Buying a Camp Stove? Read This First

News & Tips: Buying a Camp Stove? Read This First

There was a time when camp stoves tended to clog, flare or go out at inopportune moments. Thankfully, those days have passed. Push-button ignitions, flame-control adjustments, self-cleaning fuel jets and modern fuel mixtures make today's stoves more reliable and easier to use. But with more stoves now available, you should study their features to determine which best meets your needs.

Understanding Boil Time & Burn Time

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Portable camping stoves can come with a single or double burner.

To start, learn two measurements that tell you more about a stove's operating ability.  

The first is "performance," which is measured in "boil time" — the time it takes to boil one quart of water using the ideal fuel for the stove at full throttle at 70 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. Performance may range from 2-1/2 minutes to 10 minutes or more. An ideal range is 3 to 5 minutes. Remember, however, cooler temperatures and higher altitudes may reduce the stove's performance value. A stove that can boil a quart of water quickly will have an easier time cooking larger portions of food, while a stove that takes 10 minutes to boil water may not be able to heat large portions to acceptable temperatures.

The second value, "efficiency," measures how long a stove can run at full throttle on a full fuel tank or cartridge. This is important because a stove may have a 60-minute burn time, but a 32-ounce fuel tank, making it very inefficient. A good formula to look for is 10 minutes burning time per 1 ounce fuel. For backpacking, assume 4 ounces of fuel per day to cook three quick meals. For larger meals, you may need more.

Today's camp stoves can be divided into two basic categories: cartridge stoves and liquid gas stoves. Both have pros and cons you should know.

Cartridge Stoves: Backpackers' Choice

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Cartridge stoves tend to be the best choice for backpackers and other outdoor cooks concerned about bulk and weight.

Cartridge stoves burn fuel contained in pressurized cartridges. These are best for backpackers and others concerned about bulk and weight. Most cartridge stoves are small, lightweight, easy to use, dependable and relatively maintenance free. They don't require priming, and their fuels are clean burning. Cartridges usually can be detached after use and reattached later if not empty.

Some cartridge stoves are just a small burner that screws on the fuel cartridge. Others connect by a hose or tube. The former has fewer parts and thus is lighter and less likely to break down. Stoves that connect via hoses or tubes, however, aren't as prone to tip over because the burner can sit on the ground instead of atop the canister. Both types usually have self-cleaning jets.  

Cartridge stoves tend to lose their flame when it's windy, so use them in sheltered areas or with a windscreen.

The following types of fuel are used in most stove cartridges:

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Liquid Gas Stoves: For Campsites

Liquid gas stoves have refillable fuel tanks and are usually less expensive, more environmentally friendly and hotter burning — even in subzero temperatures - than cartridge stoves. They tend to be more difficult to operate, however, and are heavier, bulkier and require more cleaning. Nevertheless, for maximum heat output, a flame that will stand up to gusty winds and all-season use, these are probably best.

A big plus of liquid gas stoves is the variety of fuels they will burn, a big advantage in Third World countries where compressed gas canisters may be difficult to find.

Among the fuels used are:

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Liquid Gas Stove Care and Maintenance

If you buy a liquid gas stove, practice breaking down, cleaning and reassembling it. Before each use, check the fuel-pump seal, and check the generator tube and jet for blockages. When burning fuels other than white gas, burner residue can accumulate on the jet and in the fuel line, preventing the stove from working efficiently (or at all). Occasionally unscrew and remove the jet, soak it in white gas and rub it clean. Do the same with the fuel line. If your stove doesn't have a built-in jet cleaner, use a wire to clean hard-to-reach parts.  

To prevent pressure and fuel leaks, routinely check the primer pump seal (a rubber or leather O-ring), which can dry or crack. Replace if necessary, or try restoring a dry O-ring to working condition with a dab of oil. 

Liquid gas stoves are notorious for boiling when you'd like them to simmer, so be attentive. These stoves also tend to be bigger and heavier than cartridge stoves, so for packing convenience, look for one with a removable fuel tank. Ideally, you'll have a second tank ready to go when the first one is empty.


Additional Considerations

Before you spend your hard-earned dollars on a stove, ask yourself these questions:  

"In what camp environment will I be using my stove?"

If you'll be in a "drive to" camp, you won't have to worry about weight or bulk, and a multi-burner liquid gas stove may be the best option. If you're backpacking or hiking into camp, however, you may do best with a small, lightweight canister stove that will meet your cooking needs. Keep in mind that the weight of the stove provided by the manufacturer generally includes only the stove itself and not the fuel.  

"Where will I be traveling?"

If you're planning to visit remote areas, investigate what particular types of fuel canisters and liquid fuel are readily available, and then buy your stove accordingly.  

"What do I plan to cook?"

If you're simply boiling water for coffee or tea, a canister stove may be all you need. If gourmet trail meals are part of the plan, you may require a multi-burner liquid gas stove that will allow you to simultaneously cook several dishes.  

"How cold is it likely to be?"

If temperatures are frigid, canister stoves just won't perform well. Avoid them if you can.  

"What accessories might I need?"  

Useful items that may or may not be available for a particular stove include windscreens, repair/cleaning kits, carrying cases and push-button ignition systems.  

The answers to these questions, and the information provided in the sections above, should help you select a stove just right for you.