Back when I was in the military I would have loved to have had a way to heat-up my C Rations - yeah, I'm "that" old - that we were issued C Rations in the military, when out in the field. MREs (Meals, Read to Eat) were still only just a concept in the mid to late 1960s. Nothing beats a hot meal in the field, even if it was just C Rats - a cold meal just doesn't seem nearly as comforting or filling, as opposed to a hot meal. My late friend, Chris Janowsky, who ran the World Survival Institute, up in Tok, Alaska used to say Fire is magic" and it sure is - very comforting, mesmerizing and warm. A fire can make a difference when you're out in the boonies or in the field, especially when time comes for a meal.
Over the past year, I've tested several survival-type stoves for SurvivalBlog readers, all had their good points, and I especially like the light-weight they afforded me, and some folded-up for ease-of-carrying in a backpack or buttpack. Best of all is, they burned "whatever" combustible materials you could find; twigs, paper, wood chips, straw - whatever was laying around! You didn't have to pack fuel, which is expensive and cumbersome to say the least.
When I received the Vitalgrill stove I couldn't wait to get this one out and test it. Right now, I'm buried with products to test for SurvivalBlog - so much so, that testing one product each week - which is the pace I try to maintain - I have enough products to keep me busy for the next 4 or 5 months now. I make every effort to test products in the order I receive them - I want to be fair to everyone who takes the time to send me their products for testing. Thanks for your patience!
So, what do we have with the VitalGrill, that sets it apart from some other small survival stoves? Well, first of all, you can't fold it up, but the compact size isn't all that big - you can still fit it inside of a small backpack, and it only weights 1.5-pounds. Secondly, the VitalGrill will burn most combustible materials, and I found it works well with small twigs - they burn long enough that you won't have to keep feeding the fire. I also used wadded-up pieces of paper, but they burn rather fast, and you have to keep feeding the fire while you're cooking. You can also use heat tabs if you want to pack them along. What really sets the VitalGrill apart from the other small survival stoves I've tested is that it comes with a blower. Yes, you read that right, a small blower is attached and it operates from two AA batteries - that last from 35-40 hours - and that's a lot of fires for cooking, and it's not a big deal to carry a pack of extra AA batteries in your gear for replacement when the time comes.
The little VitalGrill can hold up to 50-pounds of weight on the cooking surface. However, I don't see how you could put that much in a pot or frying pan, still the little stove will hold a lot of weight - I put some concrete slabs on the cooking surface, and the stove held them just fine. There are "diffuser" plates, that fit on top of the cooking surface, and this reflects the heat upwards, from the tiny holes in the bottom of the stove - where the forced-air blows, to produce as much as 20,000 BTUs - again, you read that right - 20,000 BTUs of heat. I had no way of measuring this statistics, but I do know this little stove really got extremely hot. There are also rods that are attached to the diffuser plates, that you can adjust inwards or outwards, to hold the pot or pan you are using - be it a big pot or pan or smaller ones, the rods did their job.
The diffuser plates, with the rods, store easily under the stove, and inside of a minute of less, you can have the diffuser plates installed on the cooking surface, install your batteries into the battery pack, and plug it in, and you are ready to start adding some fuel. Like I said, I found that small twigs worked the best for me, and in my neck of the wood, Western Oregon, we have no lack of trees with plenty of small twigs you can use for fuel. To make my job easier, I wadded-up some paper to get the twigs started, and in a matter of a minute or two, I had a very hot fire going. The VitalGrill web site said temps can reach as much as 1,200-degrees - and I have no reason to doubt this - just depends on the fuel you are using. I used some cardboard for some testing because I know how very hot cardboard gets when it burns. You can even use charcoal, if that is on-hand.
There is also a mechanical shutter you can use, to adjust the air-flow, making your fire hotter or cooler if you so desire - neat idea! It works similar to a flu on a wood stove - adjust it up or down for more air-flow. The air intake is also split to prevent smoke or small particles for entering the fan, too.
The height of the VitalGrill is only 1.8-inches when folded, width is 4.9-inches and when in use, the height is 4.9-inches, so you can see, this stove is pretty compact. To make your camping or survival a bit more "comfortable" I would suggest carrying some kind of fire starter material, either cotton balls with Vaseline rubbed into, or even some commercial fire starter material. By doing this, you can have your fire up and running in a couple of minutes, and once the fire is going, get ready to cook because the stove heats-up fast - no waiting!
I played around with the VitalGrill for a couple of weeks, and really found it to be all it was advertised to be. I was able to cook soups, fry burgers, and even roast marshmallows over the twigs that were burning. A few times, I had to add a few more twigs to keep the fire hot, but it wasn't any problem - and you should always keep extra fuel on-hand - make sure you have enough to get through your cooking needs.
I really liked the little VitalGrill, and I had some concerns about how the stove would work without the blower - so I tried cooking without it. While it still worked, it didn't cook nearly as fast - I actually got spoiled using the blower motor. And, as I mentioned at the start of this, a pair of AA batteries will last 35-40 hours - that's a lot of cooking. My batteries didn't show any signs of quitting on me during my testing, and you can easily pack some spare batteries with the stove in your pack.
While cooking over a camp fire is a lot of fun, especially when out camping, you have to build a fire in a safe area, and more than likely, any camp fire you build will bring unwanted attention to you, and in a SHTF scenario, you may not want others knowing where you are at. With the VitalGrill, there wasn't much smoke to be seen at all - and that's a good thing. And, you burn a lot less fuel with this stove, than you would with a camp fire. I honestly couldn't find anything to fault with this little stove - it worked as advertised and you can cook on it faster than you can with some other small survival stoves. Only slight drawback is, this stove doesn't fold-up, but it is still a very compact stove and you can fit one in your backpack, or the trunk of your care with your bug out gear.
Now for the good news, and I expected this little VitalGrill to cost a whole lot more than the $69.99 retail price. I honestly thought, that because of the blower motor (fan) that this little stove would have cost at least a hundred bucks. So, I was pleasantly surprised at the $69.99 price. The VitalGrill is made in Canada, but can be found at retailers all over the place, or you can order direct from them, and they can ship this super-cool little survival stove directly to you. Be sure to check out their web site because they also have a barbeque grill accessory that transforms your VitalGrill stove into a barbeque grill. - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio