Preparedness Challenge: DIY Emergency Survival Heater
Years ago I worked with a group of like minded people to get prepared. We purchased food in bulk, make 72 hour food kits and made these easy DIY Emergency Survival Heaters.
I found mine the other day and decided to give it a light and see if after 10+ years it still works. It does, but I learned it has a major flaw that needs to be fixed. My original heater has a box of matches hot glued to the lid of the paint can. When I lit my heater, the flames really jumped up – 6 to 8 inches and I was planning on using the lid as a damper.
Picture me standing there…lid in hand… mentally debating whether I should place the lid with a box of matches attached to it over this open flame. Obviously, using it as a damper was not an option, I was afraid the flames would curl around and light the box. After a second of thought, I used a plate to extinguish the flames and decided I needed a better way for the future.
If you are without power, this emergency heater will come in handy for cooking or hand warming. Exercise caution with an open flame in your home. You may not need to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning while using rubbing alcohol as a fuel, please be safe and open a window to vent – just to be sure.
This is an adult tool, not for kids!
Just follow these instructions on how to make a DIY emergency survival heater and learn how to use it. The cost is minimal (about $6) and the heat output fantastic. It is reusable and to refuel you only need to purchase 70% rubbing alcohol.
Before you use your heater there are some cautions to think about:
- // The paint can gets REALLY HOT when it’s lit, so make sure you place your emergency survival heater on something fireproof. I used a ceramic hot pad.
- // Have pot holders at the ready in case you need to move it.
- // Have a way to tame the flame. When I lit mine, the flame was 6 to 8 inches high. That might be too much heat for the cooking you plan to do. The paint can top works well for this.
- // Have a way to extinguish the flames (water is NOT the way). You can use the paint can top or a plate to cover the flame.
- // As a precaution, vent your area.
Today’s Challenge – Make a DIY Emergency Survival Heater
1 new quart size paint can
1 bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol
1 roll of toilet paper
1 box of matches
a quarter, large coin, or other prying tool
some packing tape
a hammer or mallet
Remove the cardboard roll from the inside of the toilet paper roll. Then decide if you need to remove some paper from the roll so it will fit. I used a cheap one ply, but I still had to remove some from the outside of the roll. Squeeze it in as best you can. I used the end of a sturdy spoon as a lever.
Place the TP roll into the new paint can, it should completely fill it. Slowly pour in the bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol. It will absorb into the paper which acts as your wick.
Hammer on the lid. Place the quarter inside the match box and attach it to the side of the paint can with the packing tape. Remove the matchbox and packing tape before using your emergency survival heater, remember, the can will get hot.
To Use Your DIY Emergency Survival Heater
Pry off the top of the paint can with your quarter or a screw driver. I actually found out that my fingers are wimpy and I couldn’t get enough leverage with a quarter. Screw drivers are for me!
Prepare your area – have something non-flammable to place it on, have your hot pads ready and a way to extinguish or damper the flame.
Light a match and light the toilet paper roll inside the paint can. This will ignite the rubbing alcohol but will not burn the TP roll. The toilet paper roll is your wick. If it starts to burn, extinguish the flame, let it cool and add more rubbing alcohol.
7 Commercial Emergency Heaters Worth Considering
Relying on a single heating source or cooking system in an emergency can swiftly turn into a death sentence. That’s why we have handpicked some of the most reliable and versatile commercial emergency heaters that you can keep as a backup plan.
1. Coghlan’s Emergency Stove
This tiny stove is a must-have in anyone’s disaster preparedness kit. The Coghlan’s emergency stove is lightweight, sturdy, and can use multiple types of fuel for that time when emergency strikes. You can use solid fuel with it such as Sterno “Cooking Fuel” or Esbit, and when you run out of tablets you can switch to sticks and leaves, or you can just pair it with an alcohol stove.
The stove comes with 24 fuel tablets. A couple of tablets should bring water to a rolling boil in around 5 minute. This stove is a much cheaper alternative to camping gas stoves, it requires no wick, no priming, and no fancy equipment to get it going. In short, it is a great backup plan to have around whether you are bugging out or bugging in.
2. The MSR REACTOR Cooking System
If you have a big family and want a fuel-efficient emergency heater to save on that pricey propane gas, the MRS Reactor is the answer to all your prayers. This heater comes with a proprietary radiant burner, heat exchanger, and high-efficiency pot that boost the Reactor’s fuel efficiency so much that it can boil 1 liter of water in just 3 minutes.
