MSR XGK Multi-Fuel Stove

MSR XGK EX Stove (Spring 2010).jpeg

I’ve been using my XGK stove for over 22 years and it’s battered and sorry-looking but still performs wonderfully.

What really sold me on it was that I had a career and life-change about 5 years ago and put all my camping stuff in storage. Last summer I retrieved and unpacked it all for a trip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The stove fired up first time and performed flawlessly. It still sounds like a jet engine and boils water in a very short time. A triumph of simple, solid engineering.

It enables me to cook food and make warm drinks in order to stay alive in challenging locations. I can source multiple kinds of fuel without having to be overly reliant on one type of fuel or (even worse) proprietary canisters. The rocket -ship sound makes me happy and reminds me of all the times when that noise signaled I would soon be fed and warm. Throw the stove in a backpack, duffel, truck bed, helicopter, and not worry about damaging it. Even it gets damaged or clogged (on Russian diesel, for instance), you can strip it down with a leatherman and MSR provide all the spares you need with the stove.

It’s better than the rest because:
It uses all kinds of fuel
It’s simple and tough
It’s lasted for 20+ years and I’m sure it will last much longer
It’s saved my life on numerous occasions

I also give credit to excellent boy scout training in terms of packing and cleaning equipment after use. I put away all my stuff expecting to use it within weeks; it turned out to be over 5 years in boxes in a friend’s hayloft; 100 deg plus in summer, down to -20 in winter. And yet because I’d been taught to put things away properly, everything was just fine and ready to use the day I retrieved it. So perhaps Boy Scout training should be a cool tool too.

-- Raoul Miller  

MSR XGK Multi Fuel Stove (fuel bottle not included)
$160

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by MSR



Trangia 25-7 UL/HA

I’ve used the Trangia 25-7 UL/HA for a year now, and it’s as reliable as sin. Since I got it, I no longer use my MSR Whisperlite stove. This model comes with a frying pan lid (which doubles as a pot lid and serves as the top to the kit when it’s all packed up) and two pots; the pots and burner combine in a neat, self-contained package. The stove itself is basically an alcohol burner (think Sterno can) with a custom top by which you semi-regulate/extinguish the flame. The stove sits in a two-piece extremely stable wind screen (picture two pots bottom to bottom, with a hole through the middle for the stove).

The Trangia uses denatured alcohol, which is easier and quieter than white gas. Easier because you don’t have to prime the stove or pressurize the fuel canister. To start the Trangia, you set up the windscreen, put the stove in the middle, add fuel and light the top. To turn it off, you slide the lid on the custom top, cutting off the oxygen. And it’s quieter because there’s no hissing or roaring — again, think Sterno.

Another advantage the Trangia has over the MSR stove is the windscreen design, which makes a far more stable cooktop than the MSR’s three-wire tripod. As for weight, since I usually pack stove and cook pots together, the combined weight and size of my MSR and REI cook pots is about the same as the weight and size of this Trangia kit (around 2 pounds).

Negatively, you can’t regulate the Trangia’s flame very well. The Trangia is a little slower, too: it takes a few minutes longer to boil a couple of cups of water for tea. Without a stopwatch, both the Trangia and the MSR take about the same time to boil a pot of water for dehydrated dinners, always too slow for whoever isn’t cooking that night.

-- P. Chang  

Trangia 25-7 UL/HA
$110

Manufactured by Trangia

Available at Campsaver

Video of how it works and packs up here:
Wilderness Survival: How To Use A Trangia Camping Stove



Littlbug Stove

The Littlbug is a well-made, elegantly-efficient wood-burning stove that’s a great alternative to the propane stoves often relied upon during Scouting trips. The energy put towards producing, transporting and disposing propane stove canisters is a growing problem for those who spend time outdoors. A high-efficiency wood-burning stove makes practical, ethical sense — no need to haul around canisters, dispose of them, or put the burden on parks to go around collecting empties.

The Littlbug has draft holes in the base and the unique semi-circular pot supports form a baffle system that gives the stove a chimney effect and acts as a wind screen. It burns with a great deal more ferocity than a standard fire.

stove_design.jpg

Maintaining the fire does demand more attention than a propane stove, but you’ll use much less wood than the average campfire. The intensity of the heat is more difficult to moderate with the Littlbug, but some practice will improve our technique. On the whole, I’ve found the performance quite comparable to a propane stove: on a recent trip, our Littlbug Senior boiled five quarts of cold water in an eight quart pot in about twenty minutes — this was in moderately-windy conditions, using somewhat damp sticks about 0.5 to 1.5 inches in diameter. Once the pot was at a high, rolling boil I cooked five pounds of sliced potatoes in about 20-30 minutes.

