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2/02/2017 12:03 pm  #1

Stove vs Campfire Cooking

Tentsterforever's latest question in the equipment thread about stoves got me thinking:

How many of you cook exclusively on stoves? How many bring 2 stoves on trips? Anyone exclusively rely on the campfire?

We always bring our MSR Whisperlite but we use it nearly exclusively for breakfast (boiling water for oatmeal and coffee).

Lunches (when they require cooking) and dinners are almost exclusively cooked over the fire. We'll use the stove if it's raining but the default is the campfire. 

I really enjoy cooking over a fire. I'm better at fire cooking than I am at cooking in a fully equipped kitchen. I like the freedom of having multiple pots going (which you can't do with the stove) and I like the challenge of maintaining the right heat level. 

I'm also curious about those that bring 2 stoves? Is it a "just in case" thing? I'd have a hard time justifying the weight (no matter how small they are). 


2/02/2017 4:36 pm  #2

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

Hey canoeclaire, that's actually a nice continuation of my stove q. As it is, we cook 90 percent on a stoves, as I HATE scrubbing soot off pots. The only reason I had the backup stove was because the peak 1 is so old, and I no longer trust it.
The new stove will be the only one we take, if something goes wrong and can't use it I'll have to close my eyes, grind my teeth and cook over the fire. Mind you, I do use the fire for making bread and pizza in the back country, which I often do on a quite small late afternoon burned down fire, which is actually not hot enough for cooking with a pot.


2/02/2017 5:29 pm  #3

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

A side effect of solo camping and (generally) long-ish travel days is that campfires for me are few and far between. I have a fire for sure on the first night to cook something fresh, but on many trips that's the only fire I ever have, unless I've got a rest day baked into my trip. 

All my cooking, which really just means boiling water, is done over a twig stove. It makes for boring meals but it's certainly efficient when it comes to pack weight!


2/02/2017 6:42 pm  #4

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

As mentioned in the other thread, my crew always brings the Dragonfly/Trangia combo but that said we do also happen to cook some meals on the campfire such as steaks, pizza and the Guinness rabbit stew that we haul out the cast iron pot for usually on those late fall trips where we have few portages.  We eat pretty well out there, some would even say better than at home, ha!  

We're also not fans of scrubbing soot off pots.


2/02/2017 6:55 pm  #5

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

RPDUKE wrote:

As mentioned in the other thread, my crew always brings the Dragonfly/Trangia combo but that said we do also happen to cook some meals on the campfire such as steaks, pizza and the Guinness rabbit stew that we haul out the cast iron pot for usually on those late fall trips where we have few portages.  We eat pretty well out there, some would even say better than at home, ha!  

We're also not fans of scrubbing soot off pots.

I'm the same way, I cook fresh meat or something I want the smoke flavor in or something I want to cook more even on the fire (bannock, bacon, steak, etc). When I go in the late fall I sometimes try to not portage at all just so I can carry in cast iron or a few chunks of maple for a nice steak. No better way to cap off a day in Algonquin.. fresh campfire steak cooked over maple. ;-)


2/02/2017 7:41 pm  #6

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

@atventure and rpduke, uppa.           if we ever camp on the same lake at the same time we'd have half the bear population come running.......and maybe a hungry kayaker ...


2/02/2017 9:28 pm  #7

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

I haven't used a liquid fuel stove since my Dads Peak 1. Every now and then when camping with a group someone pulls out a Dragonfly or Whisperlite and I don't know what to do with it. I went so far as to buy a Whisperlight from a friend so that I could get on board. Sold it that same year. It just seems so complicated and bulky.

I've used alcohol and campfires for cooking for nearly 10 years. Maybe 60% Alcohol and 40% campfires. At first, I used a Trangia, now I use a Fancee Feast stove. I've tried lots of twig stoves. Folding Firebox, Kelley Kettle, Emberlit, Tack 180. I've since sold them all. They were always more of a novelty and they never made it into my pack for long.

