Zebra 12cm billy can

Review: Zebra 12cm billycan

I currently have 4 cook pots that I use when trekking or camping. I use them at home quite often too!

  • The Vargo Ti lite mug
  • The Snowpeak Trek 900 Titanium
  • The Montbell #3D Titanium cooker
  • The Zebra 12cm “Billy Can”

The Zebra has been my latest acquisition, and my first stainless steel cook pot as I prefer titanium for most of my outdoor gear. Although I’ve not yet reviewed my other cookware, I’d better start off with the Zebra as I have a huge backlog of posts for writing as of now and I’d better start with what’s fresh in my mind.

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Close up of the Zebra 12 cm Billy taken in my tent

The Zebra 12 cm “Billycan” looks similar to Zebra’s ice bucket and filter pot and seems to be the base for a variety of other products. The history of the Billy can or Billy tin is interesting. I quote from  Wikipedia,

“The term “billycan” is derived from the large cans used for transporting bouilli or bully beef on Australia-bound ships or during exploration of the outback, which after use were modified for boiling water over a fire.”

This was a special purchase as my love for the wilderness grew watching BBC’s Ray Mears survival programmes on Discovery Channel. Whenever I watched him make billy-tea or use Zebra’s billycan for cooking, I mentally made a note that this versatile cook pot had to be bought sooner or later.

To make sure I got the same thing, I therefore bought it from his Woodlore shop as I had already purchased some books and DVD’s and other stuff from there and delivery was always quite prompt and the packing excellent. When I received the billy, my first thought was that it was an Indian lunch box in disguise as it had a small container  which fitted on the open end of the billy like a separator used to hold roti’s (flat-thin-circular Indian unleavened bread) or a dry salad. I also noticed that it was missing the plastic locks that were shown on the manufacturer’s website and on the websites of other online merchants. On contacting Woodlore about it, I got no reply which kind of demoted them from my list of favourite merchants.

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Note how the lid falls off, even when gently placed on its side. Thanks to Woodlore for the non autolock (No clips) version

I later found out that this “billycan” is called the “Loop handle pot” whereas the model I saw elsewhere was the “Loop handle pot – Auto lock”. It says so on the manufacturers website too.  I wish Woodlore had told me this though rather than me having to Google it out thinking that they had cheated me. Their product delivery however has as always, been prompt and the quality excellent.

From a reviewer’s and camper’s point of view, I would advise any prospective buyer to avoid buying the standard Zebra billy and to go in for the “Auto lock” model as the can lid fits very loosely, and without it the lid and separator will fall off every time the billy tips over. If this happens on an incline when trekking, you could lose the lid and the separator making the Billy only half as useful.

Some merchants mention that the separator can be used for steaming. They have obviously never used the billy in practice as in reality, the rim of the separator rests on the edge of the billy. Any steam that builds up will lift the separator and escape without touching the food. The only way to use it for steaming would be to drill a few holes in the separator.

Pros:

  • Very solid stainless steel construction. Sturdy and durable.
  • Indent in the middle of the handle for either the middle finger (when carrying) or for being supported with a stick over a fire
  • Excellent for heating/purifying water or for watery soups or stews
  • Can be nestled next to the fire or hung from a stick or wire.
  • Great to carry small quantities of water for chores (1.4 Liters)

Cons:

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Using a stick to lift the lid off the pot is messy and uncertain thanks to the recessed handle. I ended up dropping the lid in the ashes numerous times and we ended up drinking ash flavoured hot chocolate
  • Stainless steel does not work very well with thick gravies or for stir frying. It causes the food to stick and burn.
  • Wish the clips in the auto-lock model were of stainless steel… The plastic clips have to be removed prior to heating. There are chances that someone might forget to take them off, or put them away and lose them. (Not applicable in my case)
  • Inner separator of not much use and adds unnecessary weight to the pack unless you want to use it as a small plate or bowl or drill a few holes in its bottom and use it as a steamer or for draining wet food.
  • The recessed lid handle makes cleaning or taking off the lid for checking the progress a bit difficult, especially if the fire is very hot. I ended up dropping the lid into the ashes a few times and ended up with ash in my water.
  • Weighs 560 grams when empty

All said and done, going by its design, this glorified “billycan” is nothing but an EDC Thai lunch box made of a good grade/thickness of stainless steel which shows in its build quality and weight. Due to this, we cannot fault the recessed lid, the separator etc… as it was not manufactured to be used as a billycan. I read in some forums that it was pretty difficult to get, this according to them was partly due to the manufacturer accepting only large purchase orders which has caused this artificial scarcity. Personally, I don’t think this product is worth the hype.

In spite of the above, if travelling by vehicle to your camp site with a group of friends, this makes for a good companion to heat up water or make soups or tea. I would not carry such a heavy beast for trekking or camping if I would be carrying it in my rucksack as I could carry my lighter titanium cookpot and still have grams to spare for some other essential gear. I have used this off and on for heating water at home to pour into my 64oz smoky mountain growler but always mage to spill some of the water out as the pot is designed to be a lunch box and not a cookpot. One of the purchases on which I’ve deemed my money wasted.

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A friend serves Billy-chocolate to the kids at our camp site at Yamuna bridge in Uttarakhand

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