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Some of life's most memorable moments are shared as friends and families eat great-tasting meals around a warm campfire. For years, SafetyCentral.com has been selling the Camp Chef stove line as well as the Coleman Company and Stansport indoor and outdoor stoves and cooking accessories. The outdoor camping stoves and cookware products have enhanced the quality of life for families everywhere.
Choosing a Camping Stove
Selecting a camping stove is easy once you know the choices and have decided what type of camping trips your family will be taking. Stoves can have one, two or three burners. They will use propane, butane, white gas ("Coleman fuel"), unleaded gasoline, or kerosene. Here is the info you need in order to pick a stove for your trips.
It will be easier for your first few trips if the stove has at least two burners. This will allow you to use nearly all the same food as at home. With two burners, you can have a typical two-pot meal, like pasta on one burner and sauce on the other. You can even add a third pot by heating up one dish and setting it aside while you heat the others.
Brands like Coleman and Stansport typically offer a couple versions of each two-burner stove, with the difference being the space for the pots. The "standard" sizes are adequate for most small families, and with a little creativity and planning, can function well for up to ten persons. This size can be a good choice for larger families if there will be a campfire which could be used to heat some dishes. Otherwise, you might want to try the extra large size stove, as it will accommodate larger pots and may even put out more heat.
White Gas ("Coleman") Fuel
You will encounter all the fuels named above such as propane, butane, white gas ("Coleman fuel"), unleaded gasoline, or kerosene. However, I recommend only two real choices - propane or white gas ("Coleman Fuel").
The white gas stoves will product the most heat of any camping stoves. It burns cleanly without any odor or effect on food taste. If you spill the fuel it will evaporate very quickly and will not leave an odor. This is very important - sooner or later some fuel will spill on your hand or clothes, maybe even on your table. No problem though.
Many of the white gas stoves now come in a "dual fuel" version. This will allow you to use unleaded auto gas. Many campers use the auto gas and are satisfied with it. However, if you spill it or get it on your hands, you will have a hard time getting rid of the odor (check your hands the next time you fill up at the self service gas station).
I recommend using only the white gas in the dual fuel stoves, unless you run out and can't buy any - then use a little unleaded gas. This is the advantage to the dual fuel stoves.
The main advantage of the unleaded fuel over white gas is cost. Auto gas is about $3.50 to $5.00 per gallon, while white gas is about $4.50. I feel the extra cost for the few gallons of white gas used each year is worth paying so you get the cleanliness of this fuel.
The second fuel option is propane. Propane does not give out as much heat as the white gas stoves, but it has some very significant advantages for family camping.
First, propane stoves are much easier to use. The propane comes in bottles that are screwed into the stove, not poured into a small tank's filler spout. It will not spill. All you need to do to start the stove is turn on the gas, and light the burner - just like home. There are even propane stoves with built in electronic starters - just like home. This feature makes the transition from cooking at home to cooking at camp easier for most people.
Second, propane stoves are available for use with small fuel bottles, or even large RV type bottles. If you start camping a lot, you will find that the small bottles may be very, very, convenient, but very, very expensive. However, if you buy a stove that has a hose to screw into a larger fuel tank, you can get a better price at the RV refill center. You will also save a lot of bottle changes that can happen right in the middle of cooking your meals.
The propane tanks come in 5, 10 and 20 pound sizes. A typical patio gas barbeque grill has a 20 pound tank. The BBQ tank could be hooked up to a stove for the camping trip. Another option with the propane tank approach is to get the optional attachment that will supply propane to a lantern from the same tank. Now you will have a light in your "kitchen."
This may be more than you really want for starting out. But if you start with the disposable-bottle type propane stove, you can grow to the tank version later.
A note about the single burner backpacking stoves: These aren't made for preparing an entire family meal. Nevertheless, they can come in handy as an extra burner, or to carry with you for a picnic lunch away from your base camp. Most of these stoves will be the white gas type. This is because weight is very important when backpacking, and white gas provides the most heat for a given weight of fuel.
Some extra things you will find helpful when using your stove are a windscreen, a starter, a stand, and a fuel funnel (if using white gas). The heat your stove puts out can be blown away making it take a long time to heat up your meal. Most larger stoves come with built-in back and side windscreens. You will be glad you have them on cool, rainy and windy days.
