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Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips
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Steven Davis

Locale: SF Bay Area
Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips on 07/29/2013 17:39:57 MDT Print View

Hey Folks,

So I got all scientific with it and graphed out the weight (including fuel needs) for...

1) An alcohol stove (my zelph starlyte with small windscreen and SP 600 TI mug)
2) A canister stove (my snow peak lite max with taller windscreen and SP 600 TI mug)
3) A Jetboil Sol

What I learned...

Alcohol stoves are light, but require 3x more fuel weight than canister stoves daily. I need 3.5 oz of fuel/day to boil the needed water for meals. Basically an alcohol stove for me would be best for trips for anything up to 3 days / 2 nights. After that the alcohol weight needs outweigh the weight of the canister stove, so for anything longer I would switch to that. The jetboil is never lighter than the regular canister stove, and the only advantage is quicker boiling times, so that will probably not be used in backpacking trips anymore, and kept purely for car camping. I estimate that an average 8oz (small) fuel canister should last for about 24 cups (6 days).

Weight per day for each (in oz):

Alcohol / Canister / Jetbol

1: 0 / 0 / 0 (none needed for a day hike)
2: 8 / 15 / 20
3: 11.5 / 15 / 20
4: 15 / 15 / 20 (though alcohol and canister weight on day 4 are equal, i would use canister for less parts and more fuel stability.)
5: 18.5 / 15 / 20
6: 22 / 15 / 20
7: 25.5 / 15 / 20
8: 29 / 23 / 28

Edited by StevenDavisPhoto on 07/29/2013 17:43:44 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips on 07/29/2013 19:32:08 MDT Print View

Did you ever see this?

John Coyle

Locale: NorCal
Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips on 07/29/2013 23:42:07 MDT Print View

Hi Steven. Two weeks ago I got back from a 4 night 5 day backpacking trip in Lassen National Park. I considered taking an alcohol stove, but like you, I figured the weight of the alcohol fuel would be too heavy. I ended up taking an Olicamp Xcelerator titanium remote canister stove, which is a very nice stove and available from Amazon. My two friends and I shared all meals, cooking them in a 2L GSI anodized aluminum pot. Most meals evolved simmering for 15-20 minutes. One of my friends brought a Jetboil which was used for all the coffee. I was surprised that one 220g Gigapower canister lasted the entire trip and then three days at home making coffee once a day when I got back. I've been using alcohol stoves mostly for the last ten years, but had to admit the canister stove was a better choice in this case.

Steven Davis

Locale: SF Bay Area
cool on 07/30/2013 08:45:08 MDT Print View

thanks for the article link.

yeah, canister stoves are definitely better for anything more than a few days.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips on 07/30/2013 09:10:18 MDT Print View

That calculation doesn't work for me. I use maybe half (at most) the amount of alcohol you are using to cook a morning and evening meal. Are you doing more than 2 boils x 2 cups or do you have bad efficiency?

Alcohol is a good choice for me much longer.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: cool on 07/30/2013 09:10:27 MDT Print View

Hi Steven,

If I understand your OP correctly, you're burning 3.5oz of alcohol per day? I hope this doesn't come across as antagonistic but that seems a little excessive. How many pints of water are you boiling?

My daughter and I are going backpacking for a week. While we will be able to resupply a couple times, we're carrying all of our fuel from the get-go. If you combine everything loosely affiliated with our cook kit (mugs, lighters, esbit, spoons, etc), our combined weight is less than 11oz. This provides us with one hot meal and hot beverage each per day.

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Re: cool on 07/30/2013 09:24:10 MDT Print View

Ian,I hope you will be doing a trip report for your Wonderland trip!Sorry OP for the off topic question.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Re: cool on 07/30/2013 09:31:06 MDT Print View

Hi Anna! Absolutely!

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips on 07/30/2013 10:07:55 MDT Print View

Yep, I would have had to resupply alcohol multiple times for my Long Trail thru hike.. 1 4oz canister went the whole way using a pocket rocket (i use Optimus Crux now)

i use canister exclusively now because it's just easier for me, regardless of days out. 1.5c boil in 3 mins in my .7l stoic pot. sure i'll carry a few more ounces on shorter trips but i'll have less food anyway so it balances out.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
check your efficiency on 07/30/2013 18:31:32 MDT Print View

"I estimate that an average 8oz (small) fuel canister should last for about 24 cups (6 days)."

