Ditch the gas and go primal in style with the 4 best wood burning stoves
First off, I need to define what I am going to review in this article.
Generally speaking, a portable wood stove could be a small fire box that replaces your Jetboil in your backpack, but it could also be an enclosed wood burning stove and flume for your hot tent.
This article will concentrate on the best portable wood stoves, which can replace your gas and alcohol stoves.
I can review the best portable wood stoves for hot tents in another article, as I am a big fan of hot tents.
What you should look for in the best portable wood stoves
They should be able to do everything you can do on a gas or alcohol stove.
So, you should be able to boil water in a titanium pot, for purification, coffees, and for dehydrated food meals.
As well as cook fresh food in pots and pans.
On top of this; portable wood stoves could allow you to cook things like meat over an open flame, and they are a small source of heat and warmth.
Wood burning stoves are made from either steel or titanium. The fire box will naturally be subject to hot temperatures from the fire.
So, the fire stove needs to be able to withstand heat over multiple uses, without excessive warping.
If a wood burning box is made from poor quality steel or steel that is too thin, then the warping may mean they can no longer be constructed. Potentially leaving you without a method of cooking or boiling water.
They need to be big enough so that they can hold sufficient fuel, to cook and boil things in a reasonable timeframe.
However, they need to pack up small so that they can easily fit into your backpack.
They are made of steel or titanium, so they are never going to be ultralight. But you do need to find the balance of nice and light so that they are not a burden to carry, whilst also been long lasting. This is the same trade off then you are considering gas and alcohol stove, as nothing weighs 0g.
The Winner: Bush Box XL Combination Kit
I have specified the Combination Kit over the standard Bush Box XL because it comes with a universal grate and a everyday carry bag.
The universal grate increases the amount of things you can do with the box, as it allows you to cook things directly on top of the stove without a pan or pot. Which is perfect for steaks. You can also put the grate halfway down the box, which allows you to use it as an alcohol stove stand.
Even without the combination kit, the Bush Box XL is a multifunctional portable fire stove. There are numerous slots and tent peg holes, meaning you can set up the box to hold pretty much any piece of cooking equipment you need it too. It can hold anything from a small camping mug to a large multi person Dutch Oven, and anything in between.
Made from stainless steel, and it looks too thin if anything. But I have used this for months, over numerous trips, and with burning times of up to 2 hours… and there is only minimal warping.
The bush box folds out using a hinge system, which could be a potential weak point. But they have all maintained their integrity. The Bush Box XL folds out just as easily as it did the day I first got it out of the box.
Th slots in the sides and at the bottom ensure great airflow, but they are also designed to funnel the heat up towards whatever you are cooking or boiling. I have found this has the best cooking time, compared to all my other portable wood stoves.
It is huge for a portable wood stove, and I think it is a most for anyone looking for a premium fire box stove. It has a large fuel opening, so that you can get plenty of wood into the stove and maintain a hot and consistent heat.
When standing it is 12.5 cm wide and 19 cm tall. When it is packed the thickness is only 1cm. That is amazing.
It comes in at 800g which is heavier than I would like, but when you consider the premium quality and the sheer mount of things you can do with it. I believe it is 800g well spent. The weight to quality ratio is excellent in my opinion.
- Set Up Time: Very quick set up, and very quick to pack away.
- High Standard of material: Very little warping after multiple uses.
- Consistency: Gets hot quickly, easy to maintain the heat, and is equally as effective with various types of woodland fuels.
- Expensive: If you want the best then you often have to pay for it and that is the case with the Bush Box XL.
- Materials: I have no issues with the quality, but I would have probably preferred it if it were made from Titanium.
- Packing: Whist it is very thin when packed at 1cm. It is still 19cm long, and 12.5cm wide, and it is rigid. So, it is not something that will slip into your backpack without a thought. You will need to plan how you pack it.
I now include this in my bug out bag, along with an alcohol stove and some bioethanol. This means I will be able to use nature itself to fuel my cooking and boiling, and then if I am in a environment where that is not possible then I can use the alcohol stove.
The Runner Up: Kelly Kettle Ultimate Kit
The ultimate kit comes with a mindboggling range of accessories including: the kettle, cook set, pot support, hobo stove, cup set, plate set, and carry bag.
This is great if you are just starting out with your outdoor adventures, as with one click of a button you could get everything you need. Which takes the stress out of deciding on the huge range of cooking set ups you can have nowadays.
You set up your fire in the fire base, then when it gets going, you fill the kettle with water and place it on the firebase. The kettle has a flume running up the middle of the kettle, where you can continue to add wood fuel like sticks and pinecones.
