Pitch Your Tent: Camp Stoves

The Language of Camp Stoves

It’s been my experience that families that are just getting started in camping sometimes have romantic ideas about cooking outdoors. Meals and eating are some of the most important parts of any camping trip and there’s nothing worse than a meal that flops. You go to bed tired and hungry and that can be enough to ruin a trip.

Cooking over an open fire is romantic, but not practical!

We all have those images in our head when we think about cooking over an open campfire. But, in reality, campfires are full of ash, can smell bad, be difficult to get started, and are not a reliable heat source for cooking since the temperature is very difficult to regulate. They’re great if you just want to heat up a hot dog or toast a marshmallow but cooking a whole meal over it? Probably not suitable for the novice camper.

Or even experienced campers!

You’ll want to invest in a good camp stove is that on many public lands fire restrictions will be in effect depending on drought conditions. That means that open fires might be prohibited! Imagine trying to cook dinner if you can’t light a fire! In Arizona, in the worst drought months, that restriction has been extended to include fires burning wood or charcoal.

These restrictions usually do not include any type of stove.

When ESP Boss and The Queen Mother took their first camping trip in 1969, they borrowed a Coleman white gas camping stove. Basically, they didn’t test it out (the thought never even occurred to them!) before they went. When they first tried to use the stove, they realized that the pressurizing gaskets had shrunk and the fuel tank couldn’t maintain pressure. So, they spent two days, and every time they wanted to cook a meal, ESP Boss was continuously pumping the fuel tank while The Queen Mother cooked.

This was very unsafe!

But, as The Queen Mother pointed out: they didn’t starve and are still married to this day!

If you’re going to purchase a camp stove here are some things you need to consider:

Fuel sources

Before you purchase a stove, you should review the various fuel sources. However, when you’re actually ready to buy that stove, make sure that it will work with the fuel you want to use! I’ll be covering the “Big Three” fuel sources: propane, white gas, and butane.

Propane
Propane is the stand-by for modern camping stoves. It’s easy to use and readily available. You can get the one-pound bottles that screw directly into the stove or larger bottles (like for a home barbeque) and connect it to the stove with a hose.

Lots of campers prefer propane since you just need to attach it to the stove and it’s ready to use. There are no additional steps that need to be completed before you can light the stove and make dinner!

White Gas
White gas or naphtha can also be called Coleman fuel. True Colman fuel is made and sold through Coleman as a specially refined process. White gas is a good fuel option when camping at high elevations or in very cold temperatures since it will burn steady and at an even temperature.

White gas can only be used in stoves that will take liquid fuel.

Butane
What campers term “butane” is actually a butane/propane mixture. It is usually a favorite fuel of backpackers since it is light weight, resealable, and connects to stoves easily. Butane/propane is affected by cold temperatures and might not work effectively. The canisters cannot be recycled.

Another consideration with fuel sources is how much fuel you’re planning on carrying with you on your trip. Some fuels are more expensive than others and some canisters are bigger than others. Remember that any liquid fuel stove will require pumping to maintain pressure in the fuel tank.

If you’ll be taking any other camping appliances with you besides a stove (lanterns, barbeque grills, etc) you probably want to make sure all your appliances run off the same fuel source.

Here’ a way to think about it: The Power Of Batteries but instead of batteries, it’ll be your stove fuel source!

Amount of Heat

BTU
BTU stands for “British thermal unit.” It is approximately the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.

Now, if you’re like me, that definition means very little in the practical sense. Stoves have a wide range of BTU outputs. In next week’s Pitch Your Tent article we will be running tests on stoves with different BTUs to help you decide how many BTUs YOU need for your next adventure.

Choosing A Stove

Camping stoves come in a range of sizes from tiny backpacking stoves little enough to be packed in a sock to three burner stoves with their own carrying cases. The biggest piece of advice I have for you it to think how you’ll be USING the stove.

When the EatStayPlay.com “Royal” Family goes camping, we rely on our two burner Coleman stove.

Our stove of choice!

We’ve recently acquired another stove that we’ll be running a head to head comparison with next week.

I went camping with a friend who brought along a single-burner backpacking stove that ran off of a butane/propane mixture. The problem was trying to cook for two people on an itty bitty stove. There was no way to cook our main dish AND boil water for hot chocolate.

Pick a stove that you know you’ll be comfortable using. You might want to consider things like:

  • Does it have a self-starting ignition (think about a gas stove in a home where you get the clicking noise and then the burner lights) or do you need to turn on the gas and ignite it with a match?
  • Does it have a wind screen? This is critical if you’re EVER camping in breezy conditions!
  • Will you be able to get fuel for it easily? How expensive is the fuel?
  • Can you find replacement parts?
  • Is it big enough (enough burners and enough BTU output) to cook a meal for your entire family?

Can you imagine trying to cook a meal for two on this tiny stove?

I don’t recommend purchasing a used camp stove since you don’t know if the prior owners took good care of it. If it was dropped, not maintained or been used with the wrong type of fuel it could be dangerous to operate.

ESP Boss had a Coleman stove that lasted for 20 years! He only had to replace it when he couldn’t get parts for it any longer.

Readers Weigh In:

This is the section where you can tell me about what type of stove YOU use when you go camping!

What type of fuel do you use in your stove? What tips do you have when purchasing a stove? Do you have any good stories about a camp cooking meal that flopped?

You can leave comments here and also post on the EatStayPlay.com Forum

And, if you’re looking for a stove, here’s a link to Cabela’s so you can take a look at what they offer!

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