View Full Version : Car Stove

2006-12-11, 16:10
Wondering about the best solution for an emergency car kit for winter. The needs are similar, but different, to that of winter hiking and camping in general. I would like something in the way of stove, food, water, that I can store and forget, at least until Spring, but also use now and then and easily replenish. This is what I have in mind so far:

1. Stove: Thinking about a homemade one of these.
Something I can use inside the car. Doesn't need to be fast or efficient as long as it is safe enough to not have to crack a window unless I really have to.

2. Food: Good long term storage in freeze/thaw conditions.
I am thinking canned goods, like corned beef, and canned fruit in syrup, especially the kind that are self-opening. The nice thing about cans is they can take a beating and you can heat them. Weight is not an issue, though volume is.

3. Water: Something that won't burst when frozen.
I was thinking something like 48oz cans of apple juice might work, if it won't burst. It has a somewhat lower freezing point and expansion than plain water. Perhaps not much, but perhaps just enough. Also you can reheat it if it is frozen. I was also thinking there might be less latent heat of fusion if it was frozen.

Will a 48oz can of apple juice burst if frozen?
How long would it take to heat a 48oz can of Apple Juice on a three wick candle stove?

2006-12-11, 17:39
JAK, there is NOTHING that you can safely use inside a vehicle to cook with...PERIOD! If you base any of your planning on this, you are planning to fail. You must take adequate supplies and clothing to do food prep outside the vehicle. For something to leave in the vehicle, it would need to be either coleman (or some other high-grade) fuel or propane, butane won't work when it is really cold. If you anticipate being stranded in the cold, and you plan to survive, you must have a sleeping bag for each person rated for the worst case temperature, or you will die, or come very near death. Some sort of hobo stove is a consideration for melting snow and cooking, IF you've used it a lot before you need to in a pinch.

Frolicking Dino
2006-12-11, 17:59
I believe I would stick to powder drink mixes - cans generally do burst when frozen. Even if they don't burst, I would have concerns about the seal remaining intact in those conditions.

May I suggest carrying extra gasoline / petro and using the 12 volt DC current from the car battery and a cooking device designed for this purpose (http://www.allwebdiscounts.com/onroad_03_03.php)? It should be safe to use inside the vehicle. I would also carry a back-up system in case the car is dead and that's why you're stranded - a stove that could use the extra gas as fuel would be my choice.

As others have noted, you need to assume the worst - that the car will not be providing anything other than enclosed space - and carry whatever the worst conditions would demand for survivial.

2006-12-11, 18:48
I think a three candle stove would be relatively safe in a car. Melting a frozen 48oz can of juice would take awhile but I gather those candles are probably good for 8 hrs burntime?
Only concern I would have is the temptation to leave it burning while I doze off. Nice thing about candle wax is it's a pretty safe fuel should you spill it as opposed to ETOH or colman fuel.
I bought some MRE heating thingys at the recommendation of Jeff (I think). I didn't find the stink of actuation as bad as Take-a-knee made out, but still wasn't too impressed. They'll heat maybe a 1/2 pint of tap water to (kinda) hot. Not practical to melt snow for drinking water. They would be toasty in your sleeping bag, but you'd have to be careful as they use water to actuate and they aren't sealed up on one end.

2006-12-11, 19:01
I agree Take-a-knee and Frolicking Dino, skip a fuel stove inside your vehicle (this includes candles) and pack snowsuits or sleeping bags. I actually carry both. (plus blankets, towels, fresh clothes)

As far as drinks go any canned or bottled beverage will most likely burst if frozen. You might experiment with juice boxes though. Maybe they have enough give so as not to burst.
-I would try them in the freezer first though, and double bag them even if they passed the freezer test.

I don't carry liquids in the winter. I have a large plastic flask I can melt snow in with my body heat if needed, and a coffee can with a candle in it that I can use as a crude stove and pot if I need more than that.
-Actually I would probably start a wood fire instead. (I also carry a saw, shovel, and ax)

Food: I carry breakfast bars and slim jims.

It might sound like I carry a lot of things, but the majority of it fits in a medium-large cooler (approx. 3' long x1.5' across x1.5' high - best guesstamation) that I carry in the back of my vehicle all the time.

