Friday, February 24, 2012

Guest Review: Small Stoves For Camping, Hiking, Survival

by Marc Hutchison


[Brian's Note: I've known Marc practically my entire life. We've spent a lot of time in the outdoors fishing, hunting, and shooting. He has been receiving a lot of requests for information regarding these small camp stoves and thought it would be easiest and most efficient to write up an article. Marc is far more knowledgeable than I about these tools and I was happy to post his review.]

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Over the past few years, my sister, Myra, and I have chatted many times about all the different "survival/emergency" items that can be used in the event of power outages occurring in one's home or place of work. Many of these same items can be extremely useful, and even life saving, when included in a "Bug Out Bag" or "vehicle bag". I would probably be labeled as utilitarian and/or minimalist when it comes to buying items for my various backpacks because I'm a staunch believer in keeping things very simple and basic. Among the simplest and most basic items I carry are small camp stoves. There are numerous models on the market today of all different sizes, but my purpose for writing this article is to focus on the small stoves that can actually fit in your pants/jacket pocket, hiking backpack, and your survival/emergency bags. And, reflecting on my first sentence, these small stoves are priceless when you're faced with an extended loss of electricity, lost in the woods, or experiencing vehicle troubles in the middle of nowhere. 


I've personally used the following 4 stove systems and would highly recommend them. And for clarification, I'm not associated with any of these companies at all. I'm listing them from lowest to highest in price. 


1. ESBIT Mini-Stove (approx. $10)
This is an extremely compact stove that I keep in all my vehicles as well as my backpacks. This is a very simple stove that you open, place a fuel tablet in the center of the stove, light the tablet, and you're in business. I've used this particular set up to make everything from hot beverages to instant potatoes. The stove has a two-position design where the top can be fully apart for larger pots and half closed for smaller cups.




This stove uses Hexamine type fuel tablets which generate up to 1400 degrees (Fahrenheit) of heat. These tablets don't liquify when in use and they don't put out any smoke (unless leaves, sticks, etc. are also used). The fuel tabs can actually be cut in half, or even into four pieces, if you're in a situation that you need to conserve tablets. In addition, you can extinguish the tablet and re-use the remainder at a later time.



The tablets should be lit with a match or lighter because they will not hardly light with a "Fire Steel" or other sparking device. During one setting, I tried lighting these tablets with various fire steels for a duration of 20 minutes without any success. The tabs would just get brown spots that looked like a small brownish marshmallow. These tabs will light up with no problem once a match or lighter is held directly on them. On a side note, I've wrapped the tablet in a petroleum covered cotton ball and threw sparks on it with my Fire Steel rod. The sparks ignited the cotton ball which in turn lit the tablet.



Generally, one fuel tablet will burn between 12 and 15 minutes. For this article, with snow falling and winds howling, I poured one cup of water in a stainless cup and lit the tablet. Small bubbles appeared at the two minute mark and it was a full rolling boil at 4 1/2 minutes. The fuel tablet finally extinguished itself at exactly 15 minutes.



If there is an "open fire" ban in your outdoor activity area, this is a perfect way to make your coffee, cocoa, and noodles while on the trail. Also, if you are in windy conditions, take measures to block the wind from your flame or you may end up munching on crunchy noodles. 


FYI - Always store extra fuel tablets inside of the Esbit mini-stove. That way you will always have them on hand if needed and it also conserves packing space. The Esbit brand of fuel tabs can be on the expensive side (I've seen them anywhere from $6 - $8 per 12 pack, but you can use any type of Hexamine type fuel tablets with this stove). Almost two years ago, I found a website selling the Coghlan's brand of fuel tablets for $2 a pack (24 tabs) and I stocked up with a vengeance. Lastly, I always carry a small "tin knife" in my Esbit stove. That way I have a cutting tool in case I need it for any chore/task associated with getting a small fire started with the stove.



Specs:  Weight - 3.25 ounces.  Size - 4" x 3" x 0.75" 
(Other equipment in Esbit pictures: GSI "Glasier" stainless steel cup, Backwoods Custom Knives "Battle Axe" tin knife - maker Bill Akers, "Light My Fire" Swedish Fire Steel.)




2. MSR Pocket Rocket (approx. $35)
This small stove is used with a fuel canister. The beauty of this stove is its simplicity. There's no priming, no preheating, and no pressurizing required with the Pocket Rocket. You just simply screw on the fuel canister, spread the 3 holding arms, twist the fuel valve, light it, and start cooking.




