How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

Of course, there are still places left in the wilderness today where you can have a campfire, so you could cook over an open fire-pit, using a grill supported by rocks to balance your pots upon. However, stoves are easier to light, will get hotter faster, burn more evenly, and take up less space than a campfire. Plus, stoves are inexpensive, and require much less work to operate than a typical campfire.

Stoves come in a variety of shapes and styles, and burn a few different kinds of fuels. The simplest stoves use cartridges full of butane, iso-butane, or propane gas. These pressurized cartridges are attached via a twist-on device which punctures the cartridge or canister. Once they are attached you simply open the valve, light a match, and are ready to begin cooking.

Because these stoves are so simple, they are probably best for families. If children want to help with the cooking (under supervision, of course), these stoves are the easiest for them to operate and offer the least chance for fuel spills and fire.

backpacking stove How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

Some cartridges have reuseable seals, which means you don’t have to use up all the fuel inside the canister before removing it from the stove for packing. Other canisters must remain attached to the stove until empty. Once used up, these have to be carried out in your trash bag.

The other main types of stoves include those which burn white gas only, multi-fuel stoves which burn white gas and kerosene or even gasoline, and some stovesˇŞ such as the MSR XG-KˇŞwhich I’ve heard will run on just about any liquid fuel.

However, because the fuel is not pressurized, as with cannisters, these stoves require a bit more work to operate. You must warm up the fuel, usually by burning a small amount in a “spirit cup” located somewhere near the gas jets. Then, once the gas is warm, you slowly open the valve and allow the fuel to ignite. Eventually, the heat from the burning fuel provides a vacuum effect, drawing the remaining fuel out of the stove or fuel storage container, in vapor form.

Obviously, if you are in a hurry to cook food or boil water, this process can be a bit tedious. You probably wouldn’t want children lighting these stoves without careful supervision. Also, they tend to be a bit noisier than the pressurized gas stoves. (I have an old Svea white gas stove that hisses horrendously while cooking, but it’s also very reliable and economical. I call it “the Volkswagen of stoves”).

The major advantage for non-canister stoves is in the fuel efficiencyˇŞwhite gas tends to be a bit more efficient, and a fuel container of white gas takes up less space than a comparable canister of pressurized gas. For a long trip, with several people, you would have to carry many cartridges of gas and transport the empty cartridges out at the end of the trip.

You could create a “pros and cons” list of different stoves, fuels, etc., but I suggest you simply visit your favorite outdoor store, ask for a demonstration of various stoves, and perhaps even rent one for a trip and see how you like it. When it comes down to it, choosing the best stove for you and your family is a very personal decision. You may want more than oneˇŞone for simple, quick water heating, or for weekend trips, and another for longer trips, or for menus involving more complex cooking, simmering, longer preparation times, etc.


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