Cooking on the cheap!
So far this has been one of my favorite projects for backpacking. I love building things and this one was a challenge. I will not say that it is difficult, but it is not “easy” as other sites lead you to believe. It takes a very delicate touch to fit the pieces of the puzzle together without tearing through the thin aluminum cans. Because there are a ton of sites on how to build them, even step by step video tutorials, I will focus this more on the benefits and pitfalls to them so you can make an educated decision on what you plan to use.
So why go through the effort? Well, for me, the main reason was cost. Because I am new to backpacking this upcoming trip to Yosemite has set me back a pretty penny and I was looking for all the ways possible to save on the expenses where ever I felt I was not sacrificing comfort and quality. You can find many sites talking about using a soda can stove over other options for their durability and their weight, but I think they take a back seat to the cost and I will tell you why.
Weight is a bit deceiving, it sounds great to hear someone say “my stove only weighs 0.3 ounces” when the leading burners out there are considerably heavier. In some cases weighing in at close to a pound. There is a reason for this extra weight, the soda can burner is just that, a burner. There is nothing else to it. No ignition system, no pot, no lid, no wind screen, nothing but a flame. Now don’t get me wrong, with titanium this and ultralight that you can for sure get your weight well below a pound for your cooking kit, but this comes at a cost. Remember I am balancing between budget, functionality, and weight. Needless to say on a respectable budget and not breaking the bank by the time you are done piecing your kit together you will most likely be sitting at the same weight as the other alternatives, possibly even heavier. One little thing that I do like about the weight however is you can store the fuel in a plastic water bottle that weighs next to nothing. As the fuel is used your gear is lighter! Most other options require fuel canisters that are the same weight full or empty.
Now for durability, I think this is bogus! Or, I should say…miss worded. I cant possibly figure out why someone would say that my aluminum can contraption is anywhere near as strong as some fabricated piece of steel. However, I believe it is much more reliable. And that is the word that people should use to describe it. With an off the shelf model you will have various parts that need to be in working order or you will not have fire. From jets and needles to hoses and ignition systems. With the trusty soda can you have nothing but a cup to pour fuel in and a match to light it. It will work every time, all the time. Because of this, there is no need for a maintenance kit.
And on to the most important part, cost. You can build one on the cheap, and I mean CHEAP by skipping on the tape that is often used to secure it together. The tape is only a few dollars for a roll so I would recommend it, but without it all you need is something sharp to cut with (scissors worked best for me, I tried a dremel and a razor blade also) and an empty soda can. Some of the popular options on the market will cost over $100 so you can for sure appreciate the cost savings here. Even after you add the additional items like a pot and wind screen you can still be considerably cheaper than the alternatives.
Now I know your asking “do they work”? Yes, I can tell you first hand that they do. I have two different ones I have made and tweaked until I liked them and the best one so far is the “side jet” style. This simply means that the holes are placed on the side of the burner instead of the top. The reason I like it better is once it is warmed up you can set a pot directly on top of it and it will stay lit. As for performance, they are not as quick to boil as something like a jetboil, but they are efficient and they get the job done. At about 60-70 degrees air temperature I can boil 2 cups of water in 7-9 minutes. Now that is not just from the time you put the water on the burner that is the full deal, setup, warmup, and boil. To me that is not that bad considering some of the high dollar ones take 3-6 minutes and that does not include setup time.
6Pack Promise, I highly recommend the soda can stove and you will not be disappointed.