After a long days walking and pitching your tent the next thing you’ll want is a cup of tea and something to eat. A good stove is therefore a necessary part of your camping kit. There is a wide range of stoves on the market and this guide aims to help you figure out which type is most suited to your needs.
The first thing to consider is which fuel type is most suited, there are pro’s and cons associated with all types.
These are the most popular stoves, as they are cheap to buy, light, efficient and easy to use. They don't need much cleaning or maintenance either.
However, gas is more expensive to buy than liquid fuels and you may need to carry a spare cylinder (and dispose of the empty one responsibly). Also gas cylinders are often only available in developed countries.
In most situations gas stoves will give an output close to that of a pressure stove, but performance is diminished as the canister pressure drops, in extreme cold and they are very susceptible to windy conditions. They're not the best choice for cooking for small groups or for melting snow, as cartridges cool the longer they're run, becoming less efficient. (A way round this is to have a new canister for boiling, and save a half full one for simmering.)
The most common brands of fuel are the distinctive blue Camping Gaz cylinders, Go-Gas, Primus or MSR butane/propane mix. Gas cylinders did have to be pierced to fit them to the stove meaning the cylinder could not be removed until empty, which was a problem if you needed to pack up. Fuel canisters now are either screw on such as MSR or Primus or have a twist on ‘Easy Clic’ connection such as Camping Gaz making them much easier to use, piercable canisters are still available but are not so widely available anymore.
The more efficient butane/propane mix are more efficient than pure butane and work better at altitude.
Always use a pot handle grab, so you don't burn your fingers or drop your dinner!
Petrol or pressure stoves run off liquid fuel e.g. petrol, paraffin. The stoves are more complex and more expensive, but the fuel is cheaper and more readily available worldwide, and more efficient. Petrol stoves maintain their power and performance whatever the temperature and are a good choice for larger groups. There are some multi-fuel stoves which will burn everything such as the MSR Dragonfly which runs off diesel, petrol and paraffin however unrefined fuels will leave deposits that clog things up leading to more maintenance but in some areas of the world diesel may be all there is available so this needs to be considered if travelling.
Pressure stoves are generally heavier and aren't as easy to use as gas stoves. They generally need priming (preheating the element) with a small amount of fuel (or meths, preheating paste or solid fuel tablets) to ensure that the fuel vaporises before it reaches the burner and burns as a gas rather than a liquid. Priming isn't difficult but does require practice. Stoves can flare when primed so this should be done outside. These stoves also require more maintenance.
Most stoves will need pumping regularly to push the fuel through the generator and maintain fuel pressure. Fuel tanks/bottles can either be separate or built in, as on some Coleman models. Separate fuel bottles are a bit more stable and can carry more fuel, but you have to buy them in addition to the stove.
Coleman, MSR and Primus are some of the best known brands on the market. When choosing a pressurised stove make sure it takes the fuels you require it to burn, has the required flame adjustment as some do not allow the flame to be lowered for simmering and is field maintainable. This is extremely important when operating a stove as generator lines need to be cleaned regularly, jets changed and parts serviced to maintain maximum efficiency. You should always have a service kit with spares.
Coleman fuel or white gas
This is a specialist petrol based fuel (naphtha), available only in camping shops. Coleman fuel is super refined to create maximum efficiency for use with pressurized stoves and leaves no major deposits due to the speed it evaporates. It's relatively expensive in Europe but worth it for the extra performance. (Its ideal for the USA where it is readily available and much cheaper.)
Stoves that run on Coleman fuel generally run on unleaded as well. It's reasonably efficient, cheap and readily available, but has a slower evaporation rate than Coleman fuel and leaves more deposits behind, increasing the need for stove cleaning and the chance of blockages.
Some stoves are able to operate on less refined fuels, but you usually have to change the jet (a small screw-in piece attached to the end of the generator, with a tiny pin prick hole where the fuel sprays out before igniting). Paraffin is difficult to obtain in the West but is readily available in underdeveloped countries where it is widely used as fuel for lighting and cooking. It's worth filtering Paraffin before using in a stove as it leaves deposits which can clog. Paraffin is harder to light and needs more priming, it also leaves greasy, smelly stains if spilt.
Use a good quality, secure fuel container for safety and to prevent leakage!
The Trangia (meths burner)
Requiring none of the complexities of pressurised stoves with no mechanical parts to go wrong, Meths burns as a liquid and is very simple to use. The most popular meths burning stove is the Trangia.
Trangia stoves are very simple to operate very cheap to run and work well in the wind. Using a small burner that sits within an aluminium windshield unit and has a wick that soaks up the meths. Care must be taken when using the burner as meths burns an invisible flame, making it extremely difficult to see, particularly in daylight.
The Trangia comes complete with the burner, windshield, 2 pots, frying pan, optional kettle and handle that all fit inside each other making it easy to pack and carry.
Spare parts are available for Trangia's, and combined with their inherent stability and simplicity this makes them a very popular choice for the inexperienced camper. However, meths does not burn as hot as gas or petrol so the power output is lower, cooking times are longer and you need more fuel, which has to be carried and refilling whilst cooking can be tricky. Meths is readily available in the UK, but difficult to find outside Western Europe and the US.
