Anyone Consider Scrapping Stove for Can of Sterno?

3:51 p.m. on August 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Sterno works great for fondue, and I've used it for cooking other things at home but what about bringing it along on the trail? I could see it being a great way for someone who is new to hiking to save a few bucks before deciding to purchase an actual stove. I did a little reading into this and found that some people prefer the sterno to a normal stove because they feel it is much more even heat. I currently have an MSR pocket rocket and love it, doubt I will be switching to sterno anytime soon, but this is mostly because of how light the pocket rocket is. I think if I had a heavier stove I would seriously consider a switch for a shorter trip. Anyone foresee any drawbacks?

4:44 p.m. on August 7, 2009 (EDT)
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I haven't used Sterno in a long time so I cant really remember how hot it cooks but if you looking to save some money and weight you may want to look into a beer can stove and use alcohol. Alcohol is cheap and the stoves are very light and cheap as well if not free.

9:15 p.m. on August 7, 2009 (EDT)
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Having used a wide variety of stoves, ranging from Sterno and Metatabs up through various alcohol stoves to full expedition stoves, I have found that each has its place. I have quit using Sterno for anything (including fondues - it stinks too much, and marine stove fuel, which is pure alcohol, works much better) and only use Metatabs as an emergency backup on 3-season dayhikes (doesn't put out enough heat). Despite how much people rave about their homebrew alcohol stoves, alcohol only puts out half the heat output per unit weight of either compressed gas, "white gas", or kerosene (even in a stove like the old Sigg that was basically an updraft carburettor). It's ok for a day ski tour in the form of one of the Trangias (or the Sigg - mine got damaged a number of years back, unfortunately). If you figure the true cost of the fuel for alcohol stoves, it is actually more expensive than white gas or especially kerosene (some of us know where to get "free" kero). And when you figure out the actual weight of fuel for an extended trek, you will find that alcohol is actually pretty heavy compared to white gas (because of the low heat output).

The Pocket Rocket is a great stove, though it is not the lightest of the screw-on compressed gas stoves. And it does have the low temperature problem that all canister-top stoves have (the canister on a hose stoves provide several easy solutions to the low temperature problems).

As for mike's comment about homebrew alcohol stoves, e.g. Coke can, Pepsi can, Foster's can, etc (which you will see repeated frequently on, true enough for the materials. But there is the labor involved. And since a good compressed gas or liquid fuel stove lasts for many years and many hundreds (or thousands) of meals, the cost is amortized over a lifetime of backpacking (my oldest stove still in use is around 40 years old).

12:54 a.m. on August 8, 2009 (EDT)
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I use the Pocket Rocket and have found as with other butane/propane stoves I have used in the past (peakone,gaz and coleman) that if it is too cold to keep the flame going strong, I can insulate the canister by simply putting my hands around it and also wrapping a small piece of ensolite around it prior to use to help insulate against the cold air.

And I have used the Sterno for heating and it works fairly well. It was designed for keeping the water hot in a steamer on a buffet table. But it does a good job for a selfcontained fire. Most of the new ones have a built-in wick while older ones are just a can of sterno with an open flame. And they are somewhat windproof. But you need to carry either a old soup can or have rocks to prop up the cookpot.

I have also made a mini wood stove by taking a #10 can like restuarants get their food in and using a old can opener that makes the triangle hole in a can, making breathing holes for the fire with holes around the top and underneath the bottom sides of an opened can. Then set it in a campfire when the coals are redhot. It makes a good little stove.

Or a campbells soup can stove, doing the same method of holes around the sides of the can and use a selflighting bricqette for the heat source.

1:33 a.m. on August 8, 2009 (EDT)
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Gary when I was in the boy scouts we called the #10 can stoves hobo stoves. Ant they do serve a purpose and actually do work quite well.

