Saturday, May 14, 2016

Alcohol Stove or Canister Stove? Read This Before You Buy

Before you make a purchase on your first backpacking stove, read this.  Really.  I'm all about the latest gear trends as that stuff can be exciting to own, try out, critique, etc.  But I'm also about practicality and saving money.  If you're with me on that, read on.

Camp stoves are a serious piece of equipment since you need them to perform rain or shine.  If they fail it could mean the difference between a full, content stomach and well, you can guess...  So, it's certainly important that your cooking system be reliable.  Heck, it outta be a flat out guarantee.  You need it to work every time.  But, there are alternatives to spending a bunch.

It's no joke that there are some really interesting, fun to own gadgets out there and whatever might have caught your eye don't dump a ton of money on a camp stove.  Stash that extra cash aside for the super neat stuff like a hammock underquilt or maybe a cuben fiber tarp.  Equipment that can make you more comfortable in the cooler months is a smart buy.  Spending in that area will keep you out on the trail where you want to be.  Cooking can be accomplished in many ways so think through a high end purchase on what you're going to take on the trail with you here.

Even though there isn't a ton of glamour in a home made Alcohol Stove, it really does the job well enough for what I need.  And I'll bet that for most over-nighters out there, an alcohol stove will work just fine.  I've been out a half a dozen times so far this year and I find myself reaching for my Alcohol Stove over my MSR Pocket Rocket every time.  And with good reason.

One of my very first purchases was the MSR Pocket Rocket stove and although it has yet to disappoint, I find that my alcohol stove does everything I need it to at a fraction of the cost and weight.

Let me explain... Most of the meals I've made out on the trail have been pre-packaged by Mountain House.  They run about $6-$9 on average and are lightweight, easy to make, incredibly tasty and make for super simple clean up.  What's not to like?  I've tried a handful of them so far and I've yet to find one I didn't like.  Even if they are a small premium over 'home food', what they make up for in weight tradeoff, speed and overall taste, it's worth it to me to pay that little bit extra.

So, with a meal like that, what are the demands on your cook system?  It's got to be able to boil water.  That's it.  Now, maybe the MSR Pocket Rocket, Whisper Lite, or Jet Boil can boil that water faster than an alcohol stove, but I'm willing to trade off that extra minute or two for a cost savings of up to $60 or more.  True, alcohol stoves need a bit more protection from wind but even with that extra bit of care you need to take, it's still a winner in my book.

There are no shortages of how-to videos on making your own Alcohol Stove on You Tube.  After scouring a bunch of them for about an hour or so, I made my own out of a Fancy Feast Cat Food Can and a single hole punch in about 4 minutes flat.

There are more than two dozen different styles of home made alcohol stove out there.  Some require minimal time investment while some might take a few hours depending on your skill level.  There are those that really dig into the science behind how the fuel vapor acts in certain configurations of jets and they experiment what seems endlessly on variations.

To each his own I say there.  As long as the building materials are inexpensive and tools are on hand then I say go for whatever style flips your trigger.  The Fancy Feast style is by far the cheapest and the easiest to make and for all the times I've used it, it performs.  I've got zero complaints.  But if you're a real tech savvy gear head and you want to pimp out your own ultra dynamic alcohol stove then cool.  They look like fun actually.  For me, I opted to take the easy route and see how things went first.  I might crank up the IQ on mine when I've got some down time.  But for now, I'm a happy camper.

So there it is.  If you're in for getting a good deal and saving your hard earned cash, set aside about 5 minutes and build yourself an Alcohol Stove.  It does the trick.

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