Why Choose A Camping Stove?
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While planning my first camping trip, I knew I would need a camping stove as a backup to a campfire. And so I did some research.
The best camping stove is ultralight gas-powered stoves such as the Jetboil. These stoves are compact, easy to use and fast. These stoves are safer because when you turn the stove off, it’s instantly off. But if you are mountain camping at altitude you will want to consider taking a liquid fuel stove instead. Liquid fuel stoves are reliable but should not be used while camping with young children.
If you browse through an REI or the camping section on Amazon, you will see there are a variety of camping stove options. So why did I say the Jetboil is the best?
Best Portable Camping Stove
While most campers dream of roasting smores by the campfire, this isn’t always possible.
In many spots across the country, there are periodic burn bans. The grass gets dry and it’s too easy to have a forest fire.
Or you are out in an arid area where it’s very hard to find fuel to burn to begin with. Plus lighting a campfire, just to heat up a cup of ramen is a pain in the butt.
And if you are a backpacker you must minimize the weight you carry.
Portable fuel canister stoves are perfect for most campers. These stoves use pressurized gas similar to a home propane grill. The gas (often isobutane) when pressurized coverts to a liquid. But once exposed to air, it turns back into a gas.
The canisters are cheap and easy to find. The stoves are easy to light. And most important, when you turn the stove off, the stove is instantly off. And there’s no worry of spilling fuel on you, your children or the campground if you accidentally knock the stove over.
This is why these stoves are often allowed even during a burn ban. But check with your local rules.
Finally, when we did our “heat the water test” at a local camping store, the Jetboil had the water to a rolling boil within a couple of minutes. And as we will explain later in this article, you only want to heat the water to conserve fuel.
Liquid fuel stoves are the unbreakable rock of camping stoves. The fuel is self pressurized by pumping air into the canister before use.
While these stoves are also simple to use they have several drawbacks.
The fuel canister is heavier than the ultralights. It was several pounds. The ultralight was at most a pound.
Next, you have to prime the fuel first. And then you can light it.
Also when you are done with your fire and turn it off, the fire will still burn for a few minutes.
The fuel is also liquid, which means you must pay attention to this stove. And avoid knocking it over. My instructor at a class talked about how one time he tripped and knocked the stove over. It spewed flaming fuel across four feet.
Thankfully they had cleared the area, otherwise, they would have created a forest fire.
This is why you should think twice about these types of stoves if you have young children.
I recently got a chance to try a solid fuel stove at a local camping store.
These stoves use tablets of a proprietary fuel. You can think of them being like frozen blocks of oil. Except they’re not cold.
The fuel was easy to light but man, it took forever to heat the water for our test. We burned up an entire cube and the water wasn’t at a rolling boil.
While the cubes were easy to use and carry, it seems like you would use a lot of fuel just to heat up a cup of water.
A common hiking craft item is to make your own alcohol fuel stove.
You can make these out of any available aluminum or steel can you have lying around.
For example, a can of tuna or a soft-drink can be turned into a stove.
While they are simple to make and the fuel is easy to find, these are emergency-only stoves. Because once lit, you have no control.
You have to wait until the fuel burns off.
Biomass stoves use sticks, leaves, paper, grass, etc. to fuel the stove.
Two popular examples are the Biolite and Kelly Kettle.
The Biolite is cool because it comes with a small electrical generator. The heat of the stove will charge your phone and power a fan that improves the efficiency of the stove.
The Kelly Kettle stands out because it comes with a special tea kettle. One part contains the water just like any other tea kettle. But it also contains a section that lets you feed fuel from the top.
However, there are limitations to these stoves.
First, you have to have access to burnable material. If you’re in Ireland (where the Kelly Kettle came from ) or in the Pacific Northwest, you can find plenty of things to burn. But if you’re the desert, this is going to be much harder to do.
Second, you most likely won’t be able to use them in a burn ban.
Third, because they’re using a small fire to heat the water, you must keep tending to the fire. As opposed to the Jetboil, which you could light and go set up your tent while the water heats up.
Only Heat The Water
These stoves Are designed to boil water (and we wrote an entire guide to boiling water while camping). If you see any photos or videos of people using the stoves online, you will almost always see them in boiling water to cook their food. Or to make a nice cup of coffee or tea.
However, this is not Necessary.
Yes we need hot water to rehydrate or food or make a cuppa coffee. But this does not mean we have to boil the water to accomplish this. The only real reason to boil water while camping is to make the water safe to drink. But with proper preparation you don’t have to worry about this. The water you put cook with will be safe to drink as it is. All boiling the water will do is waste more fuel. It’s not going to make it taste any better.
And if you are either using a potable water source or have properly filtered the water there is no reason to boil the water. All you need to do is heat the water up.
Whether this is to rehydrate a fancy dehydrated food, a cup of Ramen, or make a cup of coffee.
Read our article on water filters to learn more.
How Long Will Fuel Last
Everyone wants to know how long will the fuel last for my camping stove. There is no simple answer for this question. It depends upon how much you use your stove.
For example, if you want a hot meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner then you will use a lot more fuel then if you only make one hot meal a day.
You are so conserve fuel by remembering that you don’t have to boil the water. The water you will use is already safe to drink. All we need is to heat the water up. This will use a lot less fuel.
When the water in the cup cooking pot starts to form tiny bubbles then you can turn off your stove. The more you practice with your stove the better you will get at understanding how much fuel you need. And of course at conserving it.
Practice Fire Safety
Make sure to safely use your stove. Follow all the instructions that come with your stove about safe use. And before lighting the stove make sure to clear the area of any flammable materials. And put the stove on a stable base. Ideally place it on concrete or metal or a rock.
If you are car camping then bring along a fire extinguisher as well.