A buyer’s guide Outdoor cooker

A buyer’s guide to camping stoves

10. November 2016
With the right cooker there will even be a proper coffee in the morning

With the right cooker there will even be a proper coffee in the morning

Decisions, decisions. Would you like canister or liquid gas? Can it be somewhat louder, or would you prefer it to be nice and quiet? How flexible are you in terms of fuel? How do you plan on transporting it, by car or by foot? And as always: what do you need it for? For an espresso in the morning or for cooking a three-course meal for a family of four?

It’s true: the world of stoves can be somewhat chaotic and confusing, but it’s not rocket science! Besides, we’re here to help! In the following, we’ll elaborate on some of the important advantages and disadvantages of fuels such as gas and spirits and help you choose the perfect stove for you!

Question one: Which fuel?

Canister gas

A classic gas cartridges (screw cap) by OPTIMUS

A classic gas cartridges (screw cap) by OPTIMUS

Gas canisters are one of the most common solutions. They are relatively cheap, available in different sizes, and very easy to use. The canister attaches directly to the stove and is ready for use.

However, the downside is that the gas canisters are unavailable in some countries (i.e., Portugal). Moreover, it is always very difficult to say how much gas is left in a canister. Another disadvantage is the fact that the canisters are non-refillable and must be disposed of when they are empty, which is often quite difficult. You also have to consider that, depending on the mixture, gas isn’t suitable for use at sub-zero temperatures for its burning performance will decline. However, this only applies to double-digit temperatures below zero. There are also special gas stoves that won’t let you down in such situations, such as the Soto Micro Regulator Stove.

+ easy to operate
+ ready to use in no time at all
+ available in most trekking and mountain countries
+ also available in smaller quantities
+ high heat output
unavailable at all in some countries
disposal problem
– remaining amount of gas is difficult to estimate
– poor performance at low temperatures
non-refillable

In France, you will only find puncture style canisters. But, since stoves always come with a threaded top, adapters are the way to go, i.e. valve-type canister adapters by  Edelrid (for valve cartridges) and  Edelrid valveless canister adapters (for puncture-style canisters).

Methylated spirits

 Spirit cooker

Spirit cooker

In Scandinavia, cooking with methylated spirits is quite common. The advantage of cooking with methylated spirits is that you can take only as much as you need and thus save unnecessary weight (approximately 0.5 litres per person and week). However, methylated spirits don’t emit as much heat as other fuels and tends to leave a sooty residue on pots (along with your fingers and clothes). It can be difficult to refill your supplies in remote regions, but it’s still easier than refilling gas canisters. However, Methylated spirits do have the advantage that they burn silently. On the other hand, when temperatures drop, it is difficult to get the stove started. Unfortunately, methylated spirits aren’t suitable for sub-zero temperatures.

+ take only as much as you need
+ burns silently
+ worldwide availability
difficult to light the stove at low temperatures
– low heat output
– hardly usable at temperatures below zero

White gas

White gas is the cleanest solution and readily available. Depending on the length of your trip, the canisters can be filled with individual amounts of gas. However, multi-fuel stoves are complex and quite time-consuming in their use. When you turn them off (or they turn themselves off), you have to wait for them to cool down before turning them on again. Moreover, these stoves are quite noisy, which is a real disadvantage for users who want to enjoy the silence of nature. Furthermore, it is not advisable to use such a stove in a tent.

+ the fuel is available everywhere
+ individual filling amount
+ high performance (approx. 3.5-4 min/l)

complex use
noisy
– it can take a while until the stove is ready for action
– requires regular maintenance and cleaning
should not be used in tents

Diesel, kerosene, petroleum, and white gas are similar fuels. They can be used for multi-fuel stoves. See multi-fuel stoves.

Esbit

Pumping gas for the multifuel

Pumping gas for the multifuel

Everyone who ever enjoyed a meal from a buffet should know Esbit. It is the fuel paste underneath the bowls with the food. It’s very easy to use because it is also available in the form of tablets for outdoor purposes. However, the heat given off is not adjustable, so it can be difficult to use for cooking, and the flames generate a lot of soot.

+ very easy to use
+ cheap

– low heat output
– generates a lot of soot

Air travel: It is either difficult or absolutely impossible to take fuels with you on a plane. You can try tricks like cleaning the bottle and filling it with Coke, but it doesn’t work every time.

