The ability to produce low-setting fire is an important feature to look out for when choosing your backpacking stove. Stoves running on wood, denatured alcohol, solid fuel tabs, and some canister fuels, however, lack this feature. They are equipped only with producing fire in high setting, which is good if you are just boiling water! This is where a backpacking stove heat diffuser comes in to save the day.
This cooking tool is placed between a heat source and a pan or pot to distribute heat and to reduce the intensity of the heat coming from the source. That is why heat diffusers are also called flame tamers. Without this neat instrument, camp food may turn out unevenly cooked or burnt.
The concept of using flame tamers goes a long way back in history. Our ancestors used stones, lava rocks, and balls of clay to regulate and distribute heat while cooking. So, just in case you left your heat diffuser at home, you can improvise and try these primitive ways of diffusing heat as well.
The Different Types of Backpacking Stove Heat Diffusers
Today, however, we don’t have to gather stones or make balls of clay to use them as heat distributors. We have a wide range of lightweight and compact heat diffusers to choose from made of various kinds of metals, including cast-iron, stainless steel, and aluminum. Based on design, we have two types of burner shields:
- Perforated heat diffuser. This flame tamer is made of one or two pieces of a flat metal sheet with holes in it. Some of these round heat deflectors are very flat, while others have concentric ridges. Most of this type of heat diffusers feature a heat-resistant handle for easy adjusting or removing.
- Solid heat diffuser. This simmer mat is often thicker than the perforated type. Aside from distributing heat evenly and adjusting it to a lower setting, this heat diffuser also protects the underside of pans from soot and damage.
Another useful feature of this item is that they somehow provide a more stable base for cookware. Thus, cups that barely fit onto the backpacking stoves’ pot or pan support can now rest securely with the flat base of the heat diffuser.
Furthermore, because heat deflectors often have wide diameters or widths, they also somehow extend a backpacking stoves’ capacity to accommodate larger-than-usual cookware. Of course, you still have to make sure that the top weight can be supported by the base.
And while not true for all types of heat diffusers, some will allow the use of ceramic or clay pots as well as glassware for cooking.
How to Make Your Own Backpacking Stove Heat Diffuser
If you’ve made your own wood burning or denatured alcohol stove, you can try your hands at creating your own stove heat diffuser. Here’s how to do it:
- Cut away the bottom of an empty #10 large tin can. Its diameter should be bigger than the perimeter of your stove’s pot stand so it can rest atop. You can opt to perforate the surface or not.
- Mark three spots around the outer circle. Space them equally away from each other.
- Next, drill a hole on each spot, and you are done. Or, you can proceed to step four to lift the pan a little from the diffuser so that they are not directly in contact with each other.
- Put a nut and bolt in each hole.
Voila! There you have it—your very own flame tamer!
Now, if you have no access to any metal sheet or tools to make your own burner shield or you are yet to buy a flame tamer, you can try these tricks in the meantime:
- Hack #1. When you are at the part where you are supposed to be working with low fire already and you can’t adjust the heat of your stove, remove your pot from the heat source. Cover the pot with its lid. Next, wrap a towel around the pot including the bottom to trap the heat in. Leave alone for 20-30 minutes.
This should save you some fuel, free up space on the stove for other items to cook and let you enjoy food cooked just right.
- Hack #2. Another way around the problem is to lift your pot a little from direct heat. This method requires pre-planning. Otherwise, you’d end up trying to hold the pot by yourself. Find a way to suspend the pot safely and securely using the things around you.
- Hack #3. This is the kind of hack that goes with a disclaimer that says follow at your own risk. This method applies to liquid-fuel stoves and involves reducing the pressure of your fuel bottle by pumping fewer times. It is perfectly alright if you do this at the start. But since you are doing this in between your cooking, you need to be extra careful.
So when you are ready to shift to slow cooking or simmering mode, remove the pot and turn off the valve and make sure the fire is put out. Now, wait for around five minutes for the fuel bottle to cool down.
Then, hold the bottle upright and release the pressure. Aside from making sure your fire is put out, you also would want to check no one’s cooking near you. Otherwise, the vapor from the bottle might catch fire and produce disastrous results.
When you have successfully released the pressure, close again the bottle and pressurize it with lesser strokes—around half or even less than that. Then, continue with the priming process and proceed with the simmering part of your cooking. Basically, the idea is that with less pressure on the fuel bottle, there will be less fuel flowing to the stove. And with less fuel, you get weaker fire, which is perfect for slow cooking.
Seriously, just get a backpacking heat diffuser. It will make your outdoor adventure less about making makeshift cooking tools and more about enjoying your trek—and good food on the side.