Gear Test: Coleman Powerpack Stove, Inferno Self-Heating Meal, Garmin Foretrex

October 1, 2004
Filed under Camping Gear, Navigation & Communication, Stoves & Cookware

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Coleman Powerpack Stove

Campers looking for a stove somewhere in between the small briefcase-sized camp stoves and the huge outfitter-type units can find happiness with the new Coleman (800/835-3278; coleman.com) PowerPack 30,000-BTU Propane Stove. This double-burner unit can run on a 1-pound, disposable-bottle propane source or a 20-pound refillable propane tank (just like your gas-powered patio BBQ). If you use a typical 1-pound bottle, the stove incorporates a swing-out saddle on its back side to support the bottle while it’s connected to the regulator. Either way, the stove delivers a maximum of 15,000 BTU from each 4-inch-diameter burner. A 50,000-BTU model is also available, delivering 25,000 BTU from each burner.

The PowerPack is reasonably lightweight (25 pounds without the attachable legs) and has a carrying handle that allows it to be easily transported from car trunk to campsite. The four tubular steel legs can be threaded into the underside of the Coleman PowerPack so it can be used as a stand-up stove — the grille height is 32 inches from the ground with the legs attached. Without the legs, the stove can also be used on a tabletop (we found this more desirable with kids running around the campsite).

Large enough to handle two 12-inch pots or pans on its cooking grate, this medium-sized camp stove is designed for families who want something with serious cooking power that’s still small enough to easily tote in the car.

The stove was quite simple to use. Twin-burner controls and the piezo-electric starter button (no matches needed) are built into the carrying handle. Options include a full griddle, half-grille and a 5-foot hose for hooking up to a 20-pound propane tank.

Flame control was precise, and the burners could be dialed down to a low simmer or turned wide open for full-blast boiling. During our evaluation at the Camping Life Mountain Research Station (Lake Arrowhead, California), which is approximately 7000 feet above sea level, we brought a quart of water in our coffee pot to a boil in less than 10 minutes. The Coleman PowerPack 30,000-BTU Propane Stove retails for $100.

AlpineAire Foods Inferno Self-Heating Meal
Ever tried a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE)? The U.S. military’s MREs have a shelf life longer than some of those who eat them, and are inexpensive, lightweight and can be found in many outdoor retailers as well as your local Army surplus store. Some are good; some are not.

I have used them for years as an emergency food ration stored in the home, car and camper. On long day-hikes where there’s the possibility of being stranded too far from camp to get back before dark, I carry an MRE in my daypack. But now I have found something better — certainly better tasting, if not as lightweight or long-lived.

AlpineAire Foods (800/FAB-MEAL; tyry.com) offers the Inferno Self-Heating Meal ($7.99) in a variety of flavors. We tried the Mountain (meatless) Chili and the Chicken Pasta Parmesan, and have to admit that we liked both. Even my picky mother-in-law said she would eat it — well, she tried it, anyway. Homestyle Chicken Booyah and Hearty Beef Stew are also available. The food is precooked, so what you’re really doing is reheating. And a look at the ingredients list didn’t offer any surprising disappointments.

So what’s so novel about the Inferno Self-Heating Meal? Within 15 minutes of opening the package and starting up the heating system, you get 12 ounces of steaming hot food. And it requires no stove, no matches, no flames and no hassle.

The Inferno is actually a system, not just a meal. The food is sealed inside a multilevel plastic tray that is packaged in a cardboard box. Separated, totally sealed and self-contained underneath the food section of the plastic tray is a two-part system consisting of a flameless exothermic heater and an inert saltwater activation solution.

To begin the heating process, you first lift a cardboard tab that exposes a plastic strap. When the plastic strap is pulled out to its farthest extension (a gentle tug is all that’s needed), the two parts of the chemical-heating system are mixed and the heating process begins. After 15 minutes, you remove the food tray from the cardboard carton, pull back the airtight seal on the top of the food tray, stir well, let it cool for a few minutes, and then dig in with the included plastic spoon. —Stuart Bourdon

Garmin Foretrex 101 GPS
Economical handheld GPS units are a big hit around the campsite because they provide a sense of security — and are cool electronic tools to take along on new adventures. But as most of us have learned, handhelds are not very convenient to use when hiking, canoeing, biking or undertaking other outdoor sports that require you to focus on an activity instead of holding a unit. Enter the Garmin (800/800-1020; garmin.com) Foretrex 101 — an innovative, compact, full-function GPS designed to be worn on the wrist. We got our hands on one, literally, and found it to be quite impressive.

Garmin is expanding its traditional GPS offerings into what it calls “wearable, wrist navigation devices.” The Foretrex 101 is the latest of these, and it has the main features and functionality of its larger brethren, including PC interface capabilities for downloading waypoints, logging tracks and routes, GoTo (finding your way back to a location) and multiple pages and screens. It operates on two AAA batteries instead of AA batteries or a rechargeable pack.

The two things that we found most appealing, besides the obvious convenience, were its simplicity and its display-screen clarity. Six dedicated buttons that run along the Foretrex 101’s bottom control all of its functions. They are both intuitive and fingertip friendly. And every screen and symbol can be easily seen, even in — thanks to its handy backlight feature — low light and after dark.

Although it only tracks four satellites, we found its accuracy to be good to within about 25 feet — more than close enough to find geocaches, the campsite, hot fishing spots and just about any other place an outdoorsman might seek out. The Foretrex 101 will even tell you how long you’ve been moving and how far away you are from a saved waypoint. This $139, compact “wristwatch” GPS unit is a dandy!

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