Bikepacking Cooking MK2…

My revamped cooking setup...

My revamped cooking setup…

I posted about my bikepacking cooking setup back in April and recently posted a review of the Trail Designs F-Keg Stove System I tried out this summer. The F-Keg really impressed me with its lightweight and how it all worked together so well as a system, but it proved a bit delicate. So I went back to my old cooking setup [Trangia stove + titanium pot] to see if I could improve it so that it was comparable to the F-Keg with the benefit of being robust enough for longterm use.

The contents...

The contents…

My main issues with the existing cooking setup were:

  • relatively heavy
  • stove stand and windscreen did not fit into pot

I resolved these issues by replacing the Trangia with the homemade alcohol stove shown in the video above. It has the benefit of being light and it acts as its own pot stand. I cut down an MSR windscreen to fit the new setup and used a metal document clip to hold it closed.

Pot on stove - no stand req'd...

Pot on stove – no stand req’d…

The DIY stove boils 2 cups of cold tap water in 6.5 mins and will burn for 10 mins on 30ml of fuel. This is comparable performance to the F-Keg and the Trangia.

6.5 minutes to boil 2 cups of cold water...

6.5 minutes to boil 2 cups of cold water…

The whole MK2 cooking setup [stove + screen + pot] weighs 155g which is 50g more than the F-Keg and 225 g less than the MK1 Trangia setup

  • Trail Designs F-Keg Stove System = 105g @ $60
  • Trail Designs F-Keg Stove System w/ protective caddy = 190g @ $60
  • my cooking setup MK1 [Trangia] = 380g @ $80
  • my cooking setup MK2 [DIY stove] = 155g @ $66
Robust and a nice shape for my backpack or framebag...

Robust and a nice shape for my backpack or framebag…

The MSR 700ml Titan Kettle is a handy size for solo or 2-3 person trips.

Stove with windscreen...

Stove with windscreen…

The Good:

  • robust when packed and in use
  • pot can be used on fire or other heat source
  • pot is a useful shape for cooking a real meal not just boiling water
  • stove is most delicate component, but it can be built in the field for free from a pop or beer can
  • cost is comparable to other options
  • fuel use and boiling time about the same as other options
  • less than half the weight of my MK1 cooking setup
  • everything fits neatly into pot
Stove in action...

Stove in action…

The Bad:

  • 50g or ~30% heavier than the Trail Design F-Keg
  • not as stable as either the F-Keg or the Trangia with stand

Overall I’m pretty happy with the results of these changes. It eliminates the major problems of the other lightweight cooking systems I was using the only real downside being it’s not as stable in use so I’ll need to be a bit more careful I don’t knock it over.

Flame on...

Flame on…

Trail Designs F-Keg Stove System Review

Trail Designs F-Keg Stove System...

Trail Designs F-Keg Stove System…

What is it?

The F-Keg is a combined windscreen, pot stand, pot and stove setup for the ultralight minded camper. It was designed, fabricated and sold by Trail Designs.

  • Caldera Cone – is a sheet metal windscreen and pot stand all in one
  • The F-Keg – is a customized beer can [~3 cups] that mates with the Caldera Cone and works as your pot [includes a lid]
  • 12-10 Stove – is a pop can stove designed to work inside the Caldera Cone
  • Fuel bottle and 30ml measuring cup – allow for precise refuelling of the stove
  • Silicone bands – add some grab-ability to the hot F-Keg
  • Pot cozy – keeps water hot and lets you grab the F-Keg with your bare hands
  • Plastic caddy – this food grade carrier can be your cup and bowl when it is not protecting the F-Keg System
  • Cost = $60
The F-Keg in action...

The F-Keg in action…

Using It

The F-Keg System is pretty easy to use. Everything you need is packed into the F-Keg when in your bags. You unpack it and:

  • assemble the Caldera Cone being careful not to mangle the joint
  • drop F-Keg into cone
  • fill with water [2-3 cups]
  • measure 30ml of alcohol [for 2 cups of water] and drop into stove
  • light stove and place F-Keg + cone over it
  • wait 6 mins and you have boiling water for your meal

Once you are done and everything is cool you can repack it all into the F-Keg and throw it back in your pack.

How was it tested?

I used it as my only stove/pot for all my bikepacking trips this summer. So it probably was used to boil water ~70 times.

