If you are looking for rugged, time proven equipment for the woods you don’t have to look much farther than what the military uses. Granted, it’s not always the lightest equipment on the planet, but I always use it as a benchmark for comparing other gear to. One exceptional military kit is the 1 quart canteen, cup, and cup stand combination. The cup stand nests on the cup, which then nests on the canteen. Together the kit takes up no more space that the canteen itself.
While I mentioned that military gear is rugged and time proven, that does not mean that it is perfect. Anyone that’s used the cup stand has likely found its flaw. The canteen, cup, and stand have a kidney sort of shape to them. When you use the cup stand and align the kidney shaped cup the two get stuck together. When you are messing with heat and boiling water, you soon learn that its best just to leave it, and live with the stand stuck to your cup until everything cools. The other option is the purposely mis-match the shapes of the cup and cup stand. In other words, turn the cup in the other direction. Sounds all well and good, but it seems there is a very fine line between it balancing properly and this happening.
My eight year old son uses all this equipment too, and the military stuff is his favorite. With that in mind, nothing makes me more nervous than seeing him play with the setup in that configuration knowing that boiling water could be spilled at any moment. It’s not so bad if you’re using an alcohol stove or Esbit tabs, but if you are managing a little twig fire, now you are poking your hand near a tip hazard. Not too cool.
Apparently, getting military issue cup stands (or stoves as most call them) has been getting more and more difficult. I personally wouldn’t know, but that is the business of Rob Simpson, owner of The Canteen Shop, so if he says it’s so, I trust him. With supply getting scarce, Rob decided to have some made so that he could continue to offer them for sale. Rob didn’t just settle for creating the cup stand as it was. Instead, he designed his own version to address the deficiencies I already mentioned, as well as make it a much more versatile piece of kit. So let’s see what exactly he came up with, and how it worked out for me.
In the photo showing the old stove next to the new stove, you can see how Rob solved the sticky stand and tipping cup issue: he enclosed the whole top. There are a couple cool features that came about from doing this. The first is obvious and that is the hole pattern provided. With the old stand just being open, there is not much you can do with it. The new stand can be used as a mini grill. You won’t be throwing a large steak on the grill, but I planned on giving the grilltop a try a little bit later. The second feature with the top is the part that actually holds the cup.
There are 4 holes that rise above the grill top surface. They are equally spaced, so they support the cup solidly whether the kidney shape of the cup and stand are aligned or not. I found this valuable when using fire underneath later. It also elevates the cup just a bit to allow some air space. I have no data to support this, but I would guess that if the cup was not elevated, using an alcohol stove might not work so well. Some of them do not seem to go into full blast mode if they are too crowded from the top and sides. I am almost certain that the gap aids in the creation of a draft when using a twig fire or placing the stove over coals. The GrillTop Stove Stand is made from a heavy gauge stainless steel, and it is quite stout. It makes the original seem like a flimsy toy in comparison. It may weigh more than the issue stoves, but it makes up for it in durability.
That’s enough talk about the stove, it’s time to start playing with it. To begin using this thing, I wanted to start with the most typical fuel sources. I used Esbit tabs, my Trangia alcohol stove, and of course a real fire. So, I will go through them in that order.
I have to admit to not being a huge Esbit fan. It seems to me that it’s a rather expensive fuel source (in comparison to others) and is fairly difficult to find around me. Still, for test purposes my son and I lit the Esbit tab and boiled some water. It burned fine, and boiled water fine, but without more experience with the fuel I cannot honestly tell if the stove stand had any huge impact on the performance or not. What I can say is that the stove stand did provide a nice stable surface, and the cup could be held in pretty much any orientation. I liked it so far, but let’s move on to something more exciting.
Next up is the alcohol stove. I was excited and nervous about this one all at the same time. I wanted MY favorite stove to work well with the GrillTop stove, and I just wasn’t sure if it would or not. There are a ton of alcohol stoves out there from Pepsi cans to fancy titanium and everyone has their favorites! I can’t tell you about everyone else, but I will quickly tell you why I like this stove. Pre and post burn fuel can be stored in the stove. Sometimes I don’t even bring a fuel bottle. Second is that the simmer ring opens of a world of cooking possibilities instead of the stove either being “off” or in “full on” mode. But, alcohol stoves could be another article entirely! I just wanted to give you good reason for really wanting the Trangia to work with this cup stand. So does it?
