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Backpacking grill product test 2020.
Note: This page is a work in progress. Feel free to pass along your suggestions.
This is a page dedicated to reviews of light weight, reasonably compact campfire cooking grills suitable for backcountry travel by hikers, canoe and kayak, horse, bike, motorcycle and others.
Most of the grills being advertised or promoted as backpacking type grills on the Internet are not suitable for backcountry use; so here is my evaluation of a few grills that are sold as backpacking type campfire cooking grills. If a grill is larger or heavier than the grills in this evaluation it is not suitable for hiking or bicycle travel, and probably too big and heavy for most users traveling by motorcycle, raft, canoe, kayak, small boat, ATV, horse or even compact car, in my opinion.
The heaviest grill in this test weighs just under 23 ounces. The largest surface area is 7 inches by 18 inches.
I like light, legless grills that will fit in a backpack. The grill should have a carry bag that will keep soot inside the bag. Rust resistant grills are nice. The frame should have round corners and be free of parts that will snag or wear your gear. Simple is better than complex. Rapid cooling is a positive. Most backcountry cooking is done in pots and pans; but if you want to grill fish, burger or small anything directly over coals, you probably need a grill specifically designed for that purpose.
Grills: We used to have photos keyed to the text but they were eliminated to save size and space and photos of grills are easily found on the internet. Several of the grills are available at Amazon, for instance. The review includes products obtained and tested in the past which are (or may be) still available. On down the page are products tested more recently. No products page is ever complete. If you feel something worthwhile is missing, please bring it to my attention email@example.com.
Folding Grill: For decades, the most commonly available grill suitable for backpacking has been a grill with legs that fold up under the grill body. If your local sporting goods store has small campfire cooking grills, this is probably it. The grill body consists of two frame pieces of carbon steel rod that have thin rod stays spot welded to them at about one inch intervals. I have owned examples made in China, Taiwan and the USA. The design has remained relatively constant. My current model weighs 12.7 ounces with a surface area 12.4 x 6.5 inches. The whole outfit is chrome or nickel plated, depending on the maker. Coughlans and Stansport are among the suppliers of this grill type, but there have been many more smaller brand name suppliers.
The Good: Cheap, $5 - $15. With care can provide several seasons of casual use. Large enough to be useful but still compact. Lighter and better if legs removed. Persistence of this design suggests it finds favor among campers.
The Bad: Cheap. No carry bag. Frame rod ends are typically unfinished and can wear holes in whatever they rub against. If legs are left on, the grill is not very stable in most real camping situations and you can knock the thing over and your meal into the fire. Short if legs are removed. A couple of the samples I have owned had weld failures. OK for direct grilling of firm meats and larger vegetables, stay spacing a bit wide for burger or most fish. Plating burns off after some use and the grill can rust.
GSI Grill: Product is distributed by GSI Outdoors of Spokane, Washington. Dealers sell it by different names but they are the same thing. Made in China. Typical price is around $12. Grill weight is 22.3 ounces, surface is 15.75 x 7.9 inches. The frame is in two identical parts with the stays welded between them. Material is chromed carbon steel rod. I have only had my sample on the fire a couple of times. I was afraid the two frame segments might separate and the stays pop away from the frame over campfire heat. But the grill held up fine. The stays are closer together over one half of the grill and wider apart on the other half - a nice and thoughtful touch.
The Good: Rounded edges with no sharp protrusions to poke or rub holes in packs, boat bottoms, clothing, etc. Inexpensive but thoughtfully designed - the close stay spacing is probably OK for burger or small vegetable pieces. Seems durable.
The Bad: No carry bag. Plating will burn off and grill can rust. Just my opinion, but I would prefer the grill 1 to 2 inches longer. Heavy for a backpacking grill.
Grilliput Grill: I paid $30 for my Grilliput. It doesn't come with a carry bag because it doesn't need one. This is a modular gizmo with all parts slipping into the dominant main frame stainless steel tube. All of the other parts are well crafted stainless steel, too. The Grilliput is a cute and clever gadget from a company called Nuardis. Far as I can tell, Nuardis is two guys, Reinhard Gerling and Reinhard Balsfulland who make their headquarters in Verl, Germany. They are marketing people. Theere are claims the grill is made in China, but no construction location is found on my product or the box it came in.
