November 21, 2005
Playing with Petrol – Guerrilla Camping 101.9
Often, like when staying in cities, campfires are not possible and walking across America leaving a trail of burn scars is not the best way to go undetected. Hence making stoves is of particular interest to the guerrilla camper.
Fortunately, the days when freshly chopped wood was needed to cook a meal are over. Camp stoves now exist that burn everything from pine cones to biodiesel in every size and shape imaginable. Stoves can be built using recycled cans or they can be computer designed pocket blast furnaces.
Types of Stoves:
Canister stoves are virtually worthless to the guerrilla camper, using disposable fuel canisters containing propane, butane or a blend of the two. The stoves are amazingly light, easy to start and are remarkably simple to setup. They even have the highest fuel efficiency per weight of any type of stove and are the only camp stoves that reliably simmer. However, the fuel canisters can be difficult to find on long journeys, can’t be taken on airplanes and are not refillable or even suitable for recycling in most cases. They are great for weekend trips, but their inability to be refueled or re-supplied in the field makes the useless to anyone considering weeks or months of living out of their pack. They are also useless if the weather drops below freezing.
Liquid Fuel Stoves:
There are seven primary fuels for liquid fuel stoves. Most cheap consumer liquid fuel stoves use only kerosene or white fuel. Both are frequently available though usually only in outdoor, hardware or sporting goods stores. White fuel is most commonly found in America as Coleman fuel and sold in gallon tins, which are difficult to carry since there is enough to fill most stove’s fuel bottles ten of fifteen times. A variety of stove manufacturers also market stove fuel in smaller quantities that are more useful to the through hiker, as always you can expect to pay a markup for the brand name.
Multi-fuel stoves are worth investing the extra money in. Most will burn kerosene, white fuel and unleaded gasoline and some of the more expensive ones will even burn diesel and jet fuel. These stoves will not burn alcohol, as the alcohol is caustic to the plastic in the pump, fuel lines, etc. Don’t try it unless you want o replace a whole bunch of parts.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of buying a stove at least capable of burning gasoline. It is by far the most prevalently available fuel, and should you run out in the middle of nowhere a few inches of plastic tubing can allow you to “forage” from “sleeping” cars. Although gasoline causes wear to parts and causes clogged jets, most multi-fuel stoves are able to be cleaned out in the woods, and some feature shaker-jet cleaners making the jet self cleaning or even magnetic jet cleaners able to be clean the jet while the stove is in use.
Although no stoves are presently marketed as using biodiesel, any stove which burns automobile diesel should be theoretically able to use Biodiesel. The major stoves available today which burn Diesel are the MSR XGK-EX ($160), the Optimus Nova($130) and the Primus Omnifuel, which also can utilize canisters. MSR reports that users of the XGK stove have been able to use biodiesel in their stoves by using the X jet and only opening the control valve half way. Using biodiesel in any stove will require a separate primer They are in the process of doing hard testing before they add biodiesel as a supported fuel.
Alcohol stoves are in a league of their own. Ranging from simple homebuilt can stoves to expensive historical recreations, alcohol stoves are possibly the most popular stoves with the DIY scene and the ultra-light hiking fanatics. Alcohol stoves will burn nothing but alcohol, which strangely enough; even the best multi-fuel stoves won’t. They are also one of the only stoves with a hobbyist following since simple alcohol stoves can be built from as little as two soda cans. (See below)
Types of Liquid Fuels:
Fuels vary widely. Some fuels burn clean, some gel in the cold, some are inefficient. However, the guerrilla must take what he comes across, and it helps to know a bit about every type of fuel your stove can burn even if you never plan on using them. Fuel efficiency is measured by the number British Thermal Units(BTUs) per pound. It’s simple, The higher the BTU/lb rating, the less fuel you need to carry for the same amount of heat.
