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Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike?
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Quinn Nelson
(QNelson) - F
Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 03/26/2010 02:09:16 MDT Print View

More or less just like the title reads. I am planning on a long AT section hike of about 2 weeks with resupply about every three-five days. I'll be cooking usually 1-2 times a day (boil in bag for dinner, coffee for breakfast and occasionally oatmeal) and am wonder if it would be more weight efficient to take a canister stove then a alcohol stove since it is a longer trip. I know some of this will depend on what stove I will use so the rough set up will be this 1L Titanium pot ( and either a Brasslight turbo 1D or a MBDC Bios 3. Is there really a tipping point were its just more efficient to take a canister stove over a alcohol?

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 03/26/2010 02:23:48 MDT Print View

One thing to consider is that many long distance hikers rely on burning HEET. I do. HEET is nasty stuff. It's vapors can burn my eyes, the health effects are obvious. A canister worked well on my hike of the Colorado Trail.

Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 03/26/2010 03:43:04 MDT Print View

In terms of fuel weight, there is not a lot in it:

A 100g gas canister weighs 190g and produces the same amount of heat (4.5MJ) as 200ml denatured alcohol which weights 160g plus container weight.

Similarly a 220g gas canister weighs 375g and produces the same amount of heat (10MJ) as 450ml denatured alcohol which weights 360g plus container weight

So fuel weight is not a major deciding factor and stove weight is not worth arguing over either.
Really, it comes down to availability first and personal preference second

Edited by Scunnered on 03/26/2010 07:41:24 MDT.

Angela Zukowski
(AngelaZ) - F

Locale: New England
Re: Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 03/26/2010 07:35:45 MDT Print View

Jack: so heet is bad for you? I'd like more info. I'm always uneasy about burning stuff like that and being exposed. It really freaked me out when I realized some of the alcohol stoves used fiberglass insulation. (I assume it's not harmful, but it still freaked me out)

Brian Camprini
(bcamprini) - MLife

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 03/26/2010 08:38:24 MDT Print View

I like canisters when I'm tired and just want a quick hot meal with no fiddling around. Even easier (and maybe lighter?) is going with no stove, though.

Here's some good detailed thought on the subject:

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 03/26/2010 13:25:12 MDT Print View

I have had some long discussion about this with a friend of mine who did the PCT a few years ago. He used Esbit for fuel. He said that during the trip, and talking with other hikers, that alcohol is the mostly widely available fuel, and that is what he wished he had used.

I did a lot of long distance hiking years ago, and cooked over campfires, which is inefficient and often not acceptable these days. Then in the early 70's I saw a Svea 123 (I did not know there was such a thing as a hiking stove at the time). For the next few years I used the Svea or MSR stoves, because fuel was readily available. In those days most Standard and Chevron gas stations sold bulk Blazo fuel, and they would fill up your bottle for pennies.

Unless I knew I could rely on obtain cannister fuel, or could mail it ahead, I would go for alcohol. To be honest, I am not worried about dangerous fumes, as we cook outside most of the time.

Dondo .

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 03/26/2010 16:10:01 MDT Print View

Quinn, this chart may help you make up your mind. It looks like a wash to me. HEET is available at pretty much any gas station but, as Jack noted, it's nasty stuff. Once, the wind shifted as I was cooking just outside my silshelter and I got to breathe the fumes for a couple of minutes. I ended up with burning sinuses and a headache. Now I use everclear when burning alcohol but that would be too hard to find on a section hike. Maybe your canister stove would be a good choice.

Edited by Dondo on 03/26/2010 16:10:40 MDT.

Quinn Nelson
(QNelson) - F
All things equal on 03/26/2010 17:17:33 MDT Print View

Thanks for the help guys, I'll do a little more research on whats going to be available in the section I'll be on. Im fairly certain that I will be able to get all of the fuels listed above because the Souther part of the AT in VA is a fairly well traveled section. One factor I forgot to mention is I will have a furry companion with me and although he is fairly well trained I see more scenarios were alcohol could be more dangerous around him then a canisters. So if all things are equal I may just go with a canister. Ill let you know.

Quinn Nelson
(QNelson) - F
Backup on 03/26/2010 17:24:35 MDT Print View

Another thought I had is I do have a MBDC choke hazard (around .5oz) that I could use as a backup if for some unforeseen reason I get stuck with out a canister. Now that little guy is not something I'd want to cook off of all time but at .5oz it really isn't that much weight to carry just in case.

