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Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders

This article has been written on the assumption that you have decided to carry a camp stove with you on your adventure rides. Some people choose to use open fires, stay in huts with cooking facilities or are able to eat from local establishments. I am of the self-reliant category, everything I NEED, I will take with me. The tough part is deciding what I really need and having the courage to relinquish my security blankets

Camp Stove Types

Camp stoves can be categorised by:

  • Fuel type: multi/single fuel, liquified gas, alcohol, unleaded petrol, naptha etc
  • Style: vertical, flat, separate fuel and burner
  • Heat output: one-man, expedition
  • Vendor: Coleman, Kovea, MSR, Optimus, Primus, Trangia et al

Fuel Type

Fuel types include:

  • Liquified gas: n-Butane, Isobutane, Butane/Propane mix
  • Petrol: The car fuel from a pump, unleaded of any octane
  • Naptha-based: The so-called “White Gas” Coleman fuel, Shellite, Callite etc
  • Alcohol: Methanol, Ethanol, Methylated spirits
  • Kerosene: Heating kerosene or Jet A1
  • Diesel: The truck fuel but preferably ultra-low sulphur

Only liquified gas is gaseous at normal temperature and pressure. All others are liquid fuels and their selection is almost entirely based on their availability and commonality with other equipment.

Alcohol is almost in a class of its own. In my research alcohol stoves are all open pools of alcohol with very basic heat control. They are very popular in North America and commonly used when hiking in South America where alcohol is a common cooking fuel available in even the smallest hilltop village. Alcohol is the only renewable fuel in the list. It is the “eco” option.

Liquified Gas

Liquified gas is maintained in its liquid state by the pressure within the canister. If the pressure drops, the liquified gas boils until the pressure is again reached. The gas and liquid are said to be in equilibrium at a pressure which depends on the temperature of the liquid. Liquified gas stoves work by the liquid boiling to maintain pressure as the gas is consumed by the burner. Only gas is sent to the burner, never liquid. Energy is required to boil the liquified gas so that in operation the gas canister becomes chilled. The pressure required to maintain equilibrium at this lowered temperature is less and so in use, the delivered gas pressure becomes reduced. Heat must be added to the canister to maintain pressure, either by warming by hand or placing the canister in the warming water for a short time.

This discussion will only deal with disposable gas canisters. There are five main types of disposable gas canister.

Threaded canisters

Threaded self-sealing Propane/Butane (EN417 standard) used by Edelrid, Kovea, MSR, Primus

Photo 1 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 1: Threaded self-sealing 70/30 butane/propane mix

Easy Clic® canisters

“Easy Clic®” self-sealing Propane/Butane invented by CampingGaz (types CV270, CV300 & CV470)

Photo 2 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 2: Easy Clic Propane/Butane

Puncture type canisters

Puncture type Propane/Butane, a later version invented by Bluet/CampingGaz

Photo 3 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 3: Puncture type Propane/Butane

Puncture type canisters (Butane only)

Puncture type Butane only, the original version C206 invented by CampingGaz

Photo 4 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 4: Puncture type Butane

CP250 type canisters

All the above are low-profile cans for upright use (nozzle at the top). There is a fifth type which is a tall slender can with a protruding nozzle (the CampingGaz CP250 type). CampingGaz describe this as the Iberian and Eastern European canister.

Photo 5 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 5: CampingGaz CP250 canister

These are used in the lying down position within a kitchen style camp stove. This type of canister is widely available in China and south-east Asia. There are 3 adaptor styles available to convert to a threaded self-sealing type for use with your stove.

The fact that three of the “standards” were invented by CampingGaz and used almost exclusively by them gives a clue to their availability. International stoves almost all use the threaded self-sealing canisters.

For an excellent treatise on gas canisters refer to:
www.bushwalking.org.au/FAQ/FAQ_GasStoves.htm#Canister

Availability

We in NZ are lucky in that being a small nation we have all sorts of imported equipment and accordingly vendors stock every conceivable fuel. In some countries only a single style of gas canister is available. Finding a threaded self-sealing canister in France is a mission because GampingGaz is a French firm and the French are... well French. Finding any gas canister (or even an outdoor store) in Egypt or Siberia is impossible, finding a CampingGaz canister in Germany is hard work. I have spent many an hour tracking down gas canisters of the correct type.

