Camping Stove Buying Guide
Being somewhat self-sufficient in the outdoors for more than a day requires some cooking, and in order to do this, you need the right stove to work with. Whether you are preparing to chow down on a feast for one at your favourite wild camping spot or cooking for the whole family before you indulge in an evening of campsite games, the right camping stove will make life outside much easier.
This article is designed to highlight the differences between stoves and why these differences make them more appropriate for the various styles of camping.
Lightweight & Compact
Backpacking stoves tend to be the lightest and most compact stoves for obvious reasons. This doesn't, however, mean they are the least powerful. They are meticulously designed to ensure a great balance between performance, weight, efficiency, and power.
Personal Cooking System (PCS)
When choosing your backpacking stove, it's worth considering the types of food you want to be cooking and how many people it's for. If you are just boiling water for things like warm drinks and dehydrated food for one, then you can opt for a Personal Cooking System (PCS). These are amongst the most compact and efficient stoves and allow the burner to screw directly into the top of a gas canister and the cooking pot to screw directly into the burner.
These rarely have a simmer option but can boil water rapidly with everything, including the base of the pot, designed to ensure maximum performance. Due to the lack of simmer option and small burner diameter, it can be difficult to heat anything besides water without burning it.
Compact Stove & Pot Combination
For cooking on-the-hill-meals that require more than just boiling water, opting for a compact stove that boasts a simmer option and large burner diameter is a sensible option. These can still be packed down small and are lightweight but will naturally take up that little bit more space. They can also be used with various different pots making them infinitely more versatile.
These stoves can either be screwed directly on the top of gas canisters or they may feature collapsible legs with remote canister attachment. The benefit of having a remote canister attachment becomes apparent in difficult weather conditions. The cooking set up will have a lower centre of gravity offering more stability, it also allows you to utilise a ground shield and a windshield to maximise heat retention without the risk of the fuel canister overheating.
Car Camping Stoves
Car camping stoves are more suited to adventures that don't take you too far from the car. Think long weekends away with friends or family holidays during the summer. These stoves are generally much bigger, sturdier stoves with a wider base and considerably lower centre of gravity. This allows you to use heavier, more domestic pots and pans for more elaborate meals and more diners. They can still be considered portable but are not suitable for carrying by hand over distance.
Like most things in life, car camping stoves come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. They vary between having a single burner, two burners, two burners and a grill and so on. This way you can ensure you get exactly what you need, regardless of whether you are cooking breakfast for a family of four, or an evening meal for a group of 20.
Straightforward stoves tend to be cheaper, offer little other than a burner and a pot support and are perfect for small groups enjoying a couple of nights under the stars. More elaborate stoves, on the other hand, will offer more features to help make cooking in the outdoors that little bit easier and are recommended for extended trips and/or bigger groups.
Some examples of features you might find on a more elaborate camping stove include:
- Wind protection panels
- Fold-out legs
- Simmer control
The diameter of the burner on car camping stoves is usually larger too, this ensures a more even spread of heat on bigger pan bases rather than a small hotspot in the middle that runs the risk of burning your food.
Portable, reusable BBQ/grills are ideal for those who enjoy trips away in fine weather conditions. As well as being ideal for short getaways, they can be the perfect option for day trips to the beach or the park. While they don't always pack down small, they can usually be easily carried for short distances to find the perfect picnic spot to sizzle some sausages.
When using a BBQ or grill it's important to remember that you should leave no trace. Ensure there are no burning embers in the event that you leave it unattended and dispose of ash appropriately.
Another key thing to bear in mind when buying a stove is what fuel it needs and how readily available that fuel is in the location you need to buy it.
Most backpacking stoves use a propane/butane mix gas cartridge that attaches by screw thread to the stove. There are many different versions of this, all of which will have the same screw thread to ensure compatibility with your stove.
While gas stoves are fantastic at what they do, it's important to remember they have their limitations. At lower temperatures, gas stoves become increasingly inefficient due to the liquified gas not evaporating properly, and so effort should be made to ensure your gas cartridge doesn't become too cold. Ways around this include storing the gas bottle on the inside of your jacket during the day or inside your sleeping bag during the night. While this may seem extreme, you'll be grateful when you have a warm meal to look forward to. Equally, if the cartridge becomes too hot, you run the risk of it exploding due to a severe build-up of pressure.
Most gas cartridges utilise a mix of propane and butane or isobutane in order to ensure they can be used in a range of temperatures. Different brands will use a different mix so when preparing for an adventure keep in mind the temperatures you are anticipating and buy an appropriate mix of gas.
As you can see below propane has a much lower boiling point and consequently will perform better in colder conditions, unlike butane which has a higher boiling point and will be more suited to milder weather.
- Butane boiling point: 0°C
- Isobutane boiling point: -11°C
- Propane boiling point: -42°C
Alternatively, some backpacking stoves are regarded as multi-fuel stoves. These can be powered by liquid fuel such as paraffin and unleaded petrol, which is often more readily available abroad, as well as the standard propane/butane gas cartridges popular in the UK. They'll also work exceptionally well at higher altitudes, in severely cold weather conditions and are easily serviceable in the field making them popular for remote, high altitude expeditions where reliability is a key factor in survival.
Car camping stoves are usually run with butane/propane gas but have different attachments. Smaller stoves tend to be compatible with the classic gas cartridges while the larger family camping stoves will likely have a hose and regulator which attaches to a larger gas bottle. This is a more efficient way of cooking outside for extended periods.
Solid fuel stoves are still available in the UK but tend to be highly inefficient.
Stove accessories can go a long way in improving the efficiency of your stove even further.
Used correctly, a windshield will help protect a stove burner from extinguishing winds. Purposely designed windshields are usually made with reflective materials such as aluminium to help reflect any escaping heat back towards the pot in order to maximise efficiency. While these can be used with most, if not all, stoves it is important to remember that if your gas cartridge gets too hot it can explode. To avoid this, try and allow a degree of ventilation around the cartridge and monitor it closely.
Reflective Base Plate
Often found as part of a set with reflective windshields, reflective base plates can reduce the heat lost to the ground to further maximise efficiency. This is particularly useful in cold conditions. Some base plates have a hole in the centre allowing it to sit just underneath the burner but above the gas cartridge, this will help keep a lot of heat off the cartridge to help maintain a safe operating temperature.
Flint & Steel
Most stoves come with a piezo igniter (that you click) to light the burner, but these can be unreliable, matches can get wet and lighters can break. Thus it is worth considering adding a flint and steel to your stove kit so you know you'll always have the means to light your stove.
A cartridge stabiliser might be included in your stove set, but if not it's worth investing in one. They usually accommodate more than one cartridge size and will add vital stability to your stove set up, particularly when camping in windy conditions or on uneven terrain.
Brands like Jetboil and MSR offer accessory pots for their personal cooking systems. This allows multiple pots to be used with the same burner with the same efficiency as the original pot. You can also buy a larger accessory pot than the standard one supplied which is ideal for two people or simply those larger portions after a big day on the hill.
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