2:34 a.m. on August 8, 2009 (EDT)
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On my recent outing in the alps we arrived at a Swiss bivouac (climber's shelter) to discover that the propane cooke we had been counting on was removed. We improvised a "three-candle cooker" to make our evening minestrone and morning tea. It was slower than a stove, of course, but I was surprised at how effective it was. So maybe that's the ultimate cheapie stove :-)

11:38 a.m. on August 9, 2009 (EDT)
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Gonna make one of these. Burn kindling, drop in a super cat,or maybe even could use as a windsceen for my gaz stove.

11:51 p.m. on August 9, 2009 (EDT)
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Sterno burns at about 2500 BTU's

Pocket rocket at about 8200 BTU's

I got this from the manufacturers online info. I'm not sure which fuel mix was used for the pocket rocket canister rating.

Sterno is hard to boil water on in windy or cold conditions due to the low heat output. Not that the flame is not hot enough, but wind or cold will rob so much heat from the pot it becomes a real battle to cook with. Not that it can't be done, but it can be frustrating, same with fuel tabs.

Having an ample amount of BTU's available makes life much easier. I have tried white gas, different canisters, fuel tabs, alcohol, and wood stoves. They all have their place in the hikers toolbox, but white gas and canister stoves are hard to beat for general all purpose use. Sterno and fuel tablets would be my last choice, even for thru hikes. The alcohol stove is extremely reliable, very light and simple, with decent BTU output, and therefore a good compromise for thru hiking.

As far as Sterno providing even heat, well, stove performance in the real world is dictated in large part by the users experience, how the stove is set up, the temperature, and wind conditions etc.

I see a lot of YouTube videos and the like where stoves (mostly home brew) are being tested and video taped in someones garage or kitchen. This makes me wonder how much backpacking experience they actually have, I know it's easier and more convenient to video indoors, but a lot of these videos are to show how well the stove works. I have several home made stoves myself and found out the hard way they don't work as well in the mountains as they did on my patio.

Sterno is jelled alcohol in a can, designed for indoor use. It is also recommended by the Dept. of Homeland Security as an item to keep for emergencies, but cooking in the woods is not it's strong point.

12:16 a.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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2:41 a.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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How about Zip stoves (basically a miniature, high-efficiency wood burner with a battery powered fan)? Anybody used one of these?

3:38 a.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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I have seen some portable lightweight wood stoves but I have never seen one with a fan in it.

3:40 a.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Why anyone would want a stove powered by a battery is beyond me. These things have been around for years and you couldn't give me one-well you could, but I'd never use it.

I've got a bunch of stoves, including an alcohol one made from a Coke can. The simple versions of these can be made in about 10 minutes, at most. I made a couple just to make them, never took them camping. I use a Primus Micron canister stove, my Coleman Xtreme or my Optimus Nova for my winter trips. With my Primus, I screw on the canister, turn the valve, hit the ignition switch and voila, in about a minute, including assembly, it is working.

If you just want a general use, no drama stove, any canister stove that uses a Lindal valve canister should fit the bill. (Some of the GAZ stoves use a proprietary canister, which I would avoid just because the screw on (Lindal valve) canisters are easy to find.)

11:38 a.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks for the excellent and succinct reference from MEC. One thing I would disagree with in their recommendations at the end of the page, though, is the comment about cleaning off the carbon buildup. Yes, clean it off the stove, especially the burner and jet. But not from the pot. The blackening of the pot helps absorb heat from the flame (one reason many of the new anodized aluminum and titanium pots are black or some dark color). This is especially true for use with alcohol stoves, which are low heat output and need all the help you can get.

Tom and trout are absolutely right that wind conditions play a major role in the efficiency of stoves. This is one reason that windscreens are so important. However, be very careful with your use of windscreens with a stove whose burner is mounted on top of the fuel tank - which includes all canister stoves that have the burner screwed (Lindal-valve stoves) or otherwise fastened directly onto the canister (Bleuet Camping Gaz stoves of either the puncture - 100 and 200 series, or clamp on - 270 and 470 series, type). If too much heat is reflected back onto the canister, it can overheat and explode (I have seen this happen, thankfully at a distance from my campsite and luckily with no injury to the owner (former owner?) of that stove). pub spears, be very careful when you think about using that stove for a windscreen for your Gaz stove!

