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#158712 - 12/14/11 08:18 AM Alcohol Stoves
HeikeDog Offline
member

Registered: 12/07/11
Posts: 19
Loc: South Texas
What is the best alcohol stove in terms of convenience and ease of use? As a newbie, I'm willing to sacrifice a little weight for a piece of equipment that isn't going to frustrate me to use. What about the fuel itself? I read reviews on Amazon about the MSR Pocket Rocket that say it's easy to use but the fuel canisters are not refillable, are expensive and can be difficult to locate. To me, that's not a good combination (assuming it's true). None of the other stoves on Amazon (admittedly, the only place I've looked because I like the reviews) got consistently high marks without being re-worked by the user somehow -- cutting extra notches for pan stability, drilling holes to reduce weight, adding wind screens, etc, etc.

Thanks for any insight.

Lesley

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#158713 - 12/14/11 09:32 AM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: HeikeDog]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
Actually, as a group, alcohol stoves are pretty straightforward - add fuel, light, and boil water. Some variety of fuel is readily available - i have used Purell hand sanitizer (62% ethanol) in mine quite effectively. The one I really like is the venerable Trangia. It is heavier than most (3 oz), actually has a simmering attachment, and can be carried full of fuel (just make sure the gasket in the lid is intact). I really like the stove as supplied with the mini-Trangia cookset, about $35 at REI, and you are set for solo or two person cooking (water boiling).

I also used that same cook set with my Pocket Rocket, which has been my main appliance for the last ten years. Simple, effective, and reasonably light weight. I don't agree completely with the reviews you cite. In the overall scheme of things, the cost of the canisters is pretty insignificant. If you fly to your destination, finding a store with canisters in small towns can be a hassle. Canister stoves are basically convenient and foolproof and relatively light.

With almost any stove you will need to cobble up some sort of windscreen - usually a piece of heavy duty foil will do the job. For me, the PR has been foolproof, effective, and light weight.

As a certified geezer, I have not gone out in really cold temperatures, so I can't speak to the ability of the Pocket Rocket in sub-zero conditions, where it does get a bit cranky. If you are going out in winter, you need a liquid fuel stove, and its attendant weight. Be sure and carry maintenance and repair items.

I suspect that most of us are multiple stove users - alcohol or canister for mild conditions, and a liquid fueled stove for winter.

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#158715 - 12/14/11 10:44 AM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: HeikeDog]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
There are a zillion kinds of alcohol stove.

The ones that work reliably are also many, but, reliable means different things to different people.

My go-to for cold weather is a Mini Atomic from Minibull - it has a wick around the outside that you put a few drops of fuel on and light, and the stove blossoms like magic. It requires a pot stand separate from the stove.

I also have a White Box stove - this stove requires you to put the pot (it works best with wide pots) on the stove to pressurize it. The larger version holds more fuel for a longer boil. This is a boiling stove, not a cooking stove.

I have a Featherfire stove - this has a knob, and a snuffer cap. You can burn for an hour on a simmer, or open it wide and boil fast - and once you get to a boil snuff it and recover the fuel that's left. The caveat with this stove is that the legs are delicate and it needs to be packed carefully.

Then there's the cat can stove, the supercat - make one or a dozen out of Fancy Feast cans, using a pattern you download at Zen Stoves. You can make a second stove for simmering. The Supercat boils fast but is not so efficient as some others.

All alcohol stoves burn best on yellow bottle HEET or denatured alcohol; I've also found some brands of alcohol burn better than others. In cold weather, a wicked stove and keeping the fuel in a pocket will give you a quick prime. You can expect best results if you practice with your stove before taking it out, and if you always use a windscreen, a base (foil keeps the ground from being a heat sink in the cold and prevents you from lighting the duff on fire with the stove), and a lid on the pot, you'll do great. The windscreen needs to be 1/2 - 1 inch from the sides of the pot to allow the stove enough air, but also needs to block side drafts that will steal the flame off the pot.

zenstoves.net has more info than you ever wanted on all kinds of stoves.

For convenience and ease of use, you'll have to decide on your own. I find that when I require only boiling water all the stoves i have are convenient and easy to use. Trying to cook on any of the backpacking stoves (pocket rocket included, I hated that thing, it had settings "boil fast, boil less fast, boil slow, boil slower, off") can be challenging. My best success with steam baking muffins came with the Minibull Black Fly, a stove that he no longer makes.

