Friday, 24 July 2015

Gel Fuel for camping stoves, any good?

Why use gel Gel fuels over gas?

If you haven't already heard of gel fuels you might be thinking 'Gel as a fuel for camping stoves, bit weird, what's wrong with gas, paraffin or petrol?'. And I agree, when I first came across it I was a little bemused by it all. That was until I was given a demonstration on how it works which completely changed my opinion of it and I now think of it as a genuine alternative to other fuels in the right situation.

The techy bit

Fuel4 Bio-ethanol gel
The gel itself is an bio-ethanol that is formed by the fermentation of sugars derived from corn, wheat and sugar cane and is completely biodegradable. This means that from an ecological perspective, it is both environmentally friendly and sustainable which is a good start. Another benefit is that when the ethanol burns, no toxic or harmful substances (or horrible smells) are released into the atmosphere, just tiny amounts of water vapour and carbon dioxide. The fuel is also skin safe and even acts as a mild antiseptic.

As bio-ethanol gel comes in super tough sachets that are obviously unaffected by altitude unlike pressurized gas canisters that can be a difficult to light at higher altitudes. When lit, the gel burns from the outside layer in, and as a result once the gel is extinguished, it is cool to the touch and wont burn if touched. The sachet, being malleable is also easy to stash in a rucksack or cooking pot taking up very little space.  

Using gel as a fuel

There are dedicated gel fuel stoves available but it can used in any spirit/meth burning stoves such as Trangia's. Essentially the fuel could be used with any appropriate cooking tin and pan holder/riser. Unlike paraffin or similar liquid fuels there's little danger of spilling the gel fuel as it is so viscous (very thick and gooey). It's so thick in fact that it is great for starting fires as the gel stays put on top of kindling and does not run off on to the ground. The gel is easily ignited by fire steel or matches, starting with a gentle flame that increases in heat and size till the gel starts to crackle, roughly signifying the gel is ready to cook over. This gentle ignition maybe preferable for some over a gas stove's tendency to burst into life through a small fireball if it hasn't lit immediately!

The downsides

While gel has many advantages over other fuel types the main sticking point that most wild campers just wont get over, is that it takes considerably longer to boil, say, a litre of water, compared to a gas stove. Some climbers and hikers will undoubtedly favour Jet Boil systems and the like that boast 90 second boil times that let them cook and go. That said, gel fuel is comparable to both meth and alcohol fuels boil times.


Gel fuel is safe, small and easily transported, it's also really cheap compared to the previously mentioned Jet Boil systems. So if you don't mind waiting a little for your cuppa, instead enjoying your environment and the experience of cooking outdoors, gel fuel might be worth considering for your next wild camping expedition.

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