Question two: Which stove?

Gas stoves

If you go for gas, you can choose from a wide range of products. There is a wide range of options: everything from cheap, minimalistic attachments to complex high-performance stoves.

Regular gas stoves are the simplest solution. The cheapest models are available for £20. However, it is always sensible to have a piezo ignition system, which allows you to start a fire without a lighter or matches. You just have to push a button in order to create a spark and ignite the gas. However, these ignition systems are somewhat fragile. Sometimes you have to carefully bend the little wire nail back into position. Moreover, piezo igniters can only be used a certain number of times. Although this number is quite high, the igniter is bound to break at some point. There are stoves with piezos already installed, but there are also external igniters.

 Jetboil Sol

Jetboil Sol

Stoves with integrated heat exchange are a more efficient gas-operated solution. However, they require special pots, which are somewhat more expensive and heavier than regular models. On the other hand, these stoves have a considerably higher heat output and bring water to a boil in no time. The plus side is that you won’t have to take that much fuel with you.

There are minimalistic solutions such as the Jetboil Flash or Jetboil Sol. They are particularly designed for high-speed water boiling, which is a great solution when you only have dehydrated trekking food to eat. But, such a narrow cooking pot is not really suitable for cooking . There are optional upgrades, though, so you can at least make yourself a cup of coffee with it. But be careful when using it in the snow (especially when using the ones made of titanium). During an expedition, David Lama completely melted his cooker when he put snow into the pot without adding some water. The stove was irreparably destroyed as a result.

Helios300 is a heavier but more universal solution. It features wider pots and is therefore suitable for actual cooking. However, weighing in at 1.35 kg, it isn’t the lightest stove out there. Plus, it’ll take up quite a bit of room in your pack. If we’re being absolutely honest here, you should only use it if you’re going by car. No doubt it’s great for cooking though.

Spirit stoves

Storm-proof stoves from Trangia are classic spirit burners. They are basically indestructible, even in heavy rain and severe storms, and quite easy to use. However, you can’t really control the flame. It’s either extremely hot or “lukewarm”. Moreover, regulating the heat is a rather adventurous task. In order to reduce the heat, you have to throw another ring on the burning little pot. If you miss, you have to get the ring out of the flame somehow and try again. The same goes for ‘switching off’ the stove.

The universal solution:

Multi-fuel stoves are great because they can be operated with all kinds of fuels (gasoline, petroleum, diesel, alcohol). Optimus and Primus are the most well-known manufacturers of multi-fuel stoves. However, both are relatively complex. Igniting the stove can give rise to an explosive flame, sufficient pressure must be built up, and responsible maintenance is necessary as well. Furthermore, these stoves are so loud that you probably won’t make a lot of friends at the campsite when making coffee in the morning. All in all, the design of multi-fuel stoves is considerably more complex than that of a regular gas stove. Multi-fuels stand out from the rest of the pack because of their high heat output and their compatibility with most fuels. This makes them particularly suitable for international trips.

The size of the stove

 Multifuel on the Höfats (Allgäu)

Multifuel on the Höfats (Allgäu)

Stoves come in every size – from minimalistic and small designs to rather large models. Before buying one, you should think about what you want to do with the stove.

Small stoves like the Optimus Crux Lite are perfect when you have limited space. For example, it can be used as a substitute for a little espresso machine.

But if you put it on top of a large canister with a large water pot, things can get shaky. In this case, you should choose a stove that is a bit sturdier. It should also have a large contact area, i.e. like the Optimus Vega does.

The whole wind thing

Due to their design, most stoves are quite vulnerable to wind and tend to turn themselves off. In this case, it makes sense to equip your stove a wind shield. Otherwise, your gas stove might be switched off without you even noticing until it’s too late! Plus, after your stove has shut itself off, you have to wait for a while before it can be turned on again, since it has to cool down first.

Recommended use

Gas: Easy hiking, trekking, camping

White gas: Winter touring, trips around the world, trekking, expeditions

Spirits: Trekking tours

Esbit: Festivals, camping

 

If you have any questions, you can always ask our experts in customer service. Roland, our expert on outdoor stoves, is available during the week from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. He can be reached by phone at +49 (0)7121/70 12 0 or via e-mail.

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