How to Choose a Camp Stove

by Darren Bush on March 22, 2012 · 51 comments

in Uncategorized

The question of how to choose a camp stove sometimes ends up being a discussion with the rancor of a religious debate. Ultralighters, basecampers, and everyone in-between has an opinion. So let’s explore the different options, and maybe we can come to an ecumenical agreement.

There are many stoves on the market, and almost all have unique features that give them their niche. Ultra-light, ultra-small, ultra-blowtorch: they all have functions that serve a certain kind of purpose on a certain kind of trip. The “best” stove is the one that’s best for you, when it’s best for you.

Stoves are usually divided up into two main categories: liquid fuel stoves and canister stoves. They are often further divided into basecamp and portable stoves. Let’s take a look at some of the features and drawbacks of the various stoves in each grouping.

Basecamp Liquid Stoves and Canister Stoves

Advantages: Higher heat output. Pot stability. Capacity for larger pots.
Disadvantages: Bulky and heavy. For canister stoves, the heat costs a little more.

I lumped the basecamp stoves into one category as they are more or less identical in their functions. These are the large, two-burner (or three) stoves you recognize from when you were a youth. They’re big, they put out a lot of heat, and they’re great for recreating conditions that rival the home kitchen. In fact, we’ve been known to use our nostalgically green body with red tank Coleman two-burner for cooking french fries on the porch to keep the kitchen from becoming a franchise of McDonald’s with all the attending grease and none of the profit.

I also have a flat propane-fueled basecamp stove that fits nicely into spots where the Coleman would be a squeeze.  It doesn’t throw off the BTUs of a Coleman, but it’s quiet, clean, and quite a bit lighter. So what if your coffee takes eight minutes instead of six?  You’re outside, enjoying a lovely view, not at Starbucks.

The benefits of basecamp stoves are obvious: more heat and more stability. If you can cook in a kitchen, you can cook on a basecamp stove.  But what they gain in convenience, they lose in portability.  Take one backpacking? Nope.  How about on a canoe or kayak trip? A canoe trip, perhaps, especially if you’re not portaging and if you’re cooking for a very large group (over a dozen or so). A kayak trip, well, they’re probably not going to fit through the hatches. Oh well.

Portable Stoves


Advantages: Best cost to heat ratio. Good for air travel (if stove is clean). Perform well in cold weather. Option to burn multiple fuels. Usually field-serviceable.
Disadvantages: Can be fussy and require priming to start. Possibility of pollution is higher.

A venerable Optimus 8R

These are common and popular, as they can travel all over the world, many burning whatever fuel they come across. They are lightweight and portable, sometimes stowing inside your cook kit to save space. They are relatively simple little contraptions, so they are long-lived and usually field-serviceable. They are considerably less expensive per BTU as liquid fuel doesn’t come in canisters.

Oops. Flare-up.

However, liquid-fueled stoves have downsides. They are less convenient, as they usually require priming and can do a lot of flaring up before they settle down to business. They can be somewhat noisy, like my old Svea 123 that I’ve had for decades, but it’s a nice little putter, which I am told sounds like a very small V1 rocket. Probably not very comforting to someone who lived through WWII in London, but I like it.

Many of these stoves have interchangeable jets that allow you to use different fuels such as automotive fuel or kerosene. If you don’t change the jet, they’ll smoke like an Italian movie star and eventually clog until they’re cleaned out.

If you are considering air travel, your stove must be whistle-clean. A friend of mine who went backpacking in Tibet wanted to take his stove with him but was having trouble getting it clean enough for the airlines. I told him something like, “Look dude. If you can afford airline tickets to Kathmandu, you can afford a new stove. Make sure it burns kerosene and donate it to the locals when you come home.”

The biggest disadvantage is pollution—a very small amount of white gas or kerosene can pollute a lot of water (10,000 gallons according to the Leave No Trace people), so if you’re filling your stove on a sandbar and you spill a few tablespoons of fuel, you’ve just polluted thousands of gallons of water. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use liquid fuel stoves, they just require more care.

