Making a simple, tin can back-up stove for backcountry camping

Just for the fun of it, I decided to make a simple, tin can emergency back-up stove to take with me on my upcoming winter snowshoe backcountry camping trip at Algonquin Provincial Park. We’re planning to take 2 MSR Dragonfly stoves, just in case it’s super cold and one doesn’t function, but in future, that might not be necessary if I’m happy with my emergency back-up! For winter camping, I keep things really simple, and either boil water (say, to add to oatmeal), or heat up frozen things (like soup). No extended cooking in the winter!

To make my stove, I followed directions online, but made a slight modification when I realized that 3 inches couldn’t possibly be right and they must have meant 3 centimetres. Either that or the picture just didn’t match the instructions. In any case, here’s what I did!

Materials:

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  • 2 tuna cans (I made 2 fuel sources)
  • 1 peach can for the stove (798 ml)
  • 1 peach can to melt the wax in (798 ml)
  • cardboard
  • 5 emergency candle
  • scissors
  • church key can opener
  • tin snips
  • pot
  • tongs
  • oven mitts

Instructions:

Step #1: Remove lid from tuna can. Eat tuna. Wash can. Dry can. Cut strips of cardboard the same width as the height of the can. Put cardboard in can.

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Completed Step #1.

Step #2: This step depends on whether or not you have a double boiler. I don’t. So, I put about 4″ of water in a big pot and boiled it. In the meantime, I broke the candles up into smaller pieces, put them in a peach container (label removed) and put that in the big pot. Of course, it floated, so I had to hold it down with tongs while wearing gloves. As it melted, I took it out and poured the hot wax into one of my tuna cans, then put the solid wax back to continue melting. If you have a double boiler, then you can half fill the bottom pot, boil the water, put the wax in the top pot, and put it inside the bottom pot. However, I’m not so sure I’d want to then cook food in the pot that had melted wax in it. In any case, continue pouring wax into your tuna can, but leave some of the cardboard exposed at the top so you can light it (don’t overfill the wax, but try to get it into all the nooks and crannies).

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Holding the can down.

Step #3: Remove the lid from the peach can. Eat the peaches. Wash the can. Dry the can. At the end that you didn’t just remove the lid from, make 3 or 4 holes in the can using the church key can opener. These are your vents. At the end where you removed the lid, use your tin snips to cut a little door out so you can open it to let more oxygen in or close it to reduce the oxygen fueling your fire. I followed the directions I referred to above as written, then realized once I’d make 2 vertical cuts 3 inches apart that you couldn’t possibly “open” the door. Hence I made another cut down the middle. So, I now have 2 doors, which coincidentally appear much more similar to the ones in the picture of the instructions I followed.

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I may have overfilled the wax in the one on the left. Time will tell.

Step #4: Light the cardboard, put the peach can over top of the tuna can, and voila, cook something! Remember, the tin cans will get HOT! Use gloves! Be careful of sharp edges!

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Doors fully open.

I’ll be using my little stove in a couple of weeks, and will report back on what I thought of it and how it worked. Stay tuned! [UPDATE: I have now field tested it. See how it worked!]

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