emberlit stove

After messing around with tin cans and a mess of other commercially-available stoves, crazy inventor Mikhail created the Emberlit stove. It’s basically seven pieces of metal: four sides, a bottom, and two small pieces that cross over on the top and create a stable place to put a pot. That’s it.

It slides together easily, and the workmanship is excellent. The pieces are obviously tumbled in deburring stones as the edges are kind to the fingers. This is not always true of commercially available bio-stoves. The whole thing folds and slips into its own thin, nylon case (with Ikea-like graphic instructions on the outside).

The best fuel for these stoves are smaller sticks with a diameter between a pencil and your pinky finger, small pine cones, and dried grasses twisted into little bundles. Bleached white driftwood is amazingly good fuel. You don’t have to fit everything in the stove opening; let the pieces hang out of the supply port and push them in as they burn.

The ventilation holes around the stove provide plenty of air. I use smaller fuel since it burns hotter and with less smoke, and is easier to put out after the water is boiling. The idea is to create a small hot fire, not a campfire with coals.

I built three different fires. The first was with twigs and sticks I picked up out of my backyard. They lit, but produced more smoke than flame and after seven minutes of blowing and nursing feeble flame I dumped the stove out and poured water over the smoldering wood. I should mention we had almost two inches of rain a few days ago, so the wood I used was substandard. Shoulda known.

The second fire I built I used some of my reserve of small pine cones. There was a difference there, as the pitch-soaked cones lit right up. In 30 seconds I had a decent fire. In a little over three minutes, I had a pint of water boiling away. If you can find them, use them, as they burn hot and leave little in the stove to clean up. When I run across an area with little pine cones. I stock up. I once filled the rear hatch of my kayak with a few hundred cones.

The third fire was a somewhat dry cedar shake split into smaller pieces, about half an inch in diameter, and some shavings in the bottom. It lit fairly quickly, and time from match to boil was about five minutes. Like the Kelly Kettle, the boil time will vary radically depending on the quality of the fuel.

Downside? If you use bigger fuel or wet wood, you’d soot up your pots. Big deal. You’ll figure it out like I did. I repeat: small fuel, hot fires.

Decibels: Same as ambient. Dead quiet.
Fuel: Biofuels
Time to Boil: three to five minutes
Oatmeal Index: Better for boiling water

Sidebar: Leave No Trace vs. Leave Less Trace

There is a serious discussion to be had about no trace vs. displaced trace. Stoves run on petroleum leave a trace, it just happens to be on an oil field somewhere far from your pristine campsite. Burning wood is, for the most part, better, in many situations. That said, the fuel you save by burning a campfire is offset by the likelihood of a campfire starting a forest fire in a tinder dry western forest, and well-travelled paths quickly become fuel deserts.

Like many debates about false dichotomies, it’s fruitless. The gas you burn in your camp stove pales in comparison to the gas in your tank that took you to the trailhead or put-in. The important note here is to not be a jerk about it. Use wood when it’s better, fueled stoves when that’s better. Do your best to minimize your impact. Be thoughtful, that’s all.

—Return to home page: 6 Classic Campstoves Reviewed

MSR XGK

One of the best stoves out there for frosty temps.


Coleman 502

They last forever with proper care.


MSR WindPro

The Windpro is a go-to for backcountry chefs because because of its exceptional flame control and pot stability.


Optimus Crux with Elektra Cookset

Simplicity and extremely effective, this is a very nice stove and an exceptional value.


Svea 123

Indestructible: if I dropped it off a 50-foot cliff, the Svea would light right up.


MSR Reactor

It has the fastest boil time in the bunch, saving fuel on an extended trip.


Kelly Kettle

Fueled by twigs, grasses, and driftwood, the Kelly Kettle made something out of nothing.