The Trangia Methanol Stove

Advantages: Simple. Safe. Dead quiet. Use non-petroleum based fuel.
Disadvantages: Lower heat output. Less control over heat. Fuel is less convenient and can melt your Swiss Army Knife handle.

There is one liquid stove that isn’t conventional, for fuel or for function: the Trangia stove. A Swedish stove that burns methanol, also known as wood alcohol, it’s very fuel-efficient. The Trangia is very stable and self-contained and can be used safely in areas where a gas stove may not work. It functions by burning alcohol in a small wicked cup, sort of like a Sterno but with more efficiency. It has one small vice, and that is it can take two to three times longer to boil water, as methanol is not loaded with the BTUs that you find in white gas or kerosene. That said, you just have to alter your camp set-up routine—get out the stove and light it up, and when you’re done setting up your tent, you’ve got your water boiling.

Fuel is usually obtained at a pharmacy if you want the highest quality methanol. If you have a friend who’s a chemist at the local college, even better.  However, the methanol is tough on plastic. Spill it on some plastics and they melt or at least get very sticky.

The nicest thing about the Trangia stove is its quiet nature. Sitting on a sand bar on the Wisconsin River, I’ve heard herons hunting frogs in the shallows a hundred yards away, and the only sign of a boiling kettle was the lid rattling when the water was ready for tea. That’s nice. And since methanol is a wood alcohol, it’s a renewable resource. Bueno.

Another great feature about alcohol stoves is the safety factor. A spilled stove is easily doused with water (try that with gasoline–nope). My son used one in Boy Scouts and the leaders loved it.

Canister Stoves

Advantages: Smaller. Super-convenient. Lightweight. No priming or flare-ups. Best control of heat for baking, simmering, or frying.
Disadvantages: Fuel is more costly and less available. Canisters must be packed out and you can’t fly with them. Less performance in colder temperatures.

These little beasts have really come into their own in the last few years. Ultralight freaks and backpackers drool at the tiny little titanium stoves from manufacturers such as MSR, Primus, Snowpeak, etc. They’re fast and easy to use, setting up in moments and burning seconds later.

These stoves are more popular now as the fuel mixture has been altered, using a hotter-burning propane-butane combination. They light more easily, and they work better at colder temperatures than the old straight butane stoves.

MSR Windpro, a favorite for precision.

The downsides are considerable for the traveler. Compressed gas cannot be transported on aircraft. If you try to sneak them through the checked baggage, prepare for a very hefty fine and a visit to the little windowless room at the airport. No kidding. And it’s a dumb idea anyway. Also, finding the proper canisters when you arrive at your destination can be tricky. If you’re driving, no problem. If you’re flying, problem.

They’re also expensive to operate over a long trip. If all you do is boil water, no worries: the cost differential is negligible. If you’re cooking beans and rice, that’s one expensive pot of flatulence. You also will have to pack out the canisters, which on a long wilderness trip is a consideration.

Whitney doesn’t burn the eggs!

Other than that, they’re wonderful. A very controllable flame means cooking non-blackened eggs is possible. If you bake with one of the new stove-top ovens, then a canister stove is definitely worth its keep. They are also safer, especially if you’re cooking in your tent vestibule (not your tent).

So Which One Do I Buy?

Optimus (Svea) 123R. 38 years old.

Ah, that’s not so easy. I have a bunch of stoves…an old Svea 123 (the pretty brass stove shown above that has served me since teenage years), an MSR Dragonfly liquid fuel stove for kayak camping, and a baby Snowpeak that I use for backpacking. My Trangia I use mostly for solo canoe trips where I want peace and quiet. I have an Optimus 111 that is a beast–the only portable stove that can boil a big pot of spaghetti for a group of eight without using a sundial to measure boil times. Then there are my collectibles brought back from a stove coma. They’re beautiful, and they work.

