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How to Choose a Backpacking Wood Stove

Backpacking woods stoves are a great weight saving option for boiling water on backpacking trips because they eliminate the need to carry fuel and a fuel container, such as an isobutane canister or alcohol bottle. As long as you can find dry wood to burn, and it doesn’t take much, and you’re someplace that doesn’t have a fire ban, you’re good to go. They can also add some cheer to your camping experience in spring or autumn when the days are short and the evenings are cool, while having much less impact than a campfire and leaving much less trace of your visit.

Make / ModelTypeRefuel AccessWeightPrice
Bushbuddy Stainless StoveCanNo6.4 oz$100
Toaks Titanium Wood Stove (Small)CanYes5.4 oz$45
Toaks Titanium Wood Stove (Large)CanYes7.9 oz$60
Solo Stainless StoveCanNo9.0 oz$70
Biolite Wood Burning Campstove2CanNo33.0 oz$129
QiWiz Titanium Firefly ULFoldingYes2.8 oz$66
QiWiz Titanium Firefly XLFoldingYes5.8 oz$79
Emberlit Titanium FireantFoldingYes2.8 oz$70
Vargo Titanium HexagonFoldingYes4.1 oz$60
Firebox Nano G2 StainlessFoldingYes6.0 oz$50
Firebox Nano G2 TitaniumFoldingYes4.0 oz$80

Backpacking Wood Stove Types

There are basically two types of wood stoves: Can-based stoves, including wood gasifier stoves, and Folding stoves that collapse flat for easy packing. Stoves also differ in the ease in which you can re-fuel them during a burn. For example, most can-based stoves must be fed from the top or restarted when they run out of fuel. Instead, many folding wood stoves have a side access port that you can feed more wood into while they’re still burning, without having to remove whatever you’re cooking.

Can-Style Backpacking Wood Stoves

Some can-based stoves, like the Solo Stove Lite and the Bushbuddy are called wood gasifier stoves because they have a two-stage burn, that generates heat by burning wood and a by-product called wood gas, making them very hot and efficient, while reducing all the wood you put in them to a fine ash. They’re basically double-walled cans that pipe wood gas from the inner can to the top of the outer can where it can be burned as fuel, thereby producing more energy from a single wood load.

Fuel is added to can-based wood stoves from the top and burns down

You don’t have to use a wood gasifier stove for backpacking since a simple can with holes punched into it will also work. I once used Ikea Cutlery Holders as wood stoves and they worked pretty well as long as you used a windscreen with them. However, the problem with can-based wood stoves is that they’re not very packable and can take up precious space in your backpack. They also get pretty sooty, in a way that’s harder to contain than a stove that can collapse flat.

Folding-Style Backpacking Wood Stoves

Most folding-style wood stoves can be packed flat, which makes them much easier to backpack with since they take up so little space. It’s also easier to contain the soot on their exterior since you can just slip them inside a ziploc baggy for transport. You still have to assemble them before use, but this is a trivial process that involves fitting together the sidewalls and a burn pan on the bottom to prevent scorching the ground that they sit on. Most of the time, the sidewalls act as pot supports and a windscreen, so they’re really quite self-contained.

The Emberlit FireAnt Wood Stove is collapsible and can be stored flat in your backpack.

For example, the Emberlit FireAnt Titanium Wood Stove is collapsible and can be stored flat in your backpack. Many folding style stoves also have a refueling port cut into one of the sidewalls so you can add fuel to a pre-existing fire without having to stop cooking to add more fuel. You can even insert a longer piece of wood into the refueling port and just push more in, as the other end is consumed. This is very convenient and can eliminate having to saw or chop larger pieces of wood into smaller ones.

The QiWiz Firefly UL has a refueling port in that you can feed wood into while the stove is alight

While folding wood stoves aren’t as efficient as gasifier stoves, it really doesn’t take more than 8-10 minutes to boil two or more cups of water on one. While that’s 5 minutes more than a canister gas stove, it’s still a pretty good tradeoff considering how much pack weight you’ll save by not having to carry fuel. Backpacking woods stoves also have a much lighter environmental impact since they don’t use petroleum-based fuels and create empty fuel containers, like used canisters, plastic ethanol alcohol bottles, white gas cans, that have to be recycled or buried in a landfill.

Wood Collection

If you’re in a forest area, the wood needed to fuel a wood stove is usually quite plentiful. I usually pick up a couple of handfuls of small sticks lying on the ground and maybe some pine cones to help start the fire because they make good tinder. There’s rarely any need to carry a saw, process wood, or go very far to gather it. I start my woodstove fires with a vaseline covered cotton ball and a magnesium striker, but you could just as easily start it with dry tinder and a butane lighter.

If it’s rained and all the wood available is wet, it can help to carry some ESBIT fuel cubes so you can boil water or cook food for a day or two until the weather clears up. Just stick an ESBIT cube inside the wood stove and use it as a combination pot stand and windscreen, like you would with wood. It can also help to prop the fuel cube up higher in the stove so that it’s closer to the bottom of your cookpot. Since fuel cubes weigh a half-ounce each, and one will boil two cups of water or more, the added security of carrying a few extras amounts to very little extra weight.

Summary

Backpacking woods stoves can be a great way to reduce or eliminate the extra weight of carrying stove fuel and fuel containers. They’re not for everyone since they are slower and dirtier than alcohol, canister, or liquid fuel stoves, but they’re a lot of fun to use and less impactful than most other backpacking stove alternatives.