Gasoline: Gasoline is the cursed blessing of multi-fuel stoves. Although is is the most widely available fuel in the world, auto grade gasoline contains additives meant to protect the internal workings of engines, including bezine and lubricants which can cause cancer and slowly destroy the rubber parts of the stove and pump. Additionally, avoid winterized or oxygenated gasoline sold in northern states during the winter to keep it from gelling. The additives will cause rapid decay of rubber gaskets. For all the dangers of unleaded fuel, it is easy to find anywhere and a few inches of plastic tubing curled up in your pack can allow you to “forage” from sleeping cars. Gasoline is considered a dirty fuel and will require more frequent cleaning. @18720 BTU/Lb.
Kerosene: Available almost everywhere around the world. Avoid using lantern or charcoal lighter fluid, as these are often dirtier and can clog jets. While being the next most reliable alternative to whitefuel, kerosene is very susceptible to the cold, taking longer to prime than white fuel and gelling in extreme weather, making stoves that only burn kerosene impractical for year round use. Kerosene is also a very sooty fuel, and you can expect to blacken your stove and pots quickly, with frequent of clogging. @18540 BTU/lb.
Jetfuel: Most closely related to kerosene and will burn in any stove with a kerosene jet. Unfortunately it contains even more additives than gasoline and is therefore even dirtier than kerosene. Fortunately, it also not very common, so if you are in a position where you can find jet fuel you can probably just fly someplace to buy white fuel. @18540 BTU/lb
Diesel: Stove makers seem to consider diesel the fuel of last resort. Although it is just as available as auto fuel and often cheaper, it is dirty and causes a ridiculous amount of clogging and requires frequent stove cleaning. It is less volatile than gasoline and therefore safer, but this also makes it more difficult to prime, requiring you to use a separate fuel, like alcohol, to pre-heat your stove. I would agree to use diesel only if nothing else is available. @18,400 BTU/Lb
Biodiesel: Ah, Biodiesel. Homebrewed fuel; free at last of the chains of petroleum consumption. When I first put on the blackpack, it was an attempt to live a simpler life. As such, I found it ironic that most commercial camp stoves require petroleum based fuels. With advances in diesel stoves, there is a wide amount of discussion on the subject of using biodiesel in camp stoves, and several major manufacturers already have stoves that will function with it. @18300 BTU/Lb
White fuel: Also known by it’s proper name, Naphtha, White fuel is a chemically clean petroleum. While it shares the same chemistry as auto-fuel, it contains none of the additives and burns much cleaner. It is sold as Coleman fuel, or other specialty brands like MSR or Camplite and is infrequently available as cleaning gasoline in hardware and paint stores. The most volatile of liquid camp fuels, it is still very safe if used with caution. And is often the most recommended fuel for camp stoves. @18200 BTU/lb
Rape Seed Oil: A renewable alternative to diesel available in some countries, it will burn in most diesel stoves but has the distinction of being the only fuel by which diesel can seem clean and by most accounts you can expect to spend as much time cleaning your stove as cooking. I have never seen rape seed fuel in the United States. @18000 BTU/Lb.
Alcohol: Although Alcohol is one of the only renewable liquid fuels commercially available to backpackers it suffers from having the lowest fuel economy. However, alcohol stoves are among both the lightest and cheapest stoves on the market and simple alcohol burners can be constructed for next to nothing (See below). Alcohol is the fuel with the lowest efficiency, 8419- 12960 BTU/Lb.
Solid Fuel Stoves:
Solid fuel stoves are interesting and varied. The simplest is the hobo stove constructed from an old coffee cans (see below) while the Sierra Zip stove utilizes a battery and a fan to produce 18,000 BTUs using pine cones, wood chips, tree bark, charcoal or any other solid fuel. In between these are esbit burners, which burn small waxy solid fuel tablets. Although solid fuel is in truth more readily available than any liquid fuel, these stoves are illegal in any campground where campfires or wood gathering are prohibited, making their use of little value to the guerrilla camper. I do believe is it imperative to know how to make a simple wood burning stove or alcohol stove in the event of stove failures, so I have placed instructions below.