I'm a food is fuel kind of guy. Sausages or some kind of skewer for the first night. I can't remember the last time I brought steak camping. Unless I'm part of a larger group trip I don't even bring a plate. After the first night, it's all one pot meals or fish. The soot on pots doesn't really bother me. My pot goes in a cozy when I'm eating out of it, or storing it. This keeps the soot off my hands and gear. The only trouble I have with soot is it sometimes causes the pot to stick to the cozy . That can get annoying. I might scrub the soot of the pot once each season.

This past spring I tried out the same twig stove that Uppa uses (BushBuddy/Solostove). The stove, spork, collapsible mug, scrubby, lighter, bandana all fit inside my 1-litre pot. It's a little heavier than the Alcohol setup but having unlimited fuel available is a good trade off. I've used that twig stove all year and love it! I will probably use alcohol again in the future, particularly on short trips, but right now I reach for the BushBuddy. My campfire cooking has gone down considerably too. Perhaps I'm too lazy to bother with all the trouble of a full fire.

Last edited by MartinG (2/02/2017 10:13 pm)


2/02/2017 10:47 pm  #8

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

I'm 95% cooking over a campfire. I can only think of one, maybe 2 times that I've ever used a stove. Sometimes I bring a small stove with me, just to be safe, but most of the time I leave it at home and just plan to have dry food (nuts, seeds, protein bars, etc.) if it's too windy/wet to get a fire going. Even with the campfire, I'm pretty basic with my meals... I'll usually bring meat for the first day, but otherwise it's lots of macaroni, pasta, rice, etc. Don't usually bring a pan even when travelling solo, just one pot.

Now I'm thinking of starting a new thread to build on this thread which built on the previous stove thread....

How does everyone manage wood collecting out in the backcountry??

I don't bring any axe/hatchet/saw, I rely solely on twigs and branches that I find on the ground. I like to think I'm pretty efficient with my fires, and I try and be as respectful to the wilderness as I can. But I see videos of people hacking at trees (and I see hacked trees first hand while camping), and it always amazes me how people can just go and process all this wood for a campfire when, with a little bit more time/effort, you can just collect dead branches off the ground.

Trip Reports & Campsite Pictures

2/03/2017 6:56 am  #9

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

I'm a 66.667% fire and 33.333% stove guy - breakfast is usually boiled water on the stove for oatmeal, coffee, tea and hot chocolate (me, wife, kids, respectively).  Sometimes we'll have our home-made granola with milk in the morning but we still boil a bit of water for the drinks.

Almost every other cooked meal is done over the fire. I don't even notice the soot since I use a small nylon zippered sleeve that came with my camp cook set to hold my pot.  I might have banged the pot off a a rock once in the past five years to knock off the soot.  I love cooking over wood - and do it at home quite a bit as well during spring, summer and autumn to further hone my skills.  When I grill, it's wood, charcoal or a combination of both.

As far as harvesting deadwood, I find ample wood is about 80 meters from the tent site back in the woods.  Usually 30 or 40 meters past the thunderbox begins to reveal a nice bounty depending upon how far from an access point you are.  I never bring an ax...just a little folding saw that we will cut some larger boughs of downed trees and then carry to the camp.  Once in camp I merely saw halfway through a branch and then break the other half - sawing wood takes a lot of time/energy so this cuts it in half (pun intended).  Smaller stuff that is wrist-thick or less is broken on a rock or with a quick boot.  

We have fires that we cook dinner over and then put larger logs on for the evening so that it requires less maintenance and tending.  I also pride myself in being able to start a fire in virtually any conditions including wind-driven rain.  I love that challenge!  And I am a generous individual who always leaves more wood for the next never know when that group might come to shore after a long, cold, wet day and need that fire as a matter of safety.  That happened to us once and the reverence I felt for that anonymous good Samaritan changed my behavior forever.  We leave a full "kit" that includes large logs and medium wood with a pile of sticks and kindling covered by an ample "roof" of birch bark.

The only variation is during spring fishing trips we do our big meal in the middle of the day when we have traveled the furthest from our campsite.  We plop down on a vacant site and build a small fire for that meal but we still enjoy the warmth of a fire upon our return to our base camp after dark.  


