Your friend has just suggested you go camping. You’re not so sure but you remember fondly the trips taken as a kid and figure it could be fun. While making a campfire and precariously balancing pots on stones was how it used to be done, cooking while in the outdoors has come a long way.
Often you’ll find campfires aren’t allowed at all, mainly for safety reasons and the risk of forest fires. Fortunately, there’s a massive market for camping stoves. Too big some may feel as you page through the endless rows of products listed on Amazon.
But there’s a reason for the massive variety in products. Each one is designed for a different purpose. If you’re going to be backpacking in the wilderness for several days or weeks your requirements for a camping stove are very different to someone who’s driving to their local forest for a night of car camping. But how does one choose?
We’ve written this article with the intention of explaining to you the different types of stoves one gets, mainly based on the type of fuel the stove uses.
What to consider when it’s time to buy a Camping Stove
The three biggest things to consider when picking a stove are the weight, size and fuel type of the stove. Each of these has an impact on the applications that such a stove would be useful for. Large, multi-plate stoves are great for groups of people car camping, but completely unfeasible for any kind of backpacking. Likewise, a small wood burner might be enough to heat up your meal for one person, but if you’re wanting to do a big fry up, it’ll take a while.
If you’re going to be carrying this stove, especially over multiple days on your back, you want something light. Anything around or under a pound is ok. You can go much lighter, but depending on your situation you might not mind something a bit heavier. Also keep in mind that for every stove you carry, you also have to carry enough fuel to power it. Fuel often ends up being even heavier than the stove itself.
Much like weight, space is an important commodity when backpacking, or even just camping. If you’re trying to cram five people and their baggage into a small hatchback, and then still want to bring your BBQ along, you might be out of luck. A small pocket rocket type stove will fit in anywhere and will be plenty to get the coffee going.
We go into a bit more detail about the fuel later on, but this is one of the biggest decisions to make and will impact the other factors. The most common stoves all make use of some kind of gas mixture, in a variety of forms. But wood and solid fuel burning stoves are making a comeback.
There are some objective things you can use to make a decision between two stoves. Often a time to boil, or BTU value is given. The time to boil is an estimate of how long it will take a set amount of water to reach a boil, which should be dependent on the amount of heat the stove can develop. Likewise, BTU is a British thermal unit, which is a measure of how much energy the stove develops. These can be used to directly compare maximum power output of a stove but should not be your main decision factor.
For many price is the ultimate deciding factor. Brand names like MSR and Coleman exist for a reason, and charge a premium for their products, but many smaller companies exist and offer good quality products. Especially if you’re only going to be camping once or twice a year, it’s fully understandable to not want to fork out $100+ for a stove. Within each category of stove, you should be able to find something to match your budget.back to menu ↑
Canister Based Camping Stoves
Mixed Fuel (Lindal valve)
Internationally, the mixed fuel type stoves are the most common. The canister itself comes in three main sizes containing 4, 8 or 12oz (weight) of fuel. The fuel is usually some mixture of propane and butane or other variation. They come with a standard valve with a 7/16” screw thread, referred to as a Lindal B188 valve.
Because this standard has been formed a number of manufacturers have both stove tops and canisters that are interchangeable. Canisters are usually available at any outdoor or camping store, but only occasionally in your supermarkets.
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Stoves can either be mounted directly to the canister, where the canister forms the base for the stove, or stoves can stand separate and be attached with a pipe.
They are popular are among hikers as they are small and light and perfect for heating up a meal or boiling some water. Larger meals can be prepared, but are not always the easiest. Also good for campers who want something small to pack in.
Popularized and dominated by MSR (although other brands exist), fuel bottles are aluminium bottles designed to carry liquid fuels. The canister is attached to a stove and then pressurized with a small pump.
The stoves will function on a variety of fuels, from specialized white gas, to benzene and even diesel if need be. The canisters can be refilled, although different fuels should never be mixed. The wide variety of fuels makes it a great traveling companion as you should always be able to find a suitable fuel. The fact that you can refill the container also keeps fuel costs much lower than alternatives.
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That being said, initial costs can be high, requiring the purchase of an appropriate fuel canister, pump and stove. Perhaps not suitable for the occasional hiker, but anyone who will be hiking or camping regularly should definitely take a look.
These kits can be a bit bulkier than the mixed fuel stoves, but allow bigger stoves for more effective and varied cooking. Because you pressurize the canister yourself, it also works better at high altitudes and in colder weather.
The stoves are very popular, but take a bit of getting used to; setup is not as straightforward as with the mixed-fuel stoves.
On the larger, and less portable end of the scale are large propane canister stoves. These can either make use of the common 1lb cylinders, or larger 10lb+ canisters. These stoves are very popular for campers, and the larger ones often double as grills.
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The 1lb unit refers to the amount of fluid in the container, but the gross weight is closer to 4lb. That is a bit much if you’re planning on hiking to a camp spot, but the relatively small size makes it perfect for a car trip.
Although these canisters are very popular in the US, and you can often find them in supermarkets, they aren’t as popular internationally, and you may battle to find a suitable canister if travelling abroad.back to menu ↑
Non-Canister Camping Stoves
These small lightweight stoves burn alcohol in some form. There are a variety of clean fuels that you can burn with this, the most advised being denatured alcohol (also known as methylated spirits) which is readily available.
The stoves comprise of a small burner unit, and then a surrounding stove support setup. You carry as much fuel as you expect to use, and each time pour an appropriate amount into the stove before use. Exposing it to a flame lets the alcohol burn and a constant flame is provided.
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Setup is straightforward, but often requires pots and pans specific to a stove brand to ensure stability. While the flame can be controlled, the stoves don’t get as hot as other gas based products.
If you’re looking for something very small, and very light then a solid fuel stove may be just what you’re looking for. However, you’re not going to be doing much more than boiling some water with it.
The units burn a solid alcohol that comes in the form of small tablets. Because of this you don’t need anything to contain a liquid or gas, just somewhere to place your pot, and to prevent the ground burning. The tablets themselves are also very light and easy to pack.
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The brand name is Esbit, but many other brands offer similar products often under the name Hexamine.
Lastly we look at the classic wood burning stoves. While open fires can be dangerous, often wood burning stoves are allowed as they manage to contain most of the embers and hot ash related to fires.
Most of the work that these stoves do is to provide optimal conditions for your fire, allow proper airflow and have arms for you to place a pot on. Some of the better designed products will advertise a jet feature, which can result in a hotter flame.
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They come in all sizes and shapes, some able to fold up for easy packing. Although they can be a bit heavier than the canister based stoves, they don’t require you to carry fuel, meaning it can be a net win. Your only concern is finding suitable material to burn where you choose to camp. For certain areas this won’t be a problem, but if it’s snowing, or you’re out in the desert, finding some kindling can be difficult.
A nice alternative, especially on long trips where you’d need to carry multiple fuel canisters. The wood burning stoves have their place, and its followers love them because of it.back to menu ↑
So there’s a lot to consider when purchasing your next stove. We hope we’ve helped give you some information on what’s available in the market. If you get the opportunity, pop in to your local outdoor shop to have a look at the stoves and get a feel for them. Although online prices will often be cheaper, it’s nice to see something in person before purchasing it.