Which Camping Stove should you choose?

Which Camping Stove should you choose?

19 May 2009

I have a question for you. Why is it that a man who has never boiled an egg in his life suddenly sprouts wiry hair, wraps a tea towel round his head and becomes Marco Pierre White when plonked into a field in front of a tent?

'I'm just whipping up a sea bream carpaccio with a tangy veloute roux, so can you pass the salmoriglio, sweetie.'
'Certainly dear.'
Click, click, click…. thump.
Click, click, click…. thump.
'Oh, b*****ks, how do you get this stove working?'
That's embarrassing but don't worry, you're a chef, throw a massive strop, swear, pack up everything and drive back home in tears. A good weekend was had by all.

Alternatively, I will try and save the weekend, what a hero I am, by attempting to give you the basics about stoves, which will leave you with more time for creativity and tantrums.
Stoves and Fuel
We can't talk about camping stoves without talking about fuel. If you have your stove and you don't have any fuel or you have the wrong fuel then your sea bream carpaccio is going to be pretty undercooked and you can kiss goodbye to that third Michelin star that's for sure.
Different types of stoves.
There a basically four different types of camping stoves. The ones that use cartridges/canisters, the ones that use fuel bottle and pumps, the ones that use alcohol and the ones that use solid fuel. I'll break the news early; none of these come with a designated sauté station and an optional crepe machine so get over it.
Canister Fuel Stoves
Canister Fuel Stoves
For your average camper (you could never be average, believe me darling), canister stoves are the way to go. The fuel cartridges contain a liquified gas which is either butane or propane that is held under pressure. While the gas is stored in the cartridge it is in a liquid state, as soon as it leaves the cartridge it vaporizes and arrives at the burner as a gas.

The principal advantage of gas cartridge stoves is convenience: no priming is required, they are generally maintenance-free and capable of immediate high heat output, the flame is easily adjusted and they are generally considered simpler to operate. These are the nearest you are going to get to the beautiful shiny Rangemaster that you've never used at home.

There are three basic designs for most gas cartridge stoves: one, the burner assembly is fitted into the top of the gas cartridge, which serves as the stove's base; two, the stove is free-standing and the cartridge is separated from the burner and connected by means of a small hose or pipe; lastly, single burner stoves have the gas cylinders integrated into the body of the stove.
Propane or butane?
Are we bovvered? Well I find that propane is better for filet mignon and butane gives a richer texture to the marinate when preparing a char-grilled roulade. This food talk is really getting to me, if it wasn't for those presenters I'd apply for the next series of Masterchef. Get on with it I hear you say. For general use, the answer to whether you're bothered if it's propane or butane is: no.
Propane or butane?
Propane has a lower boiling point then butane and is stored at higher pressures so can be used at colder temperatures - if you're going out in the winter take a propane stove rather than a butane one. During the summer pick one that doesn't clash too badly with the colour of your new tent carpet.

Butane comes into its own if you are a hiker and carrying all your stuff. Butane is 12% more efficient than propane. This means that for the same weight of butane will yield more energy than the propane. For backpackers, especially those trying to pack as lightly as possible, this 12% advantage makes butane the ideal fuel.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
Liquid Fuel Stoves
These aren't as easy to use as the canister stoves but, before you have another creative strop and set fire to your bandana, hold on, they have their own advantages. And the advantages are pretty good ones.

These stoves can be used almost anywhere. The fuel that these stoves can burn is usually plentiful throughout the world. The main ones are Kerosene, which is paraffin, and Naphtha which is Coleman Fuel (also known as white gas). Also, if you know what you're doing and you're careful, you can also use Petrol, Diesel, unleaded auto fuel and anything else you can syphon, I mean get, your hands on.

Naphtha is the best option. It is a clean fuel and great at high altitudes. It evaporates quickly, is quite volatile (like someone Marco), burns very hot, and leaves little residue compared to kerosene.
Liquid fuel stoves are considered the best all rounders. The liquid tanks can be refilled, they can use a few different fuel types which is an advantage if certain types of fuel are not readily available, the fuel is cheap, they work better in colder weather and burn hotter. But before we get too carried away with positivity and start thinking that Jordan and Peter will get back together, there are a few disadvantages.Liquid Fuel Stoves 3
Hideous Fireball
Let's start with the least physically painfully disadvantage. Liquid fuel stoves are more expensive than the canister stoves and they can be larger and heavier.
Hideous Fireball1Another disadvantage is that they take a bit of extra setting up. If you are a tinkerer and you like to tinker, then these stoves are for you. To get these stoves going they need to be primed. Don't be scared, it's only a technical term designed to scare you. All this means is you need to pre-heat the fuel line. So give the fuel pump a few good pumps, open the gas valve a little to let a tiny bit of fuel dribble out and into the priming pan on the burner. Light this and you will be engulfed in a deadly fireball… no you won't…light this and the stove will hopefully be primed (after a bit more tinkering) and ready to go.

If you are actually engulfed in a fireball at this point you have used too much priming fuel. Your eyebrows were getting a bit long anyway.
Alcohol Stoves
Alcohol stoves are usually reserved for the lightweight hiker. The stoves are very small and light and the fuel is available in most countries. They are great for boiling water to tip onto your hydrated food. There is nothing to go wrong - just tip some methylated spirits into the stove and light it. No fireball, honest.

If you want a stove that is ultra-lightweight and you're only really rehydrating food at the end of the day then these stoves are great. If you have 12 kids demanding hotdogs, they are not so good.
Alcohol Stoves
Solid Fuel StovesSolid Fuel Stoves
These are in a similar category to the alcohol stoves. All they are is a metal plate to hold the fuel with some supports sticking up for the pan.

These stoves use tablets or gels and are generally safe, lightweight and very cheap. However, they do take longer to cook with, especially in windy conditions.
The fuel is usually hexamine tablets. The tablets burn smokelessly, have a high energy density, do not liquify while burning and leave no ashes. The army love these.
Which stove?
Choosing which stove is best for you depends on the activity you are doing and the availability of fuel. In this country campingaz, coleman gas, calor gas are all easily obtainable so the decision you have to make is how many people are you going to be cooking for, are you going to be carrying the stove long distances and how much lemon rind are you going to put in your salmoriglio?

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

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