Friday, May 30, 2014

Palette's Product Reviews: Bushcraft Essentials Outdoor Stoves

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
Back in March I was fortunate enough to receive a trio of outdoor stoves from Bushcraft Essentials for testing. It has taken me a while to put this review together (mainly because of recurring family health problems this spring), and I would like to thank Detlev Hoppenrath, the man behind Bushcraft Essentials, for his patience during this time.

For those folks who have not read my reviews at my other blog, I shall repeat what I said when I first reviewed camping stoves.

Before I begin the reviews, A Necessary Disclaimer:
I am not very good at starting fires. This makes me exactly the right person to review these stoves. A trained survivalist can make a stove out of a cow pattie, a hole in the ground, and a mirror. I, however, am an average schlub, just like most of the people who will be using these stoves. If they'll work for me, they will certainly work for you.
These were the tests I performed on the stoves:
  1. How easy they were to light and keep fed, using identical natural materials. 
  2. How quickly they could bring 16 ounces of water to boil in a steel mug. 
  3. How quickly they could bring 24 ounces of water to boil in an uncovered aluminum pot.
  4. How quickly they could cook a single egg on an aluminum skillet. 
All tests were performed on my back porch where wind would not be a factor. I used natural fuels, but since this was not a referendum on my fire-making skills, I used a lighter to start them. All water would be poured out and the containers allowed to cool between use.

Now that the formalities are taken care of, let's begin.

From left to right:  the Micro Stove, the Pocket Stove, and the Bushbox XL. 
 Or as I like to call them, Baby Box, Mommy Box, and Daddy Box.  

1)  Bushbox XL ($79.90 at Amazon)

The XL's size and shape immediately invites comparisons to a certain other box-shaped camp stove, but since I was specifically not asked to compare the two by the designer of the unnamed stove, I shan't do that. 

My first thoughts when I saw the XL were, in roughly this order:
  1. It's much lighter than I expected.
  2. It's far more expensive than any other camp stove I've seen. 
  3. It sure rattles a lot on those hinges. 
According to the designer, these hinges are made by hand and are over-engineered to withstand dust and grime, but no mention was given to structural strength. While the XL never once collapsed or otherwise failed during my tests, the amount of flex on the sides worries me nonetheless -- there is no way to lock the sides in place without using the included trivets, and if you do that then you do not have them to help you reposition the stove (unless you buy an additional set of trivets for $13.50).

Were I to use this on a campout, I would not feel comfortable leaving the stove alone, however briefly, to attend to other camp shores, but perhaps that is just my inexperience talking. As I said, it easily supported the weight of all testing elements. 

Test 1: Keeping It Lit

The XL is easy to assemble (it just unfolds) and is light enough to be easily re-positioned if necessary. It's similarly easy to light and keep fed, because it has a nice square opening in the front and has good airflow. 

However, this nice front opening is a two-edged sword: easy access to the fire means that the flames and heat have easy access to the air in a direction that isn't being used to cook your food. Similarly, while it was easy to feed larger sticks into the hole without worrying about being burned, I had to worry that longer sticks would cause the stove to fall over or that the burnt parts would detach and cause a burning piece of fuel to fall to the ground in front me. 

As I said earlier, I would not feel comfortable leaving this stove alone to cook while I did other things in camp. The fire required more maintenance than other camp stoves I have tested -- however, that maintenance was not difficult to provide, and the fire put out enough heat that the Bushbox XL can be used to provide warmth as well as heat for cooking. 

Test 2:  Steel Mug

I was informed that water boils in less than 4 minutes on the XL if operated properly.  While I am the first to admit that I may not be operating the stove properly (see Disclaimer, above), I did not experience similar cook times. 16 ounces of water in a steel mug started to boil at the 5 minute mark, and by 6 minutes I had achieved a rolling boil. 