There is an excellent company in Germany (Edelrid) that makes quality adaptors from either “Easy Clic®” or puncture type canisters to the threaded self-sealing type so I now carry the adaptor from “Easy Clic®” to threaded self-sealing. Edelrid also make an adaptor from the puncture type canister to the threaded self-sealing type. Having two adaptors would cover all the European options. These adaptors are 75g and 140g respectively (more than a lightweight gas stove) so research is required on the local availability of canisters before packing these.

Photo 6 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 6: Adaptor from Easy Clic to threaded selfsealings
Photo 7 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 7: Adaptor from puncture-type to threaded self-sealing (shown folded)

I have found 3 adaptor styles to convert from the CP250 (aerosol can type) canister to the threaded self-sealing fitting. They are:

Compact adaptor

Which should only be used with the can vertical.

Photo 8 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 8: Compact adaptor from CP250 bayonet to threaded selfsealing

Close-coupled adaptor

The canister attaches directly to the adaptor and allows the canister to be operated lying down. This gives a steadier support than the compact adaptor and is similar to using the CV270 gas canisters

Photo 9 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 9: Close-coupled adaptor from CP250 bayonet to threaded self-sealing

These are available from GasMate in Australia if you want to buy beforehand. They are also available (or a cheap Chinese copy) in outdoor stores in Asia. I bought a Chinese copy for VND90,000 (about NZ$6.00)

Remote canister adaptor

Has a flexible tube between the canister and a low-profile threaded fitting. This provides a very stable support for the stove and cooking vessel.

Photo 10 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 10: Remote adaptor from CP250 bayonet to threaded self-sealing

Safety Note

CP250 canisters must always be operated with the can either vertical or the notch on the can at the TOP. If the can rolls over then liquid gas will be delivered to the burner. Gas-only stoves have no vapourisation stage and so the flame will flare dramatically.

Performance

In warm environments, modern gas stoves can produce the same output as liquid fuel stoves. Disposable gas canisters can be either Butane-only or a Butane/Propane mix (the so-called 4-season mix). All liquified gases require boiling of the gas within the canister to maintain pressure. At low temperatures, boiling does not occur readily and so the delivered gas pressure drops. This can severely reduce heat output exactly at the time it is needed most.

Propane has a boiling point of -42C, so when the cooled liquid is below this temperature (at normal atmospheric pressure), the propane/butane stove will never work.

The problem is compounded for butane-only stoves (which typically only produce about 1kW compared to 3kW for butane/propane mix stoves). There are two types of butane, n-butane (normal butane) which boils at -0.5C and isobtane which boils at -12C, so when the cooled liquid is below their respective temperatures (at normal atmospheric pressure), butane stoves will never work. In real life, performance is noticeably reduced when the ambient is below about +10C for an n-butane stove.

For either stove, warming the canister by immersing it in the partially-heated water speeds things along.

Coleman produces an accessory for their stoves called a PowerMax fuel adaptor that inverts the canister so that liquid gas is supplied to the stove. It is only suitable for the matching Coleman stove that can preheat the gas before delivery to the burner. Most gas-only stoves will only accept gaseous fuel.

Alcohol Stoves

There are some good alcohol stoves on the market. There was (and still is) huge popularity in making “soda pop” stoves, cutting up a drink can to cook on. These stoves work fine and there is certainly no problem with reliability or finding spare parts! The commercial stoves are still cheap and light.

The Evernew TBY255 titanium stove can be used with alcohol, solid fuel or even wood. It comes with a range of accessories and cooks well. It overcomes the problem of the fuel container becoming hot and melting the table by raising it above the base level. Everything including all the accessories weighs only 86g. There is also a minimalist version which is just the burner and a pot stand weighing in at 50g. This is about the weight of the lightest gas stove (without the canister)

Photo 11 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 11: Alcohol stove

Alcohol stoves do burn a larger volume of fuel for the same total heat because a some of the oxygen for combustion is contained in the alcohol molecule and alcohol also has a low specific mass. As stated above, most alcohol stoves are just an open pool of alcohol which burns until exhausted. Some designs have restrictors that limit heat output or rings to lift the pot further away from the flame for simmering. All pretty agricultural but this is part of their rock-solid reliability.

