I Really Want to Like Esbit Tabs

Esbit Stove

[Updated below] The problem is, no matter what type of stove I use, or type of cooking setup I try, I get totally lousy burn times for my Esbit solid fuel tabs. So bad in fact, consistently under 7-8 minutes per tab, that I am unable to bring two cups of 70-degree water to a boil in my Snow Peak 600 mug using a whole Esbit fuel tab!

I’m beginning to get frustrated with Esbit tabs. Everyone else seems to be getting burn times of 11-15 minutes from a single fuel tab. John Roan of Mountain Ultralight wrote a fantastic blog post recently about using minimal fuel for trail cooking in which he describes using a single Esbit tab to slow cook a rice-based meal and afterward still having enough of the fuel tab to light it back up and boil water for coffee! What the heck am I doing wrong?

I even made a Gram cracker style minimal stove/holder out of an old Bud Light aluminum beer bottle to see if that would help improve performance, but the burn times were still in the 7-8 minute range.

Esbit Stove

I’m at the point where the only thing I can think of is that somehow I got a bad box or batch of Esbit tabs from Campmor.com when I ordered them. I bought several boxes at the time (like you do) because I had a coupon, so I probably need to open one of the other packs and test a tab from there to see if they perform persists.

As a fuel option I want to love the Esbit tab. It has all the promise of a robust, lightweight, and hopefully efficient fuel for all types of trail cooking – if I can figure out why mine are not performing anywhere near the range that others are reporting.

What has your experience been with burn times for Esbit tabs? Should I give them another chance and buy some new packs, or just stick with denatured alcohol?


Update with new stove prototype:

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions on how I can try to improve my Esbit burn times. Campmor, where I bought my Esbit tabs from, is looking into whether or not these might be a bad batch, but in the meantime I’ve been doing a few more burn tests.

Esbit Burn Test

I started by using a much more open windscreen to allow more air flow around the burning Esbit tab. I’m using an old windscreen that fit loosely around my Snow Peak 600 and does not suffocate the stove. Just by giving the Esbit tab more air I was able to up my burn times to around 9 minutes!

Next I did a little bit of stove redesign based on some earlier comments I had received via email from Stick of Stick’s Blog. He had mentioned that when he recreated the simple Esbit stove that is at the top of this blog post using a PDF template I had sent him, he had bad/slow burn results also. Previoulsy using a different stove he’d had great burn times.

Based on Stick’s comments I made a new version of the stove with a few additional folds that created a tray base for the Esbit tab. This allows the liquid that comes out of the fuel tab as it burns to be collected in the ray of the stove and increase the burn time – at least that was Stick’s theory!

Esbit MYOG stove with tray

It’s hard to see it in the photo above, but there are tiny little metal flaps that extend from the longer sides and wrap around the edge of the tray, tucking under the folded edge of the side legs to create a pretty decent leak-proof tray.

By adding the tray to the stove so that the liquid from the fuel tab is captured, I increased the basic burn time of the three next tabs to above 16 minutes each. That’s more than double the burn rate I was getting.

I’m going to continue to tweak and adjust the stove over the weekend, but this would suggest that the fuel tabs I have are perfectly fine and it is the stove and windscreen configuration that was dramatically reducing the burn times.

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  • http://summitandvalley.com/ Martin Rye

    If I use them I use the GVP stove with it.  Basically really good results.  But its stinks and sticks to the pot.  So I hate it.  I will send you the stove if you like and some good esbit as you can post it.  Let me know if you want it.  

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Oh is that Glen’s stove? If you don’t mind sending it across the pond I’d love to try it out with a “real” Esbit tab. I’ll PM you my email if you don’t already have it.

  • JRoan

    You already know I have great luck with Esbit, maybe due to my great Trail Designs Ti Tri Sidewinder 1.3L setup…very efficient.

    As far as the sticky stuff on the bottom of the pot, it washes right off with a little water and your finger or small scrubby (used tea bag or tiny pine cone work great).

    And I love the smell of Esbit in the morning!

    Thanks for the mention Brian, don’t give up!