This stove system is also designed to withstand windy condition and function properly even at high elevations (we’re talking about 11,000 – 12,000 ft). There are some downsides to it, though.
The MRS Reactor does one thing exceptionally, but it does one thing alone: boiling water lightning fast. It runs too hot and cannot be used for cooking in an emergency situation, unless you just need hot water to re-hydrate dehydrated foods you’ve prepared in advance. If you plan on using it just for that, the Reactor is the most fuel-efficient alternative to most canister stoves out there.
3. Biolite™ CampStove 2 with Flexlight
This versatile emergency heater has been the talk of the town for quite some time, but you need to be truly committed to invest in one as it doesn’t come cheap. However, for what it does, it is an absolute must-have in an emergency situation.
In short, this camping stove converts fire into energy and stores it in an on-board battery up to one full phone charge. So, how about having unlimited fuel for your meals and a steady source of both campfire-like warmth and power to charge your phone or flashlight when the grid is down?
Also, the stove brings 1 liter of water to a boil in less than 5 minutes and has four fans to ensure smokeless combustion, which is a superb feature to have in a biomass-fueled heater. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that you can use it indoors as “smokeless” doesn’t mean that CO2 is no longer an issue. The only real drawback of this stove is that it is a pain to lit up in rainy conditions.
4. REDCAMP Mini Alcohol Stove
An alcohol stove is one of the most reliable emergency heaters out there. Plus, the fuel (denatured alcohol) is crazy cheap and around 3 oz should keep this little gem running for around 30 minutes. There are thru hikers that manage to put a hot meal on the table with an alcohol stove every single day for a month with just one liter of fuel.
What’s more, if you are crafty enough, you can make an alcohol stove from a couple of soda cans or even from a cat food can yourself (there are literally thousands of tutorials online.)
5. CANWAY Camping Stove
Here’s a wood burning stove at an exceptionally fair price that can become an emergency heater in case of emergency if fuel gets scarce. The Canway camping stove has a well-thought double walled quality stainless-steel construction, it is compact enough to carry in a bug out bag and gives off a nice flame that can boil 1 liter of water in as little as 3 minutes.
This stove is also designed with performance in mind so that it gets maximum output from the available fuel. It can run up to 50 minutes with flames on a single feed and gasification is excellent. We believe this little stove is on par with several big-name brands at a fraction of a price. It also easily to set up and take down, but you’ll have to wait for the latter as it gets really hot.
6. EcoZoom Versa Camping Stove
Here’s an emergency heater that won’t let you down even in some of the harshest conditions. The EcoZoom Versa is a sturdy wood stove with a ully insulated vertical combustion chamber designed to ensure smokeless combustion so that you can safely use the stove for cooking without having to worry about the smoke getting in your face.
At 18 pounds, the stove is quite hefty but the extra weight translates into increased reliability and stability while out in the sticks without electricity or gas. We were taken aback by the fuel efficiency of this unit as it doesn’t require too much wood to hit is maximum. With just 5 pine cones you can bring 1 quart of water to a boil in around 5 minutes and it takes just a few sticks to burn for more than half an hour.
This is an exceptional emergency stove for those situations when firewood is scarce but you need something to prepare a meal fast. It is also a heater that will keep you and your crew warm for long hours when needed.
7. QuickStove Portable Emergency Cook Kit
And last but not least, here’s an emergency stove running on solid fuel that has recently caught our attention. It is small but not too small as it can accommodate many types of pots (there is a provided pot that doubles as a container), is lightweight, and solid despite being made of aluminum.
It runs on larger solid fuel pellets that you would expect in a solid fuel stove, but it burns for longer than other emergency heaters in its class.
A quarter of a solid fuel pellet burns for 7 to 10 minutes, enough to boil water or cook an instant meal. The burning pellets can be put out and reused later (you can buy those here); just make sure that you keep them away from humidity. All in all, this is a small, compact, but very reliable portable survival heater that you should keep as a plan B in your disaster preparedness kit.
You can use your survival heater to warm a room or as fuel for cooking. Review our post Emergency Cooking for instructions on making a #10 can cooker and How to Prepare for Blackouts for general preparations.
What other preparations have you made to get ready for emergency cooking?