“Überleben”—German: to survive or to outlast
Established in March 2016, Überleben is a relatively fresh company with strong roots in the outdoors. Since I first noticed this company on the scene, I got the impression of robust and reliable gear that can endure the harshest conditions—and deliver!
I first saw Überleben up close and personal when a fellow writer in my neck of the woods showed me his Überleben ferrocerium rod and stove. When I tried out the ferro rod, I became even more curious.
I contacted Überleben co-founder Tim Garcia and got a brief background about the products and the company. After that, the quality materials and manufacturing spoke for themselves. Out of the box, the products were handsomely packaged with reusable plastic bags that feature a stunning forest photo printed on them.
The Kuksa Cup was not packaged in the same plastic. It featured a leather thong, a carabiner and was made of a type of oak, rather than the traditional Scandinavian birch. In addition, it was machined rather than hand carved. The oak grain was very attractive and will acquire a nice patina. I would think there would be less cracking or swelling with the hardwood oak than with birch, but it depends on your environment and the treatment applied to the wood. This being said, by machining these cups, Überleben achieves consistency across the board.
The five-panel, steel-construction stove was weighty, but solid. There were no sharp edges to be concerned with, and it comes with a canvas pouch that will help keep the inside of your backpack clean when soot starts accumulating on stoves and cook pots.
The ferrocerium rods feature Sånft-kōrr, which is the company’s proprietary ferro formula blend that they also designed. Manufacturing is split between the United States and Asia.
I set out to my personal camp to use these three products, which do work together well as a bushcraft kitchen setup. The stove, ferro rod and kuksa all work in unison for a comfortable, cozy woods experience—which is what I always want when going into the woods!
Zünden Fire Starter
- Diameter: 3/8 inch (about 15,000 strikes)
- Showers sparks at 5,500 degrees (F) to ignite even wet fuel—at any altitude—from the Sånft-kōrr ferro rod
- Premium, handmade, 100 percent hardwood handle for a natural textured grip
- Includes fire rod, six-function scraper and MIL-SPEC 550 paracord lanyard
- Weight: 3.1 ounces
- MSRP: $18
Over the past 20 years, I have used just about every type of ferrocerium rod (fire steel) on the planet. In my opinion, it comes down to “simple is better.” The fewer the moving parts on any piece of outdoors gear, the better off it will be.
Amid the myriad tube gadgets, spring-loaded, made-to-fail strikers, multi-screw-on bits and the other gimmicky varieties on the market, Überleben went back to the basics. Its simple ferro rod is encased in a sizeable piece of wood for a good grip—not a two-finger, pinch type that seems to be all too common. The Zünden ferro rod has a larger-than-usual wood handle that is easily modified to fit in the fire steel loop of a sheath or possibles pouch; not to mention, it could be stained and finished to match your other gear, whether axe or knife handles or a knife sheath. The heart of the ferro rod is the thick, 3/8-inch rod, which is plenty thick for long-term use.
The striker is billed as a six-function multi-tool. It features measurements in millimeters, has a cap lifter for bottled drinks (which also doubles as some sort of HEX key), a rounded serrated rod and tinder scraper bit, a map scale and a sharp spine scraper. Bottom line: It opens bottles and scrapes both tinder from fatwood or soft poplar in addition to striking a ferro rod.
I will go on record here and say that the Überleben striker is the best ferro rod striker I have come across to date. I even use it on my other ferro rods for the consistency I’ve come to expect. It just throws a better shower—every time. Over the years, I have seen decent to less-than-ideal ferro rods that excel with a good striker. This is a prime example of that, because it made my other, cheaper ferro rods throw big sparks.
In the Eastern woodlands, humidity is high during the summer. Natural tinder, such as poplar bark and river birch, react differently when trying to get a fire started than in late fall and winter. A subpar ferro rod just won’t cut it. The Zünden ferro rod is somewhere between a hard Swedish Light My Fire ferro rod and a soft rod.
With a softer ferro rod, the thumb-on-thumb technique is not possible in the same way as with harder ferro rods. I found I could both shower sparks and execute the thumb-on thumb-technique with the Zünden. I used it on natural tinder, as mentioned, and simple wood shavings known as “fuzz sticks.” Soft wood has a very low ignition temperature compared to hardwood. The amount of heat put out by the Zünden is said to be 5,500 degrees (F), which is powerful enough to ignite softer wood such as yucca, pine, poplar, willow, spruce, hemlock and cedar. This task seemed to be no problem for the Zünden, which is aptly teamed up with the striker for some fierce sparks.
Stöker Flatpack Stove
- Fueled entirely by twigs, bark, pine needles, etc.
