Perhaps the most unlikely item to see at a knife convention is a cooking device, but that is exactly what I found at the TOPS Knives booth in Atlanta, Georgia during the Blade Show 2015. And the new multi-fuel stove from one of today’s best cutlery companies is fueled by rocket-stove technology.
In the last five years, hordes of small companies, as well as some major outdoors manufacturers, have been developing small folding stoves for backpackers, hunters, campers, and preppers. The design is loosely based on the rocket stove, an efficient cooking stove that uses small-diameter wood as fuel and burns it in a high-temperature combustion chamber containing a vertical chimney.
A rocket stove achieves efficient combustion of the fuel at a high temperature by ensuring a good air draft into the fire and controlled use of fuel. It utilizes the heat energy from the hot rising air for quick boiling and cook times.
THE TOPS WAY
The TOPS Multi-Fuel Folding Stove consists of five main pieces made of 20-gauge stainless steel: two sides, the front, back, and fuel plate. The fuel plate can be inserted near the bottom of the stove to load small pieces of wood, in the center for alcohol and Sterno canisters, or the top for fuel tablets and gel fuel. Top it off with three included skewers that can also be placed on multiple levels, and this stove gives you a multitude of options.
The stove is approximately 6½ inches high when assembled and standing upright. The opening at the top is approximately 37/8 inches by 37/8 inches. It comes with an orange nylon pouch and one cedar/paraffin disc for fuel. The disc will burn for approximately 20 minutes.
I was excited about using this stove right from the moment I left the convention. I found the set-up easy except for the last step of securing the plate to place the fuel on top of. A little bending and flexing of the unit is required to make it all fit correctly in the allotted slots. I used the stove to boil water for coffee and rehydrate some rice packets.
I used the top setting for fuel and in this case used Utility Flame gel fuel. I simply squeezed the gel onto the plate and ignited it. Once I’d placed my cook can on top of the skewers (which act as a grill too), it was a matter of minutes before the water was at a rolling boil.
Once the plate had cooled down and the fuel burned out, I changed it up a little to use the stove as a wood burner. This means I had to change the plate to the bottom slot. In wood-burning stove mode, fuel can be added in the form of dry sticks from the top. It worked well even if the sticks were long and uneven and protruded from the top. They all burned down to make smaller coals and acted as a heat source.
Once the sticks ignited and a sustainable flame was present, I put some camp food (canned meat) on a small steel skillet and placed it on top of the skewers. The stove was well balanced, not too high or narrow. When the skillet was on top of the stove, I was able to add small sticks from the bottom vents and larger port. I was amazed at how fast it cooked.
The intense heat allows the sticks to burn up completely, leaving a small amount of ash, depending on the types of wood. The environmental impact is minimal because the ash collects on the bottom plate and doesn’t scorch the ground or make the cooking process a liability in dry areas prone to wildfires.
Because the fire can be built inside the stove structure and protected from wind it makes an ideal fire starter, especially due to the design, which sends flames upward. When heat is in such a small and confined area, it burns the wood very hot, making even slight rain no threat to extinguishing the flames.
In very cold weather, the stove can be used under a tarp to help maintain radiant heat and, if kept at a low flame/temperature, can warm cold hands and feet (with caution). Placing damp or wet wood at the top of the stove will dry them out fast.
I look at every piece of gear from a survival standpoint. How can I use this to improve my situation if I’m caught in heavy rain and it’s cold out?
The scenario: I’m hunkered down in a small cave or rock outcrop. The ground is wet and I need just enough warmth to keep my core and extremities warm. Obviously, a small fire is easier to make than a large one—it demands less fuel and less real estate to build. The TOPS Stove will keep my fire off the ground, which will most likely be wet. It also uses less fuel, time and energy to get the fire going.
I could easily hunker down in a small space while hovering over this little stove and survive. It wouldn’t be comfortable or an ideal campfire experience, but it could save my life. A regular fire would be harder to contain and I’d need to make a platform to combat the damp, cold ground.
Being able to take the stove and set it anywhere, as well as hover over it to gain radiant heat and block rain or snow from entering the top make it a better option than trying to build a campfire that requires more space and fuel. A Mylar space blanket and this stove would be the perfect survival combination for maintaining heat and sheltering from rain, snow or wind.
With a weight of 1 pound, 3.2 ounces (including nylon pouch) and a suggested retail price of only $50, the TOPS Multi- Fuel Folding Stove is the perfect addition to almost any bug-out bag, emergency car kit, hiker bag, or camp pack. I would be very interested in a titanium version of this stove. As TOPS says, “In any situation, it pays to be prepared!”