The Boilerwerks Backcountry Boiler Review
As a tinkerer of gear, I really get excited when someone else goes for it and decides to build something they want that doesn’t exist. In the case of Devin Montgomery that something was a wood fired boiler small and light enough to take backpacking in an ultralight style. The entire story and evolution, from brainstorming and crowdsourcing design, to prototyping and ultimately production can be found at Devin’s excellent blog The Boilerwerks which describes the trials and tribulations and success of developing this unique device.
One of the things that I like the most is that this was truly a project based on learning by doing. Almost every step of the process was a new adventure for Devin. In the end he produces a unique, high quality, functional and simple piece of equipment that works well.
The Backcountry Boiler is elegant in design and function. It allows a backpacker to go with out fuel by burning found fuels along one’s route. The system consists of two basic parts needed to function and three light accessories; the boiler proper and the support or burner base, a heat resistant sleeve that allows the user to pick the boiler directly off the flame with bare hands, a small silicone stopper and a simple sil-nylon stuff sack that it can store in.
Weighing in at 8.8 oz complete on my scale, the boiler is heavier than some alcohol stoves but in the same weight class as many other wood burners. Here’s where it makes up for the couple extra ounces over other systems: no need to carry fuel. In addition, the boiler itself can be used as a water bottle with the included stopper! By paring the kit down, the weight of the stove can be reduced even further. Leave behind the stuff sack and you come in at 7.9 oz, the stopper and you are at 7.3, and just the boiler and the fire pan leave you with a svelte 7 oz. system.
The Boiler is made from spun, hard anodized aluminum, providing a more rigid construction when compared to titanium sheet. This material also allows for good heat transfer and an acceptable weight in the ultralight stove category.
In field use, the Boiler proves to be surprisingly fast. Boiling two cups (16oz./500ml) of water multiple times per day over six days on a NOLS Lightweight Backpacking Course, I consistently had boil times of 5 minutes or less at altitudes between 8000-10,000 feet, often using frigid water. This volume of water is ideal for “boil in a bag” type meals, and is my preferred volume for hot drinks as well. It’s important to note that the boiler doesn’t actually boil your food in the boiler its self, but boils the water to be added to your dehydrated meal in either a bag designed for this, or another container, perhaps your titanium mug.
This may be the only drawback to the boiler. People who cook, rather than rehydrate meals will find the boiler unsuitable.
How it works
The boiler functions on the simple chimney effect. A small fire is built in the burner base using tinder with the boiler already in place, though in practice I found it easier to light the fire and then place the boiler on the base. Be sure that the stopper is not plugging the water fill hole, or the vessel could explode.
Once the fire is going and your filled boiler is on the base, turn the hole in the base into the wind, or if a really calm day you may need to blow into the hole. Feed the boiler through the chimney in the top, I found that using sticks no bigger around than my somewhat meaty pinky or ideally about pencil diameter worked well.
The sticks should also be broken to a length no longer than the top of the burner to reduce flame height which results in wasting fuel. On average, I could boil my two cups using just one handful of sticks. For reference, when I hold my finger tips together in a circle, the diameter is about an inch and a half, but I have big hands.
The boiler burns very hot, so with small sticks as fuel there is very little ash, and once cold to the touch, the ash can easily be scattered to the wind. Any partially burned sticks will be so small they will disappear in the environment, just be sure they are fully extinguished.
One of the great things about the boiler is that it can burn all most any type of combustible solid. I even burned a piece of dried cow patty one night with no problems at all. Grass, sticks, paper, cardboard, basically anything that can burn. Devin even ships the Boiler in burnable packaging along with a tea bag and an instant coffee so you can try it right away, pretty cool. There is also a wick system available to burn denatured alcohol, which would be useful above tree line or in areas that have mixed fire regulations like canyons.
For people cooking one pot, just add water meals, or “boil in a bag” food, the ability to travel without fuel is an unquestionable advantage in the field. The Backcountry Boiler is an efficient, Eco-friendly (burns renewable fuels!) stove system that evolves the lightweight kit to the next level.