Fuel Consumption and Pack Weight for Alcohol – Esbit – Canister – White Gas Backpacking Stoves
Posted: August 1st, 2013 by: h2
There’s a lot of myths about fuel/stove weight for trip lengths of various days. This page compares consumption weights between several types of setups, over different time frames, using an easy to read table of weights per day/night of the trip, broken into stove / fuel types. As you will see in the table below, basically, an efficient alcohol/esbit stove system will always weigh less at all points of the trip, no matter how many days. This is because the container for canister stove gas weighs about the same as the gas, for 100gm containers, and about 2/3 of the net gas weight for 220 gm canisters.
This article first compared just gas canister to alcohol, but has been expanded to include Esbit and White Gas stove systems.
Of course, all this ignores the sheer silence, clean burning, and beauty of an alcohol stove, plus of course the simplicity, and super light weight of any decent alcohol stove setup, which is the real reason I like these things.
Basic Fuel Consumption/Pack Weights
See the full tables for fuel consumption/pack weight per day.
Short version, assuming 2 cups boiled two times a day, you will never carry more weight with an efficient alcohol/esbit stove, and you will only carry more weight with a less efficient one on the first day of a 12 day trip. You will basically never make up for the heavier canister container weight, and the heavier stove weight, and you will always never really know how much fuel you truly have left with the canister, whereas with the alcohol, you can very precisely measure out the fuel per boil, knowing exactly what you need to bring and what you can use per day.
Basic testing / efficiency parameters
Alcohol stove comparisons in this chart show two types, one, a very easy to make, fill, and light Ion type stove, and two, a less efficient stove, but faster boiling, like the Penny stove, that requires about 2/3 fluid ounce to boil 2 cups of water. Since a lot of people still use these less efficient alcohol stoves, I thought it would be fair to include that type in the weight comparisons.
I’m using using 12 grams SLX denatured alcohol (15ml, 1/2 fl oz) per two cup boils. Using ethanol improves the efficiency of most alcohol stoves by about 10% over SLX, but I’m trying to be as fair to canisters as I can be. I also include the numbers for a less efficient alcohol stove, that requires 20ml/16gm to boil 2 cups, just to give the canister every chance to catch up. For greater than 4 nights, use 25 grams for fuel bottle for alcohol.
Ion stove alcohol setup, simple, no priming, wind screen, 15 gm fuel bottle, 60 grams. This is the real weight of the setup. (Ion stove building instructions)
Note that subsequent testing shows that for 4 cup boils using a wide pot, like an Evernew 1.3 liter, the penny stoves get excellent fuel economy, 30ml/24gm for a 4 cup boil, at about 8 minutes, ie, just a few minutes more than a canister/white gas stove, so simply take double the Ion stove days per day if you boil 8 cups a day. This requires a good wind/heat screen.
Alcohol fuel bottle weight is 15 gm for 4 days or less, 25 gm for 5 days or more. Some people like using thin 12 oz water bottles for alcohol fuel, those weigh only 11gm for up to 12 days, for example, but overall such things do not matter at all.
Note that because you can do different systems for screens and fuel bottles, I’m just picking a nice solid setup weight for each system, but you can go heavier or lighter if you want.
[update: 2013-08-25] – it turns out the specific gravity at 70F of alcohol may not be what I thought, I weighed rather than measured by volume the fuel my Ion setup uses, and for a narrow pot, it’s 11 grams to boil 2 cups, for a wide, a little over 10 grams. However, because this is about the best you can do with SLX type fuel, I’m sticking with 12 grams in the following tables, because that’s a number that most setups should be able to reach without too much work. If ethanol fuel is used, this number should be about 10% less, which means you get very close to the per boil fuel consumption by weight of gas. Why? Because you can make alcohol stoves very efficient, ie, more of the energy contained goes to boiling the water, less to the air, uncombusted.
Cone type setup:
- Caldera Cone GVP with Trail Designs 12-10 stove in a Cuben sack = 92 grams. Trail Desgins 5.5 ounce fuel bottle = 19 grams. Caldera Cone complete alcohol set up = 111 grams. Sunnyside Denatured Alcohol = 8 minutes 44 seconds (11 grams used) [note, this is ethanol, expect about 10% worse fuel economy using SLX)
Common fuels are: SLX ($11-15 gallon, $5 quart), Kleanstrip Green ($7.50 quart).
