These days, more and more backpackers are replacing their older, heavier gear with modern, lightweight alternatives. This often includes trading their bulky white-gas burner for an ultralight alcohol stove.
An ultralight alcohol stove can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can either be made at home or manufactured commercially, like the Vargo Triad Stove (pictured above). Either way, they have many advantages over traditional gas backpacking stoves, as well as several disadvantages to take into consideration.
There are several reasons why you should consider using an ultralight alcohol stove instead of a traditional white-gas burner.
- Ultralight. Since they do not rely on heavy gas tanks or complex priming and ignition systems, alcohol stoves tend to weigh far less than their white-gas dependent counterparts.
- Low cost. An ultralight alcohol stove is relatively cheap compared to a white-gas backpacking stove. Most commercially manufactured models can be purchased for under $30 and they can be made at home for less than $1 in material cost. Traditional backpacking stoves, on the other hand, can easily cost $50 or more.
- Simple design. An ultralight alcohol stove does not rely on any moving parts to function, so it is far easier to use and will not wear-out or require maintenance.
- Safety. Alcohol is easily extinguished and will not explode.
- Nearly silent. Unlike gas stoves, an alcohol burner will not roar like a jet engine when ignited.
- Odorless. Alcohol will not make your equipment reek if it leaks inside of your pack.
- Environmentally friendly. Alcohol is both a clean and renewable fuel source.
There are still some areas in which the traditional white-gas stove performs better.
- Less efficient. Alcohol has roughly half the heat output of other liquid fuels. This means that an ultralight alcohol stove is not appropriate for fuel-intensive activities, such as group camping, melting snow, or simmering for long periods of time.
- Invisible flame. Since you cannot see the flame created by the alcohol, it is much easier to burn yourself.
- Poor temperature control. Although some alcohol stoves have simmer rings, a traditional gas stove is much easier to control because you can adjust the amount of fuel going to the burner.
- Cold sensitivity. An ultralight alcohol stove relies on the vaporization of alcohol, and therefore may have difficulty functioning at temperatures below freezing.
As you can see, there are both pros and cons to using an ultralight alcohol stove, and your decision about whether or not to use one will ultimately come down to which features you value most in a stove.