You can use alcohol in a Primus Omnifuel although it is not recommended by the manufacturer. I haven't tried it myself but I have seen a video on YouTube. It was not stated in the video but for a light fuel like alcohol, I'm picking that the largest jet will be needed (the one for gas). It certainly makes the Omnifuel even more Omni-useful. It also means that the alcohol stove becomes as usable as any other stove, it can simmer and you just turn it off when you are done.

All the alcohol stove manufacturers recommend using de-natured alcohol. De-natured alcohol is ethanol with additives to make it unfit for human consumption. A common additive is methanol giving rise to the name methylated spirits. De-natured alcohol is often dyed to indicate the toxicity. Some would say that the government requires the ethanol to be made toxic so that people do not have access to cheap untaxed booze. Some might also say that by making it toxic, the government actually does more harm to its population that letting them have cheap booze in the first place (insert your favourite conspiracy theory here).

While alcohol can be the “eco” option, it is seldom for sale in bulk so you end up with a retail plastic container to be disposed of (oh bother!).

Liquid Fuels

Liquid fuels are liquid within the normal range of temperatures experienced by humans (-50C to +50C). They all require external pressure to transport the fuel from the tank to the burner. This can be provided by a manual pump or by heating the fuel. Liquid fuel entering the burner is vapourised (at the same pressure) by heat scavenged from the previously burnt fuel. Many liquid fuel stoves therefore require preheating to start.

Because the stove manufacturers have no control over fuel quality and the jets are smaller for liquid fuels than gas, liquid fuel stoves can suffer from residue build-up at the hot end near the jet. Liquid fuel stoves have a mechanism for cleaning the jet, either internally or externally.

There are a wide range of liquid fuels and their properties are quite different. Historically stoves were optimised for either light fuels (such as petrol or “white gas”) or kerosene. Some modern stoves are capable of using anything from liquified gas to diesel but generally require the jet to be changed.

Apparently diesel is filthy to use. It requires the most pre-heating (for which you will need a small container of denatured alcohol), it leaves residue (meaning more cleaning of the burner) and blackens the outside of cookware. Diesel most probably isn't a good long-term option unless you own a diesel motorbike.

Fuel Type Summary

What people have everywhere is engine fuel, be it petrol or diesel, it is ubiquitous and cheap. It is available in bulk so you fill your own container so there is no litter problem. It is what your bike most probably runs on so there is commonality of storage and redundancy of supply.

Economy

Whatever you put fuel in costs money. You pay for the cost of manufacturing a disposable canister every time you buy one. Gas canisters are also specialist items in many countries. The locals don't use them, they have 9kg reusable cylinders not 230g disposables. The more difficult gas canisters are to obtain, the more expensive they will be. The ironic thing is, you will be happy to pay whatever price they ask because it took you all day to find it. I have paid as little as NZ$4 in Auckland and up to NZ$12.30 for the same thing in Ulaan Baatar.

So having your own reusable container makes sense regardless of the fuel type and using a common fuel keeps the price down. While petrol price varies hugely, from NZ$3/litre in the UK to about NZ$0.06/litre in Egypt, it is always cheaper than liquified gas in disposable canisters.

Disposal of canisters is also a problem. You should never leave them behind and you are not supposed to discard them in the normal rubbish because of the risk of fire or explosion. What then? Wait for the HazMobile to come to your neighbourhood every 2nd Tuesday of the month? Even in developed countries specialist dumping sites are difficult to locate and are expensive.

Another aspect of economy is quantization (you can only take a whole number of canisters). Whenever you start out, you want to have a full fuel container (so I end up with a bunch of part-used canisters from previous trips). As the trip progresses, you want to have enough fuel to reach the next place where it may be possible to get more fuel. This means that you are always carrying two containers (one may be part-used) and possibly more. Also, how much gas will you need? It depends on the weather, the kind of food you are cooking, the number of “guests” that arrive at dinner time etc. There is always a tendency to carry too much just in case. Plans also change so that what was once enough may be no longer. It seems that for long-distance adventure riding you are always having to conserve something, whether it be fuel, tyres, chains & sprockets or yourself. Anything to reduce the logistical constraints of your trip before you start is worthwhile.