1:02 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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N/P Bill, recommendations are always of an opinion so agreance varies (I don't even think agreance is a word but you should be used to stuff like that with me lol) As far as blackening the pots I have an extremely hard time doing due to my OCD lol.

1:31 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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On a trip to the Porcupine Mountains seveal years ago, I carried my MSR WhisperLite. However, two days in it stopped working: I had mistakenly used an old can of gas. Luckily, I had a collapsible wood stove that I forgot was in my pack for emergency use. I was not a zip stove and had no fan, but it worked very well for the next two days, as we had an abundant supply of driftwood on the shore of Lake Superior. I would not hesitate to use it again if I knew I would have enough dry fuel, but you can't always be sure of that.

2:16 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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Re: the Zip stoves, I found some old reviews here on Trailspace, and those that have them seem pretty happy with them.

The idea with the fan is to get the stove burning hotter/more efficiently, and give it some regulation by varying fan speed. The manufacturer claims you can get 6 hours of use out a single AA battery (presumably alkaline?) which is lighter than any fossil fuel I guess. (I'm always carrying extra recharged AAs for my camera and GPS anyway).

The base weight is supposed to be 15 oz, 10 oz. for a titanium model. Obviously only useful in areas where you can scrounge up sticks (or maybe some kinds of animal dung?) for fuel. That would exclude a whole lot of Norway, even more in winter and spring.

To me the main appeal is freedom from fossil fuel. I guess it would require more attention than any conventional stove, feeding it sticks. Trade-offs. I'm glad to see they're still around, may have to try it some day.

I tried carrying a simple fire pan many years ago, and later did the John Muir and High Sierra trails without a stove or tent (had a tarp, mostly just slept out), cooking over twig fires and completely extinguishing, burying, and duffing over the ashes -- no visible trace. In the dry climate and sandy soils of the Sierras that was an entirely reasonable proposition, but probably not for every place/climate.

10:39 p.m. on August 10, 2009 (EDT)
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I have an old Sierra Zip Stove, it does work good for what it is, and as promised. Here is a link to the Zip Stove site:

However I find that I get better performance (it's bigger/more heat) out of my homemade wood gas stove which has no moving parts to break or batteries to replace. I copied the online plans to build my own, I had to build three to get it right. With a little practice the wood stoves perform well, much better than an open twig fire.

The kind I have utilize a double wall design that draws air in between the two walls where it is heated quickly before entering the combustion chamber. This hot air is pulled into the combustion chamber and really gets a strong fire going with better heat output than just a hobo stove.

You can also buy these already built, one is the Bush Buddy. It is made of stainless steel, so more durable than the one I made probably. The Ultra Bush Buddy weighs less than 6 Oz's. You STILL need a wind screen which is not included in the weight. Here is a link:

P.S. They also burn charcoal too! Lighter than White gas? I don't know.

6:52 p.m. on October 10, 2009 (EDT)
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I have read many replies here that speak of the Pocket Rocket by MSR, and just wanted to say that if you are a REI member, they have them for $29.99! Cheap...for a great stove. (untill the 18th Oct.)

As far as alternate stove I am going to try a few different things and one is a solar stove located at

I have looked at all the wood stoves, as so far the Honey Stove looks the best, as it is so compact and you can use it with the alcohol stoves too. Very light and seems well made.

4:43 p.m. on October 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Give the honey stove a try, and let us know what you think!

The backpacking community learns a lot from each other I think, sometimes by trial and error. Buying a product just because the magazine add, or product package says it's the best isn't all that reliable either. So if you get one, let us know how it does.

3:48 p.m. on October 19, 2009 (EDT)
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No.I like useing something that really works well,sterno does not bring this thought to mind.When meal time or water time comes i dont want to sit and wait ,and hope,that either will happen anytime soon.ymmv

April 20, 2018
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