An Optimus 8R and 111B.

There aren’t really any bad answers, just compromises. Decide what you’re going to do first, and then choose a stove that matches your needs. Just like shoes, no size fits all, and people have more than one. If you’re going to start collecting things, you couldn’t do much worse than stoves, as they are relatively inexpensive and a lot of fun.

Advantages: Collecting stoves is a cheap hobby and a lot of fun.
Disadvantages: None that I can think of.

Years ago a friend of mine came over to the house for dinner, and we got to chatting about gear. Before too long the picnic table on the porch was humming, and the wives disappeared as the methanol, propane, and white gas flowed like whiskey.  It was what my wife calls a CGM (Classic Guy Moment) when she overheard us discussing the virtues of priming paste vs. alcohol in a dropper bottle.

We ended up spending a few hours puttering around with different stoves, timing water boiling, and just enjoying the blue flames reflecting on the screens of the porch.

CGM, indeed.

P.S.  Ultralight tablet-burning stoves are really cool and really light. I think they’re appropriate back-up stoves, but I consider them to be in a different class. Just my opinion. Your mileage my vary.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris March 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm

No mention of a Kelly Kettle, which uses whatever burnable material you can forage?? For shame. Boil water and cook on top of it, simultaneously.

2 Barry H. March 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm

No mention of a pop can stove? It works just like an alcohol stove (since that’s what it is) and the only investment is a used pop can (and maybe a little JB-Weld if you want it to really last). You can also buy suitable alcohol at any hardware store, typically near the paint strippers/mineral spirits.

3 Ryan H March 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I’m an ultra-light backpacker, and before my last trip I decided to try my hand at using a pop-can burner. It worked like a charm, and since it only weighs as much as an aluminum can and a small squirt bottle of denatured alcohol, the weight and space requirements for a week’s worth of cooking were insignificant!

A search for “pop can stove” will give you plenty of tutorials. The only problem is wind… the flame is rather gentle, so a wind shield is helpful in open areas.

4 TY March 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Here are two other newer camping stoves that burn wood (the second also works with alcohol). The first stove even charges your cell while you cook!

5 Dustin S. March 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Similar to the alcohol Can-stoves mentioned above I use a Fancy-Feast-Can-Stove. It’s extremely light weight and extremely easy to make. Just need a can and a hole punch.

6 DW March 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm
7 Jeff March 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm

The pocket cooker is the last camp stove I will buy. Runs on all natural materials and works like a charm!

8 Stephen Clay McGehee March 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Camp stoves aren’t just for camping. I have a Trangia stove beside my bathroom sink. You haven’t truly experienced a luxury shave until you’ve had a pot of boiling water to dip your shaving brush in. Add a classic double edge razor, Col. Conk shaving soap, and some Old Spice aftershave, and you’ll look forward to that morning shave.

9 Cyrus March 22, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Trangia – the are heavier in the base model. Liquid fuel, two wind screens.

I buy their fuel at walmart. The tip on getting higher quality fuel is a good one.

10 Tom Gold March 23, 2012 at 5:33 am

Great article Darren and really got pics. Chris makes a good point with the Kelly kettle. I find it bulky but very light to carry. 1st choice is always going to be the Trangia for me as it is virtually indestructable and has no moving parts. It is a slow boiler though, a factor that becomes more noticible at altitude.

11 Volker March 23, 2012 at 6:25 am

One problem is wind – especially with simple canister stoves. You will need extra windshields to prevent your flame from just being blown out or away.
Another tricky part: usually the surface you place the cooker on should be perfectly flat.

I found out that both can basically be ignored with the Trangia.

As the pot is placed *in*to the cooker instead of placed on-top of it, the cooking place can be slanted without too much problems (within reasonable limits, should be less than 20 degrees or so).

Wind cannot extinguish the flame(hence the name “storm cooker”) – it only can make handling tricky in really hard wind as gusts can drive flames up so the pot is engulfed in ring of a flames.

