As an experienced outdoors enthusiast, former SWAT sniper and career police officer, I have seen my share of gadgets. Experience has shown the lion’s share of these gimcracks fail when subjected to real-world use. Worse yet, they often prove to be more trouble than the problem they purport to rectify. That’s why we were highly skeptical of the Jetboil stove.
After hearing that what appears to be a largish travel mug would cook our food within the space of one minute, we were dubious to the point of almost walking out of the press conference. Sixty seconds later, we were stunned.
A Jetboil representative had started with a packed stove, assembled it and made a cup of water boil in what actually proved to be less than a minute. He now had our full attention.
The award-winning Jetboil system is comprised of two basic parts, a stove and a mated 1-liter cup that serves as both pot and eating/drinking utensil. However, the cup is far more sophisticated than initially meets the eye. Made of hard-anodized aluminum, it is double-walled and covered by a neoprene jacket that makes it easy to hold with bare hands even when piping hot.
The real secret to the whole system inside the bottom ring where a computer-designed heat exchanger rests over the burner, essentially turning the cartridge stove into a high-efficiency furnace.
How efficient is it? According to company literature, the tiny palm-sized 100-gram fuel canister will boil as much water as traditional 227-gram cartridges used by many older stoves. Company claims aside, field use shows that the Jetboil will indeed bring two cups of water to a hard, rolling boil in approximately one minute at reasonable temperatures.
Considering the system takes less than 15 seconds to assemble and fire, this makes the Jetboil the closest thing to a microwave oven that you can throw into a backpack.
The stove offers a push-button ignition system that makes lighting a snap. As the stove stays mated with the fuel cartridge while stored inside the cup, cooking is simply a matter of removing the stove/fuel cartridge unit, snapping the cup into place over the burner, turning on the fuel valve and hitting the igniter button.
For anyone looking for a quick, hot meal or drink while in the field, the Jetboil is just about the perfect accessory.
One of the simplest ways to prepare a meal is with the use of single-serving pouches of freeze-dried food. After the requisite amount of water is boiled and poured into the pouch, the bag is placed back inside the cup to soak. A few minutes later the meal is ready. After eating, the empty pouch is removed, the cup is already clean, the stove is placed back inside and you are done with all mealtime chores except cleaning the spoon.
The Jetboil makes coffee or tea in the outdoors as easy as turning on your stove at home. Using the optional coffee press, a suitable amount of java is dumped into hot water, steeped for a few minutes then the grounds are pressed out of the way by a strainer. The integral plastic lid keeps the beverage warm and free from errant insects.
There are shortcomings with any piece of equipment and Jetboil has a few, though they are more conceptual than function or manufacture quality.
First, it is a cartridge stove system so there is no way to tell how much fuel remains. However, in practice this hasn’t proved a significant drawback. Cartridge stoves are also notoriously fickle in cold weather or very high altitudes. Jetboil claims to have solved this issue with a mixture of gases that function better in difficult conditions. Even at this, Jetboil recommends carrying a spare cartridge in your pocket during severe cold weather.
Being a cartridge stove, it simmers far better than a gasoline stove. However, the Jetboil is really intended to do one thing well: boil water very, very quickly for simple meals or beverages. If you are looking to cook complex recipes or fry a mess of trout, you might consider a bigger stove or campfire. There is also a new, larger kettle available that has not yet been evaluated by S.W.A.T.
The stove works with many other types of fuel cartridge but the Jetboil is widely available in U.S. outdoor store, making resupply is a fairly simple matter. Since only the Jetfuel canisters are small enough to pack inside the cooking pot, one of the prime reasons for using the system in the first place, we have never tried another brand.
Finally, the system is somewhat top heavy and not especially steady without the optional stabilizer accessory, making spilled ramen noodles a serious possibility. Again, this is no worse than other small backpacking stoves and not an issue with the stabilizer.
With the ease of making hot water and beverages, our test Jetboil has seen a tremendous amount of field time. Where hiking lunches used to consist of jerky and crackers, a single-serving freeze-dried pouch allows the luxury of a hot meal break. Several duck blinds have been made a bit more civilized with hot coffee or tea and when not in the field, the stove stays inside our vehicle in the emergency gear bag.
If you are seeking a lightweight, relatively small, quick and very easy method of producing hot food for one person, the Jetboil is the ticket!
Jetboil suggested retail price: $79.95
Pot support and stabilizer: $19.95
French Coffee Press: $19.95
Available through outdoor retailers such as Dicks Sporting Goods, REI, Campmor, Eastern Mountain Sports and most stores that carry backpacking supplies.