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#146571 - 02/17/11 06:46 PM Alcohol stoves... in winter?
Heather-ak Offline
member

Registered: 07/11/10
Posts: 597
Loc: Fairbanks, AK
From time to time we discuss different kinds of stoves and where each type of fuel is best used.

Specifically regarding the alcohol stoves - when they are brought up the general consensus is not for winter. So I have a question - Mushers locally use alcohol stove all winter long to melt snow and it gets a tad bit nippy up here. Their stoves don't really fall under lightweight, but I'm curious on why theirs works when other alcohol stoves fail.

Here are directions for making a dog food cooker.

Is there something that could be learned from their design and applied to the lightweight cookers that we can make?

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#146573 - 02/17/11 06:52 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Heather-ak]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
I started using alcohol stoves long before I heard that little tidbit that they weren't good for winter. Never believed it.

Melting snow isn't the best use for 'em, but they'll boil water fine. The little backpacking models will boil water great but use a ton more fuel than I would want to carry to melt snow.
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#146575 - 02/17/11 07:23 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: lori]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
Originally Posted By lori
I started using alcohol stoves long before I heard that little tidbit that they weren't good for winter. Never believed it.

Melting snow isn't the best use for 'em, but they'll boil water fine. The little backpacking models will boil water great but use a ton more fuel than I would want to carry to melt snow.


lori is spot on. I carry a Trangia 27 when I plan to have a cuppa while nordic skiing. The burner is carried in an inside pocket. It works great, but is not fuel efficient.
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#146577 - 02/17/11 07:46 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: ringtail]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3973
Loc: Bend, Oregon
errr isn't "melting [snow for] water" the purpose of a winter stove? confused

If you DO want to melt large quantities of snow, in mediocre cold or if you wish to boil smaller quantities in real cold and wind, you would be much better off with a higher Btu stove. In really cold and wind, alcohol (in a tiny stove) may never boil your water. White gas has a lot more energy per pound than alcohol. There are many reasons why most winter campers do not use alcohol. I would imagine that for dog mushers its a matter of economy or availability or safety maybe, that makes them choose alcohol.

Maybe some just use the same setup all year for simplicity. Since I have collected stoves, I have a choice...

Jim smile
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These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#146578 - 02/17/11 07:52 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Jimshaw]
Heather-ak Offline
member

Registered: 07/11/10
Posts: 597
Loc: Fairbanks, AK
When I went out with the mushers, we threw in our frozen vacuum packed food in the very hot (maybe not quite boiling) water.

I was just curious, because mushers are out in weather that the rest of us just stay inside for and none that I've met carry anything but the alcohol dog cookers... Perhaps there isn't a stove that takes other fuel _large_ enough to bother with.

Most mushers (and their dogs) take off the summer and don't run. The dogs overheat in anything above freezing for the most part.

Way to much thinking today wink

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#146579 - 02/17/11 07:53 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Jimshaw]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By Jimshaw
errr isn't "melting [snow for] water" the purpose of a winter stove? confused


Not all of us have the snow factor. Just the cold. You can keep all the snow, all to yourself, thanks.
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#146586 - 02/17/11 09:01 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: lori]
Franco Offline
member

Registered: 04/05/04
Posts: 1010
Loc: Australia
Mushers use those stoves for safety because you don't have moving parts/fiddly bits to deal with.
Roughly ,all other things equal (stove efficiency) it takes about twice the weight in alcohol to boil the same amount as it does with white gas, but again that is not a (big) problem for the mushers.
I have used a short Caldera Cone and a 1.3L pot to melt snow but it would not be my choice if I were out more than two or three days.
Franco

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#146590 - 02/17/11 10:09 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Heather-ak]
DTape Offline
member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 666
Loc: Upstate NY
I use an alcohol stove year round. The Adirondacks in winter are not known to be warm either. While it does take more fuel to melt snow, there are other tradeoffs which have been mentioned. In fact a few years ago, my alcohol stove was able to provide a hot meal for a hiking companion when his white gas stove wouldn't work.