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19 comments

  1. Good article. I have owned a Vargo Hex stove for a long time and actually carry it every trip as a backup, in case I have a stove malfunction or run out of fuel. They do get dirty, so as you stated it pays to keep them in some kind of cover. Also there have been occasions when I just use it to create some smoke to keep the bugs at bay as I eat. Throwing in a couple of Esbit cubes is a good idea. I have always been interested in the gasifier stoves but have not been willing to lose the pack real estate to carry one.

  2. Really terrific article. I have always used a white gas or butane stove over the years and my cookware remains squeaky clean. I’ve shied away from cooking over a fire because of the mess. What is the preferred method of dealing with a sooty cooking pot? Do you keep it in a dedicated stuff sack?

    • My cook pot came in a cloth stuff sack that has a lot of little holes in it to help facilitate drying. I store it there and stuff into the front mesh pocket of my pack. But you could use any old stuff sack for this. It’s not as big a deal as you’d think.

  3. Any tips for efficient options to prop up the Esbit fuel cubes in the stoves? Thanks!

    • You left out the littlebug senior and junior stoves. I find the senior to be an excellent hiking and canoeing stove. Packs down really small, very light, substitutes for a campfire and with a firepan is leave no trace.

    • A small rock works wonderfully. I carry small metal esbit stove, just a can top really. If you put that on top of the little rock it won’t be blackened by the Esbit.

    • I inverted a small tomato paste can and punched holes in it. Gets the esbit to the perfect height inside my solo lite stove. also nests inside the stove. so it’s basically perfect.

  4. Very useful and interesting information !

    I once owned a somewhat “giant” coffee can (maybe from a restaurant), with the intention of somehow experimenting with it as a “wood stove,” but eventually tossed the thing without getting around to it. Never quite sure how to manage or what modifications would be required.

    Someday, maybe if I feel rich…

  5. If you have a mesh bag, try rubbing the sooty pot bottom and sides with it. The soot comes off easily, leaving a nice black polished patina that will not leave soot stains.on the pack contents or hands.

  6. In addition to the commercial stoves listed, it’s fairly easy to DIY your own double-walled can-style wood stove using two different sized cans. It’s a fun project to make and a fun little stove to use out in the woods. My favorite weighs only 3.9 ounces, even though it’s made from two steel cans and includes a pot stand. Boil times are in line with what you said in the article.

  7. I have the Firebox Nano in titanium. Steve sells a little plate to drop in when you want to use an alcohol burner or esbit. You can build a Swedish fire torch in it, or just use twigs and feed the wood from the outside through two opposing openings. They are at different levels to enable a more efficient feed. You can also put a tiny grill plate on top if you’re a “BBQ pursuer.” Otherwise, its little stand provides good support for any vessel you want to use. A particular feature I find handy, is being able to open and ready to use with a little flick of the wrist. No separate pieces to misplace. Plus, the burn is hot enough to leave it easy to clean. A little swipe with a micro cloth and the soot is gone. I pack it in a nylon case just large enough for the stove to fit. My entire kit – with a little flame guard – comes to 5 oz. Not bad for an efficient burn with lots of heat and “wildness charm!”

  8. Here’s another rig i came across on the Interwebs that wasn’t mentioned in the review. Have no experience with it, but it looks interesting.

    https://suluk46.com/product/napsiktok-flexible-tri-fuel-titanium-stove/

  9. Disappointed this review does not include any ‘caldera cone’ stoves (Trail Designs makes the original; no affiliation other the fact that I bought one, and it’s great).

    Caldera’s claim to gasify better than other designs (I can’t verify this) – but they are focus more of the flame on the pot, and are more stable.

  10. WHAT??! No mention of Trail Designs Tri Ti or Sidewinder stoves with the Inferno gassier insert?? This is hands down the:
    1. most compact
    2. lightest
    3. most efficient

    Please correct this omission and add it to your review.

    Was this intentional or a “mere oversight”?

    • It was an oversight. I wasn’t aware that they’d started selling an add-on to their esbit and alcohol existing systems. However, now that I’m up to date, I don’t consider that add-on to be a wood stove. You have to buy into the entire kitchen sink and buy their Fusion Kit for $149, including matching it to a cook pot. No thanks. I’ll take a simple collapsible folding woodstove that will work with any cook pot. Here’s a link to their product. Make up your own mind.
      https://www.traildesigns.com/products/fusion-ti-tri

      • Hi Philip,
        Thanks for the prompt reply. Your personal involvement is what makes this site so valuable to backpackers.
        Trail Designs has been selling their titanium Caldera Cone stoves with the optional Inferno insert for many years. The Inferno insert, an inverted, ventilated cone, recycles unburned combustion by-product gasses with “new” air for hotter and more efficient combustion just like the Bush Buddy does. They are both “gassifier” stoves.

        The big difference is the much lighter weight and compact size of the Trigger Ti or smaller Sidewinder when stored, aside from their greater efficiency. HOWEVER, you can use any pot on the top of these stoves. You will lose some efficiency but still be in the Bush Buddy efficiency range if not better. I’ve used my small Sidewinder with a larger 2 quart pot for melting snow, a very fuel intensive activity.

      • Maybe you can tell me what product I should list then. There is no standalone inferno from what I can make out on their website.

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