Fuel4 – a first look

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There was a small amount of soot on the bottom of the pan. However, this is easily wiped off with a damp cloth.

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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.

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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.

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Fuel4 does leave a small amount of residue after burning, which can be scraped off (shown above).

Conclusions

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.

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44 thoughts on “Fuel4 – a first look”

  1. For me, meths has several principle advantages 1) it’s easerly avalible, 2) it deposits soot on pans, black pans are more efficient. 3) it’s quite.4) no threds or complicated mechanics to go wrong.5)works even in sub zero temprarures.6)meths setups as light as you want them to be. 7) it is easier to guage how much fuel you need for a trip. 8) no empty canisters going to land fill sights. Huddled around a methes stove on a cold winters night watching the flames dance about, while warming your hands priceless.

    1. “2) it deposits soot on pans, black pans are more efficient. 3)”

      I have to disagree. Any sooth or similar badly conducting unnecessary material on the pot messes the heat transfer and makes the system less efficient. Heat-conducting black paint might be a different think but soot is no good for efficiency – but does add credibility. 😉

      1. I am working on the principal that black absorbs more heat than shiney pots.

        Yes you get a lot of camp cred; when using wood and home made burners in Scouting.

      2. Yes, darker surfacse absorb more radiation but which is the main method of transfering energy from the stove to the pot: radiation or convention/conduction? I’d say the latter unless you have a large surface glowing in red/wite (say MSR Reactor burner). And with convention/conduction the colour of the pot doesn’t help, and neither does the poor heat transfer rate of the soot. This has been tested on some articles in Finnish outdoor magazines with mixed results. Either there has been no difference or sooth has been harmful. My personal experience with wood stoves and wood fires would suggest soot being bad for eficiency. But anyway, the difference shouldn’t be too bad so each to his own.

  2. Hi Robin, I looked at this fuel about 12 months ago but at that time I couldn’t buy it in small quantities. It’s also available in liquid form as well as the gel. I have been doing quite a bit of stove testing recently and I think that with the right set up it will be possible to boil 500ml in about 6 minutes. I have had a result of 4.5 minutes to boil 400ml. Albeit in indoors so the efficiency will drop outdoors. Soot on the pan will probably mean that your stove is too far away from the pot base and burning is not efficient enough. Try some height tests just using meths until you get a good flame and then revert to the gel. I boiled my 400ml using approx. 18ml of fuel.
    When I get back on my feet I will get some gel and see how I compare with you.

    1. Thanks, Alan. I definitely think the DX is the wrong height. It’s entirely possible that the Pocket Stove is sub-optimal too. I’d like to see a lightweight stove with windshield from Fuel4 that is optimised. I’m not sure that the tea light holder is the best, but it was the best I could do.

  3. Your boil times are quite similar to my Trangia 27 using meths. I recently moved to gas having always used meths and I have to admit there are some things I do miss about a meths setup.

    For me the biggest downside with meths – is that if you accidentally get it on your spork, it tastes truly revolting! For some reason I always seemed to manage this at least once a walk.

    I will probably go back to meths in the Winter as I know it works well under such conditions – provided one uses all weather matches.

    My current worry with gas is I now have three canisters. Two are partially used and one is new. I need to try and incorporate the partially used ones into a walk without jeopardising the walk. Seems a little tricky in my book.

    But you are right about one thing, gas stoves boil water a lot faster than a meths stove which can be very handy on occasion!

  4. Big cost difference in Switzerland was there for 3 weeks last year.The gas was 15 chf for 7 days or so.Meths on the other hand 2-3 chf.
    First time i used the pocket stove i am a convert
    It was a no brainer

  5. Very interesting. I don’t necessarily believe gas is a better fuel at all, it’s better in some circumstances. I used the Ti-Tri Inferno (set for a Snow Peak Mini-Solo) for two months this summer, mostly with meths, and was incredibly impressed. With an evernew burner more than equal to a gas stove. Some parts of the world (and indeed the UK – note Chris Townsend’s remarks in TGO this month that canisters weren’t as easily found on his ‘watershed walk’ as meths) mean meths is just around more and a better choice. Carrying this sort of fuel (when you are dealing with an empty bit of plastic not a metal cartridge) would also mean you are not lugging around empty canisters for days once they are spent on a proper long wilderness trip.

    But I agree gas has it’s time and share your caution about cooking in a limited porch such as a Scarp. I used gas two weeks ago in the Highlands as I thought it would rain a lot and dont like cooking too much in the tent space with meths (less of a problem with a Ti-Tri which I find more secure and obvious/easier to avoid).

    I must get hold of some of this. I suppose it’s an innovation similar to all those hand gels we now seem to use!

    1. I don’t believe there is a “best” fuel. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Apart from availability, it seems to me that Fuel4 has significant advantages over meths. Overall, my personal preference is still for gas but I’m not trying to persuade anyone.

      1. I think with meths its value as a fuel depends on getting the right stove. My ti-tri just seems super efficient and a joy to use, whereas I now shudder at the ‘mini-trangia’ I used quite a few years back (I switched to gas and thought never again with meths).

