Backpacking Alcohol Stoves


The Stoves
The Stand
The Windscreen
Cooking Pot
Cooking in Camp
Equipment Manufacturers/Sellers


These pages are for documenting the work I've done on alcohol stoves for use in backpacking. These are very popular on the Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir Trail, the Appalachian Trail and other long distance or ultra light weight adventures.

Since I've done quite a few things while making these stoves, I know I won't remember them over time.... so I'll try to collect that information here and share it with the backpacking community.

What this isn't - It isn't a "how to" set of instructions...see the full web sites for that - this is just additions to the info found there and tidbits of experience.

It's important to note that these stoves need to be considered as part of a System . A standalone stove might work great or poorly by itself, but put a windscreen around it, or a pot over it, and the performance might change dramatically. Likewise, the height between the stove and the pot is critical, as is the amount of fuel used.

These alcohol stoves are designed for boil a couple of cups of water. That works fine for me, but if your cooking style differs from that, then these stoves might not work out for your trips.

Hopefully the pictures will help when it comes time to build more stoves or to rebuild one of these stoves. Since I've been backpacking for a while with these stoves, I've updated this web page.

Note: This fuel bottle should have been painted red!


These are the stoves I made with some details about each one:

Stove 1 - V8 Stove

Stove 2 - Cat Stove

Stove 3 - Pika Stove
Stove 4 - Hybrid Sideburner Stove

Stove 5 - Pressurized Stove

Stove 6 - Penny Stove

Stove 7 - Penny Stove #2

All stoves were tested with 24 fl oz - two Backpacker insulated mugs worth, in a K-Mart Grease pot, with lid on, from 62 degrees to boiling.


Use the cap of the fuel bottle to measure out the fuel - most stoves use six to eight capfulls - roughly one liquid ounce. After a while you get a feel for how much you need and you can just pour it.

You can mark a water bottle with blue magic marker in the grooves - this is a bit more than an ounce. ( 1 pint = 16 oz. ) The bottle pictured holds 25 oz.

The shampoo bottle you get at hotels while traveling are often one ounce - use one to see how much fuel that is. I've also read that a clear 35mm film canister holds one ounce of fuel.

Update: I ALWAYS use red paint to mark my fuel containers now - it is too easy to mistake the alcohol fuel for water otherwise. Also note that the alcohol fuel is very volatile - NEVER add fuel to a burning stove!



The pot stand can be made from the flags on wires used to mark irrigation points, pipelines, etc. Use Google to search for "marker flags". These are probably made of steel - some other wires will not stand up to the heat well enough.

Update: The local hobby shop had titanium wire! Much superior to use. Also, the open leg/folderable design is not as sturdy as one where you bind all three legs. If you can do that and fit it in your cooking pot, it will be better. I still use mine as a foldable style and have only had one pot tip over accident.

For a three piece, triangular stand, first make a template with the dimensions below. Note that two of the pieces need a small angle at the bottom to keep the connector in place. The other piece needs an angle on both legs.

Once put together, this stand should be able to fold flat and fit inside your pot. Note that the ends are relatively sharp/pointed, so you don't want it to poke holes into your pack, sleeping pad, etc..

The height of the stand might vary depending upon the ideal distance between the top of your stove and the pot. This distance can significant affect the time it takes to heat up your water.

Each stand should be configured for the stove it will be used for as the height between the stove and the pot is very important.

The stand shown has the dimensions 3.5 inches wide by by 2.5 inches high. Note that one side has some extra length to allow for a bend to keep the wrapped soda can sleeves attached.

Using pliers, bend the wire with 90 degree angles to the dimensions. Cut off the remainder of the marker flag from the last leg. Being careful to make all the heights the same, bend the small dogleg pieces. Cut off any excess.

Cut two lengths of soda can, about 2.25 inches high and one inch long (the height of the legs), and wrap it around two of the legs on two of the pieces. The piece with the two doglegs is the middle piece. The other two pieces have a dogleg where the soda can wrap is, and just a straight leg on the free end.


Update: The wire stands cannot absorb much heat by themselves. When you take the pot of water off the stand, if the alcohol stove is still running, you should take the stand away too. Otherwise it will get red hot and get weakened.

I think it helps to have a base - not only for the safety (or planned use) in regards to alcohol on the outside of the stove but also for stability of the system. In addition, it probably reflects heat to the pot better. This is made of of a pie tin cut to fit inside the grease pot, and then with the sides crimped up.

I used the grease pot to make the outer circle where I cut the pie tin with sissors. Then I bent it up, and it could fit inside my pot.

     hiker_01.gif               TADA!!!!



The windscreen is very, very important. It should fit around the pot with 1/4 to 1/2 inch clearance. IMPORTANT: The amount of clearance makes a big difference in the stove and the heating. Too little and you will "starve" the stove (or melt your windscreen). Too much and the sides of the pot won't be heated.

Also make sure you don't make your windscreen too high.

You'll probably need to make several windscreens for the different kinds of stoves.

The particular windscreen shown here is made of relatively thick sheet metal from Home Depot - it came as an ~8 inch by 2 ft strip. The heavier sheet metal has some stability which helps but there is the weight consideration. It has 3 metal bars that poke thru slots in the side to form a stand for the pot.


An alternative, which is useful for the stoves using a separate stand, is 2 pie tins (12 inch pumpkin pies from Costco), height 3.25 inches & 18.5 inches long. This windscreen can be melted by the stoves if the flames touch it.

Cut the whole pie tin, hammer down angled part (it will spread out some), then make a folded over 1/4 inch section to put the two pieces together. Use the hole punch to put a series of holes in the bottom.