Test 3: Aluminum Pot

24 ounces of water in an uncovered aluminum pot (why uncovered?  Because I forgot to cover it the first time I did a review and I want all of my tests to be as consistent as possible) gave identical times to the steel mug, with a rolling boil at the 6 minute mark, despite having to heat double the volume.  I want to attribute this to aluminum's superior ability to conduct heat, but all of my previous tests have had the pot boiling slower than the mug, so  I'm not really sure why this happened. I have a theory, though (see Conclusion, below)

Test 4: Scrambled Egg

It took one minute and fifteen seconds to scramble an egg, which is faster than I expected given the time it took to boil the water. 


Given the wildly varying times it took the Bushbox XL to cook things, I think the variability can be attributed to the constant need to babysit the fire in order to get a constant, easy burn. I have no real way to measure such a thing, but throughout my tests I got the nagging feeling that the fire was uneven, wanting to burn to one side or another unless specifically tended to. Therefore, the XL's performance varies according to how the fire is performing at any particular moment. 

All told, it's a nice little stove, and it performs well.  The problem I have with it, though, is that it doesn't perform well enough to distinguish it from other stoves.  It burns better than the Solo Stove, but the Solo is stable and practically idiot-proof, not to mention lighter and significantly cheaper. The XL folds flat, unlike the Solo, but there are other stoves which do fold flat and are likewise significantly cheaper while also being sturdier. 

I would consider this stove a study in compromise:  If you need a stove that is both lightweight AND folds flat, then this will do you fine. You're going to need those extra trivets, though.

My Rating: B+  

2) Bushbox Pocket Stove ($29.90 at Amazon)

Compared to the Daddy Stove, the Mommy Stove is smaller, lighter, and sturdier in feel and appearance. This is because the Pocket Stove uses precision-cut pieces of steel that interlock like a jigsaw puzzle rather than hinges. And yes, it truly is a pocket stove; when disassembled it is 4 inches by 5 inches and about a quarter of an inch thick. While I wouldn't try to fit into the front pocket of my jeans, it will certainly fit in the back pocket.

Test 1: Keeping It Lit

When assembled, it makes a nice little 3 by 3.25 by 4" box. One of the things I like about the design is that if I were using fuel tablets instead of wood, I could detach the ash pan (the lower piece of metal in the picture above) and place it in the middle of the box, level with the lower lip of the feed door. Alternately, I could remove the front altogether and use an alcohol stove as my source of fire. 

The Pocket Stove has the same issues as the XL in terms of keeping it fed and needing to be babysat to prevent the fire going out.  Being smaller, though, means that I can feed it with long sticks that are resting on the ground, rather than sticking out into the air like the XL does, which again reinforces the belief that this is sturdier than the larger version. 

Test 2:  Steel Mug

The problem with a small size became immediately apparent once I put something onto it: the mug covered nearly all of the burn area, leaving only the corners open. This is a concern because without an effective chimney, it's easy for fires to burn themselves out. Fortunately, the trivets that came with it have cuts of different depths depending on their orientation, so switching those around gave the fire room to breathe. 

Performance wasn't as good as the XL, as would be expected. The water in the mug started to bubble at 6 minutes and was boiling at 9 minutes.  I was unable to achieve a rolling boil due to not having enough fuel, and the fire went out while I was looking for more. I think it safe to estimate a strong rolling boil would occur before the 15 minute mark, which is actually pretty good for a jigsaw puzzle of stainless steel that only weighs 9.5 ounces. 

Test 3: Aluminum Pot

By this point I had pretty much figured out what needed to be done in terms of keeping the fire fed. It was bubbling at 9 minutes, boiling at 13 and rolling a minute after that. 

Test 4: Scrambled Egg

2 minutes flat to turn a cold raw egg into hot food. I had some concern that my frying pan would tip over due to the small amount of surface area provided by the trivets, so I held it in place via the handle. The other hand would either feed the fire or stir the egg to keep it from sticking and burning. 


