Sunday, December 27, 2020



These opinions are based on boiling 2 cups of water. I have never been a backcountry chef. My hiking style has always been high mileage days. I am always looking for the lightest, fastest, cheapest method of getting 2 cups of water to a boil in the late afternoon so that I can quickly refuel and continue hiking until dark. 

Over the past 50+ years, I have tried dozens of stoves. They come in all shapes, sizes and fuel types. Liquid fuels were always a pain, alcohol especially slow and inefficient. I loved my wood burning zip stove, but it had its drawbacks and now with fire season lasting most of the year, many jurisdictions have banned wood, alcohol, even solid fuel, open flame methods of cooking.

For me, it came down to a stripped-down jetboil stove/pot combo which weighs in at about 9 ounces or an Esbit Fuel Tab setup that weighs in at about 4 ounces. 

Again, I am only trying to boil 2 cups of water. I have been able to drop my fuel weight by changing my menu. I am not interested in “cold soaking” all the time and not carrying a stove at all. But, I have experimented with many tortilla combinations that are appetizing, easy, and require no water boiling. This stretches out the fuel I carry.

So let’s go over the pro and con features of these to methods. Many people will tell you that a 14g Esbit Fuel Tab will give you 15 minutes of flame and boil water at around the 8-minute mark. This is possible in ideal conditions, with the ideal stove/windscreen setup. If you watch enough YouTube videos you would be convinced this is a great method of boiling water with very little in the way of equipment. The problem is most of these boil test take place in someone's kitchen, garage or basement, not outside in a windy canyon, exposed ridgeline or beach. I found several reasons that were deal breakers with fuel tabs. First, they stink. Second, they are expensive. Even on sale, it would cost fifty to seventy cents every time you boil two cups of water. If you actually get the water to a true boil it is going to take an average of 10 minutes, and when you are done you will most likely have residue on the bottom of your pot to deal with.  

I really wanted fuel tabs to work for me, but there are just too many inconveniences. 

Butane is clean-burning, fast boiling, wind-resistant, quick and easy starting, cheap if you refill your used canisters, compact, stable and efficient. Buying a tiny refill adapter on eBay or Amazon you can add as much or as little fuel as you need for a particular trip. The stove/pot combination cools quickly. I can put it all away before I even cool my food enough to eat. The small 100g fuel canister nest into my pot with my stove. I can buy a butane refill canisters for two or three dollars which will refill two 100g canisters. A 100g canister will bring 42 cups of water to a full, rolling boil. For me, that is 21 hot meals. I often extend this measure because I don’t often need a full, roiling boil to add to my freeze-dried meals. With enough practice, you will become familiar enough with gas weight to fill only what you will need for a particular trip or trail section.

The refill canisters are readily available in most hardware and big-box stores. On long trails, I usually refill my 100g canister and then look for another empty canister to fill and leave in the hiker box for someone else. Even after giving one away, my fuel cost is half what it would be if I bought a new 100g canister in a trail town. 

If you compare needs to wants in the backpacking stove category it is hard to argue that any other water boiling method is superior to a gas canister stove. 


100g gas canister 7 ounces, empty approx. 2 ounces, fuel 5 ounces.

Capability: Twenty-one, 2-cup rolling boils in most conditions.

14g Esbit Tabs 1/2 ounce each. Equivalent to gas weight would be 14 fuel tabs. This equals fourteen, 2-cup boils in ideal conditions, with ideal tab stove setup. 

For me, NO CONTEST! 

Besides heating 7 cups more for the same weight, gas is ten times cheaper. If you refill your own canisters your cost would be seven cents per 2-cup boil at the most. I look for sales on refill canisters and my cost is less than five cents. Even if you find a fuel tab sale, you will be spending fifty cents for less efficiency and more hassle. 


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