How to choose a camping stove is not rocket science but included here are some great tips that may help you with your purchasing journey.
Unless you are ready to count on a few smoky logs to get your meals cooked, or live off those cold canned foods, a good quality camping stove should be one of the essential items on your equipment list.
While sitting around those crackling flames of an open fire is a must-do at a campsite and for cooking marshmallows and warming up during the evenings the campfire takes some beating.
However, there’s no denying that the control, fuel efficiency, convenience, and ease of use that modern-day camping stoves offer bring a whole new meaning to camp cooking in style.
But there’s a twist; with all the options out there, and with a whole lot to figure out about these stoves, making the right choice can be easier said than done.
So let’s begin, we will get into the nitty-gritty about camping stoves to see if we can help you make the best choice.
Backpacking and camping stoves; are they the same thing?
What is going to be the main use of your stove? if you are hiking through the woods on an overnight hike you don’t need anything more than an ultralightweight single burner mini stove, some of these little units are perfect for a cup of coffee or to heat some food in a small pot.
On the other hand, car camping stoves are larger, heavy-duty appliances designed for family camping, usually they have 2-3 burners, and are perfect for a larger group of people. They can cook a wide range and a significant amount of food.
So, first and foremost, choose the stove that has the ability to provide the necessary heat, the portability that makes transporting the stove easy, and the one that will cover all your cooking needs for your intended adventure.
Camping stoves and smaller backpacking units are two completely different types of stoves. So don’t make the mistake of going for one while you need the other, this will equal a lot of frustration.
What sets them apart?
The first thing is the size, in which case backpacking stoves are always smaller, usually single burner very compact and easy to carry in a backpack so these units are designed for one or two people to boil water and small amounts of food.
A perfect choice for a single backpacker is the Jetboil Flash, this is a remarkable unit that performs beautifully and will give you long-lasting satisfaction. I have owned my Jetboil for many years and it is one of my favorite pieces of equipment that comes with me everywhere.
When it comes to backpacking, weight is always a major consideration so these small stoves are lightweight, sometimes only a few ounces.
As you would expect camping stoves, on the other hand, are typically larger, therefore, they can be reasonably heavy so they are definitely not suitable for carrying on your shoulders over long distances.
If you will be camping as a family or group of friends, a camping stove would be your best bet. It’s versatile, gets the job done, and offers a great deal of flexibility when cooking different types of meals, and providing cooked food for larger numbers.
Size and weight
As mentioned above, one thing for sure about camping stoves is that they are larger and can be very heavy units; No, you won’t need winches and cables to move it, but they can range up to 50-60 lbs and more.
The thing is, as much as these units are designed for car camping and base camps, you’ll need to move it around at some point. But once you set up a large 3-burner stove in your camp they make a wonderful camp cooking station.
It’s thus crucial to check whether you can handle its weight, and luckily enough, they come in different sizes with differences in weight too.
You can find a great little camping stove weighing only 12 pounds, or larger bulkier ones weighing upwards of 50-60 pounds. One of our favorites is the Outland portable camping stove, check out our in-depth review.
And as you can bet, weight is relative to the size in most cases, so again, it all comes down to your needs. If you have a larger group to cook for, then you will need a larger unit, which may also mean it will weigh more.
The best thing to do here is to pick the right size for your needs; the weight should be a small price to pay for the convenience.
The result of not having enough power output or large enough cooking space is annoying and frustrating and you will not enjoy cooking under these circumstances.
How sufficient is the cooking space?
It’s yet another important but often-overlooked factor when deciding which camping stove to settle for, size does matter when you’re outdoors cooking for your family.
Speaking of which, you should keep in mind that cooking space is relative to the size of the unit you go for, so if this aspect matters for you, like it does for me, then you might consider a larger stove.
The good thing about getting a stove with a sufficient cooking footprint is that it makes cooking easier as it allows you to use large-diameter cookware and you can also put another item on at the last minute.
Some stoves have two burners, which brings onboard the aspect of flexibility and saves you a lot of valuable time since you can have two items cooking simultaneously.
While we’re at it, note that some units are designed to give you a combination of this flexibility and compact design and while two burners may be the most popular design I prefer that extra space so I can spread out a bit.
On some two-burner units, the cooking space is squeezed and while it can accommodate two smaller pans or pots, albeit they’re less ideal for cooking large group meals.
So what’s the takeaway? Well, before buying, take a keen look at the specs to ensure the stove can accommodate your cookware.
How many burners does it have?
Another issue you need to be on the lookout for is the number of burners that the stove you want comes with, or simply put, the number of burners you want.
While 2-burner stoves are the most popular there are a range of camping stoves that come in 1-2-3 and 4 burner configurations.
But that shouldn’t mean you have to get a stove with two burners, if you are a couple enjoying a day out sitting and playing by the lake a simple single burner will satisfy your needs for lunch.
If you want to shed off as much weight as possible and you are heading out alone, then a tiny single-burner stove fits the bill just fine.
