On my quest for stoves, I found out that it wasn’t exactly that simple. There are many different types of stoves out there to choose from, just all depends on what you want. While I am not going to pretend to know a whole lot about stoves, I would like to encourage you to go and start doing some research on stoves. A good place to start is here, at Zen Stoves.
So, just to start out with there are many different types of stoves. To name a few:
- Alcohol Stove.
- Solid Fuel Stoves (Esbit).
- Wood Stoves.
- Canister Stoves.
- White Gas (Liquid) Stoves
So, just a little about each.
Alcohol Stoves. These are big with the Ultra Lighters. One reason is because they can be some of the lightest weight stoves. Another reason is that they can be made from lots of things, and are easy to make, which can be good in a pinch while out on a long trail. There are many types of alcohol stoves out there and I am not going to try to name them all. Some that I have made are the Pepsi Can Stoves, the SuperCat, and the aluminum Bud Light bottle stoves. There are directions all over the internet to build these stoves, so give them a look.
The best fuel for the alcohol stoves are HEET in the yellow bottle (don’t use the red bottle) and denatured alcohol. Both of these products are easily found at gas stations, department stores, and hardware stores. There is some debate as to which fuel is better than the other, bottom line they are both great. Although most any type of fuels can be used to burn in these stove, the above two are the best and most efficient. Some things to know about using these stoves is that you have to let the stove burn out before adding more fuel, and even then the stove needs to be allowed to cool down. Never ever add more fuel while the stove is burning. Use extreme caution whenever using these stoves. The above mentioned fuels can burn so clean that the flame is nearly completely invisible, but it is definitely still there. If the stove is knocked over while burning you will have a flaming pool of liquid that could just land on you. A certain degree of understanding should be obtained before using these stoves, however once that is done these are great stoves to use.
Solid Fuel Stoves (Esbit). I do not have any experience with these stoves. From what I understand, these are solid fuel sources such as Esbit Tablets. These are typically just used on a platform and lit. Some of the platforms have stands that the pot can rest on whereas others need a dedicated pot stand. These fuel tablets are light-weight and also make good emergency fire starters.
Wood Fire Stoves. These are basically what it says. The great thing about these stoves are that you do not have to carry your fuel source with you, since you just collect small pieces of wood when it is time to start cooking. This is a huge weight savings as the fuel can easily be the heaviest part of the stove set up. Again, I have not used any of these, but there are a few different types of stoves for this. I have read of people just using small coffee cans and making some air holes around the bottom, then just get a small flame going inside it and start adding small pieces of kindling or wood. The top of the pot provides enough support for a pot to sit on, and the can itself is the windscreen.
Canister Stoves. These I do have limited experience with. These are stoves that attach to canisters of fuel. The most widely method of attachment is by the Lindal valve, which is simply the screw on attachments. There are quite a few types of canister fuel such as propane, butane, Isobutane and then there are the mixtures which are ideal for using the canister stoves in colder temperatures. Since these stoves can begin to act up once the temperatures gets around freezing, it is important to try to keep the canister warm at night, which generally means sleep with your fuel canister inside your sleeping bag. If the fuel canisters get too cold, they will not work. Again, different types of fuels work better at different temperatures, read up on them if using these types of stoves in cold temperatures or even at high elevations. Also, there are may name brand fuel canisters out there, and they will work with any stove as long as the valve system matches up, which again, most use the Lindal valve so most all brand fuel canisters will work with most stoves. Also, these canisters are pretty easy to find at most outfitters but it is always a great idea to look into whether or not they are offered where you will be if you will need more than one. Sometimes you may need to carry an extra one.
There are many styles and designs of stoves available from many different companies. Mine is the Optimus Crux. These stoves are typically pretty light-weight. These stoves are used for mainly boiling water, but lots are also able to simmer, which is good for cooking things like Macaroni and Cheese. The good thing about these stoves are that they are pretty efficient, which means that for the amount of weight that you are carrying with the canister and the stove, you are also getting plenty of use out of it. Canister stoves are great for using with a few people, however if it is more than 3 or 4 and you plan on making a few meals a day for more than a few days, this may not be your best option. Also, a good rule of thumb to measure how much fuel is in your canister is to let it float in water. Make sure there is not an air bubble from the hollow indention underneath the fuel canister, then notice where the water line is. This is about the amount of fuel left inside the canister. Also, there are some things that must be maintained on some canister stoves, and some companies actually make maintenance kits for them. Most typically you have to keep an eye on the O-ring and then be sure to keep the jets from clogging up.
White Gas Stoves. Again, another stove system that I have no experience with. These are well-suited for cold temperatures since these stove systems must be primed and pumped, which keeps a suitable amount of pressure on the fuel so that the stove burns efficiently. Also, lots of fuel can be carried in large fuel bottles so these are ideal for larger groups as well. Again, these fuel sources should be looked into when going anywhere when you plan on using these stove systems, but generally these fuel sources can be found at many outfitters.
There are other things to take into consideration when using stoves.
Windscreen’s are needed with every type of stove. They are more so needed when using alcohol stoves since this is just a flame and the wind can easily blow it around, which takes the heat away with it. There are many types of windscreen’s available and even plans to make your own out there for alcohol stoves. Alcohol stoves also do well with a heat reflector under the stove, which simply reflects the heat back up. This can be simply just a piece of aluminum foil cut into a square or a circle to set under the stove.
Windscreen’s for canister stoves are a little different. These windscreen’s typically should not enclose the canister with the stove. If the canister gets too hot, it can easily explode. Some canisters are made to fit around the lip of the canister and protrude up and around the pot, blocking the wind from the actual flame. These help to actually reflect some of the heat back up towards the pot, and away from the canister. However, when temperatures drop, some heat is good for the canister since it will help to heat the fuel so that the fuel will be able to vaporize appropriately and the stove can operate correctly. Again, extreme caution should be taken when using these stoves.
This is just barely scratching the surface on stoves. I hope that it has stirred your ideas on using stoves while backpacking and encourages you to go and find out more. This is a great idea to do because using any type of stove and fuel source is very dangerous and proper cautions should be used with any stove. I am not claiming anything on here and hope that you take it upon yourself to find out these things for yourself.
Jim Wood’s Base Camp as well as PMags “Stove Comparison – Real World Use” is a great place for reading up on alcohol stoves too. Also, Jason Klass has a 6-step program on how to choose an alcohol stove for backpacking that is very informative and helpful, the site also features videos which are great visuals!