Author: Tina Eckerlin
If you have never used an alcohol stove, you need to try it!
There are so many backpacking stoves on the market -isobutane, propane, butane, wood or alcohol. They are also made of many materials.
Alcohol stoves tend to take a bit longer to boil water, but for us a few minutes is not a deal breaker.
There are many reasons to use different stoves, but here are a few of our favorite perks to using alcohol stoves.
They are very quiet. Most isobutane stoves sound like a rocket taking off for flight. Alcohol stoves are whisper quiet and let you enjoy the sound of nature while boiling your first cup of coffee. This is also great if you are at a group campsite and are the first one up in the morning.
2. Fuel is Easy to Find
One of the best things about alcohol stoves are that they can burn a variety of alcohol, and it is easy to find.
Maybe you recall the start of the pandemic, but we could not find 100 gram cannisters of isobutane anywhere; stores were sold out for months.
Types of Suitable Alcohol
There are two types of fuel used in alcohol stoves: methanol and ethanol.
Methanol (methyl alcohol) comes from processing biomass and natural gas. It is the common ingredient in gas-line antifreeze and in shellac thinners. It is readily available at gas stations and hardware stores, known as Methyl Hydrate. This is a popular choice for resupplying in towns off of the trail.
Something to consider when using Methanol, is that it generally is 30% less efficient than Ethanol alcohols, but is cheap and available. So make sure you test how much fuel you need per boil.
Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) comes from liquor. This is considered the cleanest burning of all the alcohols, but is also the most difficult to find.
Denatured alcohol (methylated spirits) is a type of Ethanol. It has been processed and has additives to make it bad-tasting so it is not for drinking. Quite frequently, methanol and other chemicals are added to denatured alcohol.
Isopropyl alcohol is different all together. It has similar molecules to Ethanol, but they have different chemical structures. It is readily available at most pharmacies.
You can burn isopropyl alcohol in a pinch, but will likely be more sooty than the other choices. If possible, use 99% isopropyl alcohol.
3. Light & Portable
Alcohol stoves can vary in weight depending on the materials they are made from. They range from DIY aluminum cans or cat food can stoves to manufactured titanium stoves. Most are ultralight and are easy to pack.
What we love is that most are still lighter than most other stoves.
4. Don't Require Maintenance
The great thing is that there are few to no parts to break or fail in the backcountry. There are no knobs or seals to seize or snap.
Most alcohol stoves require the odd knocking out of debris, but that is about it. Stoves made of titanium and stainless steel can last a life-time.
5. Easy to Calculate Fuel
We love how easy it is to calculate and estimate fuel consumption with alcohol stoves. Make sure you test the same fuel that you plan on using, i.e. ethanol or methanol.
- Measure fuel and place into alcohol stove
- Test boil in average conditions
- The quantity of fuel used to burn is the total amount of fuel required
If it takes you 1 ounce for an average boil, just multiply that by how many boils you need.
If it takes 1 ounce and you want to boil seven times, then multiple the quantity of fuel (1 oz) by the number of boils (7).
You will need 7 ounces of fuel.
- Carry your fuel in a small bottle, such as a lightweight disposable water bottle. Just make sure that you label it if it is decantered! You can draw lines for ounces on it if your alcohol stove does not have measurement lines
- For winter and cold weather use we recommend priming your stove. You can DIY this by using a small piece of aluminum foil underneath your stove. Place a small quantity of fuel on the foil and ignite to warm the stove, this will decrease boil time
- Use a windscreen, windbreak or even a sit pad to block the wind to conserve fuel
- Always check with your park system if alcohol stoves are allowed. Often, during fire bans alcohol stoves are not permitted