I think there is a huge difference between long term “bug-in” survival preparations, and short term “bug-out” survival preparations. Depending on your situation, bug-out might be your only option. As I explained in my bugout pack article, most of what you carry should be food. And though cooking may seem like a luxury for a survival situation, you’ll find that most inexpensive and calorie dense foods need to be cooked. You don’t want to carry a lot of water, when you can pick up water and cook dry food on the road. That means you should also carry a stove, and that stove needs to be light, efficient with fuel, and it should be able to cook your food in a reasonable amount of time. In my travels for this column I have covered a number of great cooking options, but this week I’d like to share my newest discovery that all of those qualities considered, I think might be the best for urban bug-out.
If you are in the woods and you can pick up sticks to burn, there is no comparison to a small rocket stove, which I have covered in other articles. In an urban setting, finding wood, and especially small pieces of burnable wood, will be problematic without tools. You could use one of those micro propane stoves, and it isn’t a terrible option, but to me they are too complicated, and the weight and bulk of the propane cylinder itself I think it’s worth the trouble. Propane has it’s place in a survival setting, but I don’t think it is be the for urban bugout.
The stove you see here in the video is usually called an alcohol stove, or a spirit stove, but it burns neither. As you’ll see in the video, the flame that you cook on is a very pretty blue, and it is burning methyl alcohol gas, or steam really. The fuel is liquid alcohol, available at Walmart, and you do at first light the liquid alcohol, but within a minute or three the liquid in the container starts to boil. That in turn produces alcohol steam, and that steam catches and burns as a steady cooking flame. There are no licking and dancing ends of an irregular flame. It doesn’t carbon up the bottom of your pot. It looks just like a propane flame, or perhaps even more blue.
That is why I didn’t call this week’s column “Cooking With Alcohol Stoves,” because like who cares. Everyone knows you can throw a match into a glass of Vodka and it’ll light. Until recently I didn’t know that it was actually the steam of the alcohol burning, and that the actual function of the stove is nothing like Sterno or just a burning bowl of Vodka. For this first visit I stuck to the suggested fuels, but next time we’ll try actual Vodka as well. 🙂
The fuels for these stoves are actually very specific. Even though any combustible fuel will work, I was only able to get the best results out of what the directions say, which is the yellow bottle “Heet” (drygas) fuel additive, and denatured alcohol, which we used back in the diesel pressure stove article for the spirit cups that get those stoves going. I show you in the video where you’ll find these at Walmart, and they are both over $16 per gallon. This is not a long term fuel storage survival option, but I think it is about the best for that first couple of hunker down weeks after the ATMs go dark, and as I said, for if you have to bug out.
It only takes about an ounce of fuel to cook a pretty good sized pot of beans, rice, or freeze dried meals. Of the two stoves I tested, the smaller aluminum seemed to be the most fuel efficient, but it doesn’t hold much fuel. If you want to cook for longer, because you are cooking for a large group, the larger sized stainless one from China holds a good deal of fuel. If you have a lot of people, with a log of backs for packs, you may want to consider a diesel stove as well.
The two stoves I purchased for this article are by no means inclusive. I had no idea that these stoves were anything more than a cup to pour fuel into to burn, and I wasn’t impressed. Then, because I needed something to write about this week, I figured I’d give them a shot. What a pleasant surprise. So hopefully I’ll return if we have time. This week I bought a couple of the others on Ebay, just to try them, but my guess is that they are all mostly the the same, except in perhaps how long they take to prime.
The “prime” is when you light the liquid fuel and wait for it to boil. Then the sides catch and you can properly cook. On the larger burner with a larger surface area of fuel, it only took about 30 seconds to prime. On the super light aluminum homebrew Ebay jockey beer can burner, it takes about 3 minutes. That stove comes with the tip that if you put some fuel outside the stove and light that, it’ll prime faster. There are now several Ebay jockeys selling versions of these, and there plenty of Youtube videos on all kinds of elaborate designs for DIY, using soda cans, beer cans, and even cat food cans. The great the surface area of the fuel, the quicker will be the prime.
My calculations for BTUs on these stoves are only for relative values, so you can compare them to competing stoves using the same method. One British Thermal Unit, or BTU, is the energy it takes to raise 16 ounces of water one degree. There is no time constant, so when you see an 8,000 BTU burner, that means BTUs per hour.
The easiest way to measure BTUs, is of course to heat up exactly two cups of water. In my experiment, room temperature was 75 degrees. To raise the water to boiling takes 137 degrees, which would be 137 BTUs. On the large burner this took about 3 minutes, so for an hour, you’d multiply that times 20. That comes to just over 2,700 BTUs, which doesn’t sound like much, but compare that to your home stove that is advertised at much more BTUs than that. The calculations for those values are done under perfect conditions, and they don’t factor for heat loss to the air, or the heat to heat the metal of the pot. A relative almost 3,000 BTUs per hour result in the pot contents is a rip roaring burn.
One warning. Don’t use petroleum fuels or even E85 in these burners. The heat is too much for them and the burn gets out of control really quick. They also soot up your pot and clog your jets. At the end of the video I showed you my E85 test. At two bucks a gallon, had that test worked it would have been a huge score, and a strong argument to use these burners long term.
Ethanol has roughly 2/3rds the BTUs per gallon compared to gasoline, and even less compared to diesel. It burns much cooler. The alternative fuel for use in “Flex Fuel” vehicles, called E85, is supposed to be 85% Ethanol, but it can be as little as 60% and they can still call it E85. All versions of E85 are different because of what they claim are climate considerations, but I think it probably just depends on how much ethanol they could get the government to subsidize that week. Regardless, the fuel from Miami I tried was really gasoline-ey smelling, and torched and scorched my burner but good.
Surprisingly you won’t find one of these alcohol burners at Walmart. I have linked above to a few sources on Ebay and Amazon, and don’t discount making one yourself, though I didn’t have time this week. A quart can of alcohol and one of these burners should be in everyone’s bugout bag I think. I’ll try to get back here with them soon after testing them with my open flame baking ovens. For bugout, I think you are better to plan to pancakes, not bread, so I don’t know if it is relevant enough. Nobody looks forward to bugging out, and I don’t suggest that anyone plan to bugout if there is a chance to sit tight for a couple months. But you just never know. As we get closer to what is clearly a reckoning coming at us, I feel bad that a lot of you use this column as “infotainment.” Maybe our benevolent Creator will cut us a break and give us a slow and easy let down. But looking back through history, I certainly wouldn’t count on it.