An efficient alcohol stove boils 2 cups with .5 fluid ounces, which weighs 0.4 ounces by weight. The following are using SLX, not high ethanol, denatured alcohol, with a sgt rock style ion stove/screen. These numbers can be improved with higher ethanol fuels, adds about 10-15% to the efficiencies listed below, which makes the canister even less competitive, but it's easy to find slx so I go with that.

0.4 x 12 = 4.8 ounces by weight. Alcohol has a density of about 0.8, which means one fluid ounce weighs 0.8 oz.

The alcohol fuel container weighs about 15 grams.

A comparable setup with screen, stove, and pot stand, weighs 44 grams, ie, the stove/screen/stand weighs less than just the burner on the canister stove.

At the end of your trip with canister you are still carrying the steel container, so you have to add that into the weight of the stove itself.

Switching to grams to avoid confusion, we have:
44 grams - stove/stand/screen:
15 grams - fuel bottle:
24 grams x days (that's two 2 cup boils at 12 grams fuel per cup)

let's say 6 days:
24x6 = 144 grams = 5.15 oz

total:203 grams total, for more days, add simply 24 grams per day, for more days for canister, you have to add either another canister weight that you will also be carrying with you the entire time, or a larger canister.

the entire setup with 12 2 cup boils of fuel weighs 7.25 oz, or less than the weight of a single canister, and at the end of the trip you are carrying only the weight of the stove / stand/screen/fuel bottle.

3.5 ounces per day of alcohol is enough to boil 14 cups of water, something is seriously off in your math here, or something is way off in your cooking stove efficiency.

Either people are getting horrible efficiencies with their alcohol or are doing something very wrong if the conclusion is that 4 days is the cuttoff point.

Sgt rock figured this out years ago, and his conclusion was that basically you will never benefit in terms of weight by carrying a canister stove. Convenience, yes, but I thought ul backpacking was about learning how to use techniques instead of gadgets.

If you can find a real sgt rock ion stove/screen, he gets 12 to 13 ml 2 cup boils with SLX fuel, which is about 10 grams per boil, give or take.

For two people alcohol doesn't fare as well mainly because of the cooking time. While canister stove gas contains more btus per gram, the problem is that canister stoves themselves aren't as efficient as a well made stove/screen combo for alcohol, though if you do as a recent thread here talked about and use remote canister plus a caldera type cone you should get more competitive with alcohol setups again, but the stove is heavier. If you use a faster alcohol stove, like a Penny type, it will not be as efficient, but it will boil 4 cups of water faster, maybe takes 1 oz per 4 cups by weight, give or take, but boils it a lot more quickly if you use a wide pot, which you'd probably do for 2 people.

I spent a while figuring out the science on cooking fuels and realized that people are either consistently miscalculating, using fluid ounces for weight of fuel for alcohol, or /and just simply also using extremely inefficient cooking setups, or flaming the stoves out, or something. I believe the starlight is one of the more efficient commercially available stoves.

The efficiency of canister gas is easier to calculate, add in the weight of the canister to your cooking stove weight, then weigh the canister when you get back, adding in the remaining weight of fuel you carried but did not burn to the stove weight, then you get how many grams per 2 cup boils you get, pretty basic. In other words, toss your burner, cannister, and screen if you use one, onto a scale, weigh it, then weigh the same when you get back. The difference between the two is how much fuel you used. The ending weight is the actual weight of your stove setup on your back. Figure out those two things, grams per boil and setup weight, non idealized, it's easy to do.

I believe you have to go around 25 2 cup boils or so before the weight actually goes to the advantage of a canister setup, but since canister setups often do not have screens, you have to measure this on your own system in real world conditions to determine your actual weight/efficiency per 2 cup boil, remembering that to add 4 cups boil to alcohol setup,you add 0.8oz, period, no extra canisters etc.

I see this claimed weight advantage of canisters all the time but the math does not add up.

Edited by hhope on 07/30/2013 19:01:09 MDT.

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
re on 07/31/2013 00:02:32 MDT Print View

Thanks for that lengthy post.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: re on 07/31/2013 01:20:24 MDT Print View

I usa a standard TD Caldera cone. This weighs about 5oz. The bottle, a 12oz soda bottle) weighs about 1.5oz counting an extra vacuum cap (cap with a piece of stripped wire casing glued on.) I get about .5oz fuel/2 cups, but I have to do this twice in the morning (2 oatmeals, 2 cups of mocha) and twice at night (2 cups of cocoa and my food (this also requires about 10 moinutes of simmering.) Sometimes I will bake/fry a largish piece of dough (about 1/3 of the pot with olive oil and a 1/3 pound of dough.) I usually do this every third day or so. It is tomorrows, maybe the next day's trail lunch.