2006-12-11, 20:23
Dropkicks idea on the cooler sounds really smart, fluids stored in a cooler in a warm vehicle will remain fluid for quite a while. Dino's idea on using a stove that will burn your vehicles' fuel is another good idea. I use and like MSR stoves, but I'll be the first to admit they are fussy, and stove weight isn't a consideration in a vehicle. The most reliable stove I've ever used was a multi fuel Peak one that was made sometime in the 90's, we were issued that stove in my unit. A member of my A-Team went to the SOCOM mountaineering course in Colorado and used one on several 14'ers without a problem. A lot of guys had problems with MSR stoves at altitude. Pep Boys sells a siphon with a check valve in it you can shake to get a siphon started to recover your gas tank's fuel. If you have money to spend you could further Dropkick's cooler idea and get an ARB 12V fridge, it also can be used to heat with. Set on low that will keep your water supply liquid.

2006-12-11, 22:13
I have a german mil-surp mess kit with a couple of bottles of heet (yellow bottle) in the trunk of the car. Some trail mix (GORP), instant soup and ramen packs, hot chocolate mix and tea are included. I also carry a couple of bottles of water, but I usually drink them when I'm driving so they get rotated pretty regularly.

2006-12-11, 23:40
I have loaded the following into each of our vehicles.

Blankets x 4, Tarps x 2,Twine, In a medium cooler to ward off freezing, and to catch the mess if it does... two gallons of water in gallon and half gallon jugs, a snow melt kit in a 1.8L camp boiler, an alcohol trangia (mil surplus) type stove, many heet bottles, Lots of granola bars, MRE's, and kid juice packs. We use the juice and granola bars often...(Kids). Baby wipes. Other assorted shovel,axe,lights, vehicle recovery etc..., tools...flares...first aid....

My idea is, shelter/warmth first. Warm fluids second. Food third. An alcohol stove is a no brainer, just pour the heet and light, outside of the car only...

Since we take off into the woods in the winter often, my trunk area is packed to the hilt. I actually leave the stuff in all year for emergency preparedness (earthquake) type readiness... no room left in my vehicle trunk...

Jim Henderson
2006-12-12, 12:58
If I was going to burn fuel in a car, I would use the canned propane stoves first since they have a lower operating temp, but these stoves are heavy and bulky, even the single burners. The propane/butane mixes are lighter and smaller but they decline in performance the lower you go below freezing. I have used the Powermax cannisters down in the teens and they work OK til the can is about 1/3 full and then they die since all the propane is burned first. The typical butane only cannisters aren't worth a dang below or near freezing.

A candle stove would probably work OK and possibly be the least toxic. I like the old GI hexamine stoves. A 3 winged butterfly type with enough fuel to cook several cans of food would fit in the palm of your hand. They do make a bit of stink tho and the fuel is getting harder to find and the modern versions seem stinkier. The trioxane stoves also are very compact, but I think they make more toxic fumes, at least they stink more, and they make a hard to remove mess on the stove.

I would use all of these with a window cracked open or better outside if possible.

If your vehicle is expected to be running, there are a lot of appliances available in Truck stops that run off the cigarette lighter. These would be a safer option, but of course would die once you no longer have battery power.

We have had our travel trailer get down into the teens for extended periods. The canned goods all survived with no evidence of trouble. The glass goods cracked. I think soda, beer and drinks with sugar or salt will survive freezing better than water, btu we all know that sodas and beers do burst the cans. Possibly powdered dringks like gatorade and hot coco with sufficient water would be a better choice for short periods of freezing. By the way, dry goods like crakers, chips, cup of noodles etc survive quite well.

A bivy sack, plus GI poncho liner or better a sleeping bag would help a lot as far as comfort.

I have never been in a car survival situation and the worst conditions I have seen are low teens. So no expert, but these are my experiences and some ideas from reading too many outdoor magazines.

Good Luck,

Jim Henderson

2006-12-12, 14:48
Thanks all. This is with New Brunswick / Maine conditions in mind. There would be wood fuel available outside when needed. I think a candle stove is still a good idea, if only for light and simmering, as long as you don't go crazy with it. It should be adaptable to being an outdoor wood stove. Most often the situation is a semi-emergency like simply running out of gas in freezing rain or blowing snow and not having sufficient clothes. Basically I am talking about being prepared for being unprepared, which most often happens close to home. Still it can be pretty stinking miserable even in town. Not as much fun to get caught unprepared with a wife and child in the car. Happens.

Here is what I had on my list so far:
0. Reliable vehicle with usual summer stuff plus snow shovels.
1. Heavy wool blankets and/or Heavy Sleeping Bag.
2. Extra wool hats/mitts/socks for 4 people.
3. Candle Stove & Pot & Lighter & Matches.
4. 48oz Can Apple Juice. 4 bottles Gatoraide.
5. 1kg Peanut Butter. 1 kg Honey. Box of 12 Granola Bars. Tea bags. Cards.

