Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Praxis: More on small wood-burning stoves and other field gear thoughts.


Keep me anonymous on this. I've really enjoyed your more recent praxis articles and they have provided much food for thought. Please keep em coming.

Just so happens I've been looking into small packable stoves (among other field items). There are a couple of well-regarded little wood burning stoves that are considerably smaller than the kelly kettle, thus making them packable nearly as well as a canteen cup stove, but burning wood very efficiently.

One is the Littlbug, which burns wood and also alcohol (for when you want a low smoke, low signature, fast and easy fire to heat up a meal or a hot beverage):
It comes in two sizes, the Littlbug Sr. and the Littlbug Jr.

Here is a video review of the Littlbug Jr.:

Another, that burns only wood, is the Bush Buddy.

And here is a video review of the Bush Buddy:

And here is a video showing the Bush Buddy fitting right down inside of a Snowpeak titanium 900 cup/cookpot:

The video reviews really give you a good sense of how well they work. My pick for versatility is the Littlebug since it can burn alcohol or wood. It's also just a bit over half the price of the Bush Buddy. However, the Bush Buddy is reportedly very efficient since it has a built in draft/secondary combustion system which helps it burn all the fuel more completely. I think it's referred to as a wood-gas system. I'll likely order one of each and will do a comparison once they both get here. I'll also look into the smaller of the Kelly Kettles too, with an eye toward packability.

Here's an interesting forum discussion on the merits of each, and other stoves, over at the Kifaru forums (which are a pretty good source of info on extended stay camping and hunting, and they also have a military/tactical section):

I know many guys love their multi-fuel stoves, but one can still run out of fuel, such as when out in the brush for extended time, and then what? There are few places on earth where you can't find something to burn in a wood burner, such as grass, leaves, twigs, pine cones, fences, debris from buildings, or even dung. That's why hobos have been building their own improvised wood burners out of old coffee cans for generations. I figure that even as a stove for post-disaster relief, to purify water and heat up scrounged chow, a wood burner makes sense. For a home or car kit, wear bulk is not an issue, that is where that Kelly Kettle is going to kick butt.

One other thing to consider, as a supplement to a wood burner, is the Esbit stove, which burns the small Esbit tabs.

here is one commercial light camping version:

more common are the military style square folding Esbit stoves. Both the stove and extra fuel are available on or at

An Esbit and enough fuel to last you several days of heating water can fit in your pants cargo pockets and makes a great emergency backup (in case you lose your ruck) or a low profile alternative when you don't want to risk burning wood, just like the old military trioxane fuel tabs I used to use when in the Army (and you can burn those too, in such a small stove, which is really just a stand for your canteen cup). And both the Esbit and the Trioxane tabs are great little fire starting aids, for when you are tying to get wet wood going (but so are ordinary cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly - burn for about five minutes straight!).

Still, in the reconnaissance unit I was in, we rarely ever used any fire or heat source whatsoever, and just ate our food cold (MRE or freeze dry). We would very rarely even risk the heat/smell/light signature of half a Trioxane tab under a poncho lean to, in the daylight, down at the bottom of a ravine or gully or down in a dug out scout fire-hole. Maybe that was being overcautious, but when you are out and about in a five man team trying to be undetected, we figured it is better safe, and cold, than sorry.

And on the topic of field gear, at that time back in the early 80s we rarely had the luxury of sleeping bags - just took up too much room in our rucks, what with radio batteries, water, food, binos, ammo, and other mission essential gear for a week or more in the bush. Instead we relied on Polypro long underwear, a lightweight nylon field jacket liner under our standard BDU shirt (never the field jacket, which was too heavy and bulky) wool cap, wool glove liners, wool scarf, wool socks, and then our trusty poncho liner and poncho, and that was really it! I used that setup in the forests of North Carolina at Ft. Bragg and up in the mountains and also in the woods of Western Washington State year round, rain or shine (and in Washington state, it was usually rain).

I can count on one hand the number of times we took our sleeping bags when we were going into known snow conditions. Yes, I occasionally built a debris hut stuffed with leaves and grass when we were staying put for a few days, especially when caught by unexpected snow, but most of the time we just bundled up somewhere out of the wind, preferably deep in a thicket, piled up some grass or leaves to sit or lay on, and at the most had a poncho set up as a low hooch to keep out the rain. Like the Rangers say, travel light, freeze at night. We would hole up and not move at all during the day, and then travel or go out and recon/patrol at night, and the worse the weather, the better when it came to that, as we knew the OPFOR leg pogues would tend to puss out and hide in their tents and fart sacks when the weather was foul, and even the ones out on forced guard duty would suck ass at it, hiding their faces from the weather as they went through the motions of pretending to watch. We rarely ever even brought our rain jackets and pants, since they were too noisy (you can't hear a damn thing while walking in them) and they made us sweat too much on the move, making us wet anyway. At most, we used our ponchos over ourselves and over our rucks, but those were also noisy, and so we'd usually just suck it up and get wet while moving and then change into dry cloths when we holed up again before dawn.

