How to Choose a Camping Stove
After spending a full day on the trails, you'll have a craving for warm food like never before. True, a fire would certainly help you cook food or boil water, but one of the easiest ways to have a warm meal in the wilderness is to take along a camping stove that lights easily and cooks quickly.
However, depending where you'll be using the stove, the conditions you'll be cooking in, how far you're traveling with it, and other factors, you'll need to choose the one that will suit you best. While there are several differentiating factors, we'll first break them down into the types of fuel each stove uses.
Some of the most trusted and time-tested stoves on the market use liquid gas to produce a flame. These are often the go-to stoves for backpacking trips, as they’re durable and run on a number of liquid fuels, including white gas, kerosene, unleaded auto fuel, diesel fuel, and jet fuel. However, before using any kind of liquid fuel in your stove, be sure to read the directions, as some stoves are designed to use only certain ones. A big advantage of these fuels is how widespread they are and how easy they are to store in a refillable, detachable container.
If you expect to be camping or hiking in extremely cold temperatures, or if you plan on staying at high elevations, you may want to opt for white gas over pressurized fuels. White-gas stoves typically give off the most heat and perform well in cold or at high elevations.
If you choose a liquid-fuel stove, be aware that you'll need to prime the fuel before you can turn the stove on. By priming, you essentially preheat the stove's components, namely the fuel line, which helps pressurize the liquid and turn it into a flammable vapor. The whole process takes only about one to two minutes if you properly light the stove the first time.
Stoves that run on pressurized fuels use canisters that come pre-pressurized, thus eliminating the need for priming and making it much easier to start cooking. Most commonly, these canisters contain propane or butane mixes that can immediately reach their highest heat. However, in below-freezing temperatures, pressurized gases begin to solidify, causing the canister to start to lose pressure. If it gets cold enough, you could quickly see your flame sputter to nothing. Similarly, these stoves can also lose pressure at high altitudes.
So if you don't feel like finagling with priming and aren't climbing mountains in the winter, stoves using pressurized fuel may be the safest choice. In addition, these stoves tend to be lighter and the flame is easier to manage, making them a great addition to your camping gear setup.
Remember that if you use these canisters, you'll need to properly dispose of them once they're empty. Most cities have a hazardous waste program, and some even have programs designed specifically for compressed gas tanks.
Once you've decided which type of fuel you'll be using, start considering more specific functions, such as how long it takes the stove to boil liquid. This is measured by testing the time it takes to bring one liter of water at 70°F to a boil. For example, MSR's Whisperlite International stove has a listed average boil time of 3.5 minutes (minimum) for one liter of water with white gas.
Keep in mind, though, that temperature and elevation play a role in how quickly water comes to a boil. If you're camping at 10,000 feet, that water will reach its boiling point at about 194°F, compared to 212°F at sea level.
Also be sure to check out the stove's burn time before you buy it. This measurement tells you how long your stove will burn one container of fuel. However, remember that fuel containers come in all sizes, so this will be one of the most important factors in your stove's burn time.
The MSR PocketRocket, for example, has a burn time of up to one hour for every eight ounces of fuel.
Huge advancements have been made in stove technologies, including integrated stove systems that have much faster boiling times. These integrated designs feature a container for food and liquid that’s built in to the stove. This design offers better fuel efficiency and increased protection from the wind, but is slightly more expensive than traditional camping stoves.
The JETBOIL Sol, for example, was engineered to lessen the effects of altitude and temperature on pressurized fuel sources. The stove can produce consistent heat down to 20°F.
Wood-Burning Camp Stoves
Occasionally, you may come across a camping stove that burns wood instead of liquid fuel or pressurized gas. The latest example of this is the BioLite CampStove. Using twigs and scraps of wood you find along the way, this small, compact stove heats up your water or food, and it actually converts heat from the fire into usable electricity to recharge your phone or other gadgets. Talk about innovation!
While pre-buttered rolls, trail mix, and peanut butter are certainly acceptable on the trail, maybe it's time to indulge a bit with any of these camping stoves so you can treat yourself to a warm cup of ramen noodles and vegetables after a rough day in the woods.