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  1. #1

    Lightbulb Seriously cold weather and Alcohol stoves!

    I have heard some on this forum and others say that an alcohol stove is not good for cold weather. So I decided to try it out.

    I checked the temperature on weather.com. Here in Glidden, IA,(1/15/09) it was -9 F (real temperature! windchill in the -20's) with a 5-10mph wind. Very cold! Perfect for finding out what my supercat can really do!


    Jim Falk's version of the supercat only has 8 holes around the middle of the can, so it burns slower than your typical supercat. This turned out to be a problem.

    My first test wasn't much of a test. I took water from the cold tap (probably 65F) and my room temperature Heet and the rest of my cooking gear outside. I used about an ounce of heet (one full film container's worth. I know, it's alot, but I didn't know how much the stove would use in these extra cold temps), and lit the stove with my bic lighter. I let the stove prime for 30 seconds, placed two cups of water on top, and had boiling water in maybe 6 minutes. Not bad! But not a realistic test, either!

    By the way, did you know that when you throw a pan of boiling water into the air in -9F, it freezes before it hits the ground!?!

    My next test revealed alot about my cooking setup! (Failure does that quite well) I let my gear sit outside for 15 minutes as well as the water and Heet before trying it again. The water quickly formed a layer of ice over it, which I broke and poured two more cups of the now 32F water into my freezing cold pot. I measured out another ounce of now freezing cold heat and try to start the stove with my freezing cold bic lighter.

    My fingers and toes were beginning to numb at this point. I couldn't work the lighter with my gloves on, so I took them off to flick the bic a half-dozen times. Nothing. Must have frozen up! So I try the box of matches that I also keep in my cooking gear. It took me three matches to get the alcohol to vaporize and light. But I finally got it! (good thing, too, I can no longer feel my finger tips!) I let the stove prime for longer than the first time until it is burning good, put the windscreen on, put the pot on, and then run back inside. I desperately try to warm my fingers by wrapping them around an incandescent light bulb. Then I watched. After a couple minutes, I get curious and venture back out to see if the water is boiling. It's not. The stove went out. Sigh...most of my fuel is left, so I give it another go. Same thing happens.

    The third time, I pull my windscreen apart to see exactly what is going on. When the flames start to go out, I pulled the pot off of the stove and it jumps back to life. I did that twice, and then my fuel went out.

    I learned a couple of things about stoves in cold weather. The first is that you absolutely have to have a reliable fire source that is easy to ignite with cold fingers! And preferably, more than one! Bic lighters don't work in -9F unless you keep them warm in your pocket. They are also very difficult for me to use when my fingers don't want to cooperate. Regular matches were much easier to use, but even they were difficult to light in just a slight wind.

    Second thing I learned is that you should keep all of your kitchen gear in one place and be completely comfortable using it before you attempt to use it in that cold of weather. I need more practice so that I can get things going quickly and efficiently.

    Thirdly, my stove is not designed for that cold of weather. My supercat has only eight holes punched in it. It works great in the other three seasons! Last summer, I was able to boil four cups of water with one ounce of fuel! But it couldn't burn hot enough to keep the Heet boiling like it is supposed to in -9F weather. The cold pot absorbed the heat too quickly for the stove to keep itself primed. But I think that regular supercat with two rows of holes would burn hot enough to keep the stove primed and would boil the water. I will have to try it again another time. A simple, open-flame stove would burn just fine, I bet, but I am really curious to know how a pressurized stove like the Bios 2 or Zelph's Cobalt stove would work...

    Anyway, please share your experiences with alcohol stoves at extreme temps. Any tips for me? I know someone mentioned that pretty much everyone in the Iditarod(sp?) dog-sled races uses alcohol stoves, does anyone know what kind of alcohol stove they use?

    Also, can anyone recommend a good titanium pot that is roughly the same size and capacity as my Kmart grease pot? It is the perfect size and holds all my kitchen gear.


    Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool.

  2. #2

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    Your test parallels my tests a few years ago, but mine were in the 0-+5 range.
    Punching more holes in your stove will, indeed, make it burn more efficiently in cold weather. My pressurized stoves tended to go out without a lot of exterior priming just as your Supercat did. Keeping the alcohol bottle inside your coat will help a lot as will placing the stove on a piece of thin plywood covered with aluminum foil. Open top stoves are the easiest to use in extremely cold weather, but the heat output sometimes can't keep up with the amount of heat drawn away by the cold.
    As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live. Ezekiel 33:11
    Did Adam and Eve rest on the first Sabbath? Scripture only says that God did. Are we thinking yet?