You can get a mini Trangia, which is ideal for lightweight campers and backpackers, and also a gas burner unit, which drops into the wind shield and attaches to re-sealable gas cartridges. Trangia have a full range of spares including a gas conversion kit so you can have a choice of fuels.
|GAS ||PETROL / PRESSURE ||METHS (Trangia) |
- Cheap and lightweight
- Easy to light, does not flare up
- Flame can be easily regulated from a simmer upwards
- Relatively safe to use as the flame is easily controlled
- Medium power output
- No maintenance problems
- Works in most environments including high altitude
- Sealed canisters so no messy fuel leaks
- Fuel availability
- High power output
- Works well at altitude
- Inexpensive running costs
- Easy to operate, no priming or pressurising necessary
- Stable design makes Trangias hard to knock over
- Power output is enhanced in wind
- Trangia unit comes complete with pots that pack up easily
- Cheap to run
|Disdvantages ||Disdvantages ||Disdvantages |
- Empty cylinders must be 'carried out' and disposed of
- Heat output declines as the canisters empty
- Expensive to run compared to liquid fuels
- Cylinders are only available in select countries (mainly in the west)
- Loses power in cold conditions and no good in the wind.
- Stoves can be a bit unstable
- Fuel can be volatile and has a tendency to 'flare-up'
- Initial stove purchase is more expensive than gas
- Fuel can be dirty and smelly
- Can be difficult to simmer
- Stoves require regular maintenance and priming
- Low power output
- Fuel consumption is high, necessitates carrying more fuel
- Flame regulation can be awkward
- Meths burns an invisible flame which is hard to see
Cooking for one - Single burner stoves will enable you to manage simple one-pot meals and hot drinks, though the meths burners will take longer and may need refilling as you cook.
Cooking for 2/3 - Gas stoves are adequate but may start to lose power as the cartridge reaches the end of its life so a pressure stove is the better choice if there are more than 2 of you and you plan to cook often.
Cooking for small groups/families - Again pressure stoves will give you better power output and longer cooking times, but for groups you need to think about extra burners. If you are on the move you will need a second portable stove, but if the camp is static the best option is a static twin burner.
If you are 'out in the wilds' or in underdeveloped countries it is important to have a stove that is field maintainable and carry any necessary spares, and fuel bottles with adequate capacity. Popular guide books may tell you what fuel(s) are likely to be available.
- Europe – Gas and liquid fuel is readily available
- USA - Coleman Fuel is cheap and readily available, easy to get other fuels
- Elsewhere- Paraffin and multi-fuel stoves are best in underdeveloped areas
It can be a minefield in different countries identifying the fuel you need so here is a fuel decoder :
- Methylated spirits (meths) = Alcohol (USA), Alcool a bruler (France)
- Petrol = automotive gas (USA), benzin (Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, Italy), essence (France)
- Paraffin = kerosene (Italy, USA, Australia, Spain), petroleum (Holland, Belgium, Denmark), petrol (Germany, Holland), Petrole (France)
Care and Repair
For gas stoves all that is needed is regular check of any hoses and care to make sure the seal is secure.
Pressure stoves require more looking after :
- Clean the generator, jet, fuel line and flame spreader regularly for maximum efficiency.
- When cleaning jets take them out first, otherwise you are pushing dirt back into the fuel line and tank.
- Grease the leather washers on pumps.
- Check all the seals and 'O' rings regularly for leaks. Carry spares.
- Avoid using 'heavy fuels' in pressurized stoves as they clog parts
Stability - For safety it's vital the stove is stable.
Stoves which sit directly on the ground and have the fuel attached with a pipe are the most stable - you have to be a bit more careful with gas stoves which sit on top of cartridges and liquid fuel stoves with tanks under the burner. Separate fuel tanks are a good idea as you can use different size liquid fuel bottles and a windshield to fully enclose the stove.
Multi-burner units intended for fixed camps generally need a separate stand, but smaller single burners have a variety of designs. Adjustable leg supports are useful on uneven ground.
To get the best performance in our breezy climate always use a windshield. Sometimes these are part of the stove design, (Trangia's for example) however, these stoves can be bulky and harder to pack so some prefer a separate windshield to wrap around the burner. (Remember you should not wrap a shield fully around a liquid fuel stove with a fuel tank underneath.)
Ignition - You've got to have a spark to start!
The simplest method is Piezo ignition, which is a push button method of lighting your stove, so you need never worry about forgetting the matches again!
For gas and liquid fuel stoves you still have to remember to take the matches, but keep in mind liquid fuel stoves need priming. You have to pre-heat the burner with a small amount of fuel to ensure the fuel vaporises and burns as a gas rather than a liquid. This takes a little practice and stoves can flare, so it should be done outside.
Controls/Simmering - so you don't burn pots, food … or fingers!
If you can't simmer properly cooking will be difficult. You need controls that are easy to handle and safely away from the burner. They also need to be positioned so your hand is not too close to the edge of hot pans.
Liquid fuel stoves which only have a control on the fuel bottle are probably the hardest to simmer with but the advantage is these controls are safely off the stove and so can't get warm.
Pack Size and Extras
Always check what's included and think about the following :
- Fuel and container. You may need to buy the fuel bottle separately
- Windshield – included?
- Spares kit - You should have one, especially for travel and areas.
- Carry pouch - to make it easier to pack it all together.
- Pot and pans - some systems like the Trangia include pots. With most you will need to buy canteens sets.
Finally, you have to think how you are going to pack carry everything, along with the fuel you need. Some stoves have hinged legs and fold neatly away, others are more angular and harder to pack.