Alcohol Stove = awesome!!

1:36 a.m. on September 26, 2018 (EDT)
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My husband and I just returned from a week of backpacking/camping and decided to leave the fuel powered stove at home a take only our Esbit stoves and a bunch of fuel cubes. We brought instant oatmeal, Mountain House meals and hot chocolate and ate great!! The two cups Esbit boiled water in 6-10 minutes, depending on how much wind was blowing and was perfect for the Mountain House meals. The folding stove and a Sierra cup were great for single serving hot chocolate and oatmeal. For those who haven't used one yet, they operate on small, inexpensive fuel cubes (available at REI, WalMart, Freddy's). One cube burns for approximately 10-13 minutes and they can be extinguished and delight. The stoves themselves are very small and light and are easy to pack away in a BOB, not to mention inexpensive.

6:42 a.m. on September 26, 2018 (EDT)
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Welcome to Trailspace. You should post a review of your stove. I am curious what type you have, as you say it's an alcohol stove but talk about using Esbit...a lot of stoves can do both but Esbit is usually considered a solid fuel not alcohol.

10:25 a.m. on September 26, 2018 (EDT)
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Agree, esbit is hexamine not alcohol.

12:14 a.m. on September 27, 2018 (EDT)
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Spencer, Welcome to "The World of ESBIT" ;o)

There is a HUGE "ESBIT Burner Testing" thread over at Backpacking Light in the Gear (General) forum. Lots of good info and lots of fun comments.

Here are my findings on ESBIT efficiency.

BEST ESBIT STOVE: Trail Designs Sidewinder with the 3 cup pot (The height-to-width ratio of this pot is the most efficient. Tall pots/mugs are not as efficient.) If you never plan to use wood then save some money and buy the all aluminum Caldera Cone and 3 cup pot. With all Trail Design cone stoves each cone is custom-fit to each pot or mug. (Larger pots merely set on top of the cone which loses a lot of heat efficiency but will still work.)

*The TD cone system is, by far, the most efficient ESBIT system. Believe me, I've tried them all including a few of my own beer-inspired ESBIT stove "improvements".

BEST ESBIT TABLET HOLDER: Brian Green's BGET holder keeps all the ESBIT fluid in a built in tray for almost 70% longer burn time! I just made a small tray from disposable pie pan aluminum with folded corners. It wedges into the TD Gram Cracker holder. The Gram Cracker is the proper height for ESBIT tablets in relation to the pot bottom.

But you can make a DIY BGET holder if you go to Brian Green's website. There are directions and a template there. This tray also makes ESBIT safer so the fluid can't drain onto the forest floor and become a fire hazard.

BEST ESBIT FUEL STORAGE CONTAINER: Re-purposed coffee bag, the kind made of a Mylar/aluminum laminate that keeps coffee fresh. Usually these have a pressure release valve built into the side. Starbucks, PEET's, Don Francisco, Dunkin' Donuts, etc. are all good bags. **These bags' aluminum laminate is what keeps the fishy ESBIT odor inside.

When In BEAR COUNTRY where you must use a BEAR CAN be sure to keep the fishy smelling ESBIT inside the bear can!

Eric B.

9:48 a.m. on September 27, 2018 (EDT)
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Esbit is very light, a little lighter than alcohol under most circumstances. Biggest weight savings can be in the stove itself. The reasons I still prefer alcohol:

  • Esbit leaves a sticky residue on your pot.
  • Esbit has a fishy smell I don't like.
  • The need to store Esbit fuel with your food/smellables.
  • If you're flying to your backpacking trip, you'll have to buy fuel after you arrive (can't take on the airplane). Esbit isn't always easy to find, depending where you're going (but I do believe you can find the Coghlan's tabs in most Walmarts). Denatured alky, on the other hand, can be found all over the place -- even HEET in the yellow bottle found at any gas station will work in an alky stove (but only use the yellow bottle). 

Still, many people like it. 

300winmag said:

Tall pots/mugs are not as efficient

Eric, generally true, but the beer can systems from Trail Designs are extremely efficient. It's because of the caldera cone, which traps and funnels the heat up along the vertical walls of the pot, exposing a huge amount of the water's surface area directly to the heat. It's designed for the pot to sit deep in the cone, so at the 2-cup level all of the water is inside the cone. I use only about 11g of fuel to get a 2-cup boil (fish eyes) in about 7 minutes.

2:05 p.m. on September 27, 2018 (EDT)
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I'm an Esbit convert after a decade of liquid alcohol use. I think the choice of fuel is ultimately more about personal choice than anything else (though the weight savings of Esbit are significant as is its cost). Personally I don't like using liquid fuel because it can spill...and in doing so adds additional care (minimal). To add to what has been said:

1) Hexamine is available in some form or another just about anywhere you find "outdoor gear"...and the only time traveling with hexamine is a problem is when you're flying...and if where you're going is big enough to have an airport I cannot imagine it doesn't have an outdoor store within Uber range.

