Gear Guy

XGK EX Stove     Photo: courtesy, MSR

Q:

Can I find canisters and spare parts for my stove in Central America?

I'm going on an extended solo backpacking trip through the desert of Mexico, possibly into Central America, and ending in Cuba or Jamaica. So I need lightweight everything. I’m trying to decide between the MSR XGK EX and the Jetboil stoves. Will I be able to find canisters and other replacement parts in Central America? Kory Phoenix, Arizona

A:Well, this sure doesn’t sound like a stroll through a culinary wonderland, does it? And have you read any news articles out of Central America lately? I’m not 100 percent sure this is the time for someone to be wandering around that part of the world by himself.

But, it’s not my trip. You’re going somewhere, so let’s get you the right gear. The operational word will be: Simplicity. And reliability. OK, that’s two words. But you get the idea. I like the Jetboil Personal Cooking System ($80; jetboil.com). It’s light, fast and effective. But in your case, it has three drawbacks. First, it’s really only for boiling water. “Cooking" anything—rice and beans, for instance—isn’t easy, especially if you want to make more than enough for only one meal. Two, it requires an isobutane canister. It accepts a common Lindahl valve, so that’s normally no big deal. But in isolated parts of the world, canisters remain less common than liquid fuels. Third, the Jetboil is itself highly proprietary. Damage it in most any way, and you may find yourself without a way to cook.

So, in this case, I’d probably go with the MSR XGK EX ($140; msrcorp.com) for one simple reason: Ubiquity. And ruggedness. And versatility. OK, that’s three reasons! Shoot me.

I actually prefer the Optimus Nova ($149; optimus.se), due to its more advanced design and easier lighting. But the XGK is sort of the global standard for expedition stoves. You probably can find parts for it nearly anywhere. Moreover, it can burn basically anything that’s flammable. And it uses an OOC (ordinary ol’ cook pot), so you can cook as much or as little as you want, and buy a replacement pot for two pesos if need be.

MSR’s Dragonfly ($120; msrcorp.com) would work well, too, but isn’t quite as beefy as the XGK. I think in the case of a stove, you want to err on the side of durability, at the expense of a few extra ounces.

The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.

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