The easiest, cheapest, robust Scout backpacking stove ever?

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Home Forums Scouting Backpacking Light with Scouts The easiest, cheapest, robust Scout backpacking stove ever?

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    Kevin Sweere
    BPL Member


    = pop can pot + tomato paste can burner + windscreen

    Faced with the task of getting 34 young Scouts backpacking stoves + pots (to only boil water), a couple hours to do it, $ones per boy not $$hundreds, BSA's alcohol fuel ban, and knowing how boys simply can't maintain or tune stuff, I combined lots of postings to create a very simple, quickly built stove consisting of:

    Soda can (emptied by Scouts) as pot for boiling 1 cup water (it fits 1.5 cups but these are boys so you want less spilling and they eat smaller amounts.
    6 oz tomato paste can (emptied for pizza) as the burner & 'pot' stand
    10" tall aluminum flashing as windscreen
    Hexamine fuel tablet (~1 Coghlans tablet boils 1 cup water)
    Handkerchief, cloth, glove, pliers, etc as pot holder

    Burner & Stand. Using a church key opener, punch 4 triangles on bottom of tomato paste can, plus 4-6 on top. This focuses flame upward to & around pop can and offer a bit of a standoff from the ground. The can's bottom holds the solid –> liquified fuel well. Use a long needlenose pliers to hold the can next to where you punch the hole (else can bends too much). Later, you'll burn the plastic liner outta it.

    Windscreen can be many things, but aluminum flashing seems best cuz its lightweight, easily cut with scissors, leaves few sharp edges, holes punched with cheap paper hole punch, and comes in right size from Lowes, Home Depot. Foil works but tedious to maintain. Galvanized steel (HVAC duct) stronger & cheaper but edges sharp, need tin snips, and hole punched w/ a hammer & punch. Big beer cans then cut apart work, but metal is thin and not quite big enough.

    On bottom of windscreen put many small holes. Roll flashing tight to fit around the pop can — if tighter than can, then cut a 1/8" notch on top & bottom to keep it open. 10" is a bit taller than burner & can stacked, but it really keeps the heat in, protects everything when jammed into the pack, and its one less cut to make building it. (Get 10" tall flashing from Lowes, Home Depot).

    Pot. No changes to pop can (pot, boiling kettle). It fits ok atop stand. Easily replaced if crushed.

    Big Pot Option: A 24 Foster beer can also works fine atop the burner/stand. Leave as is to boil 2-3 cups water (with many tablets) or for more of a pot look, cut the top's inner ring (inside the lip) by scoring a knife or razor blade inside the little trough around the top ~80 times. After the top separates, press backside of knife around edge to remove sharp stuff. Wash well to remove aluminum shavings.

    Light it! Put water in pop can, put fuel tab in burner, tip burner to ignite tablet with lighter, put pop can atop burner, wrap with windscreen (critical, not too tight, want flames up sides of pop can but not windscreen), watch water boil in few minutes, pour hot water into Ziploc and Cozy Cook (use a cloth or gripper to grab), blow out tab, cool, place all in plastic grocery bag for travel.

    Cautions & Caveats. Despite telling boys many times, several will grab a hot can & git a bit burned. Expect to find aluminum dots from punching holes for years. Its not optimized (like many do here to eke out a few seconds less boil time or drop a gram). This is meant to be a Webelos or Boy Scout stove, simple, cheap, tough, no worries if lost, easily replaced/made by boys.

    Adam Kilpatrick
    BPL Member


    Locale: South Australia

    That's interesting, I didn't realise they had done a ban too. I've been seriously considering raising this as an option at least in South Australia for Scouts. The upshot is it will save a ton of money and backpack weight as every group or scout goes out and spends on a trangia, thinking that's their only option!!!

    Do you have a web link to any BSA info on it?

    Michael Gunderloy
    BPL Member


    BSA Policy on the Storage, Handling and Use of Chemical Fuels and Equipment

    In my experience, lots of Boy Scout leaders know exactly what this policy says, although few seem to have actually read it. Certainly our Council training people have been putting out misinformation for years.

    Points to note:

    1) Alcohol fuel is "not recommended." This is not the same as "forbidden."

    2) "Handcrafted" and "homemade" stoves are forbidden. "Commercially manufactured" stoves are approved. To my mind this allows things like a Zelph stove.

    3) "Chemical fuels" are defined as liquid, gaseous, or gelled. So none of this applies to any form of Esbit or similar equipment.

    4) Fire starting with liquid fuel is prohibited, specifically including using charcoal lighter on charcoal.

