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  • The Really Dirty Guide to Camp Stoves

    Camp Stoves Camp Stoves

    So to start off I need mention that I do not suggest having any flammable, explosive, or pressurized items in any moving vehicle and that includes airplanes. Sorry for stating that first, but if I don’t my Attorney will hunt me down at night and suck the life out of me (If there any attorneys reading this please don’t get mad, you know you would suck the life out of me if I was one of your clients).

    So for this article I choose several different types and styles of camp stoves ranging from propane/butane to emergency stoves. Each stove has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the use of the stove. The best stove to use depends on several factors. These are the questions you need to be able to answer to determine the best stove for your use.

    • Are you boiling a lot of water?

    Most cooking in the back country involves boiling water for everything from coffee to water for your freeze dried food.

    • Doing some real cooking? (i.e. not using freeze dried foods)

    This can be difficult as cooking while camping is not at all like cooking at home. The main issues are difficulty adjusting temperature and elevation change affecting the chemistry involved in cooking.

    • How many people are you cooking for?

    The stoves that are best for solo cooking do not work great when cooking for 4 people and vice versa.

    • How long will you be without a resupply?

    Depending on your fuel source and location will affect how long you can go without a resupply and the availability of the fuel source.

    • What season are you camping?

    Some stoves do not work or work as well in lower temperatures as they do in higher temperatures.

    • How high in elevation are you planning on camping?

    Again some stoves do not work as well in higher elevation as they do in lower elevations.

    The stoves are organized by fuel type

    I broke down the attributes to help in decision making:

    • Cost
    • Feasibility
    • Access to fuel
    • Size and weight
    • Trip duration
    • Best use
    • Worse use
    • Seasons
    • Limitations

    Canister Stoves:

    Canister stoves are the most common and generally what most people think of for camping stoves. Canister stoves come in several different forms ranging from a large multi-burner stoves designed for 4+ people to integrated systems designed mainly for boiling water for 1-2 people.


    • Cost = Cheap ($25) – expensive ($150), depending on the stove
    • Feasibility = Easy to use
    • Access to fuel = Depending on location, easier in the US than in other countries, but don’t expect them at a gas station or grocery store
    • Size and weight = These stoves vary a lot, some are as big as a table but there are stoves that will fit in a coffee mug as well
    • Trip duration = Depends on the stove, but they usually last 3-4 days per canister.
    • Best use = Car camping, back-country camping, and in the back yard. (Would not use the stoves in aviation camping do to the fuel unless you can get access to the fuel when you arrive at your destination.)
    • Worse use = Long trips (trips where you will have to get resupplied) and aviation flying (I would not want to have a canister on the plane with me.)
    • Seasons = Spring, Summer, and Fall.  If you are camping in locations where the temperature drops below 15 °F, I would not suggest using this type of stove
    • Limitations = Altitude, temperature, and access to fuel are the biggest limitations

    Alcohol Stoves:

    Alcohol stoves are a great lightweight stove that uses alcohol as a fuel source. Alcohol stoves are generally lighter than most other types of stoves, but the fuel source weight can add up quickly. The main purpose of this stove is to boil water since you cannot adjust the temperature of the stove.

    Esbit Alcohol Stove Esbit Alcohol Stove

    • Cost = Cheap ($25) – Mid range ($80) cost, you can even make a stove out of a soda can if you really wanted to.
    • Feasibility = Can be a bit more difficult to use since the fuel is liquid and there is a learning curve to managing the stove.
    • Access to fuel = It is easy to find alcohol around the world just make sure you research what alcohol types are available and read the warnings of the alcohol since some types of alcohol have added chemicals. My preferred alcohol would be ethyl alcohol (same type of alcohol that you can drink) but make sure it is a high enough percentage.
    • Size and weight = Really lightweight without the fuel, the fuel weight can add up quickly for long duration trips over 5 days.
    • Trip duration = Under 5 days great, but the weight advantage goes away for longer than 5 days.
    • Best use = Backpacking and weekend trips for a couple or solo.
    • Worse use = Long trips without resupply and cooking for large groups.
    • Seasons = Spring, Summer, and Fall.  If you are camping in locations where the temperature drops below 15 °F, I would not suggest using this type of stove
    • Limitations = Temperature, weight of the fuel, and possibility of spills making things more difficult.

    White Gas/Multi-fuel Stoves:

    White gas/multi-fuel stoves stand out above most stoves for three things they are the standard for winter camping, perfect if you are cooking for more than 2 people, and very easy to find fuel around the world. The downside is they tend to be heavy, complicated to use, noisy, and expensive.  Some stoves have only two setting, burn your hairs off and off, so if you want to cook something besides boiling water make sure the stove has a simmer function.

