Recently I led a team on a 2 day trek to Scafel Pike in the Lake District before we set up camp. The weather was horrendous. People were tired, wet and cold. Once the tents were up the priority was to get a hot brew on the go. In these conditions whilst boiling water and then cooking dinner I pondered the importance of owning a good, reliable camping stove … Here we look at what makes for a good backpacking camping stove.
What are you using your stove for and where will you be using it?
This is really important. If I’m heading out to a big sanitised campsite with my family, with one of those tents that needs its own trailer, then a big double hob gas stove will do the job nicely. But this article isn’t about those experiences. Here we’re looking at what an individual might use for a solo experience or for a small group of campers such as a Duke of Edinburgh Award team on expedition.
If I’m going to be camping out of my car all the time, weight, bulk and efficiency might not be so important to me. If I’m only ever going to be purely boiling water then cooking control won’t be an issue. In these instances price is probably going to be a major factor. If on the other end of the spectrum I am headed to cold environments at altitude then a key factor will be what fuel I can burn and how I will maintain pressure. Availability of fuel overseas is also a factor to consider – you can’t fly with gas canisters!
What to look for in a camping stove …
When buying your stove consider how heavy it is. The heavier your pack when out trekking or hiking the less fun you will have. It is easy too pack to much – not so easy to carry it all. Consider weight of the stove but also consider what will be the weight of the pans you can use with it and of course of the fuel that you’ll need to carry.
How is the stove designed to be efficient? The more efficient it directs the heat to the pan the faster the boil time, the less fuel you’ll need, the less weight you’ll carry. Is the stove designed to focus the heat source onto the pan and the pan only? Is the stove equipped with a pan that is insulated with a neoprene case? Is there a wind guard? All these make for a better, more efficient stove.
Stoves are fueled with gas or liquid fuel. Gas is dead simple to use and is easily bought in any camping or outdoor shop in the UK and western world. You have to be careful to invest in good fuel if you’re headed to altitude or to a cold environment. Also gas canisters can be difficult to dispose of responsibly and can prove to be expensive. Liquid fuel (eg ‘white gas’, petrol or Coleman fuel) is more faff to use and takes longer to boil a litre of water but is reliable to use in all environments and can be accessed virtually anywhere in the world.
If you’re looking to go fast and light then you will want to keep things simple. How does your stove, pan and fuel pack away? Can it all fit into one neat pan or are there are going to be lots of components to find a home for in your pack?
There’s nothing worse than waiting for your water to reach boiling point only for it all to fall over. In the old days I used to dig my stove in, to prevent this happening. Nowadays a good stove will come with a stand for the gas canister or will be designed to have the burner and fuel bottle sit separately thus keeping the centre of gravity low.
6. Cooking control
This is a personal thing. When I head out I tend to go for one or two nights only. In turn I resist the easy option of buying a boil in the bag or just add water (noodles) type rations. I like to cook! (What else have you got to do with your night?) To that end, being able to control the heat to some degree is helpful.