2/03/2017 9:03 am  #10

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

Great thread.

For me, it's a mix-n-match and all dependant on what's on the menu. I will try and avoid using pots or pans on an open fire due to the soot - that crap gets everywhere

Breakfast: I'm an early riser and I like my coffee within minutes of said rising - so for this purpose, I use a small iso-pro gas stove to boil up some water. If I'm having bacon, I'll make a foil-tray and cook it over the fire. Eggs go in the pan over the stove. Roasted potatoes or breakfast potatoes are wrapped in foil and placed in the coals. Water for oatmeal is done on the stove. Toasting bagels for BLT's is on the fire (obviously).

Lunch is always on the go - a quick salami & mustard sandwich or a wrap of some type - no cooking required and I usually eat while crossing a big lake (I don't like to stop until I've reached my destination - especially if I am targeting a specific / well-known for being awesome campsite).

Dinner goes back to mix-n-match. Steak, grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes - all done on the fire. Things like rice or other sides that need to be cooked in a pot is done on the stove.

I am also one of the (probably) very few who travel with 2 stoves. Both use the same fuel and both are ultra-light, but one is slightly larger and more stable. The smaller of the two is strictly a backup because the larger one is getting up there in age and if it failed I'd prefer to have a back up.

I've also messed about with wood-fueled appliances, such as the Kelly Kettle and the Firebox (thanks again MartinG). They do what they're supposed to do, and they do it well - but Martin hit the nail on the head, they're both a little gimmicky and unless I am base-camping, they won't accompany me on an interior trip - the firebox is too heavy and the Kelly Kettle takes up too much pack space. I do enjoy using them though, a lot, and I have specific pots for this purpose (cause I hate soot, remember?) but again, I find it's only useful (to me) when base-camping as that seems to be the only time I can justify the extra weight / bulk.

I'm similar to Bob in that fires are fun - but after a long day of travelling, setting up camp, etc, sometimes I don't feel like gathering or processing wood - sometimes I'm just too lazy or tired to care about getting one going (unless I'm cold or need the smoke to piss off the bugs). In these cases a very small, or no fire is the solution. It's bugs me to not have at least one fire per pit that I visit - but that's not always practical. 

Edit: Are we campin' yet?

Last edited by Peek (2/03/2017 9:03 am)


2/03/2017 9:16 am  #11

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

One of my favourite things about this forum is learning about how other people do stuff. It seems there are endless iterations. 

Soot on pots has never bothered me. I don't even bother trying to scrub it off in the bush but we run the pots through the dishwasher when we get home. I think there is now just a permanent layer of soot on them. I don't find that it makes too much mess in the pack so it doesn't bother me. 

For firewood, we tend to be on busier lakes (lots of shorter, long weekend trips for us) and there usually isn't a lot of firewood around the site. We paddle around until we find a good patch of dead and down wood. We load up the boat and bring it back to the site to process. We often travel with just a small saw for processing but my husband as a new hatchet that makes an appearance sometimes. 

     Thread Starter

2/03/2017 10:13 am  #12

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

It's a matter of choice and aesthetics more than anything else. I prefer campfires but back up with stoves. Couple of observations:

1) Last year I brought new (untested) containers for the methanol. They both leaked all over the pack due to a design error. That ended up being a 100% firewood trip during two very long downpours. It's good to be proficient with fire, if for safety only. 

2) Weight of firewood vs fuel is about the same for me as I bring a hatchet. With an axe you can start a fire in any weather - much harder without. But it's a big weight (maybe even heavier). Hatchet/axe may end up being more expensive than a stove (although Fisker is a good option). 

3) Safety. Relying on firewood as the sole means of food prep without bringing a back-up means accepting the possibility of eating raw/unheated food. Which is totally doable, but may not add to the desired experience.

4) The experience. When I started camping by myself 20+ years ago, it was about pushing myself and competing. Distance paddled. Length of portage. Number of days in the bush. There's no question that if covering distance is the priority, you will use the most modern techniques and firewood is not fast or easy or efficient. I also think there's merit to the competitive approach, and there's a great deal to be learned.

