best portable stove for camping

Back in the ‘good old days’ there wasn’t the choice of stores and gear like there is now. When I first started learning survival skills many years ago I couldn’t afford the gear that was out, not that there was a lot besides old military surplus. So we either made it or learned to do it primitive style. Granted I still love that but time has changed my song about gear. A small stove in a pack, Bug-Out bag or Everyday Carry is a big plus. Personally, I like stand-alone stoves which don’t require fuel calls, batteries or alcohol. Murphy always likes to play hob with anything that you can’t replace in the middle of nowhere.

Since I’m somewhat of a gear junkie and a Titanium fanatic, I accumulated a small collection of wood-burning ‘hobo’ stoves to test. The collection is by no means complete, just the ones that caught my eyes. I had several requirements when selecting stoves for testing:

1.  It has to burn what nature provides, I wasn’t interested in keeping gas, alcohol or fire cubes on hand.

2.  I wanted it in titanium and stainless as they are less prone to rust or corrosion.

3.  It has to be portable in a pack, but preferably a pocket.

4.  It needed to be easy to use and assemble.

Testing consisted of bringing 18 ounces of water to a rolling boil in a water bottle stainless steel cup. Starting water temperature was 60 degrees F with an ambient temperature of 75 degrees F at 1,030 feet above Sea Level. Pine and Cottonwood approximately .75-inch in diameter were used for fuel during testing.

The Solo Titan is a larger stove featuring a pressed, one-piece, double-wall construction using 304 stainless steel. The fire grate is made from Nichrome wire that will withstand 2,550 degrees F, which is hotter than a wood campfire will get. Thoughtfully, it will fit inside a 1.8-liter pot, also available from Solo, making it handy for a small group of people. The nice thing about the Titan is once it gets burning hot it pulls the smoke thru the firebox and burns it again creating a smaller signature. Solo calls it a ‘natural convection inverted down-gas gassifer stove’. Basically, it burns the wood gasses created by making charcoal and then burns the charcoal.

My testing showed the burn time to be quite long with a ‘top-down fire’. The firebox is large providing a great amount of heat. A bit of time spent gathering sticks and twigs, broken into about three-inch lengths, will ensure a lengthy cooking time. Plus, it is easily fed more fuel through a cut-out in the top.

Initially, the cup used during testing didn’t like to sit on the three pot supports, but several small adjustments from my trusty SOG power pliers fixed that. A larger cup or pot would be ideal. I built a top-down burning fire and initially, it smoked like I was making a tin of char cloth from denim jeans. Lucky for me as all the mosquitoes in the area thought I had an open bar sign displayed. Once it got going though, the smoke mostly disappeared. It boiled 18 ounces of water in 5 minutes flat. A quick loading of the stove provided a solid 25-minute burn time, easily enough to boil the cup several times over. Keep in mind this is a larger pack stove rather than a super-compact piece. It will fit an appropriate-sized pot with a smaller cup loaded with fire-starting equipment stored inside. All in all this is a tough, well-made stove, designed and built in the USA.

  • Packed size: H 5.1xW 5.1 inches
  • Assembled size: H 7.9xW 5.1 inches
  • Weight: 16.5 ounces
  • Construction material: Stainless steel and Nichrome wire
  • Boil time: 5 minutes
  • Product of: USA
  • MSRP: $109.99
  • Manufacturer: Solo Stove, 817-993-9881, www.solostove.com

This is the original Solo stove, a double-wall natural convection inverted down-gas gassifer stove. Like its big brother the Titan, it features one-piece pressed no-seam stainless steel construction. This type of construction makes for a very strong stove, and like its bigger brother it has a bright satin finish. The Solo is also made in the USA from 304 stainless steel.

I would not consider this an Everyday Carry stove as it is almost 4 inches by just over 4 inches packed. I do like it for my Get Home bag as it’s a bit smaller than the Titan yet just as tough. These stoves will not char the ground like some due to its double-wall construction, though they will get too got to grab until they cool. It boiled water in 6 minutes and gave a 20-minute burn time with a top-down fire. Like its big brother, it smoked quite a lot until it got hot. Once hot there was little smoke but plenty of heat. These stoves are quite sturdy, very well made and put out an amazing amount of heat.

