Hot, Light, And Cheap: Homemade Camp Stove Contest Winners

The best ultralight cookers built by BACKPACKER readers.

In response to our Home-Brewed Stove Contest (August 2001), readers submitted dozens of designs for alcohol stoves. We revved all of them up and rated boiling speed, weight, ease of manufacture, and trail-level practicality.

Best Overall Design

Deluxe Quantum Stove Windscreen, submitted by Paul Mello and Tim Watters from Middletown High School, RI.

This extremely light, compact stove offers high heat output, simmering adjustment, and an ultra-stable windscreen/pot support. Building the burner requires decent tools and shop skills.

Boil time*: 5:15

Weight: 2.75 oz.

Hottest Burner

The Cat Stove, by Roy "Trail Dad" Robinson of

Los Altos, CA. We tested prettier and lighter burners, but none heated faster. It's also the simplest stove to make, but the wire mesh pot stand is bulky to pack.

Boil time*: 4:25

Weight: 3.25 oz.

Best Of Both Worlds

The hottest (4:05), lightest (2.75 oz.), and most compact stove is a combination of the Quantum windscreen and Cat Stove burner (at left). Just pick a fuel bottle that's the same diameter as the burner, roll the burner and bottle into the windscreen, secure with elastic hair ties, and you have a well-armored, 3 1/2-by-6-inch trail package.

See construction details below.

Construction Directions

Tools:

  • "Church key" style can/bottle opener
  • Tin Snips
  • Emery/sand paper
  • Drill w/ 1/8th-inch, and 1/2-inch (or larger) bit.
  • Needle-nozed pliers

Supplies:

  • One 5.5 oz can of cat food
  • One 3 oz can of cat food
  • One small piece of spun fiberglass insulation, one-half by 8 inches, and a quarter-inch thick.
  • One sheet of used offset printing plate (call your local newspaper). Size depends on your intended pot, roughly 6-7 inches by 24 inches.
  • About 3 feet of woven picture hanging wire
  • Six small clevis pins

Burner Assembly:

Open, empty and clean the cans. Using the church key opener, punch six evenly-spaced tabs around the top edge of the smaller can from the inside out. Cut the fiberglass insulation to size and set it around the inside bottom of the can. Hold in place with a coil of picture wire. Burn some alcohol in the burner to "set" the insulation in place. Remove the picture wire after several burns.

Using the tin snips, cut a 1.75-inch diameter opening in the bottom of the larger can, then punch six evenly spaced tabs around the can's upper edge, from the outside in. Straighten all tabs on both cans, and cut the tips off the sharp points. Align the two cans so the tabs will miss each other, then push the burner into the air jacket until the bottom edges are flush. Sand down any exposed sharp edges.

Windscreen Assembly:

Measure your windscreen size against your cookpot, adding 4 & 1/8 inches to the pot height to determine windscreen height, and leaving a 1/8th-inch gap between windscreen and cookpot rim. At each "long end" of the print plate sheet, leave an extra 3/4th-inch to fold over. Cut to size. Fold ends over and flatten. Drill two lines of holes along the bottom edge of the windscreen.

Wrap windscreen into circle, overlapping the folded ends. Drill one, 1/8th-inch hole through both overlapped, folded ends, 4 & 1/8th inches from the bottom of windscreen. Drill another hole directly opposite. Stretch picture wire between the two holes, determine proper length, cut and wrap the ends into small loops. Attach clevis pins to wire loops, on outside of windscreen.

Repeat the process with two additional wires strung across the diameter of the windscreen, forming a wire "net" that suspends the pot. Pop rivets, wire swages or other special fittings can streamline and strengthen the suspension wires and anchor points, but are not necesssary. Cut custom slots into the top rim of the windscreen, to fit any permanently attached pot handles. Sand off all sharp edges with emery paper. Roll it up and hit the trail, but don't use any fuel other than methyl (denatured) alcohol!

*Boil time is time it takes to boil 16 fluid ounces shown in minutes:seconds.