Friday, May 07, 2010

Playing with Fire

I often check out the The Ultralighter's blog and he's turned me on to some other interesting blogs by people who try to really travel light. There seems to be a contest going as to who can make the lightest backpacking stove. Two blogs in particular had an interesting post on stove making. Dressed in Dirt combined making stoves and ice cream floats. Her technique was even refined more by Mungo (I wish I had followed his directions on how to make a cleaner cut of a pop can). Anyway, last weekend I decided to see if this all worked and built a 20 cent backpacking stove that burned alcohol. I say it's a 20 cent stove because here in Michigan, we have a 10 cent deposit on pop cans. My goal was to build the stoves using only a Swiss army knife--thinking that the ability to make such a stove might be a good thing since airline security makes it harder these days to bring smutty backpacking stoves through security. Here's my effort.
Next, I decided to test my stove using both denatured alcohol (which you can find in the paint section of any hardware store) and regular rubbing alcohol (which is only 70% pure, so doesn't put out as much heat). The alcohol gets poured into the middle of the top (larger holes, the flames come out the side holes). I put a pot of similar size with 24 ounces of water in each. The rubbing alcohol stove had a harder time staying lighted, so I ended up lifting the pot up over the stove with a few rocks I garnered from the flower bed...
Notice, the denatured alcohol stove also had a little duct tape applied as the can split (which I noticed when I poured in the alcohol. The water in the denatured alcohol stove, by the time I had burned up all the alcohol, was beginning to have bubbles rise to the top, but it wasn't a full boil (but hot enough for coffee or tea). The other stove had water about that was warm enough to wash one's face in.
I now feel I can make such a stove from easily obtained products, but when possible I think I'll stick to my MSR multi-fuel stove. This is the second of these I had (the first was the original and sounded like a jet taking off and still works, 20 some years later. This whisper-lite is really nice, as it is quiet and doesn't use as much fuel.) I would recommend paying the extra ten bucks for the multi-fuel variety as it allows you to buy fuel from a gas station and not having to pay the expensive (and deal with having the extra fuel you don't need) Coleman fuel.
Now an ethical dilema: If they extend the Appalachian Trail another 300+ miles, to Flagg Mountain Alabama, should I hike the extension? Check out this article.

For those interested in the Appalachian Trail, there is now an online profile of trail elevations--when I was hiking the trail, I referred to these as "misery maps."

I was going to go canoeing today, but there is a huge band of thunderstorms heading our way. Time to dope the dog.

PS: Here is another variation of a home made alcohol stove that seems to be a design that may work better than the above (but it requires a few more tools than I normally have in a backpack).


  1. There is a little trick that helps with the gas. You know the lantern at the top of a Zippo lighter which prevents the flame from being extinguished by the wind. So, if you punch holes in the canopy you help the gas burn far better.
    On the Army Ranger stove as it is called here, your 20cent one, all that I can say is that they light. And as you say they warm things, but you cannot help the feeling that you would be far better using matches one at a time.
    Anyway how many of us that go hiking, actually helo drop 60 miles from a shop a la Rambo.

  2. Cool information to have. I would never have thought of this.

  3. Sage, McGyver wouldn't have done it better, hahah!
    Hope you can go canooeing very soon!

  4. One of the guys that I went hiking with uses alcohol - the kind you get at the paint store, not rubbing alcohol. He's the one that named me Flo. I need to pay more attention to his stove the next time I see him.

  5. Cool post. Alas, I've never been an alcohol fan for the reasons you cite. I've taken to using the mini GAZ canisters, which I can usually find anywhere there's an outdoor supply place, and the airlines won't have a fit about the stove part. The empties can be a pain, especially on a long trip, but it I think it's the only way to go if you're flying to the trail head.


  6. Never flown to my trail destination before but if I ever do, I think I will ship my Whisperlite out ahead and save on the charges for check-in or carry-on bags.

  7. Good stuff!

    My donuts- NEVER expire-even after being eaten! They have the half life of Scrotium 19!

    Love it sage!


  8. Oh, you Wild Man, you! My stove of choice is the Trangia, which uses meths. Im normally cooking for 3, though. I also have a wee hob thingy that clips onto a Gaz canister. It has 4 arms that swing out to become your gas hob. Its handy, but tiny. You have to watch that nobody bumps your dinner off it. xxoo

  9. It's been so long since I was in Scouts that I don't even remember what we took on our week-long back packing trips to the Sierra's. With the size of the group, there had to be multiple stoves and fuel containers. Every Scout had to take something for the troop in addition to their own personal stuff. I do recall carrying pots and pans. I was a small guy, and pots / pans were probably lighter than a stove & fuel.

  10. Uh oh. I bet Homeland Security is now running background checks on you now, Sage.

  11. This all sounds very McGyver-esque...

  12. Neat post. I always carried the multi-fuel stove around, and never faced a need for more creative undertakings. Hope you get to paddling soon...