Fuel cost per 2 cups: $0.04-0.12
Esbit/Hexamine Solild Fuel
Some people like solid fuel because it’s basically foolproof, you can’t spill it, it’s easy to light, and probably will create the lightest cooking system possible, since you need no fuel container besides a plastic bag to store the tablets in.
Please be aware that the fumes of Hexamine/Esbit are very toxic. Don’t use an esbit stove inside your tent, that is.
combustion can create formaldehyde, ammonia, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen cyanide and ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal disturbances, and kidney damage.  When burned, the chemical oxidation of the fuel yields noxious fumes, requiring foods being cooked to be contained in a receptacle such as a pot or pan, and burned tablets will leave a sticky dark residue on the bottom of pots. If they are stored or used under damp conditions then they can break up while burning and shed burning fragments.
I have not used solid fuels like these, so I will rely on the input of people who do use them for the following setups:
- Drew Jay 1 “The system weight is 42 grams (cone, esbit burner, foil ground shield, tyvek cup and ziplock.) There is no weight penalty for longer trips. It will boil two cups of cold tap water plus a dissolved ice cube using 9 grams of esbit.” We’ll use this version because it supports a standard pot, has a heavy duty screen, and is a fair representation of a good esbit system.
- Drew Jay 2 – SUL setup “System weight is 38 grams (windscreen, esbit burner, foil ground shield, rubber band, ziplock.) It will also boil 2 cups cold tap water plus a dissolved ice cube using 9 grams of esbit.”
- Dan Yeruski – Zelph stoves – SUL setup All the technical details you would want to see on creating an ultralight Esbit setup. Lots of good info, Dan is well regarded in the stove community. He’s creating a foster pot/stove/screen setup here, so it doesn’t quite fit into the requirements to use a standard pot, but that’s fine.
- Jon Fong – Flatcat Gear Discussion of efficiency of esbit setups
- Nick Gates 1 “Caldera Cone GVP with Esbit Graham Cracker stove in a Cuben sack = 86 grams. 8 minutes 01 seconds (9 grams of Esbit consumed)”. Since cones tend to be a touch heavier, you can just add in that weight to the numbers below.
The Drew Jay systems can also be used to simmer with a very simple and very light change or addition to the burner.
People use Esbit ($5.99 US for 12) or Coghlan’s (6.5 grams, box of 24, $5.99). Esbit seems to be the favored brand.
Fuel cost per 2 cup boil: $0.32 US.
Assuming a normal weight stove, MSR Pocket Rocket: 85 grams. For lighter setups, the Firemaple Hornet Mini-Stove 45 grams, so you’d subtract 40gm from each canister day. For a remote canister, using the Firemaple remote canister F-118: 146 grams.
100 gram snowpeak canister: 7 oz/196 grams james marco on canister weights “I figure about 100% for canister weights vs gas weights for the smaller canisters. Larger canisters are more efficient but still weigh about 2/3 of the fuel weight. ” OR: “100-110g canisters usually are 90-100 g when empty, and 220-230g are about 130-134g (one particular canister was 150g).” More on canister weights. A 450gm canister container weighs between 255 and 265 gms, with some far heavier.
So we get as starting weight for example, 85 gm + 100 gm + 100 gm = 285 for a 100 gm canister with msr pocket rocket. 245gm with fm mini. Assuming you use a screen for efficiency, wind protection, round it to 300 grams start weight for canister setup, 260 with 45 gm burner, and 210 with partially filled cannister, for a 3 day trip say.
For greater than 6 nights, I figure either 2×200 gm for 100gm fuel canisters, or 350gm for a 220gm canister.
For canister stoves, I’m assuming 8 gm per boil in the real world, though with optimization it can probably be dropped to 6gm, and many people report 10 gm, so 8 gm seems a good compromise. Note that using a remote canister is probably going to let you use extremely efficient heat/wind screens, and may get you closer to 6 gm boils, though I have not tested this, I will though.