Soo, that means two liters of water, 4-larger cups, twice per day. I use around 2.3oz of SLX. If I do the "bread" it may take another ounce, but I don't do this all the time. So I figure, on average, about 3oz per day. Actually it is (2.67oz.)

Anyway, for 6 days out, it is 18floz or about 14.5oz in weight. With the screen, and bottle, it comes up to: 14.5+1.5+5=21oz.

The SVEA weighs 19oz. If I carry a 12oz bottle of fuel it weighs just about 10.5oz.
(This is actually enough for 8 days.) This IS heavier but is easier to use.

The canisters get similar fuel consumtion to the WG. So, I would need about 6 oz of fuel. I use 4oz when I can, because I have had some trouble with the lindal valves in the past. Nothing like cooking on a fire when you are carrying a stove, but ran out of fuel because of a leak... So, I would bring two cans. About 7oz each. Plus a windpro, plus the screen. That comes up to about 22oz. I always considerd them fairly unreliable, since I had 2 different types leak out on me. I really hope the cans have improved, because I will be getting one of Rogers to replace the old SVEA. But, note that there is no real difference between cannisters and alcohol stoves. 1oz is close on week long trips, and, I don't have to fiddle with it.

Note that for two weeks, I need to add another 8oz (9oz with bottle) of fuel to the SVEA, but, another 14oz in canisters at about 1floz per day.(I actually use a 16oz soda bottle for two weeks. For some reason, I always get about .3-.4floz per liter, average, with the SVEA.)

Mole J
(MoleJ) - F

Locale: UK
My analysis on 07/31/2013 06:33:15 MDT Print View

- After that the alcohol weight needs outweigh the weight of the canister stove, so for anything longer I would switch to that.


yes, but, have you done a more detailed analysis?

e.g. You will always carry the weight of the stove, and the fuel cart/bottle. Gas carts weigh an appreciable amount even when empty compared to a plastic bottle for alcohol.

I have looked at my kit, same pan each time , comparing my Caldera cone setup with lightest possible gas setup(Fire Maple/Monatauk Gnat - only 48g. and a light foil windshield)

Efficiency wise being generous towards gas (i.e. 8g of gas to boil 500ml (3cups) water) and ungenerous towards alcohol (20ml of alcohol for 500ml water).

Comparing a 100 Cart (12 x 500ml boils) with the equivalent amount of alcohol and doing 2 x 500ml boils a day. So a 6 day or so hike...

By just day 3 I have used more alcohol than gas so the weight is always getting less for alcohol i.e. it's better weightwise from then onwards. If doing a shorter than 6 day trip, then alcohol always wins as I only take what I need. And don't forget, this is skewing the fuel efficiencies towards gas...

Once I go up to longer trips, and use a 220 cart (lasting say 20 boils 15 days), then gas is the winner for the first week, but then day 8/9, alcohol starts to win out. (again this is being generous towards gas efficiency)...

Then you have the other advantages of alcohol and cones... With gas, as you can't measure it (and use too much if neglect to turn off fuel in time), there is always uncertainty as to how much is being used. With alcohol, I measure each dose, and if running low it is easier to ration myself.

Understand, this is just an analysis, I occasionally use gas, and don't really object to a pound or 2 either way in my pack, but, I do like to point out all of the factors involved.... You can't make a definitive statement about the weight advantage of the 2 systems as it varies depending on what size cart and how many days you are out and what fuel you use from day to day.

Really, it comes down to preference. Once you go for simmering and cooking real food it all changes again depending on techniques used. (e.g there are amzingly efficient alcohol stoves for a low flamenow)

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
good points on 07/31/2013 11:40:17 MDT Print View

J Mole, good points. Personally I'm interested in non theoretical real world 2 cup usage for various canister burners, by model and type, outside, in air that is moving.

I was going to mention simmering too, but that gets very unfair to canister stoves, I did a quick test after finishing the ion stove, which is easy to make, relatively, and created a simple can top with 1" hole in it as a simmer ring, and was stunned by the results, 10ml, 8 grams, simmered two cups of water for about 32 minutes, insanely efficient. I had to keep lifting the pot to convince myself the thing was still burning. Anyone who simmers should take a very very close look at a well done alcohol stove setup, if I actually cooked meals, not rehydrated, the alcohol would be a slamdunk no competition winner, since 25 ml/20 grams would cook a non dehydrated dinner, give or take.

