Okay, some of you are former military, or you just like to ‘rough it’ – so your idea of the best camping stove is anything that works – a tin can, an old altoid’s box – perhaps just a spit made out of a live branch that you’ve chewed the bark off of… Or perhaps you prefer cold C-Rats, just to bring back memories of the good times you holed up in a fighting hole (civilians know it as a ‘fox hole’) for days on end.
But my best guess is that most of you aren’t Rambo, or trying to emulate him – you just want to get away from civilization for a while, but you don’t particularly care to ‘rough it’ too much, so you’re going to make a decision about the best way to cook your food. The best camping stove is going to depend on just how you like to camp – are you a loner? Hiking in from a distance? Or are you with friends and family, and the car is just 50 feet ‘thataway’? Is this going to be a single day or two of camping? Or are you out for a week or two? These factors are going to play a key role in what sort of outdoor cooking stove is the best one for you.
The Backpacker – hiking in to a camp site on foot – is going to want a stove that’s light-weight and compact. Trust me, 5 miles out on that hike, you’re going to be regretting every excess ounce you packed in your backpack – so weight is a big factor. So unless you’re in the service, and can just order a Private to carry it – you’ll want to consider carefully what the best camping stove will be if you’re hiking in to your campsite from a distance. Some camping areas forbid open fires due to scarce wood resources or forest fire dangers, so in cases like this, you don’t really have a choice, you’re going to need some form of outdoor camping stove that will get you fed. You’ll also need to consider the two choices you have for fuel – most backpacking stoves use either canister fuel or liquid fuel. For larger groups of campers – your better choice is going to be a liquid fueled cooking stove, since liquid fuels are cheaper. Liquid fuels are also better for winter or high altitude camping. Canister fuels are easier to use, and it can be difficult to tell how much fuel you have left. But for the single hiker, or a couple, as long as you aren’t in winter temperatures (canister’s perform poorly in the cold), the advantages of a canister stove will be decisive. Weighing in at just 14 ounces is one popular choice, the ‘Jetboil Flash’ cooking system.
Wood Stoves are large and bulky – but if you’re heading to an area where you have plenty of firewood laying around to gather, and you’re with a larger group, driving in – this may be the best choice for you. One advantage, in my opinion, is the smell is so much better with a wood burning stove. You can’t get too much cheaper than using free wood for your fuel, so if you don’t like the idea of expensive fuels, this might be the choice you pick. Make sure that the area you’re going camping in doesn’t have any restrictions on wood gathering – you’ll be seriously out of hot food if you can’t find any wood for your wood stove!
Nor is a wood stove going to be particular easy – just starting the fire is going to be more difficult than the ‘push button’ solutions that many backpack or propane stoves use. So you’ll need to know how to start a fire, and for you camping newbies out there, it’s not quite as easy as tossing a match into a pile of wood. (That only works in homes with no homeowner’s insurance.)
But if you don’t mind the slower cooking, the smell of woodburning, and the soot – perhaps this is your best camping stove.
Propane Camping Stoves: Now we come to the ‘heavy hitters’ of the best camping stove categories – the propane stove. If your family and friends are along – and you want ease and comfort, then propane is for you. If you want cheap fuel, this isn’t for you – but if you want a fuel you can get just about anywhere, and ease of use, this is your choice. You’ll be cooking just the same as if you were still at home. These aren’t the sort of stoves you want to backpack in to a campsite – but if you’re driving in to a campground – these are the ticket for you! Although the fuel is more expensive – it’s readily available virtually anywhere in the U.S, Canada, and most of Europe. If your camping is more exotic than that, then be careful to have a good supply on hand!
Propane stoves generally come in one or two burner models, but you can even find three burner ‘deluxe’ propane stoves – so if you have a larger group, think about how many burners you want before you make your purchase. One or two people can get away with a one or two burner stove – but if you have a real crowd, you’ll need something bigger. The last consideration for propane stoves is that these are generally considered to be the safest types of camping stoves – just make sure you tighten the connections – and there’s nothing to spill or cause problems – so if you’re considered a klutz by your family and friends, a good propane tank is the way to go.
Multi Fuel Camping Stoves: Able to work with Coleman liquid fuel, unleaded gasoline, or kerosene, the Coleman Multi-fuel camping stove isn’t really the choice if you need to backpack it in… but if you’re heading to all sorts of strange places, and aren’t really sure about fuel availability, this is the one for you. This is a frequent choice of American military serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, as you often don’t know what fuel you’ll have access to. With the same advantages that your typical propane stove has, this is a good choice if you want ease of use. The Coleman Multi-fuel model can be filled up before the trip, and last all weekend long. Liquid fuels are generally going to be cheaper than propane tanks, but more expensive than free firewood – but this isn’t going to be quite as easy to work with as most propane camping stoves. Lying in the middle for ease of use between a propane stove and a wood stove, it’s still an excellent choice – particularly if your camping takes place in out-of-the-way places.
The final choice? There’s no way for anyone to choose without also defining how and where they camp. But I hope you’ll have some ideas here to narrow down your search for the best camping stove for your next trip. I’ve avoided talking about some possibilities, such as alcohol fueled stoves, solid fuels or solar stoves, because those are in the more exotic realms of camping gear, and I wanted to speak about more commonly used camping stoves. The best camping stove for you is going to end up being a personal choice based on how you enjoy your camping.