Whether you’re setting out for a month on the Pacific Crest Trail, setting up basecamp on a snowy glacier, or buffing out the family car camping setup, nothing compares to a well-cooked meal in the outdoors. And camp stoves aren’t just limited to the backcountry—they can be used for backyard BBQs, tailgating, and any other portable cooking situation. But it’s important to have the right stove for the job at hand. Read on, and we’ll help you choose a camp stove that fits both your needs and your cooking style, ensuring that everyone stays fueled and fed for whatever adventures you have planned.
The type of camp stove you’ll need will depend on several things. How many are in your group? Will you be moving camp? What type of fuel is available? Are you grilling fresh food or just eating dehydrated meals? These questions are the first steps in determining which stove you’ll need.
Portability & Weight
How much you’ll be moving camp and how far you’ll be traveling each day will be one of the big deciding factors in choosing a stove. Camping near your vehicle will allow for heavier gear and more of it. A heavy-duty, three-burner that runs on a five-gallon propane tank will allow for gourmet meals when you’re posting up in a basecamp next to the car, while something that’s light and packs down small will be the way to go when you’re breaking camp and carrying everything on your back for multiple days. For long-distance backpacking or mountaineering, the smallest, lightest and most efficient models will do basic cooking without weighing you down.
Do you like to go all out with fresh ingredients, spices and complex recipes when you’re in camp? Or are you just boiling water for dehydrated meals at the end of a long day? Think about what you generally like to eat outdoors, and choose your stove based on the options you’ll need to cook that way. Multi-burner models with plenty of fuel and simmer control will satisfy the most discerning outdoor chefs, while those who like to cook over an open fire might add on a cast-iron dutch oven.
The majority of camp stoves available today run on some kind of liquid gas—propane, butane or isobutane for the most part. Larger car camping models and portable two-burners generally rely on liquid propane, either in commonly available five-gallon barbecue tanks, or more portable “green grenade” versions designed specifically for camping. Stoves designed for backpacking or lightweight pursuits often run on single-use isobutane canisters, or liquid fuel in refillable bottles. Some of these refillable models run on nearly any combustible liquid fuel—gasoline, kerosene, propane, etc.—a huge plus when traveling in areas where isobutane canisters may not be available. If you'd rather use nature's resources to cook and packing fuel isn't your thing, then a portable wood-burning stove is the way to go. These stoves also provide the warmth of a fire as an added bonus.
Like your home kitchen, the options for accessories are limitless, especially when car camping. If you’ll be camping in an exposed spot, make sure your stove has some kind of wind protection. Many multi-burner models also allow for add-on components like griddles or grill plates. Don’t forget to round out your stove kit with the proper prep essentials. Start with one or two versatile knives and a good cutting board, a heat-resistant spatula and large skillet, and a small selection of spices, and build your camp kitchen from there.
Care and Storage
When using a five-gallon propane tank always turn off the fuel source before turning off the burner and wait for the flame to completely extinguish. Turning off the burner before closing the fuel valve results in a hose full of fuel that shoots out when you disconnect from the stove. Be sure to clean grease and food bits off, and pack your stove away after each trip to ensure it stays in good shape and no critters come looking for shelter or a meal. We keep a dedicated stove rag for this purpose. Investing in great camping tools and cooking gear can make your time outdoors even more enjoyable, and can add some unforgettable meals to your unforgettable adventures.