Should Scout troops use standard two burner propane stoves for camping?
Half of the world’s households and 80 percent of rural households in developing countries cook with solid fuels like wood, coal, crop residues and dung. Many of these households use traditional open fires or simple stoves that release smoke into the dwelling and do not make efficient use of the fuel.
According to the World Health Organization 1.6 million people a year die of health effects resulting from toxic indoor air. Traditional inefficient practices waste fuel and contribute to deforestation.
Dr. Larry Winiarski, director of the Aprovecho Institute, developed the Winiarski rocket stove to improve air quality and the efficiency of fuel use. His work has the potential to revolutionize millions of lives at a very basic level.
I became familiar with Dr. Winiarski’s work when I started researching an alternative to our standard two-burner propane stoves. There are times when using a gas cylinder stove is important to leave-no-trace principles but direct impact on the immediate area is not the only consideration in choosing to use propane stoves.
We really do have to consider the environmental impact of the propane cylinder itself. The energy embodied in the production and transportation of the cylinder ( let alone the extraction, refinement and impact of the gas the fills the cylinder) make it an environmentally poor choice.
Dr. Winiarski’s rocket stove technology is the basis for the commercially available Stove Tech rocket stove. There’s also a number of people out there who have built homemade stoves based on Winiarski’s principles. I did look into building the stoves ourselves but making something comparable to the StoveTec stove would get pretty involved and expensive.
We decided to purchase rocket stoves for our troop two or three years ago and have used them on almost all of our camping trips since then. After having used them for an extended period of time in a number of different conditions it’s time to report on the experience.
Environmental and Financial Considerations
We were using 1 pound disposable propane cylinders to fuel our stoves and paying around $4.00 each. We used around 8-9 cylinders per stove each year. The average two-burner propane stove costs around $60.00 and lasts for about ten years of regular use in a Scout Troop. Over ten years of use the propane stove costs $420.00.
Our StoveTec stoves cost us about $80.00 each (shipping included). My guess is that they will last for at least five years of hard use – they could easily last ten years- there’s really not much that can go wrong with them. (UPDATE 11/2012 – About three years after we first bought our stoves they are still going strong!)
The comparison over ten years : Propane $42.00 a year, wood stove $8.00 a year.
- Insulated lightweight ceramic combustion chamber. (Total weight of stove 18 pounds)
- Cast iron stove top and adjustable galvanized metal skirt that increase heat transfer efficiency to the pot.
- Dimensions: Stove: D-10 1/4 in H-10 1/4 in Door: W-4 3/4 in H-4 in
- Stick support
- Painted sheet metal body
- Heat resistant plastic and steel handle
Stove Tech Use
- About one tenth the wood used in an open fire is required. Sticks or split wood about 1/2″ to 1″ in diameter is best.
- To light the stove we fill the combustion chamber with tinder and light it from the door. Our Scouts have learned that wax fire starters (made with charcoal briquette, egg cartons and wax) work well.
- Once the tinder is burning we put three or four fuel sticks in from the top for a minute or two to get them going.
- When the fuel is lit we move them from the top of the stove, insert them through the door supported by the wire stick holder.
- The heat transfer skirt is put on the pot and the pot is put on the stove.
- It takes about five or ten minutes for the ceramic chamber to reach optimum temperature; once it does there is virtually no smoke because the volatile gases in the smoke are ignited in a secondary combustion zone that is a key part of the stove’s design.
- The stove must be tended while cooking and the fuel advanced into the combustion chamber regularly.
What Our Scouts Think
When we introduced the stoves there was a bit of a learning curve before we had them figured out. We had to figure out that the stoves really did work with just three or four sticks (it really is remarkable) and don’t work well if they are overloaded. The heat exchanger is a foreign concept but it is integral to the stove’s design and really boosts performance.
There was minimal griping when we made the change to wood stoves. The Scouts soon grew fascinated with them and now really seem to enjoy using them.
I like the lower cost, minimal environmental impact, and boost in fire-building skills. The physics of the design, a chance to learn about the rest of the world, and assessing environmental impact are all great educational opportunities too.
Using the StoveTec stoves is more trouble than using propane but we have adapted.
The handle arrangement leaves a lot to be desired: they are flimsy and bend easily.
The stoves do get shipped halfway around the world and there’s an energy/environmental calculation there too. I don’t have authoritative facts about this but I’ll bet these stoves still represent less environmental impact.
Available from StoveTec