I think a lot of the views of alcohol efficiency come from the early emphasis on raw speed over efficiency, and losing sight of the specific gravity of an ounce of alcohol, ie, comparing re weights apples to oranges, ml to grams that is.

Another issue is that almost nobody does real efficiency testing on the various burner/screen combinations out there for canister stoves, based on what I found with alcohol, it's quite likely that a remote canister with a high quality, custom fit wind screen like you use on a good alcohol stove setup, is going to significantly improve your efficiency, but by how much I can't say. So when someone points to a 1.5 ounce canister burner, no mention is made of the actual efficiency of that set of burner sets/valves, in a sense it would be interesting to do that type of research but that would involve buying a lot of expensive gear I'd never use, and a huge amount of canister cartridges. Easier if people who own their setups just report the information accurately, 2 cup boil, how much fuel required with burner x, screen, no screen, etc.

Since the 1/2 ounce liquid alcohol efficiency has been around some 8 years now at least, and the stoves that do that are easy to build and light and fill, I don't really see any particular reason to not use them as a standard, that will also show how various other alcohol setups perform, using SLX, which is also a standard, for methanol, figure some 10% more consumption, for ethanol, some 10% less.

By my math, using a 100gm canister, you can never reach the weight efficiency of alcohol, it's simply not possible because the canister body weighs almost as much as the contents if the weights listed here are correct, that eliminates the higher btu boost. So that's a non starter, no trip would ever be lighter using that setup, I don't see how it can be since 5 oz of alcohol fuel always weighs less when you take the container/burner into account, so I don't believe there's anything subjective there going on.

One good thing about thinking/researching this is that if I ever get a canister, it will be a remote, because then I can leverage all the same methods and efficiency techniques that alcohol stoves have taught me, once it's debugged I would imagine 8 gram or less boils should be quite doable, at which point the fuel / container gets competitive again, though I don't know the weight of a light remote setup.

I think there's a tendency to ignore these fairly empirical facts when selecting for the ease and convenience of the canister setup, it's fine to prefer one method over the other, but the numbers should be real and based on comparing apples to apples, not comparing a quick and dirty cat can setup with zero efficiency testing and no work on screen at all to a commercially produced machine, a canister burner unit, that is highly tested and optimized.

What I was, however, very pleased to discover, is that the cone is absolutely not required to reach high efficiencies with alcohol, well, rediscover, since this has been known for getting close to 10 years, it just seems to get forgotten because it's too simple and non glamorous so I guess people think there's some catch to it.


Edited by hhope on 07/31/2013 12:54:32 MDT.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Stove Systems on 07/31/2013 12:07:31 MDT Print View

J Mole makes a good point about how weight changes over time and only looking at "starting weight" may not be the best approach.

Hands down, alcohol systems consume more fuel (by weight) than the other options. On short trips they make up for this by using really light components to achieve both the lightest starting weight, and the lightest average weight through out the trip.

On longer trips, the alcohol required can make the initial weight heavier than a canister system. However, most of the weight of a canister system is fixed, whereas most of the weight of the alcohol system is consumable so it decreases rapidly over time. So the weight of an alcohol system can drop by several ounces per day, while a canister system might drop by half of that. The point is that alcohol can win in terms of "average weight" even when it doesn't win in "initial weight".

How this translates into smart trekking isn't so simple. In many cases the day 1 pack load is already tough since other resources (ie. food) are maxed out as well. Thus it can be preferable to accept a higher average stove weight throughout the trip in exchange for a lower initial weight (ie. go with canister). In other situations, the more gruelling parts of the trip may lay further in, so it's better to choose the system that is lighter a few days in, even if it was heavier at the start (alcohol). While this can turn obsessive and overly analytical, the main point I'd like to make is that if an alcohol system is only slightly heavier on day 1, then it's still probably the best choice for the trip as it'll be lighter most of the way. You don't want to jump to a canister just because it's 0.5oz lighter on day 1.

Edited by dandydan on 07/31/2013 12:09:40 MDT.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
table, chart on 07/31/2013 13:38:04 MDT Print View

Using 12 gram per two cup slx boils, and 8 gram per 2 cup canister boils, ie, 24gm vs 16gm per day.

Pocket rocket: 85 grams firemaple Hornet Mini-Stove 45 grams.

Alcohol setup, simple, no priming, slx, wind screen, 15 gm fuel bottle, 60 grams. This is the real weight of the setup.

