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Reviews > Cook Gear > Cooking Accessories > Bemco Backpacker Oven > Owner Review by Michael Williams

Bemco Backpacker Oven Basic Kit
BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
OWNER REVIEW
May 09, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Michael Williams
EMAIL: mlebwill@yahoo.com
AGE: 37
LOCATION: Milliken, Colorado, United States
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 225 lb (102.00 kg)

I was introduced to backpacking as a teenager through scouts in Colorado Springs, Colorado and fell in love with it. I continued to actively backpack through college and took a break to start a career and family. A few years ago we decided as a family to become very active in hiking, backpacking and camping. Currently my wife, son and I hike and backpack extensively in Colorado and South Dakota as a family. We continually look for the right balance of lightweight, durable, comfortable and safe gear for our family to enhance our outdoor experiences.

Product Information

Manufacturer: Bemco
Product: 8" Basic Kit

All kits include the basic oven, plus one each shallow baking pan, deep baking pan, pan gripper, and the baking guide.

Year of Manufacture: 2011
Manufacturer's Website: www.backpackeroven.com
MSRP: US$ 59.95
Listed Weight: 39.6 oz (1,123 g)
Measured Weight: 39.8 oz (1,128 g)
Shallow Pan Measured Weight: 4.0 oz (113 g)
Deep Pan Measured Weight: 3.7 oz (105 g)

Product Details and Description

The Bemco Backpacker Oven is a collapsible aluminum box that is placed over a stove burner to create an oven-like environment for backcountry baking with two oven racks. The oven itself consists of a hinged piece that makes 3 of the 4 walls of the oven. The forth wall, which is the oven door is also hinged to gain access to the cooking chamber. In addition to the 4 walls, there is also a lid that has a pivoting vent cover for temperature control as well as a heat diffuser plate and two wire mesh racks. The diffuser plate is inserted inside of the oven just over the burner and is intended to evenly distribute the heat to prevent scorching on the bottom rack. The final piece of the oven is a thermometer that attaches to the side of the oven.

IMAGE 1
The Oven disassembled, assembled and packed.



The 8" Basic Kit that I have purchased is the mid sized model offered, there is also a 7" Basic Kit as well as a 9" Basic Kit available. The 8" Basic Kit dimensions are 8" x 8" x12" (20 x 20 x 30 cm) while the 7" Kit is 7" x 7" x 12" (18 x 18 x 30 cm) and the 9" Kit is 9" x 9" x 13" (23 x 23 x 33 cm). In addition to the oven itself, all kits come with two baking pans, a pan grabber, hook and loop storage straps and a baking and instruction guide. The pans vary in diameter depending on what size kit is selected; the 8" Kit contains two 7" (18 cm) diameter pans. One is a shallow dish that is 1/2" (13 mm) deep and the other is a deep pan that is 1.5" (38 mm) deep. It is important to note that neither pan is considered non-stick and appropriate measures should be taken when cooking.

The assembly of the oven is pretty straight forward and is described in detail in the instruction booklet. First, the 3-sided hinge piece is unfolded and positioned to form the three walls of the oven. Then the 4th wall is attached to the 3 -sided piece by inserting some small posts through corresponding holes. After the 4 walls are assembled the oven forms a fairly sturdy box. Once that is complete, I attach the thermometer to the side of the oven wall by inserting it through a dedicated hole and then tightening a wing-nut on the inside of the oven. Next the lid is placed on top of the 4-sided oven and this completes the structural assembly of the oven. Then the oven door is opened and the diffuser plate, as well as the oven racks is inserted into the oven. These pieces rest on some strategically placed rivet posts inside of the oven walls.

Once the oven is assembled, the stove burner can be ignited and the oven placed over the burner. There are a few warnings and things to note about what type of stove and how to use the stove with the oven that should be observed. My first-hand experience is not to light the stove while the oven is over the stove burner. This causes a large increase in air pressure, very similar to a bomb. In my case the lid was blown off of the oven, not a smart thing to do. Secondly, it is critical to note that the stove must have a remote fuel source; either a canister or bottle and the fuel can not be inside the oven with the stove burner. This warning is stressed in the instruction manual as well as on the manufactures web site because the oven chamber will reach very high temperatures and if a fuel source is inside it could, and most likely will explode. The manufacture has a list of recommended stoves for use with the oven. The stove that I use with the oven is a Jet Boil Helios stove that is a remote canister stove. Another warning is that the stove burner should not have anything that is plastic or could melt when exposed to high temperatures. While the Helios Stove does not have any plastic parts, the electric ignition wire is attached to a ceramic probe with some type of rubber cement that melted and the wire came off after my first use with the stove.

Field Conditions and Use

IMAGE 2
One pie done and another going in.
When I first got the oven I was very excited and had planned on taking it out the very next day for an overnight trip. And I was fortunate that the trip was cancelled at the last moment. Since it was cancelled I was able to try the oven out at home, in some controlled conditions which really helped me understand how to use the oven before I took it into the field. Under these controlled situations I made 3 meals, breakfast twice and lunch once. I learned an awful lot from those test runs. This is where I learned not to light the stove while the oven was over it as well as that the electric ignition of the stove I planned on using needed to be removed before use with the oven (because the wire melted). I also learned that the pans were not non-stick and fairly difficult to clean. This was the biggest advantage of cooking at home; I found out that the pans need to be heavily oiled to prevent sticking.

