Ray Mears has said that, "one of the key skills if you're making a canoe journey is being able to replace a paddle if it gets lost or broken." But what happens when you're in the backcountry and the yoke on your canoe breaks? We found out this past summer. Thankfully Josh was up to the challenge!
By Uncle Dave
Over the last few years, our families have become very interested in fire cooking using wood burning stoves. In this post we want to share with you the wood burning stove that we recommend for backcountry families.
The wood burning stove category has exploded over the last decade and there are all kinds of wood-burning stoves on the market. Most of them are geared to the solo hiker or hiking pair sharing a cook kit. The vast majority of these are too small to do any meaningful cooking for a group.
One stove that stands out from the crowd is the Littlbug Senior. The senior version of the Littlbug is large enough to hold a 4-6 L pot or even a 12” Dutch oven making it possible to cook meals for the whole family.
The Littlbug consists of 4 curved panels made from stainless steel, which stack together, and nest nicely around your pot set. Littlebug Enterprises sell a separate envelope style nylon pouch that is handy to keep soot off the rest of your cook kit and we recommend purchasing it with the stove.
The Littlebug can be used as is in an existing fire pit or with the optional fire pan to practice leave-no-trace and avoid leaving a fire scar. We have the old fire pan, which was basically a steel pie plate type unit. The old fire pan was heavy and prone to rusting, and we really can't recommend it. However, Littlebug Enterprises now have available a new fire bowl which appears to be modular and made of stainless steel. Once we've had a chance to test out the new fire bowl we will report on how well it works.
Besides the optional storage pouch and fire pan, there is available a chain for hanging the stove off the ground while cooking - an option which we don't consider viable with small children ambling around camp. There is also available a pot sling designed to lower your pot deeper into the stove for use with an alcohol burner - an option which we haven't tested.
Assembling the stove is easy and intuitive. For wood-burning mode, simply attach the pot supports to the upper closed slots in the stove sides, and then connect the sides together making sure all three edge tabs go inside the stove and all three assembly rivets enter their respective holes.
When lighting the stove there are several options. Since the stove has no bottom one can simply light the tinder bundle, place the stove on top and then continue feeding it from the top. In case of a strong wind one can place the tinder bundle in the stove, light the stove while it is on its side, and then tip it upright once the fire has started (my preferred option). With a long match one can also light the loaded stove through one of the air holes along the bottom. In all these scenarios there is no need to stick your hand down from the top while lighting the stove - a definite plus.
The Littlbug will accept all manner of fuel collected from around camp from small twigs to pinecones etc. Our boys love splitting wood to make fuel for the stove and since the fire is nice and controlled we don't mind letting the kids get close to put sticks in to keep the fire burning.
Our main use for the stove is to boil water, purifying it for drinking, washing dishes, rehydrating meals, and, of course, for the required hot beverage on cold mornings. The stove is fast and effective at boiling water thereby saving a lot of fuel for our white gas and canister stoves as well as saving wear on our water filters.
With practice one can learn to control the heat output quite effectively and when I don't mind the extra work of operating the stove (vs. canister/white gas), I enjoy using it to cook my morning eggs. The stove is definitely capable of serving as your primary stove if your fire skills are up to the task. In practice, we use the Littlbug as a supplemental and backup stove to our white gas or canister stoves, and it fits that role nicely.
If there are any downsides to the stove they are the typical ones associated with this whole category. One must possess sufficient fire starting skills to light and sustain a small fire - no small feat when it has been raining for days and all available fuel is wet. The stove needs a steady source of fuel to keep it going but is considerably more fuel efficient than an open fire. Also, fire cooking is inherently messy as your pots will get blackened with soot and there will be a little soot on the pot support panels of the stove. In the event of a fire ban the stove would likely be classified as an open fire, relegating it to serving as a pot support for an alcohol burner. More specific to the Littlbug: since the top of the stove is open it is not possible to cook your day's catch directly on the stove without some sort of additional grill.
