Stove Tradeoffs...

1:49 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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At what point does the efficiency of a canister stove supersede the weight savings of an alcohol stove?

Under what conditions do you make the switch from the canister stove to a white gas/ multi-fuel stove?

How do wood-burning stoves fit into your Backcountry trips? Inverted-canister stoves?


I've read some data that indicate that the weight savings afforded by an alcohol stove vs a canister stove peters out around the third or forth day of a trip. At that point the efficiency of a canister stove gives it the edge "weight-wise" as well...meaning that by day 4 your total weight for an alcohol stove setup surpasses that of a canister stove setup.

Now, though I've never used an alcohol stove, that data is convincing enough to keep me from trying one when I take into account the "fiddle factor" associated with alcohol stoves, and their tendency to turn things into giant fireballs if/when the stove accidentally tips/spills.


Likewise, white gas stoves can become a better choice when certain conditions apply...namely, when you're doing a sh!t-ton of water-boiling, at altitude. Under these conditions the weight/space of the empty canisters can become a deciding factor, as can the general poor performance of non-inverted canister stoves.


I hope we can talk about the merits of inverted-canister stoves (of which there are few) and wood-burning stoves too, because with this thread I'm looking to figure out why (read: "under what conditions") you choose the stove you do for any given backpacking trip?

3:40 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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My canister stove is my goto stove...snowpeak giga power and coleman 850. Ive used the snowpeak in everything from summer to winter and never had it fail. my white gas stove is my goto stove in winter. just because you don't have to baby it to get it to light...msr dragonfly,whisperlight international. I like the canister stove because of its ease of priming. but you do have to keep the canisters warm in winter or they won't light. the white gas stoves are great for snowcamping...just because of all the snow you have to melt. like you said, white gas is good when you have to do alot of water boiling.

3:45 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I use an alcohol stove for almost every backpacking trip. The weight is so negligible that it is (as you point out) very efficient in terms of fuel consumption.

I agree, though, that the advantage drops off at about the third or fourth day. It takes about 7 minutes to boil a litre of water, versus 3-4 minutes for pressurized stoves, and at around that point the extra fuel you'll need outweighs the initial lightness. For winter, a Jetboil or something similar is much more efficient because the heat exchange is relatively unaffected by wind. For melting snow, I don't think there's any question about which style to carry.

That being said, I can do a long weekend with my Trangia alcohol stoves and only use about 250 ml (one cup) of alcohol for two people. One good policy is to split the fuel between two people, with each one carrying a 250 ml. nalgene bottle. That gives a nice backup, just in case.

Another advantage is reliability; there are no parts to fail in an alcohol stove, and I can't count the number of times I've had my supper cooked, while some other poor guy is still trying to figure out how to make his new Whisperlite work, or is trying to fix his faulty fuel valve. And I've never had the stove spill or explode, since on the standard Trangias, the burner is dropped down into a well that holds it steady.

I do wonder, though, when you talk about a 'fiddle-factor'. An alcohol stove is simplicity itself. Pour in the fuel and light it. To boil, place the pan over it. To simmer, drop the simmer ring in place after the water has boiled to reduce the flame. When you're finished, drop the cap on to extinguish the flame. Done. No pumping, no valves, no wobbly stand, and the pots come with the stove as part of a compact package.

One suggestion: A Trangia Mini runs abut $29.00. For the price, it wouldn't be a bad idea to get one and try it out. If you prefer the pressurized ones, keep the Trangia as a backup. I've done that on occasion, and it's saved my butt a few times.

5:14 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I tend to be the guy that brings the complicated food on the back packing trip. My brother in law is the peanut butter & jelly guy and pop tarts for breakfast hiker. I enjoy making flapjacks and coffee in the middle of nowhere. For me I wouldn't go without my optimums stove 8R. If its going to be a longer trip I just bring an extra bottle of white gas fuel.

The best thing about this stove is you can adjust the amount of heat on your cooking. Also this stove even though it looks like new (not the one in the video link) it is twenty years old and I have never had an issue with it. The newer models of the same 8R are made of plastic. I have a tendency to automatically avoid plastic parts. I have found plastic to be unreliable in the long run.