Matt Lutz
(citystuckhiker) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 04/04/2010 18:11:13 MDT Print View

Another plug cometh for my hands-down favorite article series on BPL:Comparative fuel Efficient and Carry Weight for Six Lightweight Backpacking Cooking Systems (two parts).

In sum, the articles discuss the best stove to carry (from a weight perspective) from an initial carry weight perspective i.e. how much stove weight, including fuel, will you start out with at the trail head given: 1) your stove system; 2) how much you are boiling per day; 3) and wher you are hiking (highlands v. lowlands). It is excellent. I use it to calculate my fuel usage for my alcohol and canister stoves.

The article and graph linked above from Thru-Hiker is a similar type of discussion.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Alcohol better then Canister for long section hike? on 04/05/2010 04:50:42 MDT Print View

Hi Angela

There are three common alcohols: methyl, ethyl and isopropyl. As far as I can make out, all get sold under the HEET logo.

Also, what is called 'denatured' alcohol in America can contain anything the vendor wishes - and some of the additives are seriously toxic.

Methyl is toxic if consumed, and has less energy than ethyl.
Isopropyl gives off toxic fumes while burning, and is usually sooty.
Ethyl alcohol is fine. That's what is found in wine and beer and spirits.

Subscribe and read our lengthy articles on alcohols:


Willem Jongman
(willem) - F
effciency, pot size/shape and fuel type. on 04/05/2010 05:39:00 MDT Print View

I did some experiments last week with two Trangia stoves. The results surprised me. The first was a boil time comparison between a Trangia 27 and the larger Trangia 25. With the same amount of water and burning next to each other in the garden at the same time the larger Trangia 25 was some 20% faster. I had expected the heat concentration with the smaller Trangia 27 to be more efficient, but apparently the wider pot of the Trangia 25 is more advantageous. The next experiment (once things had cooled down), was to compare heating times between ethanol and methanol. The ethanol was a 96 percent bio ethanol sold expressly for this purpose. The methanol was also sold expressly as stove fuel. The methanol was about 20% faster. I must admit that these experiments were done without the benefit of proper lab equipment, but the boil time differences seem significant enough.

Frank Deland

Locale: On the AT in VA
stoves on 04/05/2010 07:51:16 MDT Print View

Methanol burns hooter (mostly blue flame) which is why HEET works well, but HEET in the yellow containers. HEET in the red containers is isoproply or rubbing alcohol which has a higher water content and burns a much more yellow flame. Another great source for methanol is Air Brake Anti-Freeze.

So which stove for two weeks on the AT?

1) Main advantages os alcohol or esbit: Light them and when the fire goes out your food is ready, the water is boiling. You can accurately determine how much fuel you need for one meal, so you know just how much fuel you need to carry per day. You won't end your hike having carried extra fuel. Denatured alocohol is found in many food stores along the AT in small quantities, so you do not need to find an outfitter. You can mail esbit tablets to your mail drops, so you do not have to worry about looking for a store.

2) Advantages of the Canister. A large canister should last two weeks. You will not need to worry about looking for fuel.

Conclusion: If I were spending two weeks on the AT in Southwest and Central VA, I would take the canister stove. (Ti- Snow Peak) or I would drop ship esbit tablets.

In early May, I'll be hiking from Elk Garden (just south of Mt. Rogers) to Pearisburg. 9 nights 10 days. The only maildrop options are either too close to the start (US 11/VA683) or too close to the end (Bastian or Bland) to bother with. So I plan to start out with all I need and will cook with a canister or a homemade woodstove. (Bushwacker) ....hmm... probably the canister because it is so easy!

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: stoves on 04/05/2010 09:26:21 MDT Print View


Edited by annapurna on 05/01/2010 22:09:53 MDT.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

A vs. C on 04/05/2010 23:52:41 MDT Print View

One nice thing with alcohol is that you can take exactly as much as you need. With a canister you are stuck choosing between 3 sizes which may or may not meet your needs perfectly. Often with canisters you are forced to carry more fuel than you need. This problem is more of an issue with shorter hikes though.

Based on my research with my MSR Pocket rocket, 16g of fuel is safe number to boil a litre of water, and 9g of fuel will easily do a pint on average.

Another nice thing with alcohol is how easy it is to monitor your fuel supply so you know if you are running short or not.

I generally choose alcohol for most hikes, but if I'm going to be in a hurry then I go with a canister stove.