The Pika Stove

Introduction to the Pika Alcohol Stove System

The Pika stove is a new arrival into the wilderness. Using most any type of beverage can available, you can build an ultralight alcohol stove system to suit your hiking needs.

The Pika stove is a passive air-laminar flow intake type stove, versus the pressurized Pepsi stove. The Pika is fuel efficient, lightweight, and easy to build using simple tools. There are several sizes of pikas that can be built: the smallest, the solo models, use Coors cans or 12 oz soda cans, then the Mad Pika uses 24 oz beer cans, and the largest is the Fat Pika made from Foster beer cans. The two smaller stoves are perfect for the solo hiker, and the larger size pikas can serve as big boilers when needed. The cat stove by Roy Robinson is the first passive air alcohol stove I built. It taught me well, and inspired me to design my own stove. This site will cover construction methods lightly, and will present many ideas that you can apply to any stove construction project. I prefer to let the builder study the photos and ideas rather than focus on deep construction details. Pika stoves require two beverage cans of equal type, and one smaller can for the fuel bowl. Ultralight alcohol stoves are easier to make than you ever believed.

Pika Stove Models

The stoves above each use only 3 cans; 2 cans are of the same type, and the fuel bowl smaller. The solo pikas use 12 oz aluminum cans from Coors to sodas for the stove top and bottom, and a 5 oz juice or 8 oz sport drink can for the fuel bowl. The Mad Pika uses two 24 oz beer cans for the outside and a Coors can for the fuel bowl. The Fat Pika uses two Foster cans and a 12oz soda can or a 24oz beer can for the fuel bowl.

The solo Pika: 12 grams, two 12 oz cans, burner port 1.25", 26 holes, top 13/16", bottom 1-3/16", and juice fuel bowl 1-3/8". This stove will boil 2 cups of water in 6 min on 2/3 filled film can of fuel. 1 film can maximum capacity.

The Mad Pika: 21 grams, two 24 oz cans, burner port 1.25", 36 holes, top 13/16", bottom 1-7/16" , and Coors fuel bowl 1.5" high. This stove will boil 2 cups of water in 5:15 min and can boil 5 cups in 11:00 min on 1.5 film cans of fuel. 2 film can max.

The Fat Pika: 25 grams, two Foster's cans, burner port 1.5", 42 holes, top 7/8", bottom 1-7/16", and 12oz or 24oz can fuel bowl 1.5" high. This stove equals the cat stove in performance. A large stove, it can boil 5 cups of water in 10 minutes on 1.5 film cans of fuel. With a 24 oz beer can for the fuel bowl, 3 ounce of fuel will boil 2 quarts of water. Fat Pika 24oz parts Few homemade alcohol stoves can approach this performance!

These dimensions allow the parts to sleeve together perfectly without crushing the fuel bowl. Feel free to use your imagination in designing, but engineer the pieces to function and fit as one. Allow plenty of holes for air intake into the fuel chamber for the best fuel combustion.

The Can Cutting Jigs

These jigs will help any hiker to cut perfect stove parts from any type of beverage can to make most any stove: Pepsi stoves, pika stoves, v8, and future designs. I use 20 oz soda bottles for holding the 12 oz cans, and a 32 oz soda bottle to hold the 24 oz beer cans. A 24 oz Calistoga water bottle was used for holding the Fosters cans. To hold the 5 oz juice or 8 oz sport drink narrow cans, I use 2" pvc pipe. Each jig bottle must have parallel sides and may require some cardboard shimming to fit the can tightly into the bottle. The jigs allow you to repeatedly cut cans with great precision very simply.

First, cut off the bottle bottom and insert a wooden dowel crossways just like in the picture; the dowel serves as the stop for the can to rest on while cutting. Measure up from the dowel and make a small hole in the side of the bottle. For the 2" pvc pipe hacksaw a groove at the measured point. This is where you will insert the exacto knife to cut the can.

To cut a can, first clamp the jig horizontally by the lid in a vice, then stuff in the can bottom down and spin the can. Insert the knife, and slowly spin several times while scoring with the knife. When it cuts thru, remove can and gently flex the part till it pops off clean. If the can wobbles while cutting, add some more cardboard shims to make the can spin true.

