[pct-l] Esbit vs. Alcohol

Paul Magnanti pmags at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 24 16:04:42 CST 2007

>From http://snipurl.com/p1m4 (Something I wrote):

***Most of my math is "beer math", but the gist of it is correct

 (I've only used the stoves a handful of times. Thanks to Sgt. Rock and Ken aka "Big Cranky" for first hand research!)

Solid fuel stoves use tablets that are lit to boil water. They are
lighter than even alcohol stoves (because of the fuel themselves), are
more fuel efficient and make the overall lightest setup for all lengths
of hauls. The disadvantage depend upon which solid fuel you use Esbit
(hexamine) or Trioxane tabs.
 Esbit (Hexamine):
 First, let's discuss Esbit. Though you can buy a special stove
for them, there is no reason. A home made alcohol stove turned over
works well. Some people even use tent stakes as a pot support with the
tab in the middle. Though this method can work, in inclement weather
you are S.O.L. Probably worth it just to bring a cut off soda can
bottom as your "stove" and a light weight pot support. 
major advantages of the Esbit tabs are similar to alcohol stoves; even
more so. Lighter than alcohol and more fuel efficient. If an alcohol
stove is less efficient after about 10 + meals, doing some rough math
the Esbit stove is not as efficient as the canister stove at about the
21 meal mark. That's a long time between resupplies! If you are out for
a long or short haul and want something light, Esbit is a great option!
 The major disadvantages? Price and resupply! 

An esbit tab is about .50 each. Even with bulk discounts, it is still
much more expensive than other fuels. If you do a retail resupply of
.50 per tab, that's $5 for 10 meals. Multiply that figure by a
thru-hike! Even a discount rate of "only" .25 each makes Esbit
expensive compared to the other fuels. 
 Resupply on a long
haul can be problematic as not many places stock Esbit. As with
canisters, careful planning can mitigate this problem. Unlike
canisters, Esbit is safe to mail. No special forms or packaging needed.
Since Esbit can eat through plastic, a foil lined ziplock is suggested
to carry the fuel. The ziplock also helps prevent the smell from
permeating through your pack. The smell has been described as "rotting
fish". Mmm...rotting fish.
 Esbit has been reported to be hard to light. In my limited use, found the Esbit hard to light as well.

As with alcohol and canisters stoves, Esbit does not work well for true
winter camping. Esbit is also for "boil only" meals as well and is a
bit slower than the other stoves. This stove is best for solo use.

As with Esbit, do not need a special stove. Trioaxne can usually be
found at Army surplus stores (online and local). The fumes are toxic,
but not usually a problem unless you use in a poorly ventilated space
(you should not use ANY stove in a poorly ventilated space!). About the
same weight as Esbit for a quarter the full retail price. Because it is
surplus, quality can differ. Trioxane burns hot, but not very
efficiently. Not really suggested for general use. May not be bad as a
backup to another stove. 
 Solid Fuel Summary: For
the lightest system, you can't beat Esbit. With careful planning, can
avoid the resupply issue. The major disadvantage of Esbit is the price
per tab. Trioxane? Last resort only!
 Esbit reviews: http://www.backpackgeartest.org/reviews/Cook%20Gear/Stoves/Esbit/
 Trioxane (really, I would not use it personally!)

So, to sum up the above: For the absolute lightest system? Esbit. BUT with some logistic issues and a price penalty. If you do not mind
maildrops or have a reliable support person: Go for it! Price may or may not be a factor

If you want the second lightest system (for 10 meals or less), go with alcohol. Not quite as light as esbit, but less expensive and readily available.

A "hybrid" system is to flip over your alcohol stove and use esbit tabs mainly. When resupply is an issue, go with HEET and use as an alcohol stove.

The true harvest of my life is intangible.... a little stardust 
caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched

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