Some well-seasoned, cast iron cookware and a carefully constructed fire offer just about everything a chef could want. However, you’re not going to lug cast iron pots and pans around to make a camp kitchen when you are bugging out. For solo, long distance, treks into the wilderness, smaller, portable stoves are more appropriate. In this article we’ll discuss lightweight, reliable cooking stoves, small enough to fit into a bugout bag. We’ll also highlight options that utilize clean burning and renewable fuels and even show you how to make your own alcohol-stove fuel at the end of the article with a moonshine still.
General Stove Types
There are at least half a dozen fuel sources and hundreds of stoves and gizmos available to choose from when selecting portable cooking equipment. In general, backpacking stoves are either heated with liquid or gas fuel. While solid fuel is much less common, there are a few options in that category as well. Liquid fuel stoves in the United States are generally designed to burn white gas (Coleman fuel).
Internationally, liquid fuel stoves are adjustable so that they can burn kerosene and other fuels as well. Gas stoves almost always use isobutene. Most portable solid fuel stoves are designed to burn prepackaged pellets, but a few models are set up to burn wood (in the form of small twigs).
The nice thing about white gas and isobutene stoves is that they’re very easy to use and they provide plenty of heat. In short, they make cooking on the go very convenient. However, the downside is that all of the most popular liquid and gas stoves utilize petroleum products as the fuel source. Solid fuel stoves provide less heat but still offer convenience. Though, pellets designed for the solid fuel stoves generally utilize petroleum products and binders as well. The problem with petroleum based fuels is that they will quickly become a finite resource in the event of a SHTF scenario. Also, the process of producing such fuels isn’t very environmentally friendly.
By our account, there are only two extremely lightweight, extremely portable backpacking stove options that utilize environmentally friendly and renewable fuel: solid fuel stoves designed to efficiently burn wood, and alcohol burner stoves.
Portable Wood Stoves
Portable wood stove operation is very easy. Find some dry twigs, break them down to the appropriate size, and feed them into the bottom of the burner. It requires some scavenging and the fire must be constantly tended to because it will be very small and wood needs to be constantly fed into the burner. However, the fuel source is free, renewable, environmentally friendly, and generally easily obtainable. One of our favorite portable wood stove options, which we have reviewed in the past is the Emberlit Wood Burning Portable Stove.
Portable Alcohol Burner Stoves
Ultra-simple alcohol burner stoves are another one of our favorite mobile cooking options. The two biggest advantages of alcohol stoves are as follows.
- The fuel does not need to be pressurized to burn and the stoves themselves have no moving parts. As a result they’re extremely reliable.
- You can make your own renewable fuel for an alcohol burner stove. We’ll show you how below!
- Bonus: Operating an alcohol burner stove is as simple as it gets. Simply set up the stand, place the fuel canister inside, take the cap off the canister, and light.
Combination Wood / Alcohol Stoves
While completing research for this article we found this awesome dual fuel wood / alcohol stove. You can use alcohol canisters (if you have them) to start a fire and cook food or heat food nearly effortlessly. If your fuel alcohol supply becomes exhausted and you don’t have the time or provisions to make more, you can use the stove as an efficient wood burner.
How to Make Fuel For Your Alcohol Burner Stove
The good folks over at Clawhammer Supply provided the following simple procedure for making a batch of fuel alcohol for alcohol burner stoves. A still is required which can either be made (can be DANGEROUS!) or purchased in 1 gallon, 5 gallon, or 10 gallon models as a part of your prepping.
The following recipe is for a 10 gallon batch of fuel alcohol mash:
2.5 gallons of 150 proof alcohol.
Note: If you are using the 1 Gallon Still we are giving away below, cut this recipe down to 1/10th to adjust for its smaller size.
- 30lbs white sugar (cheapest you can find)
- 8 gallons water (tap water works just fine)
- Distiller’s Yeast (capable of producing at least 20% ABV)
- Mix sugar and water.
- Heat mixture to 70 degrees F.
- Add turbo yeast (follow directions on package to determine how much to add)
- Transfer to fermentation bucket with an airlock.
- Allow to ferment and settle for 1 week.
- Double distill in a 10 gallon column still equipped with copper packing (for reflux).
Alcohol over 100 proof (50% concentration) is flammable, but its flammability varies depending on atmospheric pressure and temperature. As such, we recommend distilling your fuel to at least 150 proof for use in a fuel alcohol stove. A proof of 175 works the best. Once your fuel alcohol has been created you can store it in a glass carboy or you can pre-load it into fuel alcohol canisters, for easy get-away, should you need to grab your bugout bag and hit the road in a hurry.
What else can I use this alcohol for?
You can also use the recipe above to make fuel for small engines (such as a chainsaw) and even motorcycles or cars. The only difference is the proof. FYI: Proof is a number that tells you how strong alcohol is. To find proof, double the percentage of alcohol. For example, if you have a solution that is 50% alcohol, it is 100 proof. 100% alcohol is 200 proof. It also works in reverse. An 80 proof solution of alcohol is 40% pure alcohol. If you’re planning on using this fuel in a small engine, it will need to be distilled until it is roughly 195 proof and a desiccant will need to be added to remove the last bit of water in the fuel, raising the proof to 200.
Be aware that federal and state laws prohibit the production of alcohol for consumption (moonshine, whiskey, etc…). However, a federal permit for fuel alcohol is available. It’s free and is easy to obtain right here. Also, each state has its own set of laws on the topic of distilling and you may be required to obtain a state permit for fuel alcohol production, in addition to the federal permit. Be sure to research the distillation regulations in your state before purchasing a still or making alcohol to verify that you’re in compliance with the law.