Nuardis hires sophisticated marketing firms to promote the product. Weight is 19.7 ounces. Working surface is 9 x 10 inches.
The Good: Clever design, good craftsmanship and materials. Good product for someone who wants to have a novelty.
The Bad: It's modular. I wouldn't dream of buying something with a bunch of pieces to take out in the backcountry. The legs are thin and can sink into soft ground with any weight on the grill. If you lose them the grill won't work (the legs hold the thing together). The legs screw into the frame tubes and the narrower tube doesn't have enough thread to support the legs after a little wear, and wear will happen because the legs don't want to stay tight, at least not on my model. The grill is heavy. Both the cap and the frame tube ends are abrupt and can wear packs or anything else they rub against. If you cook meat or if pot meals boil over the grease and spill can wind up in the frame tubes and be difficult to remove.
The Grilliput has been successful in the market and as a result there are copycat products made in China with different names. Models seem to come and go. I have used two of the copycats, the Nashrio and Elenker. They look cheaper and generally are. The frame tubes are significantly lighter. On the positive side, they both showed some design improvement and were significantly lighter. I used both of them over fire and thought they were better than the original Grilliput at lower cost and significantly less weight. By the time you read this there may be other models. Check them out carefully, but don't buy a Grilliput just because it is the original or because it looks stouter and is heavier. Heavy isn't good.
There is a popular campfire cooking site on the web authored by an REI representative. She seems knowledgeable about outdoor camping and cooking generally but recommends the GSI and Grilliput as good campfire grills for backpackers, which goes to show how little some modern backpacking "experts" really know about campfire cooking.
Backpackgrill.com Grill: (apparently no longer available) Made in Seattle stainless steel grill with a single stay welded to the frame in lengthwise configuration. Comes in two models, standard has a straight stay paralleling the sides of the frame and a Deluxe model that has a stay with multiple bends to supply greater support for whatever you are grilling. I bought a Deluxe model for $25 in spring of 2011. The web site claims the grills are "made from quality stainless steel rods." Weight is listed as 7.5 ounces. My grill is made from good quality quarter inch stainless tubing and the weight is 6.3 ounces. So the new grills are not going to be as light or as good as the model reviewed here. The tubing has thick walls. Dimensions are 5 x 4.5 x 14.25. The grill has a half inch of taper and slips easily into a plain but sturdy nylon bag with Velcro closure.. They have an "Order Online Today" link which was dead when I checked the web site. The email address was also dead.
The Good: Strong and sturdy grill of proven design. Bag should give good service. Product should provide a lifetime of use. Price is reasonable.
The Bad: Tubing heavier than necessary and steel rods will be even heavier. Welding is crude and unprofessional, but this is a campfire grill and not a work of art. The Deluxe model doesn't really seem to provide significantly more support for grilled foods than the Standard Model (despite appearances), which is similar to the old REI tubular grills and the Purcell Trench Packers Grill.
TITANIUM BACKPACKING GRILL: (periodically available) I bought this grill from BACKPACKINGLIGHT and the cost was $70. Advertised weight was .9 ounces and that was what my scale said. The grill is made of commercially pure titanium wire. Dimensions are 11.4 x 4.9 inches. The grill comes in a plastic bag recommended as a carry bag. Don't expect the plastic bag to last. This is a clever item, carefully designed and well made in Boulder, Colorado. The wire ends are cropped close to prevent snagging on anything. Edges are rounded. Wire is wrapped properly. The product should be durable and long lasting. It is clearly designed for small twig type fires becoming popular with some ultralight backpackers who wish to avoid carrying a stove, still want to have warm food or hot drinks but don't want to use a real campfire. This grill has one serious problem - see The Bad.
The Good: Light, well designed, nicely crafted niche market item.
The Bad: Price. No real carry bag. I first tested all the grills by putting pots full of water on them to see if they would support the weight. I put a kettle with a liter of water on the titanium grill and it held the weight but that seemed like about maximum. I consider that plenty of cold strength for the intended use. But when I built a modest twig type fire under the grill and put the kettle on the grill it only took a few seconds for the grill to collapse. OK, too much weight. So I used a very light, small kettle with a half liter of water. It took a few seconds longer for the grill to collapse, but collapse it did until it was sitting right down on the fire.