Tools and Materials

To make your own stove doesn't take many tools or supplies. The jigs are priceless in can control. A small exacto type knife will give the control needed to cut the port, and a general utilty knife can cut the can parts. Scissors. A vice. 240 emory cloth. Steel wool (#00). JB bond glue, slow dry. Imagination. Dental mirror. Single hole handheld paper punch, with adjustable depth gauge. Small round file. Sharpie pen. Ruled notebook paper. Ruler. Aluminum cans, 3M foil heat tape, and fiberglass insulation

Cutting the Stove Parts and Burner Port

These jigs will greatly simplify the cutting of each stove part and burner port. First trace your burner port on the can bottom. Insert the can into the jig, and clamp the jig in the vice vertically. Using the knife, score a fine line along the tracing, making 2 or 3 laps around the score. Drill a hole in the center, and using the knife cut from the center to the score line very carefully. Don't cut past the score, or it will show. Cut crossways on the can bottom making 4 pie shaped slices. Flex these pie shapes gently repeatedly until they break off. Be patient flexing and the stove part will come out perfect. The jigs will be used to cut the stove top and burner port, bottom, and fuel bowls. Don't cut out the stove top, though, until you have cut out the burner port.

To cut a can, first clamp the jig horizontally by the lid in a vice, then stuff in the can bottom down and spin the can. Insert the knife, and slowly spin several times while scoring with the knife. When it cuts thru, remove can and gently flex the part till it pops off clean.

After each part or port is cut, sand the rough edges smooth with 240 emory cloth and finish with #00 steel wool. I like to wrap the base of the fuel bowl in 3M foil tape to reinforce the bowl and give it a chromed no logo look. The piece will then be ready for the next step.

Many of the stoves in these photos have larger exhaust ports than I now recommend. The smaller 1.25" to 1.5" ports help stabilize the flame, increasing the combustion rate in the fuel chamber, and decreasing boiling times by up to a minute. The black solo pika has the correct 1.25" port size.

Measuring the Air Intakes and Burner Port

All that a passive air stove requires is an air intake pathway into the fuel bowl and an exhaust port for the flame to escape. How this is expressed through beverage cans is up to you; but placement, position, diameter, and quantity of holes will determine how efficiently your design will perform the task of boiling water fast or cooking pesto slowly. The passive air intakes can be controlled by using a simmer ring to choke the combustion to a very low rate providing some flexibility in cooking options. Run the stove without the foil ring, and it can be a fast water boiler.

Place the fuel bowl ports high to retain fuel bowl capacity, and place the air intake ports low to keep the design strong. I've played with many combinations of holes for the Pika, and have settled on two rows of holes for the 12 oz cans, and 3 rows of holes for the 24 oz and the Foster's cans. To make the air intake holes in the stove bottom use a hand held single hole paper punch, preferably with an adjustable depth gauge.

For measuring the hole placements on the fuel bowl and stove bottom, I use a very simple measuring device: a strip of blue ruled notebook paper. Notebook paper comes in 1/4 inch and 5/16 inch ruled widths. I cut narrow strips of paper from the paper edge, which gives a measuring device. Wrap this strip of ruled paper around the can part, count the number of marks, and pick an easily divisible number. If you get 26 marks, you can make two rows of 13 holes each by making a hole every two marks. I use units of 1.5, 2, 2.5, and 3 marks per hole along each row of holes. The design is very flexible, it can be both an artful expression of form and function while maximizing air intake, fuel combustion, and heat exhaustion necessary to boil water or simmer pesto.

For the fuel bowl, depending on size of can, make air ports along the top rim about 3/8 to 7/16 inch deep around the rim. Cut out the metal between air holes, and cut out the upper rim above the ports. Removing the rim will allow the fuel bowl to compress and fit into the rim groove along the inside of the stove top burner. Here is a photo showing the sequence of punching and cutting I use to make a Pika fuel bowl , going from left to right.

