By Matthew DePan
I want to thank Matthew DePan for sharing with me his creation, and then generously submitting this article and the photos. His hybrid alcohol/twig stove (“the DePan Stove,” perhaps?) is an elegantly simple solution to addressing the pitfalls of each stove. If you have feedback or questions about Matthew’s design, please leave them in the Comments section.
Since 2010 I have exclusively used the Fancy Feast Stove for my backcountry meals. I absolutely love this stove — except for the aluminum foil windscreen that Skurka recommends. While it was extremely lightweight, and effective in ensuring fast boil times, the flimsy construction always annoyed me.
Over this time period, I also acquired an affinity for small wood burning stoves, or “twig stoves,” as I call them, since they only burn small finger sized pieces of wood. There was an abundance of information to be found on these, and after much trial and error I finally settled a on a design that uses a standard 1-quart paint can. This stove model was:
- Simple to use
- Easy to make
- Very functional
I also liked this stove because it did not require a flimsy windscreen.
The Aha! Moment
My backpacking kit is ever evolving, and it eventually occurred to me I could easily combine these two stove designs — the Fancy Feast and the twig stove. My 600-ml mug nests perfectly inside my twig stove, making it a perfectly sized and shaped windscreen for an alcohol stove too. (I had been carrying it this way for months, yet had never made the mental leap.)
I thought this duel system would be very functional in the wet conditions that prevail where I typically hike. When my time or patience to start a twig fire is limited, I can use the alcohol stove; when conditions are dry and/or I have more time, I can make a twig fire — all with the same system! This idea immediately appealed to me for longer trips, when fuel loads can become heavy but when relying on fire-based cooking can be nerve-wracking.
I redesigned the twig stove to make it more appropriate for double use, and now this is what I carry with me when I require a hot meal in the woods!
Key Specs and Advantages
Lightweight. The twig stove weighs about 3 oz and the entire cook system weighs 10.5 oz. Also, I can carry less alcohol fuel by utilizing abundant biomass instead.
Versatile. The system allows me to burn both denatured alcohol and wood fuel.
Inexpensive. A cat can costs less than a dollar at any grocery store. A 1-quart paint can costs about three dollars; it can be found at any hardware store in the paint department.
Better than an open fire. The twig stove is much easier, much more efficient, and much safer than an open fire, since the the flames are better contained and are directed directly to your pot.
Incompatible with larger pots. The 1-quart paint can will only accommodate 600-ml mugs or smaller; it will not even fit 600-ml “pots” that are short and wide. Unfortunately, these tall-and-narrow mugs are less efficient when used with the alcohol stove — boil time increases from 5-7 minutes to 7-9. However, a boil still requires only about an ounce of fuel.
Sub-optimal ventilation. To make the twig stove a functional windscreen for the alcohol stove, I had to reduce its structural ventilation, which in turn reduces the efficiency of the twig stove because it receives inadequate airflow. However, I can still achieve boiling water with the twig stove in about 8-10 minutes.
Make your own: Necessary Supplies
(Note: The supplies and assembly instructions apply to the twig stove only. For the Fancy Feast alcohol stove, go here.)
- 1-quart paint can. $3 from any paint store or department
- Can opener
- Permanent marker
- Tin snips, or any heavy-duty scissor
- Power drill, or other tool that can make clean holes, not rough-edged
- Heavy-duty sanpaper or metal file
- Metal wire hanger or titanium skewer stakes
- With the power drill, drill four small holes near the top of the can, two on each side, into which you will slide skewers to support your mug while burning wood.
- Still with the power drill, drill a row of small holes along the bottom of the can, for airflow.
- Using the can opener, remove the lid from the can.
- Mark a slit onto the can. The slit should be just wide enough to accommodate your mug handles, and go down to just above the row of ventilation holes you drilled on the bottom. You will also feed wood into the stove through this slit.
- Using the tin snips, cut out the slit.
- Using the sand paper or file, sand down all the sharp edges.
- Using the tin snips, cut skewers out of the wire hanger and put a 90-degree bend at one end of each skewer. Alternatively, skip this step and use titanium skewer stakes.