Inventor Kent Haring has developed the elegantly efficient Littlbug stove that deserves a second look from campers in general and Scouts in particular. Most of us have come to rely on the convenience of propane stoves and would be hesitant to trade them for wood stoves. I think there are some compelling practical and ethical arguments for using high efficiency wood stoves. But first let’s take a close look at the features and use of the Littlbug.
Construction and Cost
When assembled the Senior Stove is approximately 9″ tall and 8″ in diameter. It weighs 19 ounces (plus 3.3 oz for the heavy-duty storage pouch). Disassembled the stove lies nearly flat and takes up very little space. At $56.95 the Littlbug costs about as much as a standard two burner propane stove but the fuel is free.
Littlbug offers a fire pan and chain accessory kit for hanging the stove. I am dubious that hanging the stove is a good idea for Scouts. A suitable fire pan is advisable to further reduce the impact of the stove. The Littlbug has a removable internal platform for burning alcohol (using a soda can stove) or Sterno .
The Littlbug is easy to assemble and provides a very stable platform for a heavy pot. (We use an eight quart aluminum stockpot on our canoe trips to cook for a crew of nine.) The stove is cool to the touch in a few minutes after the the fire is out. It then packs into a sturdy bag keeping the sooty stove away from your other gear.
For backpacking The Littlbug Sr. compares favorably to the 1 pound stoves and 1 pound canisters our Patrols usually carry to cook for 3-10 Scouts.
The Littlbug in Action
I first tested the Littlbug Senior on a Troop camping trip. It boiled an 8 quart pot (the big pot from the standard trail chef cook kit) with about five quarts of cold water in about twenty minutes. I used small to medium sized sticks 1/4 to 1 inch in diameter that were somewhat damp. Once the pot was at a high rolling boil I cooked 5 pounds of sliced potatoes in about 20-30 minutes. The performance was comparable to one of our propane stoves.
Since that inital test we’ve used the Littlbug on several week-long canoe trips to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. The stove’s design creates a powerful draft that burns more intensely than a camp fire.
Using the Littlbug does mean collecting fuel but it’s a fraction of what you’d need for the average campfire. A decent pile of sticks an up to an inch in diameter does the trick. As for sooty pots; we et them get good and black and leave them that way. Packing the pots in a bag keeps the soot off of our gear.
Cooking demands a bit more attention than the propane stove but regulating heat with the Littlbug is actually pretty easy with some practice. We have found that ash and embers tend to accumulate at the bottom of the stove and block the draft holes. A bit of poking helps keep them clear, but sometimes one has to remove the pot and lift the stove a bit to clear accumulated ash.
The Ethics of Burning Wood or Gas
High efficiency wood burning stoves are practical,ethical choices for Scouting. A properly managed low-impact wood fire has much less environmental impact than petroleum based fuel a disposable canister. Disposing of empty fuel canisters is a growing problem:
Campers have been leaving behind about 50,000 of these non-refillable canisters in our provincial parks every year! Because the containers are considered “hazardous waste,” we can’t just take them to the local landfill. We have to hire firms that specialize in disposing of this kind of material and it’s not cheap. At $2.50 per cylinder, it costs us almost as much to get rid of the cylinders as it does for consumers to buy them. (From Parks Ontario)
Locally we pay about $3.00 -$4.00 for a one pound disposable propane canister. Our Troop uses about 50-60 of these canisters for cooking annually at a cost of $150-$180. I have yet to accurately compute the carbon footprint of a fuel canister but it is arguably several times that of burning wood especially factoring the impact of producing and disposing of the canister.
In our part of the world (the Mid Atlantic U.S.) nearly 100% of our campsites have an established fire pit. However there are backcountry situations where collecting and burning wood is discouraged, forbidden, or just plain impossible. In these instances a gas fueled stove is an acceptable alternative. The Littlbug should be used in an existing firepit or on a metal plate (a heavy duty pie tin works) balanced on some rocks. If used directly on the ground the Littlbug will leave an unacceptable burn scar. Care must be exercised in disposing of the ashes and one must be vigilant to assure all embers are extinguished and cold.
1 – 3 stoves: 10% discount