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The Joy of Esbit

Esbit (Solid Fuel) stoves are incredibly simple and ultralight
Esbit (Solid Fuel) stoves are incredibly simple and ultralight

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!)

Cooking breakfast using Esbit
Cooking breakfast using Esbit

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.

Esbit folding Pocket Stove with built-in pot stand and Esbit fuel cubes
Esbit folding Pocket Stove with built-in pot stand and Esbit fuel cubes

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.

Cooking dinner with Esbit on a river bank
Cooking dinner with Esbit on a river bank

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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38 comments

  1. Always like your posts Phil.

    In Canada, we have charcoal briquette starter blocks that are the same as Esbit. Can’t remember the name right now. They’re readily available in hardware stores, gas stations, even grocery stores.

  2. I hit the trail with a Solo woodstove for most meals but use Esbit tabs and a windscreen for my morning coffee/breakfast. Hot and clean fire for boiling 1L of water. Helps get me packed and on the trail quickly. A week’s worth is scant ounces.

  3. Well done as usual.

    Another advantage of Esbit is that it can be carried in luggage when flying to your destination whereas white gas and canister fuel is not allowed.

    • Bob, Esbit cannot be brought on a plane (in the US). In fact, you can’t transport it by boat either. Esbit can only be shipped via surface.

      • Hmm – you can use US mail? I started to mail a single Esbit tablet last week, figuring I’d pick it up from a friend once I fly to my destination. I need only one tablet because I’m doing a one-nighter up a desert peak. Is there anything special I need to do to mail it? I ended up not mailing the tablet last week because I was so unsure if it was allowed.

      • REI and Amazon mail them to me all the time. Call USPS to see if there are any labelling requirements.

  4. Very good review of Esbit, some pros that I haven’t considered in the past.

  5. My Military family cursed these things out. One of the reasons why the Military went to Gel Packets and chemical heaters. I use the Gel Packs most of the time now…They don’t seem to make the bottoms of my pots sooty as Esbits…

    • But the fuel that the US Military used prior to the current gel was Trioxane, a hexamine tablet that is not the same as Esbit. Some European country’s militaries use Esbit, but the US never did.
      TicTac

      • …and, my understanding is that less formaldehyde is used to manufacture Esbit, hence the level of hexamine was higher in Trioxane, leading to terrible odor when it burned.

  6. I’m with ya…it’s a joy!

    Been using Esbit for a long time now…almost exclusively. I love that it can’t spill fuel. Even more I love that I carry what you carry (different types, but same basic gear) inside my 550ml ti pot! It even holds a folding spoon.

    Tough to find in stores down here, though!

  7. I do love Esbit and used it exclusively when I was living in the Midatlantic. But since moving to the southwest where I’m usually up at 10k+ ft and it’s cold, I’ve made the switch to a canister stove. Esbit would take a frustrating 20-30 min & often 2 tabs to boil 400mL water at those elevations/temps (with a Trail Designs Sidewinder setup). I also like to make breakfast in the vestibule of my tent when it’s cold & the fumes from Esbit can be noxious when the wind shifts.

    The crud on the bottom of the pot from burning Esbit has never bothered me, most comes off easily with a little scrubbie & water on the trail. When I get home, I give it a good scrub with dish soap & a scrub brush, comes clean nicely. Haven’t used Esbit with anything but a ti pot, don’t know if it sticks more to other metals like aluminum or steel.

    • Your canister gas probably takes twice as long too. Physics of altitude…Just saying.

      • My mentioning altitude was to paint a picture of the frigid, dry conditions I encounter now — temps can drop into the 20s even in summer and water is extremely cold. The canister stove (MSR Pocket Rocket) is much faster — I get a full boil in under 4 minutes. I just don’t find Esbit enjoyable to use in alpine areas at the times that I’m typically making meals (early AM & dusk). I’d rather be hiking than waiting on Esbit to boil my water. ;-)

        I do always carry Esbit tabs as a backup & still use it during warmer weather.

  8. I like Esbit but they can be slow to light in a breeze. I just got in the habit of putting a small squirt of white gas on the cube and then it lights right up. The gas burns off in a minute and then the fuel cube is going well. It is not a waste since a BTU is a BTU and the gas contributes it’s portion before the Esbit kicks in. I just carry about an oz of gas in a flip top and use it routinely.

  9. Do any Australians know: are these a no-go during fire danger season / total fire bans?

    • Solid or liquid fuel stoves are not allowed on TFB days, so Esbit NOT OK on these days.

