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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Bushbuddy Ultra > Owner Review by Dan Feldman
April 29, 2008
I have been a long distance hiker for six years, completing a southbound thru-hike of the AT in 2002 and a northbound thru-hike of the PCT in 2007, both solo trips. I am a lightweight backpacker. My base pack weight (no food or water) ranges 15-20 lb (7-9 kg). I mostly hike in the eastern USA during the summer, primarily in the Shenandoah Mountains and George Washington National Forest.
I used the Bushbuddy Ultra during the Northern California, Oregon, and Washington sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the United States in the summer and early fall of 2007. Conditions ranged from very dry to two continuous days of rain. I did not use the stove in snowy or windy conditions. Elevation ranged from approximately 0-6000 ft (0-1800m.)
I'm a skeptic of wood-burning stoves for backpacking, as many seem to lack wilderness utility. Some are equipped with spinning fans and batteries, rendering the devices clumsy, heavy, and bulky. Others give off black smoke and make a racket, giving the impression of operating a locomotive instead of preparing a hearty camp meal. My quest for a new stove began while hiking the California section of the PCT in 2007. I had been using a homemade soda can alcohol stove for several years and was frankly getting tired of smelling gas every time I cooked and being dependent on towns for fuel supplies. A fellow backpacker introduced me to his Bushbuddy Ultra while we were both passing through the Sierra Nevada. On first impression I was impressed by the speed at which he had water boiling and the cleverness of the design. After walking with him for a week and witnessing the stove in action, I decided to purchase.
After I made my purchase, by internet, the Bushbuddy Ultra shipped from Canada with an email confirmation from the manufacturer himself. The stove arrived in good shape with user instructions enclosed. "Bushbuddy Ultra" was written on the bottom of the stove in permanent marker. The stove's design is simple and one look at my shiny new Bushbuddy Ultra made me wonder why no-one had ever thought of it before. The stove is shaped like a cylinder with an open top. Looking into the cylinder, a wire screen crosses the stove about halfway down. A flip up/detachable pot stand fits snugly into the stove for travel. The Bushbuddy Ultra features a thin, stainless steel double wall with holes at the top and bottom. This causes a secondary combustion which burns off smoke, allowing the stove to burn cleanly. The stove is hand made and fits nicely into a Snow Peak 900 Titanium Pot (or similar model). That's all there is to it!
Using the Bushbuddy Ultra takes practice. Unlike most modern camp stoves that can be started with the flick of a lighter, with the Bushbuddy Ultra a small fire is built. It took me many nights of failed fire-starting before I could reliably ignite a fire in the Bushbuddy Ultra. Reading the enclosed instructions carefully was a good start in terms of knowing how the stove worked and what kind of wood to look for. I learned the most, however, by trial and error. I initially attempted to light the stove using scrap pages from my trail guide, pine needles, and twigs. The fire was sluggish and failed to catch. Over the next several weeks on the trail, I would sometimes get the Bushbuddy Ultra lit on the first attempt and other times would spend nearly an hour hunched over it with my lighter before a successful fire was lit. I learned quickly what made good fire-starting material and what did not. At campsites, I started to look for thin, papery scraps of wood that had been out in the sun or very thin, light, spongy wood from decomposing blowdowns. This type of wood caught fire reliably and soon I had developed a technique which worked well.
STEPS FOR LIGHTING BUSHBUDDY ULTRA1) Set up the Bushbuddy Ultra in a wind-shielded area and place the pot stand on top. Wind, even a light wind, will make starting the stove exponentially more difficult.
2) Gather fuel. The wood that is chosen for starting the fire (tinder) is the most important. It should be paper-thin, light, and dry. If I'm expecting rain, I'll snag some tinder on the trail and put it in a waterproof baggie. I also usually carry some extra dry wood for emergencies. The largest wood need not be any thicker than a finger or longer than 5 in (12.7cm). Finding useable wood after a few days of rain can be a challenge, but, as my friend Thomas says, "there's always dry wood to be found." I like looking under evergreen branches and logs. Also, manmade structures such as shelters often harbor an extensive amount of dry wood. I like to have a small pile (maybe a few handfuls) of wood in front of me before I start a fire so that I don't have to scramble around looking for wood when I need more.
3) Place the tinder on the screen and light it with a lighter. I stack the tinder vertically in a small bunch on one side of the stove. I usually augment my tinder with scraps of paper or dry leaves, but an expert Bushbuddy-user can light a fire with tinder alone. Paper from books is surprisingly moisture-laden, so I tear it up into very tiny scraps. I select the driest piece of tinder, hold it in my hand, and light one end of it. Once it catches fire, I slowly lower it into the stove and let it light the other pieces of tinder from the bottom up.
4) Once the tinder is burning steadily, I'll add a few more tinder pieces and then start adding slightly larger pieces, being careful to still use dry wood. These are usually very small twigs or wider strips of paper-thin wood. I then add wood in larger and larger sizes until the stove is 3/4 full. At this point, there is a good pile of coals at the bottom of the stove and it doesn't matter as much if the wood is damp.