Titanium has a high melting temperature and a reputation for relatively high working temperature, but relatively high doesn't mean campfire temperature. This product might do fine with very light weight on the grill. I don't consider it adequate for real cooking. Fire didn't damage the grill. Commercially pure titanium wire can be bent back into shape readily.
Over the past few years campfire cooking has become more popular among backcountry users. Increasingly, models are available on Amazon, eBay and elsewhere. They are typically made of a solid rod stock frame of stainless steel and woven stainless steel wire surface welded to the frame. They are generally small (but not always) and designed for backpackers. Most of them seem to be made in China, but not always. Some of the welding is professional quality, but not always. On balance, they represent a significant step up from the above grills. They are not expensive and should give years of service to the buyer. Generally, they appear to be made on contract and the names, sizes and prices can change frequently.
Qinhan grill: From Amazon. Frame 15.7 in. by 5.5 in. Frame of 5mm Type 304 stainless steel with two lengthwise stays of the same material welded in. Shape is rectangular. Weight is 9.8 oz. Carry bag was described as canvas and also non-woven. Welding is of good quality.
The Good: Sturdy product, good size for a backpacking grill. Should last for a long time. No significant warping over fire. $12.22 when I bought the grill.
The Bad: The grill is a little heavy but should last a long time. Best for pot and pan cooking or firm meats. Modest warping into slight U shape over fire, common to this type of grill, can be bent back to shape, probalem does not persist.
Zaboomi Grill: This grill from Amazon is built with a single piece stainless steel frame .12 in. in diameter, butt welded (a good thing). The woven wire is of .06 in diameter material. Both the rod stock and wire mesh are significantly lighter weight and less sturdy than other grills of similar construction tested for this review. The grill is significantly larger than other models at 14.25 in. in length and 9.9 in. in width. The grill came with a very light nylon carry bag with the grill name and a logo silk screened on and a cord lock closure. Weight was 8.4 oz (238 grams) grill only. Note the size and weight difference between this and the above grill and the other grills with rod stock frames and woven mesh surfaces. The grill had a few rough edges but not bad welding for mass production work.
The Good: Grill is light for size, has light carry bag, inexpensive - $14.95 (like all of the made in China grills). Has a large surface area and fine mesh weave for those wanting to roast light but bulky items over the fire. Will probably last a long time with care.
The Bad: Unlike the other grills of similar but stouter construction obtained for this test, the Zaboomi is not stout enough to hold pots and pans of normal size over a fire. The grill sagged over flames with moderate heat and weight. I do not like the dimensions of the grill. Size is too large for the construction materials selected. In addition, it doesn't fit well over the real world of campfires. It is too short and too wide. This failure to match the materials to the grill size or the grill size to the real world campfire size is a common problem and the consumer should check size and weight carefully before making a purchase, especially in the case of online purchases.
Valtcan Titanium Grill: Available from Amazon. I did not buy this grill because it is similar to the Woodsman Grill reviewed below. The Valtcan grill reviews were not as good as the Woodsman grill. Titanium is being used more frequently for outdoor products because it is strong and tough. However, unreasonable attributes are ascribed to it. For instance, sellers may suggest ultra-high temperature tolerance, or suggest stainless steel grills are not hygienic or leach toxic materials into food with over fire use while titanium does not have these characteristics. This is just nonsense. Titanium is safe to use in direct contact cooking food, just like stainless steel. Critics of aluminum have complained the material is not safe as a cooking surface for decades, but experts do not agree with them. Aluminum is not acceptable as a grill material because it oxidizes and melts at a low temperature, but it is a good campfire pot and pan material for backpackers because it is light and durable (if alloyed) and an excellent conductor of heat. Food tends to stick to aluminum pans, Titanium and stainless steel are not good conductors of heat, are more durable than aluminum, food sticks to both but not as bad as aluminum. Stainless steel can tolerate a lot of heat. Pure titanium and most titanium alloys can tolerate moderate heat but can lose strength rapidly around 800 degrees F. Some alloys will hold up better. Grade 9, for instance. Titanium alloys are being developed rapidly. They are used for valves in some racing engines, for instance, though life span has been short. But it is obvious titanium alloys with high strength and high heat resistance are just around the corner for a host of consumer goods.
