Hot goulash under the stars and steaming coffee at dawn will give you a nice slice of civilization wherever on this planet you might be. And boiling a dense snowpack into drinkable water will keep you hydrated in the mountains. All you need is a stove. The right stove will drastically improve not only your quality of outdoor life, but also your chances of survival. The following topics will help you choose the best stove for you and your camping party’s needs.
When choosing the best stove for your needs, ask yourself two questions: do you want a streamlined stove for boiling water/melting snow in the backcountry, or are you okay with a slightly bulkier model that gives you more control over the heat settings so that you can simmer veggies and meats and impress your friends at camp with a gourmet meal?
Camp stoves are generally categorized by fuel type. Once you understand your primary options there, you’ll want to decide how much extra volume and weight you’re willing to carry. The general rule is: if you want less weight, expect to pay a bit more.
Single Burner Alcohol Stove: These are ultra-light, compact, and great for taking on long expeditions when there isn’t a lot of time or energy to cook gourmet meals. The alcohol burns within the burner until extinguished or exhausted. Single burner alcohol stoves are a great option for emergency kits and as backups, but if you have the pack space, other options will prove to be more efficient.
Canister Stoves: Canister stoves are refillable, lightweight, and easy to pack. The drawback is they require compact canister fuel and do not work well in freezing temperatures. There are two main types of canister stoves: Upright, and low profile.
Upright Canister stoves: These have burner screws that screw directly onto the fuel canister, which is generally a fatter, cylindrical shape. This is the ideal option for backpacking expeditions where weight and size are of importance. Smaller/lightweight stoves cost more so gauge your usage.
Low Profile: This design sits on its own base and is connected with the canister by a fuel line. Low profile stoves can be easier to set up on uneven ground but can take up a bit more space in your pack.
Integrated Canister Stoves: Designed to be used with fuel canisters, these popular products (such as those made by Jetboil) use an integrated system that includes a stove and cooking pot. The advantages of this system are fast boiling times, simplicity, and efficiency. Integrated canister stoves are not very versatile though so they might not be the best choice if you want to cook more sophisticated camp meals for the whole family.
Liquid Gas Stoves: A time-tested and versatile design, liquid gas stoves are inexpensive to use and work well in both cold weather and at high altitude. Most run on white gas, which is sold in gallon cans at many outdoor specialty stores. These stoves either stand alone or with a separate, liter-sized gas tank connected via gas line, or have an integrated gas tank in the base. Small, integrated hand pumps that must be worked before lighting and periodically during cooking pressurize tanks.
Some liquid gas stoves are capable of burning more than white gas. Known as multi-fuel stoves, these versatile burners run on white gas, unleaded gasoline, kerosene, and alcohol. They are great when traveling to places where white gas is hard to find.
Bio-Burner Stoves: If you don’t want to haul fuel you might consider a more traditional concept: the bio-burner stove. Simply add biomass such as small sticks or pinecones then ignite and cook away. Some new models, such as the BioLite Camp Stove, will even charge USB devices using the energy generated from the burning material. The downside (or part of the fun depending on you perspective) is finding dry material in soggy areas. Bio-burner stoves also tend to be slower cooking and heavier than their liquid fuel counterparts.
Things to consider: There are a few specs that separate the good from the expensive. Choose wisely.
Weight: This is obviously an important factor depending on how you plan to transport your camping gear. If you will be living out of your backpack for weeks or even months, then you will want to choose a light stove that doesn’t take up too much room in your pack. Alternatively, if the stove won’t go further than your truck’s tailgate, then you might want to opt for a bigger stove that offers more cooking space and better temperature controls.
Average boil time: Depending on what and where you’re cooking, average boil time can be a deciding factor in which stove to choose. Through-hikers typically opt for the speediest boil time possible so they can have their coffee and get on the trail without wasting too much daylight at camp. Car campers or festival campers often don’t mind a longer boil time, as they are not in as much of a hurry to get on the trail. If you plan on using your burner in the mountains, remember that boil time increases both with elevation and at cooler temperatures.
Efficiency: Efficiency is basically how long your stove can run on full blast until it is out of fuel. A decent burn rate is 10 minutes for 1 ounce of fuel. If you’re burning gas faster than this rate, you might want to look for a more efficient stove.