But now I would give serious consideration to the light weight synthetic bag systems and the gortex bivvy sacks (which cover your sleeping bag to keep the rain out, rather than using a tent or poncho hooch). Still, that bivvy sack may take up too much room when you are trying to travel light or are carrying buckoo supplies. I'd be curious to hear from guys who have used them real deal.

I also like the new improved poncho liners, such as from Wiggys:

I think the Trainer already mentioned those in response to your post on poncho liners. I have used Wiggy's sleeping bags and clothing for years and consider his gear top shelf stuff for the money.

One item to check out is his "sweater" which is really a great soft-shell insulated jacket.

I know, at $140.00 it seems expensive, but when you compare it to the prices many of the other outdoor companies charge for comparable warmth at such a light weight, it is a steal. It uses the same great insulation as his bags.

The most I ever wore while kicking around in Montana, even down to zero, was my normal shirt, long john bottoms under my normal pants, and then that Wiggys sweater and at most a windproof/waterproof shell of some kind, gloves and hat. It was like wearing an arctic parka. Often times, I was too warm.

The el cheapo version of that is to do what I did back in the Army and wear a field jacket liner under something else. There are new-style black field jacket liners out now that are made out of Polartec and they are very warm and cheap (though a bunch heavier than the liner I wore under my BDU). I picked up a few of those at the last gun show for $15.00 each. Not quite as warm as my Wiggys sweater, but close, and for the money can't be beat. And they have pit zippers so you can vent when you get hot from humping your ruck and rifle around. Or if a a guy wants something lighter, he can still find the old style green quilted nylon liner like I used, for under $20.00.

Gortex rain gear has come a long way since then, but it still makes a hell of a racket when you are trying to be quiet on the move and want to be able to hear well, so perhaps one can wear some kind of a loose fitting cotton cover over it to muffle the damn noise - I don't know.

Anyway, just some thoughts on gear. I am updating my camping gear to be more lightweight than in the past, and if I come across anything else that is worth considering, I'll pass it on.

What I'd enjoy reading a praxis on is infrared resistant clothing/covers. And also a post on what is the most effective hunting cammo for general field use.



David Hamel said...

Hi Mr. Vanderboegh:

I just wanted to heartily concur with the recommendations regarding Wiggy's "sweater." I consider them one of the best values for cold weather wear. The take up very little space when packed, weigh almost nothing, and are even comfortable enough to wear while in a sleeping bag for extra warmth. Even when wet, they still keep you warm and will quickly dry out just from your body heat. They are one of the few insulated items on the market that can withstand regular machine washing (no heat for drying though.)

I have personally survived many nights at temperatures to -40 degrees and below with only Wiggy's LAMILITE insulation protecting me from the cold, including Jerry's brilliantly ingenious "sweater".

Disclaimer: I do HAVE an affiliation with the company that made these "sweaters" in Canada using Wiggy's patented LAMILITE insulation.

P.S. My lady is wearing one of those "sweaters" on our trip to Europe earlier this month. See my url.

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with the earth-whorshipping Greenies and their leave no trace crap so I won't be looking at the Littlbug even if it was free.

Anonymous said...

I have used and swear by my bivvy sacks both in civilian and "other" enterprises. As a testament I was once "dunked" into a South American river by a bad foot bridge. Soaked to the bone, I went through my gear to dry everything out, except my sleeping gear because it was zipped up in the bivvy, and had only a slight bit of water near the zipper opening. The bivvy saved me from a REALLY nasty night or two. Also keeps out bugs, snakes etc. The one I use now gives me enough head room with a small pole as to allow me to read a book, etc. and even has a screen window.

Anonymous said...

Very informative, thank you.

I'd like to second the request for a thorough writeup of the infrared issue.

If a threeper with access to the right gear could run a series of actual tests, that would be most excellent. The IR signatures of common materials, clothes, and equipment would be handy, as well as tests of signature reduction techniques and hides.

Someone's recently written about a method involving a poncho and a shallow debris-lined trench, but just how effective is that, and what does it look like through the scope? Let's find out and go from there.


III more than them said...

Regarding the IR test, it might be god to know what commonly applied "treatments" (sprays on stuff) might enhance the ability of various cloths to minimize their thermal signature.

The reason I ask is that people may need to treat the gear (clothing AND other items in kits, on packs, around the camp...) they already own, rather than go out and get hold of things that do a better job than what they have.

......might save a few lives one day.....

Anonymous said...

These little wood stoves are actually quite interesting scientific devices. For instance, the Kelly (Volcano kettle) stove uses a central chimney to achieve high combustion efficiencies and temperatures by creating both a high velocity oxygen rich intake draft and a concentrated exhaust. The stove then is by necessity rather narrow and tall to provide enough area for the transfer of energy from the fast moving hot exhaust before it is gone.

