Introduction: An Emergency Personal Pocket Stove

Picture of An Emergency Personal Pocket Stove

You can make an emergency personal pocket and super ultralight backpacker's stove, based on low tech CFV (Capillary Force Vaporizer) technology, with the following materials:

1. an empty soda can for the pot some other type of can like a veggie can and
2. a few sheets of toilet paper, paper towel, cardboard or other absorbent material, including sand. (...but no synthetics!)
3. a level, flat and fireproof surface (or a second empty can of approximately the same diameter as the pot can or a little larger - preferably with a bottom that will fit or accept the soda can bottom nicely - see photos).
4. a fire starter of some type, like book matches or a sparker, to light the fuel
5. 91% Isopropyl alcohol. 70% may work directly and if not can be "salted out.". Fuels that float on water are not recommended.
6. provision for venting of exhaust fumes and allowing intake of fresh air if used in a confined space such as inside a car.

I used 91% Isopropyl alcohol for fuel since I always carry a little with me in a spray bottle to kill germs after shaking hands, and as fuel for the laminar or pressure can stoves I carried with me in case I was overcome by the ultralight backpacking urge. This personal pocket stove, however, (except for the weigh of the fuel) is so light it will even support super ultralight backpacking!

All alcohol fuels should work if the proof is high enough. Even kerosene or jet fuel might work (in case you are in an airplane accident) but the stoichiometric ratio will be lower, i.e. lots of soot. I would not resort to gasoline or other highly volatile, high energy fuels due to the low temperature of combustion, unless you have absolutely no other choice. In any case the pot you use with high energy fuels should be made of steel, even if filled with water, rather than aluminum.

If you anticipate having only gasoline available in such an emergency (from your car's tank) look for stove designs intended for use with highly volatile and high energy fuels. Warning: fuels other than alcohol such as gasoline may burn hot enough to melt aluminum while fuels like oil or mineral spirits may produce an unacceptable amount of carbon monoxide and soot, with this design.


Step 1: Put It Together

Picture of Put It Together

I know this looks wwwwwaaaaaaayyyyyy too simple to be a working personal pocket stove, much less the most efficient, easy to build and use, no-pot-stand-required, refuel-while-burning capable, personal pocket alcohol wicked stove in existence, but trust me! It works so surprisingly well and operates so efficiency that it makes every single laminar or pressure pocket stove I've ever used, obsolete - really. (see photos)

With a flat, fireproof surface all you need do is cut or tear 10 to 30 sheets of material the thickness of tissue, for a total thicknes of 1/4" to 3/8", to a diameter a bit larger than the can you will be using for a pot.

Soak these sheets in fuel and place on the flat, fireproof surface.

Place the pot with water to boil (or perhaps a can of vegetables or soup) on top of these sheets and then light the sheets under the pot around the edges.

If you have a second empty can suitable for supporting the pot and very close to the same diameter, turn it upside down and place the soaked sheets over the bottom. Then place the pot on top of the sheets and light the edges. A veggie can on bottom with a soda can on top worked really well for me.

A ring of blue flame should surround the pot and then the pot should begin heating it up.

if the fuel burns up before the desired temperature is reached, no problem. Just remove the pot, replenish the fuel and put the pot back on followed by relighting.

WARNING: Be absolutely sure to replenish the fuel, only after the flame is extinguished - (repeat after me: ...only after the flame is out!).

Be sure the fire is out! Accidents can happen quickly, especially when replenishing fuel. Burns can disable or disfigure permanently. Do not take any chance!

I've tried modifications to increase fuel capacity and to produce higher temperatures but these go beyond what is actually necessary in an emergency.

For testing though you might want to use and empty cold cream jar to store your fuel soaked absorbent material - even use it to be pre-prepared in the event of an emergency.

Step 2: Reverse Jet Adaptation

Picture of Reverse Jet Adaptation

By placing absorbent material soaked in fuel beneath the pot inside a container with air inlet holes that are level with the bottom of the pot, a reverse jet stove can be made.

This adaptation is less susceptible to wind and water intrusion when exhaust holes are drilled near the bottom of another container placed upside down so as to enclose the pot and fuel.

Step 3: 8 Liter Experiment

Picture of 8 Liter Experiment

10 layers of paper towel not enough - need more like thirty. At least one and one half cup of fuel. For such a large pot making the stove burner diameter a couple of inches smaller might help.


wbogen (author)2014-05-22

Would disks of ceramic (fireproof) cloth work? They might be more durable than paper or cloth disks.