2) Hexamine does leave a residue on pots...if you never use your pots on coals (I like to because it adds a smoke flavor and saves on fuel)...or you like to keep your pots pristine you will definitely want to stay clear of hexamine...otherwise it is not really an issue since most pots are stored in some kind of bag...and if it bothers you enough you can always give it a scrub when you clean your pot.

3) The wind has never been calm enough for me to smell hexamine while in the field...but I typically keep my head several feet from my stove when cooking. In an enclosed space I suppose it is possible to get a whiff...but I have used hexamine in vestibules many times and never noticed a smell...though I am generally big on ventilation in all my shelters cooking or not.

4) Hexamine doesn't spill or leak...personal proclivities aside there really is no downside to storing it with your food...in fact it is actually convenient to store with your food since the only time you use hexamine is when you are also using food. Liquid alcohol is another matter...it can contaminate food...so extra care must be taken (though it is hardly difficult).

5) I agree with JR...the type of windscreen you use can do a lot to increase the efficiency of tall pots. The key is to have the windscreen trap as much heat as possible against the side of the pot. In addition to TD...Jon at Flatcat Gear uses this technique to create a better "oven" with his systems...if you look you will see that his pots sit deep in their windscreens allowing much of the heat to be absorbed before escaping through vents at the top. I use this technique with all of my windscreens which are made from tooling foil and a hole-punch.

6) The Gram Cracker is a great little "stove"...I have made many similar models with a piece of heavy foil on day-hikes for a hot cuppa...but it is only set to the proper height for the Caldera Cone...it would be too high for Flatcats "Bobcat" system.

7) Hexamine is not technically alcohol...but it is commonly referred to as dry alcohol...and in that sense the OP is not incorrect.

4:39 p.m. on September 27, 2018 (EDT)
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7) Hexamine is not technically alcohol...but it is commonly referred to as dry alcohol...and in that sense the OP is not incorrect.

Well I still learn something new pretty much every day.

11:00 p.m. on September 27, 2018 (EDT)
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So when Would you choose one over the other? I’ve never really seen any reason to use alcohol stoves in my region. And I also was concerned with spills and accidents which I learned about 1st hand when I began hiking ( to me liquid just presented to many opportunities for accidents)Other than like y’all say it’s available everywhere. In what conditions should it be preferable to esbit cubes other than preference?

3:23 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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I have a Tibetan Esbit wing stove but haven't tested it yet.

6:05 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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John...when you want to stir-fry or need to boil water a few minutes faster it is probably best to use something besides hexamine. I use a canister stove for pan frying...but the "cat stoves" have a much greater output than hexamine and could get the job done. That said...frying with high heat requires frequently lifting your pan...and this would increase the hazard of spilling alcohol while it is burning...so I would not recommend it. Jon at Flatcat uses hexamine to fry with his Bobcat system...and in a pinch you could crush and spread a hexamine tablet to increase the surface area and burn-rate...but generally speaking frying with hexamine is more trouble than it is worth. On the other hand...hexamine is perfect for simmering + sauteing + baking...the primary ways I prepare food (I simmer my dehydrated food in a pot 90% of the time for better consistency and to eliminate carrying or disposing of dirty boil-bags).

Nick...the Tibetan Wing stove is the first hexamine stove I used (a frustrated friend gave it to me on a hike years ago). Like most backpacking stoves...a windscreen is the key to making the stove work. I recommend buying a small roll of tooling foil for all the lightweight windscreens you'll ever need (St. Louis Crafts usually has the best deals)...but aluminum foil works too. I am a bit handy and very particular...so I just make my own stoves now using a bit of titanium foil (tooling foil works too) in the shape of a cross for the 'stove" (think gram cracker without the legs) and a bit of thin sheet metal for the "pot stand" using a shorter (1.25"-2.25") version of the "Narrow Windscreen Without Additional Supports" design found not quite halfway down the page here: http://zenstoves.net/PotStands-WindscreenStands.htm

*optimum height for "pot stand" was determined using this experiment: http://thru-hiker.com/articles/esbit_stove_height.php

** Titanium foil is available in 6"x6" pieces for $4 here: http://www.titaniumgoat.com/windscreens.html

*** Brian Green's "Gram Cracker" is what I use minus the "legs"...he has a PDF and instructions for his version of the stove here: https://www.briangreen.net/bbb/2011/11/titanium-foil-esbit-tray-stove.html

7:12 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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Thanks Joseph 

7:51 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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John, both hexamine and alcohol represent significant weight savings over a canister setup. The canister approach is arguably easiest, cooks fastest, and its other main advantage is that it is best for real cooking, allowing you to adjust the flame and to use different pans and pots. Hexamine and alcohol setups are lighter but take longer and have little to no control over the flame (some alcohol stoves allow a "simmer ring" to choke down the flame for lower heat). They are best for simple recipes consisting mainly/exclusively of dehydrated foods.