Yes, the Trangia is slower in cooking – but then again slower means less critical in timing. A “fire and forget” cooker – you can do other things while it does its job alongside.

12 Graeme Smyth March 23, 2012 at 7:17 am

The trangia is the way to go, works all the time in just about any weather, and works well enough at altitude.

Kelly Kettles work well too, but I’ve only used one twice.

13 Mike March 23, 2012 at 7:30 am

My uncle introduced me to the hobby of collecting camp stoves several years ago. I favor early 1900 military stoves, he goes for anything with a flame. Good hobby and when the electricity goes out, I can still make coffee.

14 Tom Gold March 23, 2012 at 8:26 am

Mike, Any chance you can post some pics ? Would love to see.

15 Ryan Grimm March 23, 2012 at 9:02 am

I find and restore old Coleman stoves quite frequently, often from the metals dumpster. They are virtually impossible to kill, and parts are readily available. I even found a three-burner model, new in box at a yard sale for $10…still had the registration card (a PUNCH card!) in the box.
I also have two of the single-burner backpack models, and use them for tea when I go on picnics…keep the kettle on the boil, and tea for everyone in no time flat.
Indeed, I have almost finished a mock/Steampunk backpack version of an “Officer’s Kit, Tea And Coffee, Mk 1912″ with the stove, tea and espresso cups, kettle and espresso pot etc.
The top folds out to become the perch for the stove and two cups.
ANYway, I love my Coleman stoves, and wouldn’t change for the world.
Which BTW I can get fuel for most anywhere in the world…
I use a Coleman propane adapter so I can use a bulk tank for my Coleman propane stoves. Much more efficient, and cheaper.
For alcohol stoves, one of my fellow Toy Soldiers made one up that uses the alcohol pots with a wick in them made for those buffet table hot servers…it stores in the can used to boil the water in.
I’ll try and post a link if Adam Fritz can find it for me!
It boils 18 ounces of water in 11 minutes.

16 Mike March 23, 2012 at 9:20 am

Another vote for trangia stoves. The reliability and simplicity, combined with easy to find fuel in almost anyplace on earth, offsets the weight drawbacks. If I was going to go someplace where ultralight was a major concern I would find something else, but under all other circumstances the trangia is worth the extra ounces.

As to adjustability of heat, I’m not sure what Darren means, the trangia has a little “valve” that can be used to dial the flame down. It concentrates the flame a bit, but can be used to get the flame down low for more gentle cooking. Maybe not as sensitive as some kinds. But certainly enough for typical campsite needs.

17 Patrick March 23, 2012 at 10:14 am

“10,000 gallons (of water is polluted in a liquid fuel spill) according to the Leave No Trace people”

I’ma going to need to see a link to some actual science. What constitutes “polluted”? Just because the water contains some other substance at a given dilution doesn’t mean that dilution level is biologically or chemically meaningful.

Is it unpotable? Unable to support life? Kills fish for miles? Mutates frogs? A molecule of kerosene can be found in a litre of water? That “statistic” sounds way more like LNT spin than reality; the MDS sheet lists the aquatic toxicity at 2990 ppm/24hr for the reference fish. A tablespoon (~30mL) in ~38,000L is around…1ppm. So that fish would have to process 3000L of contaminated water in 24hr to die. There’s no reasonable way any wildlife in a river is going to die or be very negatively impacted by your tablespoon of fuel. Unless you pour it over them and light it.

Fuel spills must be avoided, but we have to recognize that not all spills are created equal.

18 Patrick March 23, 2012 at 10:18 am

Also, I use a liquid fuel stove when we go out backpacking. I despise canister stoves; they’re convenient, but if you think about the waste that canister represents (manufacture, filing, and it still takes energy to recycle the remains!) and the fact I have to lug around useless junk when it runs out. Also, partially full canisters are a pain; I don’t want to use the precious fuel at home, but I don’t want to lug around something that is only half full…

19 Mike March 23, 2012 at 10:45 am

Everclear works as substitute for wood alcohol. Infact it’s one of the only acceptable uses for everclear.

