Sunday, April 18, 2010

First impression review: Minibulldesign Bongo HNC

The US cottage manufacturer Minibulldesign specializes in ultralight alcohol stoves and pots. "Tinny" which he calls himself in his youtube videoes, or John Austin which I gather is his real name, is the designer and producer of the stoves and I think his wife is part of the operation too, handling some of the order taking, shipping etc. Besides making stoves, hiking and in other ways enjoying life, he produces a youtube video each and every day. His channel has 532 uploads so far which is pretty impressive. In his videos he discusses stoves, everyday life, hiking, gear, ultralight techniques etc. Here's he making noodles with the Bongo before discussing the design:

I like that he makes several of his stoves and pots out of different aluminium cans, which makes them very lightweight and cheap. Some of his stoves, like the Bongos, are more time consuming to produce and requires metal working skills which he apparently has a lot of (from his previous job?). Here's the first part of a video he made recently to explain why he charges 75 dollars for his premium stove, the Bongo Pro:

The first minibull design stove I purchased was the Atomic (10 US dollars) which I thought was ok. I ended up putting it in the pay-it-forward box "The Scandinavian Mystery box". Don't know where it is now :).

A week or two ago I received a Bongo HNC stove (35 US dollars) which I've been curious about for some time. I considered getting the Bongo Pro, but felt 75 dollars was a little bit too much.

The Bongo is pretty unique I think. It has a remote fuel container in the form of a plastic bottle with a fuel line running from the cap to the lower part of the stove. The stove itself has a bottom part connected to an upper part with a silicone sleeve. Fueling is done by squeezing the fuel bottle until the carbon felt wick gets shiny. It doesn't need priming and will the burn for 4-5 minutes on one filling. When the stove gets low on fuel the wick will start to glow as shown in the picture below. It is then just a matter of squeezing the bottle again, but being careful not to overfill it. If that happens the silicon sleeve may melt and you'll be in a world of pain.

I've done a couple of boil tests so far. The first ones I did it outside on my veranda in around 5 degrees celsius with a wind screen. 2 cups of water took around 12 minutes to a rolling boil with the Snow Peak 600 pot and wire stand. In the protected environment of my kitchen I got a rolling boil in 10:30. This is obviously not a very hot burning stove, so you have to be a bit more patient waiting for your water to boil. This has a postive side however in that it is nice to use to fry pancakes etc. which requires a lower heat.

I didn't measure the fuel usage, but I think it is pretty average for an alcohol stove.

This is a fun little stove that I'll probably use from time to time, and a welcome addition to the collection. I've long since realized that I'm becoming a collector of stoves!.

To sum up:

- very light and simple
- easy to operate
- low heat output suitable for more delicate cooking, and is less daunting for a beginner than other very hot burning stoves
- spare parts can be bought and he has a kind of modular system going where you can mix parts
- very easy to blow out
- easy to see when the fuel runs low, will burn/glow for a long time before going completely out, so you don't have to babysit it
- relatively cheap considering the flat international shipping rate of 3 dollars!
- nice to get two extra fuel bottle caps. Would suck to lose one on the trail and not have a backup
- comes with easy to understand instructions

- slow compared to other stoves
- needs a pot stand (the pro version comes with a set of pins to insert in the base so you get an integrated pot stand)
- fuel line could have been longer to make it easier to have the fuel bottle standing up and having it be farther away from the burning stove
- not perfect finish on the aluminium work, but personally I think its plenty nice enough and in no way affecting the performance. Thought I should mention it anyway
- takes a long time to burn completely out, but maybe that's not really necessary. I think I read that fuel can be reclaimed from the stove somehow.

Hope you liked this short review - have a nice week!