The Woodsman Grill: by Arcadia gear, advertised as 99.7% pure titanium (not an alloy). Length 10 in. Width 6.5 in. Grill comes in a light nylon carry bag with a cord lock closure. Frame is rod stock material .16 in. in diameter butt welded with a cross member running across the center width. The surface is woven wire mesh of material .08 in. in diameter. The wire mesh segments are .45 inch square on center, which seems to be aproximately a norm for this type of grill whether in stainless steel or titanium. Workmanship is generally good. Grill weighs 5.5 ounces (155 grams). So this grill is neither heavy or light.
The Good: This is a stout little grill that if not abused should last a very long time. It is more expensive than stainless grills - $35 when I ordered the grill (like the Valtcan). It has a serviceable nylon carry bag. Good workmanship.
The Bad: From my perspective, this grill is too short and wider than necessary. For a small grill it is over built. For instance, the stainless steel Purcell Trench Streamside Travelers Grill is 17 inches long and weighs 5 ounces. The center frame piece running across the width of the frame doesn't seem to serve any purpose. If the frame was going to bend from too much weight it would bend along the long side, not the short. When the grill was placed over the fire the grill bent (warped) downward toward the fire in a shallow V rather than U configuration with the bend point right at the titanium center crossbar. The bend was more pronounced than with the stainless steel grills. Since this grill is only a little lighter than a stainless grill of similar construction and size, I don't see the point of buying titanium. Pure titanium will not hold up as well to campfire heat as stainless steel.
DRIX Bushcraft Grill: USA owned and operated, according to the package literature. Ordered from Amazon - $19.95. 12 x 6 inches and 7.7oz. (219grams). This is the same increasingly common grill construction - rod stock stainless steel frame with woven stainless steel mesh. Frame rod stock is 3.75mm in dia. mesh material stainless steel dia. - 1.75mm. Comes with canvas carry bag with Velcro closure and belt loops wt. of bag - 3oz. (83 grams). Mesh squares are half inch. Good construction.
The Good: This is a better size than most of the grills made with woven wire mesh and rod stock frames. And generally the construction is better. There was a modest U bend over the campfire but this is typical for most grills, especially light grills until they get conditioned to campfire heat. User simply bends the grill back to shape the first fire or so. I cooked meat over this grill and it was reasonably easy to flip the cooking meat if the cook waits long enough for the meat to sear. In other words, the woven material works OK for campfire grill construction. This is a serviceable product which should last many years.
The Bad: The canvas carry bag is too heavy. I like cotton canvas but it can mildew and rot. Nylon carry bags are much lighter and tougher, ounce for ounce. Still, I would prefer a longer grill and asymmetrical construction.
DZRZVD Grill: These grills are available from Amazon - $14.99. Made in China. They are advertized as 12.6 inches long and 7.48 inches wide with a rod stock frame and what sounds like wire mesh pressure welded to the frame on one advertisement and real welding on another. Welding is a process which by definition requires heat. Pressure welding is a common phrase. It should be pressure bonding. I would not buy a pressure "welded" product if a real welded product was available for about the same price. So I ordered one. The advertisements don't say the material is stainless steel but it acts like it. The butt welded frame is of .20 dia. rod stock and the woven wire surface of .07 inch diameter material is real welded to the frame. weight 11.7 oz. (333 grams).
The Good: Nice grill, very sturdy. Welding and workmanship nice, polished. Very reasonable price for what you get. Silk screened nylon bag with cord lock closure.
The Bad: Too heavy! But if you can live with too heavy this is a nice piece of gear.
Redcamp Grill: Made in China and purchased from Amazon for $19.99. This is a pretty heavy duty folding grill consisting of 2 16.5 x 8.125 inch grills held together by three stamped metal hinges. Material is stainless steel. The frame is rod stock .16 inch dia. material not butt welded. Stays are of .05 inch stainless rod stock. Comes with a heavy duty black nylon case bound with nylon ribbon. Weight is 1.56 lbs. (611 grams).
The Good: The good thing about this grill is that the hinges could be removed and provide two grills. The bag will hold one or both, so users could carry one or both. For a family or group, both grills could be used to provide campfire cooking of a substantial meal. Size is good for low price.
The Bad: The ends of the frame are not butt welded, so this provides frame weakness when and where you don't want it. The cheap hinges tend to hold the frame in form and removing the hinges takes away that integrity, but I do not advise purchasing this grill as a folding grill - too heavy and you are stuck with the large size. Additionally, the carry bag was poorly constructed and already fraying. I wouldn't buy this grill, but it does provide a lot of grill(s) at low price.
