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Ka-boom or the reason you shouldn’t use a windscreen around a canister stove

So why can’t you use a windscreen on a canister stove?

Imagine this story.

You’ve just found camp after a long day hiking. The weather is miserable, it’s raining, the wind is blowing it sideways. You’re cold and wet and hungry.

You get camp set up and some food on the stove. You have a canister stove and the wind is blowing all the heat straight out the side. You’ll have to do something about this or the water is going to take forever to boil. It will take hours to make food and waste all of your fuel. What can you do?

A windscreen!

You grab the windscreen you have and wrap it around the canister stove blocking the wind. Almost instantly the water starts to heat up.

And then… boom.

The canister heats up and explodes, throwing a fireball 3 metres across into the air and sending shards of metal flying in all directions.

That would suck.

That’s what might happen if you put a heat shield around a canister of gas and heat it up.

I actually have no idea how big the explosion would be since I haven’t heated one up myself but all the warnings say don’t do it.

Adding the windscreen around the canister and the stove blocks the wind from the stove but it also traps the heat around the canister and makes it hot. If that gets hot enough, it explodes. Not really what you want to happen on the trail. Or anywhere really.

What can you do with the wind?

Wind is a real problem for all backpacking stoves. If the wind is blowing all the heat out the side and not up to your pot, then it’s going to take longer to cook anything. You’ll have to wait longer and will waste fuel.

There are 3 options you’ve got, 2 of them require different stoves. I’ll start with the option if you already have a canister stove that attaches directly to the canister.

Build a wind block

Not the same as a wind screen. If you can block the wind from one side of the stove then it won’t get hot and explode. Figure out which way the wind is coming from and then put up some logs, branches, sand or dirt in front of it so the stove is hidden behind your block. Rocks, trees or even your hiking buddy can act as a good wind blocker. Watch your shoes and pants if you are the wind block. Those stoves are hot!

Get a remote canister stove

This is an option if you don’t already have a stove or if you are getting a new one. Some canister stoves have a fuel line to the canister instead of attaching directly to it. Something like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 attaches directly to the stove whereas the WindPro has a fuel line to the remote canister so it can be kept outside the windscreen. This is good for wind conditions.

Get a liquid fuel stove

Liquid fuel stoves tend to have fuel lines to remote canisters anyways, so they don’t really suffer from this problem. Liquid fuel stoves are great in the winter as well so you might consider just getting one of these.

Best of both worlds?

A new option that’s come out recently is the Whisperlite Universal. It’s got parts for both canister and liquid fuel connections so you can use either. It uses a remote canister system if you’ve got a canister attached so it’s not bothered by this exploding canister windscreen problem.

Updated August 29, 2022. Originally published November 25, 2014.

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