Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cooking Stoves

If you are going to cook on your oar cruiser, you need a stove. In this post, we’ll show you a sample of possible stoves you could use… ranging in price and utility.
Cautionary note: Fire and boats are not a good mix. “Caution” is the key…
Caution in how you fuel the stove…
Caution in how the stove is held in position…
Caution in how the ‘filled’ pot is held in position. ..
Caution in how you handle the hot pot and where you place it...
Caution regarding leaked Propane gas (which can lead to explosions).

Stove Stability

Rick Thompson, in his custom Welsford Walkabout uses  a “Jetboil” (see below) on a thick piece of plywood (forming a ‘kitchen table’) with a hole that matches the diameter of the fuel tank. This keeps the stove from sliding and tipping, but does not solve the problem of keeping the pot from moving.

Rick Thompson's "Kitchen table" Holder for his Jetboil Stove 

Christine DeMerchant in her excellent site, shows a gimbaled stove that solves both problems of holding the ‘stove’ and the ‘pot’.  I was not able to find any commercial nor home-built version of a gimbal, such as this, that could be used to hold a ‘camp’ stove level in a pitching and rocking boat.

A Gimbaled Stove and Integrated Pot Holder

Colin Angus, in his Adventure Handbook suggests setting up the stove at the center of the boat in order to minimize pitch and roll caused by wakes and waves.


What ‘Alcohol’ to use in an Alcohol Stove?

The Adventure in Stoving site has very specific recommendations about what alcohol to use in stoves; here’s a copy of the summary of the article (in order by highest to lowest recommendation):
"1.  Lab grade absolute ethanol (200 proof) or high proof liquor (190 proof).  High heat content per gram (relative to methanol), relatively clean burning, and generally non toxic, but check the MSDS on lab grade absolute ethanol which may contain benzene which is toxic.  A good choice for warmer weather. 
2.  "Green" denatured alcohol in the US or methylated spirits (ethanol with methanol used as a denaturing agent) outside the US.  Methylated spirits is often called "meths" or "metho".  Good heat content, relatively clean burning, fairly non-toxic depending on the amount and type of the denaturing agent.  In the US, always check the MSDS.  A good choice for warmer weather. 
3.  Methanol, for example yellow HEET.  Decent heat content, very clean burning, but definitely toxic in terms of fumes and skin absorption.  Reasonably safe if used with care.  A good choice for colder weather. 
4.  You can use Isopropanol, for example red HEET (Iso-HEET), but it is not really suitable as a stove fuel because it's generally a sooty mess when it burns.  Highest heat content, but dirty burning, and definitely toxic.  Not recommended."

“Penny” Stoves (Alcohol)

Probably the least expensive option for a cooking stove is to build your own “penny” stove. They are used by many back packers because of their light weight, low cost and readily available fuel.

Typically, there is no control of the burner heat… it’s either all or nothing. It’s also important to have a way to “turn off” the stove other than letting the alcohol burn off. The most common way is to have a can that is larger than the stove that is placed upside-down over the still burning stove and starves it for air.

Do a search on the internet for “penny stoves” and you’ll find many, many variations.  Here’s just one:
A Penny Stove


Trangia (Alcohol or Propane gas)

Trangia, a Swedish company, offers a series of three stove sets for 1, 1-2 and 3-4 people fueled by either gas or alcohol. These are complete sets which include pots, stove, windshield… with many alternatives as to which pots/pans are included.

The alcohol burner available on all sets can boil a liter (1.1 qt.) of water in 10 minutes, while the propane burner (not available on the smallest set) can boil 1 liter of water in 3-5 minutes.

These are very high quality sets which receive very high ratings by customers.

Available at Amazon

Trangia Stove Set


Primus EtaPower EF Stove (Propane gas)

The Sea Kayak Photo site recommends the “Primus EtaPower EF” integrated stove set in their review. It is available, for example, at Amazon.

The stove set consists of a burner/base, windscreen, pot, lid/frying pan, handle and insulated carrying case. The fuel tank is attached to the burner by a hose, which enables the burner with a full pot to be more stable than if the fuel tank is integrated with the burner. When packed, it is 8.7” (22cm) diameter and 5” (12.5cm) high.

The stove can boil 1 liter (1.1 qt) of water in 3 minutes. According to the “Sea Kayak Photos” review, this stove is “amazingly frugal with gas”.

