We’re slowly coming out of the pandemic-induced hibernation. Lauren and I still can’t meet because of travel restrictions, but I can at least go on trekking trips again. If you’ve read a bit of the blog already, you know I’m a gram-counter, so for this year I thought about my cooking setup and how to make it lighter. I’ve written about my default setup before, which is the Alpkit Kraku, Mytimug 650ml and a 100g gas cartridge. So these are the specs to beat:
Those are already very impressive numbers, but I can do better. In the Kraku setup, over half of the weight is made up by the fuel – 198g with a full cartridge. This is a huge chunk of extra weight I’m carrying around, especially for short trips where I’m only spending one or two nights out. There are alternative fuel stoves available, most notably liquid-fuel or solid-fuel stoves. Both of those allow me to carry just as much fuel as I need. With liquid-fuel stoves, you carry a bottle of alcohol with you. The lightest commercially available models I found start at around 30g plus about 30g for a plastic fuel bottle, so there is potential for some weight saving. However I don’t like the idea of an alcohol bottle leaking in my backpack, so I started looking into solid-fuel stoves instead.
Solid-fuel stoves usually work either with wood or with fuel tabs. I wanted to try both. I didn’t like any of the commercially available options here, so I looked into the make your own gear (MYOG) scene for better solutions. And it turns out for both fuel sources, you can easily build your own stoves.
A fuel tab stove is probably the easiest stove model out there. It consists of a pot stand and a platform below it for the burning fuel tab to lie on. I built the pot stand by cutting off the top (about 3-4cm) of a can and then forming it into a stand. I used the metal case of a tea light as a platform for the tabs. I trimmed the sides down, so the flames have more room (and to save another 1g). You might have to experiment with the height of the stand, since the pot can’t be too close to the tabs, or it will suffocate the flames.
That’s it, now you only need some fuel tabs and you’re good to go! I used this one on a weekend trip and I needed two 5.5g tabs in order to heat ~500ml of water in about 15min. The fuel tabs create a small flame that burns almost without smell. I would have no issues using this under my tarp or tent. It definitely isn’t as high-powered as a gas stove. However it is cheap and super lightweight. The stove itself weighs in at 14g. I really recommend a windshield for this one, mine weighs 17g. For a weekend trip with two nights out, this comes in at 207g, a whopping 163g lighter than my Kraku setup.
Here’s a video of it in action:
Pot: Alpkit MytiMug 650 (100g)
Stove: homebuilt (14g)
Wind Shield: homebuilt (17g)
Fuel: Esbit tabs (11g for each 500ml heated) + Matches (10g)
Total weight for two nights out: 207g
Now what’s even better than carrying only the fuel you need? Exactly, carrying no fuel at all. That is the unique selling point of wood stoves. I’d not recommend wood stoves anywhere. If you’re trekking on Hardangervidda for example, you’ll have a hard time finding any wood to burn. In places with supply, they’re definitely worth considering though.
Just like their solid fuel counterparts, commercially available wood stoves don’t look very good to me. Any stove that’s described at ultralight at 500g is definitely lying to you. So again, it’s time to build ourselves a hobo stove. I followed this tutorial on youtube. You’ll need a big can and a smaller one that fits inside it. It consists of an inner chamber that contains the wood and an outer chamber that funnels the cold air in at the bottom and more hot air at the top to create a bit of an afterburner effect. As a pot stand I simply used the one from my fuel tab stove I built before.
To light it, you just need some small twigs to fill up the inner chamber. I also used some toilet paper as a lighter, but you could also use some wood chips you cut with a knife. You can use the airholes on the bottom to nicely insert a burning match. Once you have a good flame, you can place the pot on top. At the start, you’ll likely have big flames coming out all around your pot, but those will settle down quickly.
The stove heated my 500ml to steaming in about 5min, but then failed to bring it to a full boil until the wood had burnt down. It’s definitely enough for a cup of coffee or a freeze-dried meal, however. Because of the outer chamber, you don’t need a separate wind shield. Since you’re burning wood, you get to enjoy that nice campfire smell, but you also get to enjoy that nasty campfire smell on your gear once you’re back home. I wouldn’t use this stove under a tarp and definitely not inside a tent because of the smoke and the big flames at the start.
The whole setup can be nicely packed inside each other. If you get a pot with a diameter of 8.5cm, like the Alpkit Mytimug 400, it will also pack nicely inside the stove for transportation – and save you another 26g.
Pot: Alpkit MytiMug 650 (100g)
Stove: homebuilt (144g)
Fuel: local wood + Matches (10g)
Total weight: 254g
I also built a second version of the outer chamber, that saves another 30g by replacing the sides and bottom of the can with a very thin titanium sheet I got from a wind shield. I didn’t notice any difference in performance. However, this lighter version is a bit mor flimsy and more prone to topple, if you aren’t careful. This brings the total weight for two nights out down to 224g.
Both options I built are lightweight and especially cheap stoves suited for overnight stays in the wilderness. I think I like the fuel tab stove better, since it burns cleaner, requires less prep and is still likely lighter than the wood stove for most trips. Researching these stoves has shown me that ultralight doesn’t always mean expensive. Sometimes, you can make your own gear and save both weight and money in the process. I’ll definitely look out for other items I can build myself in the future.
Keen hiker and ÖAV trekking and hiking guide, in love with Nansen. Owner of the most walk-averse rescue dog ever. Ice cream lover, kit junkie, runner and mad software genius.