If you're Godzilla with PMS before your morning cup 'o Joe, then the Jetboil Personal Cooking System is probably worth the investment for those days you stumble out of a tent and a Starbucks is nowhere in sight.
With nothing better to do on a drizzly spring day, a friend and I ran three backpacking stoves through their paces and the Jetboil proved its mettle. The stove, the subject of rave write-ups by fanatical outdoorsy types, was up against her MSR WhisperLite International and my Honeybird Top-Gun. The latter is a make of astounding simplicity that may not even be on the market anymore.The Jetboil literature claims this gas miser will boil two cups of water in two minutes, and it's probably true. I don't think we had it turned up high enough, but on a medium flame, water reached the boiling point in about 3 minutes, 10 seconds. The Top-Gun was there in 3:30. The java-desperate will reach their boiling point before the WhisperLite does; it took 5:44.
Here's the skinny on all three:Jetboil ($79.95) - We set it up in about 16 seconds. The stove and gas canister fit inside the cooking cup when not in use. Built-in igniter means no matches. Separate java-press lid can be purchased and neoprene "cozy" sleeve around the cup means you can separate it from the canister without burning your hand. It's tall - may need propping up in the wind. And it's for boiling/cooking stuff in a pot. You can't slap a frypan on it and do pancakes. Stove/cup weight: 15.25 ounces.
WhisperLite ($79.95 with windscreen and reflector) - Setup took about 25 seconds. Requires priming, which I consider a pain. Very stable, though, and gas canister is refillable. Will burn white gas, kerosene, jet fuel or, in a pinch, unleaded gasoline. Passes the pancake test. Stove weight: 14 ounces.Honeybird Top-Gun (twenty-some bucks 10 years ago) - I don't know much about this stove except it rocks. I bought it almost a decade ago at Factory Surplus in Glenwood Springs and a spokeperson there said they don't carry it anymore. Nor was it on the manufacturer's website. It comes in two pieces that screw together and then screw into the top of a gas can. It was as simple and cheap a stove as a novice backpacker (me) could find. It fits in a 3-by-3-by-2-inch plastic box. Set up time: 25 seconds. Definitely tall and skinny though; needs propping up with rocks in the wind. Passes the pancake test. Weight: 7.2 ounces with plastic case.Janet Urquhart's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org