The alcohol stove is really a great option for lightweight backpackers and has many advantages over other cook systems, but may not be suitable for every backcountry situation.
If you are interested in a stove that runs on odorless fuel, reduces your pack weight, cost effective, then an alcohol stove is for you. If on the other hand you need to be able to melt tremendous amounts of snow to stay alive, demand the luxury of a gas range while camping, need bombproof durability, then the alcohol stove is not for you.
Here are some Pro’s and Con’s to consider:
- Lightweight – few ounces versus a pound or more
- Simplicity – just add fuel and light a match – no pumping, priming or pre-lighting required
- Quiet – generally can’t be heard
- No Maintenance – no time or repair kit need for adjustments and cleaning
- Low Cost – the cheapest around or even free (use common recycled items)
- DIY (Do It Yourself) – Tools, metal and fire! DIY stoving is so satisfying that is has become it’s own hobby
- Reduced Output – about half the heat output per ounce compared to other liquid fuels (white gas, butane, etc) and not appropriate for groups, long treks (greater than a one to two weeks without refitting) or melting snow
- Invisible Flame – refilling with fuel or handling the stove can be dangerous to those that depend solely on the sense of sight for evaluating dangers
- Cold Sensitive – most setups depend on vaporization of fuel and may not work well in frozen environments
- Durability – if you step on your stove made from pop cans, you might have to say goodbye to hot meals for the rest of your trip
There are several commercial alcohol stoves available on the market these days and a great many DIY versions. Each version has it’s own special characteristics, limitations and special little advantages over others, yet most share a few basic common features and can be categorized into six distinct designs:
- Open Flame
- Low Pressure SideBurner
All 3 have different benefits.
We did a comparison between two different Alcohol Stoves. One was the White Box Aluminum Alcohol Stove which is made by a machine press. It weighs 4.2 ounces. It’s considered a Low Pressure Side Burner. It does pressurize and needs to prime. Your Pot will sit right on top of the stove.
The other is the TOAKS Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove which is made from Titanium and weighs only .7 ounces. It is the ONLY Alcohol Stove that can re-use Alcohol that has NOT been burnt off during a burn time. It’s considered a Chimney Updraft and your Pot would need a stand (sold separately) to sit on. It does NOT need to Prime.
Denatured Alcohol – Found in marine shops and in the paint department of most hardware stores. Many brands of this solvent are specifically marketed for use as marine stove fuel and/or chafing fuel. Almost ALL Hostels, and Outfitters have Denatured Alcohol available.
Boil Time: Boil time for some, is a critical obsession when it comes to buying any backcountry stove let alone a Alcohol Stove. For those who want a boil time in less than 2 minutes, you will be highly disappointed with a Alcohol Stove. However, if you figure out that enjoying nature is peaceful and you have nothing to do but to enjoy nature. Why do you need a fast burn time? Most Alcohol Stoves have a boil time in temperatures between 60-75 degrees at around 4 minutes on average. So do your homework and test out different Alcohol Stoves before you commit to one.