May 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm #1302506
I'm letting my ignorance shine here…so apologies in advance.
When there is a fire ban in really dry areas/regions like So Cal right now, does that general imply stoves? Is a canister stove with its shut off valve really that much safer than, say, the starlyte that doesn't spill? Or esbit that is contained? My caldera cone and starlyte stove seem WAY sturdier and safer and more contained than my tall pot perched on a tall soto screwed on a canister…
I'm honestly not trying to be snarky and I hope this doesn't turn into a Max thread (sorry Max, but you know exactly what I'm talking about!), I'm just new to non-canister stoves and reading all the blogs about it has me wondering. What are the stove rules? Or is it common sense, or just campfires….
Discuss.May 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm #1983019
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
"What are the stove rules?"
There is no single set of rules. Each jurisdiction and agency has its own fire rules, and they have their own interpretation of what constitutes a fire. Some places simply mean no open wood fires or campfires. Others interpret that more strictly.
You really have to inquire to each place where you intend to backpack.
–B.G.–May 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm #1983024
I live in the "greater" Los Angeles area, and hike mostly in the Transverse ranges and the southern Sierra. In the national forests of southern California, the "no fires" regulations are generally interpreted as "stoves that can be turned off with a switch". No alcohol stoves, no contained wood stoves, no Esbit. They don't want fires that spark, spill or can't be turned off. So what's left is canister and white gas stoves. At least that's my impression of the rangers' regulations. Perhaps Hikin'Jim will chime in with the expert view for SoCal!May 3, 2013 at 7:28 pm #1983029
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
"At least that's my impression of the rangers' regulations."
I was standing at the Inyo National Forest station in Bishop as I was getting a permit. The permit person was spitting out some rules and regulations about fire restrictions. Then I asked for one clarification about those rules. Immediately, the person turned around to get the right answer from the senior person in the office, but the senior person was gone. So, the permit guy with me went ahead and answered that clarification. As we were finishing the permit, the senior person came back into the office. The permit person saw him and asked him for the clarification, and we both heard the clarification, which was just the opposite of what I had just been told.
My point is that you almost have to get this stuff in writing in order to depend on it.
–B.G.–May 3, 2013 at 8:24 pm #1983041
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
Of course check with the local authority. Usually it is WG or canisters as mentioned. Sequoia NF is now a restricted area. BTW if you build a campfire in an approved area you must have a shovel — it is item #2 on the permit. Some agencies require a trowel if using a backpacking stove — I was cited for not having a trowel years ago.May 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm #1983047
So I guess I may not have a choice about my caldera cone vs the soto/canister for the JMT in August, eh?May 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm #1983049
@richardcullipLocale: San Diego County
As Nick said, the Sequoia National Forest has fire restrictions in place as of May 1st. Here's the pertinent part of the notice
•Allowed are: lanterns and portable stoves using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel outside of developed recreation sites or campgrounds, but only with a valid California Campfire Permit (available free of charge).
•Forest visitors must clear all flammable material five feet in all directions from their camp stove, have a shovel available, and ensure that a responsible person attends the stove at all times when in use.
•Campfires and barbecue charcoal fires are only allowed in developed recreation sites or campgrounds.
Sounds like alcohol and esbit stoves are not allowed. Remember that shovel.May 3, 2013 at 9:06 pm #1983050
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
In the high country they usually don't have restrictions based on fire danger. It's mostly just a bunch of rock. The only restriction is a ban on burning wood above a certain elevation for ecological reasons. So I don't think an alcohol stove or esbit should be a problem on the JMT.
Nick, how much did that shovel ticket cost you?
I always thought that was a car camping thing. I would never expect it to be used on a backpacker.May 3, 2013 at 9:08 pm #1983051
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
The JMT goes through Sequoia National Park, not Sequoia National Forest.May 3, 2013 at 10:10 pm #1983063
@hikin_jimLocale: Orange County, CA, USA
A timely discussion.
In all seriousness, I was thinking about this very subject before I saw this thread.
The National Forests are pretty consistent that only "gas, jellied petroleum, or pressurized liquid fuel" are allowed. In other words conventional liquid alcohol stoves are not allowed. The National Parks aren't quite as clear. They talk about wood fires vs. "gas" stoves (white gas? canister gas? They don't say) but don't really mention alcohol stoves.
Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but I think ESBIT is a gray area. I was coming to put up a link to my blog post when I saw this thread anyway, so I'll just post it here:
Fire Safety: Alcohol vs. ESBIT in which I discuss the rules and regs as well as the technical merits of each.
By the way, there is smoke from a wildfire blowing in my window occasionally right now, whenever the wind shifts a bit. As I say, this is a very timely issue.May 4, 2013 at 6:15 am #1983086May 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm #1983156
@paulmagsLocale: People's Republic of Boulder
Here's what I found, at least in CO. Suspect other jurisdictions have similar rules.
The overall thrust is that during open flame bans, the only acceptable stoves are white gas or canister stoves due to the UL designation (shut off valve) and open flame ban. Again, this was in CO. Parts along the PCT may have different rules.