I like this stove. Its performance and weight are similar to the Solo Stove, and while it isn't nearly as idiot-proof, the Bushbox Pocket Stove has the twin virtues of disassembling into a form small enough to fit inside nearly any mess kit and being quite affordable (almost half as much as the Solo).

It can't keep you warm the way the XL can, but it can definitely cook your food. Buy one and stick it into your Bug-Out Bag or Get Home Bag.

My Rating: A+  

3) Micro Stove, aka EDC Box ($19.90 at Amazon)

I'm not ashamed to say it:  this "Baby Box" is ADORABLE. Both my mom and I made squee noises at its cuteness when I unpacked it. How cute is it?  So cute that I was afraid I would hurt it by starting a fire inside of it.  Fortunately, its mommy and daddy were nearby to provide emotional support during this scary coming-of-age moment, as well as to be proud when junior passed the tests. (Yes, I am a big softie when it comes to cute things, SHUT UP.) 

It really is an "Every Day Carry" stove:  when disassembled, its dimensions are 2"x3" and 1/8th of an inch thick, easily small enough to fit in whatever bag or pocket you wish, or be hung from a carabiner.  Pack it with a lighter and a fuel tab and you're all set.

Test 1: Keeping It Lit

Assembled, it becomes a 2x2x2.5" box. Lighting it wasn't a problem; keeping it lit was. The smaller scale meant that I needed to use much smaller fuel to feed it, and it required constant blowing to make sure it got the air it needed. Given the small scale I wasn't worried that any of the small sticks I was using would cause it to tip.

Test 2:  Steel Mug

The trivets are so tiny that I didn't think they would support anything, but they did; I just needed to find the right balance point. However, given the largeness of the cup and the smallness of the burn area, I frequently needed to lift the cup  so I could blow into the fire and clear out the ash. 

How did it perform?  Uh...

4 minutes:  Bubbles began to form at the bottom of the mug. 
6 minutes:  Oh this looks promising, I can see steam rising from the water. 
7 minutes:  Fire goes out and needs to be restarted. 
11 minutes:  Ditto. 
14 minutes:  The surface of the water has some light surface bubbles.
20 minutes:  Test halted due to annoyance on my part. A thermometer showed that the water reached a maximum of 80 degrees C (176* F).

Test 3: Aluminum Pot

I didn't even try this, as I had no desire to spend 20-40 minutes blowing into a small opening. 

Test 4: Scrambled Egg

For this test I removed the trivets for maximum airflow and simply held the frying pan over the fire. After 4 and a half minutes of struggle, the fire succumbed to ash buildup and would not relight.  I declared the test over at this point. 


Well, it's cute, and it's tiny, and it's relatively inexpensive. Is it a great stove?  I don't think so, but this guy pretty obviously knows what he's doing as he was able to do some significant cooking over it. But even if I hadn't seen that video, I still wouldn't write the EDC Box off as a loss -- there is something to be said for a small stove that weighs essentially nothing (2.7 ounces) and fits in a pocket.

Yes, it's a toy, but it's a toy that can accommodate a fuel tab (something which I did not test myself).  If nothing else, the EDC Box provides you with a stable, sheltered chimney in which to start your fire -- getting that first spark to catch is crucial -- and once it's burning you can then use that stable flame to start a larger fire to provide warmth and to cook over.  While I wouldn't go so far as to say that I recommend it, neither do I recommend against it, provided that you do not have unrealistic expectations for its performance. 

If the price was just a bit lower -- between $15 and $20 -- it would become a no-brainer backup to keep in a bag. 

My Rating: C+  for effectiveness, A+ for adorableness

If you wish to leave a comment about this review but do not wish to deal with our Google+ system, I encourage you to visit my other blog which uses a different system for comment . All questions will be answered and all statements considered.

My thanks to Detlev Hoppenrath of Bushcraft Essentials for providing me with these stoves to review.

 Obligatory Middle Finger to the FTC:  I was given these stoves for free to review, but as you can see, I found fault with each of them.  Clearly, this shows that I was not given product in exchange for a good review. Go away. 

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