Gear Review: Esbit Stove

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

Invented in 1936, and applied toward the heating of water and food for millions of campers and backpackers since, the Esbit solid fuel tablet is a compact and quick alternative heat source to white gas and cartridge-based camp stoves. The tablets — based on a chemical compound called hexamethylenetetramine — ignite at the touch of a match and burn a near-invisible blue flame for 15 minutes at a pop.

I have employed Esbit tablets as firestarters, the tiny chemical bricks working as a guaranteed flame to light leaves or dead sticks in a hurry as the base of a roaring campfire to come. For heating water and soup, I use the company’s classic Esbit Pocket Stove, a $10 foldable shell of galvanized steel that resembles an animal trap. Simply unfold the stove, insert a tablet, set a pot on top, and light.

Esbit Pocket Stove - small photo 1.jpg

Esbit Pocket Stove and hexamethylenetetramine fuel tabs

Convenience and weight savings — not heat output or performance — are the main advantages to most items Esbit makes. The parent company, Esbit Compagnie GmbH of Hamburg, Germany, does not project cutting-edge innovation in its line of pots, stoves, cups, lids, and chemical tablets.

Its products — distributed in the United States by AGS Labs (www.agsbrands.com) of Dallas, Texas — are for the most part simple, with few or no moving parts, zero mechanical components, and nothing much to fail.

For all these reasons, plus the cheap price, I am a fan of the Pocket Stove for ultra-light wilderness trips. On the downside, there is no temperature adjustment or heat regulation — the tablets burn at one steady temp until they’re done. You can’t simmer a pot of stew on low flame. And the tablets have a chemical stench.

But for quick heat with little fuss, there aren’t many better solutions.

Esbit Stove-Cookset - small photo 2.jpg

Esbit Stove/Cookset

This month, I tested a new product from the company. The Esbit Stove/Cookset, an all-in-one pot, lid, and stove package, weighs just seven ounces and stacks together for transport in a pack.

The miniature cook pot, made of anodized aluminum, holds a max capacity of 20 ounces of liquid — the equivalent of a large cup of coffee — but more manageably you can heat or boil about 14 ounces without a lot of splash-over.

It costs $30 and has fairly limited use for backpackers. Stick a tablet underneath and the Cookset can heat a cup of water in short order. In my test — on a windless, 40-degree day — the stove brought eight liquid ounces of water to a boil in six minutes. That’s enough for a small cup of tea.

Esbit Stove-Cookset - photo 1.jpg

Esbit Stove/Cookset packed up

But when I tried to boil 16 ounces of water, the whole life cycle of a single Esbit tablet — about 17 minutes of flame output — was not enough to bring on a boil. Bubbles were percolating. The water was steaming. But a full boil never came.

Further, you cannot melt snow efficiently in this small pot. For purification, you cannot boil water quickly enough to make any serious quantity.

Overall, the Esbit Stove/Cookset struck as extremely narrow in its use. If I need to heat a small can of soup, it does the job fine. It will heat your water with little fuss for a mug of instant coffee in the wilds.

For anything more than that, I am going to stick with the company’s $10 Pocket Stove, a contraption that’s been around for decades and one that works with pots both large and small.

—Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

Posted by Mark Verber - 04/14/2009 11:26 PM

Most of my experiences tried to cook with Esbits has been disappointing because it took more than one tab to bring enough water to boil for a single person. I did a home made version of the Beercan Esbits stove which actually got 16oz of water boiling on less than 1 tab. It;s important to have a good windscreen and the esbits an appropriate distance from the pot bottom (my memory is around 1.25 inches.

Posted by Rob Brewer - 04/14/2009 11:32 PM

I picked up my first Esbit a couple months ago at an Army surplus store for $1. It certainly does the job, packs small, and fuel is inexpensive. Nice alternative to my trusty Whisperlite.

Posted by Eric B. - 04/18/2009 11:43 PM

I’ve used ESBIT and FireLite fuel tabs for week-long hikes such as the Grand Canyon. For a stove I used the titanium base of my Vargo Triad stove and found I needed two tablets to cook a dinner. On the upside I usually had about 1/2 a tablet left over to use the next day. This cooking included boiling spaghetti and rehydrating and heating the sauce.

I found FireLite (U.S. made) tabs a bit hotter than ESBIT but both were very satisfactory and easy to use. It ain’t a propane canister stove but it does the job.

Posted by DW - 04/24/2009 07:35 AM

The windscreen and small pot of the new kit would be a good addition to the Penny Alcohol burner

Posted by John Peacock - 04/24/2009 12:53 PM

Easy enough, plus it’s a cheap solution.

Posted by willie - 08/14/2009 04:53 AM

bought one, and like many, found it would not boil 16oz of water with a single tab until i fashioned a windscreen

i also Dremel’d off the bottom rivet head holding the tablet pan inside the stove, which allowed me to pop off the pan and use the stove with a small alcohol penny stove

i highly recommend using this removable-pan approach, as you can then cut a circle of aluminum flashing to fit in the bottom of the stove to keep things clean – esbit is awfully messy!

this cookset would have been perfect if there was another half inch of internal height to the pot support

i hope someone imports esbit’s alcohol version of this stove/cookset!

Posted by melliphile - 03/31/2010 03:52 PM

I made an Altoid alcohol burner for my esbit stove and it works great!

Posted by Jim Morrison - 12/21/2010 05:22 PM

Thanks for the review. I was glad to see you list the limitations of this stove. I find also the black gunk it leaves on the pot is a nuisance. But mainly the slow cooking time. In winter it doesn’t provide enough Btu’s to heat a pint of water over 180 deg. F according to my thermometer. Too much fuss and not enough weight savings for me to use this over my canister stove.

Posted by William Caton - 01/03/2013 06:29 PM

I have used an old german esbit stove for years. I’ve used it above 16,000’ and on many backcountry skiing trips. I’ve never had a problem with it not boiling water, or cooking anything I’ve wanted to eat. I think those of you that e had problems are not experienced using this equipment. No canisters, no waste, no sound. If you know how to use it, it’s superior to any canister stove and never, ever gets plugged or broken. Just an old soldier’s opinion. 10th Mtn.

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