Along the side of the stove top, punch a set of holes that match the top row of holes of the stove bottom so that when the top is sleeved into the bottom, the holes will line up on both top and bottom. Cut out the hole bottoms edges so that it will not show. Sand and finish all cuts.

Assembling the Stove

Once all the pieces are cut, punched and finished, they can be assembled. There are several tricks that can be used to simplify the assembly of the pieces. First stretch the rim of the stove bottom so that the top will sleeve easily into the bottom. I do this by massaging the metal against a soft pad with a wood dowel or sharpie pen barrel. Work around the rim 2 or 3 laps rubbing the inside rim which will kneel the metal outward just enough to sleeve the top inside. You can also hold the can by the base in one hand and work the rim edge with the dowel to stretch the part for sleeving. Large diameter cans are easier to stretch than the small cans. Juice cans are the toughest and Foster's are the easiest to stretch.

Once all the teeth are cut into the stove top, each one will line up between the top row of holes in the bottom. Cut one tooth shorter than the rest. When the rim is stretched and the fuel bowl is in place, slip the top side opposite of the short tooth in first. Work the teeth of both sides into the bottom all the way around to the short tooth. Tuck the short tooth in last, level the top, and push down gently to see if it will sleeve easily. If not, disassemble and stretch the bottom some more. Tweaking the teeth inward slightly will help, also. Sleeve it again gently checking to see that there are no kinks in the metal as they may cut the stove sides. Be patient, this is the final most important phase. Push it together until the fuel bowl is centered in the top's groove and firmly inside. Don't crush it, though. Assembly gets easier with experience. I use a dental mirror to check on the interior fit to avoid crushing the fuel bowl. When the parts sleeve correctly, make some sharpie marks on the stove that will aid in perfect alignment for gluing.

When the pieces sleeve and fit well, disassemble, lightly stretch the rim again, and apply a very light amount (a breath!) of JB bond epoxy to the inside rim of the bottom that will contact the top. Reassemble making sure everything lines up perfect and sleeve the final time. Clean up any glue with alcohol. Let the parts dry completely before firing up to allow the glue to cure. Tape the stove seams with masking tape so it won't shift while drying; remove tape before firing.

Add a thin pad on the bottom and a ring of fiberglass insulation around the sides of the fuel bowl to a height just below the fuel bowl air ports, but not blocking the intakes. The glass acts as a wick lifting the fuel up to increase the surface area increasing the combustion rate. The stoves won't work well without the insulation.

Now the stove is done!

Stove Stands and Windscreen

There are many types of stands that you can build. The simplest is 3 tent stakes stuck into the dirt around your stove.Some ultralight freaks use rocks, that they didn't carry. Some use hardware wire cloth, others improvise, and some invent. The object to achieve is a firm support for your kettle, and a proper distance for the fire to efficiently heat the contents. Keep it simple, but one can also go simply wild with stand designs. Stands are much easier to build than stoves. Roy's cat stove site has a good stand made from fence material. In my photos above you'll see a smaller arch stand (14 grams) I made from 2 panels of 2" X 4" fencing to make a 2.75" tall stand.

Bicycle Spoke Stands

Bicycle spokes are an extremely strong and lightweight material to use for stove stands. Spokes come in multiple gauges, from heavy duty 14 gauge to the slimmer 15 and 16 gauges, and double butted styles. Stainless steel and titanium spokes are available from bike shops. BobL and I designed this flat folding triangle style spoke stand that is very strong, foldable and light at 20 grams. Here is a spoke stand unfolded to show the assembly and spoke bendings. Using an 11" section of 14 gauge spoke and a three 1.25" X 3/16" brass tube sections, a very stable, folding and lightweight stand can be built very simply. Height is 3.25", base is 3.5", with 1/2" tips. Trim the threads off first, and then after folding trim any extra length off at the tips that will rest on the kettle bottom. Engineer any size stand you need.

The spoke stand can be made with 14 gauge titanium spokes and alloy nipples to bring the weight down to about 15 grams. These spoke stands are 3.25-3.5" tall, and stand 1.5-2" above the stove.