There is an excellent article on fuel efficiencies in:
http://www.bushwalking.org.au/FAQ/FAQ_Efficiency.htm

Related to economy, there have lately become available cooking pots with finned bases. These contribute hugely to fuel economy boiling water in about 70% of the time normally required. There is the Jetboil system (special container and stove) from MSR for one-man use or the Eta Power range (both stove and container combinations or containers of various sizes) from Primus. Regardless of pot type:

  • always measure out water before heating so that there is no wastage of water or fuel
  • always use a lid to reduce evaporative loss
  • If possible bring food to the boil and then turn the stove off and allow the existing heat to cook the food. This also allows one stove to cook multi-pot meals
  • if there is any breeze at all, use a windshield (aluminium foil or purpose-made). A slight breeze can be the difference between a rolling boil and barely simmering. Using a heatshield also makes simmering more consistent so there is less chance of burning or boiling over

Traveling

If you intend to travel by sea or air, you are not able to take any sort of fuel. So throw away those gas canisters you bought cheap in Auckland and play the time-consuming game of “Hunt the gas canister” in your destination of choice.

While you can't take liquid fuels on a plane either, you can wash out the fuel container with detergent (at worst refill with water) and put it in your checked luggage. This works especially well with the separate fuel containers. The vertical style camp stoves such as Coleman dual fuels and ultra-lights have a wick arrangement internally and it is very difficult to remove all smell of fuel, even after washing and refilling. I have heard of these being rejected by airline check-in staff.

If you fill the fuel container with water, it will exceed the 100ml limit for carry-on baggage. I find it best to take all precautions to render the fuel container safe and then put it in your checked baggage. You can truthfully say that you have no flammable goods in your baggage. Do NOT tell check-in staff that you have a fuel container and try to impress them with your precautions, they will not listen. I have had a tough time convincing check-in staff that the anti-corrosive oil film on a motorcycle engine wasn't flammable.

Redundancy

There is a benefit to be derived from using the same fuel as your vehicle, not only to refill your camp stove from the tank but to eke the last few kilometres out of your bike by using the camp stove fuel. Having run out on the odd occasion, there seems to be nothing heavier than a fully laden bike in rocks.

The problem of fuel transfer is overcome by a quick-release fuel coupling. The tank tap then controls fuel to refill the stove's fuel container. Removal of the fuel tank for repairs and maintenance is also simplified. There are some not-so-cheap plastic quick-release fuel couplings available in NZ. These are fragile and have a tendency to rip the O-ring when reconnecting. A quality brass or optionally nickel plated item for 6mm or 8mm ID fuel tube is available from:

Detlev Louis in Germany (http://www.louis.eu/index.php?topic=artnr_gr&artnr_gr=10007930)
TwinMax in Germany (http://www.twinmax.de/prskvum.html)

The couplings are hugely expensive (about 30 Euro + postage) but they are really good. If anybody knows of a source of these quality couplings closer to NZ, then please contact RemoteMoto. The couplers are valved both ends so that they can be used for tank interconnects. For stove filling applications, one valve should be removed so that fuel will flow out of the tank when the tank valve is opened.

Camp Stove Style

Style refers to the various geometries of the stove. Styles are:

Vertical

Where the fuel container is attached below the burner, such as the Coleman “Dual Fuel” and the Optimus “Svea”

Photo 12 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 12: Coleman Dual Fuel 533

Flat

Where the fuel container is fixed beside the burner, such as the Optimus “Hiker”

Photo 13 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 13: Optimus Hiker

Separate fuel and burner

Where the fuel container is connected via a tube to the burner such as the Primus “Multi-fuel” and the MSR “WhisperLite”

Photo 14 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 14: Primus Omnifuel

Vertical Style

The major concern with style is stability. Vertical styles can become unstable on rough ground, with larger pots or with the taller 450g gas canisters. For this reason almost all expedition grade stoves are either flat or separate fuel and burner styles. The exception to this is the Coleman “Dual Fuel” stoves which have a fixed height and some have broad fold-out stabilizing feet.

