To the dismay of some, Campy Gear is not a line of flamboyant outdoor wear. The company sells various camping gadgets, including a line of stove-heaters. The Chubby is from the middle a the lineup that includes The Little Guy, Wiry and Hunky.
I learned of the Chubby from some other nomads. I figured its compact size (about 8.5″ tall and 7″ wide when in heater mode) and its double duty as a stove or heater made it a good candidate for those in small rigs. So I plunked down my own money for the version that includes a small pan and a hose for connecting to propane bottles.
The Chubby was designed to use butane-propane blend fuel. The 100-, 220- and 230-gram canisters fit within the base. Larger canisters will stick out the bottom. That would technically work, except the Chubby would be sitting on the canister instead of its feet, making it less stable.
Butane-propane blend is one of the most expensive fuels for devices like this. A 220g canister is currently $5.74 at Walmart and up to $19.00 each from Amazon. That might be tolerable for those going on occasional outings, but it’s not a good fuel choice for daily use on a budget. That’s why the propane option is important. The hose screws into the same fitting used by the canisters. The other end screws onto 1-pound propane bottles. And, as we know from other propane-fueled equipment, there are adapter hoses that allow you to connect bottle-using devices to bulk propane tanks. It is theoretically possible to connect one of those hoses to the Chubby’s proprietary hose.
The instructions say not to turn the butane-propane canister upside down when screwing it into the Chubby. I cheated a little bit in order to judge whether I was aligning the canister to the fitting. Then I turned everything upright to finish. I discovered it’s much easier spinning the Chubby onto the canister than spinning the canister into the Chubby. Be sure to have the stove/heater knob turned all the way off —clockwise — before attaching the canister or you’ll have gas hissing out all over the place.
Then I removed the canister and tried the hose that connects to propane bottles. I couldn’t get it to work at first, thanks to the lack of details in the instructions. Gas wasn’t flowing. I thought flipping the lever one way or another would open a valve. It didn’t. But then I noticed teeny-tiny minus and plus signs. Ah-ha! I’m supposed to turn it. That did the trick.
You can cook two ways. (And, actually, you can also heat two ways since cooking creates heat, too.) The quick, easy and most stable way is with just the base unit. However, this puts the burner very close to the bottom of the pan, creating a hot spot. That’s fine for something like boiling water, but not so good for things you want to cook evenly. You can also cook from atop the heater cage. But the pan tends to slide around — and maybe off. And having more weight on top can make the Chubby tippy.
If you get a Chubby, you should also have some pliers, preferably with rubber grips. The first reason is that the air adjustment lever is right by the burner. The instructions say you only need to adjust it if “you’re at a different altitude,” (different from what?) but it doesn’t say which way to change it. I’m guessing moving the lever to the left leans out the air-fuel mixture and moving it to the left enriches it. If you move it too far either way the burner shuts down. I’m nearly at sea level right now, so I left the lever alone. It burned well. [Now for a swerve off into a crazy old man rant. Altitude is height in the air, people. Height on the ground is elevation. Thank you.]
The second use for pliers is adjusting the vent atop the heater cage. It will get glowing hot right away. The instructions say you get the best heater results with the vent closed and the best cooking-while-heating results with it open.
A third use is to detach the heater cage while it’s hot and, for some reason, don’t want to wait for it to cool down. The cage has tiny blobs on its bottom edge that snap into holes in the base unit. Those need to be finagled out in order to free the cage. There’s a metal carry handle that snaps into the top edge of the cage, but you don’t want to have it attached while the Chubby is fired up, because it will get hot, too.
OKAY, BUT HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
It’s the last week of February in the Mojave Desert, so it’s not cold. The Chubby didn’t get a serious test of its ability to keep a vehicle warm. The low temperature in my van was 52°F/11°C just before sunrise. (I know. I’m not complaining.)
I put the Chubby on the floor and fired it up full blast. The core of the heater cage glowed orange. I waited for the warmth.
I was sitting about four feet away. I held my hands toward the heater. I leaned in. I felt heat about a foot from the Chubby and about two feet above it. I was surprised. And disappointed.
I tried the Chubby with propane. Wow, what a difference! I felt the heat almost immediately. Propane really is the way to go with these things. It’s cheaper and burns hotter. And since it burns hotter, you don’t need to burn as much, saving even more money.
I tested the Chubby’s cooking capabilities by making some scrambled eggs in their little pan — first on top of the heater, then in stove mode. Then I tried my usual pan. Temperature control was a little tricky with both. Heater mode isn’t as hot since it’s farther from the burner and the cage extracts some of the energy along the way. And there’s the hot spot issue in stove mode.
The Campy Gear Chubby isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad. It could be the answer for some people. Just stay away from the butane-propane blend unless it’s all you can find.
The instructions say nothing about minimum distances the Chubby should be kept from flammable objects, but there’s an open flame and lots of exposed hot parts, so use caution. Campy Gear does warn against using the Chubby in an unventilated closed space. They also suggest a carbon monoxide detector. Stay safe.