SpinWard (author)2008-03-13

This is great. So simple. You have all the basics for the stove without slicing up you hands on a Coke Can. I like the idea of putting them in a jar with the fuel already on it. I am so excited about trying this. We are "camp out of the back of our car campers (we have a 3 year old) so this will work great. I'll try it with my "salted out" Isopropyl alcohol! Thanks for the great idea!

thinkahead (author)SpinWard2008-03-13

Okay, be aware that you get lots of flareup when in windy conditions without a windscreen. Even with a windscreen the openings between the boards on a picnic table can be a problem. Also keep your 3 year old well away. They like to grab stuff and since the flame is almost invisible they probably will. Everything gets way to hot to touch. I use pliers with an angled head, silicon gloves or pot holder, etc. to move the pot around. Be careful of flareups if you do not use an intermediate can lid. Remember this is for emergencies and not for regular use without such modifications. Be smart and don't take chances especially with a kid around.

KittyF (author)thinkahead2011-11-05

I have a four year old grandson. took him and several others camping last year. I very carefully introduced him to the (coleman) stove and showed them all how it was balanced on the legs, how the heat came up, how hot it could get, etc.
Same with the firepit. I didn't have any trouble with them getting burned. I did however, end up in the ER for wearing open toed sandals through the woods and getting a whippet tree sapling caught between my foot and the sandal. Flat on my face on a rock.
See? the kids shoulda been the ones telling ME how to be safe.

SpinWard (author)thinkahead2008-03-15

Oh, heck yeah. He's a great kid and usually gets taken for a walk when we are cooking. I tried this today (with out the kid) with a huge coffee can on the bottom and a smaller one on top. I used the bottom of a different can for the covering lid. Problem was, they were the same size (I'd used a can opener to cut the lid so the lip of the water-holding-can covered the bottom cover-lid) I used 2 small bars to seperate the 2. I took no time for the water to start steaming and I'd filled it up! I'm going to flip the big can over, cut out a piece and use the same can for a windscreen. I honestly was surprised! The little paper towel disk was dry and the water wat HOT! Thanks for the advice!

SpinWard (author)SpinWard2008-03-15

Oh and another thing, a bottle of HEET or dehydrated alcohol to me is safer than a little green tank of pressurized propane. So this is great! I will definitely mod this!

thinkahead (author)SpinWard2008-03-15

Here are some more pics of the one I just did using a veggie can to boil the water for two eggs and two large pork and bean cans for the stove. With exhaust holes in the top of the bottom can a prying pan can be placed on to to cook some bacon or the water can be used for coffee and the fry pan to fry the eggs and cook the bacon. I used a battery hydrometer to add fuel through the inlet holes. With this configuration I can boil water for coffee and/or boil eggs plus keep my hands warm in winter.

thinkahead (author)thinkahead2008-03-15

Also, notice the pliers for grabbing and adjusting the pot. I had to grab the opposite lip of the veggie can due to the tight fit of the pliers.

I like this design, but it seems that it would be heavier than a small aluminum can stove. Whereas the first design would certainly beat the aluminum cans on packability and weight (and perhaps efficiency), I am usually able to boil 2.5 cups of water in between 5 and 7 minutes on my aluminum can stove. However- I thought of something as I was reading this and wanted to share. This new design you have could double as a wood burner with a minimal level of adaptation. That way, you could use the alcohol as your primary fuel, but could burn wood in the bottom can when you are out of fuel. Worth a try anyway.
Just a thought =)

damntourists (author)2008-02-06

i wouldn't eat anything cooked in aluminum if i were you

Thoth (author)damntourists2008-03-13

Why? A lot of cookware and bakeware (including top end expensive brands) are made from aluminum. If you meant aluminium cans, depending on how its constructed and what was used as solder or internal coating, you might have a valid concern

Robot Brain (author)Thoth2008-03-13

He was probably referring to the coating outside and inside an aluminum can if it is burned that is used to protect it from attack by acids and bases.

Yellow84 (author)Robot Brain2008-06-23

the sides of 'aluminium' cans are actually iron, only the top is aluminium and the iron will ususally have a coating such as tin. That is why you can pick pop cans up with magnets. so if you took the aluminium top of a pop can off with a can opener it should be much safer.

_soapy_ (author)Yellow842008-11-23

No, that's wrong. I've never, ever come across a two metal can design like you describe. It is either aluminium or steel. The easy way to tell is to look at the recycling label. You can also use a magnet, if you have one to hand. You cannot use two metals like steel and aluminium together in a drinks can, or you will end up with bimetallic corrosion in a short time. This is where the one metal corrodes the other metal due to the unbalanced electropotentials. This is how a steel boat can be protected by a zinc lump - the zinc corrodes in preference to the steel. In a sealed tin can, you don't want anything to corrode!

maintann (author)_soapy_2011-08-18

In Oz the early ring pull cans were steel body & Al tops. I'm talking back in the late 60s early 70s & yes galvanic corrosion was at times a real problem. Friends carried a 6 pack on a 10 day hike ( SW Tassie) to drink onthe beach at sunset - put them in seawater to cool them & came back to find bubbles rising from all of the cans! Contents undrinkable.

chriskarr (author)Yellow842008-12-30

Ummm... I can't pick up soda cans with magnets...but maybe that's because I live in the U.S.A and, for some reason, they use different materials for the same sodas in different countries?

