Show Notes: Episode 073
Today on The First 40 Miles, whether you love cats or not, by the time we’re done today, you’ll be adding cat food to your grocery shopping list. And you might as well add some denatured alcohol to the list, too. For today’s top 5 list we’ll be sharing the benefits of DIY Alcohol Stoves—and a couple of the important risk factors as well. Then on the SUMMIT Gear Review, baking while backpacking turns out to be a lot easier than you might think. And today’s Backpack Hack of the Week is no surprise—it’s the title of today’s episode.
- Number one backpacking hack of all time is probably the DIY Alcohol Stove
- It’s number one because it’s a cheap, fun, effective hack that uses an empty aluminum cat food can and a hole punch to create a stove that works
- It boils 2 cups of room temperature water in about 5-7 minutes
- Making this stove is a rite of passage for all backpackers
- Jim Wood, the Godfather of The Modern American Cat Food Can Alcohol Stove, AKA the SuperCat.
- He said, “one can’t just… punch a few holes in any old can and expect to turn it into a working pressurized stove.” Turns out that the properties (volume, aluminum body, thin walls, etc.) of most 3oz pet food cans are uniquely suited for use as alcohol stoves.
Top 5 Benefits of Using an Alcohol Stove
- If you can afford a can of cat food and a hole punch, you can have yourself a stove that boils water in under seven minutes
- Even if you decide that this type of stove isn’t for you, you’re only out $2
Lightweight, Nay, Ultralightweight
- 6 grams…just let that sink in!! 0.2 ounces!!
- A US Quarter or 12 blueberries or 384 grains of rice
- That’s insanely light!
- This is normally great, but it does pose a problem if you’re using your SuperCat Alcohol stove in high winds. You don’t want your stove to blow away with fuel in it while it’s lit!
Easy to Find Fuel
- Denatured Alcohol (ethanol)
- One ounce of fuel (2 Tbs.) will probably give you enough fuel to boil 2 cups of water
- Yellow HEET (methyl alcohol or methanol), easy to find in car stores, big box stores, Gas line antifreeze and water remover
- Everclear (grain alcohol, or ethanol) 95% (190 proof) bottles. This fuel works well but is an expensive option. It is also non-toxic and can double for medicinal uses. Over 21 to buy.
- Isopropyl 90%, it will burn sooty, cheap though not as effective
- Hexamine tablets… although not a great option. It was smoky at first and burned out the plastic liner inside the can, but then with 4 tablets it boiled water.
- Tealights: use the cat food stove as a pot stand and put the tealights around the can. With four tealights you can cook on low for 3-4 hours (although wind affects tealight’s ability to stay lit)
It’s Simple to Use
- No repairs, no fuel lines, no faulty starters
- It also doesn’t need a pot stand—just a windscreen
- Lights with a spark or a match
- Once lit, you need to wait for it to “bloom” or “prime” so you don’t snuff out the flame when you put the pot on top. This takes about 20-30 seconds.
Lends itself to infinite tinkering
- If you love charts, graphs and data, then the world of alcohol stovism will be a ton of fun.
- You can play around with hole placement, hole size, material type, wicking material, ground insulation, additional features like a simmer ring—all depending on your desired final result.
- It’s a stove you can nerd out on!
No Simmer, Just Boil
- One of this stove’s drawbacks is that you can’t regulate the flame
- Some designs include a “simmer ring”
No On/Off Switch
- Especially when there is fire danger or it’s been a particularly dry summer, your trail may require that backcountry users carry stoves that have an on/off switch.
- If you can’t see the flame, you might just assume either that the stove isn’t lit yet and walk away leaving a burning stove, or that the fuel has completely burned off and that it’s safe to pick up, when in fact it’ still very hot.
- I just learned how to solve this problem! A pinch of table salt added to your alcohol stove turns the flame yellow.
Not allowed on BSA campouts
- Homemade gear is forbidden on Boy Scout campouts—even though the Super Cat alcohol stove is trustworthy, helpful, thrifty, and clean burning. Plus, the Super Cat is really meant for cooking for one to four people—not an entire troop.
- Also, the Super Cat may not be able to support the weight of a 6 quart Dutch oven…
SUMMIT Gear Review: Packit Gourmet Baking Kit
If you’ve ever wondered if it’s possible to have fresh baked good on the trail, you’re wildest dreams are about to come true!
There are lots of different outdoor baking methods—dry baking, solar baking, mud oven baking, but the method of baking that’s used by the Packit Gourmet Baking Kit is called steam baking. It means that your baked goods will cook at a lower temperature (212 degrees Fahrenheit), they’ll be incredibly moist, and there is no risk of burning your baked goods.
- Silicone steamer that lines the bottom of your pot
- Four silicone muffin cups
- Comes with a scraper and a whisk, which are unnecessary
- Put 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the pot
- Enough so that it doesn’t cover the silicone pad that you’ve placed inside your pot
- You do have to be careful that the water doesn’t boil off completely, because you’re using the steam from the water to bake your biscuits, muffins, brownies
- Silicone is good up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, but make sure the pot doesn’t boil dry
- If you’re baking something for more than 20 minutes, check and you may need to add more water.
- Weighs 3.6 ounces (103 grams) with just the silicone base and 4 muffin cups
- Use paper muffin liners for easy clean up
- Store the Packit Gourmet Baking Kit with your food. It will hold the odor of whatever you baked last, and will make it an fun chew toy for local vermin
- Packit Gourmet Baking Kit $20
- If you already have silicone baking cups and just want the silicone steamer, they sell that separately for $10
- We brought this on our recent backpacking trip to the Salmon River. We made the Packit Gourmet Chocolate Molten Lava Cake.
- Bringing along a little extra gear to do some baking made dinner fun. Even if you’re just making Bisquick biscuits, it just adds an element of depth, variety and anticipation to the meal.
- We learned on the trail that silicone isn’t non-stick it’s just less-stick. And while it’s fun to try to get every last bit of Chocolate Molten Lava cake out of the muffin cup, it’s a whole lot easier to bring along paper muffin liners.
- Packit Gourmet also has a great selection of backpacking food that is created by their in-house chef.
- “Trail Food Beyond Your Wilderness Expectations”
Backpack Hack of the Week™: Homemade Cat Food or DIY Alcohol Stove
You’ll need a 3 ounce can of the cheapest cat food you can find—in an aluminum can. Potted meat also tends to come in aluminum cans. These cans usually have pull top lids.
Empty out your can into the nearest cat food bowl, then clean it out with soap and water, being careful of the interior edge left by the pull top lid.
Then, take a Sharpie, and mark 15 evenly spaced holes all the way around the can. The center of the holes should be 1/2 inch apart from each other, and the top of the first row of holes should be 1/4 inch from the top of the can.
For the second row of holes, you’ll also need 15 holes, however these will be 1/8 inch below the first row, and offset from the first row of 15 holes.
After you’ve put together your stove, you’ll want to also assemble a few other things, including a fuel bottle, a wind screen and a snuffer.
If you love DIY projects, check out Jim Wood’s website:
“The beginning is perhaps more difficult than anything else, but keep heart, it will turn out all right.”
-Vincent van Gogh