How To Turn A Beer Can Into The Only Camping Stove You’ll Ever Need [VIDEO]

[WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE GASOLINE/PETROL/BENZINE BASED FUELS WITH THIS STOVE!]

The best gift I’ve ever received on the road is this; a stove made from nothing but a discarded drinks can. In this video we’re going to learn how to make it (with a little help from my friend Armen).

You can get your raw materials from the trashcan, make it in 10 minutes with a pocket knife, and get fuel from any pharmacy or hardware store. Oh, and it costs a hundred bucks less than the Whisperlite. What’s not to like?

The beer-can stove in action

I’ve been using these stoves for years now. Here are a few ideas for getting more out of them:

  • Arrange several stoves in a pretty pattern and cook a big pot of food for your friends
  • If windy, use your camping mattress (especially the cheap foam ones) as a wrap-around windshield
  • Hunt down more efficient fuels than medical alcohol
  • Try making giant stoves out of those oversized cans of Fosters
  • Make them in campsites and hostels to give away as gifts, to trade for other useful stuff, in exchange for beer money, or simply to attract members of the opposite sex

This article is part of my ongoing mission to bring cycle touring back to its roots, which lie in simplicity and spontaneity over grand plans and fancy kit. There’s going to be a lot more where this came from over the next few months, so sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to be kept in the loop.

What are your favourite DIY camping/travel tips? Please share them in the comments below.

67 Responses to “How To Turn A Beer Can Into The Only Camping Stove You’ll Ever Need [VIDEO]”

  1. Linda Larsson

    This is just so brilliant!

    Reply
  2. lilalia

    Thank you, Tom and Armen, loved your video! Nothing better than figuring out the most simplest of solutions for cooking a cup of tea (or anything else) out on the road.

    Reply
  3. KM

    I just tried this, and I am not getting my flames coming up around the sides. Do I need to make my indents deeper?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • BL

      I tried it also and found the same problem. I found that the bottom half was a fraction too long, and blocking off the creases around the sides. Try cutting the bottom side just a little lower. fixed it for me!

      Great video too Tom.

      Reply
    • Tom Allen

      There are a few potential reasons for this. Your top indents (where the flames are) don’t need to be big, but you can try enlarging them slightly. The bottom indents (which take up fuel from the base of the can) might need to be bigger. You might also not be putting enough fuel in — the level of the fuel needs to be ABOVE the bottom edge of the top half of the can.

      The main thing is to keep experimenting — you might not get it right first time, but cans are as good as free so it doesn’t matter :)

      Reply
      • Eric the Canuck

        Hi Tom — Thanks for the tip — easy to make, easy to use. Used it in Australia in March, April and May 2014. I’m writing to warn your readers that isopropyl alcohol 99% is not readily obtained there. What is sold is about 67% and quite useless. To get 99% you have to beg it from a pharmacist, who then charges an outrageous amount for it. I also got some at an electronics store, where it is used to clean connectors. I was told that it was off the shelf because it’s being used in illegal drug production.

        Reply
        • Andy Holmes

          Eric, you want to look for methylated spirits, its basically the same as denatured alcohol here in the the US, and what I use in everything from my Whisperlite to my beer can stoves. You can typically buy it at everywhere from DIY stores through grocery stores.

          Reply
        • Daniel

          Thanks to this website I made a can stove which I used on my month travelling around on a motorbike. I met a cyclist in Italy who shared with me this website so this will be useful to anyone who is struggling to find the right alcohol for their stove.

          http://www.mark-ju.net/juliette/meths.htm

          I bought extremely overpriced stuff from the pharmacy section in the supermarket in France and thanks to this website I found the much better value stuff in the cleaning section.….

          Reply
  4. How To Cycle Around The World In 3 Easy Steps :: Tom's Bike Trip

    […] you could salvage a bike from a scrapyard, get a tent from a charity shop, raid TK Maxx, and make a stove out of a beer can (saving several years’ worth of bread and jam in the […]

    Reply
  5. Grant Rawlinson (Axe)

    Love this idea and must try it at some stage, I wonder how it works when its a bit windy on the mountain.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Wrap your roll-mat around it as a windshield! (Or otherwise get creative with what’s lying around…)

      Reply
  6. steven

    I’ve been using a similar style stove for years. Light, simple and its easy to fashion a new one if your mate rolls over it…

    Have a google for Zen Stoves, they’ve got alcohol stoves down to an art.

    Reply
  7. Bryan Lewis

    Great video. What’s the purpose of the tiny hole near the top?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      It’s to allow air slowly into the stove as the fuel level drops, since the top will be sealed by the cooking pot.

      Reply
  8. Saeid

    Great video Tom! I made one, but when I put container on the stove, the fire gradually turns off. I made two whole at the top and shortened the bottom indents. It became better. I guess I need to use another kind of can to have a nice one. Thank you Tom.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      It shouldn’t matter what kind of can you use — just keep experimenting with the design — practice makes perfect :)

      Reply
  9. Jesus

    I made my own and it’s running great. I’ll be using it next week on a 300km bike trip. Thank you!

