If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts about kit, you’ll know that I frequently mention my jetboil. This is an absolute staple of any hiker/camper’s kit, so many of you will be familiar with them already, but I’ll explain the basics in case you aren’t. It’s worth noting that I bought the ‘entry level’ Jetboil system, the Jetboil Zip and that some of the points I raise may not apply to the other stoves in the line (which I haven’t personally used). I will, however, try to highlight where I think this is the case.
The basic principle of a jetboil stove is relatively simple but, even allowing for a few imitators, arguably unique in the camping stove range. It consists of a gas regulator/burner which screws directly on to a gas canister and supports a pot/mug, which is heated directly from the bottom. The whole system just rests on the canister, which can be clipped into a neat little folding tripod for extra stability. In a way, it’s as simple as that. The main novelties are: firstly the heat conducting ridges of metal (visible in the above picture) on the bottom of the pot, which are highly efficient at conducting heat into it and contribute to the incredible speed with which it can boil water.
The second is the heatproof sleeve that surrounds the pot, meaning you can pick it up directly without it requiring a tool or handle. This makes the whole system lightweight and low profile, and means that the pot can double as a cup (and indeed as a cafetiere, if you buy the kit that converts it to one). The last is the way that the whole system, including canister (if you use a smaller one) fits inside the pot, making it very small and packable. I particularly like this as it makes it a viable bit of kit to take even on a day hike when being able to heat water is a matter of either comfort or niche-scenario safety, and not a must-have.
The biggest downside or issue with the system is that it is primarily designed simply to boil water. That makes it ideal for making a hot drink, rehydrating meals that require boiling water, or heating a boil-in-the-bag type meal. It is really not designed for direct cooking, though. At a pinch you could cook pasta in it (I’ve done this, and it’s possible but not ideal due to the shape of the container) or, I guess, soup or maybe baked beans (though they’d be hard to heat evenly through), but you’re not going to be frying sausages or bacon or anything like that. That’s fine – the jetboil is not really aimed at comfortable camping, but at quickly producing hot drinks or meals with the minimum of fuss. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that if you are camping for several days and want to be able to cook up fresh food, you’re almost certainly going to need something more than a jetboil. That said, it’s still a useful addition so that you have the option to boil water and cook food at the same time.
You can, however, get adaptors and kits that would let you rest a frying pan or pot on top of the jetboil’s gas outlet, so it’s not an insurmountable problem.
The other issue I have specific to the jetboil zip is that the dial to control the gas is fairly small and buried under the pot. If you look at the first photo in this article it is the black blob roughly in the middle, just to the left of the ‘R’ of Primus. Turning the gas on is not an issue, but if you aren’t careful and the pot starts boiling over, you now have to reach in to turn it off while scalding water slops over the sides. As you can imagine, that is a recipe for a burnt hand. My preference in that case is just to lift the pot off the flame and place it to one side and then turn the gas off. This is one of those things that is not a problem on the next model up, the Jetboil flash which has a big wire loop as a dial, that sticks well out from the system.
The other issue on the zip is that it doesn’t have integrated ignition, but has to be lit with matches or a lighter. That is not a huge problem as long as you remember to bring them but, if I was buying again (taking into account the point above) I’d probably go for the flash, which has an inbuilt piezo ignition.
Despite these small problems, however, I absolutely love the jetboil. It is one of the best purchases I have ever made for hiking and fastpacking, and I go almost nowhere without it. The compact size and lightweight of it mean that taking it is very rarely something I need to seriously think twice about, and the fact that it boils water so quickly means that it is actually realistic to stop for a few minutes on a long hike and make a quick coffee or heat up a ration pack without having to settle down for ages.
It’s also a potentially life-saving bit of equipment. Having one in the boot of your car on a long drive in an isolated area on a cold day could make a real difference if you broke down, and having one in your backpack on even a day hike in snowy conditions means that if you get stuck and end up having to hunker down for a period you can make hot drinks (or melt snow, if it comes to that) which can make the difference between life and death, and certainly between mild inconvenience and huge discomfort.
I’d recommend a jetboil to anyone doing any long hikes, lightweight camping, or even multi-day trail runs if they are prepared to accept a bit of extra weight. You won’t regret it.