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Backpacker Magazine – Gear Guide 2013

Build It: Make an Efficient Alcohol Stove

Use extreme-distance hiker Andrew Skurka's plan to construct an ultralight, ultracheap cooking system.

by: Kristy Holland

1. Use the blunt end of a knife to flatten the sharp edge of the clean, empty cat food can.
2. Punch holes all the way around the can, just below the rim (about ¹⁄8 inch apart).
3. Make a second row of holes below the first, aligning one between every other ¹⁄8-inch gap (A).
4. Fashion a windscreen out of aluminum foil (B). Cut a length of foil that’s three inches longer than your pot’s circumference and fold it in half lengthwise. Fold the edges (about 1/2 inch) to improve durability.
5. Add an ounce of denatured alcohol (paint thinner is one example, but inexpensive variations are available at gas stations and hardware and grocery stores) to the can, light it (you may not see much of a flame), set your pot (use one with a diameter about twice that of the can) directly on top of it, and wrap the windscreen around (C). It may take the stove a minute to burn at full power (alcohol is efficient, but it’s slower than pressurized fuel).
Bonus: About one ounce of fuel ($0.20) will boil two cups of water—so the savings on canister fuel ($0.70+/ounce) will add up quickly.
» 3-ounce cat food can (Skurka likes Fancy Feast)
» 1-hole punch (a craft model allows a farther reach)
» aluminum foil
» denatured alcohol

For a video demo showing how to make and use an alcohol stove, visit

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There are also directions on making Pepsi-can stoves, they work quite well, I used one on a trip in Cambodia.

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Vienna sausages or deviled ham cans would work too, if one doesn't have a cat. Tuna cans might be a bit big. I'm considering making one for a short hike of the PCT, since I'll have to fly there and don't want the hassle of flying with a regular stove.

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If you can't find a catfood can on the spot, try the Nasty Cat -- (scroll down to the bottom of the page). The very essence of quick'n'dirty, but satisfies all my requirements: quick to make, fast boil, lightweight, ubiquitous, free, has its own pot stand, and you only need a knife or scissors to make one once you have a pop can in your hand.


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