Although I’ve dabbled with meths as a fuel, I’ve always used gas as a cooking fuel. For me, meths has three principle drawbacks: 1) it’s smelly, 2) it deposits soot on pans, 3) it’s slow. Granted, meths setups can be lighter, but the disadvantages (for me) outweigh the weight savings. However, that could change. There’s a new fuel on the market, Fuel4, which is a bio-ethanol gel, which can be used instead of meths. You can find out some details here.
Both Terry Abraham and Gordon Green have reported their findings on their blogs and have been quite positive about it. After a bit of a conflab on Twitter, Fuel4 offered to send me a sample to try. Curious to see whether how it compared to meths and to gas, I accepted their offer.
Fuel4 comes in 200ml pouches or a 1L can. It is available at a reasonable number of stockists, including Go Outdoors and Blacks. One litre of fuel is £5.99 at Go Outdoors, which is slightly more expensive than meths, but not by much. Other retailers are being added, so availability should improve. I was given some pouches of gel (shown above).
Fuel4 do dedicated cook sets, which are similar to Trangias, but don’t appeal to me because of their bulk and weight. As yet, there are no dedicated burners. Traditional meths burners don’t seem to be ideal, so I bought some cheap tea lights (large) in Morrison’s and used the foil holder (shown above). These seem to be ideal, being reasonably robust and just the right size, holding 35ml if filled to the brim.
I have two meths stove setups, the backpackinglight.co.uk Pocket Stove and the Evernew DX. First I tried the Pocket Stove. I used about 30ml of gel in the tea light holder, which fits well into the Pocket Stove. Gordon recommended using a trivet, so I used the Evernew trivet on top of the Pocket Stove. I dug out my old MSR Titan Kettle and filled it with 0.5L of water.
Lighting the gel in the Pocket Stove is really easy through the large aperture. The gel lights first time and takes about one minute to really get going, when it starts bubbling and making a slight popping sound. The tests took place in my garage, so there was no wind. It took approximately nine minutes to get a rolling boil for half a litre of water. The total burn time for c.30ml of gel was about 13 minutes.
The Pocket Stove seemed ideal for the Fuel4 with good air flow and the pan just below the apex of the flames. The trivet seemed to help as well, so I’d recommend using one. I briefly experimented without the trivet and the flames were not as energetic.
It’s probably worth mentioning here that a modicum of care is needed once the stove has heated up. When the pan is removed, the flames do reach an appreciable height, so care is need when cooking in a tent. So far, so good. I was impressed. Next up was the Evernew DX stove.
With the DX, I decided to use my Evernew Pasta Pot with 500ml of water. With the DX, it was difficult to light when fully assembled. so I lit the gel, then placed the top section of the stove over the burner. Again, I used the trivet.
It seemed to me that the pan was too high in the DX. It is possible that there wasn’t enough air flow either, as the flames were yellow (an indication of imperfect combustion). This was confirmed by the fact that the water wasn’t heated to a rolling boil. I’m sure it was hot enough for a dehydrated meal or a cup of tea though, as there were some bubbles on the bottom of the pan.
There was a small amount of soot on the bottom of the pan. However, this is easily wiped off with a damp cloth.
I decided to return to the Pocket Stove, but with the Evernew Pasta Pot to double check whether the pot was the problem or the stove.
The boil time for the Pasta Pot was about nine minutes, similar to the the MSR Titan Kettle, so my conclusion is that the Pocket Stove is more suitable than the DX. My other observation is that some of the flames go up the side of the Evernew Pasta Pot, suggesting that a pot with a wider base might be more efficient. I probably should have tried my Vargo pot, the diameter of which is half way between the MSR and the Evernew.
Fuel4 does leave a small amount of residue after burning, which can be scraped off (shown above).
Overall, I was impressed with Fuel4. It overcomes two of my objections. It is not smelly. It has a vague alcohol smell. Secondly, it’s reasonably clean. Any modest soot residue can be wiped off. It’s certainly superior to meths. However, boil times are around double those using a gas stove, although I don’t think that’s a huge deal breaker.
Bear in mind, these tests were in ideal conditions, with no breeze. In windy conditions, I would expect boil times to be longer. To combat this, I think a windscreen would be a good idea. I suspect the Fuel4 stoves, with their integral burner and wind shield might be more efficient than the Pocket Stove or DX setups.
Will Fuel4 seduce me away from using gas? I think for short trips, I might use it. It appeals to the boy scout in me 🙂 . However, if you add a windscreen, the weight advantage is not huge. Gas is quicker and more convenient. I think it’s also safer in a tent as there is no flaring. For instance, I wouldn’t use Fuel4 in a tent with a modest porch, like the Scarp. It would be fine in a Duomid or Trailstar.
I think for longer trips, gas becomes more attractive as the weight penalty disappears. Gas is much more energy dense, so becomes more weight efficient on longer trips. I guess Fuel4 availability will be similar, i.e. mainly from outdoors shops. One advantage of Fuel4 is that it can be posted. Whether it can be carried on aircraft, I don’t know.
Fuel4 is certainly an interesting alternative to gas and definitely has significant advantages over meths.
Disclosure: Fuel4 provided me with some gel packs free of charge to review with no strings attached. I have no relationship, financial or otherwise with Fuel4.