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Gear Guy

What's the deal with alcohol stoves?

While hiking I've noticed that many hikers are now using alcohol stoves. Is this a better way to travel? Also do you know where I could find instructions to make my own alcohol burning stove? Chris Smithsburg, Maryland

A: They are? Maybe that's an East Coast thing—alcohol stoves would be a novelty out here on the West Coast. But I know they're popular in Europe.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to going with an alcohol stove. On the plus side, they're very lightweight, they're easy to use, they have no moving parts, and the denatured alcohol used as fuel is relatively benign if spilled. Nor is it as apt to erupt into a fireball as white gas, although an alcohol fire still is no picnic.

On the debit side, they don't put out near the heat of a fossil-fuel stove. Typical time to boil for a quart of water: eight minutes, versus four or fewer for a white gas or propane stove. That differential grows as the wind increases, as alcohol stoves aren't pressurized—they're simply burn a pool of alcohol and so are very wind-sensitive.

Still, for some campers in some conditions these stoves work perfectly fine. Particularly for summer camping in benign climates, an alcohol stove would perform well and would pay dividends in weight and simplicity. Check out the slick little Trangia 28 ($30), which comes with its own cookset. Not even 12 ounces for the whole shootin' match—less than most stoves alone weigh.

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