I am an advocate of cannister stoves. However, lately I have been experimenting with Esbit because it is nice and light and easy to transport. I have a Vargo alcohol stove which is not a very good alcohol stove but it is made to be flipped over to burn Esbit. Today I took a light stainless steel pot (one with a copper bottom) which measures 5" diameter and about 3" deep. Burning Esbit on my Vargo and (with a heat shield in place) it took 3 Esbit tablets to bring 3 cups of water to a boil. I then tried just 1 cup of water and that took 2 tablets to bring to a boil. I pay about $7.50 for a package of 20 Esbit tablets (including tax).
It doesnít seem very economical to me although it works fine with a little bit of patience. I donít really need to bring the water to a boil I suppose, but even at that I am likely to go though a lot Esbit during an overnight hike. Bear in mind too that where I hike the water is very cold and so it does take a lot of energy to heat up. Am I missing something here? Perhaps I am doing something wrong? Maybe I should forget it and stick to my cannister stove? Back to the drawing board I guess.
Loc: SF Bay Area, CA
My original experience with esbits was also quite negative. I couldn't get 16 oz of water to boil with the typical esbits stove or the vargo ti stove. part of the problem was my pot was too far away from the esbits. I recently learned that distance between the esbits and pot bottom will impact performance significantly as does what sort of windscreen you use.
A well design esbits system such as the Caldera Cone with the optional esbits holder can bring 16oz of water to boil in 7-8 minutes using less than 15grams of fuel or do two smaller boils using 15 grams (one tablet). A few other high efficiency esbits stoves mentioned in the esbit section of my recommended stoves page.
I played with Esbit for a couple of trips, too. I found that a really good windscreen, and being close to the pot was essential - I ended up using the "official" three-leg wing stove and a circular windscreen with a few holes punched in the bottom, and a diameter that left about a quarter inch opening around the pot at the top. I could boil enough water for a freeze-dried single serving meal (12 - 16 oz.) with one cube.
However, using the cubes was messy, and it left a bit of soot on the pot. I quickly went back to my canister stove; the Esbit worked, but it just wasn't worth what I perceived to be the hassle.
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
I've only used my Esbit stove and fuel for a couple week long trips. Works fine although slow, out of the wind with my MSR windscreen or foil, boiling two cups or less of water in 12-15 minutes on less than one tablet. Seems any excess wind is death to it. You need to wipe the crud off the bottom of your pot on some grass or tp. Stinky stuff even when stored in double bags.
It was very gusty when I tried it, and so that may be the problem. Even with my homemade windscreen the wind affected the flame some. Looking on YouTube I see that some folks use the larger tablets. I didn't even know there were larger tablets available. The larger ones come 12 to a box whereas mine are 20 smaller tablets.
I think the forte of Esbit is as an emergency fuel. It stores well. Takes up very little space. It cannot spill or be punctured. One always knows how much he or she has left (unlike my cannisters). But, for our purposes I feel it might be cost prohibitive on a really long hike. I will know more in a week when I have thoroughly tested it on the trail. I have carried it for a little while now but only as a backup. Never used it on the trail.
I have rather a lot of experience with Esbit. Maybe I can help.
It was my primary fuel for an AT thru-hike a few years ago. I used it all but about ten days (when I switched to alcohol because a slip box got lost and I couldn't buy any Esbit).
Very consistently, for the whole trip, cold water or warm, windy or calm, one tablet in a homemade windscreen/potstand brought 20 oz. (approx.) of water to a rolling boil in about six to eight minutes.
My pot is aluminum, about 5 in. in diameter and about 2 1/2 in. deep. The aluminum is completely uncoated. The lid is a tight fit. It was salvaged from a smashed Boy Scout cook kit, around 1949.
There was often enough Esbit left over to keep my dinner simmering for another three or four minutes.
My system is to bring the water to a boil (or very close) and pour off what water I don't need for the food (usually 6 oz. or 8 oz.)into my drink cup, then pour my food into the pot and return it to the heat for a couple of minutes. Then I wrap the pot in my fleece touque and wait another five minutes or so, sipping my drink.
Yes, the Esbit gunks up the bottom of my pot a bit, but I carry a round piece of the green plastic scrubbing sheet to both clean the bottom (as needed) and to insulate the bottom of the pot while it's "cooking".
I think I may have a less acute sense of smell than others, since I rarely even notice the odor (but I do notice the wonderful aroma of the food).
Lately I have been using the little titanium wing stove with an aluminum baking pan windscreen (as above, holes punched in bottom, clears the pot by quarter inch all round, comes a bit more than halfway up sides of pot). I probably have about a dozen days on this system, and so far, my experience seems to be just about the same as during the thru-hike.
From above, it would appear that I am getting a bit more out of my tablets than is the common experience, and doing so consistently. Don't know why.
One thing I like about the Esbit that hasn't been mentioned is that If I don't use the full tablet, I can blow it out, keep the remains and use them when I need a little bit (actually, I usually accumulate enough that I wind up using them in place of a tablet).
The only trouble I've had with them is finding a way to hold them and light them sometimes, especially in a wet, cold wind.
Hope that's useful, Howie. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
Howie, I really don't notice or mind the smell either.
A few years ago I was really into making and using alky stoves, also using Esbit as a backup. I then tried Esbit for an entire trip and have been using it as my primary fuel source since, if cookfires aren't legal. It's lighter per BTU, no liquids, hotter burns and I find that if I crack it into 4ths, I can supplement the cubes by feeding little twigs into the fire. I've never cared about sooting up my pot, or the fuel smell. I probably smell worse than the Esbit, anyway.
Many thanks to all of you for your input. I really appreciate it. I can see it may be a bit of a learning curve like anything else. It actually took me a while to even find Esbit where I live, but then I found out that it is used as a fuel for model steam engines. I buy it at a local craft store. In the States it seems to be available at Wallmart but not in Canada. I think it has to do with our strict shipping regulations and such. I believe I will like using Esbit once I get the hang of it, and the weight saving likely outweighs the cost.
I asked my wife who is one to complain about smells. She doesn't mind the smell either. However, there is a slight odour when burning it.
I am back now and the Esbit worked out great. I went through a fair bit of it though. The trouble is, I like my tea really really hot and I was probabley at 6000 feet with fairly cold water to begin with.
As for blackening the pot. Like the man said a little scrubbing with the green thingy took care of it in a hurry.
I have been using esbit for ages. I have a ti cup--just over an ounce, and the little ti tripod stand--about half an ounce. I use a scrap of foil for a lid and small foil windscreen with a foil tail for a rock to hold it down. For a setup this small i can often get by with half an esbit tab--i stick my knife through the plastic and give a twist and it usually breaks cleanly. I like that the bottom blackens up because things heat up faster. For packing everything fits in the cup and it all goes in a plastic produce bag with the bottom carefully put where the black mess was. I have found it takes warm water to remove the black so I wait until I am home to scrub the bottom of the cup.
Shikekeh hozhoogo naasha. I walk in beauty.