5:20 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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My goto stove is the Bushcooker, it is a wood gas stove and alcohol stove in one. I find it very effective, and very simple to use. I use wood as my primary fuel, but do use alcohol in the mornings for a quick cup o joe so I don't have to fiddle with a fire. Sometimes I won't Even make a campfire and just use the bushcooker as a small 'campfire'. To use alcohol with it you just put a little shoe polish type tin underneath it, give it a little squirt to fill it up and light. Very simple and easy to use. Using wood I can boil a liter in about 5-6 minutes typically, two cups in about 3-4 mins.

I only bring a canister stove for fish fry trips, and only bring my white gas stove for melting snow in winter.

5:58 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I have to agree with peter1955 on the Trangia. I started out with one for budget reasons, and then later could not find any reason to switch. So many advantages -- no fussing with canisters, figuring out fuel levels, or worrying about valves and seals. I can find fuel in tiny villages, and pay $3.50 for a three week supply. I can pour a week's worth into a water bottle -- safely! And the Trangia simmer ring is simple genius, you really can control your heat. Once you're done, the screw cap will hold any remaining fuel without leaking, so no waste.

When it comes to homemade alcohol stoves, while I respect the DIY instinct, it's hard to understand why you'd give up the simmering capability and the safety factor and fuel savings of capping that you get for under $30.

I use a piece of aluminum flashing as a windscreen, high enough to surround my 900 ml black titanium kettle and the Trangia's own screen/stand, and usually hit boil in about 5 minutes. My only stove failure was my own fault, I lit it cold and the cup split. (Replacement cost: $10.) You can buy or make a pre-heater, but all I do is tuck the capped burner and the fuel bottle into my sleeping bag if it's going to get frosty.

10:43 p.m. on September 23, 2012 (EDT)
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At what point does the efficiency of a canister stove supersede the weight savings of an alcohol stove?

As soon as you start it.

Under what conditions do you make the switch from the canister stove to a white gas/ multi-fuel stove?

Once they quit making the canisters ([bad word here] you Coleman!) or once it's too cold for the canister to work (around 10-15F depending on altitude) or you are in the boonies where kero or some kind of gas is all you can find.

How do wood-burning stoves fit into your Backcountry trips? Inverted-canister stoves?

Wood burning? Not lately. Inverted? I have enough stoves for now (once again, [bad word here] you Coleman, there would no need for an inverted canister stove if they kept making the Xtreme).

9:48 a.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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There is an initial savings in weight; a Trangia Mini weighs only 330 gm and that includes a bowl and frying pan. A plastic fuel bottle runs about 60-120 gm depending on size. Total weight (dry) 390-440 gm.

By comparison, an Omnifuel weighs 464 gm and the small bottle weighs 160gm (total 624 gm). A Whisperlite weighs 410 gm and the bottles weigh from 114 gm up (524 gm). Those weights don't include fuel , and they don't include the weight of whatever pot and pans you want to bring. Even a Snow Peak Mini Solo - cup and bowl - (probably one of the lightest ones going) weighs 155 gm, so those totals come in at 779 gm and 679 gm, or 1.5-2 times the weight of the Trangia.

Nope, the alcohol stoves aren't as efficient; you'll have to wait an extra  minute for your cup of morning coffee. They take longer to boil a similar amount of water, so eventually the weight of the extra fuel surpasses the initial weight savings. But if you're just going out for a few days, the Trangias make a good lightweight option.

Does the efficiency of a canister stove supersede the weight savings of the alcohol stoves? That depends on what you're using it for and what your personal preferences are in terms of weight vs. reliability vs. time demands (are you in a rush to get going?) vs. availability of fuel.

I have a Whisperlite and both the Trangi Mini and the 2-man set. Because of the advantages listed above, I prefer to carry the Trangias for anything up to a week, and even if I take the Whisperlite, I'll still carry the small Trangia as a backup.

3:53 p.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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great topic...


I had always used Coleman fuel stoves until the last few months when my Jetboil was lost. Since then I've been using the cat food can alcohol stove. I don't really cook (only boil water), so inability to simmer isn't a big issue with me (didn't do that with the Jetboil anyway).


I would agree with Peter; there is no fiddle factor with my alcohol stove. For me I just pour the fuel into the can, light it (I use Trouthunters method of dipping a long twig into the fuel to "make" a long match, then touch the lit match to the exposed fuel), wait for the fuel to boil (20 seconds or so), then place my container, and secure the windscreens.

