Just because you are out in the wild, doesn’t mean that you have to give up all of the little luxuries that make life good. With the best alcohol stove, you can travel light and enjoy a hot cup of coffee or a warm meal during your trip or your trek.
These small, light and low-priced alcohol based stoves are nature-friendly and are rapidly replacing bulky fossil fuel based stoves.
Now, while the internet is full of DIY videos on how to make an alcohol stove from a coke can with a cutter and a drill, and while that might be a fun and engaging activity for a lazy Sunday with your kids.
And you know very well that if you are serious about spending time in the wilderness, you need some proper tools along the way, tools you can rely on to give you what you need when you need it and which won’t malfunction.
What to Look Out for
Off the bat, we need to clarify that what we are talking about here is a backpacking stove, not a barbecue/camping stove. The difference is that a camping stove is something you carry mainly in your car, and not more than 30 feet from your car by foot.
Backpacking stoves are the ones you can actually carry over great distances because they are very small. However, this means you use them to boil water or fry some eggs and bacon, so no, they will not do for that juicy set of ribs.
As usual, when it comes to outdoors equipment the material it is made off is a huge deciding factor, and what you will look out for is the ratio between durability, weight and heat conduction. Aluminium, for example, is very light and a great heat conductor, but it is not the most durable of metals, so it scratches easily.
Stainless steel, on the other hand, is much more durable, but heavier and a pretty lousy heat conductor, which will have a toll on the efficiency of your tool. Other available materials you can stumble upon are titanium or brass, which may drive the price up.
As you might have deduced from the title, these stoves are fuelled by alcohol, but there are exceptions and we will get to them later. Some of the benefits of alcohol fuel are that it is an eco-friendly and renewable resource, so you won’t have to worry if you spill any on the ground or into water, as it will not cause damage.
It evaporates quickly without leaving an odor behind, so you won’t smell like a gas pump if you spill it on yourself. It is not explosive and is easily extinguishable which means you don’t need to carry it in a heavy metal container either.
The three types of alcohol you may use:
- Denatured alcohol: this is ethanol mixed with methanol. You can find it in the paint department of hardware stores. Since the methanol is poisonous you should check how much of it does the mix contain, as it can vary greatly.
- Grain alcohol: or pure alcohol, this is pure ethanol, which is not poisonous but is also more expensive. As it can be up to 190 proof, it can also be difficult to buy. Otherwise, this would be an ideal fuel.
- Methyl alcohol: or methanol, or wood alcohol. You can find it as paint thinner or as antifreeze such as HEET (the yellow bottle only). This one is cheaper and makes for a great fuel, but it is poisonous, so you need to avoid using it in closed spaces and you need to be careful how you store it or elements contaminated by it.
What The Market Has for You
MSR Pocket Rocket Backpacking Stove
Dimensions: 4” x 2” x 2”
Weight: 4.2 oz
Best Use: Camping, Hiking
Description: If you are a camping and hiking enthusiast you probably already encountered the MSR brand, since they have been producing quality outdoors gear for over 40 years. It is no surprise then that they have also released their own series of camping stoves.
While the design might remind you of a torture device from some kind of B-movie, the Pocket Rocket is actually quite user-friendly, meaning it has few movable parts you need to worry about, is easy to maintain and allows you to adjust the flame from simmer to boil even if you are wearing gloves. This is a feature not many alcohol stoves have.
For an optimum ratio between weight and durability, this product has parts made from aluminum, stainless steel, and brass, depending on their function.
The major disadvantage of this product that it only runs on fuel from special canisters from the same brand. An 8 oz MSR canister will set you back about 11$.
With it, you will be able to boil about 16 L (4.22 gallons) of water in ideal conditions. It will take you about 3.5 minutes to cook one liter of water.
This stove comes with an attached wind clip which will boost efficiency in breezy conditions, though do not expect wonders if a strong and constant wind picks up.
It also comes with a triangular hard shell carry case, which will make it easier to carry and protect the product from any damage.
Trangia Mini 28-T Backpacking Stove
Dimensions: 6” x 2.5” x 2.5”
Weight: 11.6 oz
Best Use: Lone trekking, Mountain Marathons
Description: While MSR has been producing all sorts of camping gear for over 40 years, Trangia Mini 28-T Backpacking Stove has been focusing solely on outdoor stoves for the last 60 years.
The company was founded and is still based in a village in the Swedish mountains, so the people who created their products know what is needed for a good and light hiking stove.
The Trangia Mini was specially designed for the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon multi-sport competition and, as such, focuses on being compact and efficient.
Note that this product is a full set, meaning that aside from the stove itself it also comes with a 0.8 L pan and a non-stick 9” lid/frying pan. All you need to add is the fuel, which can be of your choosing, though methyl alcohol or gas-line antifreeze will probably work best.
The stove has a small windshield for the burner against breezes and has a simmer ring with which you can extinguish the flame or adjust the flame, though to a far lesser degree than the previous entry. The burner also has a lid, so you can carry some fuel inside it, meaning you can go on short trips without additional fuel.
A great advantage is that the whole set fits within the aluminum pan which is then covered by the lid, so transportation is compact and easy.