    John

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18101205595092823244 Basti

    First of all something important to know about “Erich Schums Brennstoff in Tablettenform” (That’s what “Esbit” means) is that there are different sizes of Esbit tablets! That makes it a little bit difficult to compare burn times without actually knowing which size one uses.
    Esbit as such has much fewer “burn energy” per gramm (don’t know the nerdy/ technical term for it) compared to methylated alcohol.
    As you don’t need a fuel bottle or a real stove it’s still lighter for 1-3 days (~3 liters of water to boil). If you’re planning to boil more water than alcohol is the way to go!
    When using Esbit you should keep in mind that its burn power is not very high. That means always to use a proper windshield and a fast heating pot (beercan or similar). An ideal setup e.g. would be the Caldera Keg. Got some really good results with it!
    Using heavier/ sturdier pots with Esbit was always a bit depressing. The water only got warm. Not a single bubble or steam was coming from the water.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Oh is that Glen’s stove? If you don’t mind sending it across the pond I’d love to try it out with a “real” Esbit tab. I’ll PM you my email if you don’t already have it.

  • jolly Green Giant

    Is your cup double walled by chance or perhaps are you using non-name brand esbit tabs? I can always get one tab to boil (or get a good simmer) on two cups and often more. Do you use a windscreen?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Nope it’s the single walled Snow Peak 600 titanium mug and I’m using genuine Esbit brand fuel tabs in their original blister packs. Campmor.com has already reached out to me and are looking into this too. I really think it’s a bad batch of Esbits. I’m using a windscreen with it, actually it’s the one from Flat Cat Stoves made for Snow Peak cups.

      • Jon

        Brian, that type of windscreen chokes off the inlet flow of air.  It doesn’t allow the Esbit tablet to burn cleanly and it produces a yellow flame.  I get the same burn times that you do.  On the 1.3 liter system, I can boil 2 cups in ~6 mins with a total burn time of 10 minutes.  Windscreens do impact Esbit perfromance.

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          So for Esbit use I need to use a different and less air restrictive windscreen? I can believe that, I’m no expert but can see how more air would help the tab burn more efficiently. I’ll try some different combinations this weekend and see what results I get.

  • jolly Green Giant

    Is your cup double walled by chance or perhaps are you using non-name brand esbit tabs? I can always get one tab to boil (or get a good simmer) on two cups and often more. Do you use a windscreen?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18101205595092823244 Basti

    Yes, this setup is prety similar to Glens. (I think he’s using a Foster can while I’m a Heineken man!)

    If you like I can sent you a bundle of Esbits in all the sizes I can find! (should be 3 if I’m right)
    PM via Twitter or eMail (mail at beuteltiere dot org)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Nope it’s the single walled Snow Peak 600 titanium mug and I’m using genuine Esbit brand fuel tabs in their original blister packs. Campmor.com has already reached out to me and are looking into this too. I really think it’s a bad batch of Esbits.

  • JRoan

    You already know I have great luck with Esbit, maybe due to my great Trail Designs Ti Tri Sidewinder 1.3L setup…very efficient.

    As far as the sticky stuff on the bottom of the pot, it washes right off with a little water and your finger or small scrubby (used tea bag or tiny pine cone work great).

    And I love the smell of Esbit in the morning!

    Thanks for the mention Brian, don’t give up!

    John

  • http://summitandvalley.blogspot.com/ Martin Rye

    If I use them I use the GVP stove with it.  Basically really good results.  But its stinks and sticks to the pot.  So I hate it.  I will send you the stove if you like and some good esbit as you can post it.  Let me know if you want it.  

  • Tevirselrahc

    I’ve been using the Esbit tabs and the stove since the early 80’s without problems to heat up water. I have run into less performing batches over the year, but it wa rather rare. Perhaps that is indeed your problem.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Possibly. The good folks at Campmor.com are chasing it up for me. If it is an issue with the product I’m sure they will make it right. IF it’s not then I need to practice more with how I am using them – user error would suck!

  • Ross

    Me to, but just can not. I keep one or two in my survival kit, but for day-to-day backpacking…NO.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’ll carry one or two in their blister packs as an emergency for sure – crazy not to. But I’d like to figure out what’s going on with how I am using them.

  • Ross

    Me to, but just can not. I keep one or two in my survival kit, but for day-to-day backpacking…NO.

  • Dave Cutherell

    I have great results with choking off the esbit for better simmer times.  I turn the stove over on it and cover it partially.  I am thinking I will take some pictures tomorrow and add to the post here.  I just went out with Russ at Trail Designs to Yosemite and we had ample chance to test all the fuels on his Ti-Tri.  It is a phenomenal system.  We burned wood, alcohol and esbit.   When I was burning esbit, I had one burn for-ever in this config I mentioned.  I simmered for about 20 min at a low boil on the 1.3l and when I blew it out, there was a 1/3 of the tab left!  My pot is black from burning wood so the additional soot and smell from the esbit is seeming much less a bother these days.  Once you go wood, you will never be the same.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I do love wood burning stoves. I like the smell of them and the simplicity, but as you well know there are times when wood is not an option. I really want to figure out this whole esbit thing, I’m thinking that it must be a combination of bad air flow and inefficient setup that is causing my short burn times.