    Reply
  10. John

    What a great idea. So simple and easy to replace. And to top it off virtually weightless.

    Reply
  11. The Cheapest Camping Stove You’ll Ever Use | Alex's Cycle

    […] couple of weeks ago Tom posted this amazing video on his blog. I watched it hooked and amazed at what he and his friend […]

    Reply
  12. Les

    Loved this so much I’m up to stove #3. I keep fine tuning them. I found a better way to remove the lid safely. Just turn the can over and rub it onto cement or a flat rock for a while. I used a piece of slate. This wares the upper ring and the top piece will just pop off in no time. It leaves a safe edge on the top.

    Reply
  13. A Different Type of Tour - Pedaling Nowhere

    […] least. I have also decided not to take a camp stove or cooking equipment of any kind. Reading this article made me realize I could always get by if I find the need to make something like this. Instead of […]

    Reply
  14. Gaetan

    I love this! I knew another design but which required a bit more manufacture, and so was hardly doable “on the field”. But this one is plain brilliant.
    One piece of advice if your stove turns off before it burns all the fuel: you must make sure that the top part comes to the very bottom of the base (in the inside)… I am not certain that is gonna help anyone :p ohh and about that thank you guys to explain this so clearly.

    Reply
  15. Mut

    Does it really work? I just built this stove (I even did it twice) and I tried to boil 500 mL of water. It was hot enough to make tea, but not to cook pasta. I was hoping to use this kind of stove for a trip with a friend, but now I really doubt I can use an alcohol stove for two people (even for one people it doesn’t seem really effective). The alcohol burnt for a long time (at least 15 minutes), but it wasn’t hot enough. Maybe I built the stove incorrectly.

    Reply
    • Mut

      I obviously meant “one person” instead of “one people”…

      Reply
    • Tom Allen

      There could be a hundred reasons why it’s not working — it should easily boil a bowl of pasta. Keep experimenting :)

      Reply
    • Alex

      Love the idea, Tom! Mut, I just took one on a camping trip with my boyfriend, and we make a pot of pasta for the two of us without a problem. We did notice that letting it burn and warm up a little before putting the pot on makes the flame stronger. We used 91% rubbing alcohol from the grocery store. Good luck! Hope you get it to work.

      Reply
  16. Turn a Soda Can into a Camping Stove | Blackle Mag

    […] The stove runs on alcohol, of which the most common source is medical alcohol from your local pharmacy. For information on finding fuel for the stove, visit zenstoves.net/Stoves.htm#Fuels” – Tom Allen […]

    Reply
  17. Lucky

    I’m backpacking on a shoestring budget right now. I was just looking into a light weight stove. You probably saved me close to $100.

    Reply
  18. Hop-can Stoves: How to make 5 ultralight bikepacking stoves - Pedaling Nowhere

    […] ran across this in a post by Tom. Another very simple to make design and Tom’s assistant (the inventor?) does an excellent job […]

    Reply
  19. Sallyann

    Thanks Tom for a fab site. I’ve just had my first cuppa from the stove I’ve made after watching the video. I’m also inspired to have a cycle adventure this weekend, camping for the first time. Looking forward to it.

    Reply
  20. HTCO

    Here’s a review of your stove put head to head with another popular design. Needless to say, your’s performed extremely well! Beer Can Stove Review

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Fantastic! All credit to the original inventor :)

      Let me know if I can contribute to your site in other ways — looks like a great project.

      P.S. Combine 3 or more of these stoves for bigger pots and faster boil times…

      Reply
  21. The hungry cyclist | tom must pedal

    […] Before getting to this lump of carbs I try to start my day with, you guessed it, carbs. Porridge and banana is the standard choice. I reach into my trusty right front pannier (otherwise known as my pantry) and find the plastic bag containing assorted sachets to discover what flavour Uncle Toby is going to awaken my stomach with today. This is then prepared on the greatest stove in the world, which I have shown you before. If you’d like to see it in action and find out how to make one look here. […]

    Reply
  22. nico

    awesome concept, Wild that I havent seen Armen since our college days and I randomly see him in this video, tell him Nico from UCSC says hello

    Reply
  23. eric

    hi tom..this is reply helpful..especially for us here in the philippines and our brothers in tacloban which need this kind of innovation to survive on the scarcity of food and absence of proper kitchen materials..i would like to ask if 70% alcohol would work since its the widely ready-available here in our country..thanks tom

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      I am honestly not sure, but there’s one easy way to find out — give it a try! (Let us know when you find out so we can share the knowledge…)

      Reply
  24. Andersen Andersen

    when backpacking for hunt this will be helpfull — and a hello from denmark.…. your vidio gone viral.