Expedition Research Titanium Bushcraft Grill: This is the star of the show, for grills not named Purcell Trench. Made in the USA by Expedition Research LLC, according to the web site. I paid $29.99 for mine. 4.5 inches x 9.75 inches (139 grams) of sheet of titanium nicely finished with rounded edges beautifully laser cut slots of various sizes and configurations in the sheet of metal. This is a nicely made and packaged piece of kitt. Will it warp, I wondered? I didn't put a lot of fire on it but it worked very well, no warping on my grill.
The Good: This is just a nice product. It came in a nice box. The company owners included a personal note with the sale (I ordered from the company). The grill is small, not ultralight but a very nice addition to the product line available to backcountry campers.
The Bad: The company web site. If you just looked at the company site you would not buy their products because it looks like they have never prepared a meal over a camp fire in their lives. If you look for background on the company it is a little sketchy and doesn't inspire confidence. I am guessing they have this item made on contract by a metal shop, but I don't know that. It may be made in house. Whatever, I like this product and intend to take mine with me into the backcountry this season and give it a solid workout, if backpacking is an option this season.
Purcell Trench Grills: I own Purcell Trench manufacturing. So, of course, I think they are the best. Purcell Trench grill information is available at this link: GRILLS. The grills are made of thin wall tubular stainless steel or titanium tube. Each model is available in an all tube configuration or tubular frame with expanded and flattened stainless steel sheet (mesh) welded to the frame. Our grills come in three frame sizes. The small Packers Grill is similar to the standard Backpackgrill.com grill, except much lighter. We approximated the style from a grill REI sold decades ago. I bought one in the sixties. We sold our grills through REI for a few years. Our Voyageur Grill is the largest grill in this test, with a 7 x 18 inch usable surface, and 8 ounce weight.
Purcell Trench grills have rounded, smooth edges. They are one piece. You just pull them out of the pack or gear box, put them on the fire pit or ring and start cooking. They all come with well crafted, coated nylon bags. Generally, they are light, strong, and will last a lifetime. Prices vary from $35 to $135.
The Good: Almost everything.
The Bad: Stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat compared to aluminum or carbon steel, so those nice grill marks you get from your cast iron propane grill surface at home will mostly be lacking on stainless grills. Light weight grills are easy to carry but when you move food on them the grill sometimes wants to follow the food, unlike a heavy campfire grill you haul in your truck. Our mesh (expanded metal surface grills) will warp over campfire heat due to the high expansion ratio of stainless steel. The mesh cools back (close) to original shape. This is a minor problem but can tip a pot a bit. The mesh grills and the titanium grill benefit from a break-in fire. Price.
Our Titanium Packers Grill only weighs 1.9 ounces and is made of Grade 9 titanium, about twice as strong as commercially pure titanium. The tube is stress relieved rather than annealed (like our stainless tube), so it is quite stiff and customers should take care to avoid bending the grill. Titanium grills require some care - a bit of break-in time - and they will not tolerate as much weight or heat as stainless steel grills.
Some river runners and horse packers use oven racks from camper or toaster ovens. Most toaster ovens won't take much heat. Camper ovens are generally heavier and bulky. They are typically chrome plated carbon steel. My complaint is that people haul them into the backcountry and leave them. I have been in camps that had four or five of those things around - warped, burned, rusted junk.
There are other light weight, small grills on the market for twig type fires. I have seen a couple made of titanium rod stock. I haven't been very impressed with the designs but I am sure we will see improvements. Tripods are popular with some users. I have one, don't like it. The grill moves around too much while I tend the food and I dislike having to carry the tripod. Without a rock ring or trench to control fire heat you have the same problem backyard barbeque grills of the '50s and '60s had, fire sucks air in and sends heat up in a narrow column under food in the center of the suspended grill. This is the same problem grills with legs but no rock ring or trench have. Nobody makes those old style backyard barbeque grills anymore for a reason, the same reason you need a rock ring or trench for your campfire cooking grill.
Campfire grills are accessories. I have cooked lots of meals on a campfire without a grill. You can suspend kettles from sticks, rest fry pans on rocks, set pots on coals (will cool rapidly from oxygen debt, though). Me, I'm willing to carry a campfire grill.
Comments may be sent to Don Tryon firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a nice camping season.