To this I think it does make sense to add: (Thanks Iceman.)
6. Tarp, Twine, Stakes, Nails, Hatchet.
7. Two large blue foam pads.

Everything should fit into a big duffle bag, with #1 taking up perhaps 80% of the space. The rest should just jam right in there with it. Items 6&7 might have to wrap around the outside. A couple of rain ponchos would be handy. The water I think I would also store separately just in case it does burst. Also it might not hurt to throw in a little variety, and use it and replenish it on casual day trips. I am a big believer in using such items regularly, to stay familiar with it. I only have a trunk for this now, but there should still be room for everyday groceries, toboggans, backpacks, etc.

Remaining Questions:
Will Gatorade burst? Apple juice? I think I still need to do a freeze test.

p.s. When I get it together I'll take a photo. Thanks all.

2006-12-12, 17:08
If you plan to use a duffel bag, you might want to get some gamma-seal lids that fit five-gallon buckets. Two of these will fit in a GI duffel. This would help organize everything, it also makes everything weather(not freeze) and rodent (not bear) resistant.

2006-12-12, 17:57
Check this out plus a lot more to read a see

2006-12-12, 21:44
I can confidently pass along that 1/2 ltr commercial water bottles can be frozen and not burst as I have about 1/2 dozen in my freezer now. @-15/20 f. Not comfortable with the prospect of thawing one of them under my arm though. 48 oz cans will Probably freeze ok; slow to thaw in Ma's sleeping bag.

2006-12-13, 00:13
JAK, there is NOTHING that you can safely use inside a vehicle to cook with...PERIOD!

I use an alcohol stove to cook in my minivan when I go winter camping with it. Yes there are risks, but like all risks/dangers they can be reduced or eliminated with careful precautions:

1. Fire. With an alchy stove one is using small quantities of fuel, an ounce or less. There is no flare-up risk like with a gas stove. Your biggest risk would be tipping over an ignited stove. Precaution: Have a bucket of snow or water as an extinguisher nearby.

2. CO or CO2 gases. Heck, you have this risk if you run the car engine for heat! Solution: crack a window while cooking, close it when the stove burns out.

3. Make sure that if despite the best laid plans of mice and men things get out of control that you can exit the vehicle quickly in case of fire or thick smoke. Don't put the stove between you and the nearest exit and make sure your car door isn't frozen shut or otherwise blocked with snow before lighting.

Just be smart and think things through. Make sure nothing flammable is nearby when you light the stove, put the stove on a stable surface (I use an 8"x16"x1/4" piece of plywood as a "kitchen counter"), etc.

No greater risk in than cooking in a tent vestibule, in my opinion.

2006-12-13, 03:38
Just thought I'd add this:

If you get stuck in a blizzard, lost, decide to take a nap in a rest stop, or whatever, and also decide to run the engine for warmth, check your tailpipe!

Almost every winter people around here die because their tailpipe was blocked with snow and the fumes backed up under the car.

2006-12-13, 13:07
Very good point on the tailpipe. Much more dangerous than a candle.
Here is an interesting article:


We sought to determine how quickly carbon monoxide would accumulate in the passenger compartment of a snow-obstructed vehicle.

A 1992 sedan was buried in snow to the level of the undercarriage, the ignition was then engaged and carbon monoxide levels recorded at 2.5-minute intervals. The primary outcome was the time at which a lethal carbon monoxide level was detected. Six trials were conducted: windows closed; windows open one inch; windows open 6 inches; windows closed and tailpipe swept clear of snow; windows closed and one cubic foot of snow removed around tailpipe; windows closed and tailpipe completely cleared of snow to ground level in a path 12 inches wide.

Lethal levels of carbon monoxide occurred within 2.5 minutes in the vehicle when the windows were closed, within 5 minutes when the widows were opened one inch, and within 7.5 minutes when the widows were opened six inches. Dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide were detected within the vehicle when the tailpipe had been swept clear of snow and when a one cubic foot area had been cleared around the tailpipe. When the tailpipe was completely unobstructed the carbon monoxide level was zero.

Lethal levels of carbon monoxide occurred within minutes in this snow-obstructed vehicle.

2006-12-13, 14:19
Regarding Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide from stoves in cars and tents and other enclosed spaces, I have been able to find out emission levels and danger levels. More variable is the ventilation rates in cars and tents.

