The hexamine stove or “Hexi stove or Esbit.” is a versatile piece of cooking kit for camping, hunting, fishing or hiking. Used by numerous army services worldwide for decades, the hexi stove is simple, lightweight and reliable. Is uses hexamine compressed tablets, (Hexi tabs.) for the fuel source.
In this article we will cover how to use the hexi stove and how it works. The benefits and drawbacks of the stove and as well as some cooking tips.
Here is a basic explanation of how to use the hexi stove and tablets.
- Select an area or clean from leaves or debris and ensure the area is safe. Do not place the stove close to trees or roots that may catch fire. (Have water on standby.)
- Open the legs of the stove 90 or 45 degrees and ensure the hexi stove has a level base and stable. This is especially important for boiling water.
- Place the required amount of hexamine compressed fuel tablets in the center of the stove platform.
- Use matches or lighter to light the hexi tabs.
- Place the cooking utensil or mess tin on top of the prongs of the stove. Make sure it is stable and start cooking.
- Use a cloth / bandana or glove to hold the handles of the cooking utensil while stirring the food and to take it of the stove.
- When you have finished with the stove, use one or two sticks to very carefully tip off the burning hexi tablet. Or place the stove upside down.
- Cover the hexi tablet in dirt (Careful with water as it can spit.) to put it out, or let it burn out. Make sure the tablet is safely put out. (You can use the unburnt portions of the hexi tablet again depending on size of the tablet.)
- Make sure the stove is cooled down before touching it and storing it away in your kit.
- Ensure the area is safe from fire hazards before leaving. Clean up and take away any form of camp rubbish.
How the hexamine cooking system works.
The shelf of the hexi stove keeps the hexamine tablet of the cold ground. The shelf is high enough off the ground and also has holes/vents in it, (Depending on the manufacture.) to allow airflow to circulate around the tablet.
The outer portion of the legs or wind shield, keeps the flame a little bit sheltered on two sides. It is also the platform to sit the cooking utensil on.
The stove can basically be used five ways with different fuel types. 1. Just with the hexamine tablets. 2. Just used with kindling / firewood under the platform. 3. Used with a combination of hexi tablets and natural firewood. 4. An alcohol / liquid type fuel in a small container on the shelf. 5. Placed on the edge of an established fire, or over coals to cook with it.
Tips on using the hexamine stove and fuel tablets.
For windy days or for tactical situations, dig a small trench, just deep enough to conceal the open flames. The trench should be wide enough to fit the stove, but allow enough oxygen to circulate around the sides of it. The pit doesn’t have to be fancy. Use the small amount of dirt to place as a windbreaker and put on one or two side of the trench.
A back pack, another cooking utensil or some aluminum foil, can also be placed to help stop the wind. For uneven ground, dig a small pivot out for one leg to make the platform level and more stable. For rocky areas, you can build up the base with small flat rocks to even it out.
Store the hexamine tablets inside the hexi stove when transporting the kit. Tin canned food, like stews, soups or baked beans can be used directly on the stove. Open the tin lid nearly all the way (But leave the lid slightly attached, covering the food to heat up quicker and less debris get in the food.) or pierce a hole to ensure the can doesn’t heat up and explode if not vented.
A good fire safety practice is to ensure you have water, sand or some dirt close by in case the fire starts to get out of control. (Or at the very least be aware of where and what resources are about.)
If you are camping with a group, or there is a big established fire and you want to cook with the hexi stove, just simple move some hot coals a short distance away from the main fire. Close enough that you are not making two fires and potential more fire danger. But also far enough away, that when you stir your pot/cup you are not going to be too uncomfortable from the heat from the main fire.
For big fuel tablets, light them in a couple of spots. Break the tablets into a few pieces and it can make them easier to light. Some people will stand the bigger tablets on their side or edges, this may help boil the water faster.
Depending on the manufacture of the tablets, some tablets can be hard to ignite initially. Use a small amount of toilet paper or dry leaves under the fuel tablet to light it.
Or light a small candle and place this under the hexi tablet initially to get it alight. This will save matches or lighter fluid if the brand is hard to take a flame at the start.
If using the hexamine stove as a makeshift hot plate, do not use the hexi tablets directly underneath food like toast or meat, as the fuel tabs can be, I assume not good. Some older brand tablets could be toxic. The use natural fuel would be better.
To cook eggs on the stove, fold a bit of aluminum foil into a shallow cup and crack an egg into it. Turn the stove upside down and place the hexamine tablet on the ground or platform depending on heat required.
Heavy duty aluminum foil can be used to fashion a makeshift hotplate to place on the stove. I have turned the hexi stove on its side to help cook toast. (With natural fuel.) It wasn’t the most successful, but was okay.
The British army mess kit or French army mess kit holds the hexi stove inside the kit nicely. (Depending on size.)
To stop the stove and mess kit from rattling together in the backpack while hunting or being used in a tactical situation, a bandana or half tea towel can be used to place between the stove and mess kit.
For easier cleaning of cooking utensils: – If you are cooking stews or a messy meal in a cups canteen, when you are finished eating, pour a little bit of water back into the metal cup. Place it back on the hexi stove or fire and let the water heat up or boil. Rather than caked on stew, the cup will be a lot easier to clean hot water. If you are still hungry, you now have some hot soup. (A slice of bread is also good for mopping up and eating the leftover stew in the cup and cleaning it the same time.)
If you are camping with children, explain that the stove will be hot for a while and don’t touch it or they could possible burn themselves.
The hexi stove is also sometimes called, the Esbit folding pocket stove. Esbit is a brand that also has a few different models and designs of stoves and Esbit fuel tabs.