The stove starter is a long handled sparker that you use to light the burners. You can use a match, but the sparker is much easier and, I believe, much safer. If you get a propane stove, get one with the ignition system built in.
Even though many campgrounds provide picnic tables, you might want to consider a folding stand for your stove. This leaves you with more room on the table for preparing the food, eating, and having the kids play games while waiting for dinner.
Stoves come in a variety of styles and sizes, but most follow the same basic design of a single burner attached to a separate fuel source. Your intended uses and destinations will determine which stove and fuel type is the best choice for you.
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Step One: Think of the most likely type of use for your stove. If you do lots of car camping with kids, a sturdy camp stove is your best bet. The most popular model is made by Coleman. It has two burners and uses either propane or white gas. For backpacking, explore the many lightweight stoves that are available.
Step Two: Understand the pros and cons of fuel types, primarily liquid fuel or pressurized gas canisters. The most popular fuel source is white gas, which performs well in cold weather. Costing only $5 per gallon, it can be purchased in large cans and poured into the stove's fuel bottle. White gas is readily available all over North America but may not be in other parts of the world. White gas stoves come in many models, ranging in price from $75 to $200.
Step Three: Choose pressurized gas canisters, the next most popular fuel source, if simplicity of use is your main concern. These canisters are usually a blend of butane and other gases. Some but not all gas mixtures perform well in cold weather. There are many inexpensive stoves that use pressurized gas, starting as low as $35. These are small and easy to pack but not always highly durable. Gas canisters cost a few dollars each.
Step Four: Consider other trade-offs. Gas canisters are not refillable and must be thrown away when empty. It is impossible to determine exactly how much fuel remains in a canister. With a stove using white gas, it is easy to check remaining fuel. White gas can spill but a canister can't. 5Step FiveBuy a stove that can use a variety of fuels for global travel. These are usually referred to as multifuel stoves and can be operated on white gas, kerosene, automobile gasoline or even jet fuel.
Step Six: Set up a prospective stove and examine it. Is it easy to assemble and use? Pressurized gas stoves can be lit as soon as the fuel canister is in place. Liquid fuel stoves must be manually pumped then primed by preheating the burner. Make sure you understand the instructions before buying the stove, and learn how to use it at home instead of out in the field.
Step Seven: Check stability. Will the stove hold a large pot of water securely? This is a major consideration in the field, where a tip-over might be truly disastrous. 8Step EightBe sure your stove or cook set includes a windscreen that shields the burner. This is helpful anytime but an absolute necessity in cold or windy weather.
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Buying a Camp Stove
Unless you prefer cold beans straight from the can and tea that's not even tepid, a camp stove is an essential item for time on the trail. While stoves of my youth were prone to leaky gas, flare-ups, clogs, and flames that stubbornly refused to stay lit, modern stoves make camp cooking almost as easy as staying at home and firing up the barbecue. Push-button ignitions, flame-control adjustments, self-cleaning fuel jets, and sophisticated mixtures of fuel make these backcountry cookers easy to use, even for those of us who are admittedly culinarily disadvantaged. And the best news is that despite significant advances in fuel and technology, increased market competition has kept prices down, so even after you buy a stove, you'll most likely have sufficient funds left to add some pork to those beans.
Prices for camp stoves run from about $20 for a bare-bones model to $250 or so for an ultralight titanium cooker. a liquid gas stove that burns white gas, kerosene, aviation fuel, jet fuel, petroleum naphtha (a distillation of crude oil with few additives), and solvents. One of my favorites is the dual burner Peak 1 Xpedition. Since it runs on a single propane/butane canister, you can still go light while boiling water and cooking breakfast simultaneously.
Compressed or Liquid Gas?
Camp stoves can be divided into two categories. Both have their strengths, as well as their limitations. Cartridge stoves are generally lighter and more maintenance free than those fueled by liquid gas. Cartridge stoves also simmer better than their liquid gas cousins. On the other hand, liquid gas stoves are usually less expensive, more environmentally friendly (most cartridges are disposed after use, although some are recyclable), and hotter burning in all types of weather.
Cooking outside has been long associated with a cheery campfire. While an occasional campfire in places with plentiful wood is fine, as more and more people head out, the idea of Leave No Trace camping has caught on. Fires have a substantial impact on the environment, so more and more people are turning to camp stoves.
