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Alcohol and Canister Stove Weight Comparisons


Aaron Zagrodnick

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When it comes to backpacking stoves a key consideration is of course weight, and more importantly the weight of a system including fuel for the duration of your trip. Not only is initial weight important, but also the average weight you’ll carry each day. For 3 season, lightweight backpacking use alcohol stoves and upright canister stoves are the most used options for weight conscious backpackers, and while both are very different in application, many similarities can be found to exist in the weight department.

Alcohol Stoves vs. Canister Stoves Weight, and Which is Lighter

Alcohol stoves, whether homemade or one of the many commercially available lightweight solutions or stove systems, have a developed reputation as being ultralight, and especially for solo shorter trips, while upright canister stoves are known to be a speedier and efficient option for 3 season backpacking. (Heavier inverted canister stoves are more appropriate for winter or year-round 4 season use) As someone who maintains a presence of both options in my gear collection, when saving pack weight is the number one priority the actual choice of alcohol vs. canister stoves weight wise, and what is actually the lightest stove system, can become a bit complicated indeed.

Alcohol stoves are very light on their own, and you don’t have to carry around a relatively heavy canister: instead you pack a lightweight bottle with the fuel you need for the trip, exactly measured. However, isobutane and propane, the main components of most 3-season ready fuels like MSR’s IsoPro offering pack more punch in the BTU department, making them more efficient, and upright canister stoves can be as light as under 2 ounces like the Snow Peak LiteMax – I like a piezo igniter, so I go with a 2.4 ounce Soto WindMaster.

Backpacking Canister Stove Weight and Fuel Usage

Here we’ll take a look at a collection of my trip scenarios detailing the initial weight of each system, as well as the weight of alcohol and canister stove setups averaged at the start of each hiking day (after morning use) with fuel included in all scenarios. These are all done using my own realistic water and cooking needs / preferences, and the stats and fuel usage are taken from our reviews of the Traildesigns Ti-Tri (alcohol stove) and Soto WindMaster (canister stove) reviews. For detailed fuel usage in a variety of scenarios be sure to check out the aforementioned links to each review. Both stoves use a little less fuel in our 68 degree, 0 wind tests, and much more in our windy tests, but here we’ll just take a middle ground and go with the cold, 32 degree no wind usage. Thus calculations are made using .6 ounces of alcohol fuel to boil 2 cups of water for the alcohol stove, and 9 grams for a 2 cup boil for the canister stove. No extended cooking or simmering is included.

Actual fuel usage will vary depending on stove, water temp, ambient temp, barometric pressure, and wind. Canister weights were calculated using MSR IsoPro canisters. For water usage, I’m using my actual usage for solo and 2 person trips, and I usually like a hot drink both morning and night, and a hot dinner with a cold lunch and breakfast. Additionally, a cold front rolling in one night of my longer trips is pretty par for the course, so I’ve included the real world, luxury scenario of heating up a hot Nalgene (a 4 cup boil per person, aka a shoulder season heater) for one night of the longer 7 and 10 day trips but not the shorter hike. Thus, some hikers will use their stove less, and some more: the numbers below are accurate to my backpacking style and everyone's charts and graphs would end up a little different.
 

Here we look at 3 different solo trips, a 3 day, 7 day, and 10 day excursion:

Solo Backpacking Trip Alcohol and Canister Stove  Weight Comparions


And here’s the averaged weight of each system at the start of each hiking day (after morning use) - weight in ounces:

Canister Stove and Alcohol Stoves Average Daily Weight


Now on to using the stove for two people at the same trip lengths:

Using an Alcohol and Canister Stove for 2 People - Backpacking Weight Chart


And the averaged weight at the start of each hiking day, again for a group of 2 (weight in ounces):

Day by Day Average Weight for Two People - Alcohol vs. Canister Backpacking Stoves


Which is best? Both. The conclusion here is that it’s a pretty close race, and it all depends on how much water you are boiling / how much cooking you like to do and group size. On shorter and solo trips alcohol stoves are initially lightest and are lighter each day, while as the trip and group size increase canister stoves are often initially lighter when your pack is heaviest, with alcohol stoves catching up in the middle of the trip and lighter as the trip finishes out; you just can’t get rid of that heavy fuel canister. Perhaps the most important number however, is the average daily starting hiking day weight – in these scenarios the average daily starting weight is very close and within just a couple ounces.

Frankly, I would rule weight out of the equation entirely except for warmer short solo trips where alcohol stoves are the clear winner weight wise, and just go with a system that provides you with the right benefits in regard to convenience of use, speed, and fuel resupply considerations if applicable. The main caveat here is that for whatever fuel choice, you will have to dial in the fuel to match what you’ll need. For alcohol stoves this is easier, but once you’ve used a canister stove for a while you will inevitably collect partial canisters, and these can then be weighed using a digital scale to determine how many grams of fuel are left. Of course, you have to take a few trips with full canisters before this happens, while you can obtain this goal right off the bat with alcohol fuel. Either way, I usually take a canister a bit heavier than I need, or pour a little more alcohol than calculated; this way I don’t have to worry if it’s windy or if I decide to have a hot lunch one day.

