Build Your Own
Backpacker’s Alcohol Stove

A lightweight, economical stove
that you can make yourself
Advantages of an Alcohol Stove
     Alcohol stoves are ideal for backpackers and day hikers because they are so compact and lightweight.  They burn inexpensive denatured alcohol sold as paint thinner in hardware and department stores or Heet brand methyl alcohol sold as a gas line additive everywhere auto supplies are sold.  The fuel does not require special containers to carry it safely -- any plastic container will suffice.  These stoves are dependable, light easily and have no moving parts to break.  An alcohol stove is ideal when you just need to boil water to prepare your meal.  It's not so good if you need to regulate the heat.  It will boil a pint of water in a covered cook pot in about 7 minutes and is ideal for making tea, hot cocoa, and instant soup as well as those fancy just-add-hot-water backpacker dinners.  While it isn’t quite as fast as some of the high-tech canister stoves, it is more lightweight and compact.  It costs only a fraction of what those other stoves cost -- basically the price of a can of tuna.  This stove is ideal when you’re traveling light or when space is at a premium – times when you’d ordinarily leave your other stoves at home.  This is the ideal stove to put in your survival kit or ready bag for disasters and other emergencies .

​Open-topped stove
   ​This type of stove is the most simple design.  Take a 7-ounce can of tuna and remove the top.  Use a can opener that does not leave rough, sharp edges.  Use a hole punch to make a row of holes around the entire upper rim.  Make a second row of holes under these, offset from the top row of holes.  That's it.  Your stove is done.  Fill it with denatured alcohol and light it.  I usually use a magnesium fire rod.  Be careful because the flame isn't always easy to see.  Wait a about 20 seconds until you see some agitation on the surface of the alcohol.  You must wait or the flame will go out when you put your cook pot on top.  When the surface of the alcohol starts to rumble, put your cook pot on top.  A pot large enough to cover the entire open top of the stove is best.  The flames will jet out of the holes in the can and you're cooking.  In calm conditions, you can boil a pint of water in about 7 minutes.  Improvise a wind screen for breezy conditions.  The stove will burn for 12 or more minutes.  I've found that I can usually heat water for ramen noodles or instant soup and still have enough burn time left on a single filling to make tea or cocoa.  You can make this stove from cans of different sizes to accommodate various cook pots.  I've tried all types of alcohol stoves and this is the one I use the most. 

Closed-topped stove
   This type of stove tends to be slightly more efficient, but requires you to improvise something to support your cook pot.  I found a supplier of small metal canisters online.  But you can also use any small container with a removable top, such as an air gun pellet canister.  Drill or punch a row of small holes around the lid of your container.  Fill the canister with fuel, close the lid and pour a little more fuel on the top.  Light the fuel on the top and this will "prime" your stove to get it started.  You can find instructions elsewhere online to make another kind of closed top stove by joining together the bottoms of two soda or beer cans.  While these stoves work well, they aren't as simple to construct and because the tops can't be easily removed, it's difficult to retrieve any unsed fuel if you extinguish your stove before it's empty.

Pot support
   Closed-topped stoves require you to devise some way to support your cook pot.  The best way I've found is to fasten four 1/2-inch bolts with nuts to the lid of the stove so that the ends of the bolts support your cook pot.  Another way is to punch several rows of holes around an open-topped, 12-ounce tuna can and place the stove canister inside of this.  Your cook pot ​then rests atop the larger tuna can.  Still another way is to take the top of a 12-ounce tuna can and attach four longer bolts to it so that your canister fits in between them.

Save your fuel
   I normally use a four-ounce plastic squeeze bottle to carry my fuel when I'm out for a day hike.  Four ounces will fill my stove twice, giving me one filling to heat something hot for lunch and one filling to spare.  A wide-mouthed plastic soda bottle makes an excellent fuel container for extended outings.  You can also save fuel by extinguishing your stove as soon as you've heated your water.  Simply place your cook pot upside down over the stove to smother the flame.  When the stove is cool, dump the leftover fuel into a resealable plastic sandwich bag.  I've cut the bottom corner out of a bag, which makes it easy to funnel the fuel from the bag to my fuel container.  I then use the bag to store my stove and fuel bottle.   ​

Fuel your stove
     These stoves are designed to burn denatured alcohol or methyl alcohol (methanol) only.  Denatured alcohol is commonly used as one type of paint thinner and can be found in quart or gallon containers at most hardware stores.  Methyl alcohol is the main ingredient in HEET brand gas line anti-freeze (yellow bottle) and can be found in most gas stations, convenience stores and wherever auto supplies are sold.

Experiment on your own
     Now that you've seen the way I've done it, please experiment on your own.  If you find a better, simpler design, let me know. 


Briar Hill Books
Good reading and good gear
for your next outdoor adventure.
Three types of pot supports