Here is what I have gathered so far:
Oxygen - You normally drown in CO2 before running out of O2.
C02 - 5000 ppm is acceptable for an 8 hour workday in Australia.
CO - 50 ppm might be a limit to try and stay under in an emergency situation.

So as long as you produce less than 1 part CO for every 100 parts CO2 you should be OK, at least in theory. In practice you might succumb to the effects of Carbon Monoxide before feeling the symptoms of Carbon Dioxide.

Here is an article on Carbon Dioxide and Candles in Caves:

20% Oxygen - Everything is OK.
15% Oxygen - Heavy breathing and poor judgement. Candle goes out.
10% Oxygen - Serious problems, but CO or CO2 probably killed you already.

0.03% CO2 - Everything in OK. (Atmosphere is now 0.04%, but that's another issue.)
0.1% CO2 - This is considered the upper limit for indoor air quality. [different article].
0.5% CO2 - Lung ventilation increases by 5 percent. This is the maximum safe working level recommended for an 8 hour working day in industry (Australian Standard). [Time to crack open a window]
1.0% CO2 - Symptoms may begin to occur, such as feeling hot and clammy, lack of attention to details, fatigue, anxiety, clumsiness and loss of energy, which is commonly first noticed as a weakness in the knees (jelly legs).
2.0% CO2 - Lung ventilation increases by 50 percent, headache after several hours exposure.
5.0% CO2 - Violent panting and fatigue to the point of exhaustion merely from respiration & severe headache. Prolonged exposure at 5% could result in irreversible effects to health. Prolonged exposure at > 6% could result in unconsciousness and death.

CARBON MONOOXIDE - (From a different article.)

Four Candles: 4.7 +-3.0 mg/h (unscented 3" diameter candles)
Oil Lamp: 7.1 +-0.8 mg/h
Kerosene Lamp: 8.2 +-1.1 mg/h

Given a sealed enclosed space of say 1 m3,
and an emission rate of say 10 mg/h,
and a density of ~ 1kg/m3, or 1,000,000 mg/m3,
the CO ppm would increase by 10ppm per hour.

It would take 5 hours to get 1m3 up to 50ppm with 4 candles. I would guess that these 4 candles together would produce 2000 BTU/hour, at a burn rate of 0.5 oz/hour each. So in a 1 m3 space you could burn up to 20oz of candles before reaching 50ppm. That seems rather high to me, but would indicate you would have trouble with CO2 from candles before CO, as long as you burn them cleanly, and than you would likely want to crack a window open for fresh air from the CO2 symptoms before getting into trouble from the CO. The big IFs, is IF you can burn the candles cleanly, and IF I have done my research and math correctly. Anyhow, to heat up 48 oz of water by 100F at just 30% efficiency you would need 1000 BTU, which would be about 1 ounce of wax. If it is frozen to start with it would take perhaps twice as long, and probably produce more soot, and CO. Probably better to use a smaller container for making tea.

In the final analysis I think you would be safe sleeping with a single tealight candle, and cooking with a 3 wick candle stove when you are awake, but you might be better off heating up the drinks with the 3 wick candle stove 16oz at a time rather than 48oz at a time. The real danger is probably with running the car engine, so I would avoid that entirely if burried in a snow drift.

2006-12-13, 15:08
Here is a neat link:

At 2800kcal/day a person

830g oxygen (~3.3 m3 of air)
3300g water
630g dry food

1140g carbon dioxide
1820g water vapour and sweat
1500g urine
300g faeces
2800kcal heat ( 11,200 BTU)

So people produce ~ 50g CO2 and 500 BTU per hour.
At rest that might fall to 6g CO2 and 60 BTU per hour.
In a cold car that might be ~20g CO2 and 200 per BTU/hour.

At 1oz/hour a 3 wick candle might produce 10mg CO + 100g CO2 + 1000 BTU.
As long as it burns cleanly, CO should not be a problem.

2006-12-13, 22:34
Good grief man, you are the bomb when it comes to doing a bit of research. Remind me to give you a buzz when it's time to buy my new SUV. :biggrin:

2006-12-13, 23:40
Thank JAK.
It's good to know. I've always been a bit paranoid about CO poisoning (It probably has to do with growing up hearing how people in my area die of it every winter).
This easies my mind some, (plus giving me more options).

2006-12-14, 08:33
The article on the car exhaust was pretty scarey though.
7.5 minutes even with the window open 6 inches. Wow.

Here it is again:

p.s. I wonder how many grad students they lost on that one.

2006-12-14, 16:01
The article on the car exhaust was pretty scarey though.
7.5 minutes even with the window open 6 inches. Wow.

