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December 2007

Make Your Gear Last Forever

Backpacker's Ultimate Fix-It Guide


Liquid Fuel Stoves

fix icon Choose clean-burning fuel (Online Bonus)
Just because you can run your liquid fuel stove on kerosene doesn’t mean you should. Harold Wray, Coleman consumer service manager for nearly three decades, warns that diesel and other varieties of gasoline clog the stove jet and other parts with soot. The cleanest fuel is white gas, followed by naphtha (lantern fuel); gasoline should be a last resort. If you must, find the lowest octane available.

fix icon Don’t overfill your fuel bottle
Respect the fill line. Too much fuel means there’s not enough room for the pressurized air, which can lead to clogging, priming troubles, and other stove malfunctions.

fix iconTune up your stove
After an extended trip, or whenever you detect a dip in performance, disassemble and clean your stove. Remove baked-on carbon residue with a scrubby pad. Grease O rings with a silicone lubricant, and replaced cracked ones. Clean the fuel line by scouring it with the internal cable and wiping it clean. Then flush the fuel line (with the cable and jet removed) with a small amount of fuel.

fix icon Clear the jet (Online Bonus)
Stove flames that are sputtering and yellow instead of blue and steady indicate carbon buildup. Most new models have a built-in needle that clears the jet every time you shake it. Otherwise, use the wire tool that came with your stove.

fix icon Pressureless pumping
If you get little or no resistance when pumping, the pump cup has likely shrunk or dried out according to Wray. It may require replacement (an easy fix), but Wray says first try this: Pull the plunger out of the pump assembly and look for the cup–a tiny circle of leather or neoprene. Moisten it with motor oil or vegetable oil–even sweat from your forehead works in a pinch. Remember to lube the pump cup as part of your regular at-home maintenance.

Canister Stoves

fix icon Safeguard the spark (Online Bonus)
The key to maintaining these delicate auto-igniters is preventing the Piezo quartz crystal inside from cracking. Drop it, and you’re back to flicking a Bic.

fix icon Stop a fuel leak
Worn O rings, gunked-up seals, and stuck pins can cause fuel to seep from a stove. Can you say fireball waiting to happen? Chris Currah, product manager for Brunton, advises that after several trips, check the O ring seal inside the screw cap. Oil it, and replace any rings that appear old or cracked.

fix icon Build a wind block (Online Bonus)
Because the fuel on a canister stove is located right below the flame, using a windscreen that encircles the stove (common with liquid fuel stoves) is dangerous because it traps the heat and sends it back onto the combustion source–which can melt stove dials or even cause an explosion.

Use your backpack propped on its side to create a windblock that still allows ventilation. A rock or log will also work; just keep object a safe distance from flame and make sure air can still circulate around stove even though big wind gusts are blocked.

fix icon Poor cold-weather performance
The main drawback to canister stoves is their poor performance in sub-freezing temps. Backpacker editors have had good luck boosting performance by taping a handwarmer to the bottom of the canister or placing it in a bowl with an inch of lukewarm water. In the winter, store canisters overnight in a stuff sack at the bottom of your sleeping bag.

Fact or myth? (Online Bonus)
Q: Spent fuel canisters cannot be recycled.
A: Myth! After burning the fuel off, just puncture them and shake out any residual gas. Then you’re good. Aluminum canisters are easier to puncture (Coleman’s Powermax containers with a puncture tool and crush easily). Steel canisters can also be ruptured manually (with a nail and rock, for example), but don’t do anything that would cause a spark (like using a drill). Check with your local public works department to find out whether to put them out with your recycling or take them to a designated facility.

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