      If you do take some photos and want to link them here that’s fine. I’d be more than happy to post them as an update to the blog post if you would be willing to share them?

  • Dave Cutherell

    I have great results with choking off the esbit for better simmer times.  I turn the stove over on it and cover it partially.  I am thinking I will take some pictures tomorrow and add to the post here.  I just went out with Russ at Trail Designs to Yosemite and we had ample chance to test all the fuels on his Ti-Tri.  It is a phenomenal system.  We burned wood, alcohol and esbit.   When I was burning esbit, I had one burn for-ever in this config I mentioned.  I simmered for about 20 min at a low boil on the 1.3l and when I blew it out, there was a 1/3 of the tab left!  My pot is black from burning wood so the additional soot and smell from the esbit is seeming much less a bother these days.  Once you go wood, you will never be the same.

  • JJ_Mathes

    I’m getting consistent burn times of 16-16.50 minutes on a full tab with all of my mugs. Like John R, I usually only need 1/2 tab. 

    Brian- I hate to ask, but you are using a windscreen right and it comes in close to the side of the mug?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      This is exactly my frustration. I’m using the windscreen correctly for how it’s designed for an alcohol stove. As Jon from Flat Cat Gear mentioned in his comment, that may be too restrictive on the air flow for an Esbit tab and that may be producing the bad burn times. Clearly some more testing is necessary.

  • JERMM

    I’m getting consistent burn times of 16-16.50 minutes on a full tab with all of my mugs. Like John R, I usually only need 1/2 tab. 

    Brian- I hate to ask, but you are using a windscreen right and it comes in close to the side of the mug?

  • Jon

    Brian, that type of windscreen chokes off the inlet flow of air.  It doesn’t allow the Esbit tablet to burn cleanly and it produces a yellow flame.  I get the same burn times that you do.  On the 1.3 liter system, I can boil 2 cups in ~6 mins with a total burn time of 10 minutes.  Windscreens do impact Esbit perfromance.

  • rcMike

    By the way, I keep my esbit tabs in a small Opsack to keep the odor contained.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Really? What has your experience been with the Opsack? I’ve found them to be less than effective at sealing in the smells of food and other items. I’ve even had a lot of poor results with the Aloksacs failing or not sealing properly. I’m wondering if the popularity of these bags is more a result of good product advertising than good end user experience and word of mouth.

  • rcMike

    By the way, I keep my esbit tabs in a small Opsack to keep the odor contained.

  • Eugeneius

    You’re having issues with your tabs imo, Esbit works just fine for achieving a boil.  

    I’ll occasionally use Esbit in the mornings when I’m lazy and don’t want to stoke a fire to get a boil for small cup of coffee, snuff the flame, and reuse the remaining Esbit tab for an additional boil for an oatmeal pack- my preferred method of cooking especially if it’s a winter trip.  This is above 9,000ft. as well using a Ti-Tri 1.3L Sidewinder.  

    Could also be your mug and windscreen combo like others mentioned.  You should check out the Ti-Tri Sidewinder setup for the Evernew 600mL, wider pot, more efficient.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      What you say makes sense. I’m going to adjust my windscreen setup and even try some Esbit tabs from one of the other packs that I have. I’ll check out the Sidewinder for sure.

  • Eugeneius

    You’re having issues with your tabs imo, Esbit works just fine for achieving a boil.  

    I’ll occasionally use Esbit in the mornings when I’m lazy and don’t want to stoke a fire to get a boil for small cup of coffee, snuff the flame, and reuse the remaining Esbit tab for an additional boil for an oatmeal pack- my preferred method of cooking especially if it’s a winter trip.  This is above 9,000ft. as well using a Ti-Tri 1.3L Sidewinder.  

    Could also be your mug and windscreen combo like others mentioned.  You should check out the Ti-Tri Sidewinder setup for the Evernew 600mL, wider pot, more efficient.

  • http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com Ross

    I’ve had the same problem with Esbit tabs. They burn out just short of getting two cups of water to a boil. I was uning a folding esbit stove (the one made by Esbit) and a GI canteen cup.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      That’s right Ross. Several people have suggest that my windscreen is restricting the air flow and causing the Esbit tab to burn inefficiently, so I’m going to try some variations. But like you, even when I use the most basic of set up I get lousy burn times.

