September 23

Ode to my Trusty Alcohol Backpacking Stove

Through snow, rain, wind and in the dry of the desert-you are always there for me. You never fail to perform your duties and ensure that I am warm and fed before I go to bed. Your simple design and smooth aluminum lines are what keep you light and true. There may be other stoves out there, but my Keg Can Stove will always be true.

Using an alcohol stove does not make one a criminal, a pyro-maniac, irresponsible back country user or a weirdo. Using an alcohol stove when done responsibly makes you an ultralight zen master at the art of cooking and boiling water. In the past few years alcohol stoves have gotten a bad rap, and often come under bans during fire season especially in states such as California.

Alcohol Stove
Keg Can Alcohol Stove

 

The reason these stoves get banned is that they lack a perceived on – off feature, and I know of more than one incident where a fire was caused by an alcohol stove user who either did not take the time to learn how to properly use this system, or had gotten complacent and had an accident. If you hang around enough hikers the “bad alcohol stove” story you will hear goes like this, “I thought the stove was out and when I went to add more fuel when it burst into a fire ball.”

 

Reasons why one should use an alcohol stove

  1. Alcohol stoves are the lightest and most efficient system out there for cooking/boiling water. A Keg Can caldera system weighs just 6 oz and that includes my stove, caldera cone, and pot (Fosters can)
  2. Fuel is easily available when on the trail and your stove will work with a variety of fuel types: denatured alcohol, Heet gas line anti-freeze (yellow bottle, not the red), Bacardi 151, Ever clear or grain alcohol, etc…
  3. Fuel consumption is minimal. I can boil 2 cups of water on just 25ml of fuel
  4. No moving parts to break- even when I fell back and crushed my stove on the JMT 4 years ago, the stove still worked fine-and still does to this day
  5. Sustainable & Recycled- whether making a stove at home or buying a commercially available one most stoves are made by recycling beer/soda cans, cat food cans, or any other can that might wind up in the trash.
  6. Inexpensive and easy to replace-if you lose your stove or crush it chances are you can find a can or two and make yourself a new stove in a matter of minutes during a town stop.

 

ultralight campsite
Whitney cooking up a storm

 

Tips for alcohol stove users

  1. Take the time to read the instructions! Most commercially available alcohol stoves have specific instructions on how to use the stove; this includes how much fuel to put in the stove, educate yourself and avoid the headaches
  2. Practice at home, during my time as ridge runner I cannot tell you how many stoves I have seen turn into a fireball because the user had never used the stove at home. These incidents generally were not alcohol stoves but pressurized white gas systems (the legal ones during fire bans)
  3. Always set up your stove on bare ground, I prefer to use mine on a flat rock when available, but if not make sure to clear the ground down to some dirt to use your stove on so nothing catches fire.
  4. Never ever add fuel to still burning stove-this is what causes the ‘fireball’
  5. Pack your stove in something protective like your pot so it avoids getting crushed.
  6. Always make sure the stove is completely out before adding more fuel. Two proven techniques to do this:
  • Put your pot lid over the stove for 30-60 seconds; this will snuff out the flame if any remain.
  • Wave your hand over the stove, if it burns it’s still running

 

In the past 6 years I have used my alcohol stove almost exclusively except when mountaineering. My Keg Can Caldera Stove has been all over the west coast with me and has yet to be a “fireball”, start a forest fire or ground fire, or ever failed in the field. What it has done is been a reliable piece of gear time and time again. I often amaze people when I meet them and they see a Foster’s can in my pack and then learn that it is actually my stove and pot. Unlike most ultralight hikers I know, I chose to use the food grade caddy to carry my stove, it functions as my eating and steeping container, my dip cup for springs and streams to fill my water bladder and it provides me with a mug for coffee in the morning.

I have yet to find a cook system out there that is as light and reliable as an alcohol stove. In my opinion, ditch the canister and the heavy cook system and invest a few bucks and a bit of time into becoming an alcohol stove master.

Disclaimer: Please check land use regulations before taking your alcohol stove out in the field. If you are unsure of the wording of an emergency fire ban regulation, contact the local USFS office and speak to a ranger there for clarity. If regulations ban an alcohol stoves use, bring an approved system or just eat cold.

 

This post was contributed by Trail Ambassador Whitney LaRuffa and Editor.