    Finally, my experience in Scouts is that some youth and adult leaders will do stupid things with fire (and with sharp things, and pretty much anything else they can get their hands on) regardless of any rules. Common sense ought to apply…

    M B
    BPL Member


    Ummm….your homemade stove is FORBIDDEN. Doesnt matter what fuel it uses.

    No, stoves made of RECYCLED materials not for the original use, particularly soda cans, etc. are expressly forbidden. Does not matter who made it.

    A Trangia, etc would be acceptable although discouraged.

    And honestly, Its not a good idea to have scouts fooling with any homemade items when that is prohibited. The rules may not make sense, but they are there because you have to have rules, and so they are.

    Go purchase the $5 esbit stove, it is legal.

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    Never use galvanized steel. Dangerous fumes from burning the zinc. A little research would be beneficial to all.

    Bob Shaver
    BPL Member


    Locale: West

    scouts plus liquid fuel = stupid stuff happening. Just not a good idea, especially since you can't see the flame of alcohol in the daytime. Anything that can be screwed up, scouts will do it. Guaranteed.

    Tony Ronco
    BPL Member


    + 1 on what Bob said … for most treks there always seems to be that percentage that are tempted to make "less than smart" decisions … oy.

    Understand, I'm a huge fan of alcohol stoves … but certain realities exist. An esbit stove is the most fool-proof, light weight alternative that safely covers that percentage.

    Still want to pursue alcohol stoves? Then in my humble opinion save the alcohol stoves for those treks that only have the scouts who have become advanced enough & mature enough to be responsible enough to use it safety & properly.


    Matt Dirksen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid Atlantic

    "Still want to pursue alcohol stoves? Then in my humble opinion save the alcohol stoves for those treks that only have the scouts who have become advanced enough & mature enough to be responsible enough to use it safety & properly."

    If it is considered a "Scout sanctioned" trip, I wouldn't even recommend that approach(from experience). Yeah it's just alcohol, but I assure you the minute something goes wrong and a kid gets a 2nd degree burn, the troop (and their charter) will be in a whole heap of trouble, both from the parent and from powers above. Given all the scouting stupidity out there on YouTube these days, BSA pretty much has a ZERO tolerance level for any rule breaking. Besides, the most responsible 17 year olds out there are still legally allowed to behave like children at any moment of time.
    (EDIT: at least until they are charged as one in a serious crime)

    It takes one hungry, tired, semi-dehydrated 17 year old kid after a long day on the trail, and the risk of an accident goes up ten-fold.

    Tony Ronco
    BPL Member


    Hmm, apparently there are a few clarifications needed … (plus I'm throwing in quite a few comments … *smile*)

    RE: "ZERO tolerance level for any rule breaking"
    As it should be. Safety First. That is the purpose of The Guide to Safe Scouting, IOLS, Trek Safely, , Weather Hazards, Trek Safely, Safe Swim Defense, Safety Afloat, Climb On Safely, Passport to High Adventure Training Outline and High Adventure Leadership Training, (etc, etc). , all focus Scout Leaders/Advisors on being safe.
    BUT if that comment is in reference to the general use of an alcohol stove, then please re-read Mike Gunderloy's post above (and the subsequent one). Take the time to review the info provided & follow the links … then you will see it is not breaking the rules.

    In other potentially hazardous activities, Scouting provides youth opportunities to use sharps and fire … (not going to get that at school). But first the Scouts need to earn their Totin' Chip and Firem'n Chit respectively …. For similar entry into backpacking stove use I follow what others have recommended: a starting point of the Backpacking Merit Badge.

    Like all stoves, proper training & use is foundational to being safe.
    White gas stoves have the challenge of priming (oy, look a mini fire ball), care and spillage. Butane canister stoves tend to burn clear too (I've even seen Philmont Rangers hold their hand over the burner to see if it is on (oy! ) instead of slowing coming in from the side). Alcohol stoves (as this thread as already pointed out) have the challenges of burning clear and potential spillage during use (although carbon felt designs mitigate potential spillage while burning )

    Which leaves esbit stoves being the most fool-proof , lightweight, and affordable alternative for those Scouts at that stage of development… one that I’m in agreement with others’ recommendations.

    (Of course there is also the no-stove option … but if training for Philmont that’s not an option there)

    RE: "responsible 17 year olds out there are still legally allowed to behave like children at any moment of time"
    I would advise caution confusing age (17 year-olds or even in adults) with the maturity, experience & judgment to act responsibly. The development of which, is one of the primary goals of Scouting has for its participating youth … I inwardly smile when I see our youth leadership overcoming the challenge of helping the younger ones become better focused. Naturally, following BP’s concepts of raising the level of expectations is a good practice.
    Hint: Not acting responsibly is a clear give away that one is not responsible.
    In addition, becoming legally responsible, does not equate with acting responsibly.

