The Pyrenees emails are beginning to back up as a lot of you prepare to leave during July and August. many are concerned about fuel, what stove to take and whether there will be problems finding fuel.
These days life is a bit easier as Camping Gaz and COleman are one, although there are still two thread systems (as well as the pierced canister system which is popular on the continent). A simple stove lie the MSR Superfly (and a number of adaptors) make it easy to switch between one system and the other. But it is still possible to be caught out when all the canisters in small stores have sold out. If you see canisters early one, then buy enough for the trip! in the past I’ve takes a multifuel system of the old school — a bottle system that can take diesel and so on and have used it!
Latterly, the new lightweight alcohol stoves have provided a better option as alcohol de bruyer can be easily found in any hardware store or decent supermarket in France. But this is sold in litre containers which is a bit overkill and quite heavy to lug about. You can end up throwing a lot of it away at the end of your holiday.
Mt recent trips have centred around my trusty Bushbuddy wood buying stove. This has been superb. There is mostly no shortage of fuel and using wood there is no need for pot cosies of anything like that. Not only are they fun to use but they are a great source of entertainment for anyone else who is around your camp spot of campsite. And, of course, the fuel is free.
But there is a downside to wood burners. They are fine for 90% of the time but not much use during a Pyrenean rain storm, the kind of conditions in which you are most likely to crave a hot meal. They are also not so convenient, sometimes, during the early mornings. I’ve always felt I needed a backup and have carried a small alcohol stove as well. The stove is no weight at all but the fuel is, especially when you are buying it in litre quantities.
However, the new breed of lightweight multi fuel stoves — build around a wood buying system — now offer not only the best of all world but in my few the best overall system. They are well worth considering.
Wood Burning/Multi-fuel Systems
Your options depend very much on the kit you already have. If you have none of the below you just need to plump for what seems the best or the most affordable system.
The Rolls Royce of the current systems are the Caldera Cone wood burning systems from Trail Designs. The system comes with a very efficient cone/windshield, a tiny but effective alcohol burner and the Gram Cracker Esbit Tablet stove. You will probably also need to buy the additional Inferno Cone which is in effect the wood burner bit. The Tri Ti system does allow you to bun wood without the Inferno burner but is maybe not quite as efficient (there is no airflow under the wood itself). There are two systems to consider, the Tri-Ti stove and the Sidewinder the latter of which allows you to store your kit in your pot rather than in plastic cary (which is suppled with the Tri Ti system).
There are two downsides to the Caldera system. Firstly, you have to buy the right system to fit your pot. If you buy a new pot you have to buy a new system. I have two Cones one for my solo pot and one for a two person pot. If you don’t have a supported pot you will have to buy one that is, which means more cost! Secondly, the cone system is expensive.
Caldera Cones can be imported from the USA but can also be bought direct in the UK from Ultralight Outdoor Gear. Both the Sidewinder and the Tri-Ti systems will set you back £140 and more if you need a pot. This is quite an investment and long term use may see you having to replace bits of the kit, although to be fair the component parts are not too expensive.
The other major option to consider is the Titanium Honey Stove system from Backpackinglight.co.uk which at £75 is almost half the cost of the Caldera System. The Honey Stove is not quite as efficient with alcohol as the Cone but is not far off. In my view it is a better wood burner as the larger surface area and fuel capacity makes for really good performance. The Honey Stove is also more versatile as it includes a grill and there’s no doubt actual cooking in the Pyrenees can be a real pleasure.
Both of these stoves are effectively good wind shields, something that is very useful in the high mountains. While I really love my Bushbuddy you do have to construct some king of wind shield which needs to be quite big
The Esbit Option
If I was going this year (and sadly I shall have to wait for 2013 for my next visit) I would settle on the Honey Stove and an Esbit Stove as my alternative backup.
Esbit tablets are now enjoying something of a resurgence. The fuel is light, relatively cheap and easy to transport. These solid fuel tablets are individually wrapped and can be carried (I think) in the hold of a plane or on a train. Esbit tablets can be sent ahead of you in food parcels or ‘bounce boxes’.
With Esbits — as well as with alcohol — performance is increased with a good wind shield and both the Cone and the Honey Stove systems give you this. I find that one Esbit tablet can bring 450 – 500 mils of water to a rolling boil quite easily (and this is a lot of water). You can can blow out an Esbit tablet, stash it in some foil, and then use it again later. This might be easier to use than some alcohol systems. Some worry about the smell of Esbits but I don’t find this particularly noticeable.
The Caldera Cone systems come with the tiny Gram Cracker system which is pretty effective. Alternatively, you can pick up a dedicated Esbit Stove for £8 from Backpackinglight.co.uk.
Why Would I Choose the Honey Stove System?
For me the Pyrenees are wonderful because of the wild camping and a wood stove really does add to the whole experience. The heat here suggests an early start and an early finish. Make camp, find your wood and then settle down to cook for the evening. A really pleasant way to end the day.
Camp cooking here is very different from camp cooking in the UK. Here I tend to carry my own dehydrated food and rehydrate it in camp using a pot cozy. Most of the time here the weather is not really conducive to long periods of wood burning. We also have midges and up in the high mountains you have the miraculous combination of warm weather and no midges or mosquitos!
In the Pyrenees I tend to buy and cook fresher food. In my pack I will carry some onions, certainly garlic, and maybe some chillies. I will have tomatoes which are cooked up with the onions. Pasta or rice can then be added and bits of cheese, ham or sausage thrown in. In many ways a lightweight frying pan is worth carrying with you as well as a simple pot. Manufactured dehydrated food is very expensive and remember you technically cannot take meat products out of the country — do you really want to risk you home dehydrated food being discovered by sniffer dogs! The grill facility of the Honey Stove adds even more options for you. There is no problem buying the right kind of real ingredients that will last days in your pack.
Anyhow, the choice of system is yours.
Other Multi Fuel Systems
There are other very good systems out there which I would not personally consider simply because they are too small.
The complete Evernew system is ingenious, combining an alcohol stove, wind shield and wood burner in a tiny package. This is available from a number of online retailers including the two already mentioned. Backpackinglight.co.uk also have the Pocket Stove which could easily combine a wood burning stove with a decent Esbit windshield.
Both of these systems are really too small to get any prolonged use or enjoyment out of them. I think both of these stoves have their place in the lightweight gear bag but they are simply too small to be able to take maximum advantage of the optimum conditions of the Pyrenees.
A wood burning system with some other backup is ideal for the Pyrenees. Not only will it mean lugging less fuel around but it will provide you with hours of endless enjoyment. And it will also give you a better meal which — after clambering over those mountains in that heat — is quite welcome!