Updated on June 19, 2015
Lightweight alcohol pack stove
Homemade alcohol pack stoves have become a common place in the light and ultralight weight backpacking scene. They are simple, cheap, light weight, and effective. They also happen to be very easy to improvise if yours gets broken or lost.
There are entire pages dedicated to different stove designs. Some are self pressurizing stoves fashioned from beverage cans. These kind are commonly called Pepsi stoves. The stove that I use comes from the Super Cat lineage which is made from a small can such as a cat food can, hence the name.
This stove weighs 25.2 grams and will bring my tea kettle filled with water to a slow boil on 1 oz of denatured alcohol. On the trail I use it to bring 4 cups of water in a small sauce pan to a boil in order to cook dried meals. There is a website and corresponding book of recipes regarding the technique as “freezer-bag cooking.”
Alcohol stoves can run on any high proof alcohol. Fuel can be purchased pretty much everywhere in the world. Denatured alcohol used for thinning paint and cleaning brushes is one of the best fuels for these stoves. It is cheap, widely available, and burns efficiently. Isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) can be used, but it is more expensive and burns less efficiently leaving behind black soot. Ethanol (liquor) if it is of high proof can be used as well. This type is the most expensive, but it does burn efficiently and can be used as an antiseptic or inebriate.
My stove was made by punching two rows of holes around a seasoning tin. The holes were punched with a nail and then expanded with needle nose pliers. There are much easier ways of making this holes, e.g. a drill, but this is what I had on hand. The top row of holes are larger. The lower holes act as air intakes once the pot or kettle is placed atop the stove. An advantage of this stove style over Pepsi can stoves is that they do not require a separate pot stand. To increase efficiency a wind shield is a necessity. Mine is made out of several layers of heavy tinfoil with holes punched in the bottom to ensure sufficient airflow.
The stove is filled with around 1 oz of alcohol. Hint, a film canister is 1 fl oz and is useful for many things on the road/trail. The stove is then lit from the top with a match or lighter. Let the stove burn for 30 seconds or so to heat up. You should notice an increase in flames. At this point place the water filled pot/kettle on top. The stove will pressurize as the top flames go out for a moment. The upper side holes will become jets and the stove will continue burning until it is out of fuel.
The alcohol stoves do have a few large disadvantages. First of all once lit the stoves are extremely difficult to put out mid burn. The second large disadvantage is that you can not refuel until the stove runs out. These stoves also perform vary poorly in wind without a wind screen. Overall I think that the benefits out weigh these few disadvantages for many situations.