    MSR Whisperlite MSR Whisperlite

    • Cost = Expensive ($100 and up)
    • Feasibility = These stoves are complicated to use. They require priming and constant maintenance.
    • Access to fuel = White Gas fuel is used around the world and is fairly easy to come by. Some of these stoves are multi-fuel which is great because you can use almost any kind of gas including jet fuel and non-leaded gasoline (I would avoid leaded fuels, the additives tend to clog up the fuel lines).
    • Size and weight = Generally these stoves tend to be heavier than their counterparts.
    • Trip duration = On average you can get 10 days of cooking from 12oz. of white gas, with the accessibility of the fuel longer term camping is defiantly within reach.
    • Best use = Long trips, large group camping, and expedition camping
    • Worse use = Solo weekend trips
    • Seasons = All four seasons
    • Limitations = Heavy, noisy, expensive, and complicated to use.

    Wood based Stoves:

    Wood based stoves are gaining traction lately with some companies coming up with some new designs, but you will still see some old favorites out there. The most interesting piece here is that there are so many different ways to approach cooking from wood. I will go into generalities as each stove is different.

    Aluminum Kelly Kettle Aluminum Kelly Kettle

    • Cost = Ultra cheap ($0) – Mid range ($80) cost, I have seen people open up the top of a can of beans and put it right on the fire.
    • Feasibility = The feasibility really comes down to starting and keeping a fire going. Fire starting aids may be needed if the weather is not the best.
    • Access to fuel = By far the easiest stove to get fuel for, all you need to do is look around you.  The only areas that I have been to where I would have a hard time finding fuel for this type of stove is Afghanistan(funny story about this one but I digress), severe deserts, and artic conditions; but you could always use your clothing if you really need to.
    • Size and weight = Size and weight is largely varied by the stove, the good thing is you don’t have to carry the fuel.
    • Trip duration = I almost want to say infinite, but EPA might get mad at me.
    • Best use = Any time it’s dry enough to start a fire.
    • Worse use = California and National Parks, depending on the time of year some locations have restrictions on having a fire or campfire.
    • Seasons = All four seasons
    • Limitations = It takes time and finesse to be able to start a fire in various weather conditions.

    Solid Fuel Stoves:

    Solid fuel stoves are stoves that use tablets as a fuel source to boil water. These stoves tend to be the lightest of the stove types. One added advantage is they could use wood as a fuel source if you ran out of tablets. I like using these stoves a backup option or in an emergency.

    Solid Fuel Stove Solid Fuel Stove

    • Cost = cheap ($10) – Mid range ($80) cost, depending on the brand. Fuel is very expensive when calculated per BTU.
    • Feasibility = Some of types of tablets are difficult to light and generally take longer to get water to a boil than most other options.
    • Access to fuel = Fuel tablets for this type of stove can be very difficult to find. I have to mention this one piece of warning, the fuel tablets smell like rotten fish and it seems to permeate through Ziploc bags, so I would avoid if you are in bear country otherwise you may have a unwanted visitor.  On the good side you can use just about anything you can burn as a fuel source if you run out of tablets.
    • Size and weight = These stoves are small compared to canister or gas stoves, about the same as alcohol stoves and are just as lightweight.  The fuel is lighter than alcohol giving you a better weight efficiency to canister fuels until you reach about 10 days.
    • Trip duration = You can go about 10 days before canister stoves become a better option weight wise. It really depends on how much you carry with you.
    • Best use = Emergencies, backup, and if you are a Thru-hiker.
    • Worse use = Groups, if you don’t like the smell of fish, and if you want to cook anything outside of boiling water.
    • Seasons = Spring, Summer, and Fall. Has the same restrictions temperature wise as alcohol stoves.
    • Limitations = Hard to light, slow cook times, did I mention the smell, and accessibility of fuel tablets.

    In the end, the best stove to use vary depending on the situation. Keep in mind these questions when you are going to buy a camp stove or packing for a camping trip.

    • Are you boiling a lot of water?
    • Doing some real cooking? (i.e. not using freeze dried foods)
    • How many people are you cooking for?
    • How long will you be without a resupply?
    • What season are you camping?
    • How high in elevation are you planning on camping?

    Here are some more tools that be of assistance while using a camp stove:

    Stove Windscreen Stove Windscreen

    axes axes
    Matches Matches

    Another Lawyer piece:

    Always remember that Eric, when you get right down to it, is just a pilot and outdoor enthusiast. He tries to give you the facts from experience and source materials but maybe he got it wrong, maybe he is out of date. Sure, he warns you when he is giving you his personal techniques, but you should always follow your primary guidance (Aircraft manuals, government regulations, etc.) before listening to Eric.

    Please note: This article is for entertainment purposes only. and H3 Industries does not endorse or approve any content included on this article. As a result, and H3 Industries is not responsible or liable for your use of any materials or information obtained from this article.

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