Simplicity reigns.
Simplicity reigns. (Photo: Julian Bialowas/Unsplash)

The World’s Best Backpacking Stove Costs $10

Plus, you can build it at home

Simplicity reigns.
Matt Jancer

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Backpackers know it as the kitty can stove, and Appalachian thru-hikers swear by it. Jim Wood posted the original design (he called it the Super Cat) online in 2005, and, at $10, it's still the best-value, best-designed alcohol stove around. It weighs just four ounces (including the stove, windscreen, and pot), everything stores inside the cooking vessel, and it doesn't need a separate pot stand. It burns denatured alcohol, a cheap, common backcountry fuel well suited to three-season hikes of less than two weeks. Here’s how to build Wood's original design at home. 

Build It 

Buy a three-ounce can of cat food (think Fancy Feast or Friskies). Give the food to a cat you like or a person you don't. Remove the lid and round off the sharp lip by folding it over with a pair of pliers.

Use a handheld hole puncher to cut a row of holes around the top of the can. The holes should be about an eighth of an inch apart.

(Andrew Skurka)

Punch a second row of equally spaced holes under the first, but offset them so that the centers of these holes sit under the first row's gaps. ( has a template that you can tape to your can if you're uncomfortable eye-balling it.) 

Next, build the windscreen. Because we're going light and cheap, your screen will be made from aluminum foil. Serial solo trekker Andrew Skurka recommends cutting a sheet three inches longer than your pot's circumference. Fold it in half, then fold down the edges, making sure to smooth out the air between layers.

(Andrew Skurka)

After the stove is built, buy an aluminum pot with a lid, such as the Stanco Grease Pot ($8). Toss the strainer.

(Andrew Skurka)

Use It

Place the windscreen around the pot. Leave a half-inch gap between the two, and let the ends of the screen overlap. Pour two tablespoons (one fluid ounce) of denatured alcohol fuel into the stove, and light it with a match or lighter. 

You can't stop or adjust the stove once it's lit: you can only let it burn out, so don't add too much fuel. Wait 30 seconds to allow it to warm up before placing the pot on the stove. Now, start cooking. 

One Note of Caution

Make sure you're using denatured alcohol and not rubbing alcohol or any other kind of fuel. Catching on fire and dying in the woods doesn’t mesh with Leave No Trace rules.

Lead Photo: Julian Bialowas/Unsplash