Alcohol Stoves 101

An ultralight backpacking guide to alcohol stoves and burners - how they work, common designs, pros and cons, considerations and some of the best alcohol stoves.

Updated on August 3rd, 2022
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Alcohol stoves are simple, reliable, super-lightweight, and cheap. Another great feature about alcohol stoves is they’re ultra-quiet, you won’t hear the familiar roaring that sounds like it could be coming from a small jet engine while operating an alcohol stove. Instead, you’ll hear what’s around you!

Alcohol stove fuel can be found in most small towns around the world. And, any clear plastic bottle can be used to hold the fuel. The list of reasons why alcohol stoves rule and why they're the best for experienced hikers is long. Let's first dive into some of the best alcohol stoves available today and how they perform.

Brand Model Weight Material Design Burner Cup Capacity Price
Trangia Spirit Burner 4.6 oz Brass Side 3 fl oz $18
White Box 1 oz Aluminum Side 2 fl oz $20
Vargo Triad 1 oz Titanium Pressure Flame 1.5 fl oz $35
Trail Designs Caldera Cone 0.6-2.75 oz Aluminum Open 1.3 fl oz $35
Evernew 1.2 oz Titanium Side 2.3 fl oz $34
Solo Stove Lite 3.5-9 oz Brass Side 3 fl oz $20-70
Zelph's Stoveworks Fancee Feest 0.8 oz Aluminum Open 2.5 fl oz $17
Zelph's Stoveworks Starlyte Stove 0.5 oz Aluminum and Stainless Steel Open 1 fl oz $18
Redcamp Mini Alcohol Stove 5 oz Aluminum and Brass Open 3 fl oz $18
Esbit Alcohol Burner 3.2 oz Brass Open 3 fl oz $21
Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove 1.2 oz Titanium Vertical 2 fl oz $35
TOAKS Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove 0.7 oz Titanium Open 2.7 fl oz $40


Best Alcohol Stoves

TRANGIA SPIRIT BURNER

Trangia Spirit Burner

Weight: 4.6 ounces

Material: Brass

Design: Side

Burner Cup Capacity: 3 fluid ounces

Price: $18.49

Why we like it: This is one of the only resealable stoves with a simmer ring.

The Trangia Spirit Burner is a brass alcohol stove that is resealable and comes with a simmer ring. Compared to other stoves we tested, It is on the heavier side. But this stove is very reliable and much more durable than many of the more lightweight stoves out there. You’ll need a separate windscreen and pot support for this stove as well, which will further add to the total weight of this setup. This is one of the only stoves that comes with a simmer ring, which is a nice feature if you’re planning to actually cook with this stove.

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WHITE BOX

White Box

Weight: 1 ounce

Material: Aluminum

Design: Side

Burner Cup Capacity: 2 fluid ounces

Price: $19.99

Why we like it: This 1-ounce stove doesn’t even require a pot stand.

The White Box Alcohol Stove is made of recycled aluminum drink bottles. It holds a lot of fuel and can work to cook for multiple people. This stove can be used without a pot stand, but we found during testing that it works best with one. Though you can set a pot directly onto this stove, it works best with wider pots, which don’t feel stable just resting on this stove. If you’re using a narrower pot we found that the flames licked around the edges a lot and made it hard to grab the pot handle.

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VARGO TRIAD

Vargo Triad

Weight: 1 ounce

Material: Titanium

Design: Pressure Flame

Burner Cup Capacity: 1.5 fluid ounces

Price: $34.95

Why we like it: This is the strongest stove we tested and has integrated pot stand arms.

The Vargo Triad is a compact, jetted stove that includes an integrated stand to hold a pot and legs to lift the stove up off the ground. It’s made of titanium, so it’s very strong. We found this stove to be slower to boil during testing than many of the other stoves. It took a long time (almost 5 minutes) for the stove to get hot enough for gas to shoot out the jets. There are hacks we discovered that involved a smaller vessel of alcohol or some small sticks to preheat the stove, but when compared to other stoves that don’t require this it’s a less appealing option.