Flat Style

The flat style stoves have fallen out of fashion except for the multi-burner camping stoves. The exceptions are the Optimus “Hiker” (kerosene) and “8R” (white gas) stoves. These are high output, stable and compact. The problem with the flat design of these two stoves is that with a large pan, heat can be deflected over the tank and the tank may vent on overpressure. So saying this only happened once to me over many years and only when cooking for a large group so it is not a major concern. The weight of flat style stoves is a problem. Having a full metal case means that the Optimus Hiker + weighs a whopping 1590g including the attached fuel tank (compared to 520g for the Primus Omnifuel including the 375ml fuel bottle and pump).

Separate Fuel & Burner

Separate fuel and burner style stoves are now common for three reasons:

  • They can be made squat for stability with wide fold-out legs
  • They are unaffected by fuel container type so are ideal for multi-fuel stoves
  • They can have high outputs without the radiated heat affecting the fuel container

Additional benefits are that windbreaks are smaller or can be easily made from rocks or snow.

Disadvantages of the separate fuel and burner are that the tube between them is easily damaged. It is advisable to disconnect the burner from the fuel container for stowage but this can lead to wear of the coupling. Early Primus Omnifuel stoves had a threaded coupling on the fuel bottle made of aluminium which wore quickly. Later models have a brass coupling. Always ensure that the exposed coupling is protected from dirt and sand. Some stoves such as MSR have tethered plastic covers. If there is grit in the fuel container end of the coupling then it leaks all the time, even when the tank is depressurised. Food is never all that inviting when it smells of fuel vapour!

General Features

Separate simmer control

For a liquid fuel stove, a separate simmer control is recommended. This means that there is an isolation valve at the fuel container and a needle valve at the burner head. This gives a greater turndown ratio (ratio of heat outputs at full output and minimum stable output). Full output is used to boil water but very low output is required to simmer rice or pasta. It is pretty frustrating having your dinner boil over all the time. Examples of stoves with separate simmer controls are the Primus Omnifuel and the MSR Dragonfly.

For liquified gas stoves, my experience is that smaller burner heads give better turn-down ratios. The Kovea Titan, Kovea Supalite and the Primus Express are excellent.

Photo 15 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 15: Kovea Supalite. Kovea Titan is similar and has piezo ignition
Photo 16 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 16: Primus Express

The Primus Duo Mimer (which has the old-style large burner head) is pathetic. Not only does it get very hot but the slightest breeze causes it to back-light. Back-lighting is when the flame is inside the burner head rather than outside it.

Photo 17 of Camp Stove Selection for Adventure Riders
Illustration 17: Primus Dou Mimer

Piezo Ignition

Piezo ignition is very useful, saving on fiddling about with matches or cigarette lighters and burning your fingers. They are generally only available on gas-only stoves. Always take a lighter though, the ignition unit on my Primus Express gave up the ghost within a month of use. It still created the electrical charge but in insufficient amounts to jump the (non-adjustable) gap. While on the subject of gripes, the design of the Primus Express is such that the head wobbles and the flame control is also erratic especially when cold.

The Kovea ignition unit has been as reliable as an axe and works even after a dousing.

Multi-Fuel Capability

Multi-fuel capability seems like a good idea. Hell, it just makes me feel warm all over at the thought. Not that I have ever used anything but petrol or “white gas” fuels. Most multi-fuels require the jets to be changed to match the fuels. The jets are:

  • Largest for light fuels like liquified gas
  • Mid-size for petrol and “white gas” fuels
  • Smallest for kerosene and diesel

The heavier fuels need preheating and some stoves using liquid fuels tend to flare when lighting as small amounts of unvapourised fuel enters the burner. Do not light one of these in a tent unless you enjoy self-immolation.

