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Homemade Backpacking Stoves: The What, Why and How


Even though there are a large variety of commercially produced backpacking stoves available, many backpackers choose to go the homemade route and build their own. Some people make a backpacking stove to save money, some because it is fun to do it yourself and some to suit a need that currently available stoves don't offer. Whatever your reason, building a homemade backpacking stove is a fun way to better enjoy your outdoor experience. There are dozens of designs out there to choose from, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

When deciding how to construct a home made backpacking stove, it is important to consider what kind of fuel you want to burn, what parts you have available to build from and where you plan on using your stove. Most homemade stoves are built from, or include, simple household items such as soda cans, coat hangers and aluminum foil.

The majority of homemade backpacking stoves burn fuel pellets, such as Esbit Solid Fuel Tablets, or denatured alcohol. The benefit of pellets is that they are easier to carry around, don't weigh much and can work in a variety of cooking contraptions. Denatured alcohol burns hotter, but it has to be stored in fuel canisters and requires more complex stove designs. You may want to try building different stoves designed for each fuel type to see which best suites your needs. You can build a stove designed to burn wood as well, but these are often larger and impractical for people with limited pack space.

A Simple Pellet Stove

One of the easiest ways to make a pellet stove is with an eight ounce can. You can find these in any grocery store. These smaller cans often have tomato sauce or veggies in them. Once you have consumed the contents, do the following to make the stove:

1. Clean the can thoroughly. You may need to use some aluminum oxide sandpaper, or something similar, to dull the inside top edge of the can as it will probably be sharp.
2. About 1/4" from the base, use a 1/8" drill bit and drill holes all the way around the can, spaced every inch or so.
3. About 1/2" from the top, use a 1/16" drill bit and drill holes all the way around the can, spaced every half-inch or so.

That's all there is to it. When you are ready to use the stove, just drop in a fuel pellet, light it, and set your pot directly on top of the can. This design is pretty wind resistant and directs the heat in a small area, decreasing boil time. If the heat is too high, you can fashion a raised cooking rack with a coat hanger to add more space between your pot and the flame. The only drawback to this design is that the can is very narrow. Because of this, you should only use small pots and the stove must be placed on a perfectly flat surface. Also, because the pellet is burning directly on the can surface, make sure it has completely burned out before touching the stove as it will get extremely hot.

Making a backpacking alcohol stove is quite a bit more complicated. These stove plans are often based on modified soda cans, coffee cans and cat food cans. While smaller than many of the pellet stove designs, they are much more dangerous to use.

Regardless of the type of stove you choose to build, there are certain design considerations that you need to keep in mind. Fire requires air, and the more air it gets, the hotter it burns. Make sure the source of fire in your stove has adequate ventilation, both at the base and top of the stove for fuel pellets and only at the top for liquid fuel. Different fuels and different stove designs will produce varying levels of heat. Look for a stove design that produces sufficient heat to boil water in the climate you intend to use it in. Most pellet stove designs allow for a pot to be placed directly on the stove while most alcohol stoves require the use of something to prop the pot above the flame.

Be sure to follow any safety recommendations offered by stove designers and always test your homemade backpacking stove at home before taking it on a backpacking trip. Remember that commercial stoves, like those produced by MSR, go through months, if not years, of rigorous safety testing before being sold to the public. Stoves are dangerous and can cause forest fires and personal injury if not made and tested properly.


All pages on this topic:
Stoves | Backpacking Stove Reviews and Comparison - The Top 5 Best | Backpacking Stove Safety and Maintenance | Homemade Backpacking Stoves: The What, Why and How | Stoves vs. Campfires: And The Winner Is...
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