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Ultralight Cooking without a Stove or a Fuel Container

A stove is completely optional when cooking with ESBIT fuel cubes
A stove is completely optional when cooking with ESBIT fuel cubes. I use the top of a small can to avoid burning the ground. Add in a small wire screen to hold your pot over the flame, a titanium foil windscreen, and a small titanium cook pot and you have an ultralight cooking system without a stove or fuel bottle.

How would you like to eliminate the weight of your backpacking stove and the fuel container (canister, liquid fuel bottle, or alcohol bottle) that you use to carry your cooking fuel on backpacking trips while still being able to boil water and cook meals? What would that save you? Anywhere from 3 to 8 ounces, or even more?

ESBIT is the way to go! These 14 gram solid fuel cubes don’t require a fuel bottle or a stove to use. They’re super reliable, easy to pack, cost-effective (about $0.50 per cube), they have a shelf life of 10 years, and you always know exactly how much fuel you have left.

Each ESBIT cube burns for 13 minutes at 1300 degrees. The average boil time for 500 ml of water is 8 minutes (I usually heat more), making them perfect for rehydrating freeze-dried dinners, dehydrated meals, or freezer bag cooking.

A titanium foil windscreen significantly improves ESBIT cube performance and reduces cook time
A titanium foil windscreen significantly improves ESBIT cube performance and reduces cook time

More Advantages of ESBIT backpacking fuel:

  • ESBIT will burn in very cold temperatures at any altitude since it doesn’t rely on canister pressure
  • You can mail ESBIT cubes to yourself in post office resupply boxes
  • ESBIT is easy to light
  • ESBIT makes a great campfire starter, when broken up into smaller pieces
  • You can blow out the unused portion of an ESBIT cube and relight it later
  • Very compact to carry
  • Only carry the fuel you need, not extra like you do with canister, alcohol, or white gas.

Disadvantages of ESBIT Backpacking Fuel

ESBIT also has a few minor disadvantages, but I feel that these are minor compared to its benefits.

  • Leaves a residue on outside of your cook pot, similar to soot from a wood stove
  • ESBIT cubes smell like cat piss and are best carried in a ziploc baggie
Complete ESBIT cooking kit including vaseline dipped cotton balls and three ESBIT cubes for a fast overnight 1 night backpacking trip
Complete ESBIT cooking kit including vaseline dipped cotton balls for easy firestarting and three ESBIT cubes for a fast overnight 1 night backpacking trip

Complete ESBIT Cooking Kit

Since switching to ESBIT solid fuel cubes from a collapsible wood stove, I can fit my entire fire starting and cooking kit inside my titanium cook pot which makes packing a breeze. Gear compactness is one of the cornerstones of ultralight backpacking, but it can be difficult to achieve.

My cooking kit consists of:

Minus consumables, that puts the total weight of my entire cook system at 194g/(6.85oz). I could easily chop even more weight from this system if I really wanted to, but I’ve owned these components for several years and like my setup as it is.

Still at 6.85 oz., compare the weight of my cook system with the MSR WindBurner Cook System (16.75 oz. not including a gas canister) or the Jetboil Minimo (15.6 oz. not including a gas canister), and you can see how big these weight savings are.

If you want to slash the weight of your cook system without eliminating it altogether, try ESBIT.

Disclosure: QiWiz sent Philip Werner samples of the stove components discussed here about two years ago, but Philip was never under an obligation to review them. This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website. 

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42 comments

  1. Love this idea!
    You said ” I could easily chop even more weight from this system if I really wanted to, but I’ve owned these components for several years and like my setup as it is.”
    Can you recommend for someone just purchasing a system how you could further reduce the weight? What things could be switched out.

    I really like that everything fits inside the pot , that its so light and the fuel is solid!
    TIA

  2. Love esbit. You can also get the 4 gram tablets to save even more weight. I now carry a mix of the two sizes.

  3. Could you discard the mesh and double the functions of the windshield as the potstand as well? thanks Freddy

  4. I laughed at the”cat piss” statement. I agree with the whole article. I love using esbit for cooking. The residue never really bothered me. Just take a little elbow grease to get off.
    Great article!

  5. I will sometimes use one of the Esbit cooksets available. It’s a bit heavier then the setup described here, but is well thought out and of reasonable quality. Coghlans fuel tabs work just fine with it, and in Canada are dramatically cheaper then Esbit (about $.08 ea.)

  6. Is it easy to light the cubes with the Light My Fire magnesium sparker?

    • I think I’ve done it by powdering a small chunk of a cube before, but mostly I just light a cotton ball and use that to light a cube because it’s so reliable (and I’m lazy.) If you didn’t want to carry a cotton ball you could use natural materials to light the cube too like dried grass. I assume that would be obvious, but maybe it’s not in this day and age.

      My fire starting system is more elaborate than the minimum you would need to light an esbit cube. I can start a real fire or cook over wood just as easily and I do that occasionally. I just assume have something a little bit more general purpose that I con’t have to resupply constantly since I’m out every week. When I pack I don’t have to go through the entire system and resupply each little component…

  7. Do you think it’s necessary to keep the esbit in your bear bag? I’m not quite sure how bears or more importantly mice or raccoons feel about “cat piss”.

