Home > Gear, Skills, ultralight bicycle touring > Setting Things on Fire

Setting Things on Fire

Before I describe my current stove, a little disclosure of my personal history with stoves might help to explain my stove addiction. Being a typical heterosexual type male I’ve always enjoyed setting things on fire.

My first stove was a Coleman multi-fuel I picked up somewhere when I was a teenager. It would burn unleaded gas and had a little pump on the side to pressurize the tank. All the elements for a proper disaster were in place. Teenager? Check. Gasoline? Check. Matches? Check. Device to spray gasoline into the air? Check.

To this day the hair on my left hand grows in thicker than the hair on my right. Much of my first attempt to light it is a blur, but I do remember kicking the little metal fireball away from my camp-site and into the woods then spending some time stomping out the fire. But I still used it for a few years with only the occasional mini-inferno.

Next I moved on to a tiny German-made butane stove that would easily fit into a pocket. The fuel was expensive and hard to find. I soon lost the German stove and replaced it with a Primus stove that worked great but was very noisy. Pressurize gas stoves are expensive to fuel, the canisters end up in landfills and they sound like little jet engines. The noise seems to take away from the back-to-nature experience.

I tried a wood burning stove with a battery powered blower underneath. It worked pretty well and was a move in the right direction, but a bit on the heavy side. Burning wood was appealing, fuel was everywhere and free, but rain is common in the mountains and a few experiences of eating dry/uncooked noodles led me to look for something more reliable.

I’ve used esbit tabs as well. These are a good choice if you are trying to go as light as possible and space is an issue. With the esbit tabs you can take exactly what is needed for each day.  But esbit tabs leave a sticky black residue on your pots (and I’m worried, in your lungs as well, if you are not careful).

On to alcohol; my current favorite. I have a couple of Trangia stoves and love their simplicity, affordability and reliability. I’ve also been making Pepsi can stoves that weigh and cost nothing. Wood and grain alcohol is environmentally safe (I think) and can be found in any hardware, auto parts or liquor store. The only drawback is the invisible flame which can easily burn the bejesus out of you. 

I used a version of the ‘Cat Stove’ popular with many Ultralight backpackers on my last trip and it worked fairly well.  I was only heating water for my morning coffee.  I carried food that didn’t need cooking.  In hindsight, I don’t think that was the best choice and by the end of the week I was really looking forward to hot food.  There are not many opportunities for dining out on the BRP, so menu planning is a major part of any self contained tour.  Next time, I think I’ll do dehydrated meals at least once a day.

And I can hardly wait till next time.  Jack

  1. dexey
    October 5, 2010 at 4:08 am

    I’ve done all of those and have gone back to hexy solid fuel tablets. My thinking is that my lungs are over 60 years old, have spent 59 of those years living in cities absorbing motor fumes, and are probably immune to almost anything. Wipe your pot on the wet grass while the black residue is still sticky and it comes off ok.
    The Kelly Kettle is the best wood burner, I find, and carries a pint of water in the small version but is bulky.

  2. jat
    October 5, 2010 at 8:58 am

    i am glad to see there are others out there who also loved burning things as a kid…
    on the stove issue..
    after surviving a forest fire that burned down my place…
    and spending 5 months living out in the woods north of lake tahoe…
    nothing beats my old msr international …
    yeah i know it is heavy…but the bike carries the stove and fuel…
    but i can cook a meal from scratch…
    and i can about burn any kind of fuel i can find…
    and do not have to deal with empty canisters …
    like the subject…fuel for thought…so to speak…

  3. velohobo
    October 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I’m still toying with the idea of wood. I’ve boiled many a pot of water with little more than twigs. I still have about a dozen esbit tabs left so I’m sure I’ll still be using then from time to time till they are gone.

    Thanks for the comments, Jack

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