That said, the Littlbug is a joy to use. Besides its practical cooking capability, the Littlbug easily provides that uplifting campfire ambiance when there is no time to collect large quantities of wood for a larger fire, and it provides a surprising amount of heat on a cold and dreary day. We love the way the little bug engages the kids in meal preparation and how it provides a controlled environment to teach the principles of fire starting and fire cooking. At 585g (including storage sac) it can easily save you that much and more in white gas/canister stove fuel on a longer trip, and it provides a maintenance-free backup in case of gas stove failure. Over the years this stove has earned a permanent place in our tripping kit.
We needed to add a couple of extra bowls to our kitchen kit last summer so I decided to try out the GSI Ultralight Nesting Bowl and Mug.
These guys weigh in at 122g (4.3oz) and hold 590ml each. The insulated mug nests inside the bowl. It's a snug fit so there's no rattling around. They can also be used as replacements for the GSI Dualist Cookset.
Overall I found that they worked really well for keeping the kids' oatmeal warm on cold mornings. The lid fits tightly, so there's no worry about spills. My favourite thing about these was something that I didn't anticipate when I bought them - they are fantastic for rehydrating food.
They are just the right size for salsa, applesauce, pizza sauce, etc. I put our dehydrated food in them, added boiling water, gave it a stir, popped on the lid and insulator, wrapped them in a pot cozy, and that was it. 15-20 minutes later the food was rehydrated and still warm. For added insulation I doubled up the bowls and wrapped them in a pot cozy.
These guys have definitely earned themselves a spot in my minimalist kitchen kit.
Pros: The lid was nice and tight and stayed in place. I worried that the insulator might be tough to clean, but it washed up easily and dried quickly. The insulator does a good job of keeping in the heat and the food didn't end up tasting like plastic.
Cons: I couldn't come up with any cons, other than the fact that the “mug” isn’t really a mug. It’s a bowl with a lid on it. Personally, I like drinking my coffee from a real mug so I didn't use it as a "mug", but with the tight fitting lid it would certainly do if you were slashing gear.
I got mine at Adventure Guide, but they are also available at MEC, REI, etc.
By Auntie Shelley
On cold fall trips I have found that the sooner I get a warm cup of hot chocolate into my kids' hands, the happier they are. On cold mornings it can take awhile for water to boil, so this year I decided to try bringing a thermos with us. My hope was that if I filled it up with boiling water the night before it would still be warm enough to make hot chocolate in the morning. I didn't have much time to research it so I went to Adventure Guide, our trusted source for great gear, and picked up the Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle. I purchased this one because the label said it would keep liquids hot for 24 hours and because it was the biggest one they had.
As you will see in my video review, it actually worked! On our recent trip the temperature dropped to about 1 degree Celsius at night. We filled the thermos up with boiling water in the evening and we were happy to find that the water was still steaming in the morning! Check out the video review below. BTW: I had some professional help from Grace (Age 2) :).
We tend to bring a lot of bars on our trips. They’re great if you need a quick, easy, non-messy snack or breakfast. I always place a few at the top of the food barrel for easy access when we’re traveling (e.g., portaging).
Clif Bars, Larabars, etc. used to be staples for us, but with all of our growing children, they are no longer cost effective. Over the years we’ve moved more towards making our own.
Recently, Hudson Bay Bread has become one of our favourites. We came across it years ago in Cliff Jacobson’s Expedition Canoeing. There are several variations for this floating around the internet. You can check out our version on our recipes page. These bars are very filling and are our “go to” breakfast on days when we are traveling or packing up camp. They freeze really well, so I like to make a double batch at the beginning of the season, prepackage them, and put them in the freezer. Then it’s just a matter of pulling out what we need when we’re packing up our food.
David Leite has a wonderful list of Larabar type recipes on his website. I made his Cherry Pie bars, adding a handful of chocolate chips, and they were great. You can check out my variation of his cappuccino bars here.
Auntie Lisa made these and these this year. The Pumpkin Spice Cookie Balls were especially popular with the kids. The kids weren’t as keen on the Spicy Power Bars, but Auntie Lisa and I decided we were okay with that since they are our favourite.
Over the winter I’m hoping to pick up a copy of this book to experiment with more energy bars.
We typically bring more energy bars than we need. They don’t take up that much space and I like knowing that we can count on them as a back-up in case we ever get stuck out longer than expected.