Tag Archives: alcohol stove

A couple of winter adjustments…

As I adjust my gear list for the current and upcoming cold weather season, I thought I would post a couple of the adjustments that I make besides adding cold weather clothes etc…


First off, for my alcohol stove I carry an extra little fuel container – actually an old camp soap container.  This 2 ounce bottle stays in my pocket and keeps relatively warm.  I find that the fuel lights better when it is not freezing cold.  It also has a handy dispenser cap that makes filling the stove much easier.  I will probably consider carrying it next year as well regardless of temperature.

The other adjustment that comes immediately to mind is going back to my trusty Nalgene bottles.  This has multiple benefits over Smartwater and other disposable bottles that are lighter.  First, they don’t freeze very quickly and once they do, the wide mouth allows you to chip away at the ice if needed.  Even better, they are tough enough to lay near the stove and help thaw out….in the photo above I am cooking bannock and also thawing my water bottle.

This is not all you must do to “winterize” your kit, but its a start.  See the links section for several sites with excellent winter backpacking advice.

Esbit vs Alcohol for Backpacking

I have read a bunch of blogs and comments about the benefits and negatives of alcohol vs esbit solid fuel as alternatives for lightweight backpacking stoves.  Here is my two cents after running a comparison at home.

I have been using the Caldera Ti Tri Sidewinder for a couple of years – primarily using wood burning mode in the evening and alcohol mode for breakfast and a quicker getaway onto the trail.  I only used Esbit a couple of times and decided it was less efficient.  In looking back, I don’t think I gave it a fair shake as it was a cold and windy trip (15-20 deg F).  So I decided to run a test today and compare the heating and burn times of an Esbit fuel tab and alcohol.  Here are the results:

Test Method:  Heat to boiling (2 cups of tap temperature cool water) and burn time of one 14g Esbit fuel tab and 2 tablespoons of alcohol.  Outside conditions:  no wind and around 65 degrees.

Esbit Fuel:

9 minutes to bring water to rolling boil.

16 minutes to use up entire tab.


5.5 minutes to bring water to rolling boil.

10 minutes to use 2 tablespoons of fuel.

Fuel comparison:  while the Esbit weighs only 14 grams, it seems to be relatively equal in weight to the alcohol, which weighed slightly more but needed less time to boil.  The Esbit also didn’t continue the boil the last couple of minutes but died down to a simmer as it shrunk.


Esbit tabs weigh a bit more than a tablespoon of alcohol, but significantly less than 2.

There is some residue left by Esbit on the pot, but it was easily removed.  Didn’t bother me as my pot is already blackened from years of wood fires.

This simple test is not really conclusive or scientific.  I didn’t do multiple tests (too cheap to burn that much Esbit without eating something!), orient the tablet in different directions, etc.  However, my general conclusion is that the weight difference is negligible for a short trip and it “boils” down (pun intended) to your personal preference.


Greatest Backpacking Stove Ever?

With the exception of tents, maybe, I don’t think there are any other pieces of backpacking equipment that bring out more passion than stoves when folks talk about gear.  That is obviously a biased opinion of an admitted stove-junkie.  If you looked in my gear closet you would see a history of stoves including white gas, multi-fuel, canister, alcohol, and wood burning.  But after 30 years of searching I think I am done, and have fallen in love with….drum roll please….

The Trail Designs Caldera Sidewinder Ti-Tri with Inferno insert!

A full review from me and several others can be found on Trailspace.  I reread that review and feel it is still valid.  I have had this stove for 2 years now, and it is the longest time I have gone without surfing and shopping around for a new one.  Why?

Versatility – the Sidewinder Ti Tri, with Inferno insert, can use alcohol, Esbit, and wood.  To be honest I still haven’t tried the Esbit option more than a couple of times.  I use alcohol for quick stops and wood for camp except when conditions don’t allow.

Here is the stove in “alcohol mode” with the pot sitting well down in the cone and the efficient heating and windscreen created by the form fitting your pot.

Simmering – The downfall of most stoves is an inability to simmer well, although not an issue if you are boiling water and using freeze dried options for dinner.  I dehydrate a lot of my own food and simmer that, or some store bought items for a fresher approach. This is a great option with the Ti Tri Sidewinder after some practice.  You can boil water quickly with a small wood fire, then let it die down to mostly coals for a simmer and just add a little fuel here and there to keep things hopping.

Even the alcohol option has simmer capability if you futz around a bit and raise the pot to the wood burning setting. Here is the stove simmering dinner the other night in Shining Rock Wilderness – apologies for the lighting but it shows the simmering over coals well.

Weight and Packability – At around 4.5 ounces and fitting inside my Vargo 1.3 L pot, the Ti Tri is about as light as I really need and doesn’t impact my packing even for a long trip.  The pot holds my stove and my GSI mug holds my “fire kit”.

Enjoyment – One intangible about the Ti Tri with Inferno, which may not apply to everyone, is the satisfaction gained from using it.  I backpack a lot in wilderness areas with fire restrictions, but (after checking with each ranger’s office to make sure) wood burning stoves often don’t count as a fire.  Building a small fire well in this stove is as satisfying as building a campfire.

Here is one of the many “after dinner fires” I like to keep going for a few minutes.  It’s not exactly a camp fire, but provides some of the same enjoyment (and heat on a 10 degree night last winter).  Again, make sure this is legal in a campfire restricted area before using the wood burning mode!

Negatives are few for me:  a little complex to set up, very pricey if all you want to do is boil water, and the ubiquitous blackening of pots with the wood burning mode (a ziploc or stuff sack cure that for the most part).  To achieve LNT principles, you have to be careful of the ground surface when using wood burning mode.  The titanium base plate does protect the ground but can scorch grass or leaves.

I can’t recommend the Ti Tri highly enough…it is definitely my favorite piece of gear.  If you are not a boil in the bag cook, and enjoy some of the nuances of a campfire, this may be the stove for you too.