  3. #3

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    Now I'm going to have to get out my alch.stove and play tonight, supposed to be -1 here, we'll see how it goes
    ad astra per aspera

  4. #4

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    Gumbi - Do yourself a favor. If you're trying to go ultra light, ditch the pot gripper (use a bandanna) or, at least, cut the handles in half. Also, buy one of these:
    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-...indscreen.html . They roll up to the size of a pencil stub and fit in your cookpot. I use small paper clips to hold the ends together.
    I think the Evernew .9 liter pot is about the same size as the K-mart unit (which, by the way, has WAY more lid than it needs - and you can't use it as a frypan, either).
    Have fun and stay warm.
    As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live. Ezekiel 33:11
    Did Adam and Eve rest on the first Sabbath? Scripture only says that God did. Are we thinking yet?

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tinker View Post
    Gumbi - Do yourself a favor. If you're trying to go ultra light, ditch the pot gripper (use a bandanna) or, at least, cut the handles in half. Also, buy one of these:
    http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-...indscreen.html . They roll up to the size of a pencil stub and fit in your cookpot. I use small paper clips to hold the ends together.
    I think the Evernew .9 liter pot is about the same size as the K-mart unit (which, by the way, has WAY more lid than it needs - and you can't use it as a frypan, either).
    Have fun and stay warm.
    Thanks for the advise, Tinker! My wife thinks that I am crazy, but I sure had a lot of fun testing it out.
    I try to go lightweight, I don't have a lot of money either. I don't think that $20 for some TI foil for a windscreen is worth it to me right now. I can't justify that expense (yet). Maybe someday when I win the lottery... (though my chances would be better if I actually played!)
    But, no, I won't get rid of my pot gripper!!! I would feel uncomfortable trying to pick up a pot of boiling water with just a bandana. Accidentally melting a glove at -9F could be pretty devastating! Of course, if I do buy an evernew Ti pot, I won't have to worry about it! (I would be willing to splurge and buy something quality that will last me probably forever.)

    Zelph, do you have any input here?
    Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smile View Post
    Now I'm going to have to get out my alch.stove and play tonight, supposed to be -1 here, we'll see how it goes
    I would love to hear how it goes!!!
    Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool.

  7. #7
    Peakbagger Extraordinaire The Solemates's Avatar
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    This is a great, well written scientifically conducted post that the engineer in me really appreciates. thanks!

    This is precisely why I do not use an alcohol stove, cold weather. People always say they can use an alky stove on the trail just fine, but I have always questioned their true winter experience since I have yet to a) get one to work in the cold, and b) have never seen anyone use on in the cold.

    By the way, "cold" to me is below 15F. (It was -1 here this morning with the windchill, and 11 without).
    The only thing better than mountains, is mountains where you haven't been.

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  8. #8

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    See my recent thread in the homemade gear forum called "cold weather alcohol stove system". Using a semi-presurized stove, I found putting it inside a tin can (which doubles as the pot stand), insulating the stove with fiberglass insulation and supporting the stove above the ground, I was able to make it work at sub zero temps. I was able to get about a cup of 45 degree water to boil in about 10 minutes at -6 degress.

    I show using a tea light candle to preheat the stove and fuel, but it turns out you can put some alcohol on the fiberglass insulation around the stove and light that to heat up the stove. Now knowing that, I could make the can shorter, as it doesn't have to be high enough to put a candle under it.

    The important thing is to insulate the stove, keep it from touching the ground and support the pot above the stove. And yeah, matches work better than bic lighters in the cold!
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Solemates View Post
    This is a great, well written scientifically conducted post that the engineer in me really appreciates. thanks!

    This is precisely why I do not use an alcohol stove, cold weather. People always say they can use an alky stove on the trail just fine, but I have always questioned their true winter experience since I have yet to a) get one to work in the cold, and b) have never seen anyone use on in the cold.

    By the way, "cold" to me is below 15F. (It was -1 here this morning with the windchill, and 11 without).
    I am not opposed to using an alchy stove in cold weather. I believe my failure to produce boiling water was due to a stove design that was not made for this kind of weather.

    I think, with a few modifications, I can have a stove that will reliably work in cold weather. Time will tell.

    For sure, you will use alot more fuel to get the water boiling, but I would still rather trust an alcohol stove than a liquid fuel stove at these temps. Just think, the smallest bit of water in a gas stove could cause the fuel line to freeze up, rendering it inoperable... Maybe there are tricks to get around this problem, but the simplicity and lack of parts to break in the alcohol stove is definitely a plus when you HAVE to get your stove running.