Alcohol Stove Fuel Weight by Backpacking Trip Length

Either way, it’s best to test with your own setup, in cold, warm, still, and windy conditions so you get an idea of the exact fuel usage of your stove. At that point and with a digital scale we can now figure out exactly how much alcohol or canister fuel we’ll need - alcohol is easy, for a canister just determine how many grams of fuel you need for the trip, add that number to the empty canister weight, and then select a canister that is at least that weight plus whatever buffer you are comfortable with. (MSR kindly lists gross and net weights in both ounces and grams on the side of their canisters; subtract net from gross for empty weight) But in the end, it might just come down to which stove you like the best. For other backpacking stove considerations and more comprehensive information on stoves in general that includes other stove and fuel types with a focus beyond just the weight factor, check out this post.

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  • Premium Member

Thanks for great info.  I think there should be another category.  I have found the Windburner and Jetboil stoves to use far less fuel than the open canister stoves.  Added weight for the integrated system, but far less fuel usage. With a group who just boils water, we seem to use about half the fuel so the added weight seems to be negated by less fuel to carry.   I would be interested in your thoughts about those. 

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K. Urs Grutter

Posted

Proof for what I have been feeling the pas few years...

If you substitute commercial stuff with DIY, there is even a larger advantage: The stove, windshield and 1.0. cookpot in the picture weigh in at 134grs (4.8oz)!

Happy trails

Urs

DSC06521small.JPG

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Posted

That's a pretty interesting windscreen, Urs! (Alcohol free I notice) :D

Thanks AJ, unfortunately I don't have any personal data to pull from on integrated systems (would be curious what you're getting if you've tested this as well) and have always leaned towards the upright canisters just with the upfront initial weight savings in mind.

It's also difficult to compare exactly in regards to the capacity department since we can't use the same pot, and especially as you can't fill any of these pots realistically all the way to the top. For me, on 2 person trips my go-to is the Evernew 1.3 liter pot....which comfortably holds about a liter, a bit in between popular integrated systems that have listed capacities of 1 or 1.8 liters. Checking out weights of those systems however, some hold more, some less, and some weigh more and some weigh less, so just went with a hypothetical integrated system that weighs 14 ounces below, on the light side for 2.

For fuel usage, looks like MSR lists just over 7 grams of fuel to boil 2 cups on their WindBurner Stoves, but assuming the integrated system is substantially more efficient went with 5 grams of fuel / 2 cup boil vs. 9 grams for the upright canister like we used above. (my usage on the Soto WindMaster can be as low as 6 grams, more depending on conditions) This is just for the exact same, 2 person trip scenarios as above:

Backpacking Trip Stove Weight Comparison of Integrated and Upright Canister Stove Systems

And the weight at the start of each hiking day averaged for the trip for 2 people, in ounces:

Average Weight of Integrated Canister System (Jetboil, MSR WindBurner) and Upright Canister Stove


The caveat again of course is that everyone will have different usage depending on preferences, group size, the exact system used, how efficient it is, etc. On an integrated system you very well might have to upgrade to something larger and a bit heavier like the WindBurner Duo or Jetboil Sumo to get adequate capacity as well, and any of the integrated systems will have an advantage in speed, and a much larger advantage in the wind - on a standard upright it is definitely critical to find a wind block / block the wind as much as you can for efficiency, and the integrated system would be less variable. A lot of other factors to consider other than just weight, but in that regard similar to an upright canister stove being more efficient than alcohol, but having to carry the heavier fuel canister, an integrated system is similar in being more efficient than a standard upright canister, but again with more weight to carry around that still has an impact over the course of the trip and even with the increased fuel efficiency.

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  • Premium Member

Aaron, I have not done the math exactly as you have.  i looked up a trip with 4 people, we used 27 cups of water from very cold streams directly from snow melt.  I see no starting point on water temp in your calculations.  We used less than one small canister almost empty, call it 90 grams. That's close to your numbers above.   We do 4 person group on a Windburner, the small one.  So what if you have to make 4 boils for dinner.  We don't try to do 50 miles a day. We get to camp and relax for a few hours and enjoy the scenery and the meals.  Subjectively, we see constant, low usage of fuel with the integrated stove, even above treeline with the wind. With a canister, we see highly variable fuel usage due to wind, even with dragging a wind screen around.  Consequently, we can carry much less extra fuel because we have our fuel usage nailed and can count on it with the integrated.  And, when you divide the weight gain over 4 people combined with easy, no hassle, minimal set up in all conditions, it becomes a no brainer for us.  Some things we squeeze hard on weight, some things just make the trip enjoyable.  This would be one of those.  As i say, if there was a perfect car out there, then there would only be one car on the road.  

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Aaron Zagrodnick

Posted

The fuel usage is all from our 32 degree, no wind tests on our TrailDesigns Ti-Tri and Soto WindMaster reviews so the water was just above freezing with the stove on an efficient setting in the canister’s case. In my experience, water temperature makes a difference, but not as much as wind does in regards to alcohol and upright canister usage. Sounds like a great system with the WindBurner that’s really dialed in for you guys, that’s what it’s all about! :) 

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K. Urs Grutter

Posted

22 hours ago, Aaron said:

That's a pretty interesting windscreen, Urs! (Alcohol free I notice) :D

Pun intended! I even have it on some of my stoves...

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