Everything packed into keg...

Everything packed into keg…

The Good

The best things about this cooking setup are:

  • very light [105g without the plastic caddy or fuel bottle]
  • reliable
  • fuel efficient
  • windproof
  • good size for rehydrating meals and making hot drinks
  • compact so fits into bags easily

There is a lot to like about this cooking system for ultralight trips. The packed size and weight always made me happy. The fact it worked reliably every time with minimal fuss was great. It fits right in with my typical bikepacking gear.

Caldera Cone - note delicate joint...

Caldera Cone – note delicate joint…

The Bad

Being ultralight and compact means some compromises:

  • water capacity is just enough for a large backing meal so you will be firing it up multiple times if you want a hot drink and if you are not solo
  • F-Keg gets hot and despite silicone bands you’ll need a glove to pick it up without burning yourself
  • the F-Keg fits tight into the cone so it’s easier to leave it in there and pour water out that way which means you’ve got to manoeuvre a bunch of hot metal around
  • the stove works best with a full 30ml of fuel and the pot doesn’t like to be heated with less than 2 cups of water [see The Ugly below] so it’s not very versatile
  • you can’t easily recover fuel from the stove so you want load it with exactly what you need
  • the F-Keg shape means it’s not useful as a cooking pot…it’s best used simply to boil water

Putting it into perspective the entire F-Keg Stove System weighs 22% less than my titanium MSR kettle on its own. So I can live with some downsides as long as they aren’t too awful. The stuff I’ve listed above is a bit of a PITA, but nothing that makes me want to carry a heavycooking setup. For solo trips in particular the size and weight benefits are insignificant relative to the benefits. As you try to share this stove with bigger groups you start to reconsider your choice.

The F-Keg at the end of the can't see the tiny holes...

The F-Keg at the end of the summer…you can’t see the tiny holes…

The Ugly

My initial review of this stove system would have been glowing. I thought it was the best thing ever. However, after some extended use its weaknesses came to light.

  • the Caldera Cone needs to be treated gently…particularly the joint that slides together to turn it into a pot stand…this is most critical during assembly and disassembly for storage. Once you have it back in the F-Keg for travel it’s pretty well protected.
  • The F-Keg is fragile and easily dented in your bags if not placed inside the plastic caddy. The caddy weighs 87g which is almost as much as all the rest of the parts of the cooking system combined. So it sucks to have to carry it just to protect your pot.
  • The F-Keg is thin aluminum and the heat is really focused on the part inside the cone so it’s not smart to run the stove without the full 2 cups of water in the keg.
  • The result of denting and un-denting the keg [with a spoon] combined with heating the keg with less than 2 cups of water in it was a damaged keg with holes in it.

Although I was a bit bummed with having a damaged keg when I reviewed what happened and the list of issues above I can avoid most of these problems now that I am aware of them. The one thing you can’t avoid is the delicate F-Keg. You either have to treat it gently or transport it inside the heavy plastic caddy.

F-Keg with cozy on and cone rolled up for storage...

F-Keg with cozy on and cone rolled up for storage…

What now?

My plan is to buy 2 new F-Kegs from Trail Designs. They are only $10 each. If I was doing this all over I would buy two spare kegs at the time of purchase since shipping the extra kegs won’t cost much combined with another order.

I liked the F-Keg a lot and I have learned what to do to keep it working. Primarily I will just ensure I never heat less than 2 cups of water in the keg and I will take care with my packing/handling of the keg.

I’ll keep using the F-Keg for short solo trips.  If I am traveling with other people I’ll use something more robust for cooking. It’s just too easy for someone who isn’t paying attention to cause some significant damage.

Having learned a few things from the F-Keg I’m going to revisit my Trangia cooking setup and see if I can improve it.

The F-Keg in its protective caddy...

The F-Keg in its protective caddy…

Improving the F-Keg

I like the F-Keg. I like it a lot. But, it does have some significant weaknesses. All of which could be solved by replacing the beer can keg with a titanium pot of approximately the same size. The weight would go up a bit and the cost would go up a lot, but you would have a much more robust system. You could get there using this titanium pot and then buying a custom sized cone, but the cost is around 3 times the F-Keg System or this 600ml Ti pot + cone at about twice the cost of the F-Keg System.