Liquid Fuel or Propane Canister?
Stoves are essentially divided into two kinds - liquid fuel and canister. Liquid fuel stoves range in size from the three-burner giant Coleman you grandfather used with his cast iron skillet to make pancakes (those were the days, no?) to lightweight backpacking stoves that weigh next to nothing. Prpane canister stoves would be the same, if you consider a 15-pound propane tank a canister.
When buying a camping stove ask yourself what kind of person you are with respect to how you relate to things. A Coleman and Stansport stove is pure simply functionality, where the functions for which it was designed include those of a serious backpacker. If all you really want to do is go on a few weekend trips with the kids and you don't have any 15+ mile days on your itinerary, a Coleman is worth the extra weight because of its ease of use.
Family Camping Stoves:
These stoves are easy to use and designed with safety in mind, with the expectation that the users are typically relatively inexperienced. They are the largest of the three types, partly because they need to feed a family and partly because weight is less of an issue than the following two types. As a minimum they will have a large gas hob (much like one would find on a domestic gas stove), but it is common to have more than one hob and some even have a grill attached as well. In addition to the stove itself being relatively large, the gas canister attached to it will be relatively large as well.
These stoves are designed with the idea that they will be carried substantial distances in a backpack (e.g. during hiking, rambling, cycling or fishing trips). Consequently, weight is an important issue, so they tend to be smaller then family camping stoves and of a lighter construction. To meet this requirement, they will generally have only one hob, which is of moderate size. They may be gas, liquid or solid fuel; in any case the fuel container will be smaller than with a family camping stove (partly to save weight, partly because the intention is to provide a very basic meal rather than a standard family meal).
These stoves are designed for minimum size and weight (both of which are critical in mountain climbing), both in terms of the stove itself and the fuel. It also needs to operate under very cold conditions and in low atmospheric pressure. Consequently, they are very lightweight and generally use a liquid fuel (liquid fuels give the best performance under difficult conditions and also gives the most heat for a given amount of weight). One can also find mountain stoves that use gas as a fuel, but they are only suitable for low-level mountain climbing. To save on size and weight they have only a single, small nob (being the smallest of the three types of stoves). They may also be more complicated to use, as ease-of-use is also sacrificed to save weight and space.
As a rough guide:
If weight is not a major concern and you want the convenience of a stove that is easy to use and will cook for multiple people, you are probably interested in a family camping stove. If size and weight are more of a concern (e.g. you are carrying it for substantial distances in a backpack or in a bicycle's saddle bags), then a backpacking stove is likely more suitable. Finally, if your stove must have minimum size/weight, you will need a mountain stove.
Most modern camping stoves use either gas (e.g. propane) or liquid fuel (e.g. white gas). However, there are a range of other fuels as well.
Following are the main types:
Gas Canister: This consists of a metal container with burnable gas (butane or propane), much the same as the container for a gas barbeque, except smaller. Stoves using gas are generally easy to start and to use (like a gas barbeque); just turn on the gas and light it. However, they are not suitable for high altitudes (mountains) or very cold conditions. Also, when the container is empty it may not be possible to refill it, so one must dispose of the canister and buy a new one, which is wasteful and makes this fuel type more expensive (as one has to pay not only for the fuel, but each time for the container). The gas can be Propane, Butane, Isobutane, or a mixture (e.g. butane and propane). Gas stoves tend to be less expensive than liquid fuel stoves (for equivalent capacity, quality and features) to buy but have a higher running cost (as the fuel is more expensive). Consequently, if you use your stove infrequently a gas stove is probably less expensive but if you use your stove a lot, then a liquid fuel stove is less expensive.