20 DAN March 23, 2012 at 10:59 am

Nice comparison. Once I get done with school this summer I will be getting Optimus 8R or newer version. I will be bicycle camping around my state.

21 dgd March 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm

My preference is the MSR pocket rocket. The fuel can and my collapsible mug nest inside my titanium pot. I put a rubber band around it and put it in a stuff sack with some other stuff. Works great and boils water in just a few minutes.

Action shot from a three-night trip last October

22 dgd March 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm

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23 jeff March 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm

When I am bike touring I do very well with a Sterno folding stove. That and a stainless steel dog bowl as a Wok work very well. The stoves also works with Trioxane Solid Fuel Tablets which always goes into my backpack.

24 Mark Petersen March 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I just a Coghlan’s folding stove and a can of Sterno. It’s slow going but still works for my needs which is warming water for a mountain house meal or some herbal tea.

25 Jordan March 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

This is great article. Being an eagle scout, having been in scouting since i was in 1st grade, and working at high adventure camp in new mexico thats the largest youth camp in the world, i have had a lot of experience with stoves. The main type of stove i use is portable ones, mainly MSR which is my favorite gear brand. I have a simmerlite right now, which is their lightest series. It works great, but the adjustability is not great (not a problem for lightweight backpacking). the dragonfly is their high end series. It is a lot bigger than the simmerlite, but it is really a stove fit for kings, with the best performance that ive seen. The whisperlite is their base series, its supposed to be very reliable, however i have had nothing but problems from them. The biggest perk is with the international kind you can use pretty much any fuel, from straight stove fuel, to diesel, to literally jet fuel.

With all these stoves however, the most reliable thing to have is the skill to light and cook on a fire, which is not as simple as it sounds, especially making the right type of fire, and even lighting one without matches or a lighter. Flint and steel kits are not only a good skill to have, but if you get the traditional ones, they are pretty badass also.

26 eddieviper March 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm

What about taking a fire and throwing the food in the fire stove? What about that one?

27 Lee March 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I have a few Coleman stoves, from vintage to new, one, two, and three burners. I like to day trip in my truck and use them to cook breakfast or lunch at parks or campgrounds. Often a woman will walk by and be intrigued by what I am doing, and ask me when do we eat? I usually find myself sharing lunch and conversation with a new friend.Is it possible the old Colemans are chick magnets?

28 Brian March 23, 2012 at 3:47 pm

From a backpacker:

I am another fan of the MSR Pocket Rocket. Super efficient and easy to pack with an entire kitchen inside one little ditty bag. The stove can simmer and fry with ease; in any environment I’ve experienced. The stove is great for beans and rice. If you don’t think so, try a different cooking method; I re-hydrate rice and chili dishes regularly.

The argument concerning packing out the canister seems incorrect to me. Any liquid-fuel stove will have a packed out container, whether it be self contained or a bottle. A canister weighs next to nothing when empty. My local outdoors-shop also offers recycling of the canisters.

On a safety note, do not use a 360 degree wind screen with a top-mount canister stove. Honestly the pocket rocket doesn’t need one anyway. It does sound like a jet-engine but it boils water fast enough that the disturbance is very brief.

As for long trips including air, a little research often yields a local guide service or outfitter that can get you whatever you need, where you need it. I prefer to drive or ride a train to my backpacking locations anyway; a lost bag ruins the best laid plans.

Also, my canisters last forever and are not hard to find. I have found over time the canister to be cheaper. The longevity of the can is a credit to this type of stove’s efficiency. One canister usually gets me through several weeks-worth of trips.