        Anyways, I will try some of this. Your review (as of many) is persuasive.

      2. I picked up some Fuel4 today from Go-outdoors. Will give it a try over winter. Just need to decide which meths stove to use, Trangia, Feather fire, pepsi can, cat can ,12-10 stove or just make one.

      3. I believe Fuel4 is working on a stove. It seems to me that meths stoves may not be the most efficient for Fuel4.

  6. I totally agree that there’s no single ‘right’ answer as both gas and meths have their pros and cons. I did some fairly extensive testing before last year’s TGO and some arithmetic based on weight, boiling time, etc for all my potential stove/pan combinations. Refuelling opportunities on the trip came into it too.
    In the end I took meths but it was finely balanced. It meant leaning out of my Scarp to use my Clikstand T2(with their proprietary screen) as I wouldn’t have meths too close. Despite the teasing from my companion it boiled quicker than other most other meths stoves. A DX was quicker but it gobbles too much fuel for a four day stretch; the Clikstand Ti with an Evernew Ti burner and an Evernew 900 pot was quicker than my Primus Micro both indoors and out. All tests used standard meths or fresh gas cartridges but I must try Fuel4.
    Incidentally while the mini-Trangia burner is hopeless, its pot works extremely well as it has a swaged bottom giving more surface area to the flame.
    By the way if you’re testing in your garage then keep a door open. I had quite a headache before I realised the cause. it could easily have led to somebody else coming off the TGO standby list !

    1. Thanks Stan. Interesting stuff. I’d forgotten about the Clickstand which looks interesting. I think we need to know a bit more from Fuel4 about what is an ideal burner.

      Our garage is huge and has a ventilation block so I should be ok 🙂

    2. O.K. the Trangia brass stoves weighs 10g more than the Evernew Ti equivalent.

      so which is the more efficient ? I have one of those Trangia Triangles Which is

      heavier than the Clickstand T2. I can pick one up for $51.00, but am I going to be

      hammered with a large import bill, like I was with the Scarp tent ?

  7. Robin,

    I can also vouch for the Clikstand which has been forgotten about a bit recently. Although it is heavier and not as efficient as a Caldera Cone, it is very pleasing to use in a lightweight Trangia sort of way (though not as windproof).

    It is also very packable and flexible with some different fuels.
    My titanium version is compatible with my Trangia gas burner which I like. I have successfully used this with a 100% Coleman propane canister in conjunction with a Kovea LPG adaptor (which you can sometimes import from Korea on Ebay). The LPG adaptor and toughened Propane canister are both very heavy. However, this is very useable in very cold weather without any priming flamethrower risks and without any power drop-off like you encounter with Propane / butane mix canisters.

    For safety reasons relating to gas pressures I do not consider using this setup above say 5 to 10 deg C.

    This Kovea LPG adaptor thing has been covered in detail on adventuresinstoving before. However, I normally keep my Propane fuel canister angled at 45 degrees rather than horizontal as shown on that site as I found that to be quite dangerous. My eyebrows have only recently grown back !

  8. Mike R – you’re right about the Caldera Cone – just !
    Indoors it took 2’45” to boil 300ml of water in an Evernew 900 pot versus 3’00” for the Clikstand. Outdoors it took 3’13” against 3’50”.
    I rejected the Cone for TGO use however because with its necessary plastic container it is heavier than the Clikstand and is something of a one-trick pony. With the Clikstand I’m able to put my Evernew mug on the burner after the pot has boiled, using the last of the meths to make a brew. It all comes down to personal camp routine and what works for you.
    (I have spreadsheets available – how sad is that !)
    Robin – sorry if I’ve hijacked your thread.

  9. My heart beats for alcohol stoves so it was interesting to read this (and all the comments). I’ve heard that alcohol gels similar to Fuel4 clog the jets in traditional alcohol burners (like Trangia) so the tea light foil holder is probably a good way to go.

    I have (among other alcohol stoves) the Trangia Triangle which is very similar to the Clickstand and I like it (it needs a separate wind screen, though). So I guess the Clickstand is worth a try.

    And even if I would choose an alcohol stove if I had to choose just one stove for the rest of my life I do possess (too many?) gas stoves as well. Sometimes they are a better alternative, IMHO.

  10. Nice review Robin.

    Fuel4 has been around for some time now it’s just Bio-ethanol in a gel carrier making it semi solid.
    Personally the smell of Methylated spirit makes me feel sick so I always stuck to gas stoves until a couple of years ago, I started using bio-ethanol fluid in a Trangia stove with great results.
    Advantages of bio-ethanol: smells nice when decanting, odourless when in use, leaves little or no residue in my stoves or on the base of pots, works well in freezing conditions, cheap to buy (1.5ltr bottle for £5 at my local B&Q).
    Disadvantages: doesn’t quit burn as fiercely as Meths in my Trangia stove, availability could be an issue while out and about.

    My set-up now is a Caldera cone with the 12-10 stove using Bio-ethanol, Boils 400ml of water using 20ml of fuel (Summer) no problem.

    I may do a test of my own in the future, Fuel4 Bio gel vs Bio-fluid to see how they compare.