But for me, I love the look, warmth, smell and sound of fire. I'd rather sit around for a couple of hours baking bread than put in an extra 15 km,

Estimated weights associated with picture above: Hatchet (850g), saw (400g), grill (100g), 3 silicone mini-loaf molds (75g, pack of 4, from Canadian tire), reflector oven (800g), Primus 3L pot (610g). Having three loaves of chocolate-swirl bread with M&Ms on to for three boys on day 5 of a canoe trip: Priceless! (PS. 6 and 9-year old kids can carry a much larger pack than you'd think). 


PS. Reflector oven is by far the best method of baking, having tried 5 in total (outback oven, Fry Bake, steam and direct coal). 
PPS. If cooking with fire, the Primus pot is spectacular. 

Last edited by Marko_Mrko (2/03/2017 10:21 am)


2/03/2017 10:57 am  #13

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

Marko -  Can you share that chocolate-swirl bread recipe?

Also, what kind of reflector oven do you have? Do you like it?

     Thread Starter

2/03/2017 11:39 am  #14

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

The chocolate swirl is Robin Hood quick bread, with powdered egg instead of actual egg, and home-made clarified butter:

The reflector oven is from Canadian Outdoor Equipment. It fits in the 115-L portage pack. It also fits in the 60-L barrel. I do worry it will get bent in the pack, but has not been an issue.

The silicone loaf pans are also really great because they do not stick at all. I've used the larger pans, and pots (silicone and steel). I find the smaller pans require less time and bake more evenly.


PS. Three small loaf pans will fit in the reflector oven, but you need to cut off the edges from two of them. This does make them less able to hold a loaf shape, but it's fine. 

Last edited by Marko_Mrko (2/03/2017 11:40 am)


2/03/2017 1:29 pm  #15

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

Re: wood collecting, I take a 15" Sven Saw on my trips. If I need to baton wood I use my knife for that (a Grohmann fixed blade, forget the specific model). I mentioned I don't often have a full-on campfire other than on the first night, but I use the saw every day cutting proper-sized lengths of wood for the twig stove, so the weight (312g) is justified. Yes, wood for a twig stove is narrow gauge enough that I can snap/break it, but not to consistent lengths. The saw lets me cut proper lengths consistently and quickly. 

I'm not a minimalist when it comes to gear but I'm definitely not packing much weight for cooking. My cooking/eating kit consists of:

MSR Titan Kettle: 118g
Bushbuddy Twig Stove: 158g
Titanium folding spork: 18g
GSI Personal Java Press (coffee mug and press combined): 306g
A collapsible bowl: 80g
Harder to define: the kettle's in a bag (soot control + holds water for washing up), and I take a foil windscreen. Probably ~300g combined.

So all told I'm around a kilo for my cooking stuff, which suddenly doesn't sound so light after all. The windscreen comes in handy but there are always other solutions - maybe I'll starting leaving it behind. 


2/03/2017 1:55 pm  #16

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

@trippythings. I thought your question regarding how do you manage collecting firewood a good one. It is my experience (over many years ) that you can face a problem finding firewood ( deadwood) in the easier to access lakes. Many sites are chopped clean and picked clean of anything usable, and even going far back into the bush does not guarantee a good supply. Carrying a stove at least gives you a chance to cook your food, even in rainy weather.
I have learned the hard way to rely on what I bring with me, instead of what nature doles out. Nothing more frustrating then finding nothing available on a campsite after a real tiring day. We've learned to see a campfire as an enhancement to the trip, not a necessity, although we always seem to manage smelling like a smokehouse when we come home as we never had a trip in which we had no fires at all.


2/03/2017 2:38 pm  #17

Re: Stove vs Campfire Cooking

I don't camp often on the more heavily used lakes, but the easiest way to get firewood on them isn't to bushwack behind your site. Just hop back in your boat and pull up anywhere not too close to a campsite. You'll find as much firewood as you want within spitting distance.


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