Ultralight Cooking without a Stove

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 Solid Fuel Tablets are 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, making them perfect for rehydrating freeze-dried dinners, dehydrated meals, or freezer bag cooking. 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.

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
  • 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 as 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 the outside of your cookpot, 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 fire starting 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/(6.85 oz). 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 Flash (13.1 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 Solid Fuel Cubes.

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17 comments

  1. ” ESBIT cubes smell like cat piss and are best carried in a Ziplock baggie”

    This is what I love about your reviews Philip: You tell it like it is.
    Thanks.

    Buzz

    • I love ESBIT cubes and have been carrying them for years. Another advantage, if you’re flying to a location to backpack these can go on the plane and you don’t have to worry about finding camping fuel once you arrive. The smell is the only downside- though I think it smells more like fish or whale oil (easily resolved with ziplock baggies). One cube will heat enough water for my dehydrated mean and for a hot beverage.

  2. I have been using Esbit for several years and find the weight savings worth the small downside.
    To save even more weight, I use a GRAM CRACKER stove ( DIY plans are on the internet)
    Made from aluminum flashing about 3 grams.

    My wind screen in custom to fit my pot, 1/2″ in diameter larger than the pot.
    Notch the screen to fit the pot handle. The pot is supported by a cut off bicycle spoke inserted through the screen and the notch in the wind screen. This eliminates the need for the wire screen.

    2 cubes per day is also all I need the cook breakfast and dinner.

  3. I’ve gone stoveless, but I carry an emergency stove & several cubes in case I absolutely need something hot. It’s worth the few ounces to reduce The Hubs’ fear I’m going to freeze to death.

  4. Are you actually using the “Evernew Titanium (Medium-sized) Pasta Pot (110g)” which is 1 liter? If so, why not a 500/550ml pot?

    • More accident than not. I bought my first Evernew pasta pot 9 years ago and liked the size because I could fit a large canister and a small inside. Since then I’ve replaced it after crushing it in a fall and still like that size even though I rarely use a canister now. For one, it fits my fire making kit really well and two, I like to boil more than 500 ml of water at a time for the soupy meals I eat in the morning and night and the massive pot of coffee I make for breakfast.

  5. I use paint thinner or mineral spirits to quickly clean bottom of pot, after trip.

    • My wife mistakenly cleaned the bottom of my blackened pot after I cleaned the inside and left it on the drainboard. I wasn’t pleased, but then she didn’t know that a black pot heats up better than a clean pot.

  6. If you are a tea drinker, use your wet tea bag to wipe off the soot on your pot after the pot cools down. This helps keep your carry sack clean.

  7. Good article on ESBit “cooking”.
    My personal ESBIT stove is a titanium Trail Designs Sidewinder Caldera Cone. It is THE most efficient ESBIT stove when coupled with a Brian Green “BEGT” fuel tablet holder.

    I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon twice with it and cooked spaghetti, sauce and fried freeze dried scrambled eggs mix in a small skillet in that stove.

    Why a titanium Caldera Cone? Because in winter I use it with an Inferno wood burning insert so I only carry tinder and no fuel. That Inferno “gassifier” insert burns way too hot for an aluminum cone.

  8. The Esbit stink can be significantly mitigated by outgassing them before the hike. I take them out of the plastic/foil packaging and leave them in the garage for a few days. Most of the stink fades away but the fuel is still just as potent.

  9. Esbit is my first choice for backpacking. I have been using it for several years. Pot bottoms can be easily cleaned with just water and a nylon scrub pad. Unfortunately here in Southwest CO. we are having more summers with Stage one Fire restrictions in the national forest, and open flame without a valve control is not allowed.

  10. Do you know what is in the Esbit cubes — both chemicals and other materials? Thank you.

  11. TIP: Store your ESBIT tablets, at home and on the trail, in a coffee bag that has a plasticized foil liner. These are meant to keep the core oils in and will do the same for ESBIT tablet “fishy smell”. Be sure to roll the corrode bag top over at least 3 times before bending the sealing strip closure. Plus the residual coffee smell absorbs much of the fishy odor.

    • Just don’t stir it into your coffee! Some of us are almost that incompetent in the morning until we’ve had a cup of “go juice”.

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