Stoves for Bicycle Touring
Touring with a MSR Dragonfly stove
I currently use a MSR Dragonfly stove when I go bicycle touring. I’ve had this stove for four years now and I’ve used it during all of my bicycle touring adventures.
Although heavier then a soda-can stove, this stove is lightweight compared to many other stoves. It is also very compact and easy to pack up so that it can fit inside a small to medium sized cooking pot. When deployed the stove provides a sturdy cooking platform.
This stove burns at least six different kinds of fuels so the possibility of actually running out of fuel while touring is greatly reduced. In actual practice in order to switch fuels you also have to switch fuel needles. As a result and due to the easy availability of Naptha everywhere I’ve toured I haven’t yet tried burning a different fuel.
Boiling a pot of water is an operation that takes very little time with the DragonFly. One disadvantage of running at high power is the loud “afterburner-like” noise of the stove. It is possible to simmer using this stove since it also includes a simmer control that allows you to dramatically reduce the amount of heat that you are producing.
You will need a fuel bottle for this device. The fuel pump is a mainly plastic piece of hardware that you use to pressurize the fuel bottle.
MSR also offers spare parts and repair kits. I carry one with me that I have thus far never had to use. I also have a spare fuel pump in my “leave at home, mail if needed” box in case the pump should experience a failure.
This stove has served me well during my bicycle touring adventures and despite my recent fascination with soda can stoves I suspect that this one will continue to travel with me for quite some time.
Doug Pfrang submitted the following additional comments about the MSR Dragonfly based on his personal experience with the stove.
Older Dragonfly stoves have been known to fail where the burner connects to its pivot rod – the braze fails and the burner separates from the pivot rod and base. The manufacturer has responded by improving the design so the braze is much larger and stronger. If you have an older stove, keep an eye on the braze. If it fails, the manufacturer will repair it free of charge.
The weakest link in the stove is the plastic pump, especially its o-rings. If the o-rings leak while the stove is in use, the pump could easily catch on fire. To minimize problems, keep the o-rings lubricated with a non-petroleum mineral oil, and periodically replace them using the manufacturer’s “annual maintenance kit.” If they leak, immediately turn off the stove and replace them.
Windscreens, paper clips and clothespins
Sometimes it’s really the simple things that make it all easier. For years I’ve been fiddling with the windscreen on my MSR stove to try to make it stay together nicely when in use while also allowing me to put it away quickly and easily.
During one tour my friend Bob suggested that I use a simple paperclip to hold the pieces together. I’ve since tried this and the larger clips work well.
An alternative that I used successfully during my Lake Ontario tour was to use a metal clothespin. This proved to be a great solution for me but please use a metal one that isn’t covered by plastic! (grin)
A really simple solution to a mildly irritating problem!
Another type of stove that is can be used for bicycle tours is the canister type of stove. Steven Arbogast uses one when he tours. He describes these stoves in the next section.
“One type of camping stove available is the canister fuel variety. Instead of having a fuel bottle, the stoves run on compressed butane/isobutane/propane mixtures. There is no loose fuel to handle, and these stoves could not be easier to use. While not as cheap or light as some alcohol stoves, nor as heavy or expensive as most liquid fuel (white gas) stoves, the primary selling point for canister stoves is the ease of use and light weight.
The model I own is the Micron, made by Primus. Other manufacturers include MSR, Snowpeak, Gaz and Coleman’s Exponent line. The Micron weighs as little as 3.5 oz/109g, and packs down very small, making it a good choice for bike touring. The piezo electric igniter makes lighting the burner as easy as can be. Just turn on the gas and flick a switch to make a spark and I have a flame. Some stoves do not have the piezo igniters but rely on matches or lighters instead.
The one large drawback of canister stoves is their performance in cold conditions. Because they rely on fuel pressure provided by the compressed gas, temperatures around 32/0deg f/c (or below) can cause a drop in performance. This drop is amplified if the canister is nearing empty. To prevent the drop-off it is possible to keep the cannister warmer, such as in your sleeping bag. I have also just cupped my hands cupped around the fuel to warm it up.
