Photos by Dee Hamilton
Once in a while, you find a bit of gear that looks just like what you might have imagined you could use. Something of a hybrid of features borrowed from several pieces of gear, none of which were quite perfect themselves, but each with certain desirable aspects. I have carried a pair of GI canteen cups for thirty years. The ones with the wire handles, not the flat handles. In that time, I have gotten used to the quirky shape and learned ways to make them stand upright while cooking over twig fires or, when I had a little change to spare, Trioxane or Hexamine tabs. While there is nothing at all wrong with the good old stainless GI canteen cups paired up with my modern Nalgene one-quart canteens, I have been wanting to try another pot – one that works with one of the neat little stoves which I have always had to improvise my way around not having. Then, along comes Esbit (which has actually been around since 1936). Esbit is a well-known name among those who spend more than a few hours at a time outside–both civilian and military.
Famous for their folding “pocket” stove and solid fuel tabs, there is more to this maker than some who don’t shop much might know. A quick visit to their site catalog reveals quite a number of really nice items. Finding all of them available for sale is a little tougher. The particular piece of gear that piqued my interest was a small pot and solid fuel stove combo, the “Solid Fuel Stove Set #CS585HA”. I was fortunate enough to receive a review sample from Esbit’s U.S. distributor, AGS Labs, but it’s a model that can be had for under thirty bucks without looking too hard. Some determined “cyber-shopping” might yield one at a bit lower price. The set consists of a hard-anodized aluminum pot and stove, pot lid, three solid fuel tabs and a mesh stuff sack. The entire kit, sans tabs, weighs eight ounces (clean, of course), which is almost a full ounce less than just one of my stainless GI canteen cups – without a lid, stove or stuff sack. The tabs weigh about 4/10 of an ounce each and you probably could stow six or more in the stove, which nests inside the pot. The lid rests atop the pot, contained by a lip around the circumference of the pot. The lid is recessed just enough that the bail is flush when folded over. All of this tucks neatly into the stuff sack and the lot can be stashed easily. The overall external dimensions are about 4.5” in diameter by 4” tall, so it’s not hard to find a place to put it.
The anodizing and is a subdued dark gray and seems durable enough, though I have not put it through too terrible a test yet. Do not mistakenly assume that the anodizing equates to a “non-stick” surface. One of the dumber things I have tried was to fry an egg in the pot with grease, and it hung on for dear life as I tried to clean the pot after scraping my supper out of it. The pot has a pour lip, which I find useful, and raised dual-unit (ounces and ml) graduations you can read from inside the pot. One feature I liked best was the foldable, silicone-covered stainless wire handles like the ones on my canteen cups. As stated above, the top has a circumferential lip to keep the lid centered as well as a circumferential shoulder at the bottom to keep it steady on the stove. Everything fits nicely and makes a stable setup.
The stove is a simple item with a larger opening for inserting and lighting the solid fuel tab, a tray to keep the tab centered, several vent openings and three peg-type feet to keep the hot bottom off of potentially combustible surfaces. The stove is effectively its own windscreen but supplemental wind breaks (your pack, your body, rocks, etc.) can be placed strategically to balance the draft and prevent the wind from carrying your heat away from the bottom of the pot. Being made of aluminum, its properties of thermal conductivity are excellent. Heat is quickly transferred through the pot to your water and the stove and pot cool quickly so you don’t have to fret about stuffing a hot pot in your pack should you have to bug out quickly.
The solid fuel is reported to be “non-toxic,” although it looks no more appetizing than Trioxane or Hexamine, and burns with no visible smoke. There is virtually no residue left in the stove to clean up and leaves so little soot on the bottom of the pot that a quick swipe on the grass leaves it clean enough to pack it all back up and go. Restocking fuel tabs shouldn’t break you at under six dollars for a twelve-pack. One tab will burn for about fourteen minutes and is almost enough to bring sixteen ounces of water to a boil at “about” sea level and 50 degrees F ambient. That’s good enough for making tea and soup but not enough to treat water which may contain “nasties.” If one were in a tight spot and had to purify water, the tabs are scored in quarters and would make decent fire-starters supplemented with a steady diet of small twigs. The tabs need a good bit of flame to start, so you will need matches, a lighter, or some such device to get it going. Scraping a small bit of the solid fuel into a little pile makes lighting a bit quicker and requires less of your lighter’s fuel, but one match was enough in any case.
Enough of the dry specs, time to play with this thing. My wife loves tea and I make it a point to stash some in every kit I build and always have a means of brewing her a hot cup of one of here favorites regardless of where we are or what we are doing. Building a twig fire in a boot-heel trench would be frowned upon in some of these places and the Esbit stove set just opened another door. We had a reasonably decent day and I coaxed her out back under the pretense that I needed someone to take the pictures for me. Bribing her with a cup of Earl Grey cinched it. Unlike Horace Kephart, however, she prefers her China cup to have a handle. Since we were interested in something we could use even when not actually in the woods, we gave the Esbit its first run on a patio table. The stove heated sixteen ounces of water to nearly a boil. It was very breezy and we did not shield the stove from the wind. In less than fifteen minutes we had a pint of hot water and virtually no mess, no coals or embers to douse and the set could be stowed minutes after the flame died because it cooled so quickly.
Second run occurred in a little less civilized setting, albeit on just as windy a day and at about the same temperature. Being compact and light, I felt the Esbit Stove Set offered a convenience afield not associated with my traditional boot-heel trench/twig fire routine. I set up a bit more of a wind break using my body and some small logs and the stove heated sixteen ounces a good bit hotter than it had when exposed to the wind on the previous run. I at least got bubbles to form this time.
For a quick pot of hot water and enough heat to at least warm one’s hands in colder weather, the stove set and solid fuel tabs are a handy kit to have along. I suppose one could always use the stove with naturally occurring combustible materials (twigs) if necessary, but having the option to make a quick stop without gathering tinder, kindling and fuel and then fussing over not leaving any remaining embers to worry about is very appealing. Aside from the time and convenience aspect, using this stove set and the solid fuel tabs leaves no more trace of your presence than what you would have left anyway, but without having been able to put something hot in your belly.
While not as cheap as a coffee can stove, the price is very good compared to some of its Titanium competition. The Esbit Stove Set is made extremely well and should last through many years’ worth of outings. It is lightweight, compact and convenient. It should serve well in providing some leisure and comfort on any occasion and as a highly desirable kit to have along in the event of an emergency.