So when it comes to backcountry gear and fire more importantly we tend to get it wrong a lot of the time (mainly SoCal), what do I mean by this? Well if we are backpacking we carry stoves and fuel and are prepared for cold nights because ground fires are a major no-no. If we are camping somewhere in the desert like Anza Borrego we bring our metal containers for our camp fires. Well what do we carry when we are out on day hikes, after all every day hike can easily turn into a camping trip… so a lot of what we talk about when we talk backcountry skills is that transition from good time to bad time, sometimes you can slow or stop that process by having a little gear on out and using it early. After all if you only carry matches, lighters or Ferro rods you are basically looking at an emergency ground fire as your only option.
This type of situation could lead you to putting off something as simple as boiling some water to treat it or just pushing some warm fluids to keep up your core temp and moral. Ground fires are a bit of a pain when you think about collecting materials building the pit and hopefully finding tinder if you didn’t bring any and getting it going. Then let’s talk about the fact that in Southern California an emergency ground fire can become a regional emergency wildfire.
So what is an intermediary solution, Well I am a big fan of stoves, something small like a Olicamp stove and fuel bottle fits right into you pack and a lot of times nest in you metal cups, its directed fast and effective on demand flames. But what I think is even cooler especially bang for your buck wise is the Esbit Pocket Stove. They are around twelve dollars come with six solid fuel tabs , two of which fit in the folded stove with space for additional fire kit gear like matches or a lighter. It’s a super simple clamshell design made from metal with two settings for controlled heat. Folded down it is 3.9x3x0.9” and weighs in at 6.3 oz with the tabs. This is a great option for when you need to heat something up on the go in a pinch, or in a real emergency the fuel tabs make great fire starters for your emergency ground fire if that is absolutely necessary.
When I was testing it I was in my backyard and wanted to see what it could do for my primary need, boiling water. I had a full Heavy Cover Inc. titanium canteen cup and went to work… The tabs lit easily and quickly with a lighter and we were in business (the business of watching water boil, I live an exciting life). So the box said something like the tabs where good for eight minutes a piece. I got a total burn time of almost 19 minutes with two tabs. Essentially, when one tab was going out I was abler to feed in another which was good because it took me about 13 minutes to get a rolling boil and that rolling boil lasted for about 3 minutes. The flame began to die out at 17 minutes and was completely dead at 19. So I was able to accomplish my goal of boiling a canteen cup of water with the two tabs it carried.
You see I really like this because it is negligible space and weight for the ability to have a smoke and spark free fire safely in a metal container for times that are not quite emergencies but maybe we are headed there type scenarios. Best part it’s fast and easy and anyone can use this so it is very much a no brainer for your kit, day pack, car etc. especially because of the price and the ability to carry more fuel in small places throughout your pack. Now there are a couple drawbacks I have observed. One is they are not super-efficient for cooking in my opinion and you would have to bring a lot of fuel tabs if that was your primary cooking source for something like a back packing trip, also there is an odor from the fuel tab. But like I said size, weight and cost wise definitely worth having in your kit!