Gone are the days of stirring a billy full of mushy beans over the fire. With the ever-increasing number of lightweight gas burners and all-in-one cooking systems available on the market, becoming Masterchef of the wild has never been easier.
Having a reliable camp stove means you’ll be able to create delicious, energy-dense, morale-boosting, kid-silencing tucker regardless of fire restrictions and inclement weather. With a go-anywhere cook-anytime stove, the only thing you have to worry about is whether it’ll be Spicy Jerk Chicken & Couscous or Campfire Quesadillas for dinner.
But not all portable camping stoves are created equal. Here, we’ll take you through the most common types of camp stoves as well as what factors you should consider before making a decision.
Liquid fuel camp stoves and portable barbecues use refillable LPG tanks to power the appliance. They’re usually larger, have more burners and use windshields to protect the flame. They can be used with large pots and pans easily and feature removable drip trays for convenient cleaning.
Cartridge camp stoves use small butane gas cartridges to power the burners. They are lightweight and feature an electric ignition system to light the gas. Most cartridge stoves feature only a single gas burner while a few larger ones contain two. Unlike liquid fuel stoves, the gas cartridges used are not refillable so you will need to bring spares.
Hiking camp stoves preferred by backpackers are ultra-lightweight single burner stoves designed to be screwed onto the top of self-sealing gas canisters. These canisters contain a mix of isobutane and propane to create a highly pressurised fuel for your stove. Most hiking stoves weigh less than 100 grams, not including the canister and pot, making them ideal for when a larger liquid fuel stove is too cumbersome to carry.
Rapid boil stoves such as the Jetboil fall into the hiking category, and while the whole unit is typically heavier than an ultralight single burner, they have a few additional benefits including: an inbuilt pot which eliminates the need to bring a separate billy, better fuel efficiency due to faster boiling times, protected flame, compact, nesting design, and more stability on uneven ground.
Alcohol stoves such as the ever popular Trangia are lightweight, compact and have fewer moving (read: exploding) parts than stoves that run off fuel canisters, which makes them one of the most reliable and safe options for backcountry adventures. They do however take longer to reach boiling point and therefore use heaps of fuel. You’ll need tightly sealed bottles to carry enough fuel with you. Methylated spirits are the most most common type of fuel used in alcohol stoves, which has the added benefits of being inexpensive and readily available almost anywhere in the world.
Multiple fuel stoves are exactly that – capable of running off different fuel types, which may come in handy if you’re travelling and can’t always access the specific fuel type you need.
Although there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to which portable camp stove to take with you, some models are better suited to particular environments and camping styles than others. So before you commit to a camp stove be sure to address the following questions so you can get the best model for your needs.
The need to pack and carry all your equipment makes size and weight the ultimate deciding factors for backpackers. You’ll need a stove you can fit in your pack with the rest of your camping kit, while also keeping weight to a minimum. When you’re car camping or kitting out your van, you’ll be able to explore some of the bigger and heavier stove options out there.
If you like to keep your camping menu as fuss-free as possible, such as dehydrated just-add-water meals, porridge and maybe the odd boiled egg, you’ll be able to get away with an ultralight single burner or rapid boil stove. Frontcountry and backcountry gourmands will need to consider versatile stoves that are capable of heating pots and frypans for an extended period of time.
If you usually camp solo or with one other person, you can probably get by comfortably with a single burner – even if you’re car camping and have the means to transport a bigger stove. But if you’re catering for a family with kids or a group of friends, you’ll want to consider a stove with multiple burners – perhaps even multiple stoves – so you can have various pots, pans and kettles on the go at once. You’ll also want to consider things like variable flame control and stability.
The number of features your stove has, how well it’s made and the technology it uses will all play a part in the pricetag. Whatever stove you go for, don’t forget to factor in the cost of pots and fuel where required. Liquid fuel, for example, is cheaper than gas. In addition to this, backpackers will also need to factor in the weight and size of pots and fuel.
While not a deciding factor for most campers in Australia, it’s still worth noting that gas canisters are less efficient than liquid fuel in extremely cold conditions. Think snow camping in NSW, Victoria or Tasmania. You’ll need to account for the slower boiling times by bringing more fuel than usual.
If you’re car camping for two weeks, a stove that uses a refillable LPG gas bottle will stretch your dollar significantly further than a stove that’ll chew through a stack of single use canisters. Similarly, your bank balance will be better off after a long trip in the backcountry if you use a small liquid fuel stove. But if you’re into short overnight walks or simply like to put the ‘kettle’ on during day walks or climbs, a fast and lightweight gas canister stove such as the Jetboil might make more sense for you.
There’s no escaping the fact that some stoves are cut from tougher stuff than others. Care should be taken when using and packing any canister-fueled stove, as these designs have moving parts that can loosen, break or malfunction if mistreated. Comparatively, alcohol stoves such as the Trangia are virtually indestructible – they’re commonly supplied by schools to their Duke of Ed groups for this reason.
If you’re a campground regular, you might consider investing in a higher quality stove that can handle regular abuse. Backcountry beginners and “sometimes campers” would usually prefer to spend less initially, then upgrade when and if a better model becomes necessary.
If you love the outdoors as much as we do, it’s likely you’ll fall into more than one, ahem, camp. Car camping with friends or family, the occasional overnight hike, and a yearly multi-day hiking adventure overseas are all likely to be penned into your social calendar. This is why you’ll find most outdoor enthusiasts have multiple stoves for different types of adventures. A decent multi-burner LPG gas stove and an ultralight hiking burner is a relatively inexpensive combination that will cover almost any trip you can dream up.
Now that you’ve settled on a portable camping stove (or stoves), you’ll want something to cook in and eat out of. If you’re a minimalist, your pot will in all likelihood serve both purposes!
Stainless steel, silicone, bamboo, melamine and BPA free plastic are all great options for cookware and dinnerware that can handle rugged environments. So before you head off, have a look at the full range of stoves, cookware, utensils and dinnerware available on Outdoria.