    Reply
  25. Sarabeet Kaur

    I JUST WANNA KNOW THAT WILL I BE ABLE TO BOIL EGGS AND COOK MAGGI WITH IT. THAT’S THE ONLY PURPOSE I WANT TO MAKE THIS STOVE.

    Reply
    • Srinivas Prabhu

      Hi Sarbeet,
      I have made my own and going on a trip this weekend. Will let you know how it works ! Cheers from Bangalore

      Reply
  26. Alex Serna

    Will it still work if the fuel level is higher than the bottom of the top part? where the larger dents are.

    Reply
  27. Damian

    Awesome! Thank you for showing this — I’m preparing a solo bike trip from Switzerland to Singapore. You guys definitely saved me a bundle by sharing this! Only thing I wonder: Will it work with gasoline too? I guess I’ll have to try that one out.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      DO NOT USE GASOLINE!!!

      Reply
      • Damian

        I’m so sorry, I think my comment was poorly phrased: I meant I want to try the alcohol stove! Good lord my English is rusty, time to hit the road again to practise :-)

        I was thinking about gasoline because it’s the one thing (besides maybe Coca Cola and Marlboro) that you can find literally everywhere you go. So it would have been convenient — But I already guessed that it would not work.

        Reply
        • Tom Allen

          Hey Damian. Gasoline will work… at creating a huge fireball and burning your eyebrows off!

          This stove will work on methylated spirits, available from most phamacies. If you can find medical alcohol at a higher concentration than 90%, that’s better still.

          Have a great trip and let us know if it gets you to Singapore :)

          Reply
  28. Gear Briefs | Pedaling in Place

    […] myself to trying an alcohol stove again that I would make while there. That turned out to be dead easy the first time even with only a tiny knife. I officially apologize to Nick, Lael, Gary, and Cass […]

    Reply
  29. Bikepacking Gear List 1 of 2 – Cookware, Camp Gear, Hydration, Electronics, Bike Tools, ‘Miscellaneous’ | Pedals, Packs and Pinots

    […] Beer Can Stove: This EXTREMELY cheap stove has some assembly required, and you must be willing to drink one beer prior to assembly, but it’s totally worth it.  It runs on rubbing alcohol, a fuel that can be found virtually anywhere, so there’s no need to try to pack it with you.  It is also incredibly cheap.  For more information, click here: http://tomsbiketrip.com/how-to-turn-a-beer-can-into-the-only-camping-stove-youll-ever-need-video/. […]

    Reply
  30. Bauerbyter

    Hi, very great Video. First i wanted to build this one: http://web.archive.org/web/20080205102807/http://www.pcthiker.com/pages/gear/pepsistove.shtml
    but then (gladly) i found your Video and I think this is the best method to build a can stove.
    At the moment I build number 5 :-)

    But I have a question: Is there a problem if my pot doesn’t stand directly on the stove, but …lets say… 2–3 cm above, so the hole isn’t covered. Because I want to use it with my hobo stove (as a windshield).

    Thanks!
    P.S Sorry for my bad english ^^

    Reply
    • Bauerbyter

      …i can answer my own question, I built this: https://www.dropbox.com/sc/oe5ljwhdwigxer0/9LpMUHH0bL

      so the pot is about 1,5cm (~0.5 inch) over the stove and what should i say: 500ml water boiled 1 minute faster (from 5:30 to 4:30) and you have a better stand for the pot.

      I think its because the flames reaches the best heat at a specific height.

      Reply
  31. Pablo

    Cool idea! Is isopropyl alcohol safe/nontoxic for cooking?

    Reply
  32. Cooking on Tin | Uke Diaries

    […] http://tomsbiketrip.com/how-to-turn-a-beer-can-into-the-only-camping-stove-youll-ever-need-video/ […]

    Reply
    • Andy Holmes

      Eric, elsewhere in the world, you want to look for methylated spirits. Its basically the same as denatured alcoholhere in the the US thats sold as camping stove fuel, and it what I use in everything from my Whisperlite, to my beer can stoves. You can typically buy it everywhere from DIY stores through grocery stores.

      Reply
  33. Pet

    Nice,

    But.….I made , and used, a stove like this, but without the second part squeezed inside the bottom part. Basically just a aluminum cup with some fuel that burned.
    Of course it does not have the nice individual flames coming from the side.
    It is just one bigger flame in the middle.…But it s the same heat I guess.….I enjoyed my beans and my fried eggs. Yammi yammi!

    Reply
  34. Matt

    Guys, this is such a great, simple and cheap idea I can’t even believe it works. I wish I had something like that on my last hitchhiking trip, that would’ve been awesome. I won’t forget to make this from my next one.

    Reply
  35. Geoffrey

    Truly awesome tip! I love it. Dead simple and super efficient.
    Thanks for sharing

    Reply

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