Cheetos: The ubiquitous solid fuel tablet
Sold as Cheetos Puffs or a thousand other off-brands, the unique chemical makeup of preservatives, oil and chemical cheese powder make cheese puff snacks an excellent improvised fuel source, producing a bright, long lasting flame and ten poofs can boil a beer can full of water. They can be burned in any empty can or a small wood stove and reduce to dust and a suspicious looking residue on the bottom of your pan. Probably carcinogenic, I would suspect Cheetos to be the most poisonous of camp fuels. If you should accidentally ingest one, contact a ranger station immediately. I’m not joking, try burning cheesy poofs. It has to be the poofy kind, the mini cheese walking sticks won’t cut it. @5500 BTU/Lb
Deciding upon a stove:
Deciding upon a stove depends on a number of factors. While many of us can get by using cook fires and alcohol stoves, colder climates require more elaborate stoves. Alcohol stoves are great for reconstituted food, but for any cooking that requires cook times of over twenty minutes they are impractical. It can just as easily be argued that twenty minutes of burn for a meal is impractical when the average fuel bottle holds only 90 minutes worth of fuel. If you are planning on weekend outings in your region and you are not plagued by extremely cold winters, try working with alcohol stoves and cook fires first. If, on the other hand, you are planning on months of aimless wandering, a multi-fuel stove is the option for you. If you are a survivalist looking to build an Armageddon pack that will let you stay alive long after anyone else would want to, drop the change on a diesel stove and get to work on making your own fuel.
Read your manual to learn how to use your stove. In fact, read the manual before you even try to fill your stove. You are working with fuel, pressure and fire, all the makings of a bomb. Not knowing how to recognize a fuel leak, or how to properly prime a stove can lead to uncontrolled blazes and exploding fuel canisters. Every stove is different. RTFM!
However, there ARE things you can’t learn from a stove manual.
Simmering: You can simmer on liquid fuel stoves through use of a stovetop heat diffuser. You can find them in the kitchen sections of discount stores for a dollar, and the handles usually fold for easy storage. A lesser effect can be had by taking a coffee can lid and carefully crimping the edges to hold the pot away from the flame. I usually just lift my pot off the stove, or sit there and ride the dial, keeping the stove constantly on the edge of dying.
Heat Exchangers: Some brands of camping cookware are compatible with heat diffusers. They vent the heat of the stove directly up against the side of the pans allowing you to boil water faster and giving more even heat to a pot for less fuel. If you plan to be four and five days between fuel sources, this can get an extra two or three meals out of your fuel bottle.
Cozys: Sweaters for your pot. By insulating the side of your pot against heat loss, it is possible to keep a covered pot of water at near boiling heat even when removed from the flame. It works well for the five or six minutes needed to reconstitute instant rice, dried soups or ramen. Some have created elaborate foam affairs for their cookpots, but I found that by cooking in a ziplock bag wrapped up in pack towel I could simply bring the water to a boil, pour it in the bag and use nearly no fuel for actually cooking. This is a common trick among users of alcohol stoves.
Baking: If you are using a high tech nesting cook set with two different sized pots and a frying pan “lid” you have a simple dutch oven in which you can bake cornbread, cakes, or even regular bread. Make your batter slightly dry to make sure it doesn’t come out runny. Butter the entire inside of your small pot and pour in the batter. Cover the top tightly with aluminum foil and tie it on tight with hemp or cotton cord. (Do not use parachute cord. It will melt and weld your pots together.) Put about half an inch of water in the bottom of the larger pot and put the smaller pot inside. The water should be about three-quarters of an inch from the lip of the small pot. Put the lid on top and set it carefully on your stove. Set a moderately sized rock on top of the lid to keep it from jumping and let it go at full blast. Use the same cook time as called for using a 9 inch pan for recipes. They say this takes a lot of practice, but I’ve never botched it up, except by putting the water too high and making a runny blueberry cake for a friends birthday. You can even use this method with campfires, although fueling a cook fire for 18 minutes can get arduous. PS, if you learn to do this on barbecues, you can become a rockstar for BBQ cornbread.
Making Your Own Stoves:
Making a simple alcohol stove:
Two empty 12 ounce cans
A Utility Knife
Needle Nose Pliers (Or multitool)
Scissors (Again, see multitool)
A thumb tack
A book, around 150-200 pages.
