Myth Busted Winter Alcohol Stoves
Jan 16, 2009 at 1:53 pm #1233288
Many times we hear that alcohol stoves are hard to light in cold weather. That might be true for most stoves but not all.
I did a test this morning in Northern Illinois. The temperature had dropped to minus -24 degrees. BbbRrrrr that's cold.
I used a " SS StarLyte" stove with one ounce of HEET. The second match ignited the stove. The capillary action of the ceramic fibers in the burner portion brings the fuel to the surface where it has plenty of oxygen to ignite.
Once the stove is lit, you can't blow it out. Snuff it out, yes.
PS. I am the designer of this stove and have a vested interest in it. I sell the stove on bplite.comJan 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm #1470679John HaleyMember
@quoddyLocale: New York/Vermont Border
Almost any alcohol stove will work at any temperature if the alcohol itself is warm. My question is: What was the temperature of the alcohol? Had it been in the house, or was it sitting outside for an hour or more before use?
I regularly use an alcohol stove in the dead of winter with temperatures of zero and below, but keep the alcohol bottle in an inner pocket of my parka or in my sleeping bag at night.
BTW… I recognize your name as related to this stove and it's design.Jan 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm #1470683Dave TMember
.Jan 16, 2009 at 2:34 pm #1470686Barry PBPL Member
@barrypLocale: Eastern Idaho (moved from Midwest)
I too have done several 0F tests in IL. Keeping the fuel and stove in the pocket first does make it easier, but it is not required.
I’ve let the stove (pepsi can style) and fuel sit outside until they reach 0F. I fill the stove. In the summer you can bring the match close to the fuel to light it; I’m talking closed-jets-open-center stoves here. But in the cold, I have to drop the match into the fuel, and then it will light. I use cardboard matches and it’s neat to watch. The cardboard won’t burn the whole time if it gets submerged in the burning alcohol.
I’ve also done several data logging experiments in how much fuel I need to melt fluffy snow or packed snow. Then I use that info on my backpacking trips. For example, I need about 1.5 fl. oz alcy to melt 1qt of fluff down to 2Cups to 190F which is fine for freezer bag cozy cooking. When melting snow, be sure to start with a ‘seed’ like a 1/2 cup of water.
Practice 0F alcy cooking/melting-snow locally before you take it out to the wilderness. A lot of stove designs are bad for the cold. But the good ones are soooo nice and fidget free. The white-box stove also performs great in the winter howbeit the jets take longer for fruition.
-BarryJan 16, 2009 at 3:47 pm #1470710
The stove and fuel had been sitting outside for 1/2 hour. It's temperature was not taken.
the fuel was cold and the air temperatures were frigid. The test was to show that "cold alcohol" will burn in cold temperatures.
If any one has any videos of their test/tests it would be informative to see them.
A saturated cotton ball at -24 will light , no problem.Jan 16, 2009 at 4:13 pm #1470712Bob EllenbergMember
I have fashioned a “lighter stick” from a very thin piece wire (phone wire, single copper strand) with a dab of fiberglass cloth on the end and find that it lights easily every time. I found that where before it was difficult to sometimes light alcohol when it was cold, I dip the tiny fiberglass wad in the alcohol, it lights easily and also lights the fuel in the open top stove much easier.Jan 16, 2009 at 4:35 pm #1470721John S.BPL Member
What altitude are you using these stoves in your advertisement?Jan 16, 2009 at 8:14 pm #1470755Andy BaileyBPL Member
@andybaileyLocale: The Great Plains
Zelph posted his video in response to my write up of my experiences last night in -9F weather.
You can read about it here:
http://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php?t=45347Jan 17, 2009 at 2:27 am #1470772
BPL policy now requires that when anyone posts regarding a product in which they have a vested interest, they disclose that interest. Yep, we are going for full disclosure every time.
So in this case you are required to add a line saying that you own the brand and/or are selling this stove. Could you edit the original posting to this effect please.
