So I’ll be catching a ride on Friday out to do a short section hike of the Appalachian Trail this weekend (Newfound Gap to Clingman’s Dome and back, overnighting at Mt Collins) and I’ve been putting together my weekend bag for the trip. While I have been doing so I had a quick ponder about the nature of outdoor gear and companies that sell it.
During Spring through Fall I usually use an MSR Pocket Rocket canister stove to boil water for food and coffee. I like it because it’s small, I can pack the fuel in my cook pot and it is VERY easy to use.
I was feeling creative so I decided to make something I haven’t used for a couple of years (mostly because I consider a stove a luxury item) which is a cat food alcohol stove.
Alcohol stoves have a bunch of advantages. They’re easy to DIY (if you’re inclined). They’re super reliable (It’s basically a cup of alcohol with burner holes). They’re cheap as chips (especially if DIY, Fuel is super cheap per volume). Finally, they’re good in conditions where a canister stove isn’t (cold). Basically, they should be something you see sold in every outdoor store.
But they’re not.
As far as I can figure, outdoor stores don’t like Alcohol stoves because they quite simply make them less money.
Selling the mechanical stoves (bottle or canister) is an investment for them. These stoves break down and need replacing. They require you to constantly buy fuel canisters if that is what they run on. They present a continuing income stream. Alcohol stoves do not.
And so most people discover alcohol stoves (or as my old man used to call them, sterno burners) through oral tradition. Interestingly, the Boy Scouts of America actually ban the use of and teaching to make of home made stoves (I’m not going all conspiracy theorist here, it’s likely that they’re afraid of being sued by some poor kid lighting themselves on fire) in their Leader rules. While the knowledge is widely available you still tend to see most folks unpack a Jetboil or Canister stove when they first start backpacking and then later on drop the weight for something simpler and more versatile.
So what does it mean? I don’t really know. All I do know is that you can’t walk into very many Outdoor retailers and say ‘Hey… I’d like to buy an Alcohol stove…’. But you can find lots of them online!
Here’s a selection;
Zen Alcohol Stoves
Mini Bull Design
And of course a selection of instructions for making your own;
Beverage Can Stove
Cat Food Can Stove
Anyway; there are my musings. Thoughts?