As the stove get very dirty with soot etc., have a dedicated ditty bag for it, so you other kit doesn’t get dirty. I use an old army Minimi magazine pouch.
In the pouch I will normally have matches and a Bic lighter, army spoon or long handled hiking spork. Also a half a tea towel or bandana to wrap it in, which is also used to handle and remove hot cooking utensils.
Use the tablets in combination with kindling or natural fuel. Use half a tablet or one to get the fire going, then use some wood to save the hexi fuel blocks. This can also help save weight when hiking.
A brand worth checking out, is the hexi Fire Dragon solid fuel cooker. It has a third removable wind shield that can help protect the flame.
Depending on brand and size of fuel blocks, you might need half a tablet to several fuel tabs to boil water.
Before you go camping, test the brand of fuel tablets beforehand, so you know how many fuel tablets you will need to boil water. If you know you are going bush for say, example three nights and generally have two or three hot meals, plus brews of coffee / tea as well, work out how many fuel tabs you may need.
A lot of solid fuel tablets or fuel cubes for using in general fireplaces are very similar to dedicated hexamine fuel tablets and might even be a cheaper option and some will work fine. Test again before using.
For survival situations, the actual hexamine tablets are a great fire-starting fuel for damp conditions. Throw a Bic lighter in (And other ways of lighting a fire, such as matches or ferrocerium rod.) and a few hexi stove tablets into your fire lighting kit, bug out bag or bushcraft bag for emergencies when you need a fire.
If in a real emergency situation and you might be there for a while, shave some hexi tablet or cut into quarters or less, just enough to get the fire going in wet or damp conditions. This will save on resources.
The hexi stove can be used for cooking bannock. (Damper.) Place a cups/canteen on its side or use some foil if you don’t want too much mess.
You can also light the hexi tablets for a fire lighter/tinder with the ferro rod. (Some brand tablets are very hard to light this way though.) Scrape some shavings of the hexi tablet, then use ferro rod to ignite the shavings.
The negatives of the hexi stove.
One of the biggest negatives with the older fuel tablets was the smell. I use to be very cautious about the wind changing while cooking and getting the hexamine tablet smell on me when deer hunting. Of course is was probable a futile exercise, as you are close to the smell anyway and the wind would always change and the odour would get on your hunting clothes anyway.
Today, the better fuel tablets today are odorless or with very minimal smell.
Most of the hexamine solid fuel tablets or blocks do leave a fair bit of soot and black grime on the stove, but like most fire cooking utensils will get some soot.
For some stoves you do have to be careful how you place the cooking utensil as it can become a balancing act. Some canteens like the stainless steel Klean Kanteen you have to be careful when boiling water, so that you don’t knock it over and you lose all your water. However this would apply to most cooking systems, not just the hexi stove.
The negatives of some of the cheaper brand hexi stoves is the rivet that holds the legs on for pivoting out, can break. The economy hexi’s have lighter material that can buckle and bend easier, but generally these will do the trick for a while.
The pivot or pin on the legs can easily be replaced with a pop-rivet, nail or small bolt or screw.
Another drawback of the stove is that it is not as hi-tech as items like the Jetboil and can be slower to bring water to the boil. Some camping areas and parks may not permit this type of open flame stove.
Which way up for the hexi stove?
Some people will use the stove upside down as per above photo. (Left stove.)
Sometimes this way can create a more stable base for the cooking utensil. The air circulating underneath the stove or gusting, will also help burn the tablet. However the amount of oxygen around the tablets flame is reduced, as the cooking utensil is closer to the stove’s platform containing the hexi tablet.
One negative of this as the flame base is protected less from the side shield legs or wings.
Placing twigs and natural fuel on the ground under the stove can have some benefits of using the stove this way. As you have more room for natural kindling and fuel.
I have seen a lot of people use the hexi stove in all manner of ways. Some people argue that it should only be used one way. But at the end of the day, while their might be a right or wrong way according to the manufacturer, if the stove is stable and secure and it heats your food quickly, well it doesn’t matter too much in the scheme of things. It’s all good.
Keeping the stove clean.
Some people keep their stove meticulously clean. Some military armies even will emphases a spotless cooking kit.
You can cleaning the stove by rubbing it with some scouring pads, light steel wool or use natural resource like sand, grasses, non-poisonous plants or moss can be used.
Used tea bags rubbed on the stove can also be used. (And for your mess kit, cooking utensils.) If the hexi stove is used frequently, regular cleaning can become a chore. So it is a personal choice if you want to keep it: spotless, clean it now and then, or never clean it.
Minimalist camping gear.
While cooking devices like the Jetboil, MSR Pocket Rocket, etc., are great and efficient, however for me camping and bushcraft is about minimalistic gear. The hexi stove is close to that minimalistic kit being lightweight and small.
A lot of times I will just take the army cups canteen (D-cup.) and not even take the hexi stove. However when I do take a cooking system, most of the time it will be the hexamine stove.
Overall thoughts of the cooking system.
With a few minor negative points, the hexi stove and tablets are pretty bulletproof with minimal working parts. This stove will do 99% of my personal style of cooking and is versatile. From helping cook MRE and dehydrated meals, stews, two minute instant noodles (Ramen noodles.), baked beans or chicken noodle soup sachets, porridge to boiling water for a hot tea.
Another positive of the hexamine stove is that most army disposal / surplus and camping stores will have them. The hexi stove is cheap to buy and can be easily sourced from eBay or Amazon.
Whether hiking, hunting, fishing in remote places or practicing some bushcraft skills, the hexamine stove is a great low fuss, piece of cooking kit.
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