Fuels, such as white gas, kerosene, isobutane, and denatured alcohols are regularly used for cooking with backpacking stoves. Fuel savings greatly depend on the efficiency of the cooking process, as well as the stove and type of cooking pot. One of the best ways to conserve fuel is to avoid energy loss during cooking. Running out of fuel mid-hike with a pack full of hot freeze-dried entrées is a common concern. Here are a few strategies to conserve stove fuel.
No flame in vain
Collect all your camp kitchen equipment – stove, fuel, cook pot, utensils, lighter, meal, water – and keep it all within arm’s reach. You don’t want the stove burning off precious fuel while it sits there waiting for you to locate your foodstuff, or fidgeting to split-open the packaging.
Only allow the fuel to burn when it is at work, or heating your food. Light up your stove after you have added the necessary ingredients to the cooking pot, such as water. If you don’t need to add the ingredients right away, at least make sure the packaging is opened up.
Use an optimal amount of water
Only use as much water as you need. The more the water, the more the fuel required to bring it to a boiling point. Never drain off any surplus cooking water; find a use for it or drink it later, rather than lose the precious nutrients. If the entrée is too soupy, grab some bread to soak up the excess liquid.
Pasta cooking tip: Cooking whole wheat dry pasta will take a few minutes longer than the standard, processed variety. When cooking dry pasta follow the boil-soak method with one adaption: bring it back to a boil after adding in the pasta. In other words, first bring a covered pot of water to a boil, add the pasta, cover and return the water to a boil. Turn off the stove and allow the heat inside of the pot to finish cooking the pasta. It will take about 8-10 minutes for whole-wheat pasta to cook al dente. If you insulate the pot you can shave off another minute or so during the soak time.
When you cook pasta this way, always use less water than the package recommends and retain any excess cooking water! The pasta water has starch (calories) that you do not want to waste. If you are making something else, use the extra pasta water for the sauce, potato flakes, hot cocoa, soup, etc.
This method of cooking also works for other fast-cooking foods, such as instant rice, quinoa, rolled oats, polenta, split lentils. Again, always retain the cooking water. Heat and air decrease the amount of soluble vitamin content in prepared food, which means dehydrating foods depletes vitamin content, cooking depletes vitamin content, and a further loss of whatever vitamins are left if you discard the cooking water. Don’t do it!
Use a tight fitting lid
The most important step you can take to reduce fuel consumption when cooking is to use a lid. Ensure the lid fits tight enough to keep the water vapor sealed inside. By covering the pot with a lid, the energy contained in the steam is utilized and transferred to cook the food, rather than lost through evaporation by steam. In fact, use of a lid can conserve as much as 40% of your fuel according to Wikipedia. The fuel savings are even greater if the wind is blowing.
Use the proper size cook pot
The contact the cooking pot makes with the flame is very important when it comes to fuel conservation. The greatest gains in fuel efficiency come from the size of the pot itself and its ability to transfer the heat without obstruction. The flame under the cooking pot should make direct contact with the pot without the flame spilling over the edge. Any excess flame that travels up the side of the pot is lost to the atmosphere, which is wasted fuel.
Most backpacking stoves tend to have small burners, so picking a pot that it too small for the burner is normally not an issue. Broad bottomed, shallow cooking pots tend to be the most energy efficient. Tall and narrow cooking pots tend to be less efficient, especially if the flame creeps up the side of the pot. If this happens, reduce the flame to low in order to save on fuel.
Decrease or eliminate the flame once water starts boiling
Once the water has reached a boiling point, turn down the flame (or turn it off completely) to save on fuel. Boiling water will never exceed boiling temperature (roughly 212°F or 100°C based on atmospheric pressure & salts). Once water reaches the boiling point, it will remain at that temperature until all the water boils off, or evaporates. True, a big flame will bring the water to boil faster, but it will only require a small flame to maintain the boil. And a lower flame will take more time to bring the water to a boil, but will use less fuel. Experiments demonstrate that the additional time to achieve a boiling point at a lower flame consumes less fuel than a faster boil time at a higher flame. Decide if your time or fuel is more valuable to you.
Clean the stove burner
Liquid-fuel backpacking stoves need to be cleaned and maintained regularly. With time, carbon and soot can build up around the burning mechanism and increase fuel consumption. To check for efficient operation, look for a bright, steady blue flame. A non-uniform, yellowish flame usually means the burner is clogged and needs to be cleaned.
Soak ingredients before cooking
As mentioned in our previous post, soaking food ingredients, such as pasta, lentils, and rice before cooking and following the boil-soak method saves even more on stove fuel.
All these fuel savings strategies will provide a significant saving – pack weight, money, and the environment.