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Backpacking Alcohol Stove

A Backpacking Alcohol Stove is the lightest and most reliable way to heat your food and water. There are no moving parts to break or wear out. There are also no " O " Rings to wear or break. How about the hose joining the fuel tank and stove? Don't worry, an alcohol stove doesn't have a hose either.

Alcohol is a clear liquid with no odor and some types are drinkable. When you use all the alcohol in a container you can just rinse out the container and fill it with water for drinking. This gives you a double use for your containers. You can reuse the container for alcohol after it was filled with water with no problems. Alcohol will absorb the water. The only thing that will happen is you will end up with a small amount of condensation on your pot.

An alcohol stove has an alcohol burner and a windscreen. some alcohol stoves require a stand to hold your pot over the burner, and some burners require the pot to sit directly on the burner for optimal performance. Some burners require a priming pan and some do not. To light an alcohol stove you add the fuel to the stove, prime the stove and light the primer fuel. You don't have to pump up the pressure.

With a petroleum fueled stove you also have to add in the weight of the fuel tank that holds and pressurizes the fuel. A tank can add almost a pound to your stove setup.

The way most alcohol fuel stoves designs work is the burning alcohol in the primer pan heats the stove, which causes the fuel to boil. The boiling creates combustible vapors and will create pressure in a closed stove. The vapors are forced out the stove jets under low pressure where the vapors are mixed with the air and ignited. The hotter a stove gets the faster the fuel boils which creates more pressure which creates more flame and heat.

Alcohol Stove Principle

Types of Backpacking Alcohol Stoves

There are several types of alcohol stoves depending on if they use internal pressure, jets or a pot stand.

Open Flame Stove

Open Flame Stove An open flame stove is basically an open top container. You can make one with an opened cat food or tuna fish can. Just remove the cat food and wash it out. With an open stove you need a stand to hold the pot about an inch above the can. The flame is easily blown out by the wind, the flame is not very hot and is inefficient ( uses more fuel to boil a cup of water).

Chimney Stove

Chimney Stove A chimney stove is an Open Flame Stove with inlet vents. The vents allow more air into the stove which produces more flame and heat. Because the air is mixed with the fuel vapors inside the stove the stove creates more internal heat causing the fuel to boil with more vigor creating more vapor to burn. Convection ( the principle of hot air rising ) draws in more air through the vent holes which will cause a slight afterburner affect to the burning vapors. Also the ignited vapor is protected by the sides of the stove so the flame doesn't blow out as easily as an open flame stove.

To make a chimney stove you can use a cat food can without the cat food and take a paper punch or drill and put about 8 quarter inch holes in the can a little more than half way up the sides. Do not overfill or the fuel will spill out the vent ports.

Alcohol Wick Stove

Alcohol Wick Stove An alcohol wick stove is like a lantern that uses alcohol instead of lamp oil. The wick allows the fuel to vaporize in the air and ignite. As the fuel vaporizes into the air more fuel is drawn up the wick much like in a straw. The wick should fit snuggly into the fuel reservoir. Tight enough to prevent the flame from creeping down the wick into the stored fuel but not so tight that it restricts fuel flow and air to enter to prevent a vacuum.

The larger the wick and the more wicks you have the larger and more flame you will have to create flames. A Wick Stove has the same heating power and efficiency as an Open Flame Stove.

There are various types of wick stoves that use numerous types of wicks. Some wicks prevent fuel from spilling.

Low Pressure Side Burner Stoves

Low Pressure Side Burner Now we get into the types of stoves that need priming or warm up times. A Low Pressure Side Burner is much like a Chimney Stove with an open top but your pot acts as a stopper to allow pressure to accumulate in the stove and come out the vent holes. A side burner's vents are referred to as jets because the vapors are forced out though the holes under pressure. The name is from the location of the jets which are on the side of the container about two thirds of the way up the stove.

To light a side burner you just simply add your fuel and light it. No priming is necessary, however you have to wait at least 30 seconds before you can place the pot on the stove. The stove has to heat up to boil the fuel to create pressure and force the vapors out the jets. If you place the pot on top prematurely the pot will smother the flame and put out your stove.

