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Wood seems like the ideal bikepacking fuel, it’s free and you can usually find a few twigs pretty much anywhere. You don’t need to carry any supplies and you should never run out … so why isn’t it more widely used?

I’ve experimented with a few different wood stoves over the last few years. Both commercial and MYOG stoves have been tried and they’ve all produced reasonable results. However, it’s probably fair to say that the conditions they were used under may have been a little artificial … or at least what I was using for fuel was. Having a ready supply of dry, seasoned wood at hand makes life easy, maybe too easy. One of the main benefits of using wood is its abundance, if you have to start carrying supplies, than that benefit is lost.


So what happens if you simply rely on what’s around you at any given time? How likely are you to find something remotely combustible if it’s been raining for the last 48 hours? Is there a chance you could find another fuel source out there? How long can you survive without a brew?


To try and help answer the above questions and decide whether wood really is a viable fuel for the busy bikepacker, I waited until it had been raining continually for the best part of a week, then headed off armed with a stove, a lighter and some basic kindling (sweet wrappers, belly-button fluff, etc).


My twig collection … they all ‘felt’ dry.

The first job was to locate some dry wood and although not easy it wasn’t impossible to find something that at least felt dry. Any twigs that were laid on the ground were soaked, so I hunted about looking for either a ‘dead-standing’ tree or twigs that had fallen and been caught in the branches of another tree. Within a few minutes I had a little pile of seemingly dry twigs … attempt number 1 was underway.

Whoever said ‘no smoke without fire’ lied.
A few scraps of paper and the smallest / driest of my twig collection resulted in … not much really. The wood was obviously too damp to catch before the paper had burnt. I tried the same thing a couple more times and varied how I built the fire each time but the results remained largely the same … some flames, some smoke, then nothing.

‘Special’ twigs got us one step nearer.
I figured that while the outside of my wood was (now obviously) too damp to burn, I wondered how much drier the wood under the surface might be. I stripped the bark off the twigs then ‘shaved’ them. The deeper I went the drier the wood became. A couple of minutes later I’d laid a base of shavings in the bottom of the stove and had a small collection of ‘feathered’ twigs.

I built another fire using a few paper sweet wrappers as kindling and the ‘feathered’ twigs. The result was much better but still didn’t produce a usable fire, again largely due to the kindling burning away before anything else fully caught. 

Shaving and feathering the twigs seemed to be about as much as I could to produce burnable fuel from what was readily available … what I needed was better kindling. Anyone who’s ever had burning plastic drop on them will know just how hot it is. It produces much more heat than paper and it also tends to burn for longer, so I figured that it might just be the solution.

Remember, this was supposed to be an experiment to see whether wood was a viable fuel for year round trips, without resorting to any type of accelerant. So, what type of plastic might you have on you that you wouldn’t be carrying especially to light your fire? 

Finally something you could brew-up with!

Food wrappers provided the answer, in this case it took the form of a crisp packet. The combination of crisp packet (Walkers ready salted if the details matter to you) and the feathered twigs proved to be a winner and a couple of minutes later the fire was stable and able to accept whatever wood was added to it without spluttering to a smokey halt.

So, does this actually make us any wiser? Would you be willing to rely solely on wood for cooking on a multi-day trip in far from ideal conditions? 


If you’re happy to spend a few minutes preparing your wood, then producing usable fuel isn’t really an issue. I think in 95% of situations you’d be fine … the 5% when you’re not okay would be the times when there’s no trees nearby. It seems that the real issue is whether you’re able to source enough wrappers and packaging to get the thing lit! If porkpies, Haribo, Ginsters and Monster Munch form the basis of your diet, then wood could just be the fuel of the future.


Fancy giving wood a whirl? … MYOG wood stove

3 Comments

  1. What's the stove in the pictures?

  2. The stove's a backpackinglight.co.uk stainless Pocket Stove. If you search the blog you should find a review of it … you might have to go back quite a while to find it though.

  3. Unknown says:

    I carry a section of old, out of action, inner tube for lighting fires in sub optimal conditions. It was a tip passed on to me by Ray Mears (through watching his videos).

Comments are closed.

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