As you mention, Heather, design is important. Many alcohol stove designs are not suited for colder temps (those are also the least efficient stove designs in my experience too). Stoves which are wick based are very efficient, safe and work very well in even sub-zero temps.
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#146592 - 02/17/11 10:24 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Heather-ak]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada

I use my alky in winter, usually with the fuel in my pocket for a cup of tea - works fine as long as I'm not dealing with cold fuel. so I take it on dayhikes a lot.

I *could* melt snow just fine over it. *if* I was willing to carry all the fuel for it. But I do know I need a lot more weight of fuel to melt snow for water if I'm carrying alcohol than if I'm carrying white gas.

I'm sure mushers are much less worried than I am about the weight of the fuel - or the efficiency of the stove.


Edited by phat (02/17/11 10:24 PM)
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#146595 - 02/17/11 10:37 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: phat]
thecook Offline


Registered: 10/03/08
Posts: 541
Loc: Minnesota
That dog food cooker has a lot of resemblance to the venerable Trangia stoves that have been used in winter, on mountain tops and all sorts of extreme places. Although the burner is simpler, the pot is completely shielded from the wind and the burner is decoupled from the pot. That is, the burner is neither heated nor cooled by the pot.
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#146599 - 02/17/11 11:49 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Heather-ak]
Rick_D Offline
member

Registered: 01/06/02
Posts: 2930
Loc: NorCal
I've found alcohol stoves vulnerable to being extinguished by condensation dripping from a pan of cold water/snow, so there's that. Of course alcohol has a high flashpoint, so isn't always easy to start when cold, and packs a little over half the energy of other fuels. Then there's the limited burn time.

Contra the burn time, it's easy enough to carry two burners and always have one ready to take over when the other runs out of fuel. I suspect if you're dedicated to them you can make them work wherever. I won't argue with anybody's success.

Cheers,
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#146600 - 02/17/11 11:57 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Rick_D]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
*shrug* an ounce of fuel in the mini atomic burned the same when it was really cold, more or less. Still boiled the water, tho it took a little longer. But the pot doesn't sit down on the stove, and it has a wick primer. A friend's white box clone didn't do as well.

I suppose it depends on a lot of factors. But my cold alcohol stoves have worked better in subfreezing temps than the canister stoves I've tried.
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"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#146608 - 02/18/11 08:37 AM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Heather-ak]
ringtail Offline
member

Registered: 08/22/02
Posts: 2296
Loc: Colorado Rockies
Spilling alcohol or white gas on your clothes or hands will produce frost bite very quickly. Be careful out there!!!!!


Alcohol is better for the environment when accidents happen.
_________________________
"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."
Yogi Berra

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#146617 - 02/18/11 02:04 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Heather-ak]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
Heather, great site (dog food cooker)! lots of other good reading. As far as using an alcohol stove, there are usually more than one solution to a problem and although I only use the alky stove in summer or in the desert I see no reason why you can't make it work for you.

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#146901 - 02/24/11 01:54 AM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: skcreidc]
JollyRogers Offline
member

Registered: 02/16/11
Posts: 26
Loc: Iowa
The problem with the alcohol stoves in the cold is that the stove itself has to heat up to pressurize the alcohol. So alcohol stoves will worked differently based on a number of factors.

Someone mentioned the White Box stove. It is made out of aluminum bottles, much thicker than an aluminum can. This means it takes more heat to warm the stove.

Insulation is also a factor. A cold pot resting on a stove tends to draw the heat out of the stove. Same thing happens when you put your stove on the cold ground or directly on the snow. Typically you would want an insulated base for your stove, maybe another can or cup to suspend it off of the cold ground.
To help keep the cold pot from drawing out the heat some people will carry a small piece of coat hanger shaped like a 'V' that will rest flat on the burning stove and then the pot is balanced upon the coat hanger. This keeps the cold pot from directly touching the stove and limits surface area where heat can be drawn directly from the stove.

Wick stoves do work much better with alcohol because the wick heats the alcohol closest to the wick as it absorbs it. Kind of a pre-heating through suspension as it were. It doesn't rely on the base temperature of the actual stove nearly as much.

Lastly, windscreens also play a major part with alcohol stoves. The better the windscreen the better the insulation to the pot and the hotter it will burn.