Open Jet Alcohol Stove

Open Jet Alcohol Stove

An Open Jet Stove is similar to a side burner. The open part is the top and the jets are situated on the top part of the stove. If you make your own stove using a Pepsi can the holes go on the very top that is angled. This aims the burning vapors up and outwards towards the pot.

The top of the burner is open just like a chimney stove and your pot is the cap of the stove. Your pot restricts the vapors from exiting the top of the stove which consequently builds pressure and forces the vapors out the jets. The stove will create a noise much like a pressurized petrol stove.

All the above stoves have open tops. Except for the Open Top, Chimney and Wick stoves the rest have to be warmed up to the point where the fuel boils for the stoves to work properly. If you put your pots on the stove before the fuel is boiling the flame will be smothered. While you only have to relight the stove, it is a nuisance, especially when you are hungry or anticipating a hot cup of tea.

Pressurized Alcohol Stove

Pressurized Alcohol Stove A pressurized alcohol stove has a closed top. You add your fuel by removing a stopper. Some stoves have a concave top ( a depression that creates a bowl ) that can be used as a priming pan. After you fill your stove and seal the top you pour a little alcohol into the depression. You light that fuel to prime the stove.

When the stove reaches operating temperature ( the temperature where the inner fuel boils and creates pressurized fuel vapors ) the burning priming fuel will ignite the jets.

To speed up the process of reaching operating temps you can use a priming pan that will immerse the complete stove in flames. If you use a priming pan you can place your pot on the stove before operating temps are reached. This will also speed up your cooking time. If you ignite the priming fuel in the concave recess at the top of your stove you have to wait for your stove to fire off.

Use caution when using a pressurized alcohol stove as over priming or operating at extreme temperatures inside a windscreen can cause excess pressure and rupture your stove, sometimes with explosive force.

A pressurized alcohol stove is the most efficient of the alcohol stoves. They can generate more heat due to the pressure they can develop, which also makes them more dangerous. They are also more resistant to wind.

Priming Pan

A priming pan is a shallow pan made of aluminum, steel or titanium. It has to be larger in diameter than your stove but small enough to fit inside your windscreen. A primer pan also makes an alcohol stove useable in colder weather.

You can make an inexpensive priming pan out of aluminum foil, flashing, tuna or chip dip can. Just watch out for sharp edges when you cut down the sides.


Windscreen Because most alcohol stoves operate with a lower pressure than petrol and gas stoves it is easier for the wind to blow them out. A windscreen can solve this problem and also make your burner more efficient by channeling the heat closer to your pot. If you need a stand you can also incorporate a stand into the windscreen by drilling holes at the required height and inserting metal rods through the holes to hold your pot.

The windscreen should be about an inch larger than your pot and your pot should fit at least an inch into your windscreen. If the handle on your pot is less than an inch from the bottom you can cut a slot in the windscreen to accommodate it.

If you carry multiple pans of different sizes you can make your windscreen adjustable. I made a windscreen out of a piece of 3 inch aluminum roof flashing with a folded T on one end. This allows me to move the flashing like a lasso to adjust to the size needed for the pot or cup I want to heat up. I made it 3 inches high so it will fit into my pan.

Esbit Alcohol Burner

Esbit Alcohol Burner

The Esbit Alcohol Burner is an Open Jet type made of lightweight brass. It comes with a snuffer and adjustable flame cap and a handy screw on cap to save your unburned fuel. Brass has similar heat transfer characteristics as copper so it is easy to heat your fuel to a boil.

The burner weighs 3.25 ounces without fuel and is small enough to fit inside a cup for transportation, saving space in your pack. Even though it is small it produces enough heat to boil a cup of water in less than 4 minutes using less than a half ounce of fuel. It can use any type of alcohol but the best results are with denatured alcohol available in paint, hardware and general stores.

I just got one to lighten my pack and am kicking myself in the ass for not getting one sooner. I retired my pump up fossil fuel stove.

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