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M Lightweight Wood-Burning Camp Stoves - State of the Market Report 2011

by Chris Murphy

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Article Summary:

Ahem... Since Prometheus first saw fit to share the mystery of fire with mankind, innumerable ingenious devices/methods have evolved to quickly and efficiently warm food and fight off cold. This article focuses on a small subset of the fire harnessing world: small lightweight (less than 1.5 pounds) backpacking stoves that are easy to pack and would be attractive to long distance hikers. The wood burning stove technology addressed in the article includes stoves with battery powered fans, conical shapes, etc.

Currently the two primary technologies in the wood stove market are natural and forced convection. Natural convection is fancy talk for using a chimney effect, i.e. air pulled over fire, to increase a fire's effectiveness. Forced convection involves a fan that pushes air over fire. Fans push air faster than a chimney draws air, and air traveling at higher velocity means easier ignition and higher flame temperatures. While easier ignition and higher flame temperatures are desirable, they come at a cost. With wood burning stoves, forced convection means a battery powered fan, which translates to more weight, a less durable product, and decreased packability. Natural convection stoves are generally more rugged and packable, but require longer cook times. Considering this, neither of these two technologies are necessarily preferable to the other. The preferred technology is user specific, depending on the user's needs and environment.

From April to November of 2010 I tested eleven different wood burning stoves while traveling about the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (SBW) in Montana/Idaho (see Fig 1). (For specifications and descriptions of each stove see the Individual Stove Descriptions section.)

During this time I grew well acquainted with the wood stove, and as with any product, there are inherent positive and negative aspects. Some of the pros and cons are obvious to the unpracticed wood-burner while others are less glaring. Pros for the wood burning stove include:

Cons include:

The pros and cons listed above provided a framework that led to the specific criteria used in this article review each stove.


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