Backpacking stoves that use Esbit cubes as a fuel source are the simplest, lightest, and most reliable way to boil water or cook food on backpacking trips. There’s no extra container weight to carry with Esbit, like a white gas stove bottle or isobutane canister, and you can even ship Esbit via ground transportation (in the USA at least), making it ideal for post office resupply mail drops. Esbit will burn at any temperature or altitude, and you can even snuff out a cube when it’s half used for use at a later time.
Weighing 0.5 ounces, each Esbit cube burns for 12-14 minutes and is more than sufficient for bringing 2 cups of water to a roiling boil. With a simmer ring, an Esbit cube will burn for 50-60 minutes, making it possible to bake or cook foods that require longer boil times to rehydrate (see Flat Cat Gear’s Epicurean Cook Book for some great recipes!)
I did most of my cooking on backpacking trips this year using an Esbit stove system. There’s really not much to it: a wire screen as a pot stand, a disc of metal as a stove, and a titanium wind shield for better efficiency. All three components fit inside my cook pot along with my fire-making kit, making for a compact bundle that’s easy to pack in my pack and keep track of.
One of the benefits of Esbit is that the fuel and Esbit cooking gear is so inexpensive. For example, Esbit, the company, makes a nice 7 ounce, all-in-one anodized Esbit cookset ($30) or you can just opt for the classic, minimalist Esbit folding pocket stove ($12), which has cooked millions of backpacking and camping meals and is probably the most popular backpacking stove ever sold. Esbit fuel cubes cost anywhere from $0.15 to $0.60 per use, depending on the efficiency of your stove.
When I hiked a 180 mile section of the Appalachian Trail in April, I mainly used a wood stove although I did cook with Esbit a few nights when it rained or the wood I could collect was damp. But after that trip, I switched to Esbit because it’s so lightweight and convenient. I carry a couple of cubes with me year round, even as an emergency fuel source in winter, since it’s so easy to keep a few extra cubes in my food bag.
If there’s a downside to Esbit, it’s that it smells a bit funny when unlit, kind of like a cat in my opinion, and it can leave a greasy film on the bottom of your pot. The smell used to bug me but I got used to it. As for the film, I store my cook pot in a cloth cinch sack since it’s already been blacked by a wood fire, making that film a non-issue.
Inexpensive, reliable, simple, lightweight, and gets the job done. If you give Esbit cooking a try, you might find that you like it better than the other backpacking stove and fuel combinations available.
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