Burning down the house

It’s called “JetBoil.” Not “JetCook” or “JetSautee” or “JetStew.”


It jets out heat. And it boils.

When I was a kid I learned the importance of proper preparation. Before we went backpacking I learned to pitch our tent in two minutes flat. That was a big deal because the poles were all disconnected and nothing was marked and you had to put the right poles together, not to mention string the elastic over the front connections, and then get the fly draped right, snapped, and staked.

I’d stand out there in the blazing Houston heat and humidity and practice whipping that thing up and tearing it down with a stopwatch. My brother Ian would occasionally look out the window and say something encouraging like, “You are such a fucking dork.”

The practice paid off because our first day on the trail we got to camp and everyone fell down exhausted. After a couple of minutes in swooped a massive Rockies thunderstorm, beginning with golfball sized-drops. I jumped up and threw up that tent in a jiffy.

The others jumped up but hadn’t practiced tenting, so when the deluge opened Ian and I were snug and dry, watching out the flap as the others got drenched to the skin. We learned a couple of new cusswords. I looked at Ian. “Doesn’t seem so dorky now, does it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It still does.”

For my bike trip I bought a stove called a “JetBoil.” Nowadays stoves are pretty much idiot proof, and I emphasize “pretty much.”

Without reading the instructions [those are for idiots], I decided to cook up some oatmeal in the boil receptacle. The boil receptacle apparently is for boiling when using the JetBoil. It is what you use to boil, a kind of boiler that boils.

There were all kinds of warnings about using camp stoves indoors, but they were clearly written for someone else.

After a few minutes with the heat on full blast I smelled a funny smell that didn’t smell like yummy oatmeal but instead smelled like burned something. I switched off the flame but it was too late. I’d baked an extraordinary crust onto the bottom of the boiler that is there for boiling. I scraped and cussed and cussed and scraped for 30 minutes until it all came off, leaving a residue of brown stain inside the boiler and arthritis in my wrists.

It is not a good feeling to buy a $4,000 camp stove suitable for summiting K-2 only to make it look after one use like it’s been to K-2. And back.

The next day I decided to cook some oatmeal in a pot. So I threw the ol’ pot down on the ol’ JetBoil and fired that sucker up. It really fired. I turned away for a couple of seconds to look at my hummingbirds and when I turned back, that fire was still firing, only it wasn’t simply firing the pot, it was firing the entire stove, which was blazing away.

“Hmmm,” I thought, as the flames licked around the hyper-combustible fuel can and devoured the stove, “that doesn’t look quite right.”

So I turned off the switch, burned the shit out of my fingers, beat out the flames with a towel, and scraped away the huge chunks of melted plastic. “Product defect, clearly,” I concluded, amidst a heap of fresh oaths, “but in case it’s simply operator error I better try again.”

I fired up the ol’ JetBoil again and within seconds the whole thing was swallowed up in bright yellow flames of fire. “That doesn’t seem right,” I again surmised in between a new and even more original series of cusswords.

That’s when I looked off to the left, where this thing called a “pot rest” was sitting. I had neglected to put the “pot” on the “pot rest,” placing it instead directly over the flame, which had nowhere to go but down and onto the inflammable plastic ring that holds the igniter in place.

“Clearly a defect to have an inflammable piece of plastic on a stove that will obviously be operated by complete idiots,” I concluded.

And then of course there came The Moment that we all have when we look at the expensive thing we’ve bought and ruined because, too lazy to read the instructions, that moment of: CAN I EXCHANGE IT FOR A NEW ONE?

With pot holder attached …

The answer, fyi, was “No.”


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9 thoughts on “Burning down the house”

  1. You have friends who do this pretty regularly, and could help in the purchasing of stuff like this. Personally, if you want to do more than boil water, and stay small and light, I think the MSR Pocket Rocket or the Snowpeak Giga Power 2.0 (REI for about $50) would be a great choice. Then you can buy or bring whatever pots, pans and cups you want.

  2. Isn’t it awesome that we have both words “flammable” and “inflammable”?

  3. Get a Primus multifuel to boil water. With a windshield made out of AL foil it will boil water faster than a Jetboil.
    For real cooking that requires finer control, the MSR Dragonfly is one badass mofo.
    Both are multifuel and will burn everything from alcohol, to gasoline, to jet fuel.
    I’ve used both for the last twenty years, and they both still work fine.

  4. The people who do this a lot found out a long time ago, that cooking on a backpacking, or a bikepacking trip is not something we want to worry about. For one thing it takes longer to cook, so at night, you are too tired to cook, and in the morning you just want to get packed up and go, so quick is the trick. That’s why we boil water. It makes coffee. I re-hydrates dehydrated things, and when if it is cold, then filling your water bottle with it, and sleeping with it makes for a more comfortable sleep. Pretty sure all the parts you ruined are replaceable in a way that does not involve simply buying another one.

    Here is some advice for purchase. Steri-Pen. Read the directions.

    1. I like the adventurer Opti vs the Katadyn. In pairs the batteries are expensive, but if you order from BH Photo you can get them a LOT cheaper.

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