    Like reading your mods and reviews, there very good.

    Thanks.

    1. Agreed Jeff, this kind of fuel has been around for a while now. I cant remember the name of it but I used to buy and use gel fuels in their own individual pots which became the stove itself. Each pot came complete with a pot stand and resealable lid. Ok for a short trips but lost interest as quite sooty (we are talking a few years ago so improvements undoubtably have been made since). I might have a rummage in my old camping storage box to see if I can find one to test out again 🙂

  11. Robin, being able to buy the gel in a pouch makes it more versatile than the original stuff in pots I used to get. What’s the effect of extreme temperature on the gel? Have you tried to see what a low temp does to the gel in terms of pouring and lighting? I am sure its fine as its an alcohol base after all but would be interested as obviously meths is unaffected by temperature (well in my experience anyway!)

  12. Just throwing this in the pot. My test results have found that the DX set up is about 30% less efficient than the caldera type cone with the 12-10 stove simply because too much heat is lost through the top slots which also causes the fuel to burn faster, meaning more fuel is required.
    I have tried many many combinations of different stoves and screens but i cannot achieve anything better than the 12-10 stove with a cone whether it be a genuine ti screen or a cheap foil as long as you don’t make a really short cone because it slows the burning rate down.
    Weight wise too. The 12-10 and foil screen is hard to beat. I can understand why folk like the DX set up because its neat and simple, great for weekends but over a two week period it uses far too much juice.
    The triangia triangle and stove is too heavy. I might make an ally version and see how it measures up.

  13. AlanR – There is already an alloy version of the Trangia Triangle – the titanium Clikstand. I need to be careful here but my understanding is that the Clikstand predated the Triangle, but Trangia liked the design idea and made just sufficient mods (like no lugs for a windshield) to claim their Triangle as original. The Triangle got me into lightweight meths burning in the first place. It’s not a bad stove but the Ti Clikstand is better for me; it can be ordered with a titanium Evernew burner and then comes with an annular ring to support the burner better, the Evernew being a couple of mm smaller in diameter than a Trangia burner.. You can even dowse it with the cut-off part of a Pringles tin – but that’s another story !

  14. Thanks Stan, I have the Stainless Steel version of the triangle which is quite heavy. Sorry i didn’t mean alloy i meant “ally”, short for aluminium. But seeing that i already have a pattern i will make one. Can’t afford to keep buying Ti gear and then not using it.

  15. Just wondering how difficult it is to extinguish. When I use my Trangia, I always put too much meths in it, so when I have finished I just chuck the top over the burner to put the flame out. I am assuming the same method works with the gel, as the fire will run out of oxygen.

    It looks to be a good fuel for DofE groups, as you can’t spill it and then ignite the spilt fuel.

    1. I didn’t try extinguishing it before it but not out, but I believe it’s easy to extinguish just by blowing hard on it. As you day, if it’s deprived of oxygen, it will also be extinguished.

  16. Thanks. I might get some to experiment with, although I almost exclusively use gas now. Could be useful as an alternative to fire lighters for lighting the log burner. Just squirt a bit on the morning sticks.

  17. Isn’t fuel 4 just the same type of fuel as ‘Green Heat’ which has been around for years
    e.g. http://www.outdooraction.co.uk/trek-and-travel-trekking-cooking-accessories/trangia/greenheat-trangia-fuel-cell-pd-5702.php

    http://www.greenheat.co.za/products1

    also available in squeezy sachets.
    I tought the GreenHeat stuff wasn’t as fast/efficient as meths when I tried it. Maybe Fuel 4 is better? Anyhow they seem to have got a good marketing department!

    As an aside. Like Alan R found, all the test results I have seen that actually do proper fuel efficiency tests ( i.e. actual fuel needed to repeatedly boil a fixed amount of water as opposed to just boil times) show the Evernew to be less efficient than many alky stoves. And a bit fierce. (When inclement, I’ve cooked inside a closed tent porch with meths for all my 30+ year backpacking career – no worries with flaring) It looks a well built piece of kit but unlike the pans, not worth the high price for the performance.

    1. Is it the same as GreenHeat? Don’t know. That’s a question for Fuel4

      I’m told it has the same energy density as meths.

      As I’m not a meths stove user, I don’t know how it stacks up against different meths stoves.

      My tea light stove is almost certainly not the most efficient, although it is cheap and lightweight 🙂

      Fuel4 is working on a lightweight stove but I do not have any details.

      For me, as someone who doesn’t like meths because of the smell and the soot, Fuel4 does seem a genuine alternative to meths as it has no unpleasant smell and hardly any soot.

  18. We also sell bioethanol liquid and gel at http://www.ekofuel.org. We have been selling ethanol liquid for 5 years. We manufacture and sell direct via our website so the cost savings are great when you get above a couple of litres. I have written blogs on the use of our BBQ lighting gel as an alternative to Green heat and Fuel4 and a blog on using our bioethanol liquid in a Trangia. All the results are posted in the blog. Also available on our ekofuel twitter account. Hope you find the info and prices interesting.
    Rob -Ekofuel

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