In the couple of weeks since I got my new hiking boots, I’ve gone on three day hikes, two alone and one with The Wife™ and The Dogs™. I’ve also been working on getting my kit up to something resembling snuff without spending much (or preferably, any) money. That includes rehabilitating my old messkit/cookset, and coming up with a lightweight stove… and testing it all before I try and depend on it out on the trail.
The tuna can stove design that worked.
As I indicated earlier on this blog, I was going to make a couple of tuna can stoves and experiment with them. Using a cheap dollar-store paper punch. I made one with the holes the recommended quarter of an inch apart, followed by an offset lower row of holes. It wasn’t perfect, but it was easy… although rather hard on the hands. Then I made a second one with fewer holes — each horizontal row had the holes about an inch apart each. The one with one-inch spacing simply didn’t work — I suspect an airflow issue.
The one with the recommended number of holes worked just fine, so I needed to find a cheap fuel to run it. These are unpressurized alcohol fuel stoves, but denatured alcohol — the recommended fuel — is hard to come by in lots smaller than a couple of gallons. So I started with with isopropyl alcohol, or ordinary rubbing alcohol.
Everything I read indicated that alcohol flames were hard to see. Not so with rubbing alcohol.
Behind the tinfoil windscreen I made, the 99% isopropanol burned with a sullen red and very dirty flame, taking 50mL of fuel to heat a litre of water to a rolling boil in just under 10 minutes… and burning out entirely in 13 minutes. But it made a bloody mess of the bottom of my pot, covering it in a thick black layer of greasy, sharp-smelling soot.
Seriously, that pot was shiny when it went on the burner.
My next experiment was with meythl hydrate — more commonly known as wood alcohol — in the form of liquid fondue fuel. This worked a lot better for me than the isopropanol despite being considerably less heat-efficient: after a couple of false starts with too little fuel, I finally came up with 60mL of blue-dyed fondue fuel taking 15 minutes to bring 1L of water to a rolling boil… and the stove burned out half a minute later. But there was no soot on the pot and only a little blue residue in the burner itself, presumably from whatever dye they use so that you don’t mistake poisonous methyl alcohol for vodka. The flame was low and almost invisibly blue, and it actually made an audible hissing noise while it cooked.
Yep, that’s actually burning.
Despite the need to carry more fuel and the longer cook time, I have to say that the fondue fuel was definitely the winner… if only because it eliminated the nasty cleanup situation. And honestly, if I’m going to cook myself something hot while I’m hiking, I really don’t see that extra five or six minutes as a huge issue; I’m going hiking to relax, not finish the course in record time.
Much cleaner, thank you.
So there you have it: the next time I go out on the trail and want to make myself a hot meal partway through, I’ll be packing a perforated tuna can, a one liter pot and a few dozen millilitres of blue-dyed wood alcohol.
Update 15:24: In the event that I’m going hiking and don’t need the whole kit — a simple day hike or even an overnight using a brand of freeze-dried food I can actually eat, I’ll leave off the frying pan and plate and just take the pot and stove, which nest inside each other nicely, as a weight and space saving measure. The leather strap I made to close the whole kit has a second hole punched in it which allows me to hold just the pot shut, and it neatly contains the stove, the folded-up windscreen, the potlifter, a couple of j-cloths and a spork.