What do you do when you’re trying to get a reluctant campfire going? You blow on it, of course, to fan the flames. Montreal’s SolHuma Inc. has taken that same idea, and applied it to its VitalGrill camp stove. The portable device burns whatever combustible material can be loaded into it – no special fuels are required – and incorporates a small battery-powered fan that “supercharges” the flames to produce up to 20,000 BTUs of heat.
The US$79 stove consists of the fan, and an adjoining box-like combustion chamber that folds down to about the thickness of the fan when not in use. Both parts together weigh 740 grams (1.6 lbs).
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When it’s time to cook, the sides of the chamber are raised, and wood, straw, charcoal or anything else that will burn is put inside and set alight. A separate cable-connected control unit is then used to select the speed at which the fan blows, to determine the intensity of the fire – that unit requires two AA batteries, which should be good for about 35 to 40 hours of run time. An adjustable shutter on the fan likewise allows users to control how much air it draws.
Air from the fan comes up through a matrix of small holes in the base of the chamber, fanning the flames from the bottom up. Four swiveling arms protrude from the top of it (one at each corner), to hold pots or pans. It can support a cooking payload of up to 25 kilograms (50 lbs).
Users looking for a larger cooking surface, who don’t care so much about traveling light, might instead be interested in the $170 VitalGrill barbecue. It consists of the same hardware as the basic stove, but with the addition of a 35-centimeter (13.5-inch) circular lidded grill. The stainless steel rig can be disassembled and folded flat, and transported in an included carrying bag.
The use of wood or other biological materials as fuel is certainly a plus for campers who don’t want to purchase and then bring along canisters of potentially dangerous fuels such as propane ... as long as they’re heading somewhere where they’re likely to be able to find combustible materials, that is. If their destination is treeless, on the other hand, they may find that packing along a bulky load of wood or charcoal is more trouble than it’s worth.
Even for those people who wouldn’t have any problem finding fuel on-site, there are other products they might want to consider. The WoodGas line of camp stoves, for instance, operate on a principle quite similar to that of the VitalGrill. However, SolHuma GM Charles Gravel told us that even the largest WoodGas model puts out less heat than the VitalGrill, while at the same time going through batteries quicker. The smallest WoodGas stove sells for $52.50.
There’s also the BioLite stove, that cleverly converts heat from the flames into electricity, which it then uses to run an integrated fan that causes the fire to burn more intensely – that electricity can also be used to charge or run electronic devices. Like the WoodGas stoves, however, it doesn’t fold flat. It’s also pricier, going for $129.
Finally, the VitalGrill barbecue has a competitor in the form of the $199 Cook-Air grill. It’s definitely less portable, though, requiring eight D batteries – or mains power.
More information on the VitalGrill stove and barbecue is available in the video below.