Trangia Spirit Burner with Screwcap
Dimensions: 4.7” x 4.7” x 1.2”
Weight: 4.2 oz
Best Use: Cycling, Hiking
Description: If the whole Trangia Mini set is unnecessarily more than you are looking for or is too expensive, you can always just get the Trangia burner itself, for less than half the price.
It is much lighter and compacter, but it still retains such advantages such as working with several types of liquid fuel and having a screw lid, so you can carry remaining fuel in the burner.
This brass burner works with any of the Trangia alcohol stoves and not only, as it is potentially compatible with other brands. These burners are quite durable, so you shouldn’t worry about it getting damaged, but you could have a back-up just in case, that way you don’t have to replace the whole thing.
Of course, you can use the burner on its own, without the additional stove, but that does mean you will not have a windshield or a support for your cup or lid, which you need to provide yourself, nor can you adjust the flame.
All in all, we cannot see a reason why you should get just the Trangia burner, when for just 20 dollars more you can get the whole stove, which will provide you with the burner and everything else you might need.
Vargo Outdoors Triad XE Titanium Alcohol/Fuel Tab Stove
Dimensions: 3.9” x 3.9” x 1.2”
Weight: 1.5 oz
Best Use: Camping
Description: This titanium ultralight stove boasts with an all-season, all-terrain capability. And while Vargo Outdoors Triad XE Titanium Alcohol/Fuel Tab Stove brings some of its own advantages to the table, it does also present a few shortcomings when compared to the Trangia.
With its three legs and three pan supports expanded the Triad looks like a small alien ship which has just landed, and “small” is the main word here, as this is one of the lightest models we have looked at.
So, if you are looking at reducing weight in your backpack, this might be a good choice.
The Triad supports any type of fuel, not just the liquid kind. It has an interior chamber for alcohol based fuel, which can be removed if you want to use fuel tabs or fuel gel.
Under optimum conditions, it will burn for about 15 minutes with alcohol, though burn time varies for other fuels. It also is pretty efficient, heating up a cup of water in about 4 minutes.
One major disadvantage is that you need to let it burn out and cool down if you want to add more fuel, which is not at all useful if you need to use it for longer periods of time.
You also need to make sure that the three rather sharp legs have something solid to stand on, otherwise the whole thing might tip over.
Also, important to note is that for its price you only get the stove, without additional gear.
Forfar Camping Stove
Dimensions: 5.11” x 5.9” x 5.9”
Weight: 12.3 oz
Best Use: Camping, Backpacking
Description: The Forfar Camping Stove is the largest and heaviest item on our list, and as such isn’t designed for long hikes, but is ideal if you only travel on short distances and you want to set up a more solid camp.
The great advantage of this stove is that it runs on pretty much any type of fuel, be it alcohol, gel, tabs or firewood or tree leaves, which can save you the hassle of buying and carrying fuel or can be an essential feature if you run out of fuel for any reason.
Being of a larger size means that this stove will allow you to heat and cook and more demanding stuff than a cup of water or an egg. You can even do a small barbecue on it.
Of course, you will have to bring all the other utensils, as the package only includes the stove. Still, considering the price, it is a very good deal, since you get a durable stainless steel stove with an ash box and a triangle folding hub for small and larger pans.
One disadvantage is that this stove has five individual pieces which need assembly.
Now, the assembly itself is pretty straightforward, however, if you do forget or lose one of the pieces, that might not be great for you. Luckily, the stove comes with a mesh bag for carrying and keeping.
TOAKS Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove
Dimensions: 2.08” x 2.08” x 1.57”
Weight: 0.7 oz
Best Use: Lightweight trekking, hiking
Description: While at a first glance it might look like just a regular cup without a handle, the Toaks Alcohol Stove might very well be the most efficient stove on our list, due to its simplicity and fuel consumption.
Notice the small holes just inside the rim of the stove, your flame will jet up through these holes making sure the energy of your fire is used in the best way possible.
Under ideal conditions, 30 mL of alcohol (about 1 oz) will burn for about 11 minutes and will heat about 500 mL of water, about two cups, in under 6 minutes.
That is not bad at all, especially considering that the Toaks is tiny. It is made from durable titanium and doesn’t even weigh an ounce.
On the other side, what you see is what you get, and while it is the priciest item on our list, you won’t get anything else but the stove for your money.
Wind protector, wireframe, pan, all of that you will need to get separately.
The stove is designed for alcohol fuel only, so you will have to carry that separately as well. While the stove will hold almost 3 oz of fuel while being used, it works best with only 1 oz, but, luckily, refueling is as simple with this item as is its design.
A perfect tool if you are going on a mountain marathon and need as little weight on you as possible, but otherwise, there are better stoves you can get for your money.
When preparing for a trip in the wild, the thought of a portable stove will probably not take up a lot of space in your mind, after all, this is supposed to be a back to basics, get in touch with your rugged side type of affair, and a warm meal or a hot cup of coffee seem like unnecessary luxuries.
However, you really should not underestimate the moral and physical boost a warm drink can give you after a long hike. It is always the small things that make a difference, and in this case, they might be just what gives the energy to go on.
Even that can of beans will taste a helluva lot better if it is warm. Also, you never know when you need to melt some snow or boil creek water to get drinking water.
As such, choosing the best alcohol stove for your trip is an important step in your preparation and you should not skip it. You will thank yourself later when the steam from your coffee warms your frozen face.