Online Community Monitor
Backpacking LightJan 17, 2009 at 6:39 am #1470784
Hi Roger, thanks for informing me of BPL's policy. I made the adjustment to the original post.
Any wickatized stove will work well in cold weather. Tinny's black fly for instance will lite easily in cold weather.Jan 17, 2009 at 11:33 am #1470818BILL BALLOWEBPL Member
I also agree that an alcohol stove can be used in winter. All you have to do is figure out how to light it the easiest way. Did anyone know that they use alcohol stoves on the Iditarod Sled Dog race to heat water for the dog's food and that folks is a pretty cold environment.
Some good ideas on having a successful alcohol fire is to keep some of it warmed next to your body or, as Franco said, put a lit cotton ball into it.
You also have to remember that all types of alcohol are not created equal so perhaps those having trouble lighting it in cold weather may want to switch to a different brand or type of alcohol fuel.
Anybody got more ideas on how to light cold alcohol?
Bill in MTJan 17, 2009 at 2:28 pm #1470865Franco DarioliSpectator
@francoLocale: Gauche, CU.
Just to clarify a point or two. Where I posted the idea of using the cotton ball to light the White Box I did that just to prove that you can light alcohol below freezing , as indeed a lot of the Iditarod mushers do use Heet and the like for their stoves. However my use of the WB in the snow was a result of an accident ( out of season snow storm) and as I always have those Vaseline impregnated balls with me , that is what I used. Note also that I have an insulation layer under my stove ( A 3M green kitchen scourer. Helps with slightly uneven ground too)
Note that the mushers stoves are basically a huge bucket and that the Iditarod on a bike or foot competitors ude mostly white gas. That is why I recommended the XKG to my mate for his 350 miles adventure.
So my point is that some alcohol stoves can be used, however for multiday trips or if you have to melt a lot of snow , alcohol is not what I would use.
FrancoOct 9, 2009 at 12:28 pm #1534737Simon WeissBPL Member
@simongtrLocale: Bay Area
So, I've built a penny-can stove that worked great on my last Yosemite trip. I also have a more basic beer-can stove (no hole in the middle, just a couple small fill holes and some fiberglass).
My question is, since there's no direct access for sticking a match down into the alcohol, will these work ok in freezing weather? Is the solution to just keep my fuel bottle close to my skin and I'll still be able to get the primer going?Oct 9, 2009 at 1:45 pm #1534777Kier SelinskyMember
@kieranLocale: Seattle, WA
For cold winter backpacking though, shouldn't you avoid using an alcohol stove? I'm assuming that most folks cook in their tent or vestibule, and according to the carbon monoxide features, alcohol stoves put out an unsafe amount of CO for tent/vestibule cooking:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/stoves_tents_carbon_monoxide_pt_4.htmlOct 9, 2009 at 10:44 pm #1534970Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
For winter I'd MUCH rather rely on two cubes of ESBIT in my Vargo Triad EX base & MSR foil windscreen.
The temperature of the ESBIT or FireLite fuel tabs (which I prefer)has no effect on ease of lighting the fuel.Oct 9, 2009 at 11:08 pm #1534974Simon WeissBPL Member
@simongtrLocale: Bay Area
Where I'm going, souther 1/4 of JMT, cooking in the tent isn't generally a good idea (I'm told) because of bears. Don't want to have food spilling/smearing/scenting in the tent. So even though it's going to be cold, I plan on cooking 100' or more from the tent.
Do most other people abide by this rule?Oct 10, 2009 at 1:51 am #1534990Rog TallblokeBPL Member
@tallblokeLocale: DON'T LOOK DOWN!!
"according to the carbon monoxide features, alcohol stoves put out an unsafe amount of CO for tent/vestibule cooking:"
I would hope Roger C will put your mind at rest. A small amount of ventilation is always a good idea, but using an alcohol stove for 20 mins in your vestibule isn't going to be a problem.Oct 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm #1535103
> A small amount of ventilation is always a good idea
Reality is that there are three main scenarios for this.
