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Wood Gas Stoves: Second Thoughts

Solo Woodstove
Solo Woodstove

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?

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:

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.

Problems with Wood Gas Stoves and Regular Wood 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. 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.

These factors have 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?

Postscript (2015) I’ve gotten over my objections regarding wood stoves and use them at least 50% of the time now on backpacking trips. They’re not that slow to cook on and I carry my stove and pot in an outer pack pocket to keep them from smelling up my gear. I don’t eat a sit-down breakfast anymore and having a small controlled fire at night before bed is quite pleasant. But not having to carry extra fuel is a winner. 

Written 2009. Updated 2015.

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  1. Like most backpackers I have a collection of stoves, but the two I now take on most trips is my DIY wood gas and my DIY alcohol soda can stove(s). When I get into camp I fire up my soda can first and get water for my coffee,tea,cocoa heating up while I gather wood for my Wood gas stove to cook dinner. After dinner, I prepare the Wood gas stove for breakfast and setup the soda can stove for my hot tea, coffee, cocoa so it is ready within a few minutes of waking up and drink that first cup while sitting in my down bag while the wood gas stove begins heating my water for breakfast.

  2. Like everybody knows each and every item has its drawbacks.
    Stop criticizing without even able to do things right, stop talking about things or people if you do not know what it is all about.

    I taught mz students and friends to light a small stealthy cooking fire with dry and dead leaves, twigs and dead but non-rotten wood which you have already collected on the road within a minute or two which burns first nearly, then almost without smoke. Native Americans said one who lights a fire that can be seen needs to be seen (needs help), is stupid or a white settler.
    Dry the fuel if necessary, collect the right stuff, know how to get the fastest fire going on the trail your on and have a backup.

    It’s all about preference of the user and up to his mastership, trail, weather, equipment.
    Adapt to your enviroment.
    Learn, get taught how to do things right. Find out tricks of the trade. Train. Get a master of the things you do.
    Leave no trace.
    Respect man, we all bleed when hurt. Respect earth, it’ s the only place we can live.
    Do your best, take care of yourself.

    nuff said,

  3. Like most campers I have tried several of the gas stoves and found them to be OK till they break down and they manage to do that when they are needed the most. So i moved away from the gas stoves and to wood burners. Pick up the fuel as I walk along , no more liquid fuel sloshing around in the pack.
    Switched to the Zip Stove and by using the fan you can control the fire but make sure you have spare batteries.
    To get away from the batteries and lose some more weight I have been using the Trangia Alcohol stove when camping.
    To get back to the wood burners I have gone with the Solo Stove ( The poor mans copy of the Bush Buddy ) and have the Trangia with some alcohol as a back up. The Trangia will fit inside the burning area of the Solo Stove and used as the heat source for cooking. The best of both worlds.
    This double set up allows me to cook when the wood is wet or when I am just plain lazy and want a quick cup of coffee. Plus I still have some of the alcohol along as a disinfectant for any cuts or scrapes.

    • That is a pretty nice setup. I like the trangia because you can save the fuel you don’t need. The solo stove is also a really good value, I think.

    • Nice setup, I am pondering between a Caldera Cone with Inferno (apparently, some sort of gasifier) and one of those proper wood gas stoves.
      A.t.m. I am using a BushBox Ultralight Pocket stove, which is incredibly compact when folded, and very light too. I like being able to use Meths, Esbit or wood with it. But it needs to be well shielded from the wind, and is not very efficient with wood

  4. I have built and used this type of stove. I love the near zero smoke, the great heat, the fast cooking and the fast burnout of the fire. Great for base camping, I have boiled many gallons of water with mine, am always amazed at the speed, and also how easy this stove is to light. I use shavings, cotton tinder and a fire steel to easily get this going every time. Great design.

  5. I do the dual thing too, to keep my options open and stretch my supplies:
    1. $20 Cheap chinese wood gassifier twig stove (copy of Silverfire Scout) that breaks down into 4 packable pieces inside each other with a stuff sack. I collect dry finger sized twigs during the day as I go, chopping them up into a baggie with a pruner into little 1/2 inch pieces that settle denser and burn longer than whole twigs. I keep a couple of baggies full for when I need them, and replenish as needed. The ‘gassifier’ part means it produces a lot less smoke-per-same-heat than a non-gassifier.
    2. At a burn ban site, or when I want heat quick, instead of the wood chips, I light a $20 ‘dental lab’ styled alcohol bunsen burner that I can refill, has a larger tank than my Trangia, never flares up like my Trangia does, produces heat similar to my Trangia, and can never splash fuel like my Trangia can if I knock it over since the wick lid has a friction fit to the tank. The twig stove makes an ideal wind breaker and stove top to put the bunsen burner in – and the pot on top of.

    • @Sspoonless: I feel like is better to give the correct information here.
      The Trangia burner does flare only if overfilled. Please read the instructions, the manufacturer does not recommend to fill more than 3/4; in fact, if filled to 1/2, the trangia burner does never flare.
      When well shielded from the wind, I can cook 2 meals with a Trangia burner filled at correct level; the screw cap does not leak (I’ve kept my burner filled for months), and is great for an overnight trip to not carry a bottle of fuel.
      I don’t see the point of priming Meths burners, too. Just keep them in your pocket for an hour, or in a small ziplock bag under your sleeping bag.

      Btw, do you have a link of the wood stove you’re using?

  6. We always take a wood gas stove on our family camping trips, because we feel that it adds to the whole experience of camping to find the fuel for the stove ourselves. It becomes a competition between the kids to see who can collect the most wood. As we like to fill our days as much as possible with things that the children want to do, we do not tend to use the stove for cooking very often, as we leave it at the campsite during the day. It is ideal for making a hot chocolate before bed time though, and this has become something of a tradition in our family. We also use it occasionally for cooking bacon and sausage for sandwiches for breakfast.

  7. Pans still get soot and tar when conditions are not ideal. Nobody mentions the sticky residue when conditions (and fuel) are wet.
    Also, at higher altitudes above tree lines there is little to burn. Many ridge hikes I have done would be difficult places to get fuel – maybe a few small wirey bushes.

    All stoves have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the circumstances and location.
    I still like my Optimus Nova – never failed me – wind, rain and snow. I can get something that will burn in it almost anywhwere, and if I can’t, I can light a fire!

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