CanvasCamp receives many questions about wood stoves, and not without good reason. Winter camping with a wood stove takes us back to a time when the hearth was the center of a living space. The soft glow of embers and the hypnotic dance of flames is something that people gather around; it becomes the hub of all activity. For warmth, cooking, entertainment, or just contemplation, a wood stove not only helps us reconnect with our humanity, but helps tend the forest in the way that humans used to do.
However, the use of a wood burning stove for heat and cooking is also a dying art. The knowledge to create an enjoyable winter camping experience lies not in one’s ability to light a fire, but in the ability to operate a stove in a safe and hassle-free manner.
This article is the 1st in a series of gear-tech articles created to guide you through the very complex matter of stove design, use, and accessories. Answers to basic stove related questions can be found on the CanvasCamp FAQ pages, and this blog series aims to expand on and add depth to the information available. So…
“What size stove is right for me?”is a deceptively complex question. Though the volume of the firebox vs. the volume of the tent is certainly a primary consideration, many other factors come into play. Bigger is not always better, but quality is always key!
What makes a good stove?
In a word: efficiency. Gathering, chopping and/or sawing dead wood is a lot of work. An efficient stove helps make all this effort worth it by maximizing the amount of heat output per pound of wood burned. When shopping for a wood stove look for these key features and educate yourself to know how and why they work:
Sealed firebox with a gasket on the door. A well-sealed door means that air intake is restricted to the intake damper. The intake damper is an adjustable mechanism that allows you to control heat output and burn time through increasing/decreasing airflow. The more air a fire has the hotter and faster it will burn. A wide open intake damper will allow lots of air into the firebox while lighting afire and until a good fire is established. Once your fire is burning nicely and your tent is up to temperature you can then restrict airflow to slow down the burn.
Insulating Material: The energy released during combustion creates heat. A good insulator can capture or repel that heat to hold it right where you want it: your stove and the immediate area surrounding it. In pursuit of the trinity of camp gear (functional, portable, tough) most tent stoves lack may of the more advanced features common to indoor wood stoves and fireplaces. The most elusive feature being a real firebrick lining. Firebrick is a simple concept, it's a synthetic stone insulation inside of a metal stove. It mimics a real stone fireplace in that it not only burns wood far more efficiently, but it distributes heat more evenly. The result is a palpable difference in the quality and quantity of heat your stove is producing. CanvasCamp is proud to be the first in the US to offer the Orland which comes standard with Skamolex firebrick inserts that are lightweight and heat up quickly. The ability to come up to temperature fast means you’ll have a more complete and efficient burn to keep you warm.
Internal baffle plate: The smoke let off from burning wood still contains many combustible gasses and particulate. In a open fire allows any unburnt material to blow away which is observed as smoke. The more complete the combustion, the more efficient the burn; which means higher temperatures, longer burn times, less refueling, and cleaner air (reducing pipe & arrestor cleaning). A internal baffle plate causes the smoke to take a few extra turns close to the fire before exiting. This increased exposure to heat allows a greater opportunity for any unburnt particulate to combust and release energy, boosting efficiency significantly.
Exhaust Damper: Some stoves come equipped with an exhaust damper which works like the intake damper, but in reverse. Instead of controlling the amount if air taken in by the fire like a intake damper, the exhaust damper controls the amount of smoke/air allowed to exit the flu after combustion. An exhaust damper should NEVER be closed on a burning stove. This will cause carbon monoxide to build up in the tent. For this reason, many manufacturers choose to omit the exhaust damper from their stove. However, when properly used, an exhaust damper allows for a very fine degree of control over your stove. Once your fire is completely extinguished and cold to the touch you can close the exhaust damper to prevent warm air from inside your tent from escaping out the flu.
Flu Pipe: Although largely an afterthought by most stove buyers, flu pipe is an essential component to get the most out of your stove. Side exit stoves are becoming more popular and eliminate flu pipe sections inside the tent. There are benefits to the side exit we will discuss later in our stove blog series. The benefit to positioning your stove to maximize inside flu pipe is simple: That flu is piping out hot air! The exhaust from a fire must be properly vented out of the tent but that heat will transfer to the stove pipe subsequently the air it touches. Increasing the surface area producing and disseminating heat inside the tent means your capturing more of it for your intended use: keeping you warm!
Spark Arrestor: A standard feature on most tent stoves and an essential for safe stove operation. The spark arrestor typically sits on top of the last flu pipe section outside of the tent and prevents large burning embers from exiting the flu pipe and landing on your tent or the surrounding environment.