Whether you’re trying to collect gear for backpacking or looking for ways to lighten your pack, here’s a fun, cheap, and easy do-it-yourself project to make your own stove. If you’ve been shopping for a lightweight backpacking stove, you’ve probably noticed they can be quite pricey, anywhere from $50 to over $100. Depending on what tools and materials you already have at home, this project will probably only cost you $7-13.
I first read about the Fancy Feast stove over on Andrew Skurka’s website. Skurka has been named “Adventurer of the Year” by both Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure, and is the author of The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Tips to Hit the Trail. It may seem counter-intuitive that someone with such credentials would use a stove made from a can of cat food, but he has been using it for several years now for its simplicity and light weight.
Materials and Cost
Here is what you need for fuel and to make your stove and windscreen. You may already have some or all of these items at home.
- Can of Fancy Feast cat food: $0.80 (Feed the contents to your cat or enjoy on crackers.)
- Single Hole Punch: $3.00
- Roll of Aluminum Foil: $3.50
- Denatured Alcohol: $6:00 (I found some at the hardware store near the paint thinner.)
Detailed instructions (including video) for making the stove and windscreen are on Andrew Skurka’s website here.
Fancy Feast Stove Highlights
- Inexpensive to make, and you may already have some of the materials.
- Ultra lightweight. The stove and the windscreen together weigh next to nothing.
- Very compact. You can store the stove and windscreen in your cook pot when not in use.
- Simple design. No moving parts to break and might even be repairable if you step on it.
- No pumping or priming or assembly. Light it, wait a few seconds, start cooking. Alcohol stoves don’t cook as fast as gas stoves, but you might be able to start cooking sooner.
- The windscreen is vital for blocking wind and focusing heat to the pot. One possible mod suggested is to put a few paperclips on the bottom of the windscreen to prop it up slightly above ground level. This helps get oxygen to the flame while still blocking the wind and retaining heat.
- Alcohol fuel may be carried in an empty disposable water bottle. One tip I’ve read is to label your fuel bottle and put a few drops of food coloring in the fuel so it’s not mistaken for water by you or a member of your party.
I recently got to try my Fancy Feast stove on a day outing with the simple task of boiling some water for tea. There was some trial and error at first. I started my first run on top of the snow, and it wasn’t long before I realized this was a bad idea. As the stove heated up, it began to slide and sink into the snow. I also used too small an amount of fuel for this first run, so it went out quickly. After digging down to bare ground and using enough fuel, I was soon boiling some water. I used a small pot that held just enough water to make two mugs of tea, but the stove seemed like it could definitely support and heat a bit larger pot that could easier cook a meal.
After using a pressurized gas stove for most of my life, there were a few things about the alcohol stove that were very different. There is no prep work such as pumping or priming. Just light it and wait a few seconds for the stove to heat up. The Fancy Feast stove is totally silent, and the flame is invisible in daylight. About the only way to tell it’s lit is to carefully hold your hand over it to feel for heat. The same goes for “turning it off” as well. I was able to blow mine out. I heard the woof of the flame as I blew on it, but had to verify by feel if it was actually out. Because of the stealthy flame, I eventually chose (after singeing the hair on my fingers) to safely light the stove through one of the side holes with a match.
There is no way to regulate the flame on this stove; it’s either on or off. This should be fine for boiling water or cooking something simple like noodles or instant oatmeal, which is pretty much what I do when I go backpacking.
Since the open stove cannot transport fuel, you have to pour unused fuel back into your fuel container. Without thinking, I tried to pour from the lip of the stove, forgetting that I had punched three dozen holes on the side. Next time I will use more finesse and hopefully create less mess.
Will the Fancy Feast stove replace my $80 MSR Whisperlite stove? No. Not completely anyhow. For family trips I’ll most likely continue to use the MSR stove for higher capacity pots. I do see the Fancy Feast stove going out on day trips or solo overnighters for sure though. I’m looking forward to getting some more time and experience with this stove. Any reservations I have about the Fancy Feast stove could be that it just seems too quiet, simple, and easy to be true.