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TRAIL DESIGNS CALDERA CONE

Trail Designs Caldera Cone

Weight: 0.6 ounces for the stove | 1-2.75 ounces for windscreen/pot support (depending on the size of the pot)

Material: Aluminum

Design: Open

Burner Cup Capacity: 1.3 fluid ounces

Price: $34.95

Why we like it: This is the most fuel-efficient alcohol stove system we tested.

The Trail Designs Caldera Cone is a fully integrated alcohol cook system. This stove is incredibly small and paired with the Caldera Cone it is incredibly fuel-efficient. We were consistently able to boil a cup of water with barely more than a half-ounce of alcohol. The secret to this efficiency is the Caldera Cone, which is sized specifically to your pot to support it under the pot lip. This allows for virtually no heat loss.

We tested this stove system with the Kojin stove. The Kojin stove is an open aluminum container with a screw-on lid and fiberglass batting to prevent alcohol from spiling. The screw-on lid is great for storing extra alcohol for the next time you use this stove, too.

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EVERNEW

Evernew

Weight: 1.2 ounces

Material: Titanium

Design: Side

Burner Cup Capacity: 2.3 fluid ounces

Price: $33.62

Why we like it: This stove boils water very quickly.

The Evernew alcohol stove is lightweight and compact with a dual jet system that creates a robust and stable flame. This stove burns very fast and hot. During testing, we found that it brings 2 cups of water to a boil in just over 5 minutes–that’s almost twice as fast as other stoves we tested. It uses over an ounce of fuel to boil 2 cups of water, though. This is much more than some alcohol stoves, so it isn’t the best for fuel conservation. But if you’re looking for a stove that burns hot and boils water quickly, this is a great option.

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SOLO STOVE LITE

Solo Stove

Weight: 3.5 ounces for the stove | 9 ounces for Solo Stove Lite

Material: Brass

Design: Side

Burner Cup Capacity: 3 fluid ounces

Price: $19.99 for the stove | $69.99 for Solo Stove Lite

Why we like it: This is the most versatile stove we tested.

The Solo Stove Lite is a cooking system designed to use wood as its primary fuel source. The Solo Stove alcohol burner is designed to be carried as a backup for when dry wood isn’t available. However, this little alcohol burner will hold its own against other alcohol stoves.

We found this stove works great with the Solo Stove functioning as a pot support and windscreen. It’s a bit heavy for ultralight backpacking, especially when used with the Solo Stove Lite as a pot support. But, it isn’t the heaviest stove option out there and the fact that you can easily burn wood or alcohol with this system means you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel. Plus, it comes with a simmer ring when you want to do more than just boil water.


ZELPH'S STOVEWORKS FANCEE FEEST

Zelph's Stoveworks Fancee Feest

Weight: 0.8 ounces

Material: Aluminum

Design: Open

Burner Cup Capacity: 2.5 fluid ounces

Price: $17

Why we like it: This is the best version of the classic cat food can stove we’ve seen.

The Zelph’s Stoveworks Fancee Feest stove is an improved version of the famous and simple cat food can stove. This stove is a cat food can with an integrated pot support and wicking material that channels fuel outside of the pot support to heat water efficiently.

During testing, we found this stove boils a cup of water in just under 5 minutes. This is about average for an alcohol stove, but we do love how simple this stove is. All you need is a windscreen since it has a built-in pot support. We also liked how easy it was to light this stove via the wick on the outside of the stove. We much preferred this to sticking our lighter into other stoves and burning our hands.

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ZELPH'S STOVEWORKS STARLYTE STOVE

Zelph's Stoveworks Starlyte Stove

Weight: 0.5 ounces

Material: Aluminum and stainless steel

Design: Open

Burner Cup Capacity: 1 fluid ounce

Price: $18

Why we like it: The wicking material in this open burner stove works great.

The Starlyte Stove is another stove from Zelph's Stoveworks. This stove is super light - only half an ounce. And, it has an integrated pot support. We like how well the wicking material in this stove works. It made this stove relatively spill-proof and allowed the fuel to completely burn off during testing. This stove works best when only cooking for one since the fuel capacity is only an ounce. But, we found that this amount of fuel was sufficient to boil 2 cups of water at a time.

