If you want what’s definitely the cheapest and possibly the lightest camping stoves going, then you’re going to have to go for a ‘Pepsi’ can stove. Often called a pop can stove, usually Pepsi and never a Coca-Cola can stove despite the prevalence of the red can on most of the links later on. The adventurous can even try and construct one from a Red Bull can for an even smaller stove! This little beauty is yours for the contents of an empty can of drink, or free if you have to cadge one off someone. All you need is a little know how and a drill.
Hopefully a bit more know how than I’ve got, as I ended up buying mine quite cheaply from the states a few years back. For those of you who want to give this a go, then you can try this, this or this link for a step by step guide.
Who would have thought that a simple little alcohol stove, made from the bottom of a can of pop would work at all, let alone be reasonably effective. I say reasonably, as you’re not going to get the best out of one of these the first time you use it. You need to make sure that you have a decent windshield, and in the spirit of the home made meths stove you have to make your own. Extra thick aluminium foil works well for this if you fold it over a few times (which is what’s in the review images).
Meths stoves take a fair bit of practice, and I found that the first few times I didn’t use enough meths or the stove wasn’t properly shielded from the wind. This leads to a frustrating wait for the stove to cool down sufficiently for you to add more meths (not long, but in daylight it can be difficult to ascertain if it truly is off) while your water starts to cool down! However, once you get that right – either by adding more meths or by boiling less water at a time if you’ve filled it to capacity.
Each charging of the stove takes up about 40ml of meths, which should be good for about 5-600ml of water. It’s still not enough to boil up an entire Titan Kettle, which takes about 800ml comfortably, unless the conditions are perfect. Methylated Spirit is reasonably cheap at £16 for 5 litres of the stuff. This works out at 100 pots of water, or 50 litres of water brought to the boil. I’ve paid £5 for a gas canister recently – with the savings becoming even more apparent on short trips when I favour carrying the more expensive 100g canisters.
Another advantage is that Pepsi can stoves weigh less than 30g, with the plastic box it lives in, wire pot stand and foil windscreen. So, how does this compare to the more typical gas stoves? The alcohol stove is 60g lighter than my MSR Pocket Rocket, and the plastic bottle that the meths comes in weighs less than an empty gas canister though poses a serious spill hazard. You need something like an aluminium fuel bottle to be safe. An advantage over a gas canister is that you can see exactly how much fuel you’ve got left and estimate how many pots of water you’ll be able to boil. No amount of weighing gas canisters seems to get me any closer to finding out the answer to is there enough gas in here for an overnight camp?
500ml of meths weighs about 400g as it’s lighter than water, which is about the same weight as a full 250ml gas canister. You may get 10 pots of water from the canister, but you know that half way through the process the pressure will drop and the heat given off is the equivalent of a ferret’s fart. The meths will continue to boil the water at the same glacial pace for the 10th pot as it will for the 1st. Though it boils in about 8-10 minutes, I’ve struggled with a near empty gas cannister before today and taken longer to get it to the boil.
On the down side, I wouldn’t want to use the alcohol stove in the porch of my tent and the last time I used it there had been an extended dry spell, with the ground tinder dry. I was able to safely use it between rocks with any nearby grass damped down with a litre or two of water. It does limit the conditions in which you can safely and easily use it to those finer days when it’s not too dry.
As a result, the pepsi can stove for me remains an ingenious bit of kit that’s fun to make and use, but a little too fussy for the long term. Despite the many advantages of meths, the gas system is just so much more convenient. You can take it and with care still cook breakfast in the porch on a stormy morning. There’s just no way you’d risk doing that with one of these. Gas is also controllable, the meths stove is either on or off; and only off when the meths burns out.