29 Ryan March 23, 2012 at 7:32 pm

I’m with Ryan Grimm, you really can’t beat a refurbished Coleman stove. I’ve restored one that we found in my girlfriend’s grandma’s garage, it is from the 1940′s and works great. The only downside, it will not work for backpacking, I dig the small MSR stoves for that purpose.

30 Moeregaard March 23, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Back in the ’80s I did a lot of weekend camping trips to sports-car races in my ’65 Jaguar E-Type (it always got us there and back, so no jokes, please…). My white-gas Coleman single-burner stove tucked away nicely among the tent, cooler and a couple of folding chairs. Nothing like watching a day of racing while looking forward to an evening of top ramen and beer….

31 Jonathan March 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm

… or, real men can use any of a number of wood-powered cooking stoves, from lightweight woodgas stoves ( which double-burn the smoke, to chunky rocket stoves which take any wood and give a study cooking hob and a lot of heat for your wood.
Great article!

32 jsallison March 23, 2012 at 9:22 pm

lessee, camping out with unca sammy over 20years my two favorites were the M1950 camp stove, would run on mo-gas or coleman fuel, or the esbit folding solid fuel stove. Usually brought the coleman fuel with us as while the diesel came to us out in the cav platoons, the mo-gas didn’t and hoping the 1SG or supply daddy would remember to bring some back was not a high percentage solution. He (the 1SG) also took a dim view of siphoning his jeep, don’t ask how I know. ;)

The esbit would reliably heat up a canteen cup of whatever or a couple of cans of c-rats du jour.

The sterno folding stove was a sometimes seen alternative but it took longer than the M1950, and took up more space and was more fragile than the esbit., More expensive, too.

For real heavy duty water heating take the lid from a .50 cal ammo can and wedge it under the heater exhaust on an M60-series MBT. Then fill the lidless .50 cal. can with water and balance it on the lid in front of the exhaust and voila, in 15 minutes most excellent shaving water.

You could also partially fill it and heat up c-rats in pretty short order but a close eye must be kept on it in this usage because they *will* blow if left too long.

So my vote for the ultimate camp heater will be a surplus M60 MBT. ;)

33 jsallison March 23, 2012 at 9:28 pm
34 Bob March 24, 2012 at 3:23 am

A campsite with out a campfire is one without a soul
I have a small portable wood burning camp stove
I use it in the garden or on a garden table.
Wrap up warm and sit around the fire with a glass of wine, and look into the flames.
Now that what I call chilling

35 Mark March 26, 2012 at 12:33 am

The littlebug stove ( is a great wood stove as well. I used it 13 out of 14 days on a kayak trip in Alaska for all of my cooking.

36 Ryan Grimm March 27, 2012 at 5:59 am

AH! Here it is, the ‘tutorial’ on the “Non-Walmart Grease Pot Cook System”:

Essentially if uses a cheapo grease pot w/strainer as the container and billy pot; a small piece of metal flashing (we used aluminum flashing, can be cut from beer cans if need be) as a wind screen; a bit of ‘hardware cloth’ ( a heavy galvy mesh used to screen windows and doors for security reasons) as the pot support; and a wick-type disposable alcohol burner used for chafing dishes/serving trays.
You COULD of course make up a soda can alcohol burner, cost $0.05 for the deposit…

The silicone rubberband as a way to keep from burning fingers did not work well for me, it melted a bit.
Sized to fit inside the billy can, the whole thing is very portable and I have two in BOB bags for SWMBO and myself.
With the strainer on as a ‘shelf’, you can also use it as a double warmer with a food can on top as it heats water…more useable absorption of heat.
Oh, and I like JSALLISON’s heater as well, but not as portable.

37 JCintheSLC March 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Just wanted to chime in about the Esbit or other solid-fuel stove solutions out there. I carry Esbit tablets as an emergency back up when I’m out backpacking. They are hydrophobic, and will light in wet environments (like anytime you ever try to go camping in Maine), but importantly, you can fly with them. Great backup system, since I need to find fuel for my liquid stove when I arrive, but sometimes I either can’t find it right away, or the fuel isn’t the best quality and I have fouling problems mid-trip. But with the solid-fuel tablets, you can have a reliable backup wherever you go in the world.