This system does not have an automatic igniter, so the use of a match or lighter is necessary.   If your matches are wet or your lighter is inoperable, you can still light the stove with a spark. I carry a Fire Steel in all my backpacks and vehicle bags just in case my other means of making a fire don't work. To light the Pocket Rocket with a Fire Steel rod, just take the spine of your knife (not the sharpened edge) and quickly scrape the rod while directing the sparks on top of the stove. I've done this numerous times and it works fine. On a side note, if your knife has a rounded spine, or you have no other means of creating a spark or flame, then you may have to resort to snacking on uncooked dehydrated food and crunchy coffee grounds.



This stove will boil a liter of water (just over 4 cups) in less than 4 minutes. The three arms of the stove have serrated supports which help prevent pots/cups from shifting. The fuel used with this stove is called "Iso Pro" and is an 80/20 blend of Isobutane and Propane which burns very clean and virtually eliminates clogging. The self-sealing valve allows the canister to be safely removed from the stove burner. For this review, I poured two cups of water, a small dehydrated vegetable pack, and a few pinches of ham base into a cooking pot and ignited the stove. I kept it on a medium burn (not at full heat blast), and the water began to boil in a little over 3 minutes.   The wings, or arms, of the Pocket Rocket are very sturdy and will hold most cups/pots with no problems.




I've used several different canister brands (Coleman, MSR, and Jet Boil) and they've all performed flawlessly. You can purchase these canisters in the camping/sports section of most stores (brand of canister will vary). The 4 oz. canisters are around $4 and the 8 oz. canister usually runs between $5 and $6. As a general rule, one 8 oz. canister of Iso-Pro fuel will be sufficient to boil water for two people over a 4 day period (morning, noon, and night). For reference purposes, one 4 oz. fuel canister will generally boil about 28 cups of water. Of course, these statistics will vary. 


FYI - In extremely cold temps, try to keep the fuel canisters warm so they will work properly.   Again, this is a fire making alternative in case you are hiking/hunting in an area with an "open fire" ban. 


Specs: Weight - MSR Pocket Rocket - 3.0 oz (3.9 oz. with travel case). Size - 4.1" x 2.1" x 2" 
(Other equipment in Pocket Rocket pictures: GSI "Dualist" cooking pot, ML Knives "Short Kephart" knife - maker Matt Lesniewski, "Light My Fire" Swedish fire steel.) 




3. Emberlit (wood stove)
There is a stainless steel version ($35) and a titanium version ($55). My review is on the titanium version. This is a wood burning stove that is extremely light, sturdy, easy to assemble, and can easily be placed in a backpack or vehicle bag (it's completely flat when disassembled). It has 5 separate panels that quickly and easily fit together.



Once the stove is assembled, you just gather up twigs the size of a pencil and place them down into stove. Once the fire is started, you can feed sticks and branches into the front panel opening. Place as many sticks that will fit in the feed port and then just let the excess lengths hang out of the stove. As the sticks burn inside the stove, continue to push the sticks into the feed port as long as your cooking or boiling. I really love the front panel port feature of this stove because it allows my food and water to continue cooking or boiling without me having to constantly take the pot/cup off the top of the stove and shove sticks down into the stove.




The design of this stove blocks the wind and allows the heat to be directed straight out the top which results in faster cooking/boiling time. In addition, there is very minimal smoke when using this wood stove. For this review, I put 2 cups of water in a titanium pot and in less than 5 minutes had a rolling boil which was used to make instant potatoes. If you don't want to fool with cleaning the pot, just pour the water straight into the instant potatoe pouch and stir (just be careful because the bag will be hot on bare fingers).




  
FYI - I have my Emberlit stove stored in a fishing tackle organizer along with various instant coffee, tea, cocoa, instant potatoes, and noodles. Also, if needed, it could be used as a wind block while using another mini stove (Esbit or Pocket Rocket).



Specs: Weight - Stainless version (11.25 ounces). Titanium version (5.45 ounces).  Size: 6" tall and 4 1/2" wide at bottom (narrower at the top).  
(Other equipment in Emberlit pictures: Evernew titanium 1.3L pot, ML Knives "standard Kephart" - maker Matt Lesniewski.) 




4. Jet Boil Flash (approx. $85)
This is an "all-in-one-design" which combines the burner and cooking cup into a fairly compact stove unit. This unit also uses the "Iso-Propane" canisters. I've used several different brands (Coleman, MSR, and Jet Boil) and each one works fine. The Jet Boil fuel canister is made to fit inside the cooking cup which makes it very convenient.