To maximize the heat output of the stove make sure the stand allows your pot to be 1.5-2 inches above the burner port. The larger stoves may require a taller stand to be efficient.

This is my personal titanium spoke stand, it weighs 14 grams, and each spoke costs $3. The price of lightness!!


The cat stove site has the best windscreen instructions available, and I recommend his windscreen for these stoves. Make sure the screen is taller than the stand and it generally will be as high as the bottom of your pot handle. Mine is 5" high to work with my 3.25" tall folding spoke stand and .9 liter Evernew titanium kettle This screen is made out of one 16" x 18" foil oven pan liner, cutting out a 5.25" section on the diagonal. I fold over the edges 1/8" for strength and safety, and punch a hole every inch or so in two rows along the bottom. I then smooth and iron the folds flat with a ruler or flat object. Ironing it full length against a smooth desktop surface will put a perfect kettle curl in the windscreen, and ease rolling the screen for storage onto the fuel bottle for travel. A paperclip at the top and bottom of the screen junctions will hold it during usage. If the pot handle touches the screen, fold the ends down until the handle just fits. When stove is burning, leave a 1/4" to 1/2" air gap between the kettle and windscreen for best operation and heat flow.

This is my windscreen set up in camp.

Fuels and Safety

These alcohol stoves should be considered experimental and all safety and responsibility lies with the stove user. Use only denatured alcohol found in your local hardware store. SLX Kleenstrip is a very good fuel. Also Heet auto gasline antifreeze, in the yellow bottle, works well in alcohol stoves, and is available almost everywhere. The thru-hiker website has an excellent page on alcohol fuels to use.

Stove Operation

Operate the stove outdoors only with good ventilation, and never in your tent. Measure the fuel with a clear Kodak 35mm film can: 1 full can= 2 table spoons=1 ounce. Use only as much fuel as you need for boiling and cooking; don't add fuel while stove is lit; and don't try to extinguish the stove unless the forest is on fire. If the stove burns for more than a minute after the water boils, then next time decrease the amount of alcohol to increase fuel efficiency. With practice, these stoves can be very fuel efficient; and with experience you will gain confidence with the system for use in the wilderness.

Fuel Efficiency

After carrying Pika stoves for 6 years, I've learned a few fuel saving tricks. In my first year or two, I used 2.5 ounces of fuel per day, since I was continuing to cook up my white gas stove style menus. I now use only 1 ounce of fuel per day. I carefully measure each fuel load in a clear 35mm film can, and make sure my stove burns out just as it comes to a boil, or sooner. I've modified my food and kitchen to increase my fuel efficiency and fuel weight on the trail. I have a no cook breakfast, and only make one cup of coffee in the morning. In the evening I make a simple 2 cup dinner, usually a Mountain House freeze dried dinner. I've learned to boil less water than needed, and to add some water after the dinner has set a while to bring it up to the right thick or thinness. Most times I barely bring the water to a boil, accepting that a pot of hot water is all I really need. Also the type of kettle you use for cooking makes a big difference. A tall narrow kettle like the SnowPeaks or MSR Titan are not very efficient in using the heat from an alcohol stove. The best choice would be a pie pan with a wide bottom and a short height, and it would boil water very fast! I use an Evernew .9 liter ti kettle, but my 1.3 liter ti kettle is more efficient with fuel. However, we carry what we like. This website is a great place to learn how size really matters for your cooking kettle and how it can make a huge difference in the amount of fuel you will be carrying on the trail.

Thruhikers will want to see this website concerning the US Post Office rules for mailing alcohol fuel to your reload mailboxes. It was posted by the Gottawalk triple crown duo, and is very good.

Other Wild Stove Designs

Pressure Stove Designs

This is the Sobe bottle cap stove built from two Sobe Tea caps. A photo of it fired up. It weighs 9 gms and will hold 1/2 film can of fuel. Built for fun.

My version of the V8 stove found on the thru-hiker website. The walls have fiberglass insulation, and the flame ports were drilled using a straight pin.