Here it is again:

p.s. I wonder how many grad students they lost on that one.
Maybe they used P.E.T.A. people, instead?
I would think they'd be happy to volunteer, and they're pretty much useless for any other purpose.

2006-12-16, 18:26
Here is the type of car stove I have made to keep stashed in the back of the SUV's. A plumbers stove: http://www.backpacking.net/makegear.html

I keep this stove inside a coffee can with about four bottles of heet. I also made a windguard and a pot support out of coffee can material, all fits inside the coffee can with some matches. If in need, set out the stove, fill er up, place the pot support around the stove, the coffee can on top, and the wind guard around, and you have a complete El Cheapo car survival system for under a couple bucks. I have actually broken this out a few times when were on "snowcation", and had not intended to stay out in the snow and play all day, so I stopped at a grocery, bought some hot dogs and cocoa, and we made lunch for the kids with our car kit. Had to scrub the bajeezes out of the coffee can afterwards...but still good. Beats nothing... Campmor sells a camp boiler that I have decided to actually boil the water in now, not so metal tasting.... Coffee cans work but taste like schlitt.

2006-12-16, 18:40
On two occasions I have spent time trapped in a snowbank in a car - It is not pleasant and you REALLY have to be careful with Carbon Monoxide.

The first time I got caught (blizzard !!) the thing that saved my life was a basket of dirty laundry in the trunk ..... a total fluke .... washing machine had broken down - the only time ever - and I just happened to have the stuff in the trunk.

The mistake that I made was that the blizzard was hard blowing wet snow and I kept thinking that I could shovel the car out and get to shelter. Wrong .... and by the time I gave up I was soaked to the skin and hypothermic. I always carried an emergency kit that included candles and fluids and blankets etc. - but I didn't have enough clothing to completely change and get warm enough to reverse the hypothermia. I wound up wearing a pretty funny assortment of dirty laundry - including some that belonged to my wife and kids- but it hadn't worked I wouldn't be posting this..

So now in addition to the standard emergency gear I carry 1.) a complete change of very warm clothing and 2.) a couple of books.

The books are because boredom really is an issue when sitting out a blizzard and if you don't have something to occupy your mind the temptation is to go back out there and shovel and get even more wet and tired than you already are. You aren't going anywhere until the storm subsides, so stay warm, settle in, read your book and stay out of trouble.

2006-12-17, 09:56
That's a good story and great advice. Lot's of blizzards and blowing snow up on Georgian Bay I understand. As far as extra clothes go, they take up alot of space, but they really are essential because people often underdress and then get caught, or try to get unstuck first like you did. At least I do anyways. Here are some clothes ideas that don't take up too much space but pack a wallop and might be good to pack and keep in the car all winter.

Very packable extra emergency clothes:
1. Wool took or balaclava.
2. Heavy wool socks (double as mitts).
3. Stanfields wool underwear.
4. Nylon wind pants and wind breakers.
5. Nylon rain ponchos.

Then on top of that lots of heavy wool blankets and heavy wool sweaters, which do take up space, but you just gotta have them. It doesn't hurt to keep blankets in the passenger compartment all winter. People can sit on them, and they end up getting used alot for regular winter activities like sledding and watching hockey games. Blue foam pads are essential also as you might need to leave the vehicle. These might be cut to lay flat and fit in the trunk after you work everything else out.

I am still working on my stove. The plumber stove or hobbo stove is more or less what I have in mind. I want something I can use inside with three tealights for a slow simmer and heat, and also use outside with sticks and stuff. I had some success last night with a slow vegetable oil burner. A tealight is really too big in diameter unless you use three floating wicks. What did work well was the aluminum screw off cap from a wine bottle. They are a little deeper than a tea light, but smaller in diameter. I packed it with scraps of toilet paper and then poured in about 1/3 oz canola oil, which burned for 25-30min without much smoke, except when it goes out. It's best not to have more than that in play at once, because it heats up to a flesh burning temperature and if you spill it it is like burning kerosene or worse. Not sure about carbon monoxide, but I think my rule of thumb now is up to 1 oz of fuel per hour is OK as long as there is no smoke and the fuel is not something that gives off other nasty fumes. I'm thinking mostly beeswax candles, but its good to have vegetable oil for food and it doesn't hurt to have a way of burning safely if you need to also. It would be best to make the wine cap burners ahead of time with beeswax and cotton, and then add the oil as the beeswax gets uses up. The wicks can survive several burnings this way. Good to have toilet paper on hand anyway. Honey is another messy fuel to play around with. Better as food than fuel.