My wife, being of the practical sort, is always on the lookout for gear that she thinks I'll enjoy. More than anyone, she knows my bent toward items that are simple, practical, and effective. On our skiing trips earlier in the season I was quite frustrated by our canister gas stove. In my experience, utilizing these stoves in temperatures below freezing is a trying feat. Even using the suggested "winter mix" of propane and isobutane I got spotty burner performance and short canister life as the propane vaporized and burned at temps the isobutane didn't- leaving a half full canister of butane. Useless below zero. I also have a sordid history with liquid fuel stoves. All the models I've used have been finicky, prone to failure and impossible to adjust.
So this year my wife surprised me with an item I must confess I never knew existed. Something called the Little Bug (http://littlbug.com/index.htm). 4 pieces of die cut stainless steel that fit together in a remarkably simple design and breakdown into a very small semi circular package. Not meant to be a stand alone stove- you must add fuel and that fuel is something literally growing on trees. The LittleBug is powered by a handful of dry twigs and branches placed in the bottom of its burn area. After unwrapping and examining this thing I was sure I would like it. Just quirky enough to be enjoyable and very practical for the uses I have.
On a ski trip on New Year's Day we stopped for a quick rest break and gave the stove a try. I assembled it in all of 20 seconds and another minute beneath a black spruce yielded a handful of dead dry fuel. I stuck to branches that were easily breakable by hand- say no larger than 1/2" in diameter. No tools were required to either gather fuel or assemble the stove. My wife struck a spark and ignited the tinder and in a moment placed the stove over the tinder pile and added fuel. A few seconds later we placed a 1 liter pot of water on the stove and I (being the nerd) looked at my watch to check the time. 3 minutes later we had a liter of water at a roiling boil, much faster than my canister stove is capable of heating 1/2 that amount of water at these temperatures.
Some real pros to this stove is that fuel is available pretty much anywhere below the tree line and I was surprised at how fast and efficient the stove was compare to cooking over an open cook fire. I was also surprised at the lack of smoke compared to open fires. I believe the heat building up within the confines of the stove and beneath the cook pot yields a much cleaner burn than in the open atmosphere. I've done a fair bit of cooking over an open fire and over a backpacking stove and I've got to say this combines the best of both worlds. The stove is also very lightweight and compact for easy transport- there is even a smaller version for lightweight backpacking. I'm not sure how locales where fires are not permitted will treat the Little Bug but up here for my cold weather trips with our ready supplies of dry black spruce it is nearly ideal.