Selecting the Right Camp Stove for You

Over the years a number of different camp stoves have been developed for different situations or cooking applications. Selecting the right one for you requires a little thought and research.

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Some considerations are ;

Pressurized Liquid fuel Stoves

These stoves have a pump to pressurize the fuel tank in order to push fuel into a device called a generator. The generator uses heat from the operation of the stove to vaporize the fuel going into the burner where it is mixed with air. This stove type is the choice of most serious backpackers and campers and is generally reliable but parts may have to be replaced at some point. It is a good practice to have a spare generator and pump for this type of stove. Most liquid fueled stoves will use white gas and may also be designed to use unleaded gasoline. For most occasional users it is best to stick to white gas as unleaded gas tends to gum up if it sits too long in the tank. If you do you use regular gasoline in a multifuel stove and you do not expect to use it again for more than a week, then empty the tank, fill it with white gas and run it for a few minutes to clean out any gasoline residue from the valve and generator.

Some of the more expensive expedition type stoves are capable of burning kerosene or diesel fuel. Generally they require priming by using a flammable paste or alcohol to heat the generator enough to vaporize the fuel. It may also be necessary to replace the generator with one that is specially designed for use with heavier fuels. Unless you expect to use the stove outside of North America then it is probably not worth the bother.

Image of Coleman Model 425 Stove

Coleman Model 425 two burner stove

Operating instructions the Coleman Model 425 or the Model 424 Stove

Self Pressurized Liquid fuel

Stoves of this type include the older Optimus, Svea gas stoves that use white gas. The self pressurizing gas stove depends upon the heat generated by the burner to build up pressure in the fuel tank in order to feed the burner. In order to get them started it is necessary to prime them, either by putting a small amount of fuel in the spirit cup below the burner or by using a piece of a heat tab or fire starting paste. Stoves of this type such as the Optimus Svea Model 123 are still manufactured but are not often encountered in stores in the U.S. Most gasoline stoves made today will use a pump initially to pressurize the fuel tank.

Operating instructions for the Optimus Svea Model 123 Stove

Bottled gas

Stoves of this type are connected to a cylinder of propane or butane and operated in the same manner as a gas range at home. They require no pumping and one need only turn the knob and light the burner with a match. Some models even have a piezo electric lighter that will light the stove when the knob is turned. Stoves are available with one, two and even three burners some even come with a push button starter. The cylinders however tend to be bulky, rather expensive and are not available everywhere. Butane cylinders are sold in only some sporting goods stores and the occasional hardware store where there is a local demand. Smaller than propane cylinders, they are generally used for only single burner stoves and will not function well in cold weather. 16.4 ounce Propane cylinders are far more common and can even be found in many grocery and drug stores. Used with one a two burner stove, a standard cylinder should provide a burn time of 3 to 4 1/2 hours.

Alcohol Fuel Stoves

Stoves which burn alcohol have some severe limitations. Alcohol burners do not put out any where near as much heat as a gas fueled camp stove. There is no heat adjustment other than the distance of the pot from the flame. Fuel can be hard to find and expensive. On the other hand, alcohol stoves are light in weight, easy to use, and very quiet.

For the most part, alcohol stoves are favored by many ultralight backpackers who just want to be able to boil water for reconstituting freeze dried meals or to cook ramen noodles.

To Light an Alcohol Stove

One to two ounces of alcohol is poured into the burner and it is inserted into the stove or under the pot support.
A lit match is placed near the tiny holes of the burner which will ignite the alcohol vapors almost instantly.

One advantage over stoves using white gas is that alcohol fires are relatively easy to put out with water. Ethyl or denatured alcohol is generally the fuel of choice although methyl alcohol will also work well.

There are a number of commercial models made or it is a very simple matter to make a homemade stove out of aluminum soda cans like the one pictured to the left. Note the windscreen made out of aluminum flashing and the tripod pot support made from wire coat hangers. It is sized so that the whole assembly can be carried inside a military surplus pot with a lid. It's only cost was a couple hours of my time.

There are dozens of websites that show how to make the "Pepsi Can Stove" as well as a number of other designs.

Alcohol Fuels

NEVER use gasoline or any type of fuel other than alcohol in an alcohol stove.

Chemical Fuel Stoves

A chemical fuel stove is really nothing more than a container or platform in which to burn either a fuel tablet or some other fuel. Most of these stoves are compact and and generally inexpensive but they are best used as a backup rather than as your primary cooking stove. They are great for heating water on the trail for a midday meal when you don't want bother setting up a gas stove and then have to wait for the stove to cool in order to repack it.

Fuel tablets tend to be expensive and are not always available when you need them.

Solid fuel stoves are inexpensive and simple in design. They must however be used on a fire proof surface such as sand, dirt or stone.

Stoves using solid and gelled fuels generally have no method of heat control other than moving a cooking pot closer or farther away from the flames.

Once lit it is generally best to allow the fuel to burn until it is consumed. Trying to extinguish the remaining fragment of a bar or tablet in order to save it for later, can be a hazardous and messy business.

The Esbit Cooker designed for use with Methamine is probably the best known stove of this type but there are a number of other designs available. The other types of fuel tablets commonly found are Hexamine and Trioxane. Their characteristics are detailed in this web page.

Notes on Esbit Type Stoves

Image of Esbit type stove with alcohol burner and snap on clip.

To get the best efficiency from an esbit type stove, the sides of the stove should be angled inward in order to channel the heat to the base of the pot. A common problem with this design is that the little detents become worn and will fail to keep the stove from folding closed when supporting a heavy pot. Shown in the photo to the left is an Esbit Stove with a snap on clip made from wire cut from a coat hanger. The clip does a good job of preventing the stove from collapsing and will also support narrow vessels such as a military canteen cup. It stores inside the stove when not in use.