At some point, you’ll need to eat. During the day, if there’s a battle going on, you may be limited to cold or dried food just to keep going. And that’s fine, I regularly do short skirmishes on just a hot dog in a bun. But to survive a weekend will need a lot more calories (there’s no KFC handy), and a hot meal or drink is a welcome boost to the system and therefore to the player performance.
To get hot food, you’ll need fuel. That’s actually the thing I’ll quickly talk about first, rather than the cook systems.
Solid fuel stoves are available, that use wood or whatever else you can collect and burn from the forest floor, and you could also include campfires in this. Wood as a combustible is free, generally, and easily available at most sites. However, you’ll need to ensure it’s dry and will require some collecting beforehand. They’re really nice for normal camping trips and the fire box style stoves pack up flat, taking up very little space, but maybe not the most practical if you’re playing airsoft. Additionally, depending on the event, smoke might be undesirable, especially if you’re deep behind enemy lines. Much cleaner and quicker are gas stoves. A cartridge of gas should last a weekend depending on how much cooking you’re doing, and you don’t have an issue with smoke. The last option is a hexi style stove. These run on small white fuel tablets, which take up very little space versus a gas canister, or fuel gels.
So, from that, the wood stove is probably the least practical, although a nice little fire will give you warmth. Here are some examples, which are reasonably priced in a few different styles, and it does mean that you get free fuel which is a bonus. Here’s a pic, although they come in several styles. A circular one will take up more space than a square one that packs down into flat panels.
Moving to gas, there are two styles of gas burners that are worth looking at. The first is a very compact option that screws into the top of the gas canister, like this –
These stoves have been popular with campers for ages, are very small and very lightweight (although you still need to carry the gas, which is quite bulky). A nice, simple design, they can be picked up for very little, such as this one.
The other style worth looking at is a Jetboil, made famous by the company of that name. Jetboils are a full gas based cooking system, and typically retail for around £100+ for the decent versions. They are extremely good bits of kit as you would imagine, reliable and very highly rated. Here’s a pic –
For about half the price, military kit maker Highlander, who I’m a big fan of, have made their own version, the Fastboil. I know a lot of guys that use them, like Ronan from ARII, and they’re great bits of kit. These rapid boiling gas stoves are pretty good for quick brews, or heating up a ration pack, though less good for actually cooking. They stack together inside the outer cup/pot, so you get the full cook system together rather than buying a separate stove, then a pot, handle etc. As the name suggests, these things are quick to boil your water and very easy to use, and are available in a very fetching camouflage colourway…
The last option on stoves is the hexi style like this excellent BCB bushcraft version, which fits nicely into mess tins or pockets –
Look how small and compact that is. It folds open, so your pot or mess tin can sit on top, and is basically a simple metal tray that contains your lit fuel blocks, and the BCB version comes with a little windbreak too. Ideal for the most lightweight setups. Fuel tablets and fuel gels are cheap and easily available, and take up less space than gas canisters. Unfortunately, the stove doesn’t come as a set of cook kit so you’ll need to look at getting something to cook your food in, ideally a military mess tin or mess kit set.
So what do I use? I prefer the hexi style stoves just for the more compact fuel option. But I have the excellent BCB Crusader cook kit. It’s a very well made, stackable set that runs off a little stove at the bottom, which takes tablets or gels, or even a Trangia burner. Now, I haven’t touched on the Trangia cook kit although I do use one religiously for camping only trips. I feel that for airsoft, as nice as it is, it’s just a bit too big and bulky for what we need. The burner can be bought separately and runs on liquid fuels like methylated spirits, so i’ll link it here if you want to take a look at just the burner. Vango do a nice little setup using the trangia style burner too;
You could even run the Trangia burner with one of the wood burning stoves at the top, which would make for a very compact setup, and with the advantage of not having to find dry firewood.
Going back to the Crusader kit, it fits into a pouch and contains the stove, metal pot/cup, a lid that i bought separately for the metal pot/cup, and then it fits the British 58 pattern water bottle and plastic cup inside of that, so I have all the containers I need in as small a space as possible. That’s even better than a Jetboil type system which just has one pot. I’m yet to see anything on either the military or civilian market that I’d swap my Crusader kit for. There is a “black” set available which is non stick, but I’ve seen the coating come off after some use and I’d rather not be ingesting that. One worthwhile upgrade though is the Crusader Mk2 stove.
The Mk1 is fine for hexi tablet fuel, and they’re fine to boil a container of water with but don’t last very long beyond that. I have a Mk2 too which is taller, has better ventilation, and allows a Trangia stove to sit underneath, which means you can fill it up with alcohol or meths and burn for longer, which is beneficial combined with a metal wind shield for helping to generate some extra heat in cold conditions and radiate it into your tent. It’s solid enough and wide enough to fit all sorts of pots and pans on top if you wanted something different from the Crusader set. As a lightweight option, a cheap titanium pot like this works well (you can get more expensive branded ones, but a titanium pot is a titanium pot. Get one with a handle though – linked one has two plus a ring on the top to lift the lid off safely using something other than your hand), and you can store stuff inside it inside your pack.
Another favourite item of mine, which might be a bit old school for some, is a German army style mess tin set. There’s something cool about being out with retro kit (it’s from ww2) and its a really well designed piece of kit, consisting of a pretty big pot, with a handle, and two smaller pans. Unlike the Crusader kit, there’s actually space inside to pack your food or a small cooker, potentially both, and it’s a nice thing to own if you like military history. I have the original version, but the reproduction ones are just as good, cost about the same and are obviously in new condition too. It’s a lot heavier than a titanium pot however, so if you’re carrying kit, go light.
Don’t worry too much about plates, you’ll be able to just eat out of the pot or a cup or something, but do remember cutlery to eat with!. These sets are a great idea and take up a little less space than a normal set from your kitchen. I’ve linked the BCB version because I do like the kit BCB do. Other things to add to your cook kit are a little container of oil, and some kitchen roll or a sponge to clean your pot out with afterwards. I do carry a little container of washing up liquid too, just to make sure its all cleaned properly ready for the next meal. Sniping is a lot more difficult when the last meal you had is all over your underwear and running down your leg.
Last thing to mention, is lighting the fire. Just take a lighter, or a box of matches, inside a waterproof bag and you’ll be fine. Yeah, I do love a good flint and steel setup though, so here’s a link for one if you want a more traditional feel to your fire creation. I like this set because it has all you need and a neat little box to keep it (and tinder) in. Genius. The telescopic gizmo is a metal tube for getting oxygen to your fledgling fire, and pencil sharpeners are perfect for getting dry wood shavings for tinder.
Common sense rules when setting up a stove – place it on something that isn’t going to catch fire. Clear a space on the dirt or find a stone to cook on, although flat stones are hard to find and you want your stove to be stable. Do be careful when you’ve got masses of kit all over the place do (tidy airsofters are rare).