At 3.5 ounces and only $9.95, the Esbit Pocket Stove is a great lightweight stove.
The stove is fueled by non-toxic odorless, smokeless, non-explosive Esbit tablets that burn for 12 minutes, weigh a half ounce and cost about 75 cents each. They come 12 to a package.
The solid fuel and stove has been around for 70 years, used for camping and by the military for heating rations.
ESBIT stands for "Erich Schumms Brennstoff in Tablettenform" (Erich Schumm's Fuel in Tablets). Invented in Murrhardt, Germany in 1932, its main components are 1,3,5-trioxane and hexamine. "Esbit" is a genericized trademark as it is used to refer to similar products made by other companies.
Made of steel and folding to just 3"x 4"x 3/4", the Esbit stove draws a lot of discussion in lightweight backpacking chat rooms, bulletin boards and blogs. There seems to be no disagreement about whether or not it works. But rather lots of discussion about how fast it boils water and whether it leaves soot on the bottom of your pot. My home test (at sea level): one tab boils two cups of water in 5 minutes, maintains a full boil for another five minutes, then begins to burn out. The hexamine tabs leave black soot on the bottom of the pot (see below left), which should be wiped off before putting it back in your pack (unless you want a dirty pack).
The Esbit Stove has two positions when you snap it open: 45 degrees for smaller pots and 90 degrees for larger pots. The .8 liter titanium pot requires the 45 degree position. A tip: after awhile, the stove rivets get loose and the 45 degree positon does not hold well. I drilled out one rivet on each side of the Esbit and installed a screw with wingnut to tighten it as necessary.
At high altitude, above 10,000 feet, the Esbit stove boils water quickly (faster than five minutes) compared with gas stoves, which can be a bit touchy on cold mornings.
Is it lighter than other stoves? It certainly fits the lightweight criteria, but it’s all about how much cooking you do – the more cooking, the more fuel you need and that adds weight.
If you only heat water, one tab will produce enough hot water to rehydrate your dinner meal and make a cup of tea. Another tab in the morning will provide boiling water for tea and oatmeal. For a three-day trip, six tabs and stove might total 6.5 ounces.
I typically use three fuel tabs for dinner (boil water, then cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes) and 1-2 tabs mornings if I’m having coffee and oatmeal. I will plan on five tabs per day, which even at ½ ounce each can add up fast.
Compare these weights with a gas stove and small fuel canister. If you carry one of the really light stoves, like the Coleman Exponent F1 stove (3 ounces) or the MSR Pocket Rocket stove (3 ounces) and a half can of fuel, you can keep the weight close to the Esbit setup.
Like other stoves, it helps to have a screen available on windy days (my recent test was on our stove top at home with no wind and 68 degrees). A piece of aluminum foil folded several times will do the job.
I actually have several stoves and use them at different times. When going to high altitude in the Eastern Sierra, I take my Esbit. If I’m going out for a few days and just want convenience, I take a self-starting gas stove.
Ideally – if money is no object – you will have multiple pieces of equipment from which you can pick and choose depending on the trip you’re taking. I’m a bit of a gearhead and seem to have three of everything.
Be safe. Be light. Be one with the pack.
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