    RE: "Scouting stupidity out there on YouTube"
    Like these Scout Leader miscreants toppling a 200 million year old goblin formation. Even though they are adults, they are in no way acting responsibly and at the same time they’re being the wrong type of role models to their youth. They have no clue or understanding of LNT or even the Scout Outdoor Code … they are obviously not even aware that they represent BSA to the land manager of Goblin Valley and the world since they had the chutzpah to post a video of their vandalism on YouTube. I wonder it they went through any training at all … but if they did, then that’s pretty damning for the quality of the sessions they attended.

    “Common sense is not so common” – Voltaire

    RE: “It takes one hungry, tired, semi-dehydrated 17 year old kid after a long day on the trail, and the risk of an accident goes up ten-fold. "
    Fatigue regardless of age effects judgment (which can effect many things including the use of any stove type). The goal is to minimize that.. it both increases enjoyment of the trek and minimizes risk. Matching a trek’s difficulty with the proper conditioning, a light load, balance of skill sets and monitoring calorie and water intake is the preventative approach that the adult leaders / advisors should be making sure that the youth leaders are acting on. Making sure that the “how to use skills” are as ingrained as the “stay safe in the backcountry skills” is also important.


    Matt Dirksen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid Atlantic


    Thank you for your eloquent remarks. I now realize I wasn't clear about the use of alcohol in relation to "home made" stoves vs. commercial. Esbit is certainly a good option for teaching proper stove use, especially in contrast to a white gas or canister stove.

    I'm very glad to know you (and many on BPL) are actively tending to our youth. For all the "issues" BSA has in the 21st century, It brings me joy to know there are many of us out there helping boys grow into responsible & awake men in this world.


    Rudy R
    BPL Member


    Again pussification of today's youth. The BSA should only focus on reducing the chance of death, not injury. A scout burns his finger, hand, arm with alcohol well that scout learned something and so did everyone else that was present during the injury. Parents should well PARENT and teach their kids responsibility.

    I'm a 33 year old Eagle Scout that gets disgusted when I see Boy Scouts camping with blow up mattresses, fans, soda, huge popup shelters with bug netting, palace tents that have to hauled in by vehicles, and food carts serving burgers, french fries, and chili cheese fries.

    Sadly I will not expose my 2 boys to Boy Scouts because of what it has turned into. I will end my rant.

    Back on topic… I have used a supercat stove with Esbit and it does just fine. In my scouting days everything was cooked on a campfire. If it was raining well you just ate your food cold. Many times I ate cold bennie wennies and oatmeal. Luxury wasn't part of scouting when I was a kid.


    James Tisdale


    Locale: PaNW


    Not all Troops arenas you describe. Try a few out. Heck, the fact this forum exists says something

    James S
    BPL Member


    "Again pussification of today's youth. The BSA should only focus on reducing the chance of death, not injury. A scout burns his finger, hand, arm with alcohol well that scout learned something and so did everyone else that was present during the injury. Parents should well PARENT and teach their kids responsibility."

    Has nothing to do with pussification and everything to do with parents hiring a lawyer and suing the BSA when their kid gets hurt. . .

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    women are pretty tough

    men are sometimes stupid – just like to show off thinking it will attract females, but actually, they're on the side, ignoring us, eating grass or something

    Clifford Deakyne
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado Rockies foot hills

    I thought I'd pass along an experience I had with scouts using hand made alcohol stoves, before the guide to safe scouting banned them. I came up worth a very efficient design using a single soda can making a typical open top double wall soda pop stove that also acted as a pot stand. I made lots while watching TV at night. The troop went on a backpacking trip, locally, camping Friday night in. One of the scouts back very large yard, and then. On to a near by state park. Saturday morning, the scouts got to use their stoves top make cocoa an d oatmeal for breakfast. Methanol based Beet was used as fuel. One of the "more responsible" 16 years olds thought his stove went out and refilled it with his Beet bottle. To make a long story short, the bottle ignited and shot off like a rocket. Luckily, it rained the night before and the grass was well wet so the burning alcohol did not start a secondary fire. Surprisingly no one was burned! The only outcome was the boy was nicknamed FLASH for a while. The next backpacking trip the boys used Bluet (Esbit).
    There were still issues since they could not seem to center the pots on the pot stand! We had several minor burns from near boiling pot spills when the boys removed the lids and tumbled the pots.