CT thru-hikers reporter seeing rangers last year asking/reminding people of what stoves to use at USFS road crossings (they did not inspect the packs). It is worth noting a major fire was caused by an alchie stove user. which man explain why CO-based rangers were perhaps a little more vigilant about the rules.
Ultimately, it is one thing to debate online..another thing to ignore the bans just because it is not as convenient for you.
Since I quite literally could see the foothills burning from my deck last year ( and my friends were on evac notice), I tend to take the bans seriously. :)May 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm #1983542
@hikin_jimLocale: Orange County, CA, USA
Thanks for that video link. I had seen it before some time ago, but it's good to be reminded of it. I added a section to my blog post about refueling.May 19, 2013 at 1:36 am #1987481
I just came back from doing sections A & B on the PCT. Very dry & hot. I went stoveless, but I remember alcohol stoves being strongly discouraged, if not outright banned.
I will rejoin the trail later this summer, possibly in central/northern CA and I am reconsidering my stove options, if I take one. It may be sacrilage on this site, but I am considering a jet boil canister stove instead of my alcohol stove. I had an incident last year where a stray, swirling wind gust tipped over my alcohol stove, which I thought was secure on a clear, level area and sitting against a rock. Unfortuantely, it caught my fuel bottle nearby as well. The rest is history as they say and the only reason it wasn't a disaster is because it had been raining heavily so the ground was well saturated and I always keep two liters of water on hand for just such an emergency to dose any errant flames. I've never had that happen before and it's not something I want to see again.
If that same improbable, unlikely scenario had happened anywhere in SoCal right now, it would have been a huge disaster. So for me, I don't think I'll be taking an alcohol stove in any dry areas or places with open-flame fire bans. if indeed the Jet Boil Ti Sol is only 8 ounces without the canister, then it's really only about an ounce more than my stove, pot and cozy set up.
I just need to convince myself to spend big bucks for a new jet boil….May 19, 2013 at 7:15 am #1987502
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
Here is a link to the Pacific Crest trail Association and their statements about fire safety. JonMay 19, 2013 at 7:54 am #1987512
"…a stray, swirling wind gust tipped over my alcohol stove, which I thought was secure on a clear, level area and sitting against a rock. …"
More details please. I doubt if there is an alcohol stove user out here who thinks this could ever happen to them. I am certainly one of them.
This is a great opportunity to prevent similar events.
I'm not interested in brands, or finger pointing, or anything else, except the details of the setup – stove type, diameter, height, etc. Pot dimensions. Full or empty. Windscreen? The physical profile that gave the gust an opportunity. Was the fuel bottle open, or closed. Engulfed or vapor trail ignited?
The Colorado fire that Paul mentions was a result of someone bumping the stove and spilling the fuel. (He fled, then drove past dozens canyon of homes and businesses, through town, and an hour later called the sheriff.) So Direct user error on his part.
Your situation sounds very different, and I'd like to know how to avoid it.
GregMay 19, 2013 at 8:10 am #1987514
I was in the same situation a couple of years ago – Caldera Cone, on the JMT.
Since You will have to be able to support your case, and sleep at night knowing you've done everything right, regardless of the opinions and observations posted here you need to personally Call the US Forest Offices and talk to a Fed (not an intern) in the days immediately before your trip to see what is allowed.
I stated explicitly that my "stove" was essentially "an open can filled with alcohol, surrounded by a rigid screen, with a pot sitting on top. And no valve to turn it off". I made it very clear. And everyone I talked to said it was OK. I took names and titles and phone numbers with me. (Some sort of fire ban Was in effect, I don't recall the severity.)
It will be the backcountry ranger that you have to convince, if anyone. Preparation on your part will demonstrate "due diligence", and if there is a misunderstanding, you'll have a good chance of getting the "benefit of the doubt". 99% of those folks are great. They will listen to rational explanations. (I never had to do this, even though I encountered a number of rangers.)
GregMay 19, 2013 at 9:25 am #1987527
@theronrLocale: Los Angeles, California
I knocked over a tealight stove I was trying out a couple years ago. It was quite embarrassing although no else noticed and it was easy to put out because it's so small. But it's just so easy to do. That experience taught me to be very careful with open alcohol burners in summer time. The tealight stove in particular of course is more knock-over-prone than something solid like a trangia. It's a reminder that some of this stuff is not fool-proof.
Personally I find all the fire regulations very frustrating. Especially that CA fire permit. In the stove list it mentions jellied petroleum. Isn't that napalm? Most people interpret it to mean jelled alcohol like Sterno but that's not what it says. Clearly this stuff is important and yet the forest service can't be bothered to update the permit to account for modern stoves. Do they not care? Are they so mired in bureaucracy and lawsuits that they are powerless? This leaves backpackers like us to debate this stuff endlessly when a written policy would make it clear. I'm left with the impression that whatever you do is fine as long as it seems reasonable and safe as determined by the ranger on the spot. And so the answer to "what stove can I use" is "it depends".May 20, 2013 at 8:14 am #1987852
This thread is great. But more than the regulations, I'm want to make sure I'm doing the safe, right thing. As an alcohol stove noobie I need to learn about these fuel disasters and learn how to avoid them.
