Outside magazine, September 1994
A few years back, the editor of these pages had to tone down a glowing review I'd written on the Outback Oven, a great gadget that lets backpackers enjoy fresh, hot baked goods without the hassle of a traditional Dutch oven. Having just returned from five days of noshing on pizzas and brownies on the trail, I was feeling as pudgily pleased and about as objective as the Pillsbury Doughboy.
With time, however, objectivity returned, and I became willing to forgo the odd frittata to save a pound and a half in my pack. As if in direct response, Traveling Light has now come out with a version of the oven that weighs less than half a pound and can do just about anything the original can.
The heart of the Outback Oven Ultralight is a metalized fabric dome that fits over your own cooking pot as it sits atop your camp stove, circulating hot air around and over the pot and essentially converting it into a convection oven. A diffuser plate between pot and flames keeps food from scorching, and a small thermometer sits above the whole contraption to give you some degree of control. Broken down, it all fits inside an MSR cookset with room left over for a WhisperLite stove.
A pot is a little trickier to bake in than the original oven's shallow pan, but it works. (I did burn my coffee cake a little on one side, but then again, I'm not exactly Betty Crocker at home, either.) The convection dome makes the rig very efficient-Traveling Light's tests show that it takes about a third less fuel to bake a pizza in the Outback Oven than to prepare freeze-dried foods that require boiling water-and therein lies the Ultralight's versatility: It can melt snow for winter camping or reconstitute freeze-dried foods at a much lower fuel cost than a pot alone, and the diffuser plate can be used to help control scorching while frying or simmering. Those applications alone will probably put the Ultralight in my pack-and I wouldn't kick it out for doing a tasty mushroom-and-olive pizza, either. $27.50. From Traveling Light, 1563 Solano Ave., Suite 284, Berkeley, CA 94707; 800-594-9154.