After two years of going stoveless and cold soaking my food when out on adventures, I got a chance to review Farm to Summit’s dehydrated meals … which involved borrowing a friend’s camp stove to boil water to make it happen.
I was instantly transported back to remembering how nice it is to finish a big day on the trail with a warm, healthy, delicious meal chocked full of nutrient-dense vegetables and body-heating spices. I realized I wanted to go back to stove life.
But I didn’t want just any stove.
Buying camp fuel canisters has always been a sore spot of stove life for me. They are big and bulky, expensive and often hard to recycle. Furthermore, anyone who tried to find some during the outdoor recreation revival of the pandemic knows that they can be hard to get.
Beyond that, I’m always wondering if there is enough fuel left to get me through the next couple of meals. I find myself fretting that I might run out mid-boil, left to crunch on a half-hydrated bag of beans, or choking down a barely steeped morning brew.
As for the refillable white gas fuel canisters, they are again: big and bulky, smelly and messy, and can be unreliable, as I sometimes go weeks at a time without ending up at a gas station where I could fill them up.
When I came across the Vargo Outdoors Titanium Hex Stove, which runs off foraged fuel from the forest, a spark went off. Living in the densely treed mountains of British Columbia, Canada, I knew that there would be more than enough small twigs and dried leaves laying around to gather for a fire, whenever and wherever I stopped for dinner.
Barely moving the needle on a scale, at just 116 grams (4.1 oz), and packing down to a slender
5 ¼” tall x ⅜” thin metal sheet, I didn’t even worry that the Vargo Hex stove would weigh me down, or take up too much space.
Also, there would be no additional cost associated with the stove (twigs and dried leaves are free!), no concerns about proper disposal (well, except for the ashes), and no worries about having enough fuel.
I was pretty giddy the day the stove showed up, opening and closing it like a kid playing an accordion, shocked at how light and small and aesthetically pleasing it was, and impressed by the small nylon sleeve that accompanied it.
My partner and I immediately planned an overnight bike camping trip to test out our new lightweight, titanium, foraged fuel stove. The Vargo Outdoors 1L HD Bot completed our cooking kit, giving us everything we would need to boil water in the backcountry.
The first time we used the Hex Stove, we scooped the Bot full of glacier runoff from a nearby creek, and it took us 45 minutes to boil one liter of water — hardly a time saver when compared to my pre-cold-soaking life as a die hard Jet Boiler.
That first experience taught me a lot about patience and perseverance, but more importantly, about optimal airflow and stove positioning, ideal water sourcing, and why it’s worthwhile to select only the driest wood as your fuel source.
It also showed me that, despite my belief that I was being uber diligent with the flames, constantly shoving more sticks in the fire without giving it a chance to ‘catch up’ and create a consistent blaze, was actually counterproductive.
Now, after using the Vargo Outdoors Titanium Hex Stove every single day for a month, and eventually getting my boiling time down to 15 minutes for 1 liter of damn cold water, these are a few things that have worked best for me.
(Since there is always room for improvement, any tips and tricks that have worked for you are welcome in the comment section below!)
- Find a stable, level spot to set up the stove
- Try to prop it up off the ground to allow better airflow (I used flat rocks, flat pieces of wood, or the grill on a fire pit)
- Have the door opening facing into the wind so the smoke blows away from you when you open the door and add fuel
- Collect small, dry twigs that are on the ground or on standing dead trees (if everything is wet, shave big sticks with a knife until you get dry shavings). Make sure you're following LNT practices and any local regulations when collection this material.
- Use dried, dead leaves or dead lichen/ moss for starter
- Have an abundance of foraged fuel ready at your side before you light the stove
- If possible, use water that has had a chance to warm in your bottles
- Have patience and diligence, and expect to tend to your stove, treat it like a meditation rather than a race
- Use a sturdy stick to open and close the damper door, as it will get hot
- Feed the sticks in small batches, let them come to a blaze, and then slowly feed another batch
- Try not to peek at the water too often, as this lets the heat out
- At the end of your cooking window, dispose of the hot coals in the stove responsibly: dig a cat hole to dump them in, covering them back up with soil and ensuring no hot embers remain; or if you’re in a designated campground with pre-made fire pits, place the hot coals there, add some bigger sticks and enjoy your ready made campfire while eating your dinner
- After the stove has cooled down (which happens quick) slide the stove back into the sleeve it comes with, or prepare to have soot everywhere
Besides being a fossil fuel saver, the Vargo Outdoors Titanium Hex Stove has an abundance of great qualities:
- ultra lightweight
- packs down flat
- runs on foraged fuel
- easy to use
- quick setup
- no maintenance
- cools down quickly
- comes with carry case
- develops a really cool patina
- great conversation starter
- takes more time and finesse to boil water than gas stoves
- not as adaptable to varying weather conditions and environments
- requires an abundance of readily available dried twigs, leaves, etc.
- Height: 4”
- Base Diameter: 5”
- Top Diameter: 3”
- Thickness: 0.03”
- Titanium : 4.1 oz
- Stainless Steel : 7.4 oz
- Ultralight titanium or stainless steel
- Titanium : $59.95 USD
- Stainless Steel : $39.95 USD
While the Hex Stove takes some getting used to, and will no doubt take longer to boil water than your lightning fast gas stove, it’s given me lots of other benefits that lend themselves well to the ‘slow life’ movement.
I get to spend more time in the squat position feeding the fire; the act of foraging helps me pay closer attention to the environment around me; I’m more present for and excited about the water boiling and dinner making experience; it has encouraged me to get better at starting and maintaining fires (even when it’s damp); and led to far more evening campfire experiences as a result of already having the hot coals ready.
If you’ve been looking to move away from fossil fuels, curious about foraged fuel, or are feeling like your cold soak rotation has gotten a little ‘stale’, I would definitely recommend channeling your inner ‘Survivor Man’ and trying out the Vargo Outdoor Titanium Hex Stove.
Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker or at her blog thisisalibecker.com.