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Redcamp Mini Alcohol Stove

Redcamp Mini Alcohol Stove

Weight: 5 ounces

Material: Brass and Aluminum

Design: Open

Burner Cup Capacity: 3 fluid ounces

Price: $17.99

Why we like it: This stove gives you the most options for controlling the heat on your pot.

The Redcamp Mini Alcohol Stove is a brass open burner style stove with a pot support that can be used in multiple configurations. This allows you to position the flame closer or farther from your pot to control the heat as you cook or boil water. We liked this feature but didn’t end up using it much during testing.

Since the stove also comes with a “flame regulator,” which is basically a simmer ring, we mostly just used that to control the temperature as we cooked. We loved how the flame regulator was easy to use while the stove was burning, unlike reconfiguring the pot support.

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Esbit Alcohol Burner

Esbit Alcohol Burner

Weight: 3.2 ounces

Material: Brass

Design: Open

Burner Cup Capacity: 3 fluid ounces

Price: $21.41

Why we like it: This is the lightest of the high fuel capacity stoves with a simmer ring and lid.

The Esbit Alcohol Burner stove is another brass alcohol stove with a threaded lid and flame regulator. During testing, we found that some pot supports got in the way of the handle for the simmer ring. After some trial and error, we did find a pot support device that didn’t get in the way of the handle but it did take some time.

We also noticed that this stove and a few others we tested seem to be very similar. We liked this one because it didn’t come with a pot support, but didn’t like that it didn’t cost any less without a pot support.

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Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove

Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove

Weight: 1.2 ounces

Material: Titanium

Design: Vertical

Burner Cup Capacity: 2 fluid ounces

Price: $34.95

Why we like it: This is the most durable stove we tested.

The Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove is strong enough to stand on and doesn’t require a pot support. Trust us, we tried to break this little stove and failed. Though this stove is extremely durable, we found it to be much less functional than many other alcohol stoves. This was the first alcohol stove one of our testers ever used, and he found it very finicky back then.

During testing this time around, we also found it to be difficult to use. Mostly, we found it was slow to prime the jets on this stove. We came up with several hacks to heat it up faster - a small pile of alcohol-soaked twigs in the center being the main one - but don’t think manufactured stoves should require hacks to work as well as homemade stoves.

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TOAKS Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove

TOAKS Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove

Weight: 0.7 ounces

Material: Titanium

Design: Open

Burner Cup Capacity: 2.7 ounces

Price: $39.95

Why we like it: This is a very durable and simple alcohol stove that requires no priming.

The TOAKS Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove is a simple open-design stove with vertical jets around the rim. We liked that we could start to boil water on this stove before the jets were primed. This allowed us to save fuel during testing and also decreased boil times. Once the stove was heated enough the jets did start to work, but our water was halfway to boiling by that point too. This stove does require a separate pot support and windscreen, but TOAKS’ pot frame is one of our favorite pot supports for all alcohol stoves.

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Considerations

SURFACE AREA

The surface area can refer to the size of the flame that is available for cooking as well as the actual surface area to set your pot on. These both vary by model. Some stoves have a narrow design that makes it easy to cook in a smaller cup, while others have a wider design that works best with a larger pot.

alcohol stoves

WEIGHT

Your alcohol stove should not weigh more than an ounce. Some of the larger ones that store fuel can weigh up to 5 ounces.

toaks siphon
Toak's Titanium Siphon Alcohol Stove only weighs 0.7oz, but it's very durable and requires no priming.

STAND REQUIREMENTS

Almost all alcohol stoves need some type of stand that positions the pot above the flame. Some stoves, like the Vargo Triad and the Whitebox, are built, so the stand is integrated into the stove. Others like the Trangia Spirit burner require a separate stand.

Ultralight Alcohol Stoves
Photo Credit: GoBag Stoves

SIMPLE DESIGN

When choosing an alcohol stove, look for a simple design that is easy to light and won't break in the field. The fewer parts, the better. Let's look at some of the most popular designs.

fancee fest
The Zelph’s Stoveworks Fancee Feest stove is an improved version of the famous and simple cat food can stove.