The fuel costs me about $4.00US, and I have gotten nearly a week of breakfast and dinner duty for one out of a single 225g canister. The heat output is similar to the stove at home, and it is similarly adjustable. I carry the stove (folded up) and a fuel canister inside of my 1 liter pot. This gives me a small and lightweight cooking package. The canisters are available from severel different maufacturers and can be purchased at most stores where backpacking gear is sold.”
— Submitted by Steven Arbogast
Camp Stove Olympics
During my last tour I was touring with a buddy who had just completed building a soda or pepsi can stove. For a bit of fun and to enliven the supper preparation we decided to have what we laughingly called the Camp Stove Olympics.
Bob Vanderhoek contributed the picture of his homemade camp stove.
The contestants - MSR Dragonfly, Homemade soda/pepsi can stove
- Ease of setup
- Fastest to boil water vigorously
- Cool down time
How was the testing completed?
All activity categories were completed in parallel by both contestants at the same time. When a category was completed the winner would wait for the second place finisher before both would start the next task.
The Homemade pepsi can stove is much, much cheaper then the MSR Dragonfly. Bob estimates $20 CDN for the first stove and since material is left over several more stoves can be made with what remains making the cost even lower on a per stove basis.
The MSR Dragonfly cost at least $120 CDN when I purchased it two years ago. I need to look up current prices but it will be more especially since I also purchased a maintenance kit and spare parts. The Pepsi can stove can simply be recycled when it wears out.
Winner is the Pepsi Can stove.
This might seem like a strange factor but not if you happen to be trying to stealth camp or simply type up your daily journal entry while supper is prepared. The Dragonfly is noisy. In fact I often think of a high performance fighter aircrafts afterburner when the Dragonfly is in full gear. In contrast the Pepsi Can stove is blessfully silent.
Winner is the Pepsi Can stove.
The MSR Dragonfly that I have can run on six or eight different fuels including diesel and automotive fuel. Having said that the reality is that I usually only run on white gas. Still it’s nice to know that if I really needed to then I have options.
The Pepsi can stove runs on alcohol and only alcohol. This fuel is readily available in at least North America (think Lock de-icer fluid). The only other possible issue could be cold weather temperature performance. This last topic needs more research.
Two other advantages of the Pepsi Can stove is the ability to rebuild on demand with very cost effective, off the shelf parts and the ability to modify the design to meet your personal needs. Want a longer average burn time then build a slightly higher stove. Want bigger burner holes? Go ahead and create them!
Winner is the Pepsi Can stove although cold weather performance needs more testing.
The MSR Dragonfly is a heavier stove then the pepsi can stove without question. In fact Bob was carrying three stoves with him without any weight penalty that I could tell.
Winner is the Pepsi Can stove.
- Ease of setup
This test determined how quickly a stove could be setup from stowed away inside pots etc to being ready for a match to be applied.
The MSR Dragonfly has a pressurized fuel bottle. Of course it gets that way when someone uses the built in pump to increase pressure. This improves performance BUT from discussions with several backpackers, canoeists and cyclists who have used the stove the pump is easily broken.
When the gas bottle is already pressurized then the Dragonfly can be setup in about the same amount of time as the Pepsi Can stove.
Winner is the Pepsi Can stove.
When you can pack multiple stoves in the same space and without weight penalty as the competition then I believe the convenience factor is already won. Why?
Imagine setting up camp and wanting to cook two, three or four items in parallel? Bob would have been able to do this with the Pepsi can stove while I would have been stuck following a sequential path with the Dragonfly.
Winner is the Pepsi Can stove.
- Fastest to boil water vigorously
This test was performed by having the stoves fueled and setup ready for a match to be used.
Both stoves had to bring an identical amount of water to a boil as quickly as possible using the highest performance settings available to each one.
The Dragonfly was two to three times faster (think 5 minutes versus 10 minutes) compared to the Pepsi can stove.
