The idea of using a wood stove for backpacking has appealed to me for quite some time now. Not having to carry fuel for a family of five has definite pack weight advantages when you are the dad.
About two months ago I decided to finally take the plunge - Evernew had just released their multi-fuel stove package called the Ti DX Set and it looked almost perfect (in theory anyway). After one weekend of backpacking with the DX, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. Rather than re-iterate all of the issues I had with it, I will direct you to the thread I started on the BackpackingLight forums where I described my frustrations with the system.
What happened after that was something that I didn't at all expect. I was approched by two stove manufacturers who offered to send me a version of their wood stove to try out. Rather than shelling out more money for a new stove that may not meet my expectations, I gladly accepted with the hopes that I might find something that I would be happy with.
The first model to land on my doorstep was the Bushcooker LT III by Four Dog Stove. The Bushcooker LT III is the largest stove in their series (the LT I and LT II being the smaller versions) and is designed to cook for 3+ people. The specs are as follows:
- It is constructed out of titanium.
- On my scale the entire package weighs 5 oz, including the stove, heat shield, and priming pan.
- The stove has a diameter of 4.75" and a height of 5.5". It is designed to nest inside a Snow Peak Trek 1400 pot.
- It is multi-fuel: it burns wood, alcohol, fuel tablets, charcoal briquettes, etc.
My primary criteria for selecting a family stove are as follows:
- It has to be able to support large pots.
- It has to be able to boil large quantities of water (at least 1.5 L) with relative ease.
The stove has the ability to burn multiple fuels. You can burn alcohol by putting it in the pan and then putting the stove over top and using it as a pot stand. You can also put an alcohol stove (such as a soda can stove or Trangia burner) in the firebox. The stove will also burn solid fuel tablets by placing them directly in the firebox.
Most backpacking wood stoves require a little practice to get them lit properly, especially in damp conditions. The Bushcooker LT makes the lighting process very easy, thanks to a clever design. After putting some tinder in the stove, all one has to do is to lift it up and light it from underneath - through the air vent - using a lighter. If you don't have tinder or your wood is wet, another clever trick is to put some alcohol or chunk of fuel tablet in the priming pan, light it, and put the stove back over top. The primer will burn, dry the wood if it is damp, and then ignite the stove. What is cool about this design is that you can start in alcohol burning mode, and then if you need more fuel, add wood directly to the firebox to keep the stove going. When cooking larger quantities of food for groups, this might be a very helpful feature.
For my wood burning test I filled the firebox with dry wood and put a little alcohol in the pan. I lit the alcohol and put the stove over top. Initially there was some smoke as the alcohol started to burn the wood from the bottom. Once the stove started to heat up, the secondary burn flared-up and the smoke disappeared. I put a 2L pot on the stove with 1.5L of cold water. In about 12 minutes I had a good hard boil. Part way through the burn I lifted the pot off the stove and added more wood but I don't know that it would have been necessary to achieve a boil.
The stove felt stable and hot. At no point during the process did I feel the stove was underpowered for the job, I felt like there was still headroom to spare, and would feel confident with even bigger pots and larger quantities of water.
In breezy conditions, this stove needs a windscreen. For my tests I used an MSR aluminum windscreen which wasn't quite high enough on it's own to be effective. I propped the windscreen up on a couple of pieces of wood to get the proper coverage. If I had one suggestion for this stove, it would be for Four Dog Stoves to design some slip-in tabs (they could be made of various lengths) that would stick out, allowing a shorter windscreen to be raised off the ground (similar to those found on the Clikstand). I tried using some tent stakes through the vent holes, but this was ineffective as my pot diameter was wider than the stakes could handle.
One other thing to note is that when using this stove, make sure that whatever you set it on is non-combustible. When performing a test on my picnic table, even with the heat shield in place, my table got seriously scorched.
For fun, on our family camping trip to the Gaspe Peninsula, I decided to try the stove with briquettes. It actually worked surprisingly well, and I wouldn't hesitate to use that as a form of fuel for family car camping trips.
Overall, I have to say that the stove has exceeded all of my expectations as a light-weight backpacking stove for group cooking: it supports big pots very well and has no problems boiling large quantities of water. In terms of versatility, ease of use, and effectiveness, I would say it probably doesn't get much better than this. For more details of how the stove works and to see it in action, Four Dog Stove has a YouTube channel with some good informational videos. Jason Klass of Gear Talk has a good video review of the LT 1. Hendrik of Hiking in Finland has a good video of using the LT 2 in winter.
The only downside for me has really nothing to do with this stove in particular, but with all backpacking wood stoves. I still haven't gotten used to the black creosote build-up that forms on the bottom of the pots. It tends to get a little messy and is very difficult to clean off. Those of you out there that use a wood stove regularly, what do you do about that? Do you just let it continue to build-up on the bottom of your pots? Do you ever clean it off? How? For me to really get comfortable with wood stove use, I am going to have to learn how to deal with it. Any suggestions and/or words of wisdom are welcome!