Canisters costs vary, but gigapower for example costs $4.50 for 110 size; 5.50 for 250 size; and 10 for 500 size. However, it’s worth noting that you will be bringing entire canisters with you always, obviously, so the cost is actually going to be a fixed amount per trip. If you bring a partial canister to use it up, that adds even more weight to the basic setup weight since there is less gas proportionally. This makes the 2 cup boil cost the most irrelevant of all the fuel types, though if you watch your consumption carefully, and weigh the canisters, and do not cook too long to use up the amounts, you should get close to the actual fuel costs over long trips or multiple trips, though with multiple short trips, of course your container/fuel ratio gets worse every day you are out.
Fuel cost per 2 cup boil: $0.18-0.34
White Gas / Whisperlight
[added: 2013-08-03] Also, just for comparison, I retested my old MSR whisperlight stove, which uses naptha/white gas (aka Coleman fuel), with a specific gravity of about 0.7, so 1 fluid ounce weighs about 0.7 oz. Whisperlight stove: 277gm (8.9oz); pump body: 52 gm/1.8oz; wind screen (msr original, note you can drop about 20gm of this weight by making your own screen) 44gm; fuel bottles (net capacity): 7oz, aluminum 1.5oz/47gm; 20oz steel 127gm/4.5 oz; 32 oz aluminum 113gm/4oz. 277 + 52 + 44 + 47 + 24gm fuel per day + extra for bigger containers. 24gm per day is about 34ml, or 1.15 fluid ounces per day, so we’ll set the weights based on the fuel container required. These are the fuel bottles I have, I don’t own the new small or large MSR steel ones. Note that with white gas, as with alcohol, you can bring exactly what you need, plus a bit extra just in case, unlike canisters. Whisperlight boils FAST, 3.25 minute give or take 70F water 2 cup boil. This is probably a good bet for snow melting and high volume boiling.
However, since generally if you carry a stove like Whisperlight, you are probably going to be doing snow melting or cooking larger amounts, I will use also the 4 cup fuel required, which is only 18 grams, possibly 16 grams optimized, for a 36 gm per day, just a touch over what a canister stove consumes per day, that number will be listed under the main number for 4WW.
For more information, read Appendix 1, Tips on optimizing your Whisperlight/white gas setup.
Coleman fuel, or white gas, costs around $13 for a quart, or $20 for a gallon, give or take depending on your area.
Fuel cost per 2 cup boil: $0.08-0.21
Simmering a lot? – test your setup
Simmering performance varies widely, once I gather the data I will add a simmering table as well for various setups. If you are planning on cooking/simmering/baking, it’s worth checking out your system to find its actual simmer fuel consumption.
Some canister stoves simmer well, others do not. A simmer ring on an alcohol stove built to support that feature will give very good simmering results, in general I think 10ml/8 grams can give between 15 and 30 minutes of simmering on a good setup, but precise numbers will help show that better. There’s a few different methods with alcohol stoves, the Jim Wood Fancy Feast type stove for example requires a second stove, with only one row of holes, the penny requires a top to the stove, as does the Ion. Usually on alcohol stoves, you get simmering by somehow throttling the amount of air/space the fuel has to burn in.
Once the flames get very low and weak, other factors start to impact efficiency greatly, air movement, wind screen construction, etc, so it will be important to be very specific about the simmering setups.
Table terms and column meanings
For each item, these are the stove / fuel types. All boils are 2 cups at 70F. Per day assumes two two cup boils per day, ie, breakfast and dinner. Because the energy required to raise water 10F is linear, it makes no difference what fuel is being discussed, if the water is 10F colder than 70F, the percent of fuel required extra will be a constant for all the fuels. ie, if 12 gm alcohol raise water 142F, then .8gm fuel raises the water 10F. For gas, it’s about .6 gm per 10F water temp (read more on alcohol fuel / water consumption science).