Good luck, happy stove making. Fortunately, most alcohol stoves you buy pre-made are much cheaper into the bargain.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

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#158716 - 12/14/11 11:12 AM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: oldranger]
Glenn Offline
member

Registered: 03/08/06
Posts: 2617
Loc: Ohio
I agree with Oldranger - the Trangia isn't the lightest, but I found it reliable and easy. I particularly like the ability to snuff the flame and leave unused fuel in the stove (no measuring, no draining, no waiting while excess burns off.)

I use the Pocket Rocket almost exclusively now (and will probably replace it with the new Micro Rocket after Christmas) for its simplicity (I'm a weekend/recreational backpacker.) I've used it down to freezing without any problems; below that, I usually use a white gas stove (Simmerlite), but suspect you might get the PR to work into the mid twenties.

I prefer a Titan Kettle to the Trangia cookset, only because I can also use the kettle as a mug. I eat breakfast cold, and make a mug of tea to drink with it; at supper, I rehydrate my instant-rice-with-mix-ins in the kettle, eat from the kettle, and drink water. The kettle, a spoon, and the stove are my entire kitchen.

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#158740 - 12/14/11 06:24 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: Glenn]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
As far as the claims about canisters, yes, they are not refillable, no, not absolutely true they are hard to find (depending on where you live, of course) and yes/no depending on your definition of expensive.

Some canister stoves are better than others. I have two- a Primus Micron and a Coleman Xtreme. The Coleman canisters are hard to find because it is not your standard canister stove, but canisters for the Primus (and similar stoves) are readily available at almost any outdoor shop and many discount retailers that sell camping gear.

While alcohol stoves are popular with UL hikers, a canister stove is about the simplist stove there is to use.


Edited by TomD (12/14/11 06:26 PM)
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#158758 - 12/15/11 10:51 AM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: TomD]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
It might be wise to revisit if an alcohol stove is the best choice for you. A lot of that depends on what type of backpacking you will do and what kind of cooking you will do.

Are your plans for one or two nights? Or a week at a time? Will you essentially be boiling water, or will you simmer for a long time? What altitudes will you be at? What temperatures? Will you be cooking for one or more?

I'm old school, so I don't have any answers. I haven't changed stoves in 34 years. (I wasn't actively backpacking all those years.)

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#158760 - 12/15/11 11:27 AM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: Gershon]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By Gershon


Are your plans for one or two nights? Or a week at a time? Will you essentially be boiling water, or will you simmer for a long time? What altitudes will you be at? What temperatures? Will you be cooking for one or more?




You seem to be under the impression that all of this matters.... I've used alcohol stoves in the cold, to boil, to cook, and to do it for more than one person.

None of that is even a factor - limitations on stoves are only based on how many you want to carry, how much fuel you need to run them, and if you're going in a huge group - take many stoves, and be happy that you would have to carry many supercat stoves to even approach having the same weight as a Pocket Rocket.

I would not imagine that I could melt snow with one, but beyond that, there is a model and a fuel consumption rate to suit you, it's just a matter of picking the right stove.

This is not stumping for owning an alcohol stove - this is me telling you not to believe myths perpetrated on forums about their inability to perform when cold, high elevation, etc. It's a common attitude that they don't - they do fine, and do it silently without interrupting the peace of the wilderness.
_________________________
"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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#158761 - 12/15/11 12:00 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: lori]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Lori,

Lots of times I see people give recommendations without knowing how gear will be used. Then they leave many choices for the person without showing how to make those choices.

I guess it's the sales person in me that wants to delve into benefits before recommending features. Since I'm mostly ignorant of alcohol stoves except for the few fireballs I've made on my deck, I thought of the questions I'd want to know the answers to before buying.

Personally, if I were choosing, I'd just buy the Trangia and see what happened. But I don't know if that's good advice or not.
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#158763 - 12/15/11 12:16 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: Gershon]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
I'd recommend FREE - get out the hole punch, feed a cat, poke some holes, try it out.

There are some fans of Trangia, true, but you don't know what you like until you use it.