I have also been considering purchasing another canister stove as I have a weeklong trip coming up and have been pondering the same things as you considering weight trade-off etc…

I need something to use in winter and colder temps so I will probably get a canister stove with remote feed for inversion.

10:30 p.m. on September 24, 2012 (EDT)
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I've used my Caldera Cone and REI .9 ti pot on my summer vacation the last two years, loving it's lightness and fuel efficiency.  This year I still took way too much fuel, only using around 2.5 oz for 6 days of evening meals and two mornings of hot water for oatmeal.  We're finding out that the 12-10 stove is more fuel efficient with more fuel added to it than needed and recovering the fuel after your water has reached boiling.  I've noticed the same results on a test firing of my CC setup for a .6 ti pot on a car camp trip.  The fuel may evaporate slower which may be more efficient.  For snow/winter trips, I use my old Internationale, white gas is cheaper than using up canisters.  I'm waiting to use some of the Coleman Extreme stoves that use the Powermax fuel, I have all three models of that line now.  The little 8's and 8R's are so neat.


2:32 p.m. on September 25, 2012 (EDT)
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i can't comment on alcohol vs. cannister because i have never used alcohol.  cannisters are easy and efficient, though i hate having all the cans.

i'm more of a white gas stove user.  i don't mind the extra weight, and i have been using them for so long, all seasons (except for group trips where people used cannisters) that it has become more or less foolproof.  i agree with the comments above that white gas is the best option for cold weather or altitude.  i prefer stoves that have a hose running from the bottle to the burner to stoves w/the gas reservoir underneath the burner.  less risk of overheating the fuel reservoir. 

10:18 p.m. on September 26, 2012 (EDT)
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DrReaper said:

The newer models of the same 8R are made of plastic. I have a tendency to automatically avoid plastic parts. I have found plastic to be unreliable in the long run.

 I've got to ask, what plastic are you referring to on an Optimus 8R?

10:36 p.m. on September 26, 2012 (EDT)
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I have used several types of canister stoves over the years.  I use one a lot when I was stationed in Korea.  And they are light and quick at heating water, But...

What about all the cans, or having to take a extra can because your not sure if the one you have will last the entire trip? 

After I got my first white gas stove, I never went back to canisters.  Now that I have tried alcohol stove I doubt I will be using my white gas stove very much.  The weights are so very different!  The alcohol stove I am currently using is just a cat food can with a bunch of holes in the side tops.  I built a stand/wind screen for it so it is real easy to use.  Set the stove in the stand/wind screen. Poor in about 1 oz., light, set pan on and wait a few (5 to 6) minutes and water is boiling.  I also use it to cook simple meals on. 

If I get into more winter camping, then I will probably use the white gas stove more often.  But I don't think I will ever go back to canisters.

As for wood, I use a small wood gas fired stove if I go to the coast (Beach) with the family for heating water in the mornings, and I will cook on a fire, but in the forest they are usually more work then they are worth.  And with the recent weather (HOT and Dry) it can be very dangerous to have camp fires.


9:42 a.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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At what point does the efficiency of a canister stove supersede the weight savings of an alcohol stove?

Canister stoves are very easy to operate and offer excellent flame control and simmering.  Weight savings of an alcohol stove is valid for shorter trips (a few days) and more fuel is needed to match the output of canister stoves.   More than a few days and an alcohol stove's weight (with the additional fuel) tends to be more weight than the canister stove for longer trips.

We are not found of having no way of controlling the flame or having an absolute way of safety shutting the stove down in unforeseen circumstances.  Also, alcohol stoves can be restricted in the same manner are wood fire in some area.


Under what conditions do you make the switch from the canister stove to a white gas/ multi-fuel stove?

Several conditions.  Winter cold being the first and fuel sources being second.  A multi fuel will require priming so some fiddling is necessary but worth the trouble as more fuel options are available.   Some multi fuel stoves will also run on canister gas like the Primus Omnifuel/OmniLite Ti.

Although a multi fuel stove will weight more and take up more pack space than a canister stove that attaches directly to the canister tank but the ability to create heat in the dead of winter cold make this a moot point when its really cold outside.  Also, it is quite easy to observe remaining fuel.


How do wood-burning stoves fit into your Backcountry trips? Inverted-canister stoves?