5) I put whatever I'm cooking on the pot stand. I usually boil water for dinner and use a small GSI outdoors pot, which the Bushbuddy Ultra nestles into for travel. Bushbuddy will reportedly hold very large pots, but I have not tried anything larger than my pot. Once the pot is on the pot stand, I fill the stove with as much wood as I can fit into it. To boil water quickly, I wait until the wood in the stove drops to 3/4 full and then add more wood. I normally stay close to the stove while it's cooking my food, adding fuel on a semi-regular basis. It's important that the Bushbuddy Ultra is on a firm, level surface. The pot sits well on Bushbuddy's pot stand, but it can be easily knocked over if bumped. If Bushbuddy is sitting on a soft, uneven surface this compounds the chances of a spill. I have knocked over a pot of boiling water several times because I did not set the Bushbuddy Ultra on a firm, level surface. If the stove needs to be moved while lit, the pot should be removed first. Bushbuddy can then be grasped by its base and carried to where it needs to go. The air chamber between Bushbuddy's outer and inner walls ensures the base of the stove stays cool to the touch when the stove is lit. As a result, the stove does not leave a burn scar or any evidence of its presence on the ground.
6) After cooking, I often continue to feed the fire until bedtime to warm my hands and feet or simply enjoy an evening fire. When the fire gets down to coals (which are no bigger than half a finger length), I extinguish them by dumping them onto the dirt, stomping on them, and sometimes adding a little water. I scatter the coals and go to sleep. No trace of my presence can be seen.
In optimal conditions, per the manufacturer's website, the Bushbuddy Ultra will boil a liter of water in 8-10 minutes (elevation is unknown). In the field, this is more or less accurate, but time for setup and gathering fuel should be factored in. Boil time increases significantly in windy conditions or if poor quality (wet) wood is used.
I love this stove and will probably never go back to stoves that use oil-based fuels unless I'm in an area without trees. From a self-sufficiency standpoint, I like the idea of using what is naturally available instead of being reliant on what towns stock. I have found the Bushbuddy Ultra to take a little more time and effort to use, but believe the benefits are well worth the extra effort. My fire-starting skills have improved markedly. One question that often comes up with Bushbuddy is whether or not it's the right choice in rainy climates where dry wood can be hard to come by. I successfully used the Bushbuddy Ultra hiking through the Cascade Range in the western United States and experienced difficulty a few times, but always got a fire going. In the instances where I had a few days of rain, I found that having emergency tinder on hand was invaluable. I have yet to take the Bushbuddy Ultra out in the eastern United States where I live. The eastern USA tends to be wetter than the western USA. While I'm not expecting to have too much trouble, I'll be certain to carry emergency tinder and a few dry twigs.
1) Weight: At 5.0 oz (142g), Bushbuddy Ultra rivals the tiniest alcohol stove if the weight of denatured alcohol or fuel canisters is considered.
2) Portability and Adaptability: Bushbuddy fits into a Snow Peak 900 Titanium Pot or similar model and thus takes up zero space. As it does not require oil-based fuel, it can be carried on planes, and taken to places where there is not a handy supply of denatured alcohol or fuel canisters.
3) Aesthetic, Comfort, and Source of Warmth: Bushbuddy Ultra makes camp cooking an enjoyable experience rather than a chore. It will burn as long as wood is fed to the fire and is great for warming up chilly toes and feet, providing company for the solo hiker, and inviting socialization when other hikers are around. Indeed, I have found that when I have the Bushbuddy Ultra going, other hikers wander over and chat. Long distance hikers like to use my stove to burn their old maps!
4) Durable and Maintenance Free: I've bumped and banged Bushbuddy Ultra quite a bit and so far not even a dent. The stove is made by hand and well-constructed.
5) Quiet: The only noise it makes is the crackle pop of wood burning and there's no alcohol smell.
1) Performance in Wind and Wet Weather: If there's not a lot of dry wood or a windbreak available, getting a hot meal going on Bushbuddy Ultra can take some time. This disadvantage can be mitigated by carrying a little emergency tinder in a waterproof baggie and looking for a campsite with a windbreak.
2) Speed: Bushbuddy Ultra does not boil water ultra-fast. Canister stoves are faster. Mastering the Bushbuddy Ultra takes practice, but if sufficient skill is acquired, boil times are comparable to homemade alcohol stoves. On the last day of my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I had water boiling as fast as the person I was camping with, who was using a homemade soda can alcohol stove. This was after I had gathered fuel.
3) Fuel Availability Above Treeline: Above treeline, Bushbuddy Ultra fuel will be hard to find. However, the amount of wood needed to cook a meal for one or two people is easily carried in a pack.
4) Creosote: The stove will blacken the bottom of a pot with creosote. For me, this is a minor annoyance at the worst and keeping the pot in a plastic grocery baggie prevents the pot from getting the rest of my gear dirty.
5) Restricted Use: Bushbuddy Ultra is not permitted in U.S. National Forests in California when fire restrictions are in place. According to the Forest Service:
"When in effect, fire restrictions mean campfires, stove fires and smoking are not permitted in the restricted area. Charcoal, wood and coal stoves outside of dwellings are classified as campfires. Campfires do not include any cooking or heating device using kerosene or gasoline."
This information was taken from the Frequently Asked Questions section of the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region's website on April 19, 2008. While the California regulations are quite clear, other states may have different or more vague definitions of whether a contained woodstove like Bushbuddy Ultra may or may not be used during a fire restriction. It's important to check with the state Forest Service before hiking with Bushbuddy Ultra in the USA.
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Reviews > Cook Gear > Stoves > Bushbuddy Ultra > Owner Review by Dan Feldman
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