Gear Guy

Will a homemade alcohol stove be enough for the AT?

I have been contemplating hiking the Appalachian Trail. Having spoken to a number of through-hikers, I'm told that many are using homemade alcohol stoves made from soda cans. Can you give me your take on alcohol stoves? Have you had any dealings with an alcohol stove known as the Trangia? Mark New York City

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I may have to knuckle under on this issue. Because of the geographic location where I’ve done 90 percent of my backpacking—in the high, fairly windy mountains of the Pacific Northwest—I’ve long been sort of contemptuous of alcohol stoves. At the best of times, they’re slow and not that hot, but in the wind they’re borderline hopeless, even if reinforced with windscreens. But, they’re also safe, simple, and very light, hence their popularity with through-hikers.

So for lots of people who are hiking sheltered trails like the AT, much of which runs through forest, they’re obviously proving to be a good solution. And yes, you can make one from a soda can. All you need is a cup to hold some alcohol, some kind of structure to hold the pot, and a windscreen made from aluminum foil. No pressurizing or anything required; you simply dump the alcohol in your makeshift stove, light the fuel, and cook. For a single hiker or heating small quantities of water for soup, coffee, or meals needing re-hydration, they’re fine in many cases. For groups, boiling water to sanitize it, or melting snow in any quantity, forget about it.

You can find plans on the web for fabricating your alcohol stove—just do a Google search for “make alcohol stove.” Of course, you also can purchase ready-made ones. The Trangia Mini is a popular model that sells for about $30 with a small cookpot ( Good luck!