At $57, the Littlbug costs about as much or more than a propane stove, but the fuel is free. Before I purchased it, I was curious whether I could reverse-engineer the design to produce our own version and save a few dollars. I abandoned the idea as soon as I had the stove in my hands: It is constructed of stainless steel and would require pretty close tolerances to recreate properly. Not that one couldn’t create a reasonable facsimile with tin cans and a bit of ingenuity, but the Littlbug is so well thought-out and so well made it justifies the cost.

It is easy to assemble and provides a very stable platform for a heavy pot (w/potatoes my pot weighs about 15 pounds). The stove is cool to the touch in a few minutes after the the fire is out. It then packs into a sturdy bag that keeps the soot contained. Of course, that’s one of the minor down sides: in addition to collecting fuel, you have to deal with a sooty pot (naturally, a little dish soap applied to the outside of the pot before cooking helps). The Littlbug can also be adapted for alcohol stoves or Sterno cans. I don’t know that we will ever use this feature, but it adds to the stove’s utility.

The previously-reviewed Sierra has been around for twenty years or so and has developed a band of adherents (I have never used it). The Sierra is a much smaller stove than the Littlbug SR and uses a battery-driven fan to provide draft for the fire. There are actually several incarnations/clones of the Sierra out there — I just never thought that schlepping a battery run stove around made a whole lot of sense. The Littlbug is simple, with no batteries to replace or fan to go all Murphy on you. It also has a short learning curve and will likely last forever. Also, not unlike most people who go car-camping or backpacking, Scouts are cooking in groups of six or eight. I have a stove similar to the previously-reviewed Snow Peak Gigapower that I carry backpacking, but with Scouts, since we are using bigger pots, it makes sense to use bigger stoves because the weight and bulk is shared between several people. Still, the stove does make sense for backpacking. At 19 ounces (plus 3.3 oz for the pouch), it compares favorably to the one-pound stoves and one-pound canisters our Patrols usually carry. The only improvement I can suggest is a shield that surrounds the pot to concentrate heat, something easily made from some aluminum roof flashing. I would imagine it would significantly increase the stove’s efficiency.

Littlbug also offers a fire pan and chain kit for hanging the stove. I am dubious that hanging the stove is a good idea, especially for Scouts, but we will add a suitable fire pan to further reduce the impact of the stove. The addition of a suitable round grill will complete our kit allowing us to use the stove for grilling. I’m outfitting three crews for a canoe trip in Canada this summer, and plan to purchase to more Littlbug Seniors (Since my first purchase, I learned Littlebug offers discounts for Scout troops). The stoves will be a significant improvement over the fire grates we usually carry and make cooking meals over the fire much faster and more efficient.

stove_empty.jpg
-- Clarke Green  

Littlbug Stove – Senior
$57
Available from Littlebug



Super Cat Alcohol Stove

supercat.jpg

I’ve made four kinds of alcohol stoves: the previously-reviewed Pepsi Can Stove, the Turbo Cat II, the Peyo Revolution, and the Super Cat. Of the four stoves I built and tested with a stopwatch (in my 60-degree garage), the Super Cat boiled water the fastest. While one of the others took as long as seven minutes to boil 500ml of water, the Super Cat did it in roughly 4 minutes and 30 seconds, and required no fuel re-fills to do so. Your use may vary, but regardless, the Super Cat called for the least number of materials and tools to make. A lot of tin can stoves require assembly with JB Weld, as well as cutting apart cans with scissors and X-Acto blades, which can lead to getting cut on sharp aluminum. To make the Super Cat, all you need to do is open the can (cat food, hence the name), dump the contents, and drill or punch holes in the prescribed pattern. Since it’s just a simple dish of fuel that you light in the middle, the stove does not require a primer dish to pre-heat the stove, nor does it require a pot stand. The stove is actually designed to have the pot sit on top. Without the pot on top, it burns much less efficiently; it needs it there to force the fire out the side holes. In the field — once on a summer mountaineering trip and twice camping — it’s held up and functioned great. It definitely seems more crush-proof than the other stoves. The only disadvantage: I had to throw out the cat food because I don’t have a cat!

-- Steve Schmitt  



Butane Burner

These stoves are great for backyard cooking, partying, tailgating, car camping, and/or power outages. They’re too big for most backpacking, but for most other uses they’re much more convenient than larger propane and or liquid fuel stoves. They come in their own lunch box sized plastic or nylon carrying case. The hair-spray-sized butane canister is contained within the stove instead of sticking out on the side like most propane stoves, and it just drops in. They all have piezoelectric ignition. Most models are dirt cheap. I bought mine at Target a few years ago for $30, but Big 5 had them on sale for $16 a few weeks ago.

-- Bruce Bowen  

[These handy stoves, good for one-room studios, huts, and emergency use can be found at Asian grocery stores, which also sell the butane fuel cans. Quality varies tremendously among "brands", but this $25 version gets good reviews on Amazon. -- KK]

GStone Butane Burner
$11

Available from Amazon



Sierra Stove

Sierrastove.jpg

There I was, in driving rain, cooking breakfast under a tree over an intense, portable fire. Fresh coffee and scrambled eggs.