- IS (ISL for larger fuel bottle) – Ion stove, SLX fuel, 12 gm (15ml, 1/2 fl oz) fuel. Efficient boil, about 11 minutes. Works well on all pots, including narrow. Requires a custom wind/heat screen. Total of screen, stove, stand, fuel bottle: 60 gm (70gm for > 4 days)
- PS (PSL for larger fuel bottle) – Penny stove, SLX fuel, 16gm (20ml, 2/3 fl oz) fuel. 32gm / day. Faster but less efficient, heat / wind screen not as critical but still important. Total of screen, stove, stand, fuel bottle: 70 gm (80gm for > 4 days). Note, many stoves out there have about the 20ml boil efficiency, so this is a good number to use. If your stove gets worse than this in terms of fuel consumption per 2 cups, I suggest you throw it out and get a better one, or learn to make one that works.
- EE – Esbit Efficient setup, uses 9gm per 2 cup boil. See above, system weight 42 grams, 18 gm fuel consumption per day.
- ES – Esbit standard, uses 14 gm, 1 tab, per 2 cup boil, which is probably what a lot of people end up using. System weight 42 grams.
- 10C – 1×100 gm canister with MSR pocket rocket stove (85 gm). Add or subtract the difference in weight for: Firemaple Hornet Mini (45gm), Firemaple remote F-118 (146gm). With a 15 gm wind screen: 300 gm
- 20C – 2×100 gm canister with MSR pocket rocket stove (85 gm). Add or subtract the difference in weight for: Firemaple Hornet Mini (45gm), Firemaple remove F-118 (146gm). With 15 gm wind screen and two canisters: 500 gm
- 22C – 1×220 gm canister with MSR pocket rocket stove (85 gm). Add or subtract the difference in weight for: Firemaple Hornet Mini (45gm), Firemaple remove F-118 (146gm). With wind screen: 450gm
- 45C – 1×450 gm canister with MSR pocket rocket stove (85 gm). Add or subtract the difference in weight for: Firemaple Hornet Mini (45gm), Firemaple remove F-118 (146gm). With wind screen: 810gm
- WW – 6 nights fuel (WW20 is for 20oz fuel container, 17 nights, WW32 for 32oz, or 27 nights) MSR whisperlight, white gas/coleman fuel, with 7oz net capacity fuel container. 420gm basic weight for setup. WW will show what you’d get for 2 cup boils.
- 4WW – 6 nights fuel (4WW20 is for 20oz fuel container, 17 nights, 4WW32 for 32oz, or 27 nights) MSR whisperlight, white gas/coleman fuel, with 7oz net capacity fuel container. 420gm basic weight for setup. Note that the efficiency goes way up when you do a 4 cup boil, to about 18gm for 4 cups, so 4WW shows what you’d get if you were doing 4 cup boils, ie, if you divide the days by two.
The data table for stove efficiency/consumption
The top row is the day count, assuming you do most of your cooking in the evening and morning, that means after each night has passed, you are then carrying one day’s worth less fuel. The first item on the left column is how many nights the trip is, the second, the type of stove/fuel, with the above categories for each day/durating count. Note that on for example a 6 night trip, the 7th night you are not cooking since you are done.
High Volume Boils
Because I’m looking at the whisperlight as well, it’s worth taking a look at some high volume boiling scenarios.
I’ll stick to the day of trip/nights, but just divide by 2 or whatever to get the larger volume boil data. In other words, if you are boiling 8 cups a day, and want to find the amount for a 7 day trip, use the 14 day number.
MSR whisperlight weight will be the large 32 oz fuel bottle, for a start weight of 488 gm plus fuel at 24 gm / day, gas stoves will use the 450gm canister, which weighs around 710gm give or take, for a start weight of 810gm, 890 with a remote canister, consumption 16gm /day. Alcohol will use a fast burning stove like PS for higher volume boils, but it will still, as above, be in general the most efficient weight-wise for fuel consumption, start weight 70/80gm, 24/32 gm / day consumption (ion/penny stove).
Because the real weight advantage of larger cartridges or white gas systems only kick in at 14 nights I’ll list the results starting at day 1, but then skipping to day 14, then skipping a day so we can get to a fairly high volume consumption level. For the 15th night, we add 25gm to alcohol for a bigger or extra fuel bottle.