Common Designs

Alcohol stoves all use the same fuel, but they can differ significantly in how they are designed. There are four basic designs with many variations within each style.

alcohol stove open flame diy soda can design drawing


Open Flame: An open flame stove is the simplest type of stove. Think of it like a bowl. You take an open vessel like a tuna can, fill it with fuel, light it, and go. They are easy to make yourself and are nearly foolproof to operate. They spill easily, so some models include a non flammable wicking material to contain the fuel for cooking and storage.


alcohol stove vertical flame diy soda can design drawing


Vertical Flame: Vertical flame stoves use a chimney-like design that directs the flame upwards towards the pot. The model uses two nested cans with carefully placed vent holes to create an updraft that makes the stove more efficient than an open flame version. Because they are double-layered, these stoves are a bit more challenging to make and are heavier than an open stove.


alcohol stove side burner diy soda can design drawing


Side Flame: A side flame stove has holes on the sides of the vessel that direct the flame to the outside of the stove. This design doesn't need a separate stand as you can place the pot on top of the stove without putting out the fire. These are your basic DIY cat can or altoid stoves.


alcohol stove pressure flame diy soda can design drawing


Pressure Flame: The most complicated to make and operate. Pressure flame stoves use vapor pressure to create a powerful flame for boiling water. They have a center fuel port that you fill and light and an internal chamber with burner holes on either the side or top for cooking.

They work by channeling the vaporized fuel and then shooting it out the burner holes where they combust. They produce a flame reminiscent of a home gas burner. They can be finicky to light as you have to prime the stove by burning a small amount of fuel and waiting a minute or so for the jets to ignite.

alcohol stoves

How To Make An Alcohol Stove From a Soda Can

DIY soda can stove

In a short amount of time, you can quickly turn an old soda can or two into an alcohol cooking stove. There are a ton of varieties ranging from the simple open can stove to a more complex burner with a simmer ring. In its most basic form, you can cut the bottom off a soda can, pour the fuel into the container, and light it up. For a more elegant design, you can use two cans to create a fuel chamber with a burner.

Just cut the bottom off one can, drill several burner holes in another can, and add some JB weld to glue the two together.


How to Use an Alcohol Stove?

1. Preparation

Find an area completely free of brush and other flammable materials. A flat, surface of dirt or rocks is best for this. If you can’t find an area free of flammable materials, find a large flat rock to use as a cooking surface.

vargo triad

Fill your stove with the amount of alcohol you’ll need to boil water, this will probably be about 1 ounce of fuel. We found that an alcohol fuel bottle with a squirt top works best for filling the stove without spilling.

redcamp mini alcohol stove
The Redcamp Mini Alcohol Stove has a burner cup capacity of 3 fl oz.

Fill your pot with water and have everything else you need for cooking within reach. Be sure you have extra water ready to extinguish a fire if something goes wrong.

hiker using an alcohol stove

2. Lighting the stove

Use a lighter, match, or a burning wick like this one to light the alcohol on your stove. Be careful to not burn your hand. If your stove requires priming before you can put your pot in place for cooking, wait for flames to start coming out of the jets.

solo stove
Solo Stove comes with a simmer ring when you want to do more than just boil water.

When the stove is lit, place your pot on the stove or pot support. If you have a simmer ring or flame adjuster, put that in place before placing your pot on the stove so you can adjust the flame to suit your needs.

Now, do not walk away from your stove the entire time it’s burning.

alcohol stove

3. Putting out the flame

Once your water is boiling, remove the pot from the stove. Use the stove lid or another metal object to snuff out the flames if they’re still burning, the lid of your pot works great for this. Make sure the stove is completely out before you turn away from it by feeling the heat with your hand.

Now, mix that boiling water with your dinner ingredients and get eating!

vargo triad
The Vargo Triad has integrated pot stand arms.

Types of Fuel to Use for Alcohol Stove

HEET: HEET is sold as a gas line antifreeze, but it actually is methanol. It is inexpensive and readily found at Walmart and auto parts stores, especially in the winter. Methanol is ideal for the shoulder season as it has a lower boiling point and burns readily in colder temps. You have to be careful not to contaminate your cooking pot or utensils with this fuel because it is toxic.

evernew
The Evernew Alcohol Stove boils water very quickly.

