DELTA, Alaska - By the time you read this, I’ll be on the trail for a weeklong ski trip that I’ve been looking forward to all winter. I hope to return rejuvenated and energized, but there’s a good chance I’ll return completely worn-out and schooled in the fine art of winter camping.
My eyes have been on the temperature all week, hoping for a warm up. We’ve still been enduring below zero weather at my house in the mornings, which makes me especially suspicious of tent camping. I hope we are prepared to endure.
As I mentioned in my last column, I like to tinker. I’ve been making some of my own gear in hopes of making the trip not only go smoother but also not cost so much.
Beside making my own pulk sled, I’ve sewn a fleece liner for my down sleeping bag to add warmth and made a pocket alcohol stove out of an Altoids tin.
These little stoves are pretty cool, and they are cheap insurance against the cold that will stifle canister stoves that burn butane or propane.
We will need to melt snow as we go for our drinking water and will be completely dependent on a stove to do that. The Altoids stove is Plan B if our other stove fails.
These are easy to make and will only set you back about $10. Here’s what you need: An Altoids tin, perlite (found in any garden section of a store), a small piece of aluminum screen and a bottle of yellow Heet (methanol/methyl alcohol). You can find this at any service station or auto parts store.
Empty the tin of mints. Remove the cover and trace its outline on the screen with a marker. Cut it out. Place perlite in the tin until it’s nicely rounded. Fit your screen piece over the perlite and tuck it under the ridge of the tin.
That’s it. To use it, pour some fuel in it and light with a match. The flame will be colorless, so you may have to move your hand quickly back and forth over the stove to feel if it’s lit.
Be careful not to get the fuel on your hands or breathe in the fumes, due to its toxicity. It will burn hot and clean with little soot and will go out on its own once all the fuel has been consumed by fire. After it has cooled down, you can place the cover on it and it’s ready for next time.
I’ve been able to get 8 cups of cold water hot on one burn, which lasts about 12 minutes. To relight the stove, just add more fuel. (Just make sure the stove has cooled down before you add more fuel.)
I bought an Esbit Pocket Stove (German made, burns fuel blocks) for $10 to use as the base for my Altoid stove. The Altoid stove fits perfectly on the base and provides just enough clearance for a pot or kettle.
For a more natural fuel source, you can use Everclear, which is pure grain alcohol. This will cost you substantially more to burn, but does not have the toxicity of methyl alcohol.
With proper ventilation when you burn your stove and due diligence to keep it off your skin, the yellow Heet makes an economical fuel choice. No matter what fuel you choose, this stove could be a lifesaver.
Brookelyn Bellinger is an independent filmmaker and author of the book “The Frozen Toe Guide to Real Alaskan Livin’.” Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.