The first thing that I cooked was pizzas using the Jiffy Brand "just add water" pizza crust mix. I used both pans (which we lightly oiled with extra virgin olive oil) and the pizzas cooked very well. I was surprised at how well the oven maintained a consistent temperature. After a little under 15 minutes I took the pizzas out of the oven by using the pot grabber to open the oven door and remove the pans to let them cool just a bit before taking the pizzas out of the pan. But the bottoms of the pizzas were stuck solid and we ate out of the pans by scraping the pizza out with a spoon and fork.

The next thing we cooked was breakfast from a "just add water" banana nut muffin mix. I like the just add water mixes because I can add the mix to a Zip-Loc type bag with some water and mix the batter by hand without making a mess. This time I heavily oiled pans and once again the oven cooked well. After 12 minutes of baking the banana bread was done and out it came, still with some sticking to the bottom on the pan. The sticking was starting to bother me so I did a little internet research and found a recommendation to use a combination of oil and parchment paper in the pan to prevent sticking. So we tried the banana bread again with a round cutout of aluminum foil in the bottom of the pan with a light oil coating. The results were night and day, no sticking and the bread came out perfect.

So once I got my cooking technique dialed in from home, I headed out to the field with my new toy. I have used the oven for one overnight winter trip was well as on 3 day hikes. The overnight trip was during a winter trip in heavy snow with temperatures around 30 F (-1 C) and the oven required an insulated base to prevent the snow-pack from melting under the oven (which it did anyway). The day hikes were in fair weather with temperatures around 50 F (10 C) and a light breeze; however, on one trip the oven was drizzled on, with light rain while lunch was cooking. These trips took place at an elevation range of 6,000' to 9'000' (1.8 - 2.7 km) with the winter overnight trip being on the higher end of the range.

For the meals that I made I stuck to what I know which was banana bread and pizza; I made banana bread twice and pizza four times (baking two pies at a time). In the beginning I used the "mix the dough in the bag" method for the bread and pizza crust. This method works great with the muffin mixes but not so well for the pizza dough. The pizza dough needs to be mixed in a bowl and can get a little messy while moving the dough from the bowl to the pan. But once the dough was made and put in the pan, with the lightly oiled aluminum foil round, they cooked up great. One hint about the banana bread is to use a pine needle as a tooth pick to insert into the bread to see if the middle was cooked through.

I did notice that the oven needed a little bit more monitoring to maintain a consistent baking temperature in the field than in the controlled environment of my home. The temperature is managed by adjusting the stove burner fuel as well as by adjusting the airflow on the vent at the lid of the oven. After a few uses, the adjustment because very easy and predictable, but opening the door to look at the food was always a setback in oven temp.

Summary

IMAGE 3
Lunch for two.
I originally bought this oven for winter camping and I was looking for something that would give me a warm meal without having to use up all of my water for a dehydrated meal. I thank that I found what I was looking for and more; the possibilities for backcountry dining are huge now and this oven opened up a whole new world for me. I hate oatmeal or powdered eggs for breakfast, no problem since I can now make hot banana bread. The baking has guide has many recipes such as fresh lasagna or smothered burritos in green chili sauce and they both look really easy to make. With the Bemco Backpacker Oven I am no longer limited to dehydrated meals and the oven can do so much more than pizza. I look forward to meal planning for my trips to see what new thing I can come up with.

Having said that, this oven is relatively light but it isn't really designed for a solo trip, so it has its place. For me, when ever I'm in a gear hauling mode and will be doing a group trip, the oven is coming along without question. If I'm planning on going light and fast, I don't think I will be taking the oven with me. While this is a niche product for me, there are some drawbacks besides the weight. If I plan on using the oven, I need to bring my winter stove, which is more weight and takes up much more volume in my pack than my summer stove. Is that really an issue with the oven? Not really, but that is what I have and if I want to change that I would need to buy another stove. Also, packing the oven is a bit tricky since it is flat, can bend easily and has sharp edges. And finally the added weight of the fresh food or better ingredients used in the meal, combined with the increased fuel required to operate the stove generally translates into a heavier and bulkier pack.

But when I'm in a situation to share the load in a group campout, all of those issues are irrelevant and the benefits of the oven are far more valuable to me. Imagine warm and crisp chocolate chip cookies or some gooey fudge brownies after a long day on the trail. That is why I will continue to use the oven and look forward to sharing what it can do with a group. By the way, did you see the pizzas we made? They were unbelievably good and I guarantee that the aroma of those pizzas made some folks who walked past our camp hungry.

UPDATE

Since the time of this review, the manufacture has contacted me regarding food sticking to the pans. Apparently there was supposed to be instructions included in my shipping documents to "season" the pans very similarly to cast iron. I have not yet done that step with the pans either because I did not get the instructions or I overlooked them and accidentally threw them away. Here is a part of the communication that I had with Brian Marsh the inventor of the Backpacker Oven.

"If you did not season the pans, oil them generously and bake them at 400 F (204 C) for a minimum of 5 min. Then remove from the oven and wipe all excess oil out with a clean cloth and let cool completely then wash with soapy water and let dry. Then when baking add a small amount of oil to the pan, then add your ingredients and bake. [Not doing] this would cause the sticking you are talking about. Even with seasoning, the recipes in the baking guide tell you to oil the pans when baking, this helps keep items from sticking."

This isn't the first communication that I have had with Brian about the oven. He is very open and customer support oriented, check out his blog, and communicating with him is very pleasant. I'm really happy that he contacted me and filled me in on what I was doing wrong.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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