When you’re outside for several days in a row, a stove is indispensable. After all, every hot cuppa or delicious meal requires hot water.
It’s true: there are loads of different gas stoves. But which one’s the right one? Good question! In the following, we’ll try to clear things up for you, so that you can find the perfect stove.
Gas stoves are the most common outdoor stoves. There are particularly small and light ones tailored to those who love to go ultralight, multi-purpose ones and even stoves with the capacity to cook meals for the entire base camp with no problems at all. But first things first: what should you keep in mind when buying a gas stove? How do they differ from one another and which one is best for which purpose?
The best thing about gas stoves is the fact that they’re easy to use. Just attach the cartridge to the stove and you’re ready for action. No annoying and time-consuming preheating or contact with flammable liquids. Gas stoves don’t produce soot and are easy to control, so all you gourmets out there can knock yourselves out and cook elaborate meals!
How they work
The functionality of gas stoves is quite simple. They run on gas, which is filled into cartridges or large metal bottles for camping purposes. Screw cartridges are the most common solution for outdoor purposes. They come with a standardized 7/16″ x28 UNEF thread (also known as EN 417), which makes them compatible with stoves from different manufacturers, provided they have the right mounting fixture. These gas cartridges are available as 110 g, 230 g, and 450 g versions. They often come with different gas mixtures, which is also something to consider!
There are also puncture-style canisters or cartridges with bayonet valves, which are particularly common in Southern Europe. You can use these cartridges with the appropriate adapters, such as the adapters for the bayonet valve or puncture-style cartridges by Edelrid.
Now, things are going to get a wee bit more technical, but it’s all worth hearing, especially for outdoor enthusiasts who love the cold. So, what’s the point of different gas mixtures, anyway? Well, the different gases in these canisters all bring something different to the table, all of which needs to be in perfect balance.
The most common cartridges are filled with a mixture of butane, isobutene and propane. This is contained under pressure in order to keep the gas in a liquid state. Each gas has a different boiling point or temperature at which the gas changes from its liquid into gaseous state (without technical support). At a lower temperature, the gas remains liquid. However, it must be in its gaseous form in order to be ignited. Butane boils at -1°C, isobutene at -12°C, and propane at -40°C. Therefore, the gas changes from its liquid state to gas when the valve is opened at temperatures above -1°C. At lower temperatures, only the propane and isobutene would change to gas, whilst the butane would remain in the cartridge in its liquid state unused. During the process of evaporation, however, the cartridge cools down by about 5°C, which (in practice) means that the butane will only evaporate completely if temperatures are above 4°C.
Therefore, it would be best to use pure propane if you’re planning on using your stove at temperatures below 4°C. However, in its liquid form, propane must be stored under enormous pressure. For this reason, the cartridge itself must be more stable and much heavier in order to withstand the extreme pressure. This is why the propane is mixed with isobutene and/or butane. It keeps the boiling point at a relatively low level and makes it possible to fill the mixture into regular gas cartridges without any problems. So if you’re planning a trip in the cold, you should use a cartridge with a high percentage of propane and isobutene, i.e. winter gas by Primus.
The mechanical difference
But let’s get to the actual stoves. There are two basic concepts: screw-on stoves and stoves with a fuel line for the fuel.
The cartridge of a screw-on stove also serves as its stand. As a consequence, the stove has a higher centre of gravity, which can be a problem when using larger pots. Just screw the stove on top of the cartridge and you can get started. The gas flows out of the cartridge and right out of the burner head. Thus, the gas burns relatively quietly, which is why these burner heads are called silent burners. This construction has the advantage that these stoves are compact and can be assembled very easily. They also come as ultralight models with a weight far below 100g. In order to make your stove more stable, you can attach an extra stand to the cartridge.
Stove systems have a special status. These are complete systems with a stove and a matching pot. This allows the stove to burn the fuel very efficiently. It also reduces the pack size of the device, since the stove can be transported inside the pot.
Stove with fuel line
Some stoves use a fuel line to guide the fuel to the actual burner, which has several advantages. It keeps the centre of gravity low and makes the whole stove more stable. Moreover, this system is particularly suitable for use in winter, for the cartridge can be turned upside down. This is perfect if you’re looking to use your stove at low temperatures. As I mentioned earlier, the gas mixture has a certain boiling point, which prevents it from evaporating completely at low temperatures. This problem can be solved with a little trick. At low temperatures, the propane remains in its gaseous form. Use it to ignite and warm up the stove. Turn the cartridge upside down as soon as the device has reached the right temperature. The liquid gas will then flow through the fuel line to the burner. In order to convert the fuel to gas, a generator loop is needed.
The gas flows through this bent metal tube. The loop runs across the burner and the liquid gas is heated up and converted into its flammable gaseous form.
If you don’t turn the cartridge upside down, only the propane and the isobutene will burn. The butane will remain unused inside the cartridge. With this approach, you can also use the stove in winter at temperatures down to 20°C below zero. Unfortunately, the regulation of the stove is rather limited when the device is operated with liquid gas. In winter, however, the mere purpose of a stove is to melt snow and to boil water. These gas stoves are silent burners, as well.
Large camping stoves
Camping stoves are meant to be carried in a rucksack or bicycle saddle bag and have a special status in this context. They are designed for stationary use in base camps or at campsites. Camping stoves are extremely robust and often come with multiple flames. Most often, their burners are integrated into a foldable metal frame that is easy to transport. They usually come with an integrated wind guard and a removable grates, which makes the stove easy to clean. Most camping stoves are operated by means of large propane cylinders and can therefore be used for bigger groups of people.
So if you don’t fancy sooty pots, complicated preheating, and potential explosive flames shooting through your awning, you can use a gas stove, regardless of the time of year. However, you should make sure you’re using a high-quality gas mixture and a stove with a pre-heat loop. Only at temperatures colder than 15°C below zero could the use of gas be problematic.
What else do you have to look out for?
You should keep in mind that common gas cartridges are hardly or not at all available in some countries. Moreover, gas cartridges are more expensive than a litre of petrol. Plus, you always have to find a way to dispose of your empty cartridges. On the other hand, the use of gas is far safer and less complicated.
When choosing the right stove for you, be sure that both the pot and the stove have a secure stand. Especially modern pots with integrated heat exchange can be problematic if their contact surface doesn’t match the diameter of the pot.
Piezo ignition systems have proven to be particularly practical for the outdoors. This means you don’t necessarily need a lighter, a firesteel or matches for cooking. Piezo igniters function just like lighters and start the stove at the push of a button as soon as the gas tap is opened.
The use of wind protection should go without saying. Lateral shields prevent the wind from weakening or extinguishing the flame. A constant and uninterrupted flame improves the efficiency of the stove considerably.
Gas stoves are practical, versatile, and require little maintenance. There’s bound to be one out there for you!