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.
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.