Let me start this post by saying that this kit is not an ultralight cooking kit by any means, heck it's not even a light weight cooking kit, but after using it for quite some time in various different configurations I'm really beginning to like it. I have the 14cm version of the Ben's Backwoods Cook Kit which consists of three main components:
- Zebra loop handle 14cm steel pot (1lb 10oz)
- Littlbug Junior wood burning stove (9oz)
- Equinox 7" x 15" stuff sack (1.75oz)
- Total kit weight: 2lb 4.75oz
Zebra Stainless Pot
Zebra pots are produced in Thailand from high quality 18-10 marine grade stainless steel which means it perfectly suited for food use and if cared for properly will last a lifetime. The 14cm pot can hold up to 64oz which is easily big enough for two people and comes with a small insert pan that can be used as a skillet or serving dish.
My Zebra pot has an exceptional build and finish, which for the price is quite amazing. Despite being a rather heavy pot overall, the quality, durability, and flexibility of it makes me want to carry it with me all the time. It's performed equally well over an alcohol stove, wood burning stove, or hanging over an open camp fire - how many pots do you have that can do that?
A really nice feature of the Zebra pot are the plastic lid locks that snap into place when the handle is straightened upright. On either side of the looped handle hinge are two small plastic clips that are made from fire-retardant material so they don't melt. The clips loosen up when the handle is bent down so that the lid can be removed, but when you straighten up the handle it applies pressure on the two clips which in turn locks hold of the lid - a simple solution, but highly effective.
The handle of the pot has a loop or notch in the middle so that it can be hanged from a single stick or loop over a fire without slipping from side to side, again a very simple but effective feature. The instructions that come with the kit recommend that you do not overly clean the outside of the pot to remove the soot build up from use over wood fires. It is recommended that you just wait for the pot to cool down, clean the inside and put it back into the Equinox stuff sack that is provided.
I'm not a huge fan of having soot or dirt all over the place when camping, so I tend to give the outside a quick brush off or rinse without going to overboard and have found a quick clean is perfectly sufficient to avoid the sooty hand and gear syndrome. Experience has taught me that a little soot goes a very long way!
Some of you may recognize the Zebra stainless pot as the same steel "Billy Can" that is favored by the legendary Bushcraft expert Ray Mears and used in his Wild Food BBC television series.
Ray Mears using the Zebra Billy Can - from the BBC TV series "Wild Food"
It's an amazing little steel pot which can be used for various different cooking methods. Its flexibility and quality are what make me love this little cooking pot and at only $30 (if bought separately) it's a long-lasting bargain.
Littlbug Junior Stove
The Littlbug stove is an extremely well-made, elegantly-efficient wood-burning stove that's a great alternative to the alcohol stoves that I've always relied upon. It is constructed from durable stainless steel which provides a very stable and versatile cooking platform despite the initial concern I had over the flexibility of the stove's components. It is cleverly designed to wrap around a sleeping pad or clothing for easy storage and transport. Here are the basic specs:
- Weighs 6.75oz (heavier than the 5.1oz as listed)
- 6" tall x 5.5" diameter
- Made from stainless steel
- Burns wood or can use a small alcohol stove
- Easy to assemble even if wearing gloves
- Wraps around your pot or sleeping pad to save space
- Comes with custom broadcloth pouch
- Great assembly instructions (pdf)
There are just five components to the Littlbug Stove; two large sides, two smaller pot supports and a flat heat regulator. You will see that there is a horizontal slot in one of the large sides of my Littlbug Stove that is where the flat heat regulator can be slotted in to control the amount of heat that passes up from the fire. The newer versions of this stove have done away with the slot and the heat regulator, which is not surprising because I was never able to get it to work.
The two pot supports have tabs that slot into notches in the two sides of the stove (as shown below). the pot supports can be configured in to ways; up for wood burning, or down for use with an alcohol stove. Once the two pot supports have been slotted into place, the two sides are brought together and held in place by two small rivets that protrude on the right hand side of each piece and round holes that are on the left of each side.
The assembled stove is surprisingly stable despite the thinness of the steel that is used for the components. It's a very clever design. The front of the stove (where the engraved branding is) has five large holes that allow air to flow through the stove and fule the fire that is burning inside. You have to pay attention to the direction of the wind and make sure that you face the side with the holes into the direction of the wind for maximum burning efficiency.
I like to make sure that I have plenty of small twigs for kindling and my tinder on hand before I start my fire. I've also found that it is much easier to start a fire outside of the stove and get it burning steadily than it is to try and light one from inside the stove.
I construct a normal wood fire, starting with a good tinder such as birch bark or fat wood shavings and put plenty of small kindling on top. Once I get the fire burning nicely I place the Littlbug Stove over the top of the fire and start adding some larger sticks of wood to build up the heat.
I am always amazed at how ferocious the fire is inside of my Littlbug Stove. There's something about the design that perfectly draws in air and intensifies the burning process. In fact I've found that the stove requires quite a lot of attention to maintain the fire because it burns so efficiently. For that very reason I try to have a sufficiently large amount of wood available to make sure I can continue to feed the stove as the water in my pot comes to a boil.
Once I have a steady fire going and see flames coming up above the top of the stove, I place my Zebra pot on top of the Littlbug Stove so that it is sitting on the two upper pot supports.
With the pot sat on top of the stove there is still plenty of room to add more wood to the fire because of the gaps that are created by the two pot supports. The gap also allows a good flow of air to pass through the stove thereby fanning the flames and making the fire burn efficiently. Even though the Zebra pot is on the heavy side and weighs considerably more with 2 or more cups of water in it, the Littlbug stove is extremely stable and has very little wobble.
I generally leave the lid on my Zebra pot while boiling water as I've found that it speeds up the boil time significantly. Besides, there's no issue with not hearing when the water inside my Zebra pot is coming up to a rolling boil, it's really loud for some reason. It could be that the steel pot amplifies the sound of the boiling water or that the rolling boil is usually so ferocious that it makes more sound, either way it's pretty much not a problem to hear.
Boiling times have been pretty consistent for me regardless of the outdoor temperature. I am able to bring two cups of cold water to a rolling boil in 4-6 minutes using the Littlbug stove in its wood burning configuration and in about 7-9 minutes using my standard Bud-Light alcohol stove as the heat source. I had actually expected the alcohol stove to be faster than burning wood but that has not been the case.
All in all I am extremely pleased and quite enamored with the Ben's Backwoods Cooking Kit. The carefully selected components compliment one another almost perfectly and provide me with numerous configuration options with which to cook or boil water.
I've been able to pack this cooking kit in my backpack without giving it too much thought or consideration for fuel and have thus far never had any trouble with setting it up and boiling my water. When I happen to have my alcohol stove and fuel handy it works great with it, but when I forget my alcohol stove or (more likely) run out of denatured alcohol, there's always been enough dead wood around to quickly spark up a fire and keep it going long enough to get the job done. At a mere $80 for the combined kit ($94 if bought separately), this is a great value and well made combination that if looked after should last a life time.
I have plenty of lighter weight cooking gear and stoves, but for some reason I keep reaching out and grabbing this particular kit whenever I go hiking lately. Do you have a wood burning stove or have you tried a Littlbug Stove? If so I'd love to hear what you think about cooking with it.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and paid for it using their own funds.