      Gas stoves however ARE allowed on TFB days in Oz.

  10. How does Esbit perform in the winter? Im looking to use them this coming season in the Adirondacks so its cold.

    • No difference. It’s unaffected by temperature, but I wouldn’t use it for melting snow – You really want white gas for that since it takes so much more sustained energy than boiling tap water.

  11. Tried using an Esbit stove at 8,000 feet in Colorado last fall. Two cubes didn’t boil water, so I switched to a brass Trangia alcohol burner to get the job done.

    • Stored energy is what matters. The problem is that Esbit (like alcohol) is sensitive to the wind. You have to use a well designed windscreen and the proper pot to stove spacing for optimal results. I have burned Esbit up to 14,000 with no problems at all.

      • Hey Jon,

        Planning on switching to an Esbit stove for high alpine in the Sierras…do you have a self made stove or a specific brand set up you use?

      • Our Epicurean Titanium stove works great for boiling and simmering. We can simmer for 50-60 minutes on 1 tablet of Esbit.

  12. Daniel S, these are a no-go in Australia during fire bans.

  13. Hmmmm….Used Esbit up to over 12k feet in Colorado before – with no changes to my cook setup that I use in FL. I don’t get why there is the altitude issue. For those with such an issue, does it work fine for you with the same setup at lower altitudes?

  14. Esbit can be double or triple bagged to reduce the odor. Best 10-essentials emergency kit option. A platform and foil for a windscreen and a few cubes are very compact, fits in the smallest daypack.

    P.S. “No open flame” pretty much means what it says – source doesn’t matter.

  15. Hey Phil – thanks for the article. I had one quick question:
    You said “With a simmer ring, an Esbit cube will burn for 50-60 minutes”. What do you mean by this? Are you saying it’s possible to make the cube burn much slower and longer with a simmer ring? What’s a simmer ring, and how does it extend/slow down your burn time?

    • Hikin’ Jim has a good article that explains all.
      http://adventuresinstoving.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-epicurean-ti-esbit-stove.html

      Jon Fong, the owner of Flat Cat Gear has been commenting on this post and can chime in too.

      • Thanks gentlemen. I realized just after posting that I could google it, and then I realized that the simmer ring is a device… Regardless, thanks for the detailed responses – I appreciate the info!

    • Heat causes Esbit to transition from a solid to a gas (sublimation) and it is the gas that burns (not the solid). By controlling “where” the heat is, you control the burn rate. With our Epicurean Stove in simmer mode, the flame front (heat source) can only come down from the top thus limiting the burn rate. That is how we can get Esbit to burn for 50-60 minutes. At this rate, the stove will output about 100 watts. In the regular burn mode, air enters from the bottom sweeping the flame front over the entire Esbit Cube. The heat output is about 400 watts. Best regards.

  16. I use Esbit but have been told it can be difficult to get along the AT. Does anyone know if this is true? I am planning a thru hike of the AT and would like this to be my source of fuel. I know I can place it in my mail drops but was hoping to keep those to a minimum.

    As a side note, I did a short hike this spring, we had torrential rain for 10 hours. The Ridge Runner said he had never seen anything like it. People came into the shelter cold and wet. After the rain stopped, they struggled to get a fire going to dry out gear. The Ridge Runner gave them two Esbit tablets and they had a fire going in no time. I will always carry two spare Esbit tablets, even on my day hikes. Scraping some of the tablet into a powder on the top of the tablet makes it easier to light.

  17. Phil, what do you use as your “cooking plate”? I was thinking of going to a similar set up using the lid from a tuna can, or the bottom of an aluminum can as my plate to set the tab on. Just wondering what you use.

    • I use the top screw-on cap of a Qiwiz alcohol stove. A tuna can lid would work just as well. :-) Or a flat rock.

      • I don’t want to leave my greasy residue on a rock I don’t intend to pack with me, that wouldn’t work with LNT mentailty. Hmmmm I want something light, cheap, and easily replaceable when it gets too greasy from the Esbit residue.

        Now that I think of it: A tuna can lid, or a jar lid, or even a cap from a bud light screw top would work perfectly.

        Thanks Philip!

  18. I used 3 rocks as my esbit stove on the AT during my thru. All I had to carry was esbit tabs. Obviously didn’t work as well in rain, but something worth experimenting with.

    Also used an alcohol stove as well. Trying cookless this time on my 2016 thru, but will probably take a few esbit tabs and use rocks if I feel like having a hot meal.

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