Ahem... Since Prometheus first saw fit to share the mystery of fire with mankind, innumerable ingenious devices/methods have evolved to quickly and efficiently warm food and fight off cold. This article focuses on a small subset of the fire harnessing world: small lightweight (less than 1.5 pounds) backpacking stoves that are easy to pack and would be attractive to long distance hikers. The wood burning stove technology addressed in the article includes stoves with battery powered fans, conical shapes, etc.
Currently the two primary technologies in the wood stove market are natural and forced convection. Natural convection is fancy talk for using a chimney effect, i.e. air pulled over fire, to increase a fire's effectiveness. Forced convection involves a fan that pushes air over fire. Fans push air faster than a chimney draws air, and air traveling at higher velocity means easier ignition and higher flame temperatures. While easier ignition and higher flame temperatures are desirable, they come at a cost. With wood burning stoves, forced convection means a battery powered fan, which translates to more weight, a less durable product, and decreased packability. Natural convection stoves are generally more rugged and packable, but require longer cook times. Considering this, neither of these two technologies are necessarily preferable to the other. The preferred technology is user specific, depending on the user's needs and environment.
From April to November of 2010 I tested eleven different wood burning stoves while traveling about the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (SBW) in Montana/Idaho (see Fig 1). (For specifications and descriptions of each stove see the Individual Stove Descriptions section.)
During this time I grew well acquainted with the wood stove, and as with any product, there are inherent positive and negative aspects. Some of the pros and cons are obvious to the unpracticed wood-burner while others are less glaring. Pros for the wood burning stove include:
- Lightweight – This is true 99% of the time. However, there are products constructed with thick steel that weigh in heavily.
- Simple – Again, true 99% of the time. However, some products include fans and wiring harnesses that complicate the system and make for a less durable product.
- Good packability – Generally true, but there are bulky stoves that take up valuable pack room.
- No fuel to haul – There is no heavy, bulky fuel bottle to add unwanted ounces to the pack.
- Warming fire – Most wood burning stoves don’t give off massive amounts of BTUs (British Thermal Unit), but many do function as a decent warming fire. Those that don’t do well as warming fires still provide a base of coals that can quickly lead to a proper warming fire.
- Trash disposal – Food scraps, paper, and cardboard trash are easily and quickly burned off, putting to rest that most miserable frustration born from toting around unnecessary waste.
- Ambiance – Everyone loves staring at flame light.
- Distraction – During late fall and early winter when night falls at 4:00 PM, many backpackers are confined to the tent for 12 to 14 hours. At these times the task of feeding the fire - although mundane - is a welcome and pleasant distraction.
- Soot accumulation on cookware – The build-up of soot can be substantial, and leaves charcoal racing stripes on gear.
- Fuel – While there is no bulky, heavy fuel bottle to haul, wood and kindling are essential. Acquiring dry kindling and good quality wood that is neither wet nor punky can sometimes prove challenging.
- Lengthy and unpredictable cook time – Cooking with sticks just plain takes longer than cooking with pressurized gas vapors, and this time can be substantially increased if there is rain, snow, punky wood, etc.
- Fire scars – Leaving blackened patches of earth is poor form.
The pros and cons listed above provided a framework that led to the specific criteria used in this article review each stove.
- Testing and Results
- Table 1: BPL Stove Ratings
- Field Testing
- Individual Stove Descriptions
- Table 2: Stove Specifications 1
- Littlbug Junior
- Table 3: LittlBug Jr. Score
- CampStove LE
- Table 4: CampStove LE Score
- Ti-Tri Caldera Systems 900 and 1100
- Table 5: Ti-Tri Caldera 900 Score
- Table 6: Ti-Tri Caldera 1100
- Fire-Spout 100 and Fire-Spout-Mini
- Table 7: Fire-Spout-Mini Score
- Table 8: Fire-Spout 100 Score
- Sierra Zip Stove
- Table 9: Sierra Zip Stove Score
- Table 10: TrailStove Score
- Evernew Titanium DX Stove Set
- Table 11: Evernew Ti DX Stove Set Score
- Table 12: BushBuddy Score
- Nimblewill Nomad's Wood Burning Stove
- Table 13: NimbleWIll Nomad Score
- Final Comments
- Appendix A
- Table 14: Field Testing Notes
- Table 15: Controlled Experiment Notes
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