Then the attachments allow you to cook food on the top with the various pots and pans that are supplied. This does block off the fume for adding fuel, but there is a hole for fuel adding on the fire base.
You can buy stainless steel or aluminium versions of the kettle.
I cannot vouch for the aluminium version, which you would expect to be lighter but not as long lasting.
However, I think the quality of the stainless-steel kettle, fire base, and accessories are excellent. The kettle is very sturdy and seems impervious to heat, yet it must conduct the heat extremely efficiently as you can get some really good water boiling times.
I have had this kettle for a few month now, and there is basically zero wear and tear on anything apart from a bit of discolouration on the fire base.
There are 3 sizes you can get, the 0.6, 1.2, and 1.6ltr kettle. As I always end up doing, I went for the biggest. This is unnecessary if you do most of your camping on your own, but it is great if you do a lot of camping with family and friends.
I will not lie to you; it takes up a lot of room in your backpack… but probably not as much as you think.
The kettle, fire base, and accessories are all designed to fit in and around each other… so the bag it all fits into is surprisingly small. But at the end of the day, it is a stainless-steel kettle which doesn’t fold down, so it will take up space in your backpack like I said.
The packed height of my kettle is 33cm high and 18.5cm wide.
The 1.6ltr stainless steel kettle is a whopping 1.6kg, which is pretty heavy, then you have all your accessories on top of that. On a positive side, the kettle with all your accessories is all you need and if you source your wood fuel on the go then you will save a bit of weight and space.
- Sturdy: The kettle and accessories are really well made and sturdy. You can really bash them about, with little wear and tear.
- Talking point: It is a very unique product, it looks old fashioned, but also contemporary. It is bound to be a talking point with anyone that sees you with it.
- Whistle: All new kettles come with a steam whistle, which is a great addition, as it boils the water quicker and you don’t have to keep checking it.
- Water waste: even if you just want to cook food on it, and do not want a hot drink, you still need to put water in the kettle to avoid damage.
- Pack size: The pack size is large because it is a standing structure that does not fold.
- Temperature: You can get the heat really high when just using the kettle, but when using the cooking equipment, you have to use the hole on the fire base for the fuel and that is a little small.
Better suited to base camps or log cabins, rather than wild camps and multiday thru-hikes.
There are a load of great portable wood burning stoves, here are a couple more excellent options for you to consider. I own and have tested all these myself.
- Looks Cool: The new version has evil eyes (for air flow), and a scary mouth (for loading fuel).
- Materials: Made from 0.7mm stainless steel, so packs small and light but is strong and doesn’t easily warp.
- Multifuel Stove: The slots can be used to hold an alcohol stove.
- Building: Individual sheets slot together, can be fiddly to set up.
- Carry bag: It is a bit tight, and it gets dirty very easily.
- Cost: It falls into that grey area; it is not the same price of a premium brand but is noticeably more expensive that the cheap ones. So, I am never sure if I am getting a cheap premium product, or am I paying over the odds for cheaper materials.
Canway Camping Stove
- Small and Powerful: Perfect for individuals looking to save weight, especially someone fastpacking through forests and woodland.
- Assembly: Easy to assemble, and pack away. All the bits pack inside each other, a bit like you would expect from a gas stove.
- Stealth: This is more “stealthy” than other wood burning stoves. The flame is more contained and hidden. So, you can still use it if you are somewhere where you shouldn’t be, or if you don’t want to be disturbed by anyone.
- Air Flow: There is a bit of trade off with the stealth aspect, the airflow isn’t as good as other wood fire stoves. But once you get used to using it, you learn how to manage that.
- Fire Base: Because it is so compact, it can struggle if you are using damp wood. However, I have had no issue when the wood has been dry.
- Flat Pack: It does not pack flat like a lot of other portable wood stoves. It packs into a tube, like a Jetboil for example. Just depends on what you prefer and how you like to pack your backpack.
I honestly do not think there is any one cooking system that is perfect for everything. Gas, Alcohol, and Wood Stoves all suit different circumstances and times of the year.
And too be really honest, you are probably going to need a range of different stoves to cover all the bases. Then when you are planning a particular trip, you can consider where you are going, when you are going, what you are doing, how long you are going for, and then you can choose which of your stoves is the best fit for that trip.
You might even decide to take more than one type with you, depending on what weight you are comfortable with carrying.
Hopefully, this review has helped you decide which portable wood burning stove you would like to add to your collection.