It was a Sierra Stove I got for $52. It’s a mini-forge, forcing air into a small insulated chamber where a double handful of twigs (or dung or whatever) can heat water in a couple minutes—just a little longer than a butane stove, but with NO fuel or fuel containers to carry. One enthusiast hiked from Mexico to Canada cooking with one, claims Chip in *The Compleat Walker IV.* Chip himself now claims to camp largely solar–with backback solar charged batteries running his flashlights and his Sierra Stove.

The basic unit I got weighs 18 ounces and is clever and well-evolved. Accessory goodies can be found at the manufacturer’s site. The newest item is a titanium version that weighs only 10 ounces, for $129.

I was impressed at how little fuel was needed, and how funky it could be. A switch offers high or low speed on the fan, driven by one AA battery. No igniter–my Bic failed me in the rain, but a Lifeboat match and lil’ firestarter saved the day. Unlike butane, the Sierra Stove does blacken your pots and pans, which is the main nuisance–they go in ziploc bags anyway though. All in all an impressive little rig.

We’ll all want one when the economy collapses completely and we have to live homeless.

Sierra Stove
$57
Available from ZZ Manufacturing



Wall Tent Stoves

wall_stove_sm2.jpg

Portable wood stoves are for tents, tipis, huts or other temporary shelters. More efficient than a campfire, and more powerful than a backpacking stove, they are often used by ranchers, hunters, fisherman, and other trail groups who need to set up a moveable camp. These little guys will heat a large tent/small room, and cook meals. It’s overkill for overnight use, but quickly becomes beloved in cold weather, large groups, or extended summer camps. Once upon a time you needed a pack horse or off-road vehicle to carry one — and the stove pipe it requires. Now there are lightweight versions. The Kifaru, for instance, will fold into a backpack. However the heavier ones will last longer and warp less due to high heat and burn-out of the stove bottom.

The best single source for information, comparison evaluations and ordering various brands and models of these stoves is the Wall Tent Shop. (And yes, they also sell traditional wall tents.)

– KK

Wall Tent Shop

Kifaru Foldable Tipi Stove
4.5 lbs.
8″ x 9″ x 12″
$249+ (stove only)
Kifaru

KniCo Stove
12.5 lbs.
10″ x 10″ x 23″
$120+
KniCo Stove

 



Extremely Tiny Woodstoves

The need: a very tiny woodstove suitable for a small space in a home. I received many suggestions after posting an inquiry here last month. Here is the consensus from Cool Tools readers.

The original Very Small Woodstove is the Jotul 602, from Norway. This model is a mere 12 inches wide, 19 inches deep. They are found most often in cottages and cabins in the woods, where the 602′s good looks are a highlight. It’s been around almost forever. Jotul claims over 1 million of these have been manufactured. Waterford and Garden Way produced a near identical stove called the Reginald 101, but it is no longer in production, but available used, as is the Jotul 602. Although very small it can heat amazingly well.

Jotul 602
12 x 19
$980
Manufactured by Jotul – see their dealers list

But the tiniest very small woodstoves are those built for boats. These are designed for very tight quarters, and often have a railing on the top to keep pots from rolling off. Here is a typical one from the Canadian coast measuring all of 12 inches by 12 inches. They are made of cast iron and porcelain and are so cute and enchanting, folks have thought of getting a sailboat just so they need one.

Sardine
12 x12
$1090
Available from Marine Stove

The third option for extremely small woodstoves are those manufactured for camping. Sometimes known as wall tent stoves, or pack trail stoves, or ice shack, or even shepherding stoves, these are meant for nomadic or seasonal camps. Like the marine varieties they double as cookstoves. More expensive varieties are produced in titanium, the cleverest are even collapsible, but the cheapest are steel, and they are as plain and basic as camp coffee.

Two Dog Stove
10 x 12
$185
Available from Wall Tent Shop

THE source for pack trail stoves is Pack Saddle Shop

Wilderness Shanty Wood Stove
8 x 15
$155
Available from Shewchuk Outdoor Supplies

Slightly larger– that is small, but not extremely small — home woodstoves can also be found at Lehman’s

-- KK  

[Thanks to Chris, Gordon Crone, John Simons, Art Johnson, Cate, Helge Gudmundsen, CJ Cramer, Christopher Wanko, Rob McCartney, Todd Holloway, Eagle, Scott KS, Stephen Foss, Rick Smith, Dean Johnson, Matt Murray, Curt Jopling, Justin Anthony, Egil Hogholt, and Russell Hall. -- KK]



Wood Pellet Stoves

wood_pellets.jpg

Wood pellet stoves are an alternative way to heat a home. The stoves use wood pellets, which look exactly like rabbit food, and are made out of dried recycled compressed sawdust from lumber mills that otherwise ends up in landfills. They were invented in the 1980s and were popular for a while then declined some in the late 90s but since 9/11 have made a big comeback. The industry for stove manufactures, pellet distribution and stove technology has greatly matured and is nationwide.