Self-Cleaning

The burner jet will become blocked at some stage either from minute grit particles but more usually from build-up of baked fuel contaminants. This is especially true with diesel. The best cleaners are those that are internal (pushing the contaminant out through the jet). The fine metal jet-cleaning needle is also protected within the mechanism. External jet-cleaning is less satisfactory because contaminants get pushed back into the burner head from where they may re-block the jet. Make sure that the jet can be cleaned without disassembly of the unit. When you are cooking dinner, the last thing you need is to wait for the stove to cool just to disassemble and clean the jet (and possibly go through the preheating process again).

Simplicity and Service Tools

A good stove should have all the tools necessary to disassemble it in a single tool. The unit itself should be of simple construction. I think the Primus Omni-fuel and Multi-fuel stoves fit the bill here. Coleman Dual-fuel stoves have many parts and are fiddly to reassemble. So saying, they have internal jet cleaners and I have never needed to disassemble one on the trail.

MSR provides a special long brush to clean out the internal tubes. This strongly suggests that the tubes will need cleaning and internet reports back this up. The vapourisation of fuel is done within a small tube which passes over the burner head. This design would tend to block as the temperature is very high in the tube, baking any residues into a glass-like hardness. Cleaning is reported as a fiddly procedure and in the worst case the brush has been jammed in the tube. In the Primus Omni-fuel and multi-fuel designs vaporization is done in a large cavity in the base of the burner which is exposed to lower temperatures and is unlikely to become completely blocked. Removing the jet exposes the cavity for cleaning with any sharp implement.

Other Considerations

Stowage

Ideally the stove and all the bits and pieces you commonly need for cooking should be stored in one location. I store it all in the billy which provides protected storage. These things also don't change size as the trip proceeds so all the same stuff can always be stored there (important when you have a mind like a goldfish). One thing to note is that some stoves are incredibly hard and sharp. With sustained vibration they can eat through an aluminium billy. Make sure there is some padding material such as a cleaning sponge to protect the billy. I have a small “Sea To Summit” brand neoprene drawstring bag for my stove.

Container Size

There are different fuel containers available for liquid fuel stoves. The common 1 litre size may be great where you carry all the fuel for a hiking trip but the smallest 375ml container is all you need when you have a whole tank full of petrol on the bike.

Recommendation

I love camp stoves, I have an embarrassing number of them. And there are a bewildering array of them out there to choose from. Liquified gas stoves are the easiest to use, have instant-light, high outputs and good turn-downs. The overriding concerns are reduced low-temperature performance, availability of gas canisters, and the price and wastage they entail.

To me a liquid fuel stove that can uses petrol the same as my bike is the best for convenience and economy. I have used one continuously for 3 months of travel, running as low as 80 octane petrol without requiring maintenance. The Coleman Dual-fuel, Edelrid Hexon Multi-fuel, MSR Dragonfly, MSR WhisperLite, Optimus Nova, Optimus Nova+, Primus Gravity MF, Primus Multi-fuel, Primus Omni-fuel (stainless or titanium models) all fit the bill.

I confess to owning a Primus Omnifuel which I have used without trouble for some years. There is a new contender on the block in the Optimus Nova +. It has all the features of the Omni-fuel (except liquified gas capability) but with no jet changing between fuels and an internal jet cleaner.

The choice is yours.

 

Bibliography

The following sources were used in compiling this article.

CampingGaz

www.campingaz.com/c-544-backpacking-stoves.aspx www.campingaz.com/c-538-gas.aspx

Coleman

www.coleman.com/Products/2005/backpacking-stoves

Edelrid

www.edelrid.de/en/sports/products/cooking-technologies/stormy-evo.html

EverNew

www.evernewamerica.com/EBY254.htm

Kovea

www.kovea.com/

MSR

cascadedesigns.com/msr/stoves/category

Optimus

www.optimusstoves.com/seen/optimus-products/products/katadynshopconnect/optimusoutdoor-kocher/

Primus

www.primus.eu/Templates/Pages/3_cols_white_middle.aspx?SectionId=5888

Snow Peak

www.snowpeak.com/stoves/backpacking.html

Trangia

www.trangia.se/english/2913.trangia_stoves.html

IanMeyle
Author of this article: IanMeyle
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