A good number of alcohol stove fans are also geeks - stove geeks lead to stove blogs, lead to more information than anyone really needs.
_________________________
"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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#158765 - 12/15/11 12:24 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: HeikeDog]
BrianLe Offline
member

Registered: 02/26/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Washington State, King County
It's always going to be challenging to find the "best" of anything, and perhaps more so with stoves where there are so many varieties and opinions.

I highly recommend that you make yourself a 'fancy feast' stove and try it out, get to know an alcohol stove for yourself --- at virtually no cost. In particular, try out Andrew Skurka's directions for building a Fancy Feast stove.

I recommend this particular model as it's just so easy to make, and it's quite an effective stove, so long as you don't have too pot with too narrow a base. You just need a single cat food can, marking pen, and a hole punch. My wife and I at one point in the past tried making some pressurized pepsi can stoves, and those were a bit tricky to get right, we were never really satisfied with the results. The Fancy Feast stove really is dead easy to make and works great. It might well be all the stove you'll ever want. Until I swapped to a pressurized stove that was recommended as the only stove to use with the caldera cone setup I got, I had switched from my commercially made stove to the Fancy Feast.

In terms of your original question (convenience and ease of use) --- I've used three different types of alcohol stove, and quite a bit. I consider them all to be about the same on those factors. Optionally get a small plastic measuring cup, put in a fixed amount of alcohol, light it, and cook. In cold weather some models have a lip used to prime the stove, one stove that I own allows some change in air flow to allow for simmering, but I rarely care about any of that stuff.
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Brian Lewis
http://postholer.com/brianle

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#158767 - 12/15/11 12:58 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: lori]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
We are probably all overthinking this. Homo sapiens has been cooking with fire for at least 100,000 years (conservatively), for much of that time without benefit of anything other than a campfire, which should always be your final option when you need to generate heat and light.

Nearly everyone backpacking eventually comes to value simplicity of meal preparation, leading to the "just boil water and stir" technique. I suspect that most of us come to acquire more than one stove to meet different circumstances.

If I were restricted to just one stove (horrors!), given my present circumstances, where I elect to avoid really cold weather for the most part, I would be perfectly happy with the Trangia. For years it had a place in my SAR pack, primarily because it cooked with an absolute minimum of fuss and bother, allowing one to attend to more pressing matters.

I, too, have punched holes in cans and they work (a Super Cat is amazingly light!), but there is still a higher fiddle factor than the Trangia.

Incidentally, the "stove geek" blog you deride is a very good source of accurate information with respect to stoves - well worth a read. At last count, Hikin' Jim publically admitted to owning 116 stoves - he would agree that he is a geek and proud of it.

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#158769 - 12/15/11 01:22 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: lori]
Dryer Offline

Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3591
Loc: Texas
Quote:
I'd recommend FREE - get out the hole punch, feed a cat, poke some holes, try it out.



Good answer! Lori, alcohol dumped on a sheet of tinfoil will cook a meal just fine. grin My "Altoids Stove" in 'make your own gear' is really just a burner....works fine. All alky stoves have their attributes and making them is part of the fun. Lay an esbit tab on top of one and now you have a hybrid. Saturate a little cone of dirt with it, light it, and now you have a 'super ultralite' alky stove. No need to buy one.
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paul, texas KD5IVP

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#158770 - 12/15/11 01:31 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: Dryer]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
There is one aspect of stove use we haven't considered - legality. In most areas, there are conditions where public access is allowed, but "open campfires" are banned (typically due to dry, fire prone conditions). As I understand it, only stoves with a valve which can shut off the fuel supply to the stove are permissible under these conditions. This bans all or nearly all alcohol stoves, leading one to the choice of canister or liquid. Of course, when conditions are getting that dry, perhaps no fire at all is the best course.

You will probably end up with more than one stove. Resistance is futile.

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#158772 - 12/15/11 02:06 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: oldranger]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Deride?

I'm jealous of his collection! I own a lot of alcohol stoves but not that many!

I'm also jealous of anyone whose homemade stoves work. Want to see my hockey puck collection?

