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The Baldwin Articles – Canteen Cup Stoves

Special Forces Veteran Terry Baldwin is continuing his article on the history of the canteen cup with the USGI Stand, Canteen Cup AKA the Canteen Cup Stove.

Canteen Cup Stove

I actually do some research before I write these short articles. Not exhaustive by any means but hopefully enough to flesh out the subject beyond my personal recollections. So I have been learning or relearning a thing or two myself in the process. This time I discovered something I didn’t know about the USGI Stand, Canteen Cup commonly referred to as a Canteen Cup Stove. I first recall seeing them around 1989-90. Their appearance coincided with the Army / USMC wide fielding of the Load Bearing Vest (LBV) and associated gear. Much of that new kit was a direct result of experimentation associated with the Army’s then new “Light Divisions”.

I distinctly recall the canteen cup stand being referred to as the “Natick Stove” at the time. The clear implication was that it had been dreamed up by someone at Natick…recently. Imagine my surprise all these years later to discover that apparently is not true. The very same canteen cup stove was actually patented in 1941 and saw at least some limited use by troops in the ETO late in WW II. As far as I can tell, it was only produced for a short time in small numbers and the Army lost interest after the war. So it became one of countless items the military has evaluated but chose ultimately not to adopt. That is until the late 80s when the design was rediscovered and resurrected by someone at Natick to address a tangentially related problem.

MREs had been introduced in the early 80s in large part to help reduce the individual soldier’s load. Unfortunately, the worthy goal of fielding a lighter ration also created some other unintended consequences. MRE pouches could not be put directly into a fire or over a heat tab the way a C-Ration can had been. In order to heat the MREs a soldier was advised to essentially boil his MRE packet in a half canteen cup of water. And because of concerns about chemicals leaching out of the pouches, the heated water could then only be used for shaving and could not be consumed. Obviously that would have resulted in a lot of water routinely being wasted. Water the same individual soldier would have to carry; thereby negating the weight savings of the MREs in the first place.

This also meant that a soldier might potentially need to heat his canteen cup three times a day, every day, rather than just occasionally for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Reintroducing the stove was a sincere albeit imperfect attempt at providing a viable solution. Now in practice no soldier was likely to go to that much effort multiple times a day. So just like C Rations before them, most MREs were destined to be consumed cold. At least until the advent of water activated chemical heaters (soon to be replaced by new chemical heaters that do not require water to work). Still, the chemical heaters are definitely not well suited for boiling water or heating liquids in general. There is a clear pouch called a Hot Beverage Bag meant for that purpose which was introduced with MREs circa 2009. I personally found them to be rather awkward, far from user friendly and just not very practical. If anyone out there has used them and likes them better than a canteen type cup please let me know why.

Still, despite its questionable parentage, I’m convinced that the issue stove and the concept of a lightweight canteen cup stand / stove continues to have utility and merit. Obviously others agree because there are many stoves designs out there from simple heat tab holders to more advanced jetboils and whisperlites. The issue canteen cup stand is definitely on the minimalist end of that spectrum including in terms of cost. As a side note, there were actually two versions of USGI stands introduced in the late 80s. The example on the left in the picture is the most widely fielded. I have only seen pictures of the second version known as the Type II or USMC stove. Supposedly it saw limited issue during Desert Shield / Storm and then was withdrawn. Perhaps someone from the Corps can confirm or deny that story. It looked something like the third canteen cup stand in the picture above but did not have any grill hole on top.

The USGI stove is light yet reasonably durable. If you are carrying the USGI canteen cup (with or without the canteen) it takes up little space because it slips around the cup. But this design does have two functional problems. First, if you seat the canteen cup too deep into it the hot stove has a tendency to remain attached when you pick the cup up. That is obviously something that the user needs to be aware of but is more of an annoyance than a major issue. On the other hand, the fact that the stand as issued works only with the GI canteen cup and no other cups or cans is a more significant shortcoming. However these faults are not hard to correct. There are numerous videos on the web that demonstrate various hacks to improve this piece of gear. One simple solution I put together in about ten minutes required only a file to put notches in the stand and stiff wire as shown above.

The stand on the right is a civilian design that also addresses and solves both problems I just mentioned. No additional modifications needed. It provides a stable platform for just about any cup or can making it very versatile. It is slightly heavier than the issue version but probably will last longer even if hard used. And it still nests neatly with the USGI canteen cup. All in all the better choice in my opinion and it is now my default stove. Keep in mind that I’m not selling anything nor am I affiliated with anyone who is selling something. But I might as well give the answer before someone decides to ask. I got this canteen stand some time ago from a place called BestGlide. They specialize in survival type gear. But the stand is actually produced by CanteenShop.com and is built in Ohio. Still, it may be too bulky or heavy or simply more stove than you need all the time.

