Buying Guides – Stoves & Fuel
You've been on the hill all day, eating snacks and drinking water as you go. When you reach your destination you will be ready for a good hot meal and drink! For this you will need a reliable backpacking stove. Whether you are just boiling water for a cup of tea or whipping up a gourmet delight, there will be a stove to match your needs.
- Decide the conditions you will be using your stove in, what you are using it for and how often you will be using it during your trip.
- Consider what fuel will best suit your needs. Factors include burn time, cost, ease of handling and availability.
- Choose a model of stove that will more than meet all your requirements. This means you can have one stove that will suit all your activities.
- Spend some time gaining an understanding of how your stove works and its basic maintenance prior to your trip.
Which type is for you?
There are a few key factors to consider when selecting a new stove:
- Will the stove be used just for boiling water or will it be used to make full meals? This will determine how adjustable the flame control on the stove needs to be.
- How many people you will be cooking for? This will affect the size of the stove and pots you will need.
- What conditions will you be using the stove in (low temperatures, high mountains etc)? This will determine the choice of fuel and the level of performance required.
Generally you should consider selecting the smallest and most compact stove that will still meet your needs. Many stoves disconnect from their fuel supply which can make them safer and easier to pack. A stove that folds down or dismantles will save space when being carried. Some stoves will even fit into your cookset saving more valuable space in your pack.
Before looking at stoves, consider which fuel type will best suit your needs. This will narrow your selection and make it easier to choose from the vast selection of stoves available.
LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas)
E.g. Butane, Propane, Iso-butane
- Advantages – closed fuel canister, ready to use (no need for priming), maximum heat output from start, instantly adjustable, reasonable availability (check manufacturers websites). Very little maintenance required.
- Disadvantages – high fuel cost, lower heat output than white gas or kerosene, canister must be carried and disposed of when empty (and many aren’t recyclable), low performance in very cold conditions or at high altitude. Not always the lightest weight option. Some cylinders cannot be removed from the stoves until empty.
- Summary – Great for general backpacking and for those who want a hassle free, adjustable stove with reasonable performance.
E.g. White Gas (Coleman Fuel), Petrol, Paraffin (Kerosene), Diesel, Methylated Spirit (meths)
- Advantages – Generally fairly cost effective, high heat output. Many stoves are multi-fuel (will run on a number of different types of fuel) with world wide availability.
- Disadvantages – Most stoves of this type require priming (you can usually use the fuel itself for this), potential fuel spills, fuels are volatile.
- Summary – The best all rounder, can be used in most conditions and fuel is widely available. Efficient, reliable and inexpensive. Ideal for those prepared to take a little extra time to set up and look after. Will last for years with good care.
E.g. Meta fuel, Hexamene.
- Advantages – small and compact, minimal spill, no burn residue or smoke
- Disadvantages – slow, poor heat output, can be expensive to run as main stove, soft flame is not good in variable conditions.
- Summary – Simple and low-cost; mainly used for emergency back up.
When you have narrowed down your fuel choice, you will have a better idea of which type of stove will suit you.
An almost infinite range of brands and designs make this type of stove the most popular and most economical to purchase. International brands such as Camping Gaz, Coleman, Primus and MSR are the key names to look out for.
Single and multi burner models are available, with some models including a grill.
These stoves are easily transported and assembled making them ready for instant use.
Ideal for the casual user and family camper, gas stoves are best suited to short to medium trips due to the bulk and weight of the fuel canisters. However, they are also used for super-lightweight high altitude mountaineering as they are easy to operate in a closed space with little to go wrong.
Vaporised Liquid Fuel Stoves
These pressurised stoves come in a smaller range of styles and designs; mainly single burner models. These are an evolution of the original paraffin burning brass Primus stove which was universally used throughout most of the last century and was a vital influence on the success of virtually every great mountaineering and exploration expedition of the era. Brands such as MSR, Optimus, Primus and Coleman lead the market.
Fuels such as petrol and paraffin are significantly less expensive than Gas making the running costs lower. Generally there is a higher purchase price but this is more than compensated for by excellent durability. Some stoves are designed for boiling water at low temperatures and are not readily adjustable. Others have more sophisticated simmer controls giving a greater degree of adjustment. All pressurised liquid stoves require some understanding of basic maintenance to keep them running at their optimum efficiency. Also, some are easier to clean and maintain in the field than others. Great care should be taken with these stoves particularly when priming them or dismantling them.
These liquid fuel stoves run on Methylated Spirits, do not require pressure and are very popular with organisations such as Scout Groups and Outdoor Centres. There are virtually no moving parts and most of the stoves are supplied with pots and pans as a whole set. Brands such as Trangia are widely available.
Some times known as storm-cookers, alcohol burning stoves are reasonably effective across a wide range of conditions but are slower than pressurised fuel stoves. Simplicity is the main attribute and the whole set (including pots and pans) fits together to make storage and transport easier. Very little maintenance is required.
Solid Fuel Stoves
These are very simple stoves with a tablet tray and pot supports. Size, low cost, and no maintenance are the main benefits. Brands such as Meta and Esbit are the main manufacturers.
These stoves can be very slow especially in windy conditions but are used widely by Armed Forces as emergency stoves.
When you have selected the stove for you, there are a few things you can do to get the most from your cooking and the best from your stove.
- When not in use, separate the fuel supply from the stove (where possible) and store in a cool, dry place.
- Clean your stove after each trip and ensure the fuel line (if applicable) is clean and undamaged. Learn how to maintain your stove. Spares for most modern stoves are available from your local Tiso.
- Check the level of fuel you have left after each trip. It’s a good idea to keep a back up of fuel to ensure you don’t run out before you set off next time or in the middle of nowhere.
- Burn test your stove before you go on your trip to ensure that it’s performing properly.
Tiso cooking tips
If you are out in the hills for a few days carrying your gear you will be ready for a good feed and a brew when you eventually set up camp. No-one likes to go hungry or cold at the end of a strenuous day. Striking a balance between travelling light and eating well is essential to ensure that you get the best out of your experiences – you are supposed to be enjoying yourself after all!
Here are a few tips from our personal experience:
- Use a lid when cooking or boiling water as this will reduce time and increase fuel efficiency. Shielding the stove and pan from the wind using rocks or a windshield, using a heat reflector if you have and matching the pot size to the stove will all help to maximise efficiency.
- Try using 35mm film capsules for carrying salt, pepper or herbs for cooking with. The capsules will normally fit inside your pots for transportation and a pinch of herbs can make a huge difference to the taste of a basic meal like pasta.
- Luxuries are important; just find the right balance between heavy foods and comfort. A tasty feed will improve your morale and won’t weigh that much more!
- A tea bag weighs about 3 grammes and takes up very little room in your rucsac. It’s not worth running out mid trip so carry a few more than you need.
- If you have one pot with you plan your meal to allow you to cook with minimum washing, even if it means eating dinner back to front with pudding first, then main course, then soup. Try it! It’s better than it sounds.
- Don’t forget the hip flask.