There is a fair share of these tiny units with a single burner, and if you’re out alone the Etecity or the MSR WindBurner Stove are amazing little stoves.
On the other end, if you are going all-in with the role of the camp chef and with several people to cook for, then a larger, three-burner unit should make the cut.
Such units would be a great choice here, thanks to the robust burners and large cooking space footprint; they dwarf the single-burner units.
Some units are designed to be easily linked together, bringing extra burners on the table, an add-on set-up that could make a world of difference if you are willing to push the limits as far as cooking space goes.
But in essence, the ideal number of burners that you want is all that matters when choosing, so factor that in when making your choice!
Freestanding or tabletop stove
Another consideration that will probably have you pulling off your hair when selecting the ideal camping is whether to choose a freestanding or a tabletop one.
Not to worry, you’re not alone, many have been stuck here too, so let’s clear things up a bit.
Freestanding stoves tend to be larger, bulkier, and usually feature three burners, and they pack in more power than their tabletop counterparts do.
As such, these are a great option if you have more people to cook for and you need extra power and/or cooking space.
What’s more, since these stoves have legs, which are usually adjustable by the way, you can use them just about anywhere unlike tabletop ones that require a table or flat surface.
Tabletop stoves aren’t any bit less impressive, the only difference is that, as their name suggests, they have to be propped up on a table, bench, or flat and sturdy surface before you start cooking.
And legs are not the only thing these stoves lack, as they are also smaller, and a bit more compact than the freestanding ones. For a small tabletop, you cannot go past the Martin Propane Stove.
Now, this might sound like a bummer, but these stoves have an ace up their sleeve, as they are also smaller and reasonably compact, which makes transportation and storing them easier.
Nevertheless, the difference in terms of long-term performance isn’t great, only that these usually have fewer burners, less cooking space, and slightly lower power output.
If you are a significantly large group, these stoves may not be up to the job and would struggle to get the job done.
The Power (BTUs)
Next up is the factor that’s at the very heart of camping stoves, the power that it can deliver. This feature not only sets apart different stoves, but it also dictates the choice you make.
It’s no wonder this turns out to be the specification manufacturers advertise the most.
So, what is in it for you? BTUs simply means British Thermal Units, which is the amount of energy necessary for heating a single pound of water by 1 degree F.
In essence, this reference allows you to get a glimpse of the power that the stove can deliver.
What this means is that the more the BTUs the higher the unit’s power, with all other factors at constant. And as you might have noticed, other factors such as wind and outside temperature are at play when it comes to the performance potential of any stove.
The issue of just how many BTUs will be enough for your needs is relative, as it all boils down to your requirements. In case you want to cook large amounts of food, a unit with high BTUs would be your go-to option, and vice versa.
Luckily enough, some of the units on the market pack quite a punch, with some delivering up to 90,000BTUs of raw cooking power like the Camp Chef Tahoe Deluxe. Then you’ll also find smaller ones that would be ideal for small groups of people, so you will need to cook smaller amounts of food.
However, keep in mind that there are also other factors at play, such as the size of the burner, fuel consumption, and the design of the unit among others. So you’ll need to factor in everything else when making the decision.
Fuel type and safety
To cook anything, you need to burn fuel, which brings up the other important consideration you need to be keen on when deciding the right stove for your camping trip.
Propane is by far the most common type of fuel used with these stoves, and for good reasons. The awesome thing about this type of fuel is that it delivers reliable performance in different temperatures and lights fast, in fact, instantly.
Also, you can find different propane cylinder sizes from the smaller 16 ounces to the large 20-pound tanks, and they are easily available even near camping areas.
However, the best way to stay on the safe side is to bring along a backup cylinder in case of anything.
However, as much as propane is an efficient choice, it doesn’t deliver such a great job in freezing conditions.
In case you are heading off to high mountains, or camping during extremely cold conditions, you should opt for a different kind of fuel altogether, which is where our next type of fuel comes in.
Liquid-fuel is the most reliable option for such conditions.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that liquid-fuel comes in many forms.
Kerosene, diesel, jet fuel, unleaded gasoline, or even clean white gas.
Although white gas comes in as one of the perfect choices for harsh conditions, the others also do a great job even in extreme conditions, better than propane.
However, there’s a catch, keep in mind that units that use this type of fuel cost a bit more than propane ones.
But, in better conditions, they don’t come close to what propane can deliver when it comes to performance.
Then there’s wood, which is a type of fuel that might not sound so plausible.
But, you’d be amazed to learn that there are more stoves designed to use wood than you might think.
What makes these stoves worth a hard look is their convenience.
All you have to do is wander out a bit, collect a few twigs and sticks, and you can settle for the evening without any worries. However, this too comes with its own fair share of downsides.
One is the fact that its flame and heat control are not as reliable as with the other stoves.
Also, depending on where you are camping or the season, finding reliable sticks might be a long shot.