This windscreen is somewhat flimsy, so you have to be careful with it.



Update: The windscreen above is way too heavy. So, first, I cut two aluminum pie tins, joined them together, used a paper hole punch to make a row of holes in the bottom. That worked out really well until I got in some windy conditions and the heat from the alcohol stove melted some of the aluminum.

So now I use a titanium foil windscreen - it's very light, compact, and seems to stand up well to my cooking with alcohol stoves. I got one here - FireLite Titanium Foil Windscreen.

Cooking Pot

This is a Kmart Greasepot, costing about $6.50. It can boil 4 cups of water, weighs 2.65 oz with the aluminum pie tin cover I made for it (The lid it comes with was a lot heavier). It's a good size, bigger than it actually needs to be, but it also serves as the container for all my kitchen gear. I've found that to be important so all the little bits and parts don't get lost or crushed in my pack.

I personally like to use a pot holder too, though one of my buddies just uses gloves.

Update: I've read that the Kmart Greasepot is no longer available.

Tools & Techniques

Here are the tools I used - they are all pretty simple. In the field I think you could use a LeatherMan Tool to make these stoves.

To the far left is my block of wood with a razor blade nailed to it - this was a very handy tool used to score the cans on a straight edge for cutting.

You can see the marker and a set of pins for making holes. I usually punched the holes in the top of the stove after cutting the top piece, but I found it was sometimes easier or better to do it before. It somewhat depends upon the design of the stove.

The hole punch and small files were very important for creating the holes for loading the fuel, reaming out holes, etc. I'd start the hole with the hole punch or a 1/16th inch drill, then finish the hole with the files.

The Xacto knife I kept very sharp and used it for cutting the metal. Note that if you could score the metal it helped a lot, and you didn't always need to cut the metal. If you scored it and could bend it back and forth, it usually fatiqued quickly and broke right along your scoring.

The single hole punch was great for cutting holes in the stove parts, windscreens, etc.

One item not pictured is fine sandpaper - I did often use that to sand the edges of the cans. I think even a very slight angle can sometimes help the cans go together. Likewise, I used a large rounded file for cutting out and smoothing the large holes on some of the stoves.

I used my small files to file the end of the pushpin down so the hole it made was smaller. I tried using some pins (not needles), but these bent too easily. When I did, I found that tapping them on the end with a light hammer worked well...but was awkward. For the bigger holes, I used a 1/16th inch drill.

To cut the cans, I used a board with razor nailed to it. I could adjust the height by using magazines for height adjustment. I'd rotate the cans in place, usually applying light pressure on the side, to score the cans. I did not use this to actually cut the cans, just to score it.

Using this technique I was able to get very straight cuts - this helps a lot when trying to put the cans together.

After the can was well scored, I'd put it down sideways on paper and start a cut with the Xacto blade. Then I'd push the can in behind the blade - I didn't actually use the blade much to do the cutting. The scored metal would come apart along the scoring.




NOTE: In the daytime the flames from alcohol stoves are usually NOT visible!!!!

These stoves can put out a lot of heat!!!!

Be very careful to make sure the stove is out - especially if you are going to add fuel. Use caution when testing to see if the stove is out - often, it is still lit on the inside. Don't go burning your fingers!

Many of these stoves cannot be blown out...just let them burn out or use a can to cover them. Do not use your pot - it's bad for your health.

DO NOT EVER THINK ABOUT ADDING ALCOHOL TO A BURNING STOVE!!! NEVER, EVER!!! The alcohol is very volatile, it will probably flash into flame even before it gets to the stove if there is an open flame. Which basically means that YOU will be on fire too!

Cooking At Camp

Here are some pictures taken out in the field on backpacking trips.

Angel Island, April 2007   

  I'm NOT the one who burned the table top!

  See the double oatmeal packets? An alcohol stove is ideal for breakfasts like that (along with the big cup of hot chocolate!).
Cottonwood Lakes, August 2007   

Note that I got smart about painting my fuel bottle red!
Yosemite, North Dome, August 2007   

I'm using a pot holder now. I haven't changed out the gease pot lid yet.

The Cup of Noodles is another great quick meal, though kinda bulky....but I had lots of room in my GoLite Jam pack.

Note the nice boiling water!

You can also see the pie tin origin of the windscreen.
At Hamilton Lake in Sequoia National Park at sunset, water in the pot, windscreen in my hand, ready to cook my mashed potatoes with their bacon topping by my side. There's enough water for my hot chocolate too... yummy!
At Blue Lake in the Sabrina Basin area - all my kitchen gear is laid out. It's amazing that almost all of this gear was made in 2007, and is still being used and working well in 2014.
And a tiny bit higher at Topsy Turvey Lake. It got quite windy and cold when we were there, though not quite freezing. My little alcohol stoves performed fine, though the wind screen was necessary.

In the first picture I'm pouring the alcohol into the stove. I usually don't measure it anymore as I've got it pretty well figured out how much I'm putting in.

In the second picture, the stove is heating the water in the pot. I'm using my FireLite Titanium Foil Windscreen - I really like it!.
Note that the stove is set on a non-burning surface for fire safety. In the third picture I have all my kitchen implements/tools all laid out for my use, in handy arms-length range.

AAAaaaahhhh, lovely boiling water... I'm going to be eating and drinking in a few minutes!
This is way back in the Upper Kern basin in 2010. It was gorgeous there! The night before we camped at Tyndall Creek where there was a bear box. I have my kitchen laid out on top of it. All the equipment is still working! It looks like breakfast is two packets of oatmeal.


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