Primus ETAPower EF Stove


MSR PocketRocket Stove (Propane gas)

The PocketRocket stove is very light, packs in a very small space, has excellent control of heat. The pot ‘stand’ (it’s not a pot ‘holder’) is serrated and helps to prevent the pot from slipping.

The unit is directly attached to various sizes of propane containers and this leads to stability problems which must be addressed when used in a boat.

Boil times are about 3-4 minutes for a liter (1.1 qt) of water. A wind shield would have to be provided except in a dead calm.

The PocketRocket is sold by, for example, LL Bean

PocketRocket Stove


Jetboil (Propane gas)

The Jetboil stove is designed primarily for heating water, and it does it very effectively… about 2 minutes for 16 oz. (.5 liter) of water. The model shown below uses a 1 liter container, surrounded by a Neoprene jacket. The burner has a built-in wind-screen, Piezo electric lighter, and burner temperature control.

A note about ALL Piezo electric lighters; they can fail to work in damp/wet conditions and in the cold. ALWAYS bring back up lighting capabilities such as waterproof matches and/or a cigarette lighter.

These units are available, for example, at LL Bean.

Jetboil Stove


Kelly Kettle (Any available fuel such as dried leaves, twigs, etc.)

The Kelly Kettle gets high marks from reviewers because of its use of readily available fuels… anything, as long as it burns. It quickly boils water in its integrated water jacket and can, at the same time, be used as a cook stove with pot or pan.

Two issues which make using in a small boat a (probable) “no-no”:

  1. Difficult to keep stable due to its height, especially with a pot/pan on top,
  2. Depending upon what fuel you use, smoke. (Imagine the reaction of nearby boats when they see smoke pouring out of your cockpit… not pretty.)

This ‘all the bells and whistles’ example  is available at Amazon.

If you intend to ‘shore’ camp, this is a very good solution.

Kelly Kettle Set


Let us know what stove you use. Would you buy it again? Why or why not?


  1. My table is actually thin ply with fiddles, copied from Angus:

    I use a jetboil burner with the bigger pot. It does not attach to the stove, but the heat fins keep it from sliding off. The piezo ignitor failed constantly as you say, I gave up replacing it and use a separate lighter. Otherwise it works great, very fast.

    For a camping rowboat I'm not sure the gimbal type is needed. You aren't going to be heeled over like a sailboat, and probably won't be cooking underway. I like a calm anchorage for cooking and sleeping.

    1. I hear you about anchoring in calm places so waves are not an issue... HOWEVER, regardless of where we anchor, there is always the possibility of a stray wake coming in and pitching the pot all over our table top/lap/legs, etc... At least here in New Jersey, there are virtually no places you can anchor (at least during Memorial Day through Labor Day... add a month to each end of that range) that would be 'wake-free'... That was my thinking about the concern for pots tipping.
      Rick, looking at the photos of the Jetboil, I don't understand where the "Heat fins" are... and since the pot can be bigger (diameter) than the stove itself, how do the heat fins prevent sliding off?

    2. The fins are in a ring on the outside of the bottom, found a picture here:

      The pot does not slide off the burner, but it could still tip over in a big enough wake. I keep an eye out when cooking, which typically just takes a few minutes to heat most of the food I bring camping. Jetboil would not be my choice for something needing a long simmer, it's best for fast heating.

      Summer has the most traffic here also, but Winter is best for row cruising in California. Between storms the days are clear and 70s, winds are light, and migrating birds are everywhere in the Delta. My favorite time.

    3. Your point about only taking a couple of minutes to heat/boil makes sense in that the 'risk' period is short.

      Rick, the JetBoil seems to be only good for fast heating... which it does very well. Any thoughts on what stove you would use for 'slow' heating (simmer, etc.)?

      Your winter cruising sounds really good... ours (in NJ) are much colder... as long as there is no ice, we go out rowing throughout the winter... temps in the 30's and low 40's...

  2. I'm surprised you make no mention of arguably the most common type of gas stove!
    Cheap, stable, efficient and refills by far the cheapest.

    1. Hi Paul... thanks for the link... I could not find the same stove in the US, but did find one that looks (and costs) about the same as the Gelert stove... here's the link:

    2. Exactly that one, they are so cheap, come neatly stored in a plastic box, have a robust piezo starter, fully adjustable and the gas refills are readily available at a low price. I commend their type as a stable reliable unit for both afloat and ashore.

    3. Just had a look on Ebay....there's lots available

    4. Wow, I've seen those in use but did not know they went for $11 each. JetBoil's claim to fame is heat capture with the fins, I bet a Jetboil pot works one one of these.