Alcohol stoves and propane stoves are two of the most popular types of camping stoves on the market. They both have their pros and cons, which can make it difficult to decide which one is right for you.

Luckily for you, we’ve done all the hard work for you. In this blog post, we compare alcohol stoves vs propane stoves, so that you can make an informed decision about which stove is best for your needs.

We start with the Alcohol Stove. Of course!

What Is an Alcohol Stove and How Does It Work?

Alcohol Stove

An alcohol stove is a type of portable stove that uses alcohol as its fuel source most commonly: Denatured alcohol.

Denatured alcohol is ethanol (ethyl alcohol) that has been treated with a bitter agent to make it undrinkable. This makes it safe for use as a fuel source since it can’t be consumed accidentally.

Alcohol stoves come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but they all work in basically the same way. The stove is filled with alcohol, which is then lit and burned.

The heat from the burning alcohol boils water or cooks food, just like on a traditional stovetop.

Here are some of the types/designs of alcohol stoves:

Open flame stove

From the sound of its name, you can picture this design as being less complicated, and you’d be right. In fact, you can easily make one yourself.

See that empty can of cat food that you are planning to discard? Fill it with fuel and then light. There you go!

Vertical flame

This type features a double layer. It makes use of two nested cans with carefully placed vent holes to create an updraft flame that makes the stove more efficient.

Alcohol Stove

Side flame

This type of alcohol stove has got holes on the side of the vessels which direct the flame to the outside of the stove.

This allows you to comfortably place your pot on top of the stove without actually putting out the fire.

Pressure flame

Talk of faster cooking, great fuel efficiency, talk of pressure flame alcohol stoves. These stoves allow for the stove to build up pressure as it heats up forcing streams of fuel vapor through its outlets.

How An Alcohol Stove Works

Irrespective of the style and design, all alcohol stoves function similarly. They all utilize alcohol as their source of fuel.

First, alcohol is poured into the reservoir and then lit. The reservoir is lined with a series of small holes else known as “jets”.

DIY Alcohol Stove

The “jets” allow vapor to escape, creating a nice, even, blue fire that you can use.

Pros Of an Alcohol Stove

There are various reasons why camping and hiking enthusiasts would rather backpack an alcohol stove as compared to any other type of camping stove.

Below are some of the common whys:

Undemanding weight.

Weight, precisely low weight, is the primary advantage of alcohol stoves.

As an outdoor person, you clearly understand the matter of weight as of maximal importance.

Alcohol stoves weigh less than 3 ounces and, unlike other stoves, they are not accompanied by extra gear that would otherwise add to your backpack weight.

Pocket friendly

Apart from the fact that you can comfortably DIY your own alcohol camping stove using readily available materials, it is also inexpensive if you choose to buy one.

You can purchase a simple alcohol stove for as low as $10. The fuel is also pocket friendly.

Zero maintenance

How easy is it to maintain something that features no complicated moving parts?

Eco friendly

Alcohol, as a fuel source, offers a safer environment to the environment itself.
Because alcohol is made using natural fermentation procedures, it lacks the same toxic by-products found in other gas fuels.

Low cost and widely available fuel

Most alcohol stoves burn denatured alcohol which can be easily found in many stores.

No explosive dangers

Alcohol vapor is less volatile and not as explosive as compared to other gas fuels such as propane.

Cons Of an Alcohol Stove

On the flip side of the coin, there are a few drawbacks to alcohol stoves.

Let’s see why you should be hesitant to settle for an alcohol stove:

No temperature adjustment.

With an alcohol stove, you can neither simmer nor adjust the cooking temperature to your liking.

Slow cooking time.

The size of the stove is directly proportional to the amount of heat produced.

The small size of an alcohol stove limits the heat output thus resulting in L-O-N-G cooking times.

Susceptible to cold temperatures

Lighting up an alcohol stove can be quite hard in really cold weather. This is because the alcohol being used has to physically get hot for it to catch fire.

Burn lots of fuel.

Alcohol stoves are less fuel-efficient as compared to other stoves.

An ounce of fuel will burn for about 10 minutes. Just enough to boil your water or cook your single entree meal.

Now, considering the number of times you plan to cook each day, you will be required to bring ENOUGH fuel, which means more weight.

Fire outbreaks are super likely to happen.

Handling an alcohol stove requires maximum precaution. Given their open nature, it can be quite easy for the alcohol to pour or for the flame to spread. It’s for this reason that many parks and states ban the use of alcohol stoves while camping.

Propane Stoves

A propane stove is a cooking apparatus that uses propane gas as a fuel source.

These stoves function similarly to natural gas except that they receive their fuel from separate propane tanks or canisters.

Propane Stove

How Propane stoves work

Portable propane stoves work by using a small, portable canister of propane. The canister is connected to the stove, and when you turn on the gas, the propane flows into the stove and lights the burner.

Pros Of a Propane Stove.

Let’s look at why you should choose a propane stove for your camping trip.

Fast cooking

Basically, propane has higher BTU ratings and thus burns hotter and quicker than alcohol, resulting in much faster cooking times. This is the ruling advantage of a propane stove.

Perfect for all-season camping.

What if it were possible for you to camp during winter?
Propane is definitely your go-to stove, thanks to its ability to work well in extremely cold weather and at high altitudes.

Portable and easy to handle

These stoves are easy to assemble and carry around from place to place throughout the entire trip.

Safety

Propane is relatively safe since the fuel is stored in a cylindrical canister that is spill-free

Offers simmer and temperature adjustment.

With a propane stove, you can easily adjust the flame to either warm your hands or increase it to cook your meal.

Fuel efficient

A propane stove not only burns hotter and faster but also uses fuel in the most efficient way.

Cons Of a Propane stove

Carbon monoxide poisoning.
Propane stoves can only be used in a properly ventilated surrounding, in this case, outside. Don’t cook with a propane stove inside your tent.

Heavyweight

Compared to an alcohol stove, a propane stove is much heavier. You will also be required to pack a few dozen propane canisters depending on how long your trip is going to last.

What Burns Hotter–Alcohol or Propane?

As may have noticed above, the primary advantage of a propane stove is its ability to burn quicker and hotter resulting in faster cooking time.

The higher BTUs make this fact possible. So, if you’d rather choose a hotter stove, propane should definitely be your choice.

CONCLUSION

A hike or a camp is not complete if there is no real cooking involved.

Taking the above into consideration, it may seem like alcohol is your best shot even though it will take you close to forever to prepare a single meal or boil your water.

But again, is there a need to rush things? If yes, then propane is your kind of stove.

If you still can’t make up your mind, then you might want to read our article comparing alcohol vs canister stoves.