What's the Best Alcohol for Stove Fuel?

5:49 p.m. on August 18, 2011 (EDT)
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All alcohols are NOT created equal.  But which ones make decent stove fuel?

In this week's blog post, I try to answer "What's the Best Alcohol for Stove Fuel?"

HJ

1:19 p.m. on August 19, 2011 (EDT)
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What about Barcardi 151, it would then be dual purpose ?

2:05 p.m. on August 19, 2011 (EDT)
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Absolutely.  It won't produce as much heat as 190 proof Everclear, but it should work reasonably well.  It might even burn a little cleaner.

HJ

8:43 a.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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One of the most consistent alcohols that I use is the antifreeze trucks use for air brake lines.  It can be purchased by gallon, 1/2 gal., quart.  Its methyl alcohol and can be picked up at any big truck parts house (like Truck Pro) 

However, its tough to beat the end of year clearance at walmart when they put Heat (yellow bottle) on sale for $2.00 for a 4 pack.  But then since we have several big trucks, there tends to be extra brake line antifreeze here;)

11:26 a.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Nothing wrong per se with methanol as a fuel.

Two possible considerations:

For someone who is an ounce or gram counter, ethanol has about 25% more heat content by weight than methanol, so you can carry less ethanol for the same result.

For someone who has to cook in his tent or a shelter due to weather considerations, methanol fumes are toxic whereas ethanol fumes are not.   High ethanol content denatured alcohol (check the MSDS) will be far less toxic than methanol.

HJ

12:20 p.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Hikin Jim said;

For someone who has to cook in his tent or a shelter due to weather considerations, methanol fumes are toxic whereas ethanol fumes are not.   High ethanol content denatured alcohol (check the MSDS) will be far less toxic than methanol.

This is true.  My tent is on the small size anyway.  Can't say I ever cooked in the vestibule.  I usually set a rain fly or find cover somewhere to cook.  I can't tolerate the fuses very well.

1:48 a.m. on August 22, 2011 (EDT)
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Hiking Jim, I remember reading something about "rubbing Alcohol" coming in two strengths, 70% and 90%  I guess 70% is more common is some South American countries. 

What is common here in the states?? I would think that the 90% stuff would burn better, but I don't really know.  Your blog was the first I say about isopropyl alcohol being a mess to cook with. 

Wolfman

6:34 a.m. on August 22, 2011 (EDT)
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Most isopro available is 70%, however the 90% is sold also you just have to look at labels. I know walmart and walgreens carry both. And Yes, Iso makes a sooty mess.

1:13 p.m. on August 22, 2011 (EDT)
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I have seen both 70% and 90% isopropyl alcohol sold.  I don't think either one is a very good stove fuel, although honestly I haven't spent a lot of time messing with them.

Will Rogers once said something along the lines of "there are two kinds of men in this world.  One is content to just read the sign and the other just has to pee on the electric fence."  With ispropanol, I'm happy just to read the sign.

HJ

12:23 a.m. on August 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Well considering I use white gas or what ever they sell in the cans marked White Gas, it's all good with me.   I have been thinking about the little Alcohol Stove's but as of yet have not taken the plunge. 

I really like the way white gas cooks, from real fast to a low simmer.  :)

Wolfman

2:19 a.m. on August 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Wolfman,

You've got an Optimus Nova, don't you?  A pre-Katadyn one.  Those are really nice stoves albeit a tad on the heavy and bulky side.

I have alcohol, ESBIT, white gas, multi-fuel, and gas stoves.  I like them for different things at different times. 

Alcohol is really nice for light and fast fair weather trips.

HJ

10:04 a.m. on August 23, 2011 (EDT)
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Yea Jim I have the original Nova, it works great. :)  I am planning on doing the JMT trail next summer, some 210+ miles and have been thinking about a smaller lighter stove, but I am just not sure yet. 

I have a small aerosol gas stove that I got in Korea when I was stationed there, it's not as small as the Rocket but it's still fairly small.  The only thing is it uses the gas cans that look like cans of spray paint.  Easy to find them around here, but I would not be so confident out on the trail. 

I like the idea of the little Alcohol stoves and this is great information on the fuel! 

Wolfman

PS:  I found the orginal manual for my Nova! :)

11:40 a.m. on August 23, 2011 (EDT)
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The Nova is a fabulous stove, but it is a bit more stove than you need for a summer hike. 

If you're trying to save weight, you could take your smaller stove, but the "spray paint" style canisters are going to be very difficult to find out on the trail.  You could get a small gas stove that takes the dome shaped threaded canisters.  Walmart sells Coleman brand stoves for about $25 to $30.  Not the best, but adequate.  REI sells the Snow Peak Gigapower (GS-100) stove for $39.95.  The Gigapower is an excellent stove. 

Good luck on finding a smaller stove,

HJ

12:39 a.m. on August 24, 2011 (EDT)
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Thanks on the leads, I will look at the Gigapower next time I am by a REI. 

Wolfman

1:07 a.m. on August 24, 2011 (EDT)
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I might suggest the Brunton Flex cannister stove, Wolfman. I've seen it on SteepandCheap.com for $40 and SierraTradingPost.com for the same amt on sale w/ coupon code. Fantastic stove. Compact but has 12000 BTU output capacity, can handle larger diameter cookware, and weighs less than 4 oz.

8:56 a.m. on August 24, 2011 (EDT)
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I have the pre-katatdyn Nova+ as well. I like mine and haven't had any problems with it. I am so very dispointed in Katadyn with how they have let the quality tank on the stoves. Shameful.

12:50 p.m. on August 24, 2011 (EDT)
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I think Katadyn has really blundered.  The Nova/Nova+ was an excellent stove with a good reputation as being highly reliable even in extremely cold weather.  Katadyn tried to cut some corners on cost, but they went way too far.  Now, they've ruined the stove's reputation.  Even if they fix all the problems, it will take years to repair the damage.  Instead of milking the cash cow, they strangled it.

HJ

9:10 p.m. on September 6, 2011 (EDT)
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In my alcohol stove I use denatured alcohol (I buy it in the paint department of WalMart), which burns clean. Heet in the yellow bottle works just as good (sometimes I think better just because it is so handy to carry and pour). In desperation I have used rubbing alcohol, but it was really hard to light and left soot on the bottom of my titanium pot that has never come clean.

9:12 p.m. on September 6, 2011 (EDT)
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Your experience sounds fairly typical.  Just be aware that all "denatured" alcohols are not created equal; some are more toxic than others.

HJ

9:40 p.m. on September 6, 2011 (EDT)
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Nice article Hikin Jim.

Back in 'the day' I could get ethanol in mason jars at a very good price ( I still could but I moved). I was always told I was buying the jar, not the contents which sometimes included various fruit.

One fellow made what he called Muscadine Brandy, I never had any 150 proof brandy before, and so he got quite a laugh from the look on my face at my initial taste. "That's something ain't it?' he replied.

My discovery of alcohol stoves came later in life so I never tried the local ethanol as a stove fuel.

I can sometimes get a 1 gallon can of denatured alcohol for around 12.00 from a friend who buys for a paint store, but I generally just pick up a yellow bottle of heat and head out because it is convenient.

2:12 a.m. on September 7, 2011 (EDT)
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lol.  It'd be nice to have a source of high proof ethanol.  That stuff is generally pretty expensive.

Denatured and yellow Heet generally work pretty well, although not all alcohols are created equal in terms of heat content per given amount of fuel or toxicity.  Hopefully the little summary at the bottom of my blog post is helpful.

HJ

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