The stove even fits with the simmer ring in place! I was concerned because the simmer ring sits kind of skewed off of the stove, but the stand allows you to have the simmer ring in almost any position and still be centered in the stand. My next concern was the height. I have seen some homemade stands that were just too close to the top of the stove and would not let it burn right, or snuff it out altogether.
My son and I did quite a few boils with the Trangia, both in full blast mode and with simmer ring, and had great results. In fact, this is probably the best windshield/stove stand that I have used for this stove. It was large enough to let me do the things I wanted with the simmer ring, but small enough to provide lots of wind protection. I also discovered another use for the large holes in the grill top while using the Trangia. If I cook something that takes awhile I will usually blast it with heat (no simmer ring) until it gets hot. At that point, I will put the simmer ring on and let the food cook. Taking the cup off the stand easy enough, but now the stove stand is hot. So, I took two sticks and stuck them in the large holes to move it off the alcohol stove. I could then put the simmer ring on, and then used the sticks to put the stove stand in place. It worked great! Sure I could use leather gloves or a bandana, but for me, one less thing that I have to remember is a good thing.
Now, let’s talk wood! All this fuel and stove stuff is cool and all, but I like simple. What if I get to the woods and forgot my Esbit, or my alcohol bottle leaked? Or how about I just don’t want to carry all that extra crap? Being able to resort to something basic is very important for me personally. Even if you have a large fire, just setting your cup in the fire can present its own difficulties. If you have been there and done that, you already know what I am talking about. The wood fuel shifts and moves as it burns and can cause the contents of your cup to spill. The heat source is HUGE in comparison to what you really need to. Most likely it makes things hot (like the cup handles) that you don’t necessarily want hot. My point is that even with a large fire, the stand can be useful. Instead of dealing with those issues, simply scrape away a few hot coals, put the stand on top of them, and away you go. Concentrate heat where you need it and create stable platform for your cup.
The other use is when the only fire is the one under cup, and that’s the thing I tested with the GrillTop. I had some birch bark for tinder, and some dry sticks. Since I did not have any other tinder around, I shaved up a few of the dry sticks to get things going.
Playing with a small fire on this scale is not rocket science, but, it does take a bit of playing with to get used to. How to get it going, when you get good coals, and how much and what type of fuel to add are all important. I have both played with and made many types of twig burners, so there is nothing overly new here in that regards. But, there is something very nice I liked about this combo. When cooking with a twig burner or hobo stove your cup or pot is filled with water or food. It’s the heavy part. The pot stand or cup stand is usually very light in comparison. I am sure you see where this is going: weight it up high (did I mention it was hot) and you have your hand below poking around with sticks and such. Not a good combo. Usually I get around this by poking with other long sticks, but there is still a danger there. My point with respect to the GrillTop Stove is that it’s fairly wide and stable and keeps the center of gravity low. So, at no time did I feel like I had a high wobbly pot in the air, ready to come crashing down on my hand. The stand is high enough to let you do what you need to, and yet felt very safe the whole time. I liked it even more.
Finally, I had to try out the grill top. One of the food staples that I take to the woods is Lipton’s dried chicken noodle soup. While it’s good, there’s not a ton of chicken in it so I decided to add some real meat to it by grilling up a small chicken breast. The stove left some pretty cool grill marks! I cut the cooked chicken up in chunks, threw it in the cup with the dried soup and water, and finished cooking the whole thing over the wood coals.
Aside from my testing, Rob had some other uses for the stove in mind as well. He states that “it can be used as a stove, grill, berry picker, strainer, small shovel, fire starting implement, lantern (with the new SS HC lid), or whatever else you can think of”. While I didn’t use my stand for all of these uses, I can definitely see what Rob is saying. I’d like to see what folks could come with for “whatever else you can think of.” I am sure some really creative uses can be found! The GrillTop Stove stand is available direct from Rob at The canteen Shop for $20.00. While that may be a bit more than a G.I. issue stove, they’re getting tough to find and this one is a lot sturdier and more versatile to boot. It’s also U.S. made in Rob’s home state of Ohio. To close with a quote from Rob “This stove is Built Tough like American Made Products should be, and is one of many new quality products we are carrying from Ohio businesses!”
For more great arrticles like this check out the Woods Monkey Review Column in Self Reliance Illustrated!