Most of us are familiar with the traditional German made Esbit stove with its hexamine fuel tabs. They have been around for a long time, and were an issued item to German troops for a long time. They endured for good reason- they’re small, light, inexpensive, will heat a cup of water easily, and can burn a few different types of fuel such as trioxane, hexamine. There are not a ton of downsides to the Esbit if used within its limitations, other than the fact that the fuel can have an unpleasant odor (which can be detected from pretty far away) when burning. One of the other guys at the Brushbeater Scout course a few months back told me about a similar option, the BCB folding stove, which is a British MOD issue item, and is designed to burn Fire Dragon fuel. The stove can also burn hexamine and trioxane. The Fire Dragon fuel is a gelled alcohol fuel that typically comes in packs of 6 cubes, labeled as being a “Operational Ration Heater Fuel 24 Hour Fuel Pk.” I decided to pick up one of the stoves and some fuel to see how it performed.
First off, here is the stove pictured beside of a surplus Esbit stove, and with a package of fuel cubes. Notice that the BCB is a little larger than the Esbit, meaning it should be a little more stable when heating a cup of water. The downside to it being larger is that it weighs in at 3.9 ounces, as compared to the Esbit at 2.9 ounces. The BCB stove also has a removable windscreen, which should help in a windy environment. I picked the BCB stove up brand new for around $7, which is around 2-3 times the price of a used Esbit, but still inexpensive. The fuel packets come in a 6 pack, and can be found online for $6-$10 per pack in the US, or you can sometimes order them out of the UK for around $3, you’re just going to have a little more in shipping costs, and have to wait a while for them. I was able to find a local store that had a massive quantity of the fuel for $3 per pack, so you may want to check your local surplus/outdoor stores if you’re wanting to pick some up.
An interesting thing about the Fire Dragon fuel- it says on the package that it can be used as a hand cleanser, which makes sense, seeing as how it is gelled alcohol. I would imagine it could be used to help clean a wound in an emergency as well if needed, although I am not knowledgeable enough to give medical advice. 3 of the fuel cubes will also fit into the stove, along with the detachable windscreen, when folded up.
I put approximately 16 ounces of water in my canteen cup, unfolded the stove, attached the windscreen, put a fuel packet in, and lit it up. I lit it with a ferro rod (try doing that with a hexamine fuel tab), and it only took one small shower of sparks to make it ignite. It produced a large flame with little odor, although I don’t recommend sniffing the fumes- fumes from burning alcohol still aren’t the best thing to be breathing. The fuel packet burned for approximately 10 minutes, with a strong breeze blowing. It did not bring the water to a rolling boil, but did have it bubbling in the bottom of the canteen cup and steaming- plenty hot for coffee or freeze-dried meals. It might have boiled 12 ounces, but I wanted to see what it would do with a full bottle of water, or half of a canteen.
If you notice, the Fire Dragon fuel does leave a heavy residue in the bottom of the stove- most likely from the gelling agent in the fuel cubes. 10 seconds with a screwdriver, key, or knife peels it right off.
Overall, I won’t say that the Fire Dragon stove or fuel is necessarily any better than an Esbit, but it definitely seems to be a good piece of gear to have around and has it’s own merits. I would personally prefer a butane stove such as the MSR Pocket Rocket (it is a great stove-thanks for the recommendation NC Scout!) to either of these stoves, but they definitely have a place as well.