Friday, November 11, 2011

Bushbuddy Ultra Review

The Bushbuddy Ultra was first developed in 2006 as a custom order for Ryan Jordan of BackpackingLight magazine. The stove burns wood as fuel, and combined with its low weight, has real potential to save significant weight on long trips.


First and foremost, this is a wood gas stove. While there are many stoves that use wood as fuel, not all wood burning stoves are wood gas stoves. The Bushbuddy Ultra uses what is amusingly called an inverted downdraft design. The effect is that once the stove is lit, the wood inside is heated to a degree where it releases methane and other combustible gases, which are then ignited in a secondary burn stage. This provides a cleaner, more efficient burn than a simple fire.


Achieving proper wood gasification is not always easy. A few stoves on the market like the cleverly named WoodGas Camp Stove, use electrically powered fans to improve the process by either pulling or pushing air through the stove. The Bushbuddy Ultra however does not.

I have long resisted wood burning stoves of any sort because I never saw the advantage over a simple fire. Sure, it is a little easier to position the pot, and the flame can be maintained smaller, but I just didn’t want to carry a stove just for that, when in most cases I have a fire burning anyway. Well, the reason why I eventually got one was because I switched to using a pyramid shelter (the GoLite Shangri-La 5). It was my hope that I could use a wood gas stove inside the tent as a fireplace of sorts. I had hoped that the more complete combustion of a wood gas stove would make for lower smoke levels. So, I got the Bushbuddy Ultra.

First of all, the customer service was great. This is a very small manufacturer, and he was very responsive, and kept me updated on the manufacture of the stove without me even prompting it. The stove arrived packaged in a wooden box, without any issues or delays.

My first impression was that the stove is very light and very small. Even though I knew the specifications for the stove, I was still surprised. The stove weighs about 5oz (5.07 for mine); has 4.25 inch diameter and is 3.75 inches high. It is made of very thin stainless steel.

After taking the stove out of the box, I had two immediate concern. The first was that its walls are too thin and will get damaged inside my pack, a problem easily fixed by putting the stove inside your cooking pot. The pot support of the stove actually comes off, and when flipped over fits inside the stove. This makes for a very compact stove that can fit in most cooking pots.


My second worry was that it would not make for a very good wood gas stove. Gasification typically requires a deep chamber where pyrolysis occurs. The chamber of the Bushbuddy Ultra is no more than two inches deep. Somewhat skeptical, I went out to test the stove. To my great surprise, the stove worked great. It is superbly engineered, and despite its small volume gasifies very well.

To operate the stove, gather some small pieces of wood. Just like with a regular fire, the type of wood you use will make a big difference. Good solid pieces of hard wood will burn longer and produce more heat, while woods like pine and birch will light quickly, but will not give you long burn times. I like to use split wood, as it gives the best density.


What I like to do is take some larger pieces of wood and place them inside the combustion chamber.


Then on top of them, I place the smaller pieces that I am actually going to light, much like you would on an upside down fire.


Light the fire and let the amber work its way down to the larger wood.


Once the stove is heated up, the gasification will begin, providing for a fairly clean burn. At this point you can start adding larger pieces of wood. When the stove is in this stage, even damp wood will burn without a problem.


Place the pot on top, and start cooking. There is an opening in the pot support, so you can add pieces of wood to the flame without removing the pot. Boil times depend largely on the conditions and the type of wood you are using. Do not expect to cook in any specific mount of time. Circumstances will dictate how fast your food is cooked.


So, what’s the final verdict? The stove is very light and small. Carrying it is not an issue at all, and it weights about a third of a white gas stove. Using wood as a fuel source will save weight. The stove gasifies very well, especially for such a compact design, and is clearly very well built. Customer service is great. As far as the stove is concerned, I have no complaints, other than the $115.00 price tag, but I can understand it, seeing how much care went into making the stove.

I do however have a problem with the stove. The problem is not with this particular stove, but rather with wood burning stoves in general. I just didn’t see the point. Generally, when I am out, there are two ways in which I cook my food. The first is that when I have set up camp, and have time, I will build a fire and cook my food on it. The second way is when I am in a hurry, or want to quickly stop off the trail to cook something for lunch. In that case I want a stove that I can light quickly and have my food ready within minutes of stopping. For me, the Bushbuddy Ultra does not fit well into either of those scenarios.

Getting a fire going with the Bushbuddy Ultra is as time consuming as starting a small fire. You still have to gather the wood, and properly kindle the fire. This may take a few minutes, or much, much longer depending on the conditions. For example, two weeks ago I was out in a snow storm. If I was to use the Bushbuddy Ultra, I would have had to find wood from under the snow, split it to get to dry wood, and then try to light the stove with the damp wood. It would have taken close to half an hour. Even in less extreme conditions, if the wood is wet, starting the stove can be a time consuming process. If I was going to take that time, I might as well build a fire.

Also unfortunate is the fact that while the Bushbuddy Ultra provides for more complete combustion that a fire, it is still not clean enough to use inside my shelter. There are times when the flame is very clean, but then there are other times when there is plenty of smoke and sooth.

I guess the conclusion is that this is a beautiful, well built stove that does not suit my personal needs. If your style of camping can use a small wood gas stove, then this one is hard to beat. On top of that, it is incredibly fun to use. There is something infinitely entertaining about trying to start a tiny fire in a tiny stove. Just make sure your fire starting skills are up to par, and that you have appropriate fire starting materials for your area. 

If you would like to give wood gas stoves a try without the high cost, you can try to make one yourself. For instructions, look here.

No comments:

Post a Comment