  • Packed Size: H 3.8xW 4.2 inches
  • Assembled Size: H 5.7xW 4.2 inches
  • Weight: 9 ounces
  • Construction Material: Stainless steel and Nichrome wire
  • Boil Time: 6 minutes
  • Product of: USA
  • MSRP: $89.99
  • Manufacturer: Solo Stove, 817-993-9881, www.solostove.com

The Bushcraft Micro is a true Everyday Carry stove. The smallest stoves I’ve seen, it fits in an Altoids tin with room for flint and steel, char cloth, line and hooks. The Micro is not a stove for beginners though as it takes constant care to keep a fire going in the firebox. That being said it brought 18 ounces of water to a light boil in 8 minutes, very impressive. It is surprisingly well built for its size, very strong and easily assembled. It does look funny under an 18-ounce cup and boiling this much water is at the edge of its capacity requiring constant attention to keep the fire burning. However carefully feeding sticks and twigs into the fire, then blowing into the firebox when the fire slowed kept it going great. The forge effect of blowing into the firebox brought the cup up to a light boil in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Bushcraft punched all the pieces to fit a small biner so that it can be easily carried on a strap or belt loop. It even fits in a wallet nicely, ensuring that it will always be ready when it’s needed. I was impressed by this little stove and it’s already in tucked away in my EDC kit.

  • Packed Size: L 2.5xW 1.8x .2 H inches
  • Assembled Size: H 2.5xW 1.8 inches
  • Weight: 2.7 ounces
  • Construction Material: Stainless steel
  • Boil Time: 8 minutes
  • Product of: Germany
  • MSRP: $27.16
  • Manufacturer: Bushcraft Essentials, www.bushcraft-essentials.com

The Bushcraft Titanium Outdoor Pocket Stove is one I personally like for my Get Home Bag. It will tuck away into a back pocket, yet assembles to a readily usable size. With it being titanium it is very light and strong when assembled. Plus, it’s well thought out and stable. It locks together firmly with little tabs and did great with the test cup. The pieces are a bit thicker than the Emberlit, and don’t have that flimsy feeling.

The boil time was measured at 8 minutes, which isn’t bad. However, the firebox is smaller so it needs more attention than a larger stove. It did burn well and was easy to assemble and use. I would suggest using longer twigs and small sticks and just feeding them in as needed. Overall a great stove for EDC or minimalist hikers.

  • Packed Size: L 24.5xW 3.5x .2 H inches
  • Assembled Size: H 4.5xW 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 5.6ounces
  • Construction Material: Titanium
  • Boil Time: 8 minutes
  • Product of: Germany
  • MSRP: $68.09
  • Manufacturer: Bushcraft Essentials, www.bushcraft-essentials.com

The Firebox is a folding stainless steel portable campfire. It is an American-made beast of a stove; by far the strongest tested but also the heaviest. Don’t let the 2-pound weight deter you; this stove will take a lifetime of use. There really is no assembly as it’s all one piece excluding the ash pan and the sticks. A few flips and the stove is ready for use. Usually, I don’t like hinges on stoves, but the material is 18 gauge stainless and the thickest of all the stoves tested.

There are many accessories available from Firebox for this fine stove, making it able to grill, boil, fry and even bake with a reflector oven. It will handle anything from a small can to a Dutch oven, at five inches square it makes for a rather stable base. If the fuel is cross-layered, a fire made on the top will burn a long time. Boil time was a zippy 5 minutes. I’ve heard this stove referred to as a portable campfire, that’s a great description.

  • Packed Size: L 7.5xW 5x .37 H inches
  • Assembled Size: H 7.5xW 5 inches
  • Weight: 32 ounces
  • Construction Material: 18 gauge stainless steel
  • Boil Time: 5 minutes
  • Product of: USA
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • Manufacturer: Firebox, 801-784-0225, www.fireboxstove.com

The 180-VL by 180 Tack is a four-piece stove made from stainless steel featuring no hinges, welds or rivets. It is fairly strong when assembled, the pieces locking together firmly yet easily. That said, I would like to see this stove made from heavier gauge steel than 24; it would take some of the sting from the price.

The good news is the fire is easily fed thru an open side. However, if you’re using a small cup or pot, the heat goes by without transferring optimally. Boil time was 12 minutes. At 3.25 inches tall it makes for a shallow ember bed although that can be fixed by digging a small hole. The two crossbars are the key to the strength and stability of this lightweight stove. Assembled the stove is a fair size. If the steel was a thicker gauge, and if there was a partial covering for the long open side I would like this stove much better.

  • Packed Size: L 7xW 3.2x 6 H inches
  • Assembled Size: H 7.2xW 5.8 inches
  • Weight: 5.9 ounces
  • Construction Material: 24 gauge 304 stainless steel
  • Boil Time: 12 minutes
  • Product of: USA
  • MSRP: $34.95
  • Manufacturer: 180 Tack, www.180tack.com

The Emberlit Titanium UL is a compact stove that when assembled is a nice-sized Hobo stove. The fit is great and it’s sturdy. The whole stove disassembled is only one-eighth of an inch thick! Each panel by itself is rather flexible, leading a person to think the stove isn’t sturdy. However, this is not the case. It will easily handle a 2-liter pot.

