Has anyone used an alcohol stove?

Has anyone used an alcohol stove? I’ve always used stoves that use Coleman fuel. I’ve never used an alcohol stove.

We had alcohol-fueled burners in jr. high school science class; swuare jars with a thick wick protruding from a metal cap. They did the job with test tubes, but I wouldn’t want to make soup over one. So how does an alcohol stove work? Do they have wicks, or are they pressurised in some way? How hot do they get? Why would anyone use one when there are backpacking stoves that are lighter and make more heat?

I had something of the sort about 35 years ago as a birthday present along with a tent. It was unpressurised - there was a ring that looked like a gas-ring which must’ve had an internal wick, and a central well that you filled with alcohol. The contents of the well caught light along with the ring, but you got a more intense flame from the ring (and, of course, the flame in the well was only on the top of the liquid, so it didn’t burn all the fuel off prematurely).

Big plus points were simplicity - absolutely no moving parts - lightness, and a fuel that is not too hairy, certainly safer than gasoline or kerosene as well as less messy. It was hot enough to cook on; how well it compared with gas or Coleman fuel, I couldn’t tell you.

On a related note, I’ve heard that in Vietnam troops would fill an empty C-ration tin with sand and pour gasoline, Diesel fuel, or jet fuel into it and use it as a stove. True? If so, how well did it work?

I’ve seen the exact same thing - I think it was in a book called Living Off The Land, a mine of information on how to survive in the Australian outback. IIRC you use damp sand and, supposedly, it works very well. The author cautioned against reloading the sand with gas after it went out; you were meant to empty it out and start again. I’d try it out on a small scale to begin with. :slight_smile:

I found a Beverage Can Stove on Wikipedia. Looks like the Trangia. There’s a photo of a ‘side burner’ version that looks pretty impressive. I may have to make one of these and try it out. Though I’ll still use a Coleman-fuelled stove when I camp. And since I rarely drink soft drinks, it may take some time before I have the cans.

They are quite common on sailboats. I’ve always considered them akin to cooking with sterno.

As NurseCarmen mentioned, I’ve used them on sailboats.

I’ve found them to be awkard to set up, difficult to start, prone to flare-ups, challenging to adjust, slow to warm up, weak at heating food, almost entirely ineffective at boiling water, sometimes hard to turn off, and tough to clean.

And those are their good points.

The "Pepsi Can" /“Cat”/“Tuna Can” stove is the heating unit of choice for weight-concious backpackers on the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails. The latest “model” tips the scales at 1.6 oz.

I’ve used a knockoff trangia imitation when camping. They aren’t that fast, but they’re silent and foolproof and there’s nothing to go wrong with them - no pumps, no O-rings, no jets. If you have proper ethanol or methanol for fuel, spills are far less offensive than kerosene or white gas. If you have lovely British purple metholated spirits, that advantage disappears - spill it in your kit and it’ll stain it purple and make it stink forever.

The trangia burner has a central spirit cup, and as it heats up it forces hot alcohol vapour through the hollow walls and out a ring of nozzles to increase the heat output.

I’ve also built and used one of these. Mine was a bit of a flamethrower - the simmer function didn’t work very well!

I have a nice Optimus Nova pumped stove which runs on kerosene or white gas ideally, and diesel or gasoline at a pinch, without needing to change the jets! Otherwise it’s very similar in appearance and function to an MSR whisperlite. I find these types of stove a little unfriendly to set up - they’re fine on the patio but not so good on uneven ground. Lightweight’s nice for carrying, not so nice for cooking on.

My favourite camping stove was an old Svea version of one of these. The three legs and the weight of the fuel in the base makes it very stable, even with a big pan of water on top.

I don’t know that I’d want a small, unstable, liquid-fueled stove on a pitching sailboat. :eek: Liquid fuel, yes; but contained in a nice stable two-burner Coleman stove.

Wow, which model was that? If your idea of cooking is boiling water, I found the fake trangia fine for pasta, rice, cups of tea, hot chocolate etc. In fact, since you don’t have to do all the pumping and preheating, I can go from a standing start to a cup of tea faster with a trangia than with the Optimus.

Heard of it done with gasoline. I’m not sure you’d be able to light diesel or jet fuel very easily. Maybe I’ll test it out!

I have half a dozen or so Svea 123s and 123Rs, and I’ve recently purchased a couple of Primus/Optimus stoves – one self-contained in a tin – similar to your Manaslu for the collection. I have an MSR Whisperlite Internationale that will run on anything. I found that the legs are not suited to the moka pot (I like to rough it :smiley: ) I was using at the time – a nice stainless steel one with a rounded bottom as opposed to my larger, traditionally-octacgon-shaped one. I have a fiberglass base for the MRS that secures the fuel bottle and the stove into a very stable unit. But I like the Sveas because they’re not as messy. (The folding legs on the MSR tend to get sooty, and you need to take off the fuel bottle.)

Alcohol burns different than most fuels, evaporates quickly, and isn’t nearly as explosive. You pour it into what is essentially a big wick, so the only time it can spill is when you are filling up the wick. Hopefully you’d be smart enough to keep flames away when filling. But once it’s in the wick-can-thingamajig, it’s pretty safe. And they are built in, so they won’t be flying around to much. And again, hopefully you’d be smart enough to avoid cooking in the midst of a hurricane.

Just FYI, the reason that boats use alcohol stoves is that alcohol vapors are lighter than air while propane is heavier than air. The boat, being …well… boat-shaped, is perfectly designed to hold large amounts of propane vapor in its nether regions.

If there’s a leak in your boat’s propane stove, you’d arrive to to go sailing and find your boat is in fact a large bomb with a sail.

In VN we had “heat tabs”. They were small lightweight disks, or bars that burned w/ a light blue to invisible flame much like alcohol. You could also use a small piece of C-4 as it burns in a similar manner although w/ more of a yellowish flame. We used the smaller C-Rats cans to form a kind of stove that helped concentrate the heat. The tabs threw very little light, but they smelled foul and burned your eyes in an enclosed space.

Yeah safety was one of the reasons most small sail boats use them. Also in older times when the cruising craze was starting up, the availability in strange out of the way places was a concern, also you could have a lot of impurities in other fuels, alcohol is easy to get clean nuff for a stove.

The ones I used worked pretty much like a Coleman, Pump for pressure, preheat a manifold and cook with the high pressure flame coming out of the burner.


I was thinking more along the lines of a two-burner Coleman stove that uses Coleman fuel/white gas, rather than butane/propane. I didn’t know the alcohol stoves were built in. (When I sailed, I sailed open sloops.)

One thing I remember from jr. high is when the wacky science teacher poured alcohol on his lab table and lit it on fire. The flames were invisible. He had the lights turned out so that we could see the blue flames. His point was that if you spill alcohol you may not be able to see if it’s burning. Just an image that’s always stuck with me.

Those would be hexamine tablets. I’ve used them for survival cooking before. The only advantage they have is they can’t spill and they last forever. I still have some in the truck, come to think of it.

silenus: Good link! I like the info on alcohol stoves, and the links to their construction.