TATO Element Makes Wood Burning Enjoyable
I've been testing the TATO Element titanium wood burning stove for the past three or four months and I have to say that I am very impressed with not only its performance as a backpacking stove, with the thought and detail that has clearly gone into its design. TATO Gear is a small family owned manufacturer of ultralight outdoor equipment - all their gear is 100% made in USA.
- Weight: 4.5 oz (5oz including stuff sack)
- Material: Titanium
- Size Assembled: 4 ¾" x 3 ¼" x 4 ½" (tall)
- Size Folded: 6" x 5 ½" x ⅜"
- Cost: $55
Fold Flat Design
The Tato Element wood stove is a lightweight wood burning stove that folds flat via it's clever yet simple hinged design. It takes up very little room in my pack unlike all the previous paint can style wood gasification stoves that I've used.
All four sides of the stove are affixed to one another via hinges on the upright edges, except for one side that is left open - well I supposed you could actually call it two separate sides. The hinges on the open sides align and with the use of a small pin (supplied) they are locked into place to form an extremely robust four-sided stove.
Assembling the TATO Element
The TATO Element stove includes the main hinged body of the stove, a bottom burn grate, a hinge pin, two top rails (for smaller diameter pots), and a stuff sack to keep it all tidy. Assembling the stove is incredibly easy:
- Unfold the stove so that you have three of the sides in place with the front left open
- Insert the bottom burn grate so that the tabs on the grate fit into the slots on the sides of the stove
- Close the front side so that the last tab of the burn grate slots into place and the two sets of hinges align. Insert the pin and you're done
- Optionally you can use the two top rails for supporting smaller diameter pots or cups
Note: Always make sure you have thoroughly cleared the area you are going to use for the stove from loose debris and anything that might easily catch light from an ember or spark. Clear the area down to the bare dirt if possible.
Lighting the TATO Element
Lighting the TATO Element stove is a similar process to building a small fire and other wood burning stoves. I usually start with some dry leaves or tinder at the bottom and gently place a good amount of kindling on top. I like to have my larger pieces of wood or fuel prepared before I light the stove because these little wood burning stoves tend to be very efficient and you'll want to be ready to add more fuel.
You can load the TATO element via the side door if you want, though in practice I preferred to load it from the top and get my fire started before placing the pot on top. Once you are ready simply light your tinder via the side door opening and you should be all set. I recommend waiting for the fire to get established and feeding it carefully so that a good amount of embers can build up before placing your pot on top.
There is a small opening underneath the pot just large enough to insert small pieces of kindling, however I'd highly recommend using the side door with larger sections of wood that can be periodically pushed in as they burn.
Thoughtful Design Elements
One very small design aspect of the stove that caught my eye after use was the way in which the side door of the stove clicked perfectly into place using a combination of strategically placed air holes and the small lift tabs. It's a small thing, but it makes using the stove much easier - especially as it can get extremely hot. Another clever design consideration is that if you have more than one TATO Element stove you can join them together to make a small fire ring.
The TATO Element also works well as a robust windscreen for alcohol stoves giving tremendous flexibility and options.
The cooking and heating performance of the TATO Element stove was on par with all of the other wood burning or wood gasification stoves that I've used in the past. It's hard to compare them precisely simply because of all the variables, especially the fuel. I will say that I got consistent boil times of 5 - 7 minutes for a pint of cold water. Those times were based on bringing the stove and the fire up to temperature for a few minutes prior to placing the pot on top. Besides, if you're going to use a wood burning stove, speed and performance are probably not your highest priorities.
I've never been a huge fan of wood burning stoves, yet the ease of use and simplicity of the TATO Element made it fun, relaxing, and quite enjoyable. My kids especially enjoyed helping with the fuel gathering and keeping the stove going. The stove burned relatively clean and efficiently with the usual amount of soot and residue. The weight and fold flat design are definitely two big factors in its favor and for a titanium stove the cost is very reasonable.
The only thing I can fault with the TATO Element is the two top rails used for smaller pots. While the rails do slot into place using the notches on the top of the stove, they are so light and lose that the slightest touch can easily displace them. I had a couple of occasions where they got accidentally knocked into the stove while it was burning and there was no way to get them out other than tipping out the fire and starting again. The rails need some clever way of being more securely held in place.
I'm going to keep carrying the TATO Element with me and putting it through it's paces. If you're in the market for a lightweight, compact wood burning stove the TATO Element may be worth taking a look at.