Backpacking Stove 101
Everyone must eat, and this is no different on camping expeditions. Whether you are a seasoned camper or just starting out in this thrilling hobby you will need to decide what camp stove is best. In this article I will look at the benefits of using a backpacking stove for its many advantages. There are many excellent standard camp stoves, but sometimes the size and weight do matter. Having a backpack stove along on a camping trip can increase your comfort and safety levels. Just like at home, you will need to cook some of your meals whether to prevent food born illness or make it more palatable. Having a small backpacking stove will help you to meet these most basic requirements.
Annually, thousands of people are separated from their group or wander off into the wilderness never to be seen again. Just because you are lost out in the woods does not mean that the necessity for properly prepared foods vanishes. One way to prevent insufficient caloric intake from happening to you when you are lost is to carry a small backpacking stove with you on your hikes. It will allow you to prepare foods safely, boil water to remove common waterborne illnesses such as Giardia, or light a larger fire if necessary. Obviously, you will still need to locate food to cook if you are lost for a long period of time, but having a backpacking stove will increase your odds of survival and they are relatively light to carry with you.
Some important things to look for when purchasing a backpacking stove is its weight, size, adjustability, and fuel type. Each of these should play a critical role in helping you decide which is best for your trip. Weight is important because the lighter it is, the less weight you will add to your backpack. Size/Shape will affect how it is packed into your backpack. Just like at home, having a burner that is adjustable will help you to cook food at an appropriate temperature. Finally, determining the fuel type that you are going to use is critical to determining long term storage requirements or how long each fuel could last in an emergency situation.
There are a few models of backpacking stove. The weight and size is left up to the space in your bags. It is recommended to choose a lighter weight stove with a small form so that it is easy to pack. Remember that when it comes to each of these types of stove you will need to take into account storage and weight of your fuel as well. The three fuel types of backpacking stoves are canister-fuel, liquid fuel, and alternative fuel. Canister fuel stoves are subdivided again with either a straight canister burner or an integrated burner system. So which one of these is best for your situation? Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of each type.
Canister (Burner Only)
Canister Burners typically run on propane. What is nice about modern propane tanks is that they self seal when the burner or the connection is removed. There are two types of canister burner only stoves. The first is an upright stov where the burner attaches right to the top of the tank. This is the by far the winner on size and weight since it is small and light, but this comes with a drawback because larger pots will easily tip over the burner. The second option is a low profile burner. This version provides added stability, but it significantly increases the weight and size of the product. Both of these items also struggle with the lack of protection from the wind. In addition, canisters of propane also struggle with ambient temperature. When the cans get too cold, they can depressurize (sounds worse than it is), which means that there will not be gas to the burner when you need it. The best way to combat this is to place your can somewhere warm overnight, like inside your sleeping bag while you sleep. Whether you go with an upright or low profile you will get great flame control for simmering, fast heat output, and a clean burning Canister Burners. However, you will find that the fuel may become expensive over time, varying heat output as the propane lowers, or running out of propane when you least expect it. These are a great option for first time campers who want a safety net while out camping due to their ease of use.
Integrated Canister Stove System
Another version of the canister stove is the integrated stove system. This is an upright canister stove that comes equipped with its own pot. This is advantageous because the pot that is included is sized and balanced specifically for the burner. There are also many additional attachments available such as a french press for coffee. Additionally, these are very fuel efficient and have a built in wind buffer. The issue with this type of burner is that they are less versatile with existing pots that you may have, and they do have a higher upfront cost. An integrated stove system is recommended for everyone, but if you are just starting out or learning what best fits your needs you may want to opt for the traditional cannister set ups.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
A liquid fuel stove works on white gas, which is also known as naphtha. This fuel is relatively inexpensive in comparison to canister fuels such as propane. There is the added benefit here that white gas burns very hot and does well in low temperature situations. Canister fuels have issues at low temperatures, and having a white gas option could limit this issue when you are heading on a colder camping or hiking trip. Some other benefits of the liquid fuel stove is that there is no canister to dispose of when you are done cooking on the low profile designed base. These benefits do come with some drawbacks. Liquid fuel stoves are heavier than their canister counterparts. They are more expensive and take practice getting them set up. In most instances, these require priming prior to use and as with any liquid fuel there is a potential for leakage or spilling of the fuel. Maintenance is also an issue. The fuel degrades over time, which could cause settling, blockages, and increased cleaning of hoses and gaskets.
There are some liquid fuel stoves which are rated for multi-fuels. These can run on kerosene, unleaded gas, diesel, or white gas. Each of these fuels comes with its own problems and increased maintenance is a strong possibility. Some of these fuels are extremely easy to come by and may make getting ready for camping easier.
Due to these factors the liquid fuel stove is recommended for more seasoned campers and hikers. It is also recommended for large groups because you may need more fuel to accommodate a larger group and having an inexpensive fuel may make it more economical.
Alternative Fuel Stoves
There are three primary alternative fuel type stoves. These are Wood Burning, denatured alcohol, and solid tab. Wood burning stoves offer an interesting alternative because you would not need to carry any fuel with you. It can easily combust any dry material like twigs and leaves that you find out in the woods. Some of the wood burning models even feature electricity generation for small devices or even to charge a cell phone (as shown above). This is another added benefit for the unlikely event that you become lost. Now, these sound like some fantastic upsides, but there are some drawbacks to a wood burning stove. Most of these models are large, heavy, and finding dry material to burn in a rainstorm can be difficult. A Wood Burningmodel is recommended for a moderate level of experience. However, a novice may be able to pick up on its use quickly with practice.
The other two alternative fuels, denatured alcohol and solid tab, are great options for experienced backpackers who need a very light option. The drawbacks here are that they do not burn as hot and will take time and additional fuel to get food to a proper temperature. In addition, they have a limited number of parts that could cause issues which make them great for long term storage in a backup or emergency kit. These stoves may not be for beginners because of their low efficiency and high cost. Some of the other options provide better value for the money for those just starting out.
Camping and hiking is all about taking in the wilderness and becoming one with nature. When we go out though, there is no reason that we should be limited to the type of food that we eat. It is possible to rough it and still enjoy that steaming cup of joe in the morning to kick start your day. A backpack stove makes this possible for everyday camping. It also becomes an important part of your emergency kit because it will allow you to prepare foods properly or boil water if you are lost for a long period of time. There are many brands and options, but hopefully these brief explanations help you get more comfortable with the options you have for backpacking stoves.