    The bottom line, I've seen the issues that can result from alcohol and fully understand the reason for the rules, but, the injuries were actually worse with out the alcohol.


    Bob Shuff
    BPL Member


    Locale: SoCal

    For young scouts, on an overnight or weekend trip, why not just use a low-end canister stove like a Primus Classic? It's about $20 + fuel canister and is a good beginner stove that doesn't push against BSA rules or the recommendations. I have not been a huge fan of esbit for whatever reason, and wouldn't give my 12 year old or his friends an alchy without training. Wood stoves are great, but not here in SoCal with the current restrictions. The canister stove is heavier, but the scouts are sharing the load, and with a decent pot they can cook for quite a few.

    Older scouts may have their own setups.

    My son is just getting into scouts, and it's been decades for me, but I've backpacked some and camped a lot more. I don't begrudge beginners their comforts or even some luxuries. Anyone who get's serious about backpacking will cut back to essentials as they mature. In the meantime, whatever it takes to get them out in the woods, is by my definition a good thing.


    Brad S
    BPL Member


    Locale: Cincinnati

    Are there any restrictions for adults using homemade alcohol soda can stoves for their own personal cooking on trips?

    What about alternative designs with a remote canister like ?

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    >"Never use galvanized steel. Dangerous fumes from burning the zinc."

    Ken: True that. For completeness sake, something I learned from welders: If you do it anyway, drink a lot of milk. The calcium displaces much of the zinc from your system, making for milder symptoms.

    Until I got to the "no homemade stoves", I was thinking of what my mother, a Girl Scout leader, did with her Troop for emergency preparedness – wax burners. A spiral of cardboard in an empty tuna can, then (an adult) pours in wax. Taa-daa! a solid-fuel burner.

    If that, too, is forbidden, go to Goodwill and buy $0.50 old, garnish candles in Bayberry, Christmasberry and other fake scents. It will take a long time to heat up a cup of water, but it will eventually get there.

    If kids will be picking up tin cans of boiling water, bring a real pot gripper. Or a leather glove. Better yet, Harbor Freight or one of those other outlet sources has "welders gloves" for $8.95 a pair which make the most excellent fireplace / wood stove / campfire gloves. You can reach right in, grab a hot pot or burning log, and reposition it.

    Michael Gunderloy
    BPL Member


    The BSA Policy on Chemical Fuels and Equipment refers to "Boy Scouts of America members", so it applies to adults as well as youth members.

    Bill Giles
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central Illinois

    I suppose that the ban on homemade stoves and modified stoves is because there is no way to predict what someone might do if there were any exceptions to the rule. Our ability to be innovatively stupid is unbounded. At the very least, all scouts should wear safety glasses when around fire or working with sharp tools. We individuals may choose otherwise, but it's foolish for an organization not to require appropriate safety gear. Requiring commercially made equipment doesn't make it safer, it just deflects liability. I've had plenty of flare-ups with white gas stoves. The BSA policy statement is incomplete, especially in the definitions section. Wood is a chemical fuel as well and the definitions refer to equipment, which includes stoves, but which could be expanded to include just about anything. A fire ring made of stones around a wood fire is not commercially made and falls under the handcrafted prohibition. When I was a kid, we made all sorts of things including a coffee can twig stove. I think that these things should be taught, even if they are not allowed in general usage.

    That said, it's easy to make a copy of an Esbit stove. A few bits of sheet metal and some pop rivets. More to the point is that all stove systems require a pot holder. Homemade pot holders and windscreens are not specifically addressed by the policy. A tomato paste can is far from a stable pot holder when used by unstable kids. For my own use, I'm not entirely comfortable with a heavy pot on top of a cat food can alcohol stove when it's not on a dead flat horizontal surface. For some time, I've been making combination pot stands and windscreens based on Jim Wood's Fire Bucket Scheme.

    A bit of aluminum flashing and some coat hanger skewers is all that's needed. I fold the ends of the windscreen over so that they interlock and no screws are needed. I have made them with screws and wingnuts, but they are a bit fiddly to put together and it's easy to drop the screws and nuts. You can use just about any heat source that you want including tea candles, small Sterno cans or Esbit tablets, with a little pan to hold the tablets. I don't think that there is any rule against repurposed pots, so it wouldn't be hard to make a windscreen / pot stand to fit a soda can. I make mine about a half inch larger in diameter than the pot that they are intended to be used with. If you want to use different height heat sources, just put extra skewer holes in at the appropriate height. One thing that will be noticed with aluminum flashing is that it will warp when it gets hot. This usually does not interfere with the use of the pot stand.

