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Which Portable Stoves Are Best for Backpacking and Camping?

Towering trees provide shade as they sway in the wind. The babbling brook offers a soothing sound to relax your nerves. You and the local wildlife share the same surroundings as you lose yourself in the peaceful tranquility. Then, your stomach rumbles. Building a fire to cook your dinner can be a pain. You have to have the right kind of things to get it going. It's unreliable because it's largely dependent on the weather, and you have to contain it and maintain it. If you’re the kind of person who’s always on the go, a campfire isn’t really the perfect way to cook for yourself while out in nature. Bringing along a portable stove offers heat that you can easily control, and it’s easy to shut off, pack up, and move on with, without worrying about the environment. There are tons of different stoves out there meant for different situations. So, which portable stoves are best for backpacking and camping? In order to answer that question, you have to ask yourself some other questions to make sure you get the right one for you and your situation. Here are some things you need to consider:

Fuel Type

The first thing you want to narrow down is the fuel type. You’ll find canister stoves, liquid fuel stoves, and alternative fuel stoves. So what’s the difference and how does the fuel affect the stove and cooking experience? Let’s look at each type of stove as well as their pros and cons.

Canister Stoves

The canister stove is probably the most prominent and versatile. It’s the closest you can get to a kitchen stove out in the great outdoors without an actual kitchen. Canister stoves heat up quickly, and can usually range from a low simmer to a full boil. You can easily pick up a canister of isobutane and propane, hook it up, and you’re good to go! One of the best features about this fuel type is that the canisters seal themselves off when you disconnect them from the stove. This means you won’t have to worry about spilling any of the fuel when you remove it. You also won’t see any soot coming out of the stove like a traditional fire that uses wood. So why look any further if this stove has all these great features? There are some drawbacks to the canister stove. The canisters of fuel themselves tend to be more expensive than the other types of fuel. Isobutane canisters will typically run around $1+ per oz of fuel. This fuel type can also be a challenge to tell how much is left in the tank. The main indicator is that you lose heat as the amount of fuel in the can decreases. So even when you have fuel left, the longer you use the canister, the lower the heat. This type of fuel is also not very reliable in cold weather or higher altitudes. If you’re looking to camp or backpack in the cold or in the mountains, you will want to avoid this type of stove.

Liquid Fuel Stoves

Liquid fuel stoves also offer the ability to control the heat. These stoves will boil or simmer just like a canister stove but they run on naphtha. Naphtha is a fuel that has been refined from natural substances and contains very little impurities. This fuel source is also much less expensive at around 12 cents per oz. Liquid fuel stoves are excellent in the cold weather and burn just as hot from start to finish. The bottle that holds the liquid it typically one you can see through or at least down into when you unhook it, making it easier to know how close to empty it is. This bottle is refillable so you won’t have to worry about disposing of an empty canister like with the canister stoves. So why would anyone want to choose a canister stove over the liquid if it does all this? When you go to purchase your stove you’ll first realize that the initial cost of a liquid fuel stove is more than that of a canister stove. The biggest concern with ownership a liquid stove is that the fuel source is pretty easy to spill when unhooked so you have to be much more careful, and ensure that it’s sealed tightly before storing it. They can also be a pain to light, as most of these stoves require you to prime them before you can light it. The canisters stoves are pressurized gasses so turning the burner on opens the lines and forces the gas to the burner. With a liquid stove there’s no pressure so you will typically have to drip some fuel below the burner to light it, which will get the stove going. If you’re headed out backpacking, the downfalls to these stoves also include that they’re heavier than a canister stove so it’s going to add that much more weight to your pack. These stoves are usually better for a campsite where they won’t have to be carried around.

Alternative Fuel Stoves

Alternative fuel stoves are usually wood-burning stoves. These are great for backpacking because they burn things like sticks, bark, and other wood you can easily find along the trail so you won’t have to carry any fuel with you like the previous stoves. This is basically a campfire in a small stove. It’s easier to control than a campfire itself and is contained so there’s less risk for a wild fire. The main downfalls you’re going to find here include availability of fuel and time it takes to heat. The fuel source poses the same problems as the fuel source for a campfire. If you find yourself in an area that either has no trees around, or the area is wet, finding usable fuel can be hard. These types of stoves won’t burn as hot as a stove with the typical fuel sources, so it’s going to take longer to get your food up to the proper temp, and there’s no burner you can turn up and down to control the heat source once it gets going. Another issue with this type of stove is the same as that of a campfire in the fact that you can’t just turn it off when you’re done. You have to ensure that you put the fire out completely before you can continue on. These stoves are great for backpackers or campers in an area where they know they can find dry wood, and who have plenty of time for cooking and extinguishing the fire.

The Best Stoves

Now that we’ve defined the types of stoves out there, you can at least narrow down your search to the type of fuel you wish to use. Defining the “best” isn’t as simple as us being able to say “Brand X Model Q is the best canister stove” because it will vary greatly  from person to person and what they plan to use it for. What we can do though, is teach you what to look for to know which is the right stove for you!

Heating Capacity

The first thing to look for is the boil time. This is going to let you know how long it will take to bring a liter of water to a boil, and indicates how hot the stove can get. The faster the boil time, the hotter the stove. The next thing you want to check is the burn time. This will let you know how much time it takes the stove to burn a certain amount of fuel, indicating the efficiency of the stove so you know how much fuel it uses.

Additional Features

Your must-have feature list is going to depend greatly on what you want the stove to do. Consider the following added features when finding the perfect portable stove to take with you into the great outdoors.

  • For a backpacker, take a look at the weight and dimensions of the stove, as well as the fuel that you will need to bring along, as it’s all going to have to go in your pack. If you’re taking the stove to a campsite and not lugging it around much, this is probably going to be less important.

  • Heat control is the next feature you’ll want to consider. If all you need is one temperature then go for one that isn’t as adjustable to save some cash on the initial purchase. If you need a stove with heat control so you can do everything from simmer to boil, then you want to look for one that can be adjusted.

  • Other notable features that might play a factor for you include things like how it lights, wind guards, and any accessories it comes with. Does it come with a canister or container for fuel, or is that a separate purchase? Does it seem stable so it won’t fall over? Does it need batteries for an electric ignition?

Considering all the different options when purchasing a portable stove will greatly help you determine which will be the right one for you. Keep in mind that there is no one-stove-fits-all situation so you really need to evaluate what features you will want before you start shopping.

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