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.
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.
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.
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.