    I don't think that there is a better pot lifter than the cheap aluminum ones sold for this purpose. I often use Channellock 424 mini pliers, but they are too expensive for kids. A pot cozy would also probably be in order. Even if the intention is just to boil water, they help to prevent burns in handling the hot cans. I make my systems so that the pot stand / windscreen wraps around the pot and cozy and is held in place by an elastic band for storage and transport.

    Brad S
    BPL Member


    Locale: Cincinnati

    As much as it bothers me, thanks for the clarification on the rules. Like others, the rule goes against what I learned as a Scout…

    Anyway, I bought one of the cheap JOGR gas stoves to try out:

    At some point, I may try the Esbit as well.

    Kevin Sweere
    BPL Member


    It’s been four years and I’ve a better, cheaper, easier to use, safer, stronger-packing, cleaner, and still BSA-legit stove that make a great DIY project for Scouts.  (As a bonus, they now get to drink 4x as much pop than before.)  Basically, it’s a caldera cone using a pop can as the pot.  Let’s do this with pictures.

    Take 1L pop or water bottle and cut off the top.  Everything goes in here.  It’s a tough, cheap storage container and can be used for holding water to be boiled.

    Fill some Ziploc bags with your fuel of choice and a lighter.  Here I’m packing candles, cotton-vaseline balls, and fuel tablets.  (Sorry, alcohol still not allowed and besides it burns too hot.)  1 to 1.5 small fuel tablet is enough to boil a full can of water.

    Cut off the bottom of a pop can.  This will be your burner.  Sand down the sharp edge.

    Round up two, thin, aluminum or steel tent stakes.  One will hold the pot, the other the cone.  Use for your tent when not cooking.  One stake needs a slight bend near the hook end, you ‘feel’ why soon.

    Cut the inside top off another pop can.  This is easily done by repeatedly scoring the inner lip of the can with a knife; you’ll eventually punch through.  Use your knife or sandpaper to take down the sharp edge.  Then punch or drill or awl two holes just under the lip.

    Insert one tent stake through the can.  This is how the cone and you will hold the boiling hot can.  Unlike before, you can now easily move the pot and pour the contents.

    This is the tough part of the project. You need to make a cone from aluminum roll sheeting.  Head to YouTube and search for DIY Caldera Cone — faceless guy with the slow-paced voice is great, probably an engineer.   The height of the cone will be 6.5″ and diameter just slightly larger than the middle of the can.   You want a 1/8″ gap all around the top.  Make the base about twice as wide. First holes you want to make are for the stake.  Once you figure it out the right sized, right-hole-location cone, make a master template from hardboard the Scouts can simply trace onto metal and cut.  Lastly, using a paper hole punch, make a double row of holes along the top and bottom.

    Time to assemble your cone.  There’s a trick.  See how the curved stake’s hook is sticking out?  Starting from the inside of the cone, insert the stake through both top holes, then the inner bottom hole.  Then by sliding down the outer flap you can it it over the hook.  Maybe you can get your cone to be more conical… mine always went weird due the stake.

    FIRE time.  Put the burner plate on the ground, add a fuel tablet, and light.  Next put the cone centered over the fire. Put a can full of water into the cone.  Wait.  If one tablet doesn’t boil it, add another later on.

    Afterwards, the burner fits over the dirty, sticky pot bottom.

    To pack it up, roll the cone like a funnel and insert into plastic bottle.  Flip the pot upside down, put the burner on, and press the bottle down over it.  Place the fuel in the pot and the stakes just outside the cone.

    And a bit about safety to tell your Scouts — this is really meant only to boil water slowly, so things are hot below, around, and over the metal.  Don’t use on flammable surfaces, like grass.  If using fuel tablets, don’t breathe the fumes.  Once ‘dirty water’ is boiling (i.e. treated) it can be used for cooking, drinking, washing, etc.


    Matthew / BPL


    I’m pretty sure DIY stoves are still banned by the BSA.

    Brad P


    The Guide to Safe Scouting says:

    Operate and maintain according to manufacturer’s instructions included with the stove or lantern.

    That seems to imply, if not explicitly say that you shouldn’t use a homemade stove.

    Phillip M
    BPL Member


    Not lightweight but robust, my go to backpacking stove for the last 12 years has been the Brunton Lander, now known as the Kovea Booster +1.
    Currently at Amazon for less than $100. burns White Gas or butane without changing jets or needles and is solid enough to hold most backpacking pots to include the 8 quart monsters at Philmont.

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