Wood burning stoves use can sometimes be regulated by local authorities and therefore may not be a reliable heat source (since its use can be restricted).  Alcohol stove can fall into the this restricted category as well.  However, for areas where there is no restriction these are great since fuel is collected along the way (assuming you are trekking through a wooded area - terrific weight savings.

Inverted canister stoves are fantastic as they offer ease of use and the ability to operated in colder environments.  A downside to canister stoves in general is the lack of observing remaining fuel.

10:17 a.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I'm partial to the canister stoves and I have a new MSR Windpro 2 which I will be using when I go to the northern mountains of NM this Oct. The great thing is there is a swivel in the valve portion and an included plastic canister stand which makes it easy to invert the canister safely. I have an esbit type stove, which I use with a canteen cup on dayhikes and I think I'll make one of Shurka's cat food can alcohol stoves to try out also.

1:05 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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QuietStove said:

We are not fond of having no way of controlling the flame or having an absolute way of safety shutting the stove down in unforeseen circumstances.  Also, alcohol stoves can be restricted in the same manner are wood fire in some area.

The flame in an alcohol stove can be controlled easily in a decent design. See comments on the Trangia simmer ring. And it's quite easy to stop the stove quickly - just drop the lid on it to cut off the air supply. Since there's no pressure, all you have to do is find some way of smothering it.

  Alcohol stove can fall into the this restricted category as well.  However, for areas where there is no restriction these are great.

I've never heard of a restriction on alcohol stoves. From what I've seen, the intent of a restriction on open fires is meant to protect the forest from being chopped down to make campfires. In every place I've been the only  requirement, where one exists, is that hikers use a 'backpacking stove' of some kind and not a firepit.

1:46 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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In the past 4 or 5 years, I have been a number of places where any kind of open flame, including backpacking stoves were restricted due to high fire danger. Out here on the Left Coast, where we have "Extreme Fire Danger" during certain seasons (notably summer through fall), such restrictions are fairly common. In SoCal, during the annual periods when the Santana winds are prevalent (very hot, very dry, often high speed, a form of katabatic wind), we often get huge fires that burn out hundreds to thousands of acres. The big reason for campfires being seasonally forbidden is the likelihood of stray sparks igniting extremely flammable timber and brush during those seasons. While wood gathering (people actually cutting down trees and breaking off branches, as well as gathering downed wood which decays into the ground to provide nutrients to living plants) is a minor consideration in campfire restrictions, in this area, the main concern is wildfires resulting from carelessness. One of the largest fires in Southern California resulted from a person burning used toilet paper rather than packing it out (close to 100,000 acres as I recall). Also, root fires that come from campfires built in the wrong place and not fully doused can hide underground for days before erupting (we had one at a Boy Scout Camp where I was a Commissioner a few years back - luckily caught when someone noticed the smoke coming out of the ground several days after the fire had been built in an unauthorized area, required a fair amount of digging it out to fully expose the smoldering hot spot). And yes, alcohol stoves can get on the forbidden list before canister, white gas, and kerosene stoves because the typical alcohol stoves can be readily spilled, with the flame almost invisible.

5:15 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks, Bill. Those extreme fire hazards you get in California usually don't apply here, and even when they do, backpacking stoves of any kind are still permitted. In the National Parks in the Rockies, fires that might be caused by backpackers are less of a concern than the deforestation of areas near large public campgrounds, or the burning of krumholz on the alpine trails.

Like I said, "In every place I've been...", but I hadn't thought of those California wildfires we see on the news all the time. When I think about those, I can understand why in those areas, control of any potential hazards might be more of a concern. As mountain pine beetle moves farther and farther north and decimates the evergreen forests, we might have to start thinking along the same lines.

5:58 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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On the subject of alcohol stoves being tipped over & spilled:

Minibulldesign, an alcohol stove maker, has been making a fully enclosed, semi - pressurized stove that is packed with carbon felt. This works much like a Zippo lighter, you can turn the stove upside down and not spill any fuel.

Filling the stove is done through a fill hole seen below in the middle of the stove top, there is a thumb screw to seal the hole so the stove can pressurize.



Here it is in action, the stove is named the "Atomic" after the flame pattern. It is offered in two sizes, with & without carbon felt.

He also makes carbon felt stoves that are remotely fueled with the capability to control heat output from a low simmer to full output.

Here is a video of one of his remote fueled, carbon felt stoves, really neat concept.