I'm one state over from you and don't see that choosing either hexamine or alcohol over a canister setup is region-specific. I use alky because it's lighter than a canister setup, and I realize that weight savings whether in the Southeast or elsewhere.

I do use a canister setup when I'm with my daughter on weekenders because she doesn't do dehydrated food very well, so I incur the weight penalty in order to do some real cooking (esp pancakes for breakfast).

Hexamine vs. alcohol, it really is mostly a matter of preference. Hexamine can be overall lighter (the difference between the two is well into gram-counting territory), and the nature of the fuels themselves lead any one person to prefer one over the other -- again, spill concerns, availability, fishy smell, and residue on pot are the main drivers for that preference.

7:55 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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FlipNC said:

7) Hexamine is not technically alcohol...but it is commonly referred to as dry alcohol...and in that sense the OP is not incorrect.

Well I still learn something new pretty much every day.

That prompted me to look it up.

 "Hexamethylenetetramine or methenamine, also known as urotropin, is a heterocyclic organic compound with the formula (CH2)6N4. This white crystalline compound is highly soluble in water and polar organic solvents. It has a cage-like structure similar to adamantane." (Wikipedia)

With 4 nitrogens and no OH groups it is definitely not an alcohol. Structure seems to be 4 C3N3 hexagons warped together to make a cage.

 

8:07 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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I agree it's just a matter of preference for the most part...a couple of additional thoughts...

Alcohol stoves don't have to have spill issues...see my  Kojin stove review and the Modified Zelph Starlite that both have batting that prevent spills. Both links here:

https://www.trailspace.com/gear/trail-designs/kojin-stove/#review39262

https://www.trailspace.com/gear/zelphs-stoveworks/modified-starlyte/?review=38356

John I use alcohol year round in the southeast for convenience and one additional benefit over canister stoves...complete silence so I can enjoy listening to nature. I do have a wood burning option in mine that I use a lot for simmering etc. or just for fun.

8:57 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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At the risk of coming off as a liquid alcohol hater (I'm not...I used it for a decade)...spillage is possible with liquid alcohol when it is being used AND when it is being transported...it can basically spill anytime without care. That said...none of the issues with either hexamine or alcohol are serious and come down mostly to personal preference...both fuels are used successfully and happily by hordes of people.

Generally speaking...hexamine is lighter and simpler to use (no spill/no measure/etc.)...alcohol is cheaper...yet these differences are ceteris peribus only a matter of a few ounces of weight (about 2oz for a weekend) and a few dollars (<$1 more for a weekend of hexamine)...but when you're counting ounces or dollars this can matter.

I would add though...the burn rate of hexamine can be controlled the same as alcohol (by controlling the amount of oxygen it has)...the Epicurean Stove from Flatcat Gear shifts from simmer to boil simply by flipping the stove over: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvgJU7hrMRI...and honestly that's a complicated way to do it.

11:47 a.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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Agreed Joseph - you don't come across as a hater just preferring the solid fuel tabs after thorough use/evaluation...I am on the other side after trying both for several years - prefer the lower cost, availability, and lack of that fishy smell that really does bother me for some reason (residue does not since i wood burn as well so keep my pot in its own sleeve).  I agree on the transport issue - a tough container with a dispensing lid is a must for me (I see folks using old soda bottles but that just seems like they are waiting for a leak to happen).

1:34 p.m. on September 28, 2018 (EDT)
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You know I think this thread is a good representation of this site as a whole- A bunch of people who have tried various methods/products, gotten out and actually used them in the field, made a decision what works for them, backed their decision up with reasoning, and then, the most IMPORTANT part, agreeing to disagree on the "best". We are so spread out geographically that there is no best.

What I think is the Best part about this site, is that as someone who has backpacked for years (at the risk of sounding arrogant, wouldn't consider myself a newbie), can still learn from these threads. I, for one, have never even tried Esbit. Not sure why, probably cause I'm happy enough with what I use already, so this is a great base of information. There is sound rationale from both sides (that acknowledge both the advantages and the disadvantages to their given decision), that for someone looking to gleen information as they build their kit a website like Trailspace would be very empowering.

Thanks guys!

10:34 p.m. on September 29, 2018 (EDT)
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Jake W. +1 for that

JR -what I ment by the region is we don’t have the highest elevations here in the southeast so about anything goes here. I actually started out using an old liquid fuel stove that I’d used for years, and on my very 1st hiking attempt for the first time ever had a spill or flame up, (don’t remember exactly, in either case it was my carelessness or stupidity that cased it). After that as soon as I could I purchased a Bruton Raptor caniste stove and haven’t looked back. About 2 years ago I started using the esbit on some of my solo trip. But as a hiker I definitely am interested in these liquid stoves for future trip at higher elevations. 

Im also curious as to whether or not esbit types are as effective at say 10,000ft in elevation. 

Btw Im a Georgia boy myself, raise in Harlem/Grovetown just outside Augusta.

December 8, 2019
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