I have built a Coors pressure stove and it works just like the Pepsi stove, though a little smaller.

My version of the Pepsi stove. Very hot, it has fiberglass insulation in the walls, and the flame ports were drilled using a straight pin. Body is wrapped in foil tape.

The Jato stove is a very hot! new design for 2004 using two 24 oz beer cans, and a heavy Powerade Psych or Raize sport drink can. Jato parts . The Jato weighs 35 grams.

The Big Jato is a new design for 2004 using two Fosters 25 oz beer cans, and a heavy Snapple sport drink can. Big Jato parts .

Here's some photos of the two Big Jato stove fired up. Weight is 45 grams, and it will boil a quart of cold water in 8 minutes.

Jato Dimensions: fuel bowl 1.5" w/3 tiny holes in bttm. Top 1 7/16" with 1 3/4 " port and 28 jets. Bottom 1 7/16". Big Jato dimensions: same, top has 33 jets. Drill all holes with a homemade pushpin drill bit.

Passive Air-Laminar Flow Stove Designs

This is a very elegant discussion about laminar flow stove design theory that Flyin Brian Robinson posted on the PCT-L chatroom in October 2002. I have found the passive air-laminar flow stove design to be the more fuel efficient design over pressure stoves, and they are far easier to build. I'll leave it up to you to listen to Brian's words of wisdom. Laminar flow theory.

My version of Roy Robinson's cat stove. It is drilled out, has an integral pot stand and weighs 26 grams with the simmer ring.

This stove is the Sqrl. It is made out of two small diameter sport drink cans, weighs 6 grams, and will boil 2 cups of water in 6 minutes. I was trying to see how small a stove can be and still work. It is a little squirrelly to use, and I recommend using the pika over this microwonder. Stove bottom is 1-3/8", top is 13/16", port is 1.25".

This is the Snapple can stove. Using two thick Snapple drink cans, and one heavy Powerade Psych or Raize sport drink can a very sturdy stove can be made. It does take some machining and drilling skills since the cans are very thick aluminum. Weight is 45 grams and it is virtually crush proof. Photo shows it with the cans and a ti spoke stand. The burn rate equals the solo pika. This is the Snapple stove parts . The Snapple stove dimensions: Top 9/16" with a 1.25" port, bottom is 1 7/16" with 16 holes that are 3/8", and the fuel bowl is 1 3/8" with 7 pika type ports. The bottom is difficult to stretch to sleeve the top, and the cans are hard to cut to dimension. I use a rotary tubing cutter for the Psych can, and a pika jig for the Snapple cans. All holes are drilled, except the exhaust port.

The Caprisun stove is new for 2004 and is built from two Caprisun juice cans, and a small juice can for the fuel bowl. The dimensions are the same as for a solo Pika, and the only difference is the fuel bowl tabs are bent outward slightly instead of inward as for Pikas. It weighs 16 grams and is very sturdy due to the flat bottom design. Here is a photo of the Caprisun stove parts.

A new brilliant design for 2005 from BobL. For lack of a better name, I'll call it Bob's stove. Using a thick energy drink can, like the Snapple can, a soda can, and a small juice can, a very sturdy 27gm stove can be made. This might be a break through design for sturdiness, simplicty, and function. As usual, cutting the Snapple can is difficult, but can still be cut using the jig. Use the standard Pika stove dimensions when building it. The lid slips on with no problem and minimal stretching, and if you don't want to drill, you can punch the holes with a paper punch, just be sure to put enough in for it to breath. Again, BobL keeps me guessing what I may have missed in my alcohol stove dreamstates!!

This catcan stove is made out of one 3 oz cat food can, a Coors bottom for a stove top, and a juice can for the fuel bowl. The can holes are drilled. The fuel bowl is 1-9/16" tall. Stove top is 1/4" tall and the port is 1.25" At 14 grams it works very well.

Mad Monte Dodge making coffee on a Fat Pika and spoke stand in camp in the Yukon.

Almost all of these stoves were designed by me, and all were built by me, Deems Burton.

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Pika stove website built 3-29-2003

Pika stove website updated 9-24-2008