DENATURED ALCOHOL: Denatured alcohol is ethanol with a small amount of methanol added to make it undrinkable. It is cheap and easy to find in the paint department of most hardware stores. It burns hotter than methanol but loses efficiency at colder temps.

solo stove and vargo decagon
From Left to Right: Solo Stove and Vargo Decagon.

EVERCLEAR OR  GRAIN ALCOHOL: Everclear or grain alcohol has all the advantages of denatured alcohol without the toxic methanol additive. Because it is potable, Everclear tends to be more expensive than denatured alcohol. It also is harder to find in trail towns and is even banned in some states.

trangia spirit burner
The Trangia Spirit Burner is a resealable alcohol stove. It also comes with a simmer ring.

ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL (91% or 99%): Isopropyl alcohol, also known as red-bottle Heet or drug store rubbing alcohol, can be burned in a pinch but it is not recommended as a primary fuel source. Isopropyl alcohol doesn't burn completely and will leave some unburned soot residue in your stove. It also is mixed with water which will decrease the flame strength and efficiency.


Alcohol Stove: Pros and Cons

Pros

ULTRALIGHT. Alcohol stoves are generally considered to be the lightest type of backpacking stove, which is why they are so popular with thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers. 

hiker using alcohol stove

CHEAP. These stoves are extremely cheap and often cost about $20. The fuel is also cheap. It can be purchased from auto stores, hardware stores, Walmart, outdoor stores, etc. Also, as we will discuss below, DIY soda can stoves cost almost nothing to make.

fancee feest
Zelph's Stoveworks Fancee Feest costs $17 - the cheapest on this list.

SIMPLE AND RELIABLE. Alcohol stoves are fool-proof. They are probably the least likely to fail or "break" because they don't have any moving parts. You just fill them, light them, and you're ready to boil some water. 

esbit alcohol burner
The Esbit Alcohol Burner stove is a brass alcohol stove with a threaded lid and flame regulator.

GOOD FOR BOILING WATER. Alcohol stoves may look puny, but they are no slouch when it comes to boiling water. Most stoves can boil water within 5-6 minutes, and some can sustain this boil for up to 20 minutes on a full reservoir of fuel. It's no Jetboil, but it does the job at a fraction of the cost and weight.

Cons

BAD FOR "COOKING". They may excel at boiling water, but alcohol stoves are not great at cooking because they have a fixed flame setting. 

The stove is either on or off - therefore, slowly simmering your food is not easy to do. Only a few stoves have a simmering ring, which is a shield that can be adjusted to block the flame from reaching the pot. Also, the alcohol vaporizes. This can be helpful by allowing you to easily light the stove. However, it also means you can accidentally burn your entire fuel supply.

bad for cooking

MESSY.The actual fuel must be stored in a leakproof container. Traces of the alcohol can often still be found around the lid of the container making it smell in your pack. There is also some clean-up after cooking - usually, this means pouring any leftover fuel back into the bottle.

toaks siphon

LESS SAFE.Once set up, these stoves are not the most stable and require some careful handling as you try to balance the pot on the small cooking surface area. Because of this small surface area to cook on, most models require an additional stand to elevate and stabilize your pot.

Alcohol stoves can and will tip over, sometimes with tragic consequences. A spilled alcohol stove is thought to have started a forest fire in Colorado in 2012. Though they won't explode, they do need to be handled with care.

alcohol stoves

FAQs

What is an alcohol stove?

An alcohol stove is a stove for backpacking or camping that burns alcohol as its fuel.

windscreen

How to make a windscreen for alcohol stove?

You can make a windscreen for an alcohol stove with aluminum foil. Cut a piece to the length you need to wrap around your pot and double the height. Fold it in half, then wrap it around the base of your pot to keep the wind from blowing out your alcohol stove.

📸 Some photos in this post were taken by Dana Felthauser (@danafelthauser)

Sam Schild photo

About Sam Schild

By Sam Schild (aka “Sia,” pronounced sigh): Sam is a writer, thru-hiker, and bikepacker. You can find him in Denver when he’s not out exploring in the mountains somewhere..

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After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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