Sturdy, wood-burning cooktop
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.
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.04/13/09