If you ever find yourself camping with Steve Sergeant, you can be assured that whatever he plucks from his pack will be the cream of the gear crop — not typically the priciest, probably the lightest, inevitably the coolest. The other day he had an alcohol stove with a somewhat conical windscreen designed to maximize efficiency by directing heat around the sides of the cook pot. Doggone thing worked too well: he hoped that while boiling some water he could warm his hands over the stove, but hardly any heat was escaping; it was all going into getting his water hot.

As I recall Steve telling it, one of the co-inventors of this gadget is a San Jose engineer specializing in thermodynamics who attended one of Steve’s lightweight backpacking classes, became totally enthralled with the idea of Pepsi-can alcohol stoves, and decided he could go one better because he knew a thing or two about preserving heat efficiency.

Tonight I did some poking around online and tracked down a copy of the patent application for the stove. An excerpt:

The present invention discloses an improved windscreen for backpacking stoves and the like that more efficiently retains, directs and protects the heat source to more effectively heat food or fluid in a cooking pot or the like. The windscreen of the present invention substantially blocks the wind from blowing across a backpacking type stove, better directs the heat from the stove or other heat source across the bottom and sides of the cooking pot and allows the user to control the amount of air flowing to the stove so as to optimize the efficiency of the fuel. The windscreen of the present invention is lightweight, easy to use and adaptable to a wide variety of different stove and pot cooking systems. In one preferred embodiment, the windscreen has a plurality of adjustable lower vents near the bottom of the windscreen that the user can selectively partially or fully open to allow some air to get to the stove and better carry the heat from the stove to the sides of the cooking pot.

Some more poking around led me to TrailDesigns.com, which sells the screen along with some alcohol stoves that look like the props from a ’50s movie about invaders from another galaxy. Of course the folks at Backpackgeartest.org are all over this little ditty.

The gist I get is that, yeah, it is super-efficient but it still has the learning-curve issue typical of all alcohol stoves: getting it to work depends on how much fuel you put in the stove, and water temperature can play a major role in fuel consumption.

Still, it’s an innovative design — the windscreen doubles as a pot stand, which looks mega sturdy — that might be worth a look among those of you who must have the coolest of the cool stuff.