The Jet Boil system is incredibly easy to use. You basically take the cup off the bottom, attach the burning unit, screw on the fuel canister, and push the automotic igniter button. You have a sipping lid that can be placed on top of the cooking cup which also contributes to a faster boil.   The main cooking vessel is wrapped with an insulated cozy so it can be picked up and held while eating or drinking out of the vessel. There is also a tripod base included which gives the unit more stability when in the woods. If using the unit on a flat surface, there isn't any need to use the tripod. Two cups of water can easily be boiled in 2 minutes with this cooking system.





For this particular model, the side of the cup will change color when the water begins boiling.  This feature is called the "Flash" color change heat indicator. The indicator is a clear color and, as the water begins to heat, the clear color gradually begins turning an orange/yellow color. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, the color of the indicator is completely full blown yellow (other models may vary in the color). I personally don't need a special feature to indicate or inform me when the water is boiling, but the advantage to this feature is that you can leave the lid on the cooking vessel without continually checking the water.





I recently took my daughter Caitlyn squirrel hunting, and while in the woods, I enthusiastically showed her how this stove operates. Honestly, she was more excited about drinking hot chocolate than learning about the working physics of the Jet Boil.



FYI - There are other Jet Boil systems that cost about $60 (which doesn't include the tripod or "Flash" color change heat indicator)  and other models exceeding $100. This is a great stove to use during power outages in your home. I stocked up on the larger Coleman fuel canisters (8 ounce) and keep them stored in my home to use for that very reason. I also stocked up on the Jet Boil canisters to use while camping, hunting, and hiking since they were made to fit perfectly inside the Jet Boil unit.  


Specs: Weight - 14 oz. without fuel canister.  Size - 4.1" x 7.1" 
(Other equipment in Jet Boil pictures: Backwoods Custom Knives "BSK" (Backwoods Survival Kephart) - maker Bill Akers.) 


Conclusion
The above mentioned stoves are not the "Be All, End All" for every outdoor situation or natural disaster that we may encounter in our daily lives. In addition, you can come up with home made coffee can, soup can, or 55 gallon garbage can stoves in order to save money. But my backpacks are not equipped to haul around a 55 gallon stove, so for now, these mini stoves will work just fine for my outdoor adventures and also serve as a means of back up food prep and water boiling in case of any type of power outages at my house.


I'm probably preaching to the choir, but hopefully this article will be a spark that ignites some thought into survival/emergency items for your vehicle, home, or backpacks. Not to mention, these little stoves are a ton of fun to play with on the back porch. In fact, my wife and kids think I'm crazy when I go out on the porch and brew up my morning java...mini stove style!


Lastly, I want to extend a very sincere "Thank You" to Brian for allowing me the opportunity to share this article with his readers.



10 comments:

Pam said...

They are all ingenious small stoves and would be a great addition to our hurricane survival gear.
Thanks for the helpful info BJ.

Saun said...

Very interesting might have to pick one up for an emergency.

Wanda..plain~N~simple said...

Ahh, the memories you have brought back of camping with the kids when they were little...

I would definitly buy the Emberlit stove because of its compact features and the fact the fuel is provided free of charge from nature.

TexWisGirl said...

kudos to marc - he put a lot of time and effort into this post. and made me laugh a few times, too. :)

i liked the emberlit stove, just because we have a ton of fire material here, but the burn bans we are so often under... shhh... :)

Sall's Country Life said...

Awesome mini-stoves! I too would like to have any one of them on hand for emergencies! Great and informative post!

Tammy said...

Great, informative article! Very well done! We use a jet boil and a MSR whisperlite; both are great. I've never seen the ESBIT mini stove, but I want one:)

Deb said...

that was an awesome post...loved your guest...

Kathy said...

I gave up camping when I was 10 years old (too many mosquitoes in the bayous of Louisiana!) but I was absolutely fascinated with this post. I had no idea such things even existed! I may have to take up camping again - somewhere where there's a small mosquito population!

Joe said...

Good post. I can't believe your daughter wasn't interested in the physics of the Jet Boil ;).

DWQ said...

The dead giveaway that Marc is a serious outdoorsman was the blades on display...immediate respect from me brother...loved the write up, what a really well done blog entry, very informative, and a great add to your blog Brian...I love little stoves and have a few ranging from a simple cat food can alcohol stove (freggin thing works great, and darn cheap), coleman mixed fuel burner, to a custom lathe turned mini alcohol burner...like a few things they can be an ever evolving piece of kit for this camper or that bag...again great write up Marc...Dennis