      I guess I’m frustrated that it seems so hit or miss with Esbit tabs!

  • http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com/ Ross

    I’ve had the same problem with Esbit tabs. They burn out just short of getting two cups of water to a boil. I was uning a folding esbit stove (the one made by Esbit) and a GI canteen cup.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    So for Esbit use I need to use a different and less air restrictive windscreen? I can believe that, I’m no expert but can see how more air would help the tab burn more efficiently. I’ll try some different combinations this weekend and see what results I get.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    This is exactly my frustration. I’m using the windscreen correctly for how it’s designed for an alcohol stove. As Jon from Flat Cat Gear mentioned in his comment, that may be too restrictive on the air flow for an Esbit tab and that may be producing the bad burn times. Clearly some more testing is necessary.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    That’s right Ross. Several people have suggest that my windscreen is restricting the air flow and causing the Esbit tab to burn inefficiently, so I’m going to try some variations. But like you, even when I use the most basic of set up I get lousy burn times.

    I guess I’m frustrated that it seems so hit or miss with Esbit tabs!

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    What you say makes sense. I’m going to adjust my windscreen setup and even try some Esbit tabs from one of the other packs that I have. I’ll check out the Sidewinder for sure.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Really? What has your experience been with the Opsack? I’ve found them to be less than effective at sealing in the smells of food and other items. I’ve even had a lot of poor results with the Aloksacs failing or not sealing properly. I’m wondering if the popularity of these bags is more a result of good product advertising than good end user experience and word of mouth.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I do love wood burning stoves. I like the smell of them and the simplicity, but as you well know there are times when wood is not an option. I really want to figure out this whole esbit thing, I’m thinking that it must be a combination of bad air flow and inefficient setup that is causing my short burn times.

    If you do take some photos and want to link them here that’s fine. I’d be more than happy to post them as an update to the blog post if you would be willing to share them?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Possibly. The good folks at Campmor.com are chasing it up for me. If it is an issue with the product I’m sure they will make it right. IF it’s not then I need to practice more with how I am using them – user error would suck!

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’ll carry one or two in their blister packs as an emergency for sure – crazy not to. But I’d like to figure out what’s going on with how I am using them.

  • Stephen McGuire

    I know that someone did a burn test measuring performance vs. height of the stove and found that there is a sweet spot with Esbit. Being off by even .75 inches can impact performance as well.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      That makes sense based on my crude experimentation. Thanks for the link in your other post to the Thru-hiker’s analysis of pot stand heights and Esbit boil times. This will help me to fine tune my configuration considerably.

  • Stephen McGuire

    I know that someone did a burn test measuring performance vs. height of the stove and found that there is a sweet spot with Esbit. Being off by even .75 inches can impact performance as well.

  • Stephen McGuire

    Wasn’t sure what you were using for a pot stand so here’s the link: http://www.thru-hiker.com/articles/esbit_stove_height.php

  • Stephen McGuire

    Wasn’t sure what you were using for a pot stand so here’s the link: http://www.thru-hiker.com/articles/esbit_stove_height.php

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    That makes sense based on my crude experimentation. Thanks for the link in your other post to the Thru-hiker’s analysis of pot stand heights and Esbit boil times. This will help me to fine tune my configuration considerably.

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    The esbit tabs i remember using 20 years ago it worked better if you broke the tablet in half it was when the military was pushing for something other than the trioxane bars that could actually blow up after it was in a liquid state… 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rob-Lewis/1061844177 Rob Lewis

      I currently use the SP 600 as my cook pot as well and a lid from tinny at Minibull.  For alcohol, I use the End to End gram weenie pro stove and half of an old aluminum caldera cone as a windscreen.  I currently get between 5-6 min. boil times on 2 cups of water.  For esbit I use the Ti Wing stove and the same 1/2 caldera windscreen.  I get 6-7 minute boil times with this setup on half an esbit tab.  I believe the windscreen has a lot to do with it.

      • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

        Thanks Rob. I think you’re right that the windscreen has a LOT to do with the efficiency of the esbit and alcohol stoves. I’m playing with my windscreens now to see if I can get a better result. I’m going to look up the stove you mentioned :-)

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’ve always had a good experience with trioxane tabs, but know others that have had them go rogue on them. After contacting Campmor they responded by immediately sending out some new Esbit tabs for me to test and see if they are better. Great customer service.