I believe the main differences are that white gas requires more moving parts and alcohol requires more know-how. But that is just my .02

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#146921 - 02/24/11 07:06 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: JollyRogers]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
Originally Posted By JollyRogers
I believe the main differences are that white gas requires more moving parts and alcohol requires more know-how. But that is just my .02


Don't forget, stoves like the Svea 123 and the old Optimus and Primus stoves don't have many moving parts, except the valve. Although they weigh a lot more than a soda can stove, they also put out a lot more heat per unit of fuel. The Svea 123 inside a Sigg Tourist cookkit is still a good combination for a group if weight isn't a consideration.
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Don't get me started, you know how I get.

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#147040 - 02/26/11 01:26 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: Heather-ak]
BarryP Offline
member

Registered: 03/04/04
Posts: 1574
Loc: Eastern Idaho
Random thoughts about winter alcy stoves:

Yea I use alcy stoves in the winter. I melt snow with them. I donít boil the snow so that saves fuel. I will use a chlorine dioxide pill every once in a while.

I bring about 3x the amount of fuel in winter as summer.

I prefer the white-box stove in the winter as that holds more fuel. In the winter it takes about 90 seconds to bloom though.

I set my stoves on aluminum foil covered CCF.

I think Mushers would like alcy because itís easier to light than white-gas stoves. I see this problem with scouts. They have a hard time with their simmerlites. And the flare ups scare you every once in a while.

To light a soda stove in the winter requires a different approach. In the summer you can usually light the vapors above the stove. In the winter, there is no vapor. So I have to light my match and just drop it in the white-box stove (same for a pepsi stove). Upon contact, the alcy lights. When the fuel is all burned up, I just dump out the match. Itís interesting that the match doesnít burn up.
When melting snow, start with a seed of water to get it going or youíll burn your pan.

Again, like the summer, the alcy stove setup will be your lightest set up if computing average weight per day of your stove system. Granted itís a little heavier on the first day.

I donít even keep my alcy, stove, or seed water warm when lighting my stoves. They still light. However, a white-box and alcy will bloom faster if it was previously kept in your coat.

Practice at home first to get used to it.

Just my experience at 0FÖ
-Barry

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#147092 - 02/27/11 05:49 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: BarryP]
hikerduane Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/03
Posts: 2124
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
Three of us were out this weekend in the Sierra at a little over 6300', got down to 6F over night. I had to prime my old kerosene burning Optimus 111T using alcohol, really surprised this AM how quickly the alcohol lit. It still took two primes to get the stove going, but that was ok. I used it as a hand warmer, while I ate and listened to my old Primus 71 roar away melting snow and boiling water for my instant oatmeal. I have read the comments about alcohol, so now I have first hand experience. I've gotten into collecting vintage camping/bping stoves starting last year, so all there "old relics" give me something to look forward to on trips and see how they did things years back.

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#147102 - 02/27/11 10:22 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: hikerduane]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Originally Posted By hikerduane
Three of us were out this weekend in the Sierra at a little over 6300', got down to 6F over night. I had to prime my old kerosene burning Optimus 111T using alcohol, really surprised this AM how quickly the alcohol lit.


I've always used kerosene stoves here in November for my spike camp for hunting (because we have Kero lanterns..) (and it's darn cold then a lot of the time) I've used an old MSR, and an old Primus 96 with kero in cold weather a lot... and I have always always primed with alcohol.. you *can* prime with other stuff but it flames and smokes and soots, and why.. alcohol works fine, and if you touch the match to it it will always light.

Now getting it to boil for an alky stove to generate is a bit tougher, but it will always light.

and in case you're wondering, we use kerosene wick lamps because they don't make noise.. you can't hear the wolves howling at night and nice stuff like that with a hissing coleman lantern.
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#147104 - 02/27/11 11:05 PM Re: Alcohol stoves... in winter? [Re: phat]
hikerduane Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/03
Posts: 2124
Loc: Meadow Valley, CA
I got compliments from my two fellow hikers on my 111T, with silent burner. This morning, I had the little 71 going, almost as noisey as a XGK or similar. Got quiet when I shut it off. I like to be able to hear, I may only bring my recently acquired XGK's when solo. I like the alcohol for priming as it burns nice and clean, no soot. I need to find a better way to fill the priming cup/depression, my eye dropper takes too many refills to fill the priming cup up. This morning I used the small funnel to fill the Optimus.

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