Can an old can of Fancy Feast cook food faster than an expensive, complicated backpacking stove? Let's find out.
Pros: The Fancy Feast alcohol stove can be made for $1.49 — including the price of a paper hole punch. Ounce-for-ounce and dollar-for-dollar, it's the lightest and cheapest backpacking stove that you can get. The stove will safely burn a variety of alcohols including denatured alcohol (about $15/gallon at your local hardware store,) HEET gas line antifreeze (available at most gas stations,) and grain alcohols (such as Everclear, though these are much more expensive.) It's lightweight, has no moving parts so it's durable (if it gets crushed, you can bend it back into shape,) and you can make them at home in just a few minutes.
Cons: The Fancy Feast alcohol stove is susceptible to wind, so you must always use a wind screen. It doesn't function well in very cold temperatures (alcohol doesn't burn efficiently if it's cold,) so it's best suited for three season (Spring, Summer, Fall) use. Because of it's small diameter, large pots may be unstable on it, and because it's a side burner, small solo-sized pots may not work as well. It doesn't have a simmer feature, and there's no off switch - you must continue burning it until the fuel runs out. It's basically only good for boiling water to drink or hydrate a freeze-dried backpacking meal; you wouldn't want to try and fry bacon over it.
Pros: The MSR Whisperlite Universal is incredibly versatile. It can burn clean and efficient white gas. It can burn unleaded gasoline. It can burn canister fuel. It works amazingly in the cold and is your best option for melting snow. It has a simmer feature with controllable flame output.
Cons: At $140, the MSR Whisperlite Universal is expensive. It's also very complicated to light and to use. To start it, you have to attach the fuel pump to the fuel bottle. Pump it to pressurize your fuel. Open the valve allowing a small amount of fuel to flow into the lower bowl. Light the fuel. Wait for the fireball to burn out. Time the burn out with re-opening the valve perfectly in order for the burner to catch. At nearly a pound, it weighs more than 30 times as much as the Fancy Feast alcohol stove. Like the Fancy Feast stove, it's susceptible to wind, so you must use a wind screen.
Both of these stoves can be used with great efficiency to boil water. When venturing out into the wilderness, consider what your needs are, and then take the appropriate gear. If it's not freezing cold, and I'm not going to be melting snow, I'm going to carry a Fancy Feast alcohol stove 10 times out of 10.
To make one, all you need is a can of Fancy Feast and a normal hole punch. Using that, punch a row of holes separated by a few millimeters of metal around the top of the can, then place an alternating row of holes just underneath it. Experiment with it at home so you know how much alcohol it takes to boil the amount of water you need, informing how much you'll need to pack. It's not very much.
Photos/Video: Chris Brinlee, Jr.
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