A petroleum based liquid fuel will work in more conditions than gas (e.g. in very cold conditions and in low atmospheric pressure conditions), so it is almost always used for serious mountain stoves. It burns hotter than gas (food cooks quicker) and performs better in windy conditions (see discussion further down on wind screens). It has a better heating capacity to weight performance than gas, so it is often preferred in conditions where weight is important (e.g. backpacking). It also has a lower running cost (as one simply refills the canister when empty, rather than buying a new canister). With gas stoves the heating capacity drops as the gas canister empties (due to a drop in pressure) but with liquid fuel stoves the heating capacity is unaffected by the amount of fuel left. However, stoves based on liquid fuel are somewhat more complicated and take more effort to light. To start the stove the fuel has to be pressurized (normally by a pump built into the stove) and priming is needed to pre-heat the fuel and convert it to gas. A liquid fuel stove also requires more cleaning and maintenance than a gas stove. They are more complicated and consequently more likely to fail. Unlike a gas stove, it is difficult to run a liquid fuel stove on very low heat (e.g. to simmer a pot of water rather than boil it). Consequently, it lacks the ease-of-use and simplicity of a gas stove.
Methylated spirits is a safe fuel as it is less explosive and burns at a lower temperature. However, the fact that it burns at a lower temperature means that your stove takes longer to cook your food.
Solid Fuel and Gels
Stoves that use solid fuel (tablets) or gels (a thick petroleum-based semi-liquid) are generally save, inexpensive and lightweight. However the fuel tends to be a bit messy and it is difficult to regulate the temperature. Also, stoves based on these fuel types are not as quick to cook food as gas canisters and liquid fuel. Other fuels. There are a range of stoves which use other fuels, including ones designed for burning wood that one finds in the forest. Finally, there are solar stoves, which are very green but have the drawback of being very slow and dependent on the weather.
Of these types, most people choose a stove which uses gas (for ease of use) or liquid fuel (for performance and cost effectiveness). There are also some hybrid stoves, which can use both gas and liquid fuel. Unfortunately, hybrid stoves tend to be somewhat heavier, more expensive and more complicated than stoves that use only one type of fuel. As the vast majority of people find that the most suitable type of stove is either a Gas stove or a liquid fuel stove, following is a summary comparison of the two. People new to camping generally prefer a gas stove (for ease of use) whereas frequent campers often buy a liquid fuel stove (due to the power and compactness of liquid fuel).
Gas Camping Stoves: Choosing a type of gas and gas cylinder
If you choose a gas stove, there are several different types of gas to select from.
Following is a summary:
Propane burns cleanly and produces a hot, steady flame. It works well in very cold temperatures and at high altitudes. However, the gas canisters for propane have thick metal walls, making them unsuitable for applications where weight is important (e.g. mountain or long distance backpacking).
Butane and Isobutane burn well and work at high altitudes. However, they are not very hot and do not work well at low temperatures (under 40º F. or 4º C.) as the gas doesn't vaporize well. However, the gas canister is lighter than for Propane.
Propane & Butane blends combine the benefits of Propane (work well at cold temperatures) and Butane (relatively light canister). The higher the percentage of Propane, the better the performance under cold conditions.
Before purchasing a given type of gas, ensure that your gas stove accepts that type of gas. Also check that the connection on the gas bottle fits your stove (there are many different types of gas connections, which vary by country, manufacturer of gas canister and even type of gas).
With some gas stoves the gas canister connects directly to the stove whereas with others the gas canister connects via tubes or gas lines. The former tends to be a lighter and simpler package overall. If the gas canister connects directly to the stove, the stove may have been designed with a specific type of canister (and maybe even a specific manufacturer of canister) in mind; check compatibility before you buy.
Liquid Fuel Camping Stoves: Choosing a type of fuel
With liquid fuel stoves, in addition to the intended type of liquid fuel (e.g. white gas or Coleman fuel) the stoves often will burn a variety of different liquid fuels (e.g. diesel, kerosene, petrol, gasoline, etc.). While these alternative fuels are generally inferior to the standard liquid fuels (and in some cases will clog the stove), they are readily available almost anywhere. Consequently, if travelling in undeveloped countries or remote regions where standard camping stove fuels are unavailable, the ability to use these backup fuels may be important to you.
Here is a short summary of liquid fuels:
White Gas or Coleman fuel. Burns cleanly and provides a strong heat (allowing fast cooking). It performs well in most weather conditions. If spilled it evaporates quickly and without leaving an odour (an important point as it is almost certain that you will spill some at some time). Widely available in North America but may be difficult to find in many countries. Coleman fuel is a proprietary version of white gas which has been (or so it is claimed) specifically for Coleman stoves.
