Choosing The Right Camping Stove
by Colin Dennis
In The Mountains: Simplicity And Reliability Are Paramount – As You Will See
In 1993 I was guiding a mountain bike expedition high up in the Alps-Maritimes of Southern France. The weather had closed in and I decided to drop into the safety of the valley floor and carry on from there to our final destination. Ha! - If only I'd known about the can of worms in my bag …
Having found ourselves on the wrong (French) side of the mountain (the border criss-crosses many times here) I looked at my worn-out group, they looked at me, and I decided that the only safe option was to go through the very convenient road tunnel; the worms were back in the can - or so I thought!
The sullen border guards eyed us dubiously as we set off at a snails pace for the dimly lit tunnel. Short of drawing their Walther PPK's' the two border guards chased after us wielding a torrent of French expletives. After much `Froglaising' we learned that the tunnel was single file only and was over a kilometre in length – Merde!
The border guards ambushed several vehicles and ferried both filthy riders and bikes to the other end; there was finally some light …
I waited patiently for my turn, nothing - and I'm turning blue. The guards/turned saviours seemed blissfully unaware of my plight and turned their attention to the TV screen on their desk.
Separated from my group for whom I was responsible, all manner of crazy scenarios began to run through my head as I felt the first grip of hypothermia easting away at my rational. The scene is quite ridiculous, I am shivering on the side of a mountain pass in soaking wet cycling gear without a bike, the air temperature is just a few degrees above freezing – and it's June.
I prayed to a God that a few minutes earlier I didn't believe in, and fumbled frantically through my daysack for my precious Trangia. Clear thinking has long departed these shores and deep down I know that hypothermia is a killer.
The inexperienced cynic is thinking, "Why doesn't he go over to the guard hut and get warm?"
The answer is quite literally blowing in the wind: when your core temperature drops enough to mess with your head, you simply wave goodbye to rational thinking - that's why hypothermia kill's.
Now close to tears, I was relieved to find that there was enough fuel to light the Trangia, I galvanised myself into heating some water and made a life saving brew. That simple process warmed my core temperature enough to bring me round. Hey-ho! Five minutes later a truck turned up and I was on my way through the tunnel of love and on to some welcoming friendly faces.
'Hey - we're missing a bike!' came a cry from inside the café …
The Moral Of The Story Is...
The importance of a hot balanced meal at the end of a day's hike cannot be over looked. Hot food will help recover spent energy, replenish aching muscles and raise moral. So whether you are camping wild or choose to stay over-night at a campsite, a lightweight camping stove is going to be high on your list of priorities to provide an evening of 'fine alfresco dining.'
The following guide will enable you to understand more of the features, sizes and fuels that may be suitable to your needs.
Over Night Trip Or Multi Day Expedition?
To help select the right kind of camping stove for your needs we need to look at the type of trip you are planning and the kind of meals you want to enjoy.
Some factors may include:
How many people you may be cooking for will help determine the size of the cooker, the temperature you can expect on the trip and what altitude (both these factors will affect the type of fuel used). How complex are the meals you want to prepare; how adjustable is the flame?
Jamie Oliver or Fanny Craddock? Answers on the back of a photo from the top of Snowdon please!
Selecting The Right Size Camping Stove
Camping stoves come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes – from incredibly lightweight micro stoves that fit in a side pouch to those big blue ones' that fill up the back shelf of your T2.
In general terms stick to the most compact and lightweight cooker that suits your needs, but again the number of people in your party will determine this. If you are the lonesome type or it's just you and your partner then the compact route is the best way forward.
For space saving and weight distribution, look for stoves that:
- Can be disconnected from the fuel supply – good for safety as well as space saving.
- Have fold away or collapsible legs and potholder arms – reduces size and chances of snagging.
- Fit inside the cooking pots to reduce overall size - a la 'Russian doll effect'
Fuel / Camping Stove Options
Excellent for warm weather camping due to it's ease of use and availability in the UK.
- Clean burning and easy to light
- Does not require priming
- Easy adjustable flame
- Won't spill
- More expensive than some other fuels
- Need to carry extra canisters
- Not recyclable
- Performance affected by very low temperatures
Overall an excellent option for many campers in the UK who prefer they're cooking clean and easy with few hassles and little weight.
A good option if you are camping outside the UK (not the USA) where it is readily available.
- Readily available
- High heat output
- Won't ignite easily if spilled
- Burns dirty and smelly
- Priming is required
- Can block stove parts easily
- Slow to evaporate if spill
Worldwide availability makes petrol an attractive option when travelling afar.
- Inexpensive – mostly!
- Good availability worldwide
- Burns dirty/sooty
- Clogs frequently
- Extremely volatile
Great choice for keeping it clean and simple, and don't you just love the smell?
- Good availability in the UK
- Burns clean
- Evaporates well if spilled
- Fairly volatile
- May not burn hot enough for some gourmets
These are stoves, which are designed to burn on more than one fuel type. These are worth considering due to the obvious flexibility they offer when travelling in remote countries. They can be quite expensive compared to other stoves and can be difficult to maintain, but in the long term should be a serious contender if travelling abroad.
Other Stove Options To Consider
- How easy is the stove to set up? Does it require complicated assembly every time it is used?
- Is the stove sturdy on uneven ground? Can you balance a pot on top easily?
- If using a gaz canister is it easy to attach and remove? Can you remove it after use?
- How easy is the stove to light? Is priming required?
- How easy is the stove to maintain while camping? Can you maintain it yourself?
Handy Hints On Performance
- Ensure you use a lid when cooking
- Use a windshield if possible
- Learn how to maintain the stove before venturing out
- Try and filter the fuel before burning