Lightweight Stoves

Overview

For a different viewpoint check out what Bob Alba has to say about stoves.

Over the years I have used Gas, Esbit/Hexamine and Alcohol stoves for camping and backpacking. All have there respective advantages and disadvantages. Currently I will confess to being a fan of Alcohol stoves and in particular the trangia. The only problem is that compared with other stoves Trangias can be a little bit heavy. To give you a quick overview here are some comparative weights

Stove Weight Fuel Notes
Vargo Triad 28g Alcohol (Meths) needs a good heat shield
Vargo Decagon 36g Alcohol (Meths) needs a good heat shield
Mini Trangia 330g Alcohol (Meths) Includes 1 Pot, 1 Pan plus stand
MSR Pocket Rocket 86g Butane/Propane Empty cartridge weighs 98g
Hexamine/Esbit 'Camping' Stove 300g Hexamine/Esbit Includes stove/windshield
BPL Esbit Wing stove 13g Hexamine/Esbit Windshield required
1-2 Man Trangia '27' 850g Alcohol (Meths) Includes 1 Pan, 2 Pots + Heat shield
2-4 Man Trangia '25' 1100g !! Alcohol (Meths) Includes 1 Pan, 2 Pots + Heat shield

A number of studies have been done in the US on weight/performance of stoves for lightweight camping and the short answer is that alcohol stoves (and especially the home-made pepsi-can stoves) perform the best for a one or two week trip when you include in the calculations the total fuel weight.

Performance

#1 Petrol MSR Whisperlite

The fastest and hottest stoves tend to be the Petrol/White Gas stoves such as the MSR Whisperlite. This stove weighs in at 330-460g and then you need a special fuel bottle as well. There is the extra fun with white gas stoves that you need to be very careful about using them inside of tents because they can flare up.

All of that being said, if you need to melt a lot of snow for water then this type of stove is your best bet.

#2 Gas MSR Pocket Rocket

For most people Gas stoves tend to be the most popular and the most efficient. Their weight can be very good for their performance and they can be very reliable. My personal favourite is the MSR pocket rocket because it claims to be maintenance free. MSR also do a cook set that will nest the Rocket, a Gas cartridge and the pots to create a trangia-like compactness.

If I am not worried about weight or about running out of fuel then I will take a gas stove. Also, if I know alcohol is going to be hard to find then I will take gas.

#3 Alcohol Trangia 27

My personal favourite of all the alcohol stoves is the Trangia 27. It is not the lightest stove but if you want to do 'real' cooking and cook in bad weather then it is ideal.

The whole unit is self-contained, nests into a pretty indestructible package and has no moving parts. Trangias are legendary for their performance and reliability. They are just heavy relative to the pepsi-can stoves or something like the Vargo triad.

If weight is an issue then most of the trangia set can be thrown away and a simple stand and windshield used instead. The burner itself only weighs 100g and although it sounds relatively heavy it is bomb-proof and can hold enough fuel for one or two simple meals.

Trangia do also sell a gas burner that fits into the windshield. It is expensive but very good. If I am base-camping then I will use a Trangia with the Gas burner attachment with Alcohol in case I use up all the Gas

A military (and heavy) version of the Trangia is standard Swedish Army issue.

#4 Hexamine Hexamine Stove

I first bought one of these stoves because I ran out of Gas and couldn't find anywhere that sold canisters when I was in the highlands of Scotland.

I was actually surprised about how well it performed. It is not particularly fast and can be tricky to get going but once started will keep going.

The whole unit is nice and compact and the fuel tables fit inside the stove so the pack size is quite small. It is relatively heavy - the steel (ugh!) stand/stove weighs over 100g and the tablets weigh about 25g each. One tablet is good for maybe one or two cups of water.

There is nothing that can go wrong with these stoves.

They are standard issue to the British Army and I would think that a stove with tablets would last you the best part of a week.

#5 Esbit 2

This is the smallest stove I could find. It's also one of the best. It really needs to be used with a windshield but if you do that and give it good shelter it really will be a fuel-miser.

A budget of 3-6g per cup of water gives you an idea of how efficient it can be.

 

Weight

When you start to measure the weight of stoves you need to take a more holistic approach. It does not matter if the stove weighs only 1g if the fuel bottle and fuel weighs 200g. The weight you actually want to be interested in is the total weight required to start boiling some water. This gives you a truer picture.

When you look at Gas stoves you need to be aware that the minimum weight of an empty cartridge is 4oz/110g and of a full one is 200+g. So, with the lightest gas stove on the market you are still looking at around 200g in weight before you add on anything to boil water in. The lightest titanium mug is around 50g and the lightest titanium kettle/pot is around 80g so the minimum starting weight for an overnight cooking system based on gas would be 250-300g. However, for a week-long hike that cylinder would with care last the week, then that 300g doesn't seem so bad.

Remember however that the Hexamine cooker complete with tablets weighs in at around 300g and so for a week-long trip you are still only looking at 350g (assuming 1 hot meal a day). Again, not too bad. You can throw away the steel stand and replace it with a Titanium or Aluminium one that weighs only a few grammes but then you would still need to allow 11+g for a windshield

Now let's look at Alcohol stoves. The lightest ones are either homemade or something like the Vargo Triad. In this league a stove would weigh around 30g or less plus maybe another 30g for a windshield.

With the alcohol stoves you also need to allow for a fuel bottle and fuel but for an efficient stove you are only looking at 1oz of fuel per meal (hot water). Your stove will vary as will the wind conditions and the external air temperature. Roughly speaking I used to budget for 0.5L of fuel for a week with a trangia assuming one hot meal and a breakfast coffee. On Gas it was about 1 8oz cartridge a week.

For a one or two day trip then the ultimate in weight saving will be an ultralight stove with very little fuel. This narrows your choices down to Hexamine or Alcohol. Hexamine is the outright winner for short trips.

For longer trips Alcohol still gives you the best fuel-weight/day ratio up to about 10 days and then Gas takes over.

 

Ease Of Use

Gas stoves and Trangia stoves tend to be no-brainers. Light a match and you are ready to cook. All the other stoves vary in difficulty of getting and keeping them going.

 

Overall

Gas stoves and Trangia stoves tend to be no-brainers. Light a match and you are ready to cook. All the other stoves vary in ease of use.