You cannot walk far in the way of Ultralight Backpacking without running across those who are passionate about their alcohol stoves. And why not? They are extremely light and you can make your own at very minimal cost. What’s more, there are many websites dedicated to showing you how to make and use your own stove. One in particular is www.thesodacanstove.com. This site has great instructions on how to make different stoves and it has a well done comparison between all the main types of cooking methods including open fire, wood stove, canister and liquid fuel, alcohol and solid fuel. One thing that most of the websites I have seen are lacking is how the alcohol stove compares with others in terms of how much time it takes to boil water. As you will see, this amounts to a significant omission. In full disclosure, I am no where near achieving Zen status when it comes to the alcohol stove. There are a lot of designs and I am sure some are more efficient than others. However, the few videos I observed on the topic confirmed my results as being in the ball park. For this test, I chose the popular cat food can design. The website shows you how to make one. They are really easy.
As for the other stoves in the test, they are from my own personal collection. While there are many designs and technologies deployed today, I believe these models exemplify each type of stove sufficiently for this purpose. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, which are pretty well known with minimal research. The main purpose of this test is to compare boiling times, weight and general cost of each stove type.
The test was conducted in my garage with the door open. There was a bit of a breeze but not significant. The ambient air temperature was 63.7 deg. The altitude of my garage is 1337 ft. above see level and the barometric pressure at the time of the test was 30.05 in. of mercury. These parameters are significant in that they affect the actual boiling temperature and the time to boil the water. In order to make sure I had a solid reference, I heated some water and tracked the temperature until it stopped at 208 deg. at a full boil.
I used my trusty flat scale to insure I used a constant amount of water for each test. I chose 12 oz. of water because that is typical for a single serving of freeze dried foods. I used a typical digital oven thermometer to track the temperature of the heated water. I used a two gallon bucket to hold plenty of water and the temperature of the water from the tap was 62 deg. For timing, I used the stopwatch function of my wristwatch. The container I used was my 16 oz. titanium cooking pot.
For each test, I dipped the pot in the bucket of water to make sure it started at the same temperature. The I used the scale to measure exactly 12 oz. of water. After lighting each stove, I adjusted to full flame. In the cases of the liquid fuel stove and the alcohol stove, I gave each enough time to warm up to the point of vaporizing the fuel. I set the pot on the stove and started to watch, tracking the time until the moment the thermometer read 208 degrees. It should be noted that I did not use a windscreen for any of the tests. They are discouraged in the use of canister stoves for safety reasons. For liquid fuel and alcohol, they can provide improvement but I decided to remove it as a variable.
MSR Pocket Rocket
This is my current go-to model and I love it. It is a canister type and it is very small, compact and lightweight.
- Type: Canister
- Stove Weight: 3.0 oz.
- Fuel and Canister Weight: 8.0 oz. (4 oz. fuel)
- Total Weight: 11.0 oz.
- Cost: $39.95
I have been a white gas devotee since my Boy Scout days and I have used the MSR Whisperlite for many years. It remains a great stove choice for extended trips, colder temperatures and higher altitudes.
- Type: Liquid Fuel
- Stove Weight: 6.4 oz.
- Fuel and Canister Weight: 9.8 oz. (4 oz. fuel)
- Total Weight: 16.2 oz.
- Cost: $99.95
Cat Food Can Alcohol Stove
It took about 15 minutes to make this stove with the can and a paper hand punch. The cat food, alas, was not necessary for the test and consequently, it was not spared nor donated for the benefit of any feline.
- Type: Homemade Alcohol
- Stove Weight: 0.2 oz.
- Fuel and Canister Weight: 5.0 oz. (4 oz. fuel)
- Total Weight: 5.2 oz.
- Cost: $1.98 for the cat food
|MSR WindPro||Liquid Fuel||2:15.40||16.2 oz.||$99.95|
|MSR Pocker Rocket||Canister||2:19.59||11.0 oz.||$39.95|
|Cat Food Can||Alcohol||11:32.10||5.2 oz.||$1.98|
It should be noted that the 1 oz. of fuel ran out during the alcohol stove test but I was able to refuel and relight within 15 seconds or so. I left the total time because in the end, it did not seem to be significant.
There is a clear advantage in weight and cost of the homemade alcohol stove but a significant price is paid for boiling time.
For 6 oz. in exchange for 9 minutes, I think I’ll stick with the Pocket Rocket!