The Nomad Woodburning Backpacking Stove

The Nomad Backpacking Woodstove evolved out of a desire to have a simple, reliable trail stove that used renewable, carbon-neutral wood to cook backcountry meals.   I  wanted this stove to be extremely simple to build, and to be constructed largely of free, recycled materials.  I had seen and used similar “buddy” stoves made from coffee cans, but these proved to be smoky, inefficient devices that left much to be desired.  The first prototype, created in 1998, incorporated two key design features that overcame these problems.  The first is that the fire is suspended on a permeable grate, allowing constant fresh airflow and consistent burn characteristics.  The second feature is that the stove is designed to allow the bottom of a properly-sized pot to extend down inside the stove, creating both a partial windscreen, and a vent that channels the hot combustion gases close to the pot’s surface.  The result is a cheap, easy-to-build, extremely fast and efficient stove that uses very small amounts of wood for cooking.


A few simple hand tools will be needed for construction, including a pair of tin snips, a drill and bits, a hammer, a triangular can opener, and a mill file.  Additionally, I highly recommend wearing leather gloves to prevent cuts from the sharp tin.  


A standard #10 coffee can provides the basis for the Nomad Stove.  First, create a large (approximately 4”x4”) opening in one side of the can to facilitate fueling and airflow.  Next, a series of holes spaced about 1” apart are punched around the bottom using a triangular can opener.  Carefully dull all sharp cut edges using a file or by hammering against a solid surface, such as a bench vise or sidewalk, to avoid cuts in the future.  The fire grate is made of ¼” “hardware cloth” galvanized screen, and is suspended 1” above the bottom of the can using a randomly woven “web” of lightweight steel stove pipe wire.  Tie the grate to this web using a couple short sections of wire so it doesn’t fall out in transit.  Finally, drill two sets of parallel holes in which to place the pot supports.  Two sets, one just under the upper rim, and the other set about 3” below those give you options for how far your pot is above the fire.  The supports must endure intense heat, so use steel tent stakes, or hacksaw a shishkebob skewer into pieces for these.  The protruding ends of these supports get extremely hot in use, so include a pair of leather gloves in your stove kit.


The final piece in the stove kit is the pot.  The pot must be of a size that allows it to sit down inside the stove with a minimum of ¾” clearance between the sides and the wall of the stove on all sides.  A pot that is too large will result in a smoky, sooty burn.  In keeping with the recycled theme of this stove, a large juice can fitted with a wire handle can be used as a cooking pot.  Be sure to burn out the inside of this pot first and scrub it thoroughly to remove any coatings before use.


Once the initial tinder fire has been ignited in the stove, allow it to burn down until wood can be fed in from the side before placing the pot on the stove.  Select good-quality, dry, finger-diameter wood (although once the stove is up to temperature it will burn nearly anything).  Quality hardwood such as oak or maple will yield a fire so hot as to defy imagination!



A plastic or cloth shopping bag comes in handy for carrying the stove in your pack.  It keeps the rig contained so the rest of your gear doesn’t get marked up with soot.  It can also be lashed securely to the outside of your pack.


This stove works well with pots sized for one or two people, three at most.  For larger pots, an extended burn chamber is needed to increase the internal volume of the stove and facilitate a clean, hot burn.  This can be created by cutting the bottom out of another can, slitting that can up the side to the smooth part of the can, just below the rim, and cutting a 1x3" hole in the can on the backside (opposite from the door of the lower stove) immediately below the rolled rim of the top can.  If the bottom, slit portion of the can is slightly overlapped and compressed, it will fit down inside the lower stove, and rest on the the pot supports (holes can also be drilled just above the lower rim of the upper chamber so the pot supports can be slipped through, thus securing both cans together).  Once this is all assembled, a larger pot can then be place on top of this whole assembly.  


Enjoy this stove!  It will quickly become your standard backpacking stove.  Let me know how it works for you and please share any improvements you come up with!