I did wonder how much safer a no-spill stove, such as the starlyte, might be? I certainly can just take my soto on the JMT…it's not a big deal. I would just prefer my caldera cone. But I also want to do the RIGHT thing.May 20, 2013 at 8:22 am #1987854
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
The most important thing to remember is to practice stove safety. This means to clear a large enough area so in case the stove tips over there is no combustible material that can catch fire.
I see a lot of videos (some by BPL members) where the stove is sitting on top or within inches of forest duff and other material that can catch fire — this includes alcohol and wood stoves!!May 20, 2013 at 8:58 am #1987865
"I did wonder how much safer a no-spill stove, such as the starlyte, might be? …. I would just prefer my caldera cone."
My wife and I have been using a Cone for a 4 years, probably a 150 days out, and have never come close to knocking it over.
We are careful about duff and combustibles.
Our fuel bottle is a "nozzle top" so even if it did get knocked over no fuel would spill.
It ain't rocket science.May 20, 2013 at 9:34 am #1987879
@jonfongLocale: FLAT CAT GEAR
Jennifer, by asking questions and getting information, you are clearly on the way towards using your alcohol stove safely. Nick is correct, that following the basic rules and regulations are of primary importance. Clear a spot around your stove (the forest service says a 5 foot radius). When I look at using alcohol stoves, these are the things that come into mind.
1) Find a sheltered spot, out of the wind. Wind accelerates the burn rate of alcohol. If anything bad happens, the wind will make it 10 times worse. Besides, wind will reduce your efficiency so the bottom line is less wind is in the direction of goodness.
2) Even if your spot appears clear, look for combustibles and remove them. The bottom line is that the stored energy in the duff and debris is much higher than that contained in an alcohol stove. Dry wood has an energy density of ~4 Kcal/gram and alcohol is ~ 5Kcal/gram. If your spot isn’t great, find a new spot. There is probably more potential fuel per square foot around your stove than the alcohol inside your stove. Setting up a good kitchen requires the same amount of effort and diligence as setting up a hammock or tent.
3) Please put your stove on the ground on a stable surface and not on a rock or table (stability and wind). I believe that the guy who started the Hewlett fire placed his stove on a rock. The wind speed at a table height is 3 to 5 times higher than at ground level.
4) Use a good fuel bottle such that you can control the alcohol that goes into your stove. I use one with a flip top cap. I am not a big fan of people using soda bottles for their fuel. You only need to add ½ to ¾ ounce and that is hard to control with a soda bottle.
5) I ALWAYS us a heat shield between the ground and my stove and windscreen
6) If you spill alcohol, wet down the area or even move to a new location. In a high fire zone, it might be prudent to wet down the area around your stove anyway.
7) It is a good practice to have a liter of water near your kitchen. Alcohol flames can be put out with water as the water drops the % of alcohol to a point where it will not burn.
8) If you can’t meet these criteria, be on the safe side and have a non-cooked meal.
9) Above all, GET TO KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT. I encourage new alcohol user to do several burns on their stoves and get use to how it operates. May a few meals at home BEFORE you go out on the trail.
Other tips when using an alcohol stove in a high fire danger area (my 2 cents).
1) I am not a big fan of small diameter stoves with integrated pot stands (bottle stoves). These are typically used with mugs that are tall and skinny. This raises the center of gravity high and makes the whole system prone to tipping. I am not wild about using big diameter pans either as it is hard to see if they are centered (again, stability issue). I hate the cat can stove.
2) I would avoid any stove that you have to start by applying alcohol to the outside of the stove. This includes external wicks and priming pans. Wicks and priming pans are designed to warm up or preheat the stove to get them to light faster. When done correctly, they are ok. If you add too much alcohol, you can have a pretty big fireball. The concept using alcohol on the outside of a stove makes my skin crawl.
3) I am a big fan of a well-designed windscreen to add stability and to act as a fire shield if things go bad.
4) Spill proof stoves are ok. It seems to me that if you are knocking over stoves that you probably aren’t being focused enough on what you are doing and probably shouldn’t be using an alcohol stove.
5) Again, when in doubt, eat a cold meal. Error on the side of safety.
I believe that alcohol stoves can be used safely. That being said, there is a responsibility of the user to operate them correctly. I think that your TD cone and a Starlyte would be a fine setup. Just add a heat shield. My 2 cents – JonMay 20, 2013 at 11:45 am #1987960
I agree. Safety first. Forests can get dry enough that one should seriously consider not entering them or definitely going stoveless. A truly responsible hiker will be primarily concerned with fire safety and not just with meeting the letter of what are admittedly arbitrary regulations. Some years ago I was hiking with my dog in Los Padres. I thought as I was walking along that the woods are too dry. This is my last hike until it rains. 48 hours later a fire, sparked by some guys engaging in target practice, burnt the area I was in and about 21,000 acres. I am really glad I was not walking on that day…
When conditions are right, a fire can originate with unbelievable ease, and the destruction can be profound
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