Chapter 53: How to Use an Ultralight Alcohol Backpacking Stove
Alcohol stoves are a simple, lightweight, inexpensive way to cook meals when you’re backpacking.
They work especially well for thru hikers because the denatured alcohol or methyl alcohol (HEET in a yellow bottle) fuel is readily available at resupply points along the trail.
The stove I’ll be talking about is the Original White Box Alcohol Stove. There are instructions all over the internet on how to make stoves and the building process can be a lot of fun. But if you want to keep things simple, this one is only $20, burns beautifully, and has great craftsmanship, and you’re not likely to build one that’s as efficient.
The White Box Stove arrives in a, surprise, white box and includes the stove, base, windscreen held together with a paperclip, and a good set of instructions.
Before you light the stove, remove your fuel bottle from the stove area, and clean up any fuel spills. Have your cook pot ready and filled with water. Also, before you light the stove, put the filled cook pot on top of the stove to see if it is stable enough to keep the pot from tipping over and adjust as necessary.
Pre-fit the windscreen so there is about a 1” gap between the pot and windscreen. You can also cut a notch in the windscreen if your pot has a handle. After it is measured, fasten the two overlapping ends of the windscreen with the paper clip to hold it in a circle. If you fit the windscreen too tight around the pot, it will take longer to boil, so remember to leave the gap.
Place the stove on the base in a level area and add one of the two recommended types of fuel, denatured alcohol or methyl alcohol. We suggest using an ounce of fuel on your first practice run. In daylight, it’s difficult to see, but if it’s quiet, you can hear a faint wisp of noise when the alcohol lights. You may not want to light the stove with a short match or lighter, so you can dip a long twig in your fuel, light it with a match, and then light the stove with the twig. In all of our use, this stove lit right away each time with either fuel. The stove will fully blossom out of the side jets in about a minute. This can vary a little because of wind and the amount of fuel in the stove.
The White Box stove weighs 1 ounce, which is slightly heavier than some alcohol stoves, but the beauty of this stove is that it’s much stronger than the traditional soda can stoves. Thru hikers don’t need to worry about accidentally crushing it somewhere along the trail. The walls are 3 to 4 times thicker than soda can stoves because it uses a recycled aluminum bottle. The unique design adds to the strength and makes measuring fuel easy.
The base weighs 1/10 of an ounce, and the windscreen weighs 9/10s of an ounce, so the total kit is 2 ounces. If your pot is small, you might be able to reduce that weight a little by trimming the windscreen.
Alcohol flames generally cannot be seen in bright light. Try to use the stove in a shaded area in order to monitor the flame pattern. At night you can enjoy the beautiful blue flame.
After about a minute you can gently blow across the top of the stove to help light the side jets.
A few seconds after the stove fully blossoms, you can center your cook pot directly on top of the stove. In cold weather, wait an extra 15 to 20 seconds. I use a .9 liter Vargo titanium non-stick pot. No pot stand is needed with this design, so your pot sits low to the ground.
With the White Box Stove you can boil 2 cups of water in about 5 minutes using 2/3 of an ounce of fuel. It will hold up to 3 ounces of fuel and burn for up to 25 minutes boiling up to 10 cups of water, so you can cook for more than one person, or cook multiple entrees. The fuel burns longer when there is a pot on the stove. You’ll quickly become very skilled at knowing how much fuel to use. Boiling times and burn times will vary with starting water temperature and pot diameter. The wider your cook pot is, the better it utilizes the entire flame pattern.
As you look at the inside of the stove, if you fill it with fuel about halfway up the narrow part of the inside wall, you should have enough fuel to boil 2 or 3 cups of cold water and then burn out in about 9 minutes. Do not fill the stove above the scored ring on the inside wall of the stove. To do so will increase the probability of a fire outside of the stove.
Do not add fuel to the stove during use or if the stove is hot. This is extremely dangerous.
Both denatured or methyl alcohol are inexpensive and easy to find. The cost of 1 quart of SLX Denatured Alcohol is about $7 and 1 gallon is about $15. A 12-ounce bottle of HEET is about $1.50 to $2. You can find denatured alcohol at any paint or hardware store. You can find HEET at automotive stores, gas stations, and some supermarkets.
The stove works great in cold temperatures and at high altitudes. Always use a covered pot and windscreen for efficiency. The White Box Stove is handmade from 100% recycled materials. The stove is 2 1/4” tall and 2 3/8” wide, and works best with fairly wide pots because of the efficient, wide flame pattern. It burns clean and there are no moving parts to fail.
You can plan just how much fuel to take on your trip because of the reliable burn time so your fuel can be extremely light, too. You can use a lightweight soda or water bottle to carry your fuel. Using a permanent marker you can mark one-ounce increments on your fuel container.
Place some kind of marks on your fuel container so you can’t get it mixed up with a water container. You might keep some of your repair tape on your fuel container. You can wrap your windscreen around your fuel container to keep it separate.
After the fuel burns out, don’t touch the stove for about 10 minutes because it will continue to be very hot.
These are the main instructions. For more information, you can go to www.whiteboxstoves.com. I hope all your hikes and meals are great.