A more efficient design would obviously be one that traps the hot exhaust long enough for it to give up a higher percentage of its energy, and this has been attempted in various 'down draft' designs, which use double flow chimney channels. It is of course a balancing act to maintain enough draft to draw in proper amounts of fresh oxygen to the combustion area while retaining the hot exhaust long enough to extract as much energy as possible. But since these are simple low energy devices they are well suited for back yard experimenters to play with using what ever tin cans or sheet metal happen to be available.

An interesting variation on this type are the 'wood-gas' models which not only provide quick high temperature cooking from small twigs, leaves, pine needles, etc. but also produce charcoal which is an even better fuel regarding heat output, lack of smoke, etc.

For the back yard mechanic and tinkerer just do a web search on 'appropriate technology' 'cooking stoves' 'wood gas' and or any combination of terms.

What I especially like about these devices is that they can serve as a great model for basic physics. For instance stove pipe is round not just for economical reasons but because hot air naturally rises in a spiral column that is basically cylindrical. The reason for this is due to the energy of motion of the hot gas molecules translating from that of Chaotic Brownian Motion, which is motion in all direction (Temperature and Pressure), to the motion of an Order Flow along a common pathway - up. This lowers the lateral pressure of the rising column inducing the surrounding air to move in towards it and this movement of course will be very symmetrical forming a cylindrical shape, which is what you find in hurricane and tornado formations - spirals included. This by the way also demonstrates that such formations are centripetal and not centrifugal in nature which comes as a surprise to many who only think in terms of mechanical devices. This can also be applied to the formation of galaxies as well as the basic formations of matter but for that you have to forget Einstein (the relative has no relevance to the absolute) and voodoo quantum physics (can anyone say 'bullshit') and go back to the reality of the gaseous aether of Nikola Tesla.

Happy New Year to all III-Pers and Patriots. God Bless You, our Troops, and our Constitution.

PS: Ok, Mike. We got chapter 32 - its been received and read already, now what the hey have you done for us lately???

Anonymous said...

Silent and breathable waterproof top - well, you don,t get wet when you're moving but it will seep in if you are sitting on it.

Put the hood up and the roar of the wind disappears.

Had one for about ten years now, Brilliant thing.

Apache said...

Anon, thanks very much for the heads up on the Swanndri Bush Shirt.

This is the one I think I'll try, given the full zipper is better for more venting when on the move and getting hot.

Just how water/weatherproof is it? Good enough for a light drizzle, or are you talking sustained downpour? I'd be surprised at any fabric not eventually wetting through in a downpour, whatever the treatment that has been used on it, but please elaborate on your experiences with it. Also, does carrying a ruck over it mean that it soaks through where the straps cross it?

Thanks again. That's one I did not know about. Even if it did wet through, it would still keep you pretty warm, being wool, and is certainly better than cotton any day. Hmmm, perhaps it would work as a cover over a very thin gortex layer. I'll have to experiment with that.


Anonymous said...

Wool is good stuff.. but then I found this comment:

Ted said...

The field jacket liner and the poncho liner are a tie for best stuff ever issued to me.

Anonymous said...

I've never had a rucksack on my bush shirt, I suspect it would push water through.where it rubs.

On its own it is amazingly waterproof, a cotton t shirt stays dry through a summer thunderstorm under it, but if you got into a vehicle to drive with it wet, then it seeps in.

Had it on in freezing fog yesterday, the outer fibres and my beard were white with frost, I was tasty with cotton shirt and 2 fibre pile fleeces on under it.

one big drawback - not washable

I shouted at my dog this morning (he's recoverring from a leg op and not allowed to play fight - hence shouting) and he squirted pee when I put his leader on - quick work with a tissue got it off before the smell soaked in.

Anonymous said...

Anon - wool is good stuff but...

Thanks for that link, There are a good few years in my swanni yet,

I know some sheep farmers who get less number of £ for their wool now than in 1947.

Me smells potential business op with de-valued pound


Loren said...

Anonymous said...

I have a problem with the earth-whorshipping Greenies and their leave no trace crap so I won't be looking at the Littlbug even if it was free.

Except that there are trackers that don't even need that to find out who you are and where you've been. Why make it any easier than it is now for the gov to track you when out on patrol?

That's what this is about, really. Keep off the IR scope, and stay reasonably comfortable doing it, if possible. Minimize clues left behind for trackers on the ground. The longer it takes for them to find you, the better.

Apache said...

Thanks Anon for the details on your bush shirt. I will indeed give one a try.

As for leaving a low footprint signature, that is indeed a worthy goal. I'll take tips from the environmentally conscious backpacker, trackers, and back to the woods types any day.