Alcohol. Burns cleanly and is a relatively safe fuel. If spilled it evaporates quickly and without leaving an odour (an important point as it is almost certain that you will spill some at some time). However, if burns cooler than other fuels (cooking takes longer) and less efficiently (poor heat to weight ratio). It is also relatively expensive. With clear alcohol it can be difficult to see the flame, which can be a safety issue.
Kerosene. Widely available in almost all countries and inexpensive. However, it is a dirty fuel and can gum up fuel lines, requiring more cleaning and maintenance of your stove. The fumes smell and are toxic. However, somewhat safer than gasoline (see immediately below).
Unleaded gasoline (Widely available and relatively inexpensive, but burns very dirty. It also tends to gum up fuel lines. If it spills it can ignite easily and under certain conditions can explode. The fumes smell and are toxic. Consequently, an undesirable fuel which should only be used if no suitable fuels are available.
If size and weight are not major issues, try to get a stove with at least two burners. Most meals need a minimum of two burners (e.g. one for potatoes and one for meat; or one for pasta and one for a sauce). A single burner stove does mean that you can have something hot, but it is relatively limited in terms of meal choices compared to 2-nob or 3-nob stoves.
If you are cooking with large (heavy) pots, you will need a stove with broad hob supports and wide legs in order to prevent the pot tipping over and to support the weight of the water in the pots. If you are cooking only with a small pot (e.g. to boil water for coffee), then a smaller and more light-weight stove is adequate.
The product information for stoves typically specifies the weight of the stove. However, this weight is usually that of the stove itself and does not include the weight of the fuel or the fuel container. When calculating the amount of weight you will be carrying, all three items need to be included (plus any accessories, such as windscreens, pots and other cookware).
If you are purchasing a stove which uses gas, consider buying one with a push-button ignition as this is more convenient than matches. However, in case the ignition fails (which it can do if it gets wet or breaks), you should carry some matches as well.
It is preferable to have a stove with an adjustable flame, so you can control the amount of heat (and the rate of fuel consumption).
If your stove doesn't come with a carrying case, consider purchasing a padded case which will protect the stove knobs and hoses.
Check if your stove works with standard fuel canisters, or if you have to use a special fuel canister (e.g. one from the same manufacturer as the stove). It is preferable that it uses a standard fuel canister and canister connection, so that replacements are readily available.
A camping stove generally will not work well in windy conditions, as the wind blows the flame and the heat of the flame. This means that you will need much more fuel and a much longer time to cook than in non-windy conditions. To prevent this, the stove must be protected from the wind by:
Build a shelter or take advantage of existing shelter. Building a lean-to, forming a small windbreak with some stones, or cooking behind some object (e.g. a boulder) may provide sufficient shelter.
Buy a stove which comes equipped with a windbreak. Some stoves are equipped with a windscreen. If you frequently camp in windy areas, they are worth considering. However, while a useful feature, it adds to the weight and size, so one has to balance carrying the extra load against the convenience of a built-in windscreen.
Cooking inside the tent. Many people advise that this should never be done, due to safety risks and also due to the possibility of damage to the tent or contents. However, if you decide to ignore this advice, ensure that the stove flame and any other stove surfaces are well away from any items that can melt or burn (such as your tent walls, roof, sleeping bags, etc.).
Also, ensure that there is some ventilation, to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Aside from size and weight, it is useful to look at the efficiently rating of stoves. How hot can they burn? How long do they take to boil a litre of water? How long can they run (at minimum and at full) on a single fuel tank? How long on a kilogram (or pound) of fuel?
When purchasing a stove, ask which items are most likely to break or wear out. Also check what tools you will need to change them (will a standard Swiss army knife do, or do you need special tools?). It is useful to carry a basic set of spares along with any tools required to exchange parts, in case your stove fails while you are camping.
Try using your stove at least a week before you actually go camping. It is much better to learn how to use it and to correct any possible problems (e.g. your gas canister has the wrong type of connection for your stove) before you depart on your camping trip.
For safety reasons, airlines generally do not allow transport of fuel or of stoves which have been previously used, no matter how carefully they have been cleaned. Consequently, do not plan on travelling by air with your stove unless it is brand new and you are buying your fuel after you land (even then, you still have the issue of the airline not allowing you to transport your stove for the return trip, as it is now used and consequently contains potentially dangerous fuel fumes).
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