    But this is all just my perspective. Until I can reliably get an alcohol stove to work in sub zero F temps, I really can't argue with you
    Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool.

  10. #10
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    You guys need to come out here.CO. Its about almost 60 degrees and its going to be in the lower 60s by tuesday.

  11. #11
    Peakbagger Extraordinaire The Solemates's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    I was able to get about a cup of 45 degree water to boil in about 10 minutes at -6 degress.
    thats nice and all, but i would rather use my stove and get water in 5 minutes and use less fuel. even if my stove does weigh 6 ounces more
    The only thing better than mountains, is mountains where you haven't been.

    amongnature.blogspot.com

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Solemates View Post
    thats nice and all, but i would rather use my stove and get water in 5 minutes and use less fuel. even if my stove does weigh 6 ounces more
    What kind of a stove do you like to use in extreme temps?
    Nothing is foolproof to a talented fool.

  13. #13

    Default Beer bottle stoves don't make it for me in cold temps.

    Beer bottle stoves(bios, wbs,cobalt) are warmer weather stoves. It takes too much fuel to prime them and the cold pot sucks the heat right out of them and the flame goes out more times than what it's worth. They need to be insulated from cold ground/snow/ice.

    The StarLyte and Fancee Feest are cold weather friendly because of the wicking of fuel up and into oxygen.

    A cotton ball saturated with alcohol is good for cold weather. It'll get consumed after it runs out of fuel, but it works. Easy to light

    Shallow stoves lite easier than deep stoves. Ion is shallow, FeaterFire is deep. Shallow stoves with large openings lite easier than small openings. A wedding tin without a cover will lite faster than one that has a 1" inch opening like the Ion. Stoves like oxygen. A weeding favor tin(without a top) will light if a match or twig is held into the fuel to get it to heat up enough to stay lit on it's own in frigid temps.

    My demo was just for the fun of it. You would'nt catch me trying to camp/hike, anything, in such cold weather. We are having some xtreme temps and it was good to show thar alcohol does burn in cold weather. The type of stove you chose does make a difference.

    There is another video that I did last year up in MN with temps down to
    -13 degrees with wind blowing fierce and the StarLyte was used to thaw the door latches on my car en route to the doctors office in Mineapolis. (Long Story) I think the video is posted in the StarLyte thread.

  14. #14
    Registered User dla's Avatar
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    Great info!

    I use the Trangia burner exclusively, so my results are somewhat different. The Trangia is hard to light when extremely cold, but it lights. It is easier to light a 90% full burner than a 90% empty one. And I have to touch the fuel with the match. The Trangia takes a long time to get to full-output in the extreme cold - maybe 5 minutes or so. So boil times are about 50% longer.

    I hate Bic lighters when it is cold and I'm not fond of them when it is warm.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gumbi View Post
    What kind of a stove do you like to use in extreme temps?
    A pressurized canister stove works well down to about 0, if you keep the fuel relatively warm (using a can cozy, or other insulation).

    White gas stoves are preferred by mountaineers for their ability to work well and melt snow efficiently in very extreme temperatures.

  16. #16
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    It's not the alcohol that is the problem, it is the stove. I find it interesting that everyone who seems to believe alcohol does not work well in the cold always use a pressurized or semi-pressurized stove to "prove their point". A wick stove has no problem at all. Zelph mentions the Starlyte and Fancee Feest. I use both with great success in 0*F temp, that is well below the 15*F that was stated to be "cold".

    Now I do not know what stove these guys use but they use alcohol: http://www.ultimateiditarod.com/sledcargo.htm

    For those who cannot get their alcohol stove to work well in the cold it isn't an alcohol problem it is the choice of alcohol stove.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Solemates View Post
    thats nice and all, but i would rather use my stove and get water in 5 minutes and use less fuel. even if my stove does weigh 6 ounces more
    Ture, but now that I know I can make my alki stove work in extream cold, I know it will work even better in early spring or late fall when it would have otherwise been marginal or not work at all. I also know now that I can take it along on a cold winter day hike just to have something warm to drink at lunch.

    But for real camping in serious cold and you want something hot !NOW!, white gas stoves win hands down.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

  18. #18
    Registered User russb's Avatar
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    I looked it up... The iditarod mushers use homemade alcohol cookers which are ... you guessed it... wick based! They can melt 3 gallons of water to a boil in 20-30 minutes.

  19. #19
    Registered User russb's Avatar
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    edit: that is "melt 3 gallons of water to a boil from snow"

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    With my trangia westwind model I sometimes put a tea candle beneath it for a few minutes to speed up the bloom. Once its working well, I remove it. Not needed for long and only when very cold.

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