I have therefore displayed some examples of smaller heat tab type stoves including the Esbit folding stove which German soldiers have used since before WW II. Germany actually having invented the first heat tabs in 1932. The middle stove is one that the Italians include in their modern daily ration packs. It can be used multiple times and comes with three tabs but isn’t designed for longer term use. Finally there is a folding stove that I have been told is in some US Air Force bailout kits. It is slightly larger and heavier than the Esbit but does provide a more stable platform than the smaller stoves. I first carried an Esbit when I was stationed in Germany in the mid-70s but they were not widely available in the US until many years later. Esbits are a good choice if you need something small and light but still effective.

Unless you are using a stove with some kind of liquid fuel like alcohol or white gas then you will need to choose some form of heat tab or newer gel fuel. There are many brands out there but they are not all created equal. Some burn hotter or longer than others. Some vent more hazardous fumes. And keep in mind that anything that produces a flame will consume oxygen rapidly in a confined space. Therefore, all of these heating methods are best done in a well ventilated area. While not a necessity, I personally prefer using a small container with lid to actually hold the tab. That prolongs the life of the stove and also allows me to utilize the lid to smother the flame and preserve the remaining tab for later use. As with all gear, it behooves you to practice and rehearse using whatever system you decide to carry in order to confirm the combination meets your needs. Preferably well before you really need it.

Next: So what about buttpacks?

-LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (RET) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments.

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24 Responses to “The Baldwin Articles – Canteen Cup Stoves”

  1. Mark says:

    I pulled down from the internet a Natick pub on the review of a replacement for the compressed trioxane fuel tablet from the late 60s early 70s. It used a similar “Natick” stove or a C-ration can field expedient stove and fuel made of delrin plastic. I ordered a delrin sheet and tried to approximate the dimensions– the fuel worked about as well as the old “Heat tab” and is very stable in storage. Caveat is that it worked as well as the tablet– not as well as the larger and later produced and issued fuel bars.

    • Mark says:

      Lest I forget… before we had the “Natick” stove, one of the things we’d do was hit up the corpsman for some splint wire and use that as a little stove. Worked OK with the fuel bars. I don’t even know if they use the splint wire anymore.

    • patrulje says:

      Hexamine was the other fuel tabs that came in the cardboard tube, yeah I’m old.

  2. BAP45 says:

    These post are some of my favorites on here. Keep them coming!

  3. Weaver says:

    The great thing about using a canteen cup and stove is that they not only enable heated meals, then enable field cooking – a highly necessary ability for troops stationed for extended periods on a steady diet of MREs, lest they become so bored by the lack of variety that they no longer consume an adequate diet.

    Mixing and combining various components of issued rations is likely as old as soldering itself – “cookbooks” and verbal recipes have existed as long as I was in the Army (I first joined in 1988, now retired). One of my favorites was field mocha – done right, it could serve as breakfast for three or a nice warm drink to settle down with at the end of a long day of patrolling.

    Into 2/3 canteen cup of water add:
    3x Cocoa packets
    4x Coffee packets
    3 each Sugar and Creamer packets.

    Add slowly, stirring to fully combine. Make sure the water is HOT before adding the creamer so it doesn’t clump. Ahhh – Starbucks still hasn’t invented anything quite so satisfying.

    (Side note on preparation – check carefully to ensure you have the correct ingredients. One day in Hawaii, after we’d been patrolling for a LONG time, I was tasked to make a cuppa for the section. Since it was dark, I did it all by feel, and accidentally added a salt packet instead of one of the sugar packets. Tasted great to me in my state of dehydration, but everyone else thought that 1) it was crap and 2) I was clueless.)

    • Mark says:

      Did something similar in the 1980s on a ridge in Korea whilst with the ROK Marines– made something similar but in those days we also had a beef soup base packet which in the dark could be easily mistaken for the instant coffee. Yuck!

    • DSM says:

      Meal #13, cheese tortellini. The entree was good but the prize was taking the crackers, spiced cider drink, applesauce and mixing them together. Apple pie in a pouch. Not necessarily canteen cup cookery in the classic sense but a fond memory nonetheless.

      There should be a post dedicated to the field problem gourmet.

  4. Moshjath says:

    Did some exchange training with the Brits about four years ago. The Jetboil stove was very popular with them. Got to have your tea!

  5. Riceball says:

    I can’t say that the Corps issued Natick stoves during Desert Shield/Storm, that was before my time, but from what I’ve heard and know about the Corps I’d be surprised if they did considering that most units never even got issued desert cammies before the end of the war. If they ever did issue them, by the time I joined around ’92/’93 they had since stopped issuing them, or at least to Reserve Air Wing units. A buddy of mine, a Reserve LAV mechanic who did go to Desert Storm did mention that they’d cook using small blocks of C4, but this is just what he said and I can’t be certain that if it was during the war or it just something that they did in training.

  6. Riceball says:

    Re buttpacks, I’d love an article on buttpacks. I’d love to see what was out there back during the day and now. During the ’90s when i was in, I had a couple but they always wore out really quick. This was back way before the market exploded with gear solutions and the days of internet research.