This sounds impressive until I apply a reality check that not all people would buy into. I often type in my daily journal entries while cooking dinner so I normally use the Dragonfly on a much lower setting.
A higher temperature test needs to be performed with the Pepsi can stove to determine if the cold outside temperatures during the test played a significant role.
Winner is the MSR Dragonfly from an outright performance perspective.
- Cool down time
Both stoves seemed to take about the same amount of time to cool down for safe stow-away.
You decide. After all it’s up to you to decide what stove works best for your needs. I have to admit that I was surprised and impressed with how well the Pepsi Can stoves work especially when you factor in the cost.
Zero Cost Cookset
This article is just one of a series of articles that Fritz has written for this website.
Regardless of how any stove was originally made, whether it was purchased in a store or made at home from plans and ideas seen elsewhere please always remember to use caution! Flames burn and a bad burn could go a long way towards ending a bicycle touring adventure far too early!
Fritz came up with the Zero Cost Cookset as a way to allow people to try bicycle touring, including cooking, without needing to spend a lot of money getting started.
In reality the usefulness of this concept doesn’t end there. It is often difficult to transport stoves and their fuel to the starting location of a tour when you have to fly to get there due to security rules. With this design you could easily pick up a bottle of fuel and rapidly build your own stove from readily available parts and very simple tools. When your tour is complete then you would simply dispose of the stove for recycling or perhaps give it to another touring cyclist that you met at the end of your tour.
To get started take a small pot from your kitchen cupboard. A 5-1/2”(14cm) diameter is good. You can use a larger pot if you need to.
The next section shows you how to create a Plain and Simple Stove (PASS) from readily available parts using a minimum of tools..
Zero Cost Cookset - Plain and Simple Stove (PASS)
This article contains instructions to build a simple stove.
Mark a line around a pop can 2 inches from the bottom as shown in the picture to the left.
Cut into the top opening of the can with snips then switch to scissors to neatly cut off the bottom section as shown in the picture to the right. Sand the cut edge so that it is not sharp.
Use a hole-punch to punch eight holes in a circle around the can as far down as the hole-punch will reach. You can get fairly even spacing without measuring by doing halves, then quarters, then eighths. Refer to the picture to the left.
The picture to the right shows the completed PASS.
The picture to the left shows the PASS in operation.
The next section in this series shows you how to create a windscreen to make this stove much more functional and efficient.
Zero Cost Cookset - Making a windscreen
This section contains instructions to build a fully functional windscreen. A windscreen will make your stove much more efficient at cooking food and allow you to have much greater success even when the wind is blowing strongly.
Cut the tops and bottoms off of 3 or 4 pop cans. Cut the center sections into rectangles 3-1/4” x 7-3/4”. Round off the corners and lightly sand the edges so that they are not sharp. Refer to the left picture.
Trace a circle around your pot onto a sheet of paper. The circle should be 1/4” wider than your pot in each direction. Refer to the picture to the right.
Stand the rectangles up on the circle. Overlap them and staple them together. Fasten the final overlap with 2 paperclips instead of stapling. Use a hole-punch to punch holes along the bottom edge. Refer to the picture to the left.
At this point you have a functional windscreen. In the next section instructions are provided that will allow you to modify your windscreen so that it also becomes a pot holder as well.
Zero Cost Cookset - Adding a pot holder to your windscreen
This section modifies the windscreen built in the previous holder to add pot holding capabilities.
Sketch a triangle of pot supports onto your tracing. Refer to the left picture.
Set the wind screen on the tracing. At each point of the triangle, punch 2 holes 3/4” down from the top. Refer to the picture to the right.
Cut and bend pot supports from a wire coat hanger. Important: the straight portion of the supports must extend outside the wind screen. If a curved portion of the support rests on the wind screen, when there is weight on the support, it will flip 180 degrees and fall out.
At this point you have a functional pot holder. The next section discusses the fuel you will need for your stove.