- Simple five-panel assembly provides low profile/flat packing
- Anti-corrosive and extremely strong HD 304-grade stainless steel
- Includes unwaxed canvas storage sleeve
- Weight: 14.5 ounces (including canvas sleeve)
- MSRP: $38
After decades of cooking over an open fire wherever possible, I finally caved in about two years ago and made myself a hobo stove to see what all the craze was about. Trying to emulate the wood-burning portable stoves that were available at the time, called “twig” or “bio” stoves, I made mine from a large coffee can and used minimal tools.
After using this stove, I started to understand the concept a little better. Less fuel focused in a smaller area means more efficient time and fuel management. I also understood how much of the natural resources I was saving, because these stove types often use twigs and branches as their main fuel. Compare that to the larger amount of wood needed with an open fire to burn down to coals … before even attempting to start cooking. After a few of my own self-devised bio stoves, I decided to try an actual manufactured bio stove from Überleben.
The Stöker Flatpack Stove is not light. At 14.5 ounces (including its canvas storage pouch), it is made with HD 304 stainless steel, which is strong, flexible and very corrosion resistant. I used it outdoors for a month straight without ever bringing it back from my semi-permanent camp during the most humid, rainy time of the year in the Eastern woodlands.
The five-panel design slips and locks into place without too much fuss. It loads fuel from the front via a large, round port. In a traditional fire-making style, with the tinder at the bottom and kindling and fuel on top, this seems the obvious choice, due to the ease of igniting the tinder. However, it could also be used with the fuel (larger pieces) at the bottom and kindling above, with the tinder at the very top. This is commonly known as an “upside-down fire.” Smallish bio stoves seem better suited for a more traditional fire-making technique due to their enclosed designs, using the hot rising air, because fire naturally will rise up whenever given the avenue to do so.
Once the stove is lit, it can be stuffed with longer sticks and wood splits that extend up beyond the top of the stove to burn down and start to establish hot coals. This only takes a matter of minutes, and the stove soon will be ready to place a pot on top. I was using the stove in conjunction with a Burtonsville cooking rig, having the kettle hanging over the stove, with a higher flame from the sticks protruding out from it. It made for a higher, hotter flame, which was perfect for my setup, because I could adjust the height of the kettle over the stove.
A simple pot supporter for smaller-diameter cook cans/pots is provided with the stove. It is just a couple of steel strips in the shape of an “X” that seat well into the stove. These strips support smaller cooking apparatuses or balance a larger-diameter frying pan. However, I only used it once and decided to either hang my cooking containers over the flame or place them directly on top of the stove.
I emulated the photos I saw on the Überleben website and used a flat rock to cook on top of. I got the stove nice and hot with coals and continued heating the flat rock slowly to avoid cracking it. I placed a few drops of olive oil on the rock to see if it would be balanced and stable. I then cooked an egg right on top of it; it made all the expected sizzling sounds!
Throughout the month, I fried fish and vegetables on the flat rock over the stove. I also made a mushroom, onion and cheese omelet in a small cook pot. The stove boiled gallons of water for coffee, stews and soups at a fraction of the fuel I would have used for an open fire.
The hidden gem of the stove is its flat canvas pouch. It is not treated with oil or wax but could be if you needed it. I did not. However, I did use it as soon as I got to camp. I grabbed the pouch and filled it with poplar/birch bark and kept it stuffed with wood shavings for the next fire I would make. While handling hot stuff, it makes for a quick oven mitt or hand protector when it’s time to empty the hot coals. It really rounds out the product and makes it more than multi-functional in any camp.
Dursten Kuksa Cup
- Handcrafted from 100 percent natural hardwood
- Includes full-grain leather lanyard, carabiner and care instructions
- Capacity: Approximately 8 fluid ounces
- Weight: 5 ounces
- MSRP: $24
Having spent the last three summers in Scandinavia, I am a kuksa fan. My first kuksa was handmade and from a marketplace in Finland. It was beautifully crafted of birch wood, but it was small. It held about 5 to 6 ounces—not quite enough for a cup of coffee or miso soup. The Überleben Dursten Kuksa (made from oak) holds a full 8 fluid ounces. It comes with a carabiner and leather lanyard to attach to your pack or to carry traditionally on a belt.
I have seen older diagrams and photos in which kuksa cups are carried right on a belt via some sort of cord. They were kept handy for dunking into communal pots of soups or coffee. At 5 ounces, it isn’t light, but knowing that while sipping a hot cup of brew or soup you won’t burn your lip definitely outweighs the weight.
This company’s stellar packaging and quality manufacturing help set its products apart; in addition, they put a modern spin on time-tested bushcraft gear.
It also makes a kettle with a hardwood lid-grab and a fold-down hanger-style handle wrapped in 550 paracord. I can imagine many different ways to use this kettle over a stove and open flame.
Tim Garcia is not stopping there—Überleben has more products in the works. This company has a bright future. I am eagerly looking forward to its new products to see what else Tim comes up with.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.