No Backpacking Stove Fuel
I’ve had my eye on wood gas stoves for a while because I Iike the idea of having a stove where you don’t have to carry fuel. If you’re going to be out for 4 or 5 days the amount of denatured alcohol or isobutane canister fuel you need to carry can really add up. What better way to eliminate this weight by using wood scraps from the forest around you?
But on hindsight, there’s a catch, and I’ve concluded the advantages of a wood stove do not outweigh its disadvantages. Let me explain.
How Wood Gas Stoves Work
If you’re not familiar with the principle behind a wood gas stove, it’s simple. Normal camp fires burn from the bottom up, while a wood gas stove burns from the top down. Wood gas stoves are typically made with two cans that draw air from holes punched into their bases. As the fire burns down, it heats the air between the cans. This hot air rises and is vented into the inner can just above the burning flame, creating a bellows effect and a secondary phase of combustion that optimizes fuel consumption, producing a more efficient and hotter flame.
Here’s an excellent training video from J. Falk, maker of the Bushwhacker Wood Gas Stove, that illustrates these points.
There are a couple of wood gas stoves available on the market today that people like. These include:
- The Honey Stove ’09, which is popular in Europe and the UK. It weighs a maximum of 11.8 oz (339 grams), but can be broken down into smaller components and stores flat, a really nice feature in my opinion. It’s available from Backpackinglight.co.uk for 34 British pounds (about $50 USD).
- The Bushbuddy Ultra, another second generation wood gas stove weighing 5 oz, manufactured in Canada and popularized by Ryan Jordan. It’s available for $115 CAN (about $93 USD).
- The Bushwhacker Wood Stove (shown above) from J. Falk at Trailgear.org which weighs 6.7 oz and costs $28.50 USD.
Of these, I decided to buy the Bushwhacker because of the price and not because it was the lightest one available. All of these stoves have a lot of interesting features, so check them out.
Enough preamble: here’s the downside of using a wood gas stove.
Problems with Wood Gas Stoves
Cooking with a wood gas stove is slow. This is my biggest beef. I try to maximize my daylight when I hike, often waking before dawn and hiking until close to sunset. With a wood stove, I need to spend a lot more time making a fire and I need to babysit it until it finishes burning. This means that it will take significantly longer for me to break camp in the morning if I want a hot breakfast and that I need to allow more time to make a fire and cook at night, reducing my daily range by several miles each day. I’m not willing t make that trade-off. Using an isobutane canister stove, I can boil water in a few minutes for breakfast and dinner and pack my gear or set up camp while my stove is boiling water. It’s a much faster and more efficient system, despite the extra weight of a fuel canister.
Wood fires create soot on the stove and on your pot. You can reduce this by wrapping your pot with tin foil but you’re still going to have to segregate your stove and pot from anything you want to keep clean with a stuff sack. What a hassle. I don’t carry soap or a camp towel and I’m not about to start.
These factors have really cooled my initial enthusiasm for using a wood gas stove.
Am I being too critical? I know many of you have switched to wood gas stoves. Do the benefits outweigh the issues I’ve listed?
Written 2009. Updated 2015.
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