Zero Cost Cookset - Fuel Issues and possible upgrades
This section continues the Zero Cost cookset series with a discussion of the fuel that you will need to use and some of the fuel related items that you should consider.
Alcohol fuel stoves use denatured alcohol as their fuel. Denatured alcohol is very readily available wherever paint products are sold. This includes stores like Walmart, Home Depot, and hardware stores. You can also use methyl alcohol gasoline de-icer which is sold at gas station convenience stores.
Carrying your fuel is another consideration. Depending on the length of your tour you may want to carry different amounts of fuel with you. One option is to carry a very small amount of fuel using something the size of the squeeze bottle shown in the picture. To carry more fuel you might want to consider a bottle the size of this hydrogen peroxide container.
When it comes time to actually place the fuel in the stove a measuring device that allows you to pour in a set amount while keeping your fingers dry is quite useful. Containers like this can often be found at drug stores. An example of one product that tends to have one is Pepto Bismo.
This cookset is so cheap, is it worthless? No, these items are fully functional. With the exception of the pot from your kitchen, the equipment is very light and compact and therefore well-suited for bicycle touring.
If you try and like the cookset, there are two upgrades I recommend. Replace your kitchen pot with a decent camping pot. You want something lighter and without a big handle so that it will pack compactly. Upgrade the pot stand from coat hanger wire. A hardware cloth pot stand is sturdier and can be packed in your pot.
The next section contains the operating instructions for your newly created stove.
Zero Cost Cookset - Operating Instructions for Alcohol Fuel Stoves
This stove is designed to burn denatured alcohol. You can find this in the paint thinner section of hardware or building supply stores. The containers are sometimes also labeled “Marine Stove Fuel”. Please note that other paint thinners and stove fuels are explosive and should not be used in this stove. An acceptable alternative fuel is isopropyl alcohol; however, it will deposit a lot of soot on the bottom of your pot.
The flame produced by this stove is fainter than a kitchen natural gas stove. This stove’s flame is invisible in bright sunlight. Be very cautious in bright light conditions. It is best to learn to use your stove in low-light conditions.
Using your stove
Add fuel to your stove. Always use a fuel dispenser to fuel your stove. One ounce of fuel will last about 10 minutes. It takes about 6 minutes to boil 2 cups of water. Light your stove with a match or lighter. Extinguishing your stove: it is fine to just let the stove burn itself out. You can stop it sooner by covering it with an empty soup can. In an emergency douse any burning alcohol with water. If the water itself is already hot or boiling then obviously use some caution moving the water too!
This blue flame is very visible here but it can be completely hidden in daylight.
Gutter Spike Stove
There are lots of camp stoves of all sorts, some good and some that leave much to be desired but one thing they all have in common is a rather high price tag for what you get. Sterno or canned heat has been around for years, mostly found under chafing dishes in buffet lines any more. During WW-II and Korea, it was a quick way for soldiers to heat up C rations or boil water for instant coffee.
It’s ideal for the solo bicycle tourist in that it’s cheap, easy to carry and does an adequate job. Each can costs about a dollar and will burn for about three hours. While not as hot as some of the pressure camp stoves, what it lacks in power it makes up for in simplicity.
Basically all you need is a can of fuel, three gutter spikes (big nails about 8” long) and some aluminum foil or even a split pop can as a wind shield. The shield will concentrate the heat under the pan and make it much more efficient. Great for heating canned or dehydrated foods. Find a level spot with nothing on the ground to catch fire, set the can level and stick the three gutter spikes in the ground around it. They hold it in place and form the base for your pan. The best height is about an inch higher than the top of the can. Wrap a piece of aluminum foil about 3/4 of the way around it, leaving the top about half an inch below the tops of the nails for venting.
Some of the cans of heat have a wick to light while others are simply open at the top. Both seem to produce about the same amount of heat but those with a wick are safer in that they can’t spill the fluid should they be turned over.
A side benefit to this type of stove is the gutter spikes can be used as spare tent stakes.