Survivalist Vandweller: Using a Wood Cook Stove
This is part two of my post on which cooking fuel to use. In the last post I strongly recommended propane and solar as your primary cooking fuels but suggested that for survival purposes you should have one or two backups. Today we’re going to look at wood burning stoves and in my next post we’ll look at alcohol stoves and also at cooking accessories.
We all love a fire! There is something very primal about sitting around a roaring fire, especially with friends. It reaches down in to the depth of our soul and soothes us and brings us a sense of safety and grounded-ness we rarely have any more in the insane world of civilization. The greatest tragedy of modern life is our loss of connection with nature. Because we are nature deprived we have a disproportionate reaction to a fire; it’s like we’ve finally come home after a long, miserable journey into the terrible darkness of modern society.
As comforting as an open fire is, it’s not a good idea for cooking. When you build a full fire you waste a huge amount of fuel because the great majority of the heat produced by all that wood just goes up into the air and not into your food. If you build a big fire every night to cook on, the area around your camp will very quickly be stripped of all wood, then you’ll find yourself walking further and further to gather firewood and eventually you’ll spend all your time gathering firewood. That’s not a problem if you can just break camp and move to another area, but if times are bad that probably won’t be an option.
No, what we need is a stove that burns the abundance of very small wood like twigs, sticks and limbs that are everywhere in most forests and even in most desert areas. Almost without exception, every place I’ve camped there was enough twigs and sticks to use for fuel for many months. And then they are self-renewing; every storm that comes along in both the winter and summer breaks off more twig and limbs and scatters them across the forest or desert floor. I’m talking about very small pieces of wood from 1/8th of an inch up to maybe 1 ½ inches. Most of them will be smaller than your little finger and rarely will they be much bigger than your thumb. You may think that you couldn’t possibly cook a meal with that size of wood but today’s stoves can easily do it. The key is to concentrate the small amount of heat produced into an equally small area so it all gets to your pot and goes into your food instead of just dumping it uselessly into the air.
Vandwellers owe a lot to the backpacking hobby that has exploded in the last 40 years because they have given us an abundance of camping gear that is very small, light, efficient and yet also ultra-reliable. Many vandwellers have a history of backpacking and consider car or vandwelling to just be an extended backpacking trip in which they use the car or van as a tent with metal walls instead of nylon. That’s a very good way to look at it! One of the best things that backpacking has given us is a large number of small wood stoves that are easily carried in a pack and yet quickly prepare a meal.
I think every vandweller should have a wood-burning stove on hand for these reasons:
- It gives you unlimited fuel for boiling water! Safe drinking water is always our top priority and with any of these wood stoves you can make water safe.
- As a backup to propane.
- As preparation for hard times.
- To save money by not buying propane.
- To enjoy the ambiance of fire.
Very often we are in areas where there is an abundance of wood for fuel and you can enjoy the ambience of wood and the money savings of not burning propane or other fossil fuels. Not only that, but if you are in a remote place and run out of propane, you have an alternative source of fuel. If you are a city vandweller there are usually parks and wild areas nearby where you can gather wood and use a wood stove.
To be fair I should warn you that all these stove have some big disadvantages:
- Fire is inherently dangerous–caution is constantly required!
- The all make lots of soot which means your hands will be dirty all the time.
- They simmer very poorly! Basically they are for boiling water and warming up food which is fine for our survival purposes but very bad for a gourmet chef. The Kelly Kettle is probably the easiest to manage the heat output.
Now, let’s look at some of the stoves that will work for us:
Emberlit: I own and recommend this stove because it’s small, light and folds down very small. All woodstoves get dirty from soot but this one folds so small and flat you can put it away in a one gallon ZipLoc bag which controls and confines the mess of the soot. But best of all it is one of the cheapest of the commercial backpacking wood stoves. It also works very well with an alcohol or tablet stove making it versatile. It’s the perfect stove for a vandweller to keep on hand. Buy it from Amazon by clicking here: Emberlit Wood-burning Portable Stove
You can find plans to make a basic hobo stove here: http://www.practicalsurvivor.com/hobostove
Bio-Lite: This is a very new high-tech version of a wood stove. It’s very well designed to work as a gassifier to get a very complete and clean burn of the wood which means it cooks fast but also has less soot and uses less fuel. But what makes it totally unique is that it has a built in electric generator that will recharge most cell phones and USB devices. It also powers a small internal fan which is why it burns so well; the more air a fire gets the hotter and faster it burns and the more heat it creates. I have almost 600 watts of solar so I’m not interested in that feature, and it is an expensive stove so I don’t own one. But everything I’ve read and heard about it is extremely positive. This is not a toy and actually works very well to cook meals and charge your devices. It’s a viable source of cooking and electricity for a vandweller. Dual uses is always a good thing for us!! Buy it from Amazon by clicking here: BioLite Wood Burning Campstove w/Electric Generator
Kelly Kettle: These innovative stoves were created in Ireland for fisherman who worked in wet, cold and often miserable conditions on a small boat and so having a hot drink or meal was very important. The Kelly Kettle does a great job of that! It has two parts, the bottom part holds the wood and fire and the top part is a chimney that presses into the stove. The chimney has a hallow double-wall with an opening at the top that you pour water into the chimney where it heats up and comes to a boil. At the top of the chimney is a grill where you can put a pot on it and cook a pot of food while you are bringing water to a boil. It’s an incredibly smart design that can cook a lot of food with very little wood. I loved mine and highly recommend them. Buy it from Amazon by clicking here: Kelly Kettle.Camp Stove
Solo Stove: This is a very high-tech wood stove that actually gasifies the flame so that it burns very hot and efficiently without the use of a fan. It’s more expensive than the Emberlit but it probably burns cleaner, hotter and cooks faster. It also doesn’t fold flat so it takes more room to store. Buy it from Amazon by clicking here: Solo Stove Wood Burning Backpacking Stove -Perfect for Survival, Camping, Hunting & Emergency Preparation.
You can find plans to make your own here: http://theultimatehang.com/2012/12/diy-wood-gas-stove-instructions/
Sierra Stove: The Sierra Stove has been around for a very long time—I think it was the original backpackers wood stove. They have a good reputation and are worth considering. They use an AA battery for their fan which gives you a hot, fast, burn and fast cooking times. But they are big and heavy and they look tippy to me. Buy it from Amazon by clicking here: Sierra Stove Wood Camping Stove Boil 1 qt of water in only 4 Min.
Rocket Stove: These aren’t backpackers stove but still may be something you want to consider. They are especially good at cooking for a group—and groups are the very best possible thing in a survival situation! They are usually made out of a metal bucket about the size of a 5 gallon paint can and they have an opening at the bottom where you feed small sticks into the fire chamber. From the fire chamber a chimney exits from the top. There are several outstanding commercial models available. Buy one from Amazon by clicking here: Envirofit Rocket Stove
You can easily make your own out of a #10 can (small enough for a van) by following these plans: http://prepared-housewives.com/how-to-build-a-rocket-stove-and-impress-the-boys/
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