Making the Stovetop
Take the first can and flip it over. Look at the lip of the concave bottom. Just at the top of the parabola there is an almost imperceptible corner before the lip. By carefully holding the tip of a utility knife against that corner and spinning the can you can gradually scratch around the lip, eventually scoring it enough so it can be punched out, leaving a neat round hole.
This takes practice. Be very careful and wear gloves until you know what you’re doing. (Unless you collect hand scars with pride, like me) If you are not used to working with blades this can be tricky.
Making the Jets
Now you will use that thumb tack to punch a series of holes around the outer lip of the stove top.
I usually punch 16 holes, starting by doing them on opposite sides in a cross for the first four, then equidistant between other holes for the next 12. You can also trace the lip on a piece of paper, cut it out and fold it in half three times to create a template, although I never bother. Using a jewlers hammer, or the side of the multitool makes punching the holes easier.
Cutting the Can
Find a book you can put the utility knife on top of to make the blade ait about an inch from the bottom of the can.
Holding the knife steady with one hand, spin the can in circles against the blade, careful not to wrinkle it. After a while of this, you will have scored the can enough that it will pull apart with a clean cut.
Set aside the bottom of the can. This will be the top of the stove.
Making the Inner Wall
Using Scissors, cut up the side of the remainder of the first can, then cut the top of the can off to create an aluminum sheet from the side of the can.
Next, use the book as a staright edge and angle to make two parallel lines, about and inch apart don the middle fo this strip, then cut it out.
It should actaully be a little shorter than in this picture, but you can always trim it down to fit better. For now, set it aside as we make our stove bottom.
Making the Stove Bottom
Making the stove bottom is the same as making the stove top, minus the holes. Put the blade on the book, and spin the can against it until you score through the can.
Finishing the Inner Wall.
Take that strip of aluminum we made earlier, and curl it into a circle. so that it wraps around the groove in the stove bottom.
Mark the center of the overlap with a marker, at the same place on both sides. You will use this mark to cut flaps into the top and bottom of the strip allowing it to fold together. Turn the can back into the loop, and tuck the ends into the flaps. When done right it will resemble a circle, not a jesus fish.
You will now make three small weep holes in the bottom of the ring by clipping out three small triangles on one side of the ring, about ¼ inch wide each. It is easiest if you start opposite your flap, allowing you to place the other two farther away from the seam preventing leaks. These weep holes allow heated fuel to enter the outer ring of the stove to fuel your jets.
Step Five: Putting it together.
You will need to make the stove top’s circumfrence slightly smaller than the stove bottoms. This can be done by cutting very short slits in the cut edge of the can (about 1/16 of an inch) and bending the resulting flaps in, or it can be done by crimping the can with needle nose pliers, which I have had better results with.
Simply pinch about 3/8 of an inch down on the can and turn your pliers 45 degrees to the right. Repeat every half inch around the top of the can. You should have something that resembles crimped stove or drain pipes.
Put the inner wall, weep holes down, into your stove bottom.
Carefully fit the stove top into the stove bottom and slowly press it down until the inner wall is pinched between the two cans. You may need to coax the inner way into the groove around the large hole of the stove top. You should now have a small aluminum hockey puck looking thing.
Step Seven: Stoves are Go!
Pour in some alcohol. About an ounce of Bacardi 151, 70% or 90% rubbing alcohol, or preferably denatured alcohol and light it up. Be careful. The stove in the above photo is LIT, belive it or not(notice the distortion of the pot stand behind it) The flames can be invisible in direct sunlight. After the alcohol heats the stove, your jets should light up creating something not unlike what you see on a home gas stove. (Picture pending, the memory card filled up just as the battery died)
Building a Simple Wood Stove:
A very simple wood stove can be made out of a large coffee can or a one gallon paint can.
First, cut a series of holes about a quarter way around the bottom side of the can using an old style can opener. Repeat the process on top of the can on the opposite side. You’re done.
By placing the bottom hole facing into the wind, you create a convection current that allows this stove to burn much hotter than a simple cook fire. You can slow the burn by placing something in front of the bottom holes or turning the stove away from the wind. If your fire starts to die, lift your pot and throw more fuel in.
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