Either, you end up camping in a place with little to no vegetation, or dry vegetation for that matter, or in wet weather.
Even worse, some areas have frequent fire bans put in place to reduce the risk of forest fires, and these could prove difficult for you.
However, even if you’re not out in the wild, you can enjoy a wood-burning stove in the backyard. One particularly popular and a very good stove is the Gear Guide wood stove.
Check for wind protection
Among the factors we’ve mentioned above that could interfere with the performance of your stove, the wind comes across as one of the most disruptive ones.
The problem with wind is that it gets to the core of your stove, the burner itself, affecting its performance and lowering its efficiency, or even put the flame out altogether if the gust is strong enough.
It’s thus important to ensure you go for a stove with windshields, preferably on three sides, although you can always improvise a temporary windshield or pick up some separately.
Blocking out the wind not only takes out the frustration and drag that comes with cooking outdoors on a windy day, but it helps save fuel.
Control and ease of use
The essence of modern stoves and one that makes them a favorite for many is the control that the unit gives you during cooking. Taking charge of the heat level comes in very handy to ensure your meals are well cooked.
That’s where such features control knobs come into play, helping you set the heat right where you need it.
Whether it’s a fast boil for water and coffee or a slow simmer for sauces and soups, this feature helps you dictate what the stove is supposed to do.
Again, ideal wind protection enables the unit to stay ablaze even when set on a low heat level.
And most importantly, being able to ensure that the gas coming into the stove from the cylinder is essential for convenience and safety, so such features as valves also count, a whole lot.
How good is the ignition?
Another feature you definitely don’t want to miss when selecting a stove is how easy, and perhaps fast, it is to ignite. Different stoves come with different ignition systems, but those with electric piezo igniters take the cake home at this one.
Piezo igniters are above the top since they really simplify starting your stove, usually with the simple push of a button or twist of the heat control knob.
This is not only great for the convenience, but it also ensures extra safety since your arms stay well clear of any potential harm that might result from a faulty burner or simply having to light it up with the gas flowing.
But these are available in high-end stoves; for most entry-level units, you’ll have to settle for manual ignition, which requires the use of a match or lighter to start the flame.
But if you are tight on budget, then a manual ignition might be a great start.
The material is the other important yet usually overlooked part of a camping stove. Needless to say, most of these units feature stainless steel or copper bodies.
But what matters here is the material of the burners, which is important for durability and performance.
Then the cooking space material also counts, since it needs to be easy to clean besides being robust and lasting.
The other parts where material matters are the hosepipe, you don’t want any issues with leakage or a burst pipe, do you?
For freestanding stoves, the legs should be built with robust material that can support the weight of the unit along with the cookware on top of it and the food items.
Is it stable enough?
Whether it’s a freestanding or a tabletop stove, cooking on an unstable unit not only puts you at risk of spoiling the fun if something happens and the whole treat spews across the campsite, but it also puts your very safety on the line.
For the freestanding units, as we’ve mentioned, the legs need to feature strong materials and solid construction. Some of these are flexible, so before heading off, make sure to check and cross-check that they lock well in place.
My choice of freestanding unit has everything you might need in a great camping stove, good size, good power output, good functions, and good looks, the Outland 3 burner Stove will have you the masterchef of your campsite.
When it comes to tabletop stoves, how well it holds onto the surface counts, a whole lot. Some have small intrusions that allow them to grip firmly on the table, so keep an eye out for that.
And this could be very important if you are using a table with a soft surface. A wobbly stove can be pretty risky, which brings us to the next point — safety.
Dealing with hot soup and naked flames on a burner is bad enough, but when such fuels as highly flammable propane gas come into the picture, the stakes are much higher.
That’s why you need to be very watchful for the stove you go for, you don’t have to sacrifice performance, but safety comes first.
Propane gas is clean and safe in the right circumstances, thankfully, most of these units are built with the need for your safety in mind, so they come equipped with sufficient safety features.
However, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on such aspects as the valves, auto-shutoff functions, the stability of freestanding stoves, the performance of the burners, and even the overall safety measures that the manufacturer has put into consideration.
As you’ve found out, there’s a lot that goes into shopping for these stoves, but as complicated as it might sound, getting a crappy unit is never an option.
Propane and the other fuels we’ve mentioned here can be very efficient in getting your foods well cooked, but they can be dangerous if things go wrong.
As such, you need to make sure you get a unit that not only offers the performance you would expect, but also one that doesn’t put you or anyone else’s safety on the line.
The good thing is, the market has more than enough camping stoves that offer a combination of these and more great perks that will go a long way to making your trip memorable in every sense of the word.
Now that you know how to choose a camping stove when it’s time for your purchase. I hope I have given you a little help so you can choose the one that will make you the envy of the campsite on your next getaway.
If you have any more questions about how to choose a camping stove I’ll be more than happy to answer them in the comments section below.
Remember! Leave it cleaner than you found it, only footprints not rubbish.