Yellow84 (author)chriskarr2008-12-30

That might be true, I live in France and here, I can pick up the cans with magnets. I just assumed it was the same all over the world and i never tried picking the cans up with magnets when i lived in Canada or America.

ironsmiter (author)Yellow842008-12-28

soapy is correct, in that alu cans are straight alu. The bi-metal can's you're PROBABLY thinking of are, instead, the old tin coated cans. while there are SOME tin coated alu cans, almost all are tin coated steel. If you cannot crush it readily by hand, it's probably the steel kind. To "dismiss" his electro-corrosion statement, it's not really an issue, because the tin is a thin plate, covering ALL the parent metal. the bi-metallic corrosion only becomes a problem if the conducting fluid comes in contact with both metals at once.

cooltogo (author)Thoth2008-06-11

just because it is expensive and a top brand, it doesn't mean that it's any good for you. Aluminum is a good heat conductor, but unless it is coated with something like ceramic, it is not safe to cook in.

cooltogo (author)damntourists2008-06-11

I very much agree with you. Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer's. Aluminum does 'come off' and get into your food and thus your body. AND, it accumulates, just as Mercury does. I've been thinking about modifying a lot of these designs to avoid using aluminum. They are great designs in themselves, though.

ReCreate (author)cooltogo2009-02-22

really,so if i eat from aluminum i might eventually get Alzheimer's? oh no then i will forget how to find instructables!

thinkahead (author)damntourists2008-02-06

Oh don't worry. Anything that says its made out of aluminum, we scrub it with genuine lye soap and water two or three times, really, really good.

sharlston (author)2009-07-27

nice job oilive oil also works aswell


nixiadel (author)sharlston2011-03-20

Try putting a few stiches in the center of the paper towel etc. with a needle and thread before you add your fuel. It makes the edges stay even with each other when your done. If you want to save and reuse the circles that is. That means less burnaway next time you use it and makes it easyer to handle if you store a pre-soaked pads for ready use.

stevec038 (author)2008-07-25

It is a modern American myth that cooking with aluminum utensils or eating with aluminum flatware can be a contributing factor to Alzheimer's disease. It always pays to do your own research rather than passing on information that came from your best friend's next door neighbor's cousin's uncle. Eat hearty. I am a through hiker almost 60 years young and anything I can do to conserve weight is worth taking a look at--even aluminum cooking utensils.

ironsmiter (author)stevec0382008-12-28

There is some evidence, medically, that links alu ingestion with alzheimer's. There's also research showing NO link..... It's better to hedge your bets, imho. When it comes to light-weight hiking utensiles/cookware, I fully agree about their advantages. On the other hand, I don't cook anything overly acidic in them, while on the trail(no tomato sauce on the noodles, no lemon juice on the fish before cooking, etc) The acid WILL strip off the protective layer of alu-oxide, allowing alu to enter your food. Even if not a health risk, it'll make your food TASTE aweful :-(

stevec038 (author)ironsmiter2008-12-28

See previous comment. Please don't be sucked in by dubious science. The aluminum/Alzheimer's data was anecdotal at its height, and has since been debunked by controled studies. By the way I was a teacher and nutritional chemist, these stories surface regularly as modern american myths. Revel in the lighter weight and eat hearty.

fritsie123 (author)stevec0382009-07-04

Yet you still don't give references for your claims, which, to be honest are just as anecdotal as the original claim. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one to panic easily over bad stuff in food. And I'm not suggesting you are wrong either. But I would like to see the results of the study you mentioned, just to be sure for myself.

nixiadel (author)fritsie1232011-02-06

Quit yo bitchen. If you don't like aluminum don't use it. I don't. (My mother is convinced it is poison so I let her clean it out of my kitchen. Hey she had me at home with no drugs, she deserves a little consideration.) Just state your disagreement and get on with life.

one-eyed-junco (author)stevec0382009-03-23

Hi Steve038 - My best friend's next door neighbor's cousin's uncle told me the same thing about aluminum. Where can I find some good research to refute the claims? (I figured, since you already did the research, I would piggyback on your efforts and save myself the time =) Thanks

stevec038 (author)2010-11-21

Hello Kage. Sorry you were so offended.. Your sources are unique to say the least. They also show only an anecdotal relationship and no statistical correlation that holds up to verification. The cooking utensils used most often in the world are made from aluminum, due to cheapness mainly, and the rate of Altzheimers worldwide is less than in the US. Just for you, I hold degrees in Chemistry, Biology, Engineering and Literature. I have taught materials science, clinical chemistry, genetics and anatomy and physiology, as well as several years work in the Automotive Metals industry. Oh yes, I am also a US Army veteran. The Army went with stainless steel mainly due to the strength to weight ratio. I own GI canteen made of aluminum, SS and plastic (any BPA comments?) . I wish you well in your pursuit of knowledge and hope you can work through your anger. And you are right, it pays not to be an a**hole. Long life to you also.

