Tested: Woodgas Stove Mk2 review

woodgastove07In a line Lightweight air travel-friendly ‘burn anything’ woodstove that’s more efficient than an open fire.

Cost £50. (This unit was supplied free of charge by SBS for review).

Weight 276g in bag.

How used Boiling water on a two-week walk and paddle in southwest Turkey.

Good points Very light; operating knack soon acquired; in the right environment fuel is everywhere; quicker and more efficient that a pot on an open fire. Unlike gas or liquid cans, can carry on a plane without issues. Tatonka folding-handle mug just fits inside.

Bad points: Seems expensive at 50 quid; feels a bit flimsy; MkIIt pot support wires felt less secure for mugs than the feet on the Mk1 version (on ebay for under a tenner) but take much less space and are lighter; after a few uses my fuel tray ‘shrunk?’ and could slip through (explanation below). Wouldn’t be my first choice in damp UK conditions.

Review: For this 200-km trip along the Mediterranean coast I was all set to just heat up water on small open fires until I remembered the Wild Stoves woodgas stove still sitting unused. The plan had been to use it on my Sahara camel treks but they off at the moment. Walking and paddling as much of the Lycian Way as I could manage in a fortnight would give me a chance to finally put the woodgas stove to the test.
burnersAs carrying compressed gas cans on a plane is considered bad form and quite possibly detectable these days, taking the woodgas stove avoided the need to track down a suitable gas can or other fuel in the small Turkish towns I’d pass through on the way to the trail head, as well as the tedious anxiety of making that fuel last. Who hasn’t ditched gas cans for a flight back home? On the right, comparative weights which shows that of the options available to me the woodgas stove was a good choice.
vkettleI was only planning to boil water so did consider taking my proven Australian V-kettle (left) but its packed volume is about twice as much, it weighs 650g and anyway I wanted to try out the stove.
Gary at SBS sent some wax-impregnated paper firelighters as well as a suggestion that woodpine pellets as used in posher types of cat litter would be a good way to get the knack. I tracked down a 3-kilo bag at a garden centre for as many pounds and took a portion with, but once there found my pellets were small enough to fall through the stove’s fuel tray vents. A few fine twigs or dry leaves fixed that, but even then I’m not sure the cat litter I had made that much difference as there was plenty of very dry wood wherever I stopped. In the end I dumped the remaining cat litter to save weight.
woodgastove05By chance my handy 450-mm Tatonka pot-cup just fitted inside the stove (right) making a slightly taller packed volume that still fitted in the bag, but giving the cup’s full volume in which to store stuff. That was all the cooking pot I needed for my water boiling needs. My stainless Tatonka perched rather unsteadily on the wire supports and soon acquired a glossy black varnish of burned pine sap. Apparently wiping some liquid soap on the cup will stop that forming or make it easy to scrub off.
msr-stowaway-open-2-zIf you want to cook rather than boil, Wild Stoves sell the stove with a 775-ml stainless-steel MSR Stowaway pot with clip down handle and lid (right). The stove fits neatly inside.
woodgassingI hear a crude woodgas stove or something similar is easily made for a couple of concentric cans which is why some baulk at Wild’s £50 asking price. But it’s more than just vented a windshield on which to rest a pan which is more or less what a Trangia is. Like a Trangia or the linked home-made stove above, air feeds in from the base to feed the fuel tray’s twiggy charge – but once burning that charge then warms the double-walled sides of the woodgas stove’s combustion chamber, sucking up more air to create a secondary, hotter burn as it mixes with wood gas emitted by the burning charcoal developing below. Or something like that. It’s this  secondary burn  coming out of the vents just below the pot which makes a woodgas stove more efficient than simply putting it over a three-stone fire. And it’s certainly more in keeping with the keep-it-simple ethos than similar woodgas stoves which – hard to believe – resort to a battery powered fan to stoke the flames! That’s surely an admission that the design is flawed.

woodgastove15

The scraps of Mediterranean scrub I readily found easily got a burn going. Kindling and the firelighter strips were another matter. As I got the hang of the stove with Gary’s detailed instructions to counter-intuitively put kindling on top as the stove burns downwards, I tried to use no artificial aids (short of rubbing two sticks together to make a flame). It’s always good to be prepared if you run out of waste paper, but I never quite got the hang of it. Maybe dead eucalyptus leaves doesn’t kindle as well as a handful of dry Saharan camel grass.
woodgastove02So a bit of wax paper tucked into the top kindling of thin twigs (left) worked best to initiate a reliable, faff-free burn. At best the stove would be ‘on the gas’ in about 2 minutes. Orange flames would emerge in a ring from the top vents and soon my mug was making kettle-like noises. It probably took a bit longer than my mini butane gas burner with a good wind shield – or a well-packed v-kettle, but – besides benefits already mentioned – we’re talking a couple extra minutes to reach a boil. As long as it takes to prepare an ekmek and kaşir sandwich.
woodgastove12All was going well until one chilly and overcast day up at 850m (right) when, with a long and high afternoon’s walk to go, I really needed the benefits of a quick hot pint of cuppa soup. I perched by a well on the edge of a village but for some reason the stove wouldn’t gas up. The fuel was as dry and brittle as dead wood can be. Was it the altitude, the cold, the wind, the wrong wood? Half my matches, several sheets of  wax paper and then pages from my guidebook went up until, determined to get a feed, I finally I got a lukewarm soup but lost over half a precious hour in the process.
woodgastove17Then I noticed the fuel tray resting low and unevenly inside the base housing. Turned out that presumably the heat had deformed the tray which was now a little smaller than the base tray’s rim support. Neither was especially oval from careless packing but the tray could now easily get displaced and so messed up the convection needed to make it all work. Knowing that to be the cause, next time I was careful while loading the fuel tray and had no more problems, even if some days getting on the gas took longer than others. I put that down to varying wood types and atmospheric anomalies.

woodgastove03

The woodgas stove is a little more fiddly than a conventional upward-burning volcano kettle but of course a kettle is only a kettle. Making do with food and drink that only required hot water was fine with me on this trip (I spent most nights half-boarding in pensions), but a stove can of course cook proper food. Had I been doing more wild camping I know from previous experience that despite its convenience, freeze-dried ‘bag food’ gets galling after more than a few days.
woodgastove04It may not be my first choice up in the sodden, treeless far north of Scotland but I now know the woodgas stove is ideally suited to Mediterranean or sub-tropical conditions and means wherever I might land by plane, I’ll have a reliable cooking stove just as long as I can find something to burn in it.
wildkettlesI see Wild sell the usual ‘Kelly kettles’ with those redundant fuel trays plus chains and plugs and what not, as well as a smaller but similarly over-designed ‘SAS’ mKettle (all on the right). How complicated does a v-kettle have to be? It would be great to see Wild add a light and simple v-kettle to their range, similar to the one-piece + lid version I use. It would sit well alongside their similarly basic but ingeniously functional woodgas stove.

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