SnowPeak GigaPower WG
No Priming Needed
If you've used liquid fuel camp stoves before, one thing about the SnowPeak GigaPower WG will jump out at you right away: in above-freezing temperatures, the stove requires no priming. That's right, I said no priming. Of course, it's not exactly difficult to prime a stove, but even some of the most experienced liquid fuel stove users can tell you horror stories about times they accidentally singed their tent or set a picnic table on fire while priming their stove. If you're unfamiliar with the concept of "priming", most liquid fuel stoves require the user to squirt a bit of raw fuel onto the burner head of the stove and light it on fire to heat the burner. Once the burner is sufficiently heated, the fuel flow can be opened up to commence cooking. However in windy conditions, or on stoves with finnicky fuel-control valves, priming can sometimes turn into a fiery experience as flames dance high in the sky or (if any fuel should happen to leak) spill across the ground like a prairie fire. Even if such moments are few and far between, they nonetheless contribute to what some campers view as the "serious extra hassle" of a liquid fuel stove in comparison to simpler, more convenient canister stoves.
Enter the SnowPeak GigaPower WGmy expedition stove of choice. Instead of the usual priming routine, SnowPeak equips this stove with a tiny lever on the fuel pump which can be switched between two settings: "light" and "cook". To light the stove, set the lever in the "light" position, give the fuel bottle approximately 30 pumps to pressurize the fuel, open the master valve on the bottle, and light the burner with a match or lighter. At once, the burner flames up and begins to stabilize. About 15 to 30 seconds later, when the flame ceases its erratic flickering, flip the lever on the bottle to "cook" and you're set to make a meal. Technically, as you can glean from this description, the stove is not truly "priming-less"; in other words, you are, in effect, "priming" the stove when you first light it with the lever in the "light" position. However, since the GigaPower WG does not require you to actually squirt fuel out onto the burner, it is far less likely to drip fuel onto the ground and pose a serious fire hazard to nearby gear. In fact, in the two years I've been using the GigaPower WG, I've never had a chaotic flare-up with this stove. Having said that, the initial lighting period does send some very tall flames jetting up out of the burner, so there is still a potential fire hazard if you light the stove inside of a shelter (not recommended).
Good Support, Rugged Folding Design
The pot supports on the SnowPeak GigaPower WG are more than adequate to stabilize the stove during cooking, and can easily handle pots as large as two liters, which is twice as large as any pot most expeditioners would carry anyway (except perhaps when traveling in large groups). In other words, excellent support should never be lacking from this stove. Like most stoves, these supports can also be folded together to decrease the size of the stove during packing. The folding design is not quite so brilliant as the cyclone-shaped legs of the Brunton Optimus Nova, which virtually disappear when they are folded up; nonetheless, it folds up quite effectivelysmall enough to fit easily inside the 3/4-liter pot that I usually carry. Perhaps equally important, the stove appears very rugged and damage-resistant when it is properly folded. There are no awkwardly-placed connections, strange protruding pieces, or annoyingly-delicate controls to snag, bend, or break. As a result, the stove gives its user a comforting impression of reliability, as if to say, "Don't worry, when you unpack me later, I'm still going to work just fine." This might sound funny to some of you, but after having used finnicky stoves that suddenly quit working in the field, I find the GigaPower WG's semblance of durability to be intensely reassuring.
Outstanding Flame Control
Like the Brunton Optimus Nova and the MSR DragonFly, the SnowPeak Gigapower WG has a flame control knob which regulates the fuel flow right at the burner, resulting in superb flame control. The flame can be dialed down to a low simmer (almost as low as the superb candle-flicker of the Optimus Nova) or up to a raging blowtorch that puts nearly every other stove to shame. In fact, what I love most about this stove is how supremely hot it burns when you open it up. The burner head is surrounded by a built-in windscreen which turns bright red after a few moments. Combined with the foot-high blue flame that roars out of the burner on high, the effective output of this stove approaches an estimated 12,000 BTUs. In short, you need never worry about eating cold food again. Even better, the flame is relatively wide, which means that the heat wraps over the bottom of the pot evenly, rather than concentrating all of its heat in the center only. This is especially nice when cooking thicker foods like chili or a thick stew because even if you forget to stir often, it's unlikely that you will end up with cold spots in your food.
Semi-Fragile Plastic Pump
My one negative experience with the SnowPeak GigaPower WG stove was caused by its plastic fuel pump. Although the pump is reasonably well built, the plastic housing around the master shut-off valve is susceptible to cracking if the valve is screwed shut too tightly. Admittedly, it took two years for mine to break, and even then, I managed to get it replaced for free. But learn from my mistake: Close the master shut-off valve snugly, but don't overtighten it. When you feel the valve seat, don't give it the gratuitous extra bit of torque you feel tempted to give it. If you crank too hard, the mechanical advantage of the screw threads will exert exponentially greater stress on the surrounding plastic until, eventually, the plastic splits and leaks fuel or refuses to let you pressurize the bottle at all. It would be nice if SnowPeak would replace the plastic pump with a more durable, all-aluminum version like the one included with the Brunton Optimus Nova, but this would probably increase the price. Instead, treat the plastic pump with a little care and it should perform just fine for many, many years.
[Editor's Note: In 2005, SnowPeak issued a recall on their fuel pumps, presumably to correct this issue. If you own a SnowPeak GigaPower WG stove, return to the store where you bought it or check with SnowPeak to see if your pump is included in the recall.]
There is plenty more to say about this truly outstanding stove, but I'll leave it at this: If you feel tempted to carry a liquid fuel stove at all, give the SnowPeak GigaPower WG a serious look. In all the time I've owned mine, after hundreds of successful meals cooked over its dependable flame, I've never had a single complaint except for the one shortcoming that all liquid fuel stoves suffer: it will never be quite as convenient as the push-button simplicity of a canister stove. Otherwise, there is nothing I begrudge or regret about this stove. Put simply, it's one hell of a stove.
© 2007, Wesley Kisting