Camping stoves may lack the romance of sitting around an open fire, but there are good reasons to consider packing one for your next outdoor adventure. Camping stoves are faster and more efficient than fire boxes and pits, you don’t need to burn up some of the environment to use them, and they present less of a fire hazard to the great outdoors. Some parks now prohibit fires and require the use of camping stoves, so they are essential if a hot meal is one of the creature comforts you need. Whether you’re packing up for a weekend with the kids or striking out solo on a hike to the Himalayas, Pronto’s Camping Stoves Buying Guide will help you choose one that meets your needs.
Car campers with lots of mouths to feed should choose a large camping stove with two or three burners. Hikers and climbers who want to minimize weight should choose single-burner backpacking stoves and plan to pack one of these for every two people in a group.
Propane is the most common camping stove fuel and offers good performance at low altitudes in temperatures above freezing. Butane and isobutene cartridges are lightweight choices, but these gases perform poorly at high altitudes and in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Camping stoves that run on white gas, kerosene, or unleaded gasoline offer the best performance in the widest range of conditions, but you’ll need to clean camping stoves that use these smoky fuels more often.
BTUs measure heat output. Look for at least 10,000 BTUs for large camping stoves and 9,000 for backpacking stoves. Boil times tell you how fast a camping stove can boil one quart of water, with 3 to 4.5 minutes a good average. Look for longer burn times on camping stoves if you want to limit the amount of fuel you carry.
Camping stoves either connect directly to a fuel canister or use a flexible tube. Choose the camping stove that offers the most stability for the stove and the fuel source in the field.
Wind guards help a camping stove conserve fuel. Make sure wind guards don’t reduce stability or reflect heat toward the fuel tank or tube. Consider electric ignition if you’ll be keeping the camping stove well away from water and snow and don’t want to carry matches. Adjustable burners give you more cooking control and can help a camping stove conserve fuel in warm, windless settings.
Camping stove heating elements equipped with dials that let you control the temperature of the flame by increasing or reducing the flow of fuel.
The amount of time needed to boil one quart of water. Boil times of four minutes or less are considered good, but boil times should only be used as a general guideline, as fuel type, wind, temperature and altitude affect performance.
British Thermal Units, a measurement of the heating power of a camping stove. One BTU is equal to the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Large camping stoves average around 10,000 BTUs while backpacking stoves average 9,000 BTUs.
The length of time a camping stove will operate on a single, filled fuel canister.
Camping stoves that operate on small, pressurized canisters of butane or isobutene for fuel. Though lighter weight than steel propane tanks, fuel canisters can lose pressure and fail to operate in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or at high altitudes.
Also called wind baffles, these are built-in or attachable metal shields that protect the burners from gusts, improving performance and reducing fuel consumption by up to 50% in windy environments.
A camping stove is another piece of gear that adds weight to your pack. If you’re traveling by car, camper, or canoe, a larger-capacity camping stove with two or three burners is ideal. Basic models are about the size of a shoebox and sit on a tabletop, but you can also choose a model with detachable legs that stands as high as a kitchen counter. A camping stove with more burners lets you heat more food, which is ideal for hungry camping families. Most of these camping stoves run on propane, so you’ll need to save some room for the tank.
Large camping stoves weigh in at 9 to 23 pounds, making them impractical for hiking and climbing, where every ounce of weight matters. For those trips, specialized backpacking stoves weigh three to nine ounces and are compact enough to fit in your backpack. These camping stoves attach either to a propane tank or compact, lightweight fuel cartridges. They typically offer a single burner, which means longer cooking times for large groups. You’ll need one single-burner camping stove for every two people on a trip to make cooking efficient.
The materials used in a camping stove affect weight and durability. Steel is the most economical choice, but it’s also the heaviest and most prone to corrosion, so it should be reserved for car campers. Stainless steel and aluminum camping stoves provide resistance to rust, and aluminum camping stoves are lighter weight, making them a better choice for canoe trips and winter camping. Titanium is the most expensive option, but its light weight, corrosion resistance and unmatched durability make it the best choice for climbing and camping in extreme conditions.
Propane is the most common fuel for camping stoves and it works well in summer and early autumn as long as the weight of a steel propane tank isn’t a concern. If you’re trying to control pack weight in warmer weather, choose a camping stove that uses butane or isobutane cartridges.
If you’re camping or hiking in colder weather, you’ll need to give careful consideration to the fuel your camping stove uses. Cartridge stoves are unreliable below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and won’t work at all in below-freezing temperatures. Propane performs slightly better in the cold, but neither propane nor cartridge stoves work well at high altitudes.
At high altitude or in extreme cold, choose a camping stove that can run on kerosene, white gas, or even standard gasoline. These fuels burn hotter and give better performance in cold and low-oxygen conditions. Some camping stoves can be run on more than one kind of fuel. Kerosene and unleaded gasoline both generate soot as they burn, so you’ll need to clean your camping stove after each use to keep it in working order.
The heat output of camping stoves is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). Larger camping stoves generally offer 10,000 BTUs, while most backpacking stoves deliver 9,000 BTUs. Temperature, wind, altitude and fuel type all affect performance, so BTUs should be used to compare the output potential of a camping stove rather than what it will do. Higher BTUs indicate a higher potential burner temperature, which you should consider if you’ll be adding accessories, such as a griddle or coffee pot to your camping stove. Some accessories have minimum BTU requirements.
Boiling time tells you how quickly a camping stove can boil a quart of water. Again, temperature, altitude, and fuel type will affect performance. Boil times of 3 to 4.5 minutes are the average for camping stoves in warm weather at low altitudes.
Burn time measures how long a camping stove will run on a single fuel tank. If pack weight is a consideration, look for a camping stove with a longer burn time to reduce the amount of fuel you’ll need to carry.
Camping stoves connect to their fuel sources either through a direct attachment or a flexible tube. Look for a camping stove that offers the best stability for the stove and the fuel; some connections are more suited to flat surfaces than others. Cold-weather users should look for camping stove tubes that won’t crack or stiffen.
Winds can double the amount of fuel burned, so you’ll need a camping stove with a wind guard if you’ll be in gusty locations. Most tabletop camping stoves have built-in wind guards. Backpacking stoves that connect with tubes offer greater stability with wind guards than those that connect directly to the fuel tank. Be sure that the wind guard won’t reflect heat toward a camping stove’s fuel tank or fuel tube. Excessive heat can cause tube leaks or dangerous explosions.
A camping stove with electric ignition saves the need to carry matches or a lighter, but you shouldn’t rely solely on electric ignition if you’ll be using a camping stove in wet or snowy environments. Look for a camping stove with adjustable burners if you want more control over your cooking or if you want to save a little fuel in warm, still conditions.
Finally, give some thought to the camping cookware you’ll use with your camping stove. Car campers with a full array of frying pans and pots will want a larger, more stable cooking surface than those who’ll just be using a lightweight pot to boil water.