1) Fine weather – you can have the tent door open and have lots of ventilation. No worries.
2) Bad stormy weather – even with the tent door shut there is still going to be a fair bit of air movement through the tent. :-) Few worries.
3) Pouring rain but no wind – just make sure there is some ventilation above the stove.
CheersOct 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm #1535120Kier SelinskyMember
@kieranLocale: Seattle, WA
ah ok… well i had been avoiding alcohol stoves because I want something that will work in every scenario, and this line in that article closed the door on alchy's:
"One thing will be immediately clear however: all these alcohol stoves generate a lot of carbon monoxide. None of them should be used inside a tent or a building or any environment where the CO could accumulate."
i've never been that worried about it for myself as much as those times when my son is with me.Oct 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm #1535122Lori PBPL Member
@lori999Locale: Central Valley
"Where I'm going, souther 1/4 of JMT, cooking in the tent isn't generally a good idea (I'm told) because of bears. Don't want to have food spilling/smearing/scenting in the tent. So even though it's going to be cold, I plan on cooking 100' or more from the tent.
Do most other people abide by this rule?"
I boil water under my tarp when it's too windy (think 30-50mph) and need significant wind block, and there are no natural features like granite handy. I don't fry bacon, fish or cook anything else near it. 99% of my backpacks this year (1-2x monthly) have been in Yosemite, Sequoia or a nearby wilderness area where bears are a "problem."Oct 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm #1535134John DavisMember
@billyboosterLocale: So Cal
I love the original author's stove, but I use a simple open tealight. On a morning after a 28 dgree 50-70mph wind night when most of the water bottles were frozen and kpet alongside the alcohol bottle, i poured some into the tray, found a twig dipped it, lit it and showed it to the alcohol and it lit up straight away. The hardest issue was the wind, not the temps…Oct 11, 2009 at 8:49 am #1535282AnonymousInactive
My first usage of an alcohol stove was in 0º temps was when our canister stove basically just failed. It took a little bit of effort to get the alcohol to light but the V8 can stove boiled two cups of very cold water with about an ounce of fuel.Oct 11, 2009 at 11:03 am #1535327Rick DreherBPL Member
@halfturboLocale: Northernish California
I looked up ethyl and methyl alcohol in my handy dandy NIOSH guide.
Ethyl: Flash point: 55 deg F, UEL: 19%, LEL: 3.3%
Methyl: Flash point: 52 deg F, UEL: 36%, LEL: 6.6%
Coleman fuel (petroleum naphtha white gas): Flash point: 0 deg F. (I can't find UEL and LEL values.)
I'll defer to any resident chemists, but I take this to mean alcohol requires warming in sub freezing conditions before it will ignite. Ethanol will ignite at somewhat lower concentrations, which may make the preferred choice regardless of its slightly higher flash point. YMMV.
RickOct 11, 2009 at 11:36 am #1535332Greg MihalikSpectator
"I take this to mean alcohol requires warming in sub freezing conditions before it will ignite"
Bad assumption. Many have cited their success at lighting cold alcohol. Empirical evidence is difficult to refute.
It think the confusion comes from the purpose and testing of flash point from a safety perspective. A large hot match has far more heat than a spark 3mm above the surface of a fuel.
Determining when a fuel becomes potentially dangerous from spark ignition in the workplace is far removed from firing up an alcohol stove in the dead of winter.Oct 11, 2009 at 4:48 pm #1535396
> alcohol requires warming in sub freezing conditions before it will ignite
More correctly, alcohol will require warming in sub-zero conditions to get it to give off enough vapour to allow you to light the vapour.
But this does not mean all the alcohol has to be heated up, just a little bit of it – like a few drops on a stick or similar. Once you have a bit of a flame, the rest will warm up – but every knows that alkies do require some priming time before they get going properly.
That said, the Flash Point is probably not a useful measure for our needs.
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