There are so many camping stoves out there that it can be a daunting task trying to figure out which stove best suits your camp cooking needs. Which fuel to use, size, weight, efficiency, what you’ll be cooking and for how many people. And then there’s the cost. These things ain’t cheap and with better and lighter models constantly becoming available, do you really want to invest in something that will need replacing in a couple of years? So if you’re simply not willing to take the plunge into the overpriced maze of choosing and buying a camping stove, then why not try making your own? The soda can stove is the cheapest and lightest camping stove you will ever own. And the efficiency isn’t too far removed from the technical and expensive options on the market.
The soda can stove
There are loads of different types of alcohol burners and a whole host of methods to make them yourself. But one of the simplest and most effective is the soda can stove. It is super lightweight so a perfect option for travelling or trekking. The simplicity of the soda can stove is specifically designed to boil water efficiently, so is ideal for quick boil in the bag meals and for cooking things like pasta, rice, beans or porridge dishes. However it doesn’t have the ability to simmer your food. So if you’re looking to do some gourmet camp cooking then this might not be your best option.
Alcohol burner fuel
The soda can stove uses pure alcohol to heat and cook your food. In the form of rubbing alcohol, medical alcohol or surgical spirits, it can be easily found in most pharmacies for a very low cost and is by far the cheapest way to fuel a stove. It can also be the lightest fuel to choose – but this largely depends on how much cooking you plan to do. Unlike gas canisters, which can be difficult to gauge the amount of fuel in them, using alcohol as your fuel means you only need bring as much as you need, and not a full can of gas that you probably won’t use.
Once you get to grips with how much fuel it takes to make your meals, you can be much more specific about how much fuel you need to carry. But make sure you consider the altitude, air temperature and wind levels before you go leaving that extra ounce behind to save weight.
To make your own soda can stove you will need the following things:
A soda can or beer can (contents consumed)
- A pocket knife
- A lidded pot to store it in (I use an empty cocoa powder pot)
How to make a soda can stove
Making your own alcohol stove is super easy. Here’s how:
1) Take your empty can and, using your pocket knife, cut off the top. Cut inside the rim of the can being sure to cut along the top ridge where the metal is tougher and won’t bend or crimp. It is easy to cut on the less thick ridge below, so take your time to find the right bit.
2) Now cut your can in half using your knife and the scissors to finish off the cut.
3) Using your scissors, trim the bottom of the can down to the size you require. The stove can be as big as you need but the optimum size is about 1 1/2 inches. For most meals, you won’t need anything taller – if you run out of fuel, you can just top it up (once the stove has cooled), and if it’s too tall, it will become unstable when you put your cooking pot on top.
4) Again, using your scissors, cut the top of the can so that it is the same size as the bottom.
5) Now you need to put some dents in the top of the can. Place two fingers inside the can and with your knife, put a small dent in the can, between your fingers, from the bottom edge to the where the can starts to bends inwards. The dent should be bigger at the bottom and much less severe at the top.
6) Move your fingers along one fingers width and make another dent. Repeat this process all the way around the top of the can. These dents act as mini combustion chambers – pockets that the alcohol fuel will fill with vapour to burn.
7) Next, make a tiny hole in the top of the can. Put your finger behind the can and gently work in a thumbtack or a tool on your pocket knife, until you just feel it on your finger.
8) To finish, slide the top of the soda can into the bottom of the can and you’ve got yourself a very cool diddy little soda can stove!
Using your alcohol burner
Not just easy to make, but easy to use too:Simply pour a small amount of fuel into the can and light it with a match or lighter.
To turn the stove off you will need to smother the flame. Trying to blow it out will only make it burn more. So take your container and place it over the top of the stove – the lack of oxygen will kill the flames immediately.
It doesn’t take long for the fuel and stove to cool and once it has, take the top off and pour any unused fuel back into it’s bottle.
The pot can then be used as a storage container for the stove, to prevent it from being crushed in your backpack.
As with any cooking stove, the usual safety precautions should be taken when using the soda can stove.