In this article, I go over the different things that you have to look for in a camping/backpacking stove. I look at what is important and what is not, why you should care about getting the best camping stove there is.
Camping and backpacking can be wonderful, but after a long trek through the wilderness, you might feel like having a warm meal. Of course you can light a fire to keep you warm and boil water, but a warm meal might be nice. There is no quicker and easier way than using a camping/backpacking stove.
When it comes to choosing the right camping/backpacking stove you need to consider several factors like where you’ll be using the stove, how far you have to carry it as well as other factors like the kind of fuel you may need to use to light the stove. Now, I will show you 3 main factors to pick a good one.
1. Main Fuel Types
Canister – For short overnight stays, propane camping stove or isobutane fuel systems are good.
– Pro: They are compact units and easy to use as well.
– Con: On the downside, they cost a lot and the fuel is hard to gauge.
Liquid Fuel – White gas, also known as naphtha, which is highly refined, works well in high altitudes and extremely cold temperature.
– Pro: Ideal for cold temperatures and at high altitudes
– Con: Liquid fuel systems are a heavier option and they require priming
Wood (as an alternative fuel source) – Wood as an option is ideal for long-distance hikes and very light
– Pro: Wood is easy to source even if you are on the go.
– Con: Need constant attention; tricky to control especially in windy situations
Alcohol (as an alternative fuel source) – You can find alcohol in most remote parts where hiking or backpacking is common. Look for denatured alcohol, preferably high ethanol content alcohol. Never use methanol, it is toxic.
– Pro: commonly available in various countries and it also fits a wide range of systems
– Con: If the alcohol is not pure enough, it can produce heavy soot.
Solid Fuel (as alternative fuel source) – These are compact fuel tablets made of hexamine. They are lightweight and great for emergency situations.
– Pro: Light and easy to light
– Con: They burn for a short time and tend to be more expensive than other systems
When you’ve decided on the fuel you can now consider other factors that will make your stove ideal.
2. How big should your camping/backpacking stove be?
The size of your camping backpacking stove will depend on the number of people you’ll be cooking for. Generally there are two sizes to choose from: A two-burner that sits on a tabletop or a freestanding stove
– Group of 4 or less
For small groups of people just camping or backpacking for a few days, a compact two burner will work just fine. Look for a camping stove that is light, will easily fit into the trunk of your car and has enough cooking power to suit a small group. With a Coleman Chef Everest you can use a 16-ounce canister or use a larger propane tank. Space is limited with this model so be sure that the usable cooking space fits your pot. Some products can only accommodate a 12″ skillet and others can accommodate the same size skillet with the wind flaps removed. There are models that can fit two 12″ sized skillet so before you buy a camping stove, pay heed to the dimensions but remember that they can only help you in deciding if the stove has enough cooking space. The size and placement of the burner are a good indication of the usable cooking space on the stove.
– Group of 8 and more
Eight is a large number and you may need more than a standard two burner stove. Freestanding models are great for large groups. The advantage is that they don’t need a tabletop. Check out camping stoves that have more powerful burners and prep trays, which give you more cooking, space. You need to keep in mind that freestanding stoves take time to pack and unpack and they take up a lot of space. If space is an issue you might want to get two compact two-burner stoves.
– Groups of seven or less
If you have a mid-sized group of say, seven, choosing the right camping stove can be hard. It might help to know what you’ll be cooking, or how long you expect to be out in the wilderness. Start off with a two-burner stove and include one more if the demands increase. A freestanding burner might be too bulky and too much of a hassle to lug around and assemble. With a two-burner stove you can cook meals that you’d typically cook at home like a Pasta and Sauce meal.
Coleman and other brands offer different versions of two-burners stove. The difference with these versions is the space for the pots. Standard versions work well for small families or groups but with a little creativity these can be used to even cook for as much as ten people. A campfire can always be used to heat up some dishes.
3. BTU & Power
The power of a camping stove is measured by how many BTU (British Thermal Units) it. BTU is a measure of the amount of energy required to heat or cool one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. So the more BTU a camping stove has, the more power it has. This should not be the only factor that you consider when buying a camping stove, you should also consider the cooking space it has.
– Look at the time it takes to boil water
All stoves should be able to boil if the temperature is ideal, wind conditions are moderate and the group size is fairly manageable. However, before you choose a camping stove you should know how fast it could boil water. This is crucial if you have a big group and time is of the essence. Boiling water for your morning coffee should not be a two-hour event. The number of BTU should be an adequate indicator, but it is not always the case.
– Simmering capability and wind resistance
Most products that are tested can boil water relatively fast but they are unable to keep a small flame to simmer down. You should look for a model that can boil water fast but also keep a small flame without turning off when the burner is lowered. The fact that you are using a camping stove should not mean you should expect it to perform any less than your stove at home.
When it comes to wind resistance things are more straightforward. You can buy a camping stove with a windscreen or you can forego the windscreen and create your own by putting your stove in a protected area. If you camp in extremely windy places then its best to invest in a camp stove with a powerful burner and a windscreen.
If you enjoy camping and enjoy food and cooking then you should choose a product that really meets your requirements. Remember also to maintain your stove so that it can last for as long as you need it to.