Wood pellet stoves have a number of advantages over normal wood stoves. Because the stoves are so efficient, there is almost no smoke or creosote produced, in fact the exhaust is barely even hot so the stove doesn’t need a masonry chimney and can be installed anywhere a tin metal liner can be put in, either directly into the roof, or sideways out a wall. They can be stand-alone stoves on legs in the corner of a room, or chimney inserts using an existing chimney. Unlike wood stoves, pellet stoves work well in urban environments because of little exhaust and no need for a chimney and can be installed in any room.

The pellets come in 40 pound plastic bags, about the size of a mulch bag, which makes transport and storage a snap compared to dealing with cord wood. A fully automated stove requires filling up with the pellets and turning on; the stove does the rest: it automatically lights, automatically feeds the pellets into the flame with an auger, automatically adjusts the rate to keep the room at a pre-set temperature with an electric thermostat. At the low setting I can go 76 hours on one load in my Harman stove, which is a fireplace inset so it is limited in hopper size. There are other stoves that have bigger hoppers. Indeed there are pellet furnaces that can hold weeks worths of pellets and heat an entire central heating system.

A 40 pound bag of pellet wood produces less than a cup of ash so it rarely needs to be emptied (keep the pellet hopper and ash tray size in mind when shopping for stoves). I need to vacuum the ash pan in my Harman stove after burning fifty 40lb bags –about every two months during heavy use.

A 40 pound pellet bag can cost from $2 to $4. Typically they are sold by the pallet, which is 50 bags or 1-ton, for $120 to $200. You will need storage space and some brawn. How much you use will depend on the stove, season, comfort level, space, etc., but the general recommendation is 1 bag of pellets a day. In my experience it can be much less than that based on your comfort level and weather and time at home. Wood pellets can be found at most hardware stores around the country including Home Depot, Ace, etc. Pellets come in 3 grades, depending on ash content (less ash the better), the higher grade pellets are hardwood while the lower grade is pine, most of the major hardware chains sell the middle grades. For buying pellets my experience is to call the local hardware stores, buy a single bag of different brands, try them out and when you find a good brand purchase a pallet for the season. The brands and availability seem to change with each season.

The stoves require electricity to run so if you lose power it won’t work, which is a notable drawback, although there are solutions such as a generator or battery back up. I personally have a long extension cord to an inverter in my car in the driveway in case of a heating emergency. The pellet stoves also make noise with the blower fan and turning augur, this has become less an issue with more recent stove technology which is significantly quieter.

Pellet stoves range in price from $1200 to $3000. Harman is way ahead of the game with computerized sensors and controls and is the brand I recommend. The stove I own is Harman’s Accentra Insert, and it was $2800 installed complete.

-- Stephen Balbach  

[Are wood pellets cheaper than gas or oil? Probably not, although they may be in some areas, but there are environmental "costs" to consider as well. For a straight BTU comparison for heating fuels prices see this chart.]

Here is a list of the major pellet stove manufacturers. You’ll need a local stove dealer to sell, install and maintain yours.

Amazon carries the England Stove Works Pellet Stove for $1,400 and fancier version with an Auto-Start Igniter for $1,700.



JetBoil

jetboil.jpg

It’s the quickest, handiest, most efficient hot water maker yet. It takes the piezo-ignited butane trail stove to maybe a 50% overall improvement—worth converting for many.

The main tricks are: fin-like heat exchanger (“FluxRing”) where the flame meets the pot; pot attaches to stove (vastly less fiddly); pot has a cozy on it to hold heat and make gripping the pot easy; the plastic lid of the pot doubles as a cup lid for sipping direct from the pot; and the stove stows inside the pot. The weight is 12 ounces, the same or less than other light butane stove systems, but you save on weight of fuel, small pack volume, and overall convenience.

The heat exchanger means you can heat 2 cups of water in about 2 minutes, with significantly little fuel expended. So little heat escapes that you can hold the whole thing in your hand while it cooks, and the cozy never burns. The pot works better for eating from than for drinking from—I still prefer an insulated Alladdin cup (with the meaningless handle sawed off), but it’s manageable for drinking if you want one less implement.

It’s fine for dinner for two, or an instant cup of coffee or tea under way. You could use it riding in a car (open a window). Danny Hillis plans to use one on his desk for tea making. Alexander Rose wants it for melting snow to drink while dangling on belay.

JetBoil
$99

Available from Amazon

Fuel canisters (JetBoil or others) are $5.

Manufactured by Jetboil