Over time or with too hot a fire the panels may warp somewhat, but this will in no way impede the functioning of the stove. The wider base and narrower top make the whole thing stable and it also provides a great chimney effect. Once the fire was burning it sounded a bit like my forge. Boil time was a quick 5 minutes. I love this stove and highly recommend it. Besides its titanium and will provide years of service.

  • Packed Size: L 5.5xW 6x .12 H inches
  • Assembled Size: 5.5 square, 6 tall with 3.5 inch top opening
  • Weight: 5.4 ounces
  • Construction Material: Titanium
  • Boil Time: 5 minutes
  • Product of: USA
  • MSRP: $79.99
  • Manufacturer: Merkwares, www.emberlit.com

The Vargo Firebox Grill isn’t a true hobo stove but rather a collapsible grill. It does fold up into a compact size though. The titanium construction makes for a light grill that’s pocket-sized. It features hinged construction and a snap tab closure. Unfortunately, this leaves the long closing edge unsecured and allows the grill to twist on uneven ground.  The bases narrow edges can also sink into soft ground putting the ashtray into direct contact with the dirt.

When using the grill make sure to center what’s being cooked, as the base is much narrower than the grill surface. It does tip somewhat easily, not so bad with a burger but a cup of boiling soup in the crotch would make for a dance that Murphy would love. I would recommend this for a small home grill. To use it I would get a small flowerpot or can filled halfway with dirt and put the base inside. Plus, it would work great with natural charcoal. A small container with the charcoal, pot and Vargo Grill will have you waiting for the next power outage

  • Packed Size: L 8xW 4.5x .5 H inches
  • Assembled Size: 8 inches square by 4.5 inches tall
  • Weight: 5.8 ounces
  • Construction Material: Titanium
  • Boil Time: 13 minutes
  • Product of: Japan
  • MSRP: $89.95
  • Manufacturer: Vargo, www.vargooutdoors.com

The Evernew Titanium DX is a five-piece stove designed for the alcohol burner, although it will also use sticks and leaves, or gas. The construction is overlapped tabs that are spot welded twice. The stove would benefit from a full-length tab and some more spot welds. Even though it’s titanium, thicker material would be good.

I carry this stove in a titanium cup to protect it from Murphy and his warped sense of humor. A fire rod and tinder will fit into the stove. The opening is somewhat small for the fueling point so what I did was to fill it up with broken twigs. As the fire burned down I added longer twigs thru the opening. Doing so made the fire burn nicely. The boil time was a bit long but not bad.

  • Packed Size: 3.2×2.5 inches
  • Assembled Size: 3.2×4 inches
  • Weight: 3.3 ounces
  • Construction Material: Titanium
  • Boil Time: 10 minutes
  • Product of: Japan
  • MSRP: $54.00
  • Manufacturer: Evernew, www.evernew-global.com

Siege Stoves is a relatively new company that offers fireboxes, cross members and various accessories. I tested the titanium cross members, and an Ikea can to use as a firebox. The unique thing about Siege Stoves’ cross members is that they are designed to be used with any food can, from a soup can to a No. 10-sized can.  A clean empty paint can might also be used.

The cross members are well thought out, with a ‘tooth’ on one lower cross member, to poke holes in the cans for the fire to breathe. Siege stove made the cross members long enough to provide excellent stability. A grill surface can be made from the lid from the can or a flat piece of clean steel. The main drawback for me was the bulk. You can’t pack flat (Ikea can), although the firebox will pack flat. The cross members will hang from a biner to keep them in one place and accessible.

This stove and firebox provided the most heat, they would be great for winter or chilly nights. The burn time was long and will take the largest pieces of sticks. With the Ikea can the fire has to be fed from the top, but once burning it boiled the cup in four minutes, a very impressive time.

  • Packed Size: Diameter 4 11/16x 5.1 H inches
  • Assembled Size: Length 7x Height 2 inches
  • Weight: 3.5 ounces
  • Construction Material: Titanium
  • Boil Time: 4 minutes
  • Product of: USA
  • MSRP: $29.50
  • Manufacturer: Siege Stoves, www.siegestoves.com

All of these stoves have their time and place. My favorites for my personal needs are the Siege Stove, Firebox, Emberlit and the Bushcrafts. The others are good stoves but for my uses, they are edged out by these.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at [email protected].

Todd Jaderborg is a US Army infantry vet, Field Editor for Be Ready! magazine and you can follow his writing and videos on Facebook and YouTube @Odin’s Wolf Survival.

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