100 gram snowpeak canister: 7 oz/196 grams james marco on canister weights "I figure about 100% for canister weights vs gas weights for the smaller canisters. Larger canisters are more efficient but still weigh about 2/3 of the fuel weight. " OR: "100-110g canisters usually are 90-100 g when empty, and 220-230g are about 130-134g (one particular canister was 150g)."

so 85 gm + 100 gm + 100 gm = 285 for a 100 gm canister with msr pocket rocket. 245gm with fm mini. Assuming you use a screen for efficiency, wind protection, round it to 300 grams start weight for canister setup, 260 with 45 gm burner, and 210 with partially filled cannister, for a 3 day trip say.

day of trip/

As you can see, you will never at any point in the trip be carrying less weight using a 100 gm canister.

Check my results to confirm.

Using a 220 gm canister slightly improves it, but it takes a while to make these tables so I'll skip it.

As you can see, you will never gain any weight advantage ever on any day with a canister stove vs a decent alcohol stove, so that leaves only convenience, but I don't really see any edge there either to be honest, I did on my old priming penny stove, but I don't with the ion, pour, light, put pot on, same setup/time as a canister roughly.

Another factor is percent the canister is on, high flame, medium, low, etc, I assume high/fast boil yields much worse efficiency. I hope this table works, it shows exactly how no matter what you do, even bringing half empty cartridges for a 3 night trip, you will never be lighter.

[added: also, on a 7-14 day trip, you will never start with more weight using alcohol, that's 382 grams vs either 450 or 500 grams for 14 days, depending if you use 2x100 or 1x220 canister.] Since you will never start with more weight, and you will always end with less weight, there is never going to be a time that alcohol weighs more in your pack, this is clearly a myth based on bad stove design or something else. I will post a full table on my blog for all combinations]

Edited by hhope on 07/31/2013 14:10:48 MDT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: table, chart on 07/31/2013 17:29:41 MDT Print View

Good write-up!
Yes, this was my basic conclusion using only two 500ml/day burns per day. But at my usage, about 2 liters per day, that means I have to carry about 3floz per day. This includes a basic simmer and occasional fry/bake for the trip.

weight on 07/31/2013 20:40:48 MDT Print View

It all depends on the gear options selected.

If you use an efficient alcohol setup (0.4 wt oz= .5 fl oz per day), only boil 2 cups for dinner, and have a very light setup, the alcohol will be better than the cannnister out as far as 2wks or more. Long enough to ALWAYS resupply with alcohol.

(Note that it usually doesnt take 2 cups to rehydrate. More like 1-1.5. I take the other cup, add some cold water to it, and have a cup of coffee while my food soaks.)

NOT just a couple of days.

It all depends on how much things weigh.

An empty 100gm cannister is about 3.3 oz
A gnat is 1.7 oz
without any fuel, thats 5.0 oz
The lightest pot/lid that will take the cannister heat is about 2.9 oz SP600.

Thats 7.9 oz before ANY fuel.

My alcohol setup weighs 2.0 oz . With a 0.9oz fuel bottle (8oz)= 2.95 oz.
7.9-2.9= 5 oz fuel . Thats 10 days for me.

So with 10 days fuel, Im at the same weight of EMPTY UL cannister setup.

There is no comparison on a wt basis if you have a UL alcohol setup, and use an efficient 0.5fl oz once per day.

But you can assume all kinds of crap that skews things. A caldera cone setup with a large heavy pot,will make it ridiculous to consider alcohol.

Edited by livingontheroad on 07/31/2013 20:52:38 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips on 07/31/2013 22:48:05 MDT Print View

"i use canister exclusively now because it's just easier for me, regardless of days out."

Hard to argue with that line of reasoning.

Funny how we fret over a couple ounces in a stove system, then bring "luxury" items that can weigh over a pound.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
Re:Evaluating what stoves to use for what lengths of trips on 07/31/2013 23:04:28 MDT Print View

"A caldera cone setup with a large heavy pot,will make it ridiculous to consider alcohol."

Maybe MB. I have a 1300 Evernew which is a pretty big pot. Not sure about heavy or if some other pots would be heavier. I use it solo because I like everything to fit in the pot. Of course, I could use a smaller pot and put the stakes in my stake bag but don't want to bother. The Ti-Tri and pot is about 8 oz. IF there are no fire restrictions, I carry either a couple of Esbit tabs or 2 oz of alcohol for a week long trip as a backup. So less than 10oz for stove, pot and fuel. If I was to do alky for 6 days, I'd still be at 4.8oz and 1.5 or less for the fuel bottle so 14.3 oz. But if I had no intention of using fire, I'd have taken my Keg-H for a total of 9.5 oz anyway.