38 Stephen Wood March 28, 2012 at 12:30 am

Don’t forget the DIY alcohol burning can stoves!

39 Pete March 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm

One downside of the canister stoves is they are terrible in the wind. Any wind at all and there is almost no heat transferred to the pot. There are windscreens available that help with this: monted on-stove and external to the stove. The on-stove ones must be used with extreme caution because they reflect a lot of the heat back onto the fuel canister. There are ways to make superlightweight external windscreens too, like this one:
Just something to be aware of in your planning and selection.

40 RLF March 31, 2012 at 4:32 am

While this is a reasonable review all kinds of very interesting stoves are left off. For example, my go to base camp stove is the camp chef, either the 2 or 3 burner. Enough heat to cook in Dutch ovens, but still has nice flame control. For backpacking stoves, the Jetboil series is quite nice, I also have and really like my Optimus crux. With the right cook set, the crux beat boil times in the field of all the other stoves on the trip.
Most important advice, know what your purpose is, look at several models and choose what works best for you and the food you will prepare.

41 Dra April 1, 2012 at 4:07 am

I have to put my vote behind the DIY alcohol stove. I’m a fond of my penny stove, and have used it for a variety of things over the past while. I prefer a wood fire while camping, but in dry wooded areas, like the vast majority of California in summer, a wood fire is not an option all the time.

A couple of sodas or beers, a small amount of skill, a push pin or drill, a ruler, and a cutting tool and you can make a highly functional camp stove that will run on a fuel source available just about everywhere. Rubbing alcohol. It doesn’t matter what country you visit, where you go in the world. You can find SOMETHING it will burn. Everclear, high proof rubbing alcohol, HEET.

Best of all, the knowledge of how to make one means you don’t have to bring it with you while flying. Travel to a new country, get two cans, and carry a single penny.

The only real downside is you can’t control the flame. It burns at a set heat, with a given fuel, and the only way to reduce the heat is to raise the pot.

42 Keith April 6, 2012 at 9:48 am

Good to see someone else with a good old 8R. I’ve had mine since the mid 70s. Still works like a charm. A couple of years ago I got interested in alcohol hiker stoves. It is an addictive hobby. You start looking at any new shape can and wondering what kind of stove it would make. I have dozens made from pop cans, aluminum bottles and other containers. Different sizes, burner configurations, pressurized and unpressurized. My little cook/brew kit is a cheap IMUSA aluminum mug/pot containing an old plastic mess kit cup, a little squirt bottle of yellow HEET methanol, pot lifter, a bandana, a pop can stove and coffee packets, teabags and sweetener. It all weighs ounces. Nice to stop on a hill top or by a bubbling stream and quietly make up a noodle lunch or an afternoon cup. I also have a venerable 3 burner Coleman that can be used with liquid fuel or propane, with a conversion kit. A lifesaver when the power goes out on a snowy day.

43 Keith April 6, 2012 at 9:57 am

The idea of being able to make a working alcohol burner anywhere is useful. Fly across country, find a Walmart (anywhere) before the hike, buy 2 sodas (or adult beverages) and a bottle of yellow HEET. I have made them on the tailgate of my truck with only a discarded pop can and my Leatherman tool. Within 15 minutes had a hot cup of tea. Throw it in a recycling bin (double recycled) when you leave.

44 Ryan C April 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

I agonized over my stove selection because I was being really picky… I wanted something I only had to buy once (durable), something that I can use anywhere I go (versatile), and easy to use.

So, before my last deployment to Afghanistan, I picked up wth the MSR Internationale. It will burn practically any flammable liquid (but it will get really dirty really quick with diesel and kerosine), and takes up very little room in my kit. It works just as well in the high and dry Hindu Kush mountains, and the low and humid Florida gulf coast.