One thing I've learned - anyone new to the topic of backpacking gear hits overload pretty quick, whether you're talking about pack fit, hammocking, alcohol stoves, or the intricacies of dehydrating meals. Let them get hooked, then get geeky if they prove to be one of the gearheads. Not all frequent backpackers are also gearheads. When the eyes start to glaze over, you're not talking to a gearhead...
_________________________
"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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#158777 - 12/15/11 03:58 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: oldranger]
DTape Offline
member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 666
Loc: Upstate NY
Originally Posted By oldranger
There is one aspect of stove use we haven't considered - legality. In most areas, there are conditions where public access is allowed, but "open campfires" are banned (typically due to dry, fire prone conditions). As I understand it, only stoves with a valve which can shut off the fuel supply to the stove are permissible under these conditions. This bans all or nearly all alcohol stoves, leading one to the choice of canister or liquid. Of course, when conditions are getting that dry, perhaps no fire at all is the best course.

You will probably end up with more than one stove. Resistance is futile.


I have heard the interpretation of "open campfire" just as you describe, but only on internet forums. I have never come across this "definition" used by anyone in authority or written by any agency etc... Perhaps this is a geographical definition. In NY and just about everywhere else I have been on the East coast, open campfire bans are specific to wood and have nothing to do with whether the stove has a shut off valve.

I agree he will likely end up with multiple stoves.
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#158779 - 12/15/11 04:17 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: DTape]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
My source is a western office of the USFS. Thinking about it, it seems reasonable. Our woods out here can get really dry, I suspect much more so than the typical eastern hardwood forest.

A few years ago i went for a day hike in the local mountains and noticed that everything was powder dry. I thought "This is my last hike until it rains". Two days later, a ricochet from a group target shooting just off the highway started a 21,000 acre conflagration. I have worried about doing the same, digging with hand tools in a dry grassland.

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#158782 - 12/15/11 04:52 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: oldranger]
DTape Offline
member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 666
Loc: Upstate NY
For sure, dry doesn't describe much of any forested area around here. I do not see how the lack of a shut off valve (as in an alcohol or esbit stove) increases the risk of forest fire any more than any other stove that does have a valve. This definition I do not see as "reasonable". I completely understand the need for bans, both for fire prevention and for conservation and do see them as reasonable. But if an authority out there is using that definition, even if it is an unreasonable definition, they are the authority. I wonder if it was a personal definition by someone in that office or whether it is a USFS definition? Interesting nonetheless.
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#158784 - 12/15/11 05:15 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: DTape]
Dryer Offline

Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3591
Loc: Texas
Quote:
do not see how the lack of a shut off valve (as in an alcohol or esbit stove) increases the risk of forest fire any more than any other stove that does have a valve.


Oh, I can....early on, I learned that scooching a lit alky stove can exhale the coolest flareup fireball you ever did see! laugh Esbit (what I use now-a-days) doesn't do that and you can blow it out or smother it. Some alky stoves are smothereable by capping them off...a giant valve? Others just get agrivated and puke up a fireball and raw fuel into the grass. grin The valve thing would effect wood stoves too...can't turn them off quickly.
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#158786 - 12/15/11 05:25 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: DTape]
OregonMouse Offline
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6760
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Oldranger, whether or not alcohol stoves are legal during fire bans seems to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. That's also true for wood-fired stoves (which may be illegal at or above timberline where all wood is scarce even if there isn't a fire ban). X National Forest will say no and Y National Forest will say yes.

I guess about all you can do is check with the local national forest or park when there's a campfire ban to see if your stove is legal. Some places I've checked with just say, "use a stove" while others specify a stove with a shutoff valve.

Forest fires have started from carelessness with alcohol stoves, but anyone who has seen a canister or, worse yet, white gas stove flare up knows that they can do just as much damage. Certainly nobody is going to reach into a fireball to try to turn the thing off!

No matter what the stove, you need to be extra careful in tinder-dry conditions--preferably have it resting on mineral soil well away from any vegetation.

I have been playing around with an alcohol stove for the past year, but I still prefer my Primus micron canister stove for its convenience.


Edited by OregonMouse (12/15/11 05:36 PM)
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#158787 - 12/15/11 05:35 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: Dryer]
DTape Offline
member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 666
Loc: Upstate NY
I get the flare-up etc... but I have also seen that happen and worse with stove that do have a shut off valve. Secondly, once that happens, and a fire is spread to surrounding debris, the existence of a shut off valve will not put out the spread fire. Thus I do not see how the existence of a valve itself makes a stove safer to use during an open fire ban. But what the heck do I know.
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#158790 - 12/15/11 06:01 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: DTape]
Gershon Offline
member

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
I live in Colorado which had fire bans most of last year. I called the Forest Service and they told me the stove had to have a shutoff valve. I also read it in one of the fire ban notifications.