lilpepsikraker (author)2009-08-06

I tried this today with a V8 can filled halfway with water and paper towels underneath it, on my garage floor. It worked for about 30 seconds, then sputtered(fire spun around the can where the paper was, wheeeee!) and promptly went out. I tried 3 more times and it always does that. Is the problem my 70% alcohol? 91 doesn't seem like it would do much better, but I'll head out to Walgreens sometime tomorrow and pick up a bottle.

J@50n (author)2009-07-08

i took an old tee shirt (my moms) and cut it into little circles too! they work good and you can reuse them!

flashcactus (author)2009-06-29

cotton makeup discs are good, too

Weissensteinburg (author)2008-02-05

I'd like to hear more about this super ultralight backpacking thing..

The idea is that the less weight you have to carry, the faster and farther you can go. Titanium is used to construct personal pocket stoves instead of aluminum for example. Super Duper ultralight backpackers might carry no stove at all. :)

benhudson (author)thinkahead2008-02-19

The joke is that you're not ultralight until you've cut the handle off your spoon.

thinkahead (author)benhudson2008-02-19

Spoon? mean half a straw. :-)

Broom (author)thinkahead2009-06-26

U win! (notice how I saved wt on ltrs?)

Zaphod Beeblebrox (author)2009-06-13

The hobo stove is way better.

phoenixjen (author)2009-04-04

Can you reuse the paper toweling by just resoaking it?

one-eyed-junco (author)2009-03-21

Thanks for the info- this is good stuff.

locofocos (author)2008-05-27

OK. its like 9 30 and half my brain is already asleep. So you layer up some round paper towels, cardboard, etc to a little less than half an inch, soak them in alcohol or something, then put a can to cook in a little smaller than the circles of paper towel around it and light the edge?

The Engine Room (author)2008-05-04

This works great. I used a 6" and a 4" ceramic tile. They are square so I used tissues folded in quarters, no cutting. Alcohol works well but MEK boils water more quickly. I put the fire out with a squirt bottle. If I use a fine spray it lights right back up.

hydrnium.h2 (author)2008-03-24

I tried this, and I must say, the concept is terrific. It's light years ahead of the coke can and other stove concepts i've tried. It's simple, and easy to make and it's better and hotter to light up than a simple can stove or hobo stove. The only problem i can see is actually stopping the fire. Would anyone have a better idea than just trying to whip off the pot and putting on an upside down pot to extinguish the flames? This is rather inefficient and a dangerous way of extinguishing, but the best I could come up with.

thinkahead (author)hydrnium.h22008-03-24

If you plan on removeing the pot while the flame is still going then you can always put a lid on top of the paper towel first. Sometime, however, the lid will come off with the pot so to prevent this you can use something heavier or build a low tech CFV stove, which uses the same idea.

n0ukf (author)2008-03-12

At step 1 you say "refuel-while-burning capable"... How do you refuel while it's burning? Wouldn't the fuel you're refilling it with ignite and burn back to the source?

thinkahead (author)n0ukf2008-03-12

...if for instance you use an eye dropper then, no, not unless you let the fuel run down the outside of the dropper. Once empty the end of the dropper can be held level until all residual fuel is burned off so none will drip down the outside of the dropper when it is removed. As with any lab process much has to do with operator skill and technique. I frequently use a dropper to add 30 drops or so to prolong a boil when experimenting with new configurations. I also keep a glass of water handy in case I get ahead of myself and pull the dropper away too quickly.

sideways (author)2008-03-09

Wow, works great! I used a soft drink can and 8 oz of 56 degree F water. It heated the water to about 183 within 5-6 min before it ran out of fuel. I used <2 tsp of alcohol to saturate my pad. Instead of paper towels I tried a single layer of cotton quilt batting (just because I had some). It is similar in weight to craft felt. It is carried in most fabric stores.

watermelon (author)sideways2008-03-10

...the cotton quilt batting sounds a lot like the fibergalss angel hair insulation I used. Even though it is extremely absorbent the weight of the pot has a tendency to compress it too much and cause the fuel to flow out. THe first remedy was to used less fuel on a flat surface. The second was to use the indented bottom of a can turned upside down as a fuel reservior and a can lid inserted for support and to insulated the fuel from the can after it heated up. Otherwise the heat of the boiling water will caause the fuel to start making jets. I'm working on a third method to make the high absorbency of the fiberglass easier to use.

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