How to choose the best type of camping stove for you

How to choose the best type of camping stove for you

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Choosing a camping stove to buy is not always straight-forward. When Jason and I were trying to decide on a camping stove we quickly realised that there are many different fuel types, stove sizes, and weight alternatives out there. So how to decide?

When it comes to choosing a stove to take camping we found the important things to consider are:

  1. The type of camping you’ll be doing.  For example, if you are hiking in, or backpacking, weight and size is very important – you’ll be carrying it on your back after all!  If you camp with a vehicle you’ll be able to bring more equipment (but how much more will depend upon the vehicle).
  2. The weather and conditions. Will you be camping in winter? In sub-zero conditions? Is it likely to be windy?

In the past, when we camped in Australia luggage space in our car was never a challenge. At various times our vehicles included a Toyota troop carrier, a large estate car, and a “ute” (pickup truck). Lugging around gas bottles (propane) and associated BBQ’s and/or stoves was never an issue. The temperature was NEVER below freezing.

Now we need to fit everything into our Golf Estate. So we knew what we didn’t want: to lug around a stove that needed a gas bottle. We wanted something smaller and lighter, so we started the process by looking at the fuel options.

Camping Stove fuel types

Gas Canister

Containing a mixture of Butane and Propane, these lightweight and portable canisters are easy to carry, easy to use, have excellent flame control and tend to last 2-3 hours per canister. The mixture of the two gases means that it delivers a nice clean flame, and can be used at very low temperatures (lower than what pure Butane would burn at).

Liquid Fuel (Meths, Kerosene, Paraffin, Diesel etc)

Liquid fuels (there are many types) burn at a variety of rates, and a variety of temperatures and in a variety of cookers. We weren’t keen on carrying around liquid fuels in the car. This is because they could potentially leak due to the refillable nature of the stove. Liquid fuels are typically used in “Multi-Fuel” stoves. These tend to be quite expensive and are designed more for backpacking use when certain fuels are not available (as you can’t carry it with you).

Kerosene stove, pot and lighter. Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash

Solid Fuel (Hexamine)

Lightweight, inefficient, difficult to control, and relatively expensive. We didn’t bother looking any further.

Gas bottles (Propane or Butane)

Butane burns cleaner and is denser (more burn for your buck!) The containers have typically easy to use clip-on attachments.  They are however quite heavy and bulky. Propane is almost identical in terms of efficiency (slightly less than Butane). It uses screw connectors and can burn at much lower temperatures than Butane. The decision between the two is as simple as: if you want to use the fuel below freezing, you want Propane. Butane will not burn below -2C.  If you are camping above -2C (sounds good to us!), then Butane is the better option.

So, what did we choose?

The gas canister! The butane gas canister is the fuel that best met our needs in terms of safety, efficiency, burn time, ease of use and size.

If you choose any specific fuel type (other than “multi-fuel” options) then there is a specific type of stove that works only with that fuel. Before we dive into the gas canister stoves, let’s take a look at the other stoves and why we decided they weren’t right for us.

Propane-Fueled Stoves

The main reason we didn’t choose propane-fueled stoves was due to the size of the gas bottles, and also the size of the stoves. Before we invested in buying camping gear for ourselves, we borrowed some kit from friends to try out and see what did and didn’t work for us. This is what we found:

  • it was a bit difficult to manage the flame in windy conditions (which is a problem with many stoves)
  •  we tended to use only one burner at a time (as there are only three of us).
  •  it took up quite a bit of space on our camp table

It seemed logical therefore to look at buying two independent stoves. This way we could have two on the go at once if needed, but pack one or both away when not in use.

Multi-Fuel Stoves

We didn’t investigate this type of stove with much energy. As car campers, we can carry fuel safely and in reasonable quantities, so multi-fuel stoves didn’t really appeal.

From what we learned, multi-fuel stoves are more suited to conditions were:

  • “normal” fuels are not available – backpacking in remote areas
  • weight is important – you don’t want to carry fuel, but to use what might be available on your site or journey

We also wanted a stove that could handle “car camping size” pots and pans. There are many other smaller single burner stoves available however we’re not keen on cooking one slice of bacon at a time….

Our Stove Decision – Two Single Burner Gas Canister Stoves

The stoves come in individual cases that both protect them and are easier to pack (two smaller cases rather the one larger case). When camping for a weekend, we take a gas can in each cooker (with whatever gas is left in from the last trip) + two full gas cans.

  • we’ve found it easier to protect a single stove from the wind as you can move a windbreak closer around the stove (compared with having two) if needed. On a particularly cold, wet and windy camping trip, it performed great
  • when you’ve finished cooking with one or both stoves you can just move them away from the table so it can be used for other things (eating, playing cards etc).
  • they are really easy to light (self-ignition) and use (hot and fairly adjustable flame).
  • the top of the stove where the utensils sit also cools very quickly, allowing a fast pack up following the meal.
  • if things are taking too long to heat or cook, it could be that the can is nearly empty. A larger, yellower flame, combined with longer cooking time means that it’s probably time to change the canister. Just pop open the canister case, replace with a new one and you are literally cooking with gas again. This process takes seconds. Really.
  •  if you are camping in temperatures below -2C butane will not burn  If you are a regular winter camper, we’d suggest choosing a different fuel & stove type.

If, like us, a single burner butane gas canister stove is right for you, here are some of the bestsellers available via Amazon:

[amazon bestseller=”single butane stove” items=”3″]


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