    Another article that would be good would be on misc. little pieces of non-standard/non-issue gear that would make life easier and/or better. My favorite piece was the belt extender, that thing eliminated the need to adjust your web/pistol belt between wide for use with a flak vest and normal for just plain cammies. It was hands down the best piece of kit I ever bought and it was cheap too.

    • Dave says:

      Also looking forward to the butt pack article….always liked the olive ones, and I feel like the Molle II Waist pack is one of the simplest yet most versatile pieces of equipment issued since the Universal Individual Load Carrying Sling.

  7. Brett says:

    Ahhhh…nothing will ever beat the sand filled c-rat can saturated in JP-4. That lovely black residue on top of the chow always kept you regular and added a delicious smokey flavor.

  8. Robert Jordan says:

    Great article! I’ve seen dozens of the “second model” US issue stove, and all were dated 1991. In my old unit, everyone called them “Desert Storm Stoves,” as that was when they first hit our supply chain. Being a Parachute Rigger, my stove got chucked in the back of my locker, and I never actually used it.

  9. Jim says:

    3 x 6″ nails, bit of tinfoil for the fuel tablet…sorted

  10. Bob says:

    Ahh the fascination of staring at a solid fuel stove whilst waiting for it to boil up.

    Also known as HexiTele to brits after the hexamine blocks (still issued) in ration packs.

    • Bolty says:

      I was just going to add that method, seen it used by the Aussies a bit. We (NZ) get the folding metal cookers and hexi issued still, although a lot of guys have there own gas cookers.

  11. zig zag says:

    One improvised stove we used to use in the Canadian Forces (reserves) back in the 1980s (!) was a small, used up, boot polish tin. We made two small flat metal pieces that each had two grooves cut that enabled them to sit upright on the bottom tin. The canteen cup sat on these and our fuel tabs were placed in the bottom tin. When not in use the two metal pieces were secured to the top lid with a small bolt (a hole was cut into the lid), and the lid placed over the bottom. Worked pretty good and was very compact, and it just took a few minutes in a friend’s machine shop to make…

  12. DSM says:

    These articles are great Mr. Baldwin, keep ’em coming.

    Looking forward to reading the history of butt packs. Body armor, chest rigs and a more motorized approach seems to have made them obsolete, at least, for most. I’ve still got a nice canvas one probably older than I am (what the heck were all those grommets used for on the flap?) and then a woodland version from when the LBV hit the streets.

  13. Lasse says:

    These articles are great, keep it up!

  14. Dev says:

    No love for the Trangia (or as some of my more witty / witless compatriots may say Trangina)?

    Also just want to echo the other commentors. These articles are brilliant. Please keep them coming. Maybe extend the series to other interesting stuff from other subject matter experts (asumming it doesn’t compromise OPSEC and security), such as manufacturing process from the procurement of raw materials to final packaging and advertising.

    Then perhaps maybe people will stop asking why something made domestically with domestic made materials cost a zillion dollars yet be happy to plop down ridiculous prices for subpar equipment made elsewhere.

    • Terry B. says:

      Dev,

      I thought you might ask. No issue on my part with Trangia or any of the other fueled stoves.

      But I did chose to leave out discussing that whole category of stoves on purpose. Here are my excuses:

      I have to keep these relatively short so they just can’t cover every option available.

      Additionally, I also limit the examples I do talk about to items I have some personal familiarity with if possible.

      Which means that I will most often focus on (US) issue gear or associated items in common use by US Military personnel.

      In other words I am writing about what I am familiar with.

      No offense intended to the non-US readers of SSD.

      TLB

      • Dev says:

        Hi there sir,

        None taken, your articles are brilliant. I do hope the owner(s) of this site allow for more content and individuals like yourself to cover more articles like yours. They’re brilliant and broaden knowledge. Maybe other individuals can chip in with perspectives from other nations and subject matters. I do recall a few posts from SSD about product reviews and industry standardised testing (ie it’s a lot more than a buffoon with a YouTube account, GoPro and some backyard space) and they were insightful and thought-provoking.

        Thanks for your time and do keep up the good work, looking forward to future posts.

        tl;dr: moar plz

  15. Six Minutes! says:

    In the early 80’s I was frustrated with crappy stove options. I dug around in my crap box and found my old Boy Scout heat tab stove. It did a great job for many years and even used it while on jump status in Alaska…often had to use extra tabs in the winter.

  16. Andrew K says:

    Great post(s).

    For a while in the CF our fuel tabs (or white death as wee called them then) came with a thin flexible piece of tin(?) that could be bent around and hooked back on to itself to make a canteen cup stove. They eventually got all kinky and gross but yoi got a new one with every pack of 6 fuel tabs so you could just throw it away! Being a pack rat I kept mine and reused them. I bet if I looked in my old stuff I probably still have one or two. Eventually though they disappeared from fuel tab packs, I guess by that time everyone had the stove stands.

    I wonder if troops even get issued canteens these days or if it’s all camelback all the time?

    P.s. Sorry for the necropost.

    I probably still have one of