If you have ever found yourself in the middle of the woods with a fancy package of freeze-dried food only to realize that you forgot your stove, this might be just the article for you. Nothing is quite as bad as a cold meal after a long day hiking, especially if you were expecting a nice steamy bag of spaghetti and meatballs. Worse is when you remembered to bring the stove, but you ran out of fuel, or it simply broke on you.
Regardless, if you do find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you might be able to save your night with just a few odds and ends from the bottom of your pack. Keep in mind, you will be playing around with fire and pointy objects, so make sure you are being careful when you make your tuna can stove.
How to make a tuna can stove
A tuna can stove is very simple and can be made anywhere from a variety of objects and tools. Which makes it ideal for any hiker caught in a bind and missing a way to heat up their dinner.
Things you will need
Any stubby can will work, but since tuna is a hiking staple, it makes the most sense to assume you will have a tuna can somewhere in your bag. If not, some substitutions are a can of beer or soda, a can of beans, or a soup can. Just keep in mind that if you do use one of the taller cans, you will want to cut it in half for it to work correctly. Full-sized can will not pump out the kind of heat we are looking for to heat up your dinner.
Knife or hole punch
While a hole puncher is the preferred way of making your tuna can stove, the odds that you forgot your camping stove but remembered your handy hole puncher are pretty slim. So let’s assume you have a pocket knife. Everyone hikes with a pocket knife, and done correctly, it will work just as well as a hole puncher. Again, be careful when making your stove. The last thing you want to do is slip when trying to punch a hole in your tuna can and slice your thumb open in the middle of nowhere.
You are going to need to get the can opened in the first place. Hopefully, if you brought the can of tuna, you remembered the opener. If not, you can open the can with your pocket knife, but this is not advised and should only be done if absolutely needed.
How to make a tuna can stove
- Use your can opener to open your can of tuna and fully take off the top of the can (you will not need it). You can either eat the tuna now to fuel up before your stove-making adventure or save it for whatever delicious meal you plan to make on your new stove.
- Punch holes all around the top of your can, about every ⅛ of an inch until you have a nice circle of holes rimming your can. If doing this with your knife, press the knife in and once you puncture the can, turn 180 degrees until you make a small hole.
- Fill your can with whatever fuel you are using (more on that later), light it, and you are all done. Place whatever you want to be cooked over it and enjoy.
Again, you are going to want to be careful when making your holes and lighting your fuel. The idea here is to make dinner, not go to the hospital.
What kind of fuel should you use in a tuna can stove
If you have lighter fluid, then you are already in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, you probably will not have lighter fluid, but fear not because there are other options. For example, if you have a bottle of rubbing alcohol in your medkit or a high-proof bottle of vodka, you can still make this work. Any alcoholic product with proof of 100 or higher should be fine.
Pour your alcohol into your newly made tuna can stove, making sure not to overfill it. Light with a long match or a flaming piece of paper. It will light up quickly, so do not get too close. Alcohol burns blue, which can be hard to see, so be aware when trying to extinguish your stove after cooking.
Cardboard and wax
Break out that Pop-Tarts box and the local beeswax lip balm you got from the farmer’s market for this method.
You are going to want to coil your cardboard and pack it as tightly as you can into your tuna can. Then melt your wax over it, but do not soak it in wax. There should be exposed parts of cardboard. Keep in mind that any wax will work, but beeswax is going to keep your fire going the longest.
This is the perfect solution if you have been on the trail for a little bit and have some leftover cooking oil. Coil up a piece of cotton (a bandana works great) in your tuna can and cover it with oil. Light with a long match or flaming piece of paper, and you are good to go.
Using the tuna can stove in the wilderness
When it comes to backpacking, you always want to remember the 5 Ps.
The 5 Ps stand for those unfamiliar: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
With this in mind, I try never to be in a situation where I do not have a working stove. This is why I keep a premade tuna can stove in my pack just in case. It is always worth having a backup for as much of your gear as you can.
So next time you are packing for a weekend in the woods, make a proper tuna can stove before you leave and store it in your pack. This way, you do not have to worry about cutting yourself in the middle of nowhere. It is light, and it will not take up much space. Just remember to bring a little bottle of rubbing alcohol or lighter fluid as well.
If you are in a pinch and have a spare can of tuna kicking around in the bottom of your pack, then you can make a tuna can stove. It is not the preferred method of preparing food, but if you are out of options. It will work.
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