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#158792 - 12/15/11 06:04 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: Gershon]
DTape Offline
member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 666
Loc: Upstate NY
Originally Posted By Gershon
I live in Colorado which had fire bans most of last year. I called the Forest Service and they told me the stove had to have a shutoff valve. I also read it in one of the fire ban notifications.



Thanks for the info.

It does appear to be a geographically specific definition.
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#158794 - 12/15/11 07:14 PM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: DTape]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
I suspect it is a local regulation. A few years ago in the Gila Wilderness, during fire season, I seem to recall that only canister stoves were permitted. Of course, you are correct in thinking it arbitrary, but it is an easily recognized boundary, and there is some rationale behind it.

Consider what happens if your alcohol stove is upset. Either my Trangia or Super Cat would spill flaming liquid on the surrounding area. It might not be a disaster if I had meticulously cleared the surrounding area, but it could easily ignite a raging inferno. A stove with a valve is more easily controlled and extinguished.

Any stove can malfunction with bad consequences and I really think when you get down to picky details like this, the wisest course is to go somewhere where the fire danger is not so great...

It is not unknown when the fire danger gets a bit higher for the forests to be closed to all recreational entry, no matter how many valves your stove has.....

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#158804 - 12/16/11 01:13 AM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: HeikeDog]
RHodo Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/09
Posts: 60
Loc: Texas Hill Country
Hi,

I'll bet you never expected this many responses to such a simple inquiry, huh? Talking stoves around here is like politics or religion. Try not to bring up pots. smile Since you're planning a trip to Big Bend, I'll try to provide information that I hope will be helpful for that trip.


Here's the stove that I took to the S. Rim in Sept. All that I use it for is to heat water. I made it out of a potted meat tin in about 5 minutes using a sharpie and hand held hole punch. Total cost $0.28.



Set up w/o the lid and with half of the wind screen removed for visibility. The pot is an ImUsa Charro Mug from WalMart (~$5) and the windscreen was made from soda cans.

This is my complete kitchen. The stove itself weighs 7g, windscreen 10g, pot and lid (cut from an aluminum pie pan) weigh 102g. A Country Time lemonade container serves as a bowl and cup and doubles as a hard sided container for carrying non squishable items; 51g. Total weight, 195g.

and here it is all packed up on top of my most important piece of gear (~ $30 Target).


I burn denatured alcohol that I got in the paint section at Home Depot. The little bottle in the picture above holds enough for an overnight trip, that is dinner & breakfast. A 4 oz bottle will last a couple of days and a 10 oz. Minute Maid OJ bottle will last for several days. A $6 can should last you quite a while.

It's easy to use, just pick a level spot away from combustible materials, and out of the wind if possible, pour in some alcohol, toss in a lit match, wait for the alcohol to start boiling, set on the pot (with lid), pop the wind screen around it and go pitch the tent (or do some other 5 minute task). The futz factor goes up with increasing wind and decreasing temperatures but I've used this setup at freezing temperatures. Under those conditions it's harder to keep lit so I'll pile up rocks to act as an additional windbreak and keep a closer eye.

I also have a Primus stove like this one.


I use it when I actually want to cook something, or if I think conditions will make the cat stove too hard to keep lit.

My advice is put off buying a stove just yet, you can always grab a stove online or borrow one before your trip. Buy a can of alcohol and turn your son onto http://zenstoves.net/ instead. He may learn a lot and derive satisfaction from making a piece of gear himself. or burn the house down, I don't know....

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#158805 - 12/16/11 01:41 AM Re: Alcohol Stoves [Re: RHodo]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By RHodo

He may learn a lot and derive satisfaction from making a piece of gear himself. or burn the house down, I don't know....


I would make a rule - you may only light the stoves outdoors on the concrete.

I could spend a few long paragraphs explaining why... let's just say there are more things that melt too easily than you can imagine. The paint on the stovetop is not impervious either.

Those really hard, tough plastic tables from hardware or office supply stores? don't use those either...
_________________________
"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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