7:31 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for that, Trout...I'd not seen these types of stoves before, with the felt wicks. That pretty much takes care of the potential for severe flare-ups resultant from spills.

I use a Vargo Jet Ti canister stove almost exclusively, and still think my canister setup "better" for my needs than most of the alcohol/esbit set-ups I've seen, but one of the reasons I'm looking at the alcohol stoves is the multi-use nature of the fuel...if I want to get a campfire going quickly I can't get at the iso-butane in my canister, but I can easily squeeze a bit of alcohol out of my fuel bottle...

8:43 p.m. on September 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I have a Jetboil that I got for $22 at an REI used-gear sail that I use for good weather overnighters.  The rest of the time, particularly in cold weather, I use my old reliable MSR Whisperlite.  Stuff that works.

4:24 p.m. on September 28, 2012 (EDT)
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reliability, thats my main criteria. I would be hesitant to use an alchohol stove, not because of reliability, but because it takes seven/eight minutes to boil do they do in high winds? what about flare ups? I'm just a little apprehensive...:P

6:00 p.m. on September 28, 2012 (EDT)
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Hi, Tj. The larger (2-person) Trangias have a windscreen that actually enhances the efficiency of the burner in a wind, by creating a directed flow of air that fans the flames into a ring of jets.The smaller ones come with a stand that provides some degree of protection, but you'd still want to use the some kind of windscreen to block off any higher winds. Like the foil one that comes with a Whisperlite.

Because they're so simple (no parts to break, jam or plug off) reliability is far better than any pressurized stove that I've ever used. And an alcohol stove doesn't lose performance in cold temperatures. That's why I mention carrying one as a backup.

I'm not sure what you mean by flareups. I've never never seen it on an alcohol stove, but I guess it could happen if you knocked over a full burner. That's why the stands are so supportive. The fuel won't explode, though - you won't get a 'whoomph' from a fireball, just an area of spilled fuel with flames coming off the top.

Try this: Take the lid from a jelly jar and put it on a non-flammable surface, just to be safe. Pour a small bit of methyl hydrate into it. Light it with a match. Basically, that's all an alcohol stove is. 

But as has been said, every kind of stove has its own advantages. Pick the one that works best for you, but don't be afraid to try others as well. As you see here, depending on what they use it for, everybody has a different preference.

8:56 p.m. on October 11, 2012 (EDT)
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I also think the advantage is what you make of it. I prefer the self-contained cannister so I know the fuel is not leaking my my bag. We also use a tiny Esbit stove for emergency or day hiking. We have stainless steel cups which can be used to heat water in a pinch if needed. Otherwise we like the ease and convenience of the jetboil. It is just the two of us so bagged meals are fine. So are bars and trail mix, but there is nothing like a cup of hot tea or instant soup on a cold day or long hike. I don't like the "grand cooking" on the trail because it takes too many containers and leaves too much stuff to pack out in the long run.

10:34 p.m. on October 20, 2012 (EDT)
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Stoves. Lord, don't get me started. I don't favor one over the other, I carry the one that I fancy at the moment.

That being said, I have some criteria. For dayhikes and overnights/weekends, I love my Brasslite alky stove. An Olicamp stainless steel cup -- the kind that you can nest your 1 qt. water bottle inside of -- makes a perfect pot for boiling water. I have the Turbo II which can be adjusted from full flame to simmer. Simplicity itself, and the appearance is reminiscent of my old favorite Svea 123.

I might also take the Snow Peak GigaPower stove for the same kind of shorter hike. With one of the small canisters that fit inside a Trek 700ml titanium pot, it's all very lightweight, compact and flexible. With a larger canister -- the 400 gram size -- a trip can be extended from a weekend to several days. I use a Reflectix pot cozy for greater efficiency. Oh, hey, I reviewed this set up back in 2008. Go here:

With more people or longer trips, I switch to white gas/Coleman fuel. I love the Optimus 8R, the Coleman 508, the MSR Simmerlite, and above all the venerable Svea 123. The Coleman 508, by the way, simmers better than any small stove ever made.

Car camping and large groups: can't beat the Optimus 111T or the Coleman style "suitcase stove" with either propane or white gas.

Inverted canister stoves? Great reports, concept makes sense, ought to try one sometime.

Jetboil? Brilliant marketing, that's all I have to say.

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