Why My Alcohol Stove Didn’t Work on the PCT

When I started planning for my PCT hike in 2018 I really wanted to use a lot of the same gear I used for my AT thru-hike in 2017.  For me this included my Fancy Feast alcohol stove and and my standard cook kit.  On the surface, alcohol stoves are a great choice for long-distance backpacking for several reasons.  These reasons include being lightweight, reliable, easy to find fuel, and having an exact measure of fuel consumption.  These factors are even more favorable on the AT where town stops are very close together and you only have to carry a little fuel to make it to the next town stop.  For me this stove worked excellent for me on the AT for the trail conditions in 2017; however, your mileage may vary.

Starting the PCT

I started the PCT with my stove and was able to obtain some alcohol from a very respected trail angel after a lengthy conversation on why I should never use an alcohol stove on the PCT.  Normally, I only cook dinner so the first days of the PCT were relativity calm and the stove worked great.  However, I was noticing that there are larger distances between town stops so you are carrying more fuel, which cuts into the initial weight savings you get from short hops from town to town using an alcohol stove.  Even with this fuel was readily available.

Unfavorable Conditions

The first couple of sections of the PCT have outstanding ridgeline and views from the crests of mountains and hills.  With this comes much more exposure to the elements than on, say, the AT, where you are inside a tunnel of trees for days of hiking and camping.  With this exposure comes wind.  I am not talking about brief gusts of five- to ten-mph winds, I am referring to winds that last hours upon hours and can almost drive you a little crazy wanting to be out of them for a few minutes.  With this amount of constant wind even with an adequate windscreen the chance of an alcohol-stove fire getting out of hand is greatly increased regardless of how vigilant the user is.  A strong wind increases the size of the flame and can flow the flame across the ground.  This is further compounded by how dry the environment is on many portions of the first few sections of the PCT.

Environmental Impact

Many of us following the news in the recent years have watched footage of wildfires raging in Southern California but it never really hits home until you are walking through miles upon miles of forests that have been completely destroyed by fires. Seeing this and still using an alcohol stove to save maybe a few ounces at this point felt super irresponsible to me.  If making a different choice in stoves could prevent the destruction of such a beautiful trail I knew a change had to be made, at least for my piece of mind.  While I know many of you would push to go stoveless, I really enjoy a hot dinner and have control enough of my pack weight to not have to go down that route just yet in my pursuit of that less than ten-pound base weight (currently 11ish).  I choose to go with a canister stove I actually purchased for the AT but never returned. This was sent by my logistical support center (mom and USPS ladies).

Wrap-Up

Long story short, I sent my alcohol stove home less than 500 miles into the PCT.  I didn’t put it in the hiker box because after seeing firsthand the damage that fire has caused on the PCT I knew that there was no place for alcohol stoves on the PCT.  If I ever make it out to California to do the PCT again (or finish) the stove will never make it on the list.

Please take a look at the pictures in this article and ask yourself if your conscience would be unaffected if you, even by accident, contributed to an event that destroyed such a large part of nature due to something as small as a gear choice.

If you have any questions for me please feel free to ask below or email me directly.

 

 

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Comments 4

  • Alan Fox : Apr 21st

    I used a thermojet alcohol stove to tripple crown. Very stable, low center of gravity. Thermojet.com Frost

    Reply
    • Chris G. : Apr 21st

      Center of gravity really has nothing to do with it. Wind can literally drag the fire across the ground. There really is no place for an alcohol stove on the PCT as dry as it is right now.

      Reply
  • Yermo : Apr 21st

    Might also mention they they are often banned on the PCT — unless there is an on and off knob for control.
    Last year ALL stoves of any type were banned on parts of the PCT due to extreme fire hazard and danger.

    Reply
    • Yermo : Apr 21st

      That should have read, all fires from any source not only stoves. Sorry I got carried way.

      Reply

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