Monday, June 13, 2016

Gear Build: Alcohol Stoves

The MSR Pocket Rocket vs. The Alcohol Stove
The camp stove is one of those critical pieces of equipment on every backpacker or trail hiker's list and the alcohol burning stove does a nice job of getting your meals prepared or coffee made in the morning.  It may not have all the bells and whistles of a stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket, but it certainly gets the job done.

One really fun thing to do, especially when you're itching to get out on the trail but can't, is to build your own alcohol stove.  You certainly can buy a pre-engineered, precision manufactured alcohol stove that will last for years and years, but for the do-it-yourselfer, making your own alcohol stove is fun, rewarding and far less expensive than buying.

Common Household Cans for the Alcohol Stove
There are no shortage of everyday household items that you can use to build a stove of your own.  I've seen videos and blogs on no less than a dozen home built alcohol stoves made from mini beverage cans like Ginger Ale, Red Bull, and Venom to Fancy Feast Cat Food cans and the like.

Odds are if it's made out of metal and held food or fluids at one point, then you can build your own alcohol stove out of it.

Some alcohol stove builds take more skill, tools and precision than others.  The good news is that for the most part, even the simplest design can still bring very useable results.  But if you like getting into the engineering about vaporizing fuel and orifice size for fuel jets then by all means have fun with it and go for something more complicated.

Before you dig in too deep though, understand that most alcohol based stoves are going to boil 2 cups of water in anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes and use roughly 1 to 1.5 ounces of alcohol.  You can science it up and reduce that wait time and/or fuel consumption but if you're in no horrible rush to boil your water for a meal or for that coffee, then even the simplest alcohol stove build will get your water ready in about 6 minutes.

My advice to the first time stove builder is to start with the most basic and simple model and practice that build a few times. Once you've mastered your first stove, feel free to go ahead and up the difficulty and experiment with it.  That is certainly part of the fun.

The Fancy Feast Stove
If you're building on a budget, the simplest and most inexpensive of all the builds I've seen is the Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove.  Armed with a can of Cat Food, a Drill or Hole Punch and a Black Felt Tip Marker you can make an Alcohol Stove for well under $1 [minus the fuel].  And don't let the simplicity and low cost of this stove make you think you are settling for an inferior stove.  On the contrary, not only is this stove the simplest, it also boils 2 cups of water in under 6 minutes.  That's assuming you keep it well wind protected and keep a tight fitting lid on your water pot.  And that's not that far off from many of the other more expensive, more time consuming and more difficult stove builds.

Here's a link to see one of the many How-To Videos on Building a Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove.

I too started with a Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove and have had it out with me on many a hike.  Although I am completely content with my current stove, it's always fun to try out new ideas and builds.    That's why I'm going to be adding a new component to my stove - carbon felt and an interior tomato paste can.  I'm not so much looking for an improvement over my stove as much as I am just interested in trying something new.

And I'll be making two of the fancy feast - carbon felt - tomato paste can hybrid stoves.  One is for me and the other one I'll send off free of charge to anyone who chimes in below with a comment on what type of stove you use.  After a week or so, I'll pick a winner at random and get in touch so I can send you a free stove.



Thanks for reading!  See you on the trail.

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