Backpacking Wood Stove Buying Guide Part 1

What Conditions Justify A Camping Wood Stove

Anybody who has experienced an outfitted drop camp or guided hunt knows the value of a nice wood stove. However for segments of my life I didn’t have my own pack stock, so I extensively hunted the Flat Tops Wilderness and Holy Cross Wilderness with my backpack and two legs. This article reflects on that experience and what I consider a key piece of equipment for even the lightweight backpack hunter.

Wanna camp with a little comfort but still want to keep the pack light? I sure did and spent a tremendous amount of time scouring the options. In the end I chose a Seek Outside Medium Wood Stove, but I looked at several options from various angles.

First, decide if a wood stove is going to work for you. I was using a Jet Boil stove for all my trips from day trip camping in the summer to late winter elk hunts. I have also used several other fuel canister stoves in the past. The Jet Boil stove is a damn good stove and an amazing piece of engineering. I explained in a brief post, why it is consistently better than other fuel canister stoves. Regardless, it just isn’t ideal for all conditions.

Typical titanium stove, assembled and running.

Typical titanium stove, assembled and running.

So, What conditions justify dropping $300 on a titanium wood stove?

1. The need/want to have a warm and dry tent. This is what pushes most people to a wood stove. Combined with a tipi-type tent (usually a Kifaru or SeekOutside product with ventilation pipes), you can use a wood stove inside your tent.

I do most my camping above 10K feet. The weather can do just about anything in the summer. In the fall/winter it will be shitty, period. Being able to come back to camp, stoke up a wood stove fire and end up dry and warm is HUGE. Go wandering around the mountains in fall with an ultralight tent and a pocket rocket stove for a week. I don’t care how big your balls are, your gunna come out early like a sleep deprived maniac. An in-tent wood stove will keep you comfortable, rested and able to bear the long haul.

2. You don’t want a floor in your sleeping structure. Seems counter intuitive until you try it. I f’ing hate filth. Disorganization is worse. This is especially important when camping because enclosed tents with floors capture every little piece of bear shit, mud, sticks and dirt you have ever stepped on and transfer it into your gear and sleeping bag. When you use the wood stove/tipi combo the dryness created from the stove keeps the bare ground dry. You can spread out a small tarp for all your gear. Then find a flat spot for your bedpad. Any filth can just be brushed off. OCD paradise.

Typical style of tipi used with lightweight wood stoves.

Typical style of tipi used with lightweight wood stoves.

3. You are going to be with 1-2 other people and want to save on weight. Yeah that’s right SAVE WEIGHT. With a wood stove you don’t need to carry fuel and you can cook for multiple people at one time. You ever cooked for multiple people with a Jet Boil stove? Total pain in the ass. Hold on, let me fill this up and boil another 1.5 cups of water. Now, I’ll change the unrecyclable fuel canister I hauled up here. Ahhhhh the bullshit rolls on. Add up a couple Jet Boil stoves and fuel for a a 3 day+ trip. Compare the total weight of your Jet Boil setup to a TITANIUM wood stove and your gunna be slightly heavier (steel, like Kifaru stoves, will still be considerably heavier).

Typical Breakdown of a lightweight wood stove.

Typical Breakdown of a lightweight wood stove.

4. You want some cooking flexibility. There will come a time when you are way up in the high country and you want to cook some bighorn sheep nuts (watch this youtube video for the joke). Getting out the 3 inch diameter ultralight frying pan that was apparently made to cook a quail egg just isn’t going to cut it. The ultralight gear (stoves and cookware) are made to boil water only. Don’t waste the money on goofy accessories that tout they can achieve something else. However, on these wood stoves, with a lightweight cookware set like this mess kit you can cook eggs, bacon, and elk backstrap without a problem. Again, a hearty meal can keep you in the field longer. You think Daniel Boone lived off marshmallows and Cliff bars?

Flat top provides amble cooking space even on a smaller size stove.

Flat top provides amble cooking space even on a smaller size stove.

What conditions are NOT good for a wood stove setup?

1. There isn’t dry wood around. The key thing is DRY. We all know that a wood stove isn’t going to work in a treeless desert. However, areas like the Northwest where you are out in rainforest equivalent conditions can be a problem. Using a woodstove may still be possible, but you need to add in the pain-in-the-ass-factor associated with collecting sparse wood or dealing with building a fire with wet fuel.

2. You might need the warmth of boiled water, like right now. If you get in a shit situation where warm water could save your life, a woodstove is inferior to a Jet Boil or other fuel-based, burner stove. Examples that come to my mind are above tree line adventures. The ability to fire up a stove with one hand can be a life saver.

3. You will be moving camp daily or you are solo camping. Wood stoves involve setup because of how they breakdown and the ventilation system. If you are moving camp everyday the setup times are not worth the additional benefit of the wood stove. If you are solo camping, you don’t get the shared benefit of the wood stove. Hence, you end up with a little heavier pack.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I go over the different brands and differentiation between the stoves out there.

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By Cliff Gray

Cliff is a registered outfitter in the State of Colorado, guiding and outfitting over 80 hunters a year for elk, sheep and mule deer in the White River National Forest and Flat Tops Wilderness Area of the Rocky Mountains. He has years of experience hunting mule deer and elk in the Rocky Mountains via remote backpacking and horse/mule packing. He is a private pilot and a certified wilderness first responder.

Where the road ends, adventure begins...

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