Alcohol stoves are a great lightweight option for any hiker, using one requires some more attention. Here is how to effectively use Alcohol stoves.
Using an alcohol stove can be done in many different ways according to the stove type. Alcohol stoves come in many different configurations and types. They can be broken down into the following categories.
- Trangia alcohol stoves
- Homemade DIY alcohol stoves
- Other commercial alcohol stoves
All alcohol stoves have the same basic needs and are covered in this article.
Quick jump guide
- Wind protection
- Lighting and flare-up
- Turning alcohol into gas and consistent burning
- Extinguishing and clean up
- Fuel storage and safety
- How to use an Alcohol stove in winter
Protection from the wind is incredibly important with Alcohol stoves, since most Alcohol stoves are not pressurized, and even ones that are, are not very good in windy conditions. Not only extinguishing the flame in most cases but otherwise reducing the heat output to your cooking pot. And thus wasting more fuel to achieve the same cooking.
To make your own alcohol stove windscreen you can check out my separate article on that subject. And read more about alcohol stoves windscreens in general.
Lighting and flare-up
How to light an alcohol stove is in most cases an easy thing to do. Put alcohol fuel in, light it up, and wait for it to fully flare-up. If you want to see that process in action you can do so with my short YouTube video I made about the Trangia stove.
The blooming up or flare-up process can take a few seconds or minutes depending on your alcohol stove. With alcohol stoves that have your cooking pot directly on top of them this process needs to be able to run its course. Otherwise the cold from the pot and lack of oxygen snuffs out the alcohol stove. So wait until you can clearly see the flames coming out of the jets on the side or top. Before putting on your cooking pot.
Actually lighting your Alcohol stoves I like to do with a magnesium fire rod or stick. Those launch a shower of sparks into the stove which ignites it. Be careful not to knock the stove over when doing this to close. Other ways are to use a match, or to use your lighter and a sprig of grass or twig that you dip into the alcohol stove first before lighting it.
Alcohol stoves that require pre lighting with some alcohol fuel drizzled around it are the only exception. I would recommend getting or making an aluminum cup where the alcohol can go into without risking setting the ground on fire. An example that also gets used for these types of stoves is to use kevlar or fiberglass rope around the alcohol stove to prime it. I myself am not a huge fan of these types of alcohol stoves since they are a little fussier to light upon some occasions. And after a long hiking day this maybe not something that I’m into.
Turning alcohol into gas and consistent burning
When alcohol stoves are lit and burning for a few moments, the alcohol will start to boil and turn into gas. This is the best time to put on your cooking pot or skillet to cook since the alcohol is at its hottest and will start the cooking process fastest. If your cooking with a Trangia stove you can put it on as soon as it’s lit.
Extinguishing and clean up
Extinguishing alcohol stoves can be best done by snuffing them out. The lack of oxygen will cut the flame and snuff it out. With several different Stove options, there is a snuffer included which makes your life easier. Another option is to make one from a soda can or other non-flammeble material.
Blowing alcohol stoves out is sometimes another handy way of extinguishing alcohol stoves. However can be quite dangerous, blow too hard and risk splashing still lit alcohol stove fuel over yourself or others. But this is not likely since it is contained within the stove. Better choose the safe way and go for a snuffer to extinguish the flame.
Clean up and maintenance with Alcohol stoves is virtually none existent. You can store the Alcohol fuel in Trangia stoves for a long time without damaging anything. Other alcohol stoves without a lid can be drained of remaining fuel, once properly cooled off of course, and any excess alcohol can be poured right back into your fuel bottle.
Fuel storage and safety
Fuel storage with Alcohol stoves is an easy task that has one mayor warning. Never put Alcohol stove fuel in metal containers or bottles! Alcohol eats the metal away and causes corrosion. So stick with the plastic bottles for the best results.
Fuel storage bottles could include PET bottles, so recycled Cola bottles, or like that. Or getting one of those pop-top squeeze bottles used for oils in the kitchen. Not only are they easier to fill your alcohol stoves up with, but are also less likely to cause spills. Which waste sometimes precious fuel on hiking trips.
Safety with alcohol stoves is a lot of common sense. You are dealing with a flammable liquid that can spill. So be careful not to knock alcohol stoves over or being rough with it while burning. This can cause major accidents and nasty injuries. Always make sure your alcohol stove is on a level hard surface, that cannot set on fire. And be careful when putting on your cooking pot.
During daylight, you cannot see the flame from alcohol stoves with most fuel types. So don’t put your face over it to check if its burning or not. Use your hand from a safe distance while not wearing your ultralight clothing. Or take a sprig of grass and hold it over the stove to check if it’s lit.
How to use an Alcohol stove in winter
Using an Alcohol stove in winter is often not the best use case for them. Other stove types are more efficient and require less time to heat up a meal. If you live in a mild climate you can in most cases get away with using and Alcohol stove in winter. When hiking in the mountains or colder areas with higher elevation you can best take a different stove option.
Since most hikers will use their alcohol stoves during the hiking season which typically lasts from May until September. This will not be an issue for many.
In conclusion, alcohol stoves are great fun to use and often a solid choice for taking with you on hiking trips. Are they the absolute best option out there? Yes, for some people. For most hikers that are starting out or are used to a different method of cooking they can be a little more trouble.
But as with everything related to hiking, there is a lot of personal preference involved. On shorter trips or hiking trips in the Netherlands or Germany, alcohol stoves are my go-to. On longer trips, I will take my gas cartridge stove from Kovea with me.
If you wanna read more about alcohol stoves I recommend also an earlier article on the subject. And take a look into my Gear review categories for more!
What is your favorite Alcohol stove setup? Share down in the comments!