The most important consideration when purchasing a stove is where and how you plan to use it. If you’re going ultra-light and ultra-high your requirements are different from someone who wants to make family-sized meals at a campsite.
The key difference between stoves is the type(s) of fuel they burn.
Popular for hiking, camping and for alpine use, white gas stoves are generally inexpensive to use, fairly lightweight and the fuel burns burns efficiently. White gas is widely available throughout North America, Australia, and New Zealand, but it’s difficult to source in Europe, Asia and South America. It’s volatile, evaporates quickly and leaves little residue. These stoves are a good choice for extremely cold conditions and high altitude camping. Because the fuel is separate from the stove, you can effectively use a wind screen to block the flame, so they remain efficient in windy conditions.
To light most white gas stoves, you have to pump the fuel bottle to pressurize the contents and prime the burning area with a few drops of fuel, so they can be somewhat complicated to operate, and they do require periodic cleaning of the fuel hose and regular maintenance of the seals and o-rings. Depending on the design, white gas stoves can run a bit noisy, which might be a consideration if you enjoy quiet in a wilderness setting.
LPG (liquid petroleum gaS) canisters
These small-to-tiny stoves take up very little room in your pack and don’t need much maintenance. They burn canisters of compressed gas (combinations of butane, isobutane, and propane) that have a standard type of thread to attach and remove from the stove. The canisters are common in North America and Europe, most parts of the industrialized world and anywhere climbing or mountaineering is popular.
Wind and cold temperatures affect the performance of LPG stoves, making them less efficient. You can warm the canister inside your jacket before lighting or choose a remote canister stove that allows you to tip or invert the canister as the fuel burns. A stove with an integrated wind screen or a remote canister design are useful in windy conditions, as you can screen the flame. If the stove is attached directly to the canister, using a wind screen around them can create dangerous amounts of heat near the pressurized canister.
While the stoves themselves are very small and light, once you empty a canister, you’ll have to carry it with you until it can be disposed of. They can’t be refilled, but they can be recycled. It can also be difficult to gauge the amount of fuel left inside a canister, so you could end up carrying extras to make sure you have enough fuel.
The containers used to store propane tend to be quite heavy, so these stoves are best suited to base camps and car camping sites, rather than wilderness camping. Most double-burner stoves use propane canisters, so if you plan to cook meals and for big groups, these stoves are a great choice. You can use an adapter hose to attach a large, refillable propane tank (the kind used for many outdoor barbeques) so you won’t have to dispose of canisters very often. Propane sold in 465g canisters (the green ones) is common in North America, but not as universally available as LPG canisters.
Alcohol stoves use the same burners found in fondue makers. The stove function is simple, so they are inexpensive, ultra-lightweight, and because they’re not pressurized, they’re safe and quiet to operate. Alcohol is also called methyl hydrate, marine stove fuel, antifreeze, or methanol. The fuel is common in North America and can be found in hardware stores and some gas stations. It is usually possible to track it down in other parts of the world, as it has many industrial uses. Alcohol doesn’t burn very hot, so these stoves are good for small meals or solo travellers, and are very popular with thru-hikers.
Kerosene burns as hot as white gas. If you’re travelling, you’ll find it available (often called paraffin) in most places. Its strong odour clings and will eventually permeate your gear and clothing. If spilled, it leaves a greasy stain that is difficult to remove. If you cook with kerosene, keep pots tightly covered to prevent fumes and soot from getting in. Kerosene also requires a separate priming agent.
If a stove burns two fuels, it’s likely white gas and kerosene. Multi-fuel stoves are capable of burning white gas, kerosene, LPG as well as diesel and aviation fuel. These designs tend to be expensive and it can be challenging to keep them clean and running well if you’re switching fuels often. Different fuels burn at different temperatures and produce soot and build up that can clog a stove. The big advantage of a multi-fuel stove is that you’ll be able to find fuel wherever you go.
Some very modern stoves run on this traditional source of fuel. The advantage is that if you are in a place where wood is plentiful, you don’t have to carry any fuel, although you may need a small amount of fire starter. You will have to pay attention to fire bans, fire safety and parks that don’t allow you to collect deadfall for fuel. You may also have to work quite hard to get your stove going if it’s been raining steadily. It’s best not to use wood if you are in a fragile environment, in the alpine or above the tree line. Wood smoke will make your cookware sooty, so these stoves can be messy to pack and travel with.
Travelling with camping stoves
Transporting stoves and fuel by air is regulated by aviation organizations and most fuels are not permitted aboard aircraft. Ferry systems in Canada also consider white gas and propane to be dangerous cargo, so the number of fuel bottles (including empty ones), the amount of fuel and the types of containers used are regulated. Foot passengers are not permitted to carry white gas on Canadian ferries. As each airline and ferry company will have a specific procedure for washing and certifying empty fuel bottles, it’s best to check with them before you travel.
Types of camp Stoves
If you haven’t quite figured out what type of stove is right for you, here are some things to think about that could help you decide.
- Two burners make it easier to cook for groups and to make “fancy” things in more than one pot.
- Simmer control or a way to adjust the heat is useful if you want to do more than boil water and eat rehydrated food.
- Stoves with small integrated pots won’t suit cooking for large groups or melting snow for water.
- Micro-stoves and alcohol stoves are much more efficient for small quantities of water or fuel, so not great if you’re cooking for a group.
- If you’re camping in the wild and won’t have a table or stable surface, you’ll need a stove that can be set up on uneven ground.
- If you’ll be using a large pot, it can difficult to balance on a very small stove without sturdy pot supports.
- Some stoves need to cool completely before you can pack them or re-light them, which might be an issue if you’re trying to move fast.
- Most stoves can be maintained in the field, but you may need to carry replacement parts and some tools.
- Very small parts are also surprisingly easy to lose when you’re outdoors.