Saturday, May 29, 2010

Backpacking Alcohol Stove Fuel Comparison

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“Gain may be temporary and uncertain; but ever while you live, expense is constant and certain: and it is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

So many people use alcohol stoves as a way to lighten their backpacks, myself included.  Yet we still have to carry the fuel, which is one of the reasons I use stoves that can burn wood or alcohol, sometime reducing the fuel weight or as a backup fuel (I’m currently using the EVERNEW Ti DX stove).

Most hikers use either denatured alcohol or HEET to fuel their alcohol stoves.  I was curious which of these performed better as well as other alternatives.  In this video (below) I compared the four most likely choices:

  • HEET (yellow bottle)
  • Iso-HEET (red bottle)
  • S-L-X Denatured Alcohol
  • Everclear Grain Alcohol

The price difference between HEET and denatured alcohol is minimal and varies depending on where you are buying it.  At the local LOWES HEET is $1.79 for 355ml (about 1/2 cent per ML).  Denatured Alcohol is $6.68 for 946ml (about 7/10 cent per ML).  Everclear at the liquor store is $15.75 for 750ml (about 2 cents per ML) – far more expensive.

When looking for HEET competitors, the marketing people make it very difficult to tell what is actually in the bottle.  Some companies put the chemical abstract number in the ingredient list (the number starting with CAS#…..) others like “STP” don’t (by the way STP is not a good fuel).

HEET in the yellow bottle is CAS#67-56-1: Translation – This is 100% Methyl Alcohol.  Iso-HEET is CAS#67-63-0: Translation – This is 90 – 100% Isopropyl Alcohol.  Iso-HEET is not the same as “Rubbing Alcohol” sold in drug stores which is only 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.  Denatured Alcohol is “ethanol” a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol plus an additive that makes it poisonous to drink.  It is not clear what percentage of S-L-X Denatured Alcohol is Ethyl.  Everclear Grain Alcohol sold in liquor stores and drinkable is 95% “Grain Alcohol” which is Ethyl Alcohol.

All that said I compared these four options.  The Iso-HEET performed “Best” in my test bringing the water to a boil first.  Denatured alcohol was a close second, nearly the same as Everclear.  HEET (yellow bottle) did the worst boiling the water last and the flame going out first.

However, Iso-HEET also burned very ‘dirty’ covering the pot in soot.  I often use my pots on a wood burner so you wouldn’t think this would bother me, but this soot was much dirtier than you get from a wood fire, getting all over my hands and making everything dirty.

It was also pointed out to me by one of my viewers on my Youtube channel that the height of the pots my be effecting the results.  That I may have inadvertently placed the pots at the optimum height for Iso-HEET and the worst height for HEET (flame temperature varying by it’s height). Hmm.  This could be.  I will need to redo this test with the pots at different heights – I’ll see if I can make some time for that.  In the mean time, here’s the video of my results:




  1. Thanks for posting this with a link to the Evernew. I've been reading a bit about lite-weight backpacking stoves. I need to buy something for my next trip out as I had borrowed my son's Pocket Rocket for my first time out. I may stick with a Pocket Rocket for now.

    One of my concerns is the canisters of fuel for the PR..as far as how to discard them and wondering if they can be recycled? I haven't researched it yet.

    Still very new at this backpacking experience. But I think I've found a new high! Simply a section hiker for now....but that may change down the trail.

    Thanks again...
    ~carol welch

  2. Carol,
    The Pocket Rocket is a great lightweight stove. I have one and used to use it all the time before I started using alcohol, still use it from time to time. For short trips the Pocket Rocket + a canister is not much heavier than the alcohol fuel. It is also better in that is gets much hotter, you can control the flame, not so sensitive to the wind and is very easy to use and can't spill.

    The canisters can be recycled. Depending on your town, some towns will take them if you just write "empty" on them with a sharpy. Others you need to burn off all the fuel then puncture or crush them. Check with your local department of public works for their rules.


  3. Thanks Robin!

    I'll check locally about the recycling. Our town has a good recycling department and toxic waste system.

    Cheers.. :-)

  4. Very cool! Thanks for sharing your results and methods!

  5. Here's an informative video where six types of alcohol fuel are directly compared boiling water. http://youtu.be/Mt69fbNhCgs

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