  • http://listeningtothewinds.blogspot.com/ Brad Neal

    The esbit tabs i remember using 20 years ago it worked better if you broke the tablet in half it was when the military was pushing for something other than the trioxane bars that could actually blow up after it was in a liquid state… 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rob-Lewis/1061844177 Rob Lewis

    I currently use the SP 600 as my cook pot as well and a lid from tinny at Minibull.  For alcohol, I use the End to End gram weenie pro stove and half of an old aluminum caldera cone as a windscreen.  I currently get between 5-6 min. boil times on 2 cups of water.  For esbit I use the Ti Wing stove and the same 1/2 caldera windscreen.  I get 6-7 minute boil times with this setup on half an esbit tab.  I believe the windscreen has a lot to do with it.

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Chad “Stick” Poindexter

    Brian, that is good to know that you got better times with a cupped tray stove. Like I mentioned in the email, I use the Ti Esbit Folding Stove. I use the same type of windscreen that you have in your picture above and I have cut it so that it will fit right against the edge of the stoves perimeter. At this point I have only used my Heine pot over the Esbit and with this set-up I manage to get 9 minute full rolling boils and the tab will die out anywhere from 15 to 17 minutes, although the last minute or so of the burn time is hardly a flame, but a flame none-the-less.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Stick, you comment about the liquid from the burning tabs was a key factor in increasing my Esbit tab burn times. By making a small tray in the stove I was able to almost double the burn times, that tells me that the liquid/melted fuel tab is part of the burn too.

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Chad "Stick" Poindexter

    Brian, that is good to know that you got better times with a cupped tray stove. Like I mentioned in the email, I use the Ti Esbit Folding Stove. I use the same type of windscreen that you have in your picture above and I have cut it so that it will fit right against the edge of the stoves perimeter. At this point I have only used my Heine pot over the Esbit and with this set-up I manage to get 9 minute full rolling boils and the tab will die out anywhere from 15 to 17 minutes, although the last minute or so of the burn time is hardly a flame, but a flame none-the-less.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’ve always had a good experience with trioxane tabs, but know others that have had them go rogue on them. After contacting Campmor they responded by immediately sending out some new Esbit tabs for me to test and see if they are better. Great customer service.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Thanks Rob. I think you’re right that the windscreen has a LOT to do with the efficiency of the esbit and alcohol stoves. I’m playing with my windscreens now to see if I can get a better result. I’m going to look up the stove you mentioned :-)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Stick, you comment about the liquid from the burning tabs was a key factor in increasing my Esbit tab burn times. By making a small tray in the stove I was able to almost double the burn times, that tells me that the liquid/melted fuel tab is part of the burn too.

  • http://francistapon.com/ Francis Tapon

    I cheat with Esbit tabs. I find an established fire ring. Use rocks to balance my stove. Add twigs. Bam. Boiled water. 
    Yes, I’m effectively using Esbits as a fire starter. Or you can say that twigs provide an Esbit boost/assist. 
    The downside of this technique is that you need to find established fire rings, which can limit you. 

    My lightweight solution in my CDT Yo-Yo: no cooked food for 7 months. No stove, no pot, no Esbit, no cooking, no problem. :)

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      That’s not really cheating as far as I’m concerned Francis, who is to say that there is a right or wrong way to use Esbit tabs? Although now just watch all the purists slam me for saying that.

      I commend you on your CDT Yo-Yo accomplishment, that’s hard core. I don’t know if I could ever do that. I see all the benefits of not having to carry any cooking equipment, but would crave a hot drink at the very least. BTW, Francis is my middle name :-)

  • http://francistapon.com/ Francis Tapon

    I cheat with Esbit tabs. I find an established fire ring. Use rocks to balance my stove. Add twigs. Bam. Boiled water. 
    Yes, I’m effectively using Esbits as a fire starter. Or you can say that twigs provide an Esbit boost/assist. 
    The downside of this technique is that you need to find established fire rings, which can limit you. 

    My lightweight solution in my CDT Yo-Yo: no cooked food for 7 months. No stove, no pot, no Esbit, no cooking, no problem. :)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    That’s not really cheating as far as I’m concerned Francis, who is to say that there is a right or wrong way to use Esbit tabs? Although now just watch all the purists slam me for saying that.

    I commend you on your CDT Yo-Yo accomplishment, that’s hard core. I don’t know if I could ever do that. I see all the benefits of not having to carry any cooking equipment, but would crave a hot drink at the very least.

  • Tevirselrahc

    I’ve been using the Esbit tabs and the stove since the early 80’s without problems to heat up water. I have run into less performing batches over the year, but it wa rather rare. Perhaps that is indeed your problem.