45 Arvid April 10, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I’ve almost universally used Trangias for cooking in the wilderness, both on camping trips and during my stint in the Swedish Armed Forces, and I never found them lacking. I can see why people might find them a bit slow, and I wouldn’t try using one to cook for more than two people, but I find that the light weight and ease of use more than make up for it. If you’re leery about using methanol, which is toxic (for example, if you have children with you), it does well with denatured spirits as well, but that tends to impart a slight taste.

46 Robin Noreblom April 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Hi there! This is very interesting stuff. I would like to invite you all to visit my recently born blog on cooking:
It’s a work in progress but a lot of useful things are coming soon.

47 chris November 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Alcohol or methylated spirits also gives off next no carbon monoxide, they use them in small boats to cook and double up as heaters , ive got a few from a turm tourer to triangia to optimus 111T.

48 Chris December 2, 2012 at 8:35 pm

I’m backpacked more than 200 miles last year and have a number of different stoves (MSR Pocket Rocket, Svea Optimus 123, Kelly Kettle, and the Caldera Ti-Tri). If I had to choose only one, I’d choose the Caldera Ti-Tri hands down. The Ti-tri has no moving parts / pumps that can break, burns multiple fuels (wood, alcohol, and Esbit), and is very lightweight and compact. I’ve used it in 5 degree (F) weather and had no issues boiling. Only downside I see is that it’s difficult to just simmer or use different sized pots. In the backcountry I typically just eat meals where I add boiling water, so that’s not an issue for me. When car camping, I keep the stove in my backpack and bust out about 40 lbs of cast iron…

49 chris November 16, 2013 at 11:32 am

On Alky stoves, you need more research.

While ethanol is best fuel meths are fine and cheap cheap cheap if you buy in bulk.


Meth spirit does not,(like ethanol), smoke.

In general a Coleman like stove will heat water 2 times faster not 3 times faster. But your concept of set it up and do something else is PERFECT.

Besides who cares, you are in the woods you walk, eat, sleep and sit around a campfire , so an extra 3-4 minutes to boil water is irrelevant.

The exception to that rule is extreme cold or extreme cold and immediate warmth needed to save a life/toes/fingers etc.

Different burner assemblies will yield different boil time results, but again, if you are camping who cares.

I have cooked perfect eggs and coffee on homemade and trangia stoves at rest stops , because I can, and the extra 5 mins is irrelevant. I make exactly 1 generous cup of joe or a pot of tea, (for 2-3 people), enough water for 4 people to have hot cocoa.

Eggs keep at room temperature for weeks so fresh omelets are always on breakfast/lunch/dinner menus. A Giant single muffinfor 2 people,(corn bread ) is doable on an alky stove with a double pot dutch oven,(2 closely nested pot with a few stones to keep the inside pot off the outer pot. I used a second set up to make apple pie filling a la minuto split the muffin ( a small cake) filled it with hot filling to cool. Seriously good actually.

Oh butter keeps quite nicely at temps under human skin temp so in the 70′s and below use butter in dem there muffins mmmmm

play hard eat well (when you can)!

50 Nate February 10, 2014 at 7:05 pm

This is a topic I have been thinking on a lot recently. Has anyone tried using the folding sterno stove as a windscreen for a soda pop alcohol burner?

51 California Hiker February 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I used SnowPeak’s Gigapower gs-100 butane stove on the John Muir Trail a couple of years ago. Worked FANTASTIC. I had hot drinks or food 3x a day, guaranteed. And fast, too.

I understand that some of the alcohol stove users on the 230 mile hike balked at the time it took for their systems to make hot food. Just something to consider.

I like alcohol stoves for hikes where there is no particular destination, and I have all the time in the world to just enjoy where I am.

I was glad on the JMT to have a fast stove. I was interested in making the mileage, not sitting around. You have to hike your own hike, in the way that you like. We optimize everything else, just choose the stove to fit the trip/menu.

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