  8. I am using ESBIT for several years now. The 12g esbit is enough for boil 0.5l water in cold weather, while during warmer conditions I can usually use the leftover for the morning coffee or cacao.

    It is very reliable, never fails.

    Very lightweight, for 10 days I calculate with 144 grams.

    And you can carry them in the hold luggage during flight, while gas and other fuels are prohibited!

  9. Love esbit for all reasons stated!
    This is my set up.
    I love the cotton ball idea and will start to use. I have been using a match that I lay on top since it sometimes can take a bit to light.

    http://ultralightoutfitters.com/the-beer-can-stove-kit/

  10. How long does it take to boil 2 cups of water?

    • Who cares? It’ll boil eventually. Do camp chores. Pop a blister. Admire the view. Enjoy the lack of Jet Boiling and listen to the birds.

      • I agree with how much I enjoy the quiet of esbits and the slow doesnt bother. In the morning, I will set up to boil water with coffee then go break down my tent. Once packed go back to enjoy my coffee.

    • I’m currently using alcohol, but thinking I’ll use esbit on the next couple of trips. I have a gram cracker and have played around with esbit at home, it’s quiet and mellow like alcohol plus you can blow it out. I like the ability to count tablets to manage fuel (versus guesstimating how much alcohol is left). I have two cats at home so maybe I’m immune to the cat piss which I have never smelled from the tablets. The crud it deposits on the pot comes off pretty easily.

      Both fuels are safe. They won’t explode or light your camp table on fire. Neither will make your pack smell like a refinery if you have a spill, or dissolve your sleeping bag. You don’t have to pack out empty canisters.

  11. Be careful if you’re going out west during the dry season! The most common fire restrictions out here allow only a stove with on/off switch that is UL certified. That means no wood, no alcohol, no esbit. Different jurisdictions may have different rules, and of course the rules change according to the current fire danger level. Take that canister stove or plan to go stoveless, and call the appropriate jurisdictions just before your trip.

  12. The other easy way to light Esbit is carry about an ounce of white gas in a dropper bottle. about 5 drops of white gas lets you get it going easy and fast.

  13. Esbit is good stuff. I regularly use it as I have a 13g burner with pot stand- add in a takeaway foil container to protect the ground and act as a windshield and I really don’t think it’s possible to have a lighter cooking system.

    If you want to get the residue off its easy if you wipe it with a used teabag. I stop residue getting on the burner by using a tiny bit of foil to cover the burner. Lasts for ages.

  14. I use to use Esbit’s quite a bit out west on my cross country desert trips in the Anza Borrego and Mojave. I just made a little 3 – 4 high an wide cube of Rocks and set the Esbit cube down on a bit of foil, using chewing gum foil in the middle with a Military Issue Steel Canteen Cup over them.. Since then I have been using the Military issue Gel which I think burns hotter… A bit of Ivory Soap from a diced of Bar works well rubbed on the bottle of the Canteen cup..Makes it easier to clean..

  15. When I was getting my backside kicked by Franconia Ridge about three years ago, I met a section hiker who was hiking hut to hut in the Whites. He used Esbit. He told me, “I always know exactly how much fuel I have left and how much it will boil.” I have some Esbit tabs and will try them out soon on a trip.

  16. I did a quick online search: looks like one Esbit can boil one cup of cold water (40 degrees) in about six minutes. Or two cups of warm water (70 degrees) in six minutes. No wind, of course.

    I’m wondering if people who have used both Esbit and alcohol have a preference? Why is Esbit better than alcohol? (I’ve never cooked with alcohol, but I assume it takes a long time to boil water?) Alcohol smells a lot better (but it can leak), is extremely easy to light, and doesn’t put soot on pots, does it? And just like Esbit, you know exactly how much fuel you have left. And unlike Esbit, alcohol is easier to find (although perhaps not denatured?). But maybe alcohol is more dangerous? (We’re just cooking with it, not drinking the stuff, right?)

    • The premise of this article was reduced weight, so, esbit is better because there’s no stove, no fuel bottle, very reliable burn times largely unaffected by external temperature, you can mail it through the post, etc. (see above).

  17. TWO nested ziploc bags….
    The thing that Esbit is great for is an emergency kit. It’s stable, so you don’t have to check the kit to know that it is still there.

  18. If you were to do a thru hike of the AT would you use Esbit?

    • Probably, with wood as a backup. I’ve section hiked with them and it’s a great combination. Wood when it’s available, esbit is it’s wet or I’m lazy. Mail drops every couple of weeks.

  19. What does a person say to the Post Office when they ask “is there anything flammable in the package?”

  20. Sounds like an awesome product. I like that it’s light weight. Will have to get one of those for my next trip.

  21. Using Esbit directly on a rock is a pretty bad idea. There’s going to be discoloration at the very least. Contamination of the rock and the death of stuff living on/in it seems likely.

  22. As mentioned, they smell really bad! Need to be double bagged, and you have to tolerate odor during cooking, 1 pellet is usually good for 16 0z.boil. But if you have more than 2 people the pellet weight adds up.

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