If you take an 8 cup per day trip of 10 days, a whisperlite and a top mounted MSR pocket rocket setup will weigh almost the same exact weight, except on the first two days. However, you can easily bring a bit more white gas fuel in a container, but you cannot easily bring more canister fuel without bringing entire extra canisters, most of which will be dead weight the entire trip. And if you are using a remote canister stove, which weighs about 80 to 120 grams more than a MSR pocket rocket, basically you are carrying the same beginning and ending weight with a white gas or whisperlite stove. So keep that great whisperlight/xgk stove, they are more versatile, more powerful, and easier to fuel, than canister stoves.
As you can see, you will never at any point in a 7 day trip be carrying less weight using a 100 gm canister. And the only time on a trip longer than 11 days, and with a less efficient 20ml / 16 gm per 2 cup boil alcohol stove, will you ever be carrying more weight, and then only for the first day(s) of the trip. With an ion type alcohol stove, or 4 cup boils on a penny type stove (30ml/24gm to boil 4 cups), you will never carry more weight, period. The end weights are always massively lower for an alcohol stove, and since this is the actual weight you carry during your trip, that’s what counts. For much larger volume boils, you probably would not use an IS (ion stove), due to the time to boil. A PS gives a solid 8 minute boil for 4 cups at the same efficiency as the Ion on a narrow pot, so it also will never be heavier than a canister setup for two people.
If I have made an error, or if you want another category added, let me know and I’ll work it up.
Using a 220 gm canister slightly improves the efficiency on very long trips, as you can see. Using 100 gm canisters will NEVER be lighter, at any stage, for any reason. For very long trips, or high volume boiling, a 450 gm canister doesn’t give you a huge weight advantage over 2×220 canisters unless they have lightened them up recently.
You will never gain any weight advantage ever on any day with a canister stove vs an efficient alcohol stove when boiling 8 cups a day or less, so that leaves only convenience, but I don’t really see any edge there either to be honest, I d on my priming penny stove (however, with a priming pan, the penny stove is not hard to prime), but I don’t with the ion, pour, light, put pot on, same setup/time as a canister roughly.
Another factor is percent the canister is on, high flame, medium, low, etc, I assume high/fast boil yields much worse efficiency. This table shows exactly how no matter what you do, even bringing half empty cartridges for a 3 night trip, you will never be lighter using canister stoves, until you get to 12 day trips, and then you are only lighter for a day or two.
Appendix 1: Optimizing Whisperlight/White Gas Performance
From Peter Vacco BPL:
a long time ago.. in a world far away.. i had a job where it was possible to make endless cups of coffee (w/Kahloahh), and get paid while doing it. so, being a good bpl’r, to that end i optimized my stove.
By installing the K jet in my whisperlite inter and removing one set of burner rings, i was able to consistently get 17 minutes out of a fluid oz of fuel. Output is diminished to some extent.
From Bob Gross BPL:
On one long trip, I got to the point where I was priming with about one drop of white gas fuel, and then it would run poorly through another drop of fuel until the burner began to go correctly. However, that took me most of a week to perfect the technique, and it would be completely different for any stove. It is mostly a matter of characterizing the fuel delay time.
Incidentally, you may assume that I did this to conserve fuel. No. I did it to control the amount of flare during priming. I was doing all of the snow melting and water boiling in the vestibule of a three-man tent, and I didn’t want to burn the sucker down. For that matter, it was an expensive tent, so I didn’t even want to toast the nylon anywhere. I had one huge piece of aluminum foil about two by two feet, and I put it against the vestibule wall where the flare would happen if it did. By cutting the priming fuel down to a drop, I got minimum flare, so minimum fuel wasted. The priming fuel that goes into heating the fuel tube is useful. The priming fuel that goes up in a flash of flame is wasted.
If you are computing system weight for WG stoves, use the smallest aluminum bottle you can. That’s what I do – I take my 1/2 liter Sigg bottle and then plastic bottles for the rest, My 1/2 liter Sigg Bottle is 3 oz lighter than my liter sigg bottle, and the plastic bottles I use are 1.3 oz for 500ML, so I’m saving 1.7 oz that way.