindeman

My only concern: the air was typical Colorado and dry as a bone. I’m not sure how the Kinetic Ultra does in damp climates like the Great Lakes region or along either coast, although the screw valve worked fine and never froze when I dusted it with snow. Still, it’s not as reliable in truly cold temperatures as an inverted-canister model.

The Kinetic Ultra is a near-perfect mix of everything a backcountry trekker needs for mealtime. It’s light, reliable and boils a mean pot of water. Sometimes that’s all I ask.

MSRP: $49.95 (stove only), $69.95 (stove and pot kit)

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about the author

Phil Lindeman

Phil Lindeman is a gear junkie based in Summit County, Colorado, where the powder is deep and the singletrack is nearly endless.

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