Western Traveler


When you’re out in the wilderness, nothing else makes the experience more enjoyable than a good meal or a hot cup of whatever.

In many parts of the country the building of fires is prohibited due to the wildfire hazards.  What that means is that if you want a hot meal or beverage, you’ll have to bring a stove with you.  There are several types, each with advantages and disadvantages.  I’ll try to run through a few types here, from lightest in weight to the heaviest.

If you’re serious about carrying the minimum weight possible, you’ll want to look at chemical stoves.  These use a variety of flammable materials from denatured alcohol to solid fuel tablets.  The total weight of the stove can be less than four ounces, including fuel.  Some folks make stoves out of soda cans, others tin cans.  If you don’t want to build your own, look in your local sporting goods store, or on the internet for manufactured stoves.  These tend to be very low cost, low weight and fairly efficient.  The only time these don’t’ work well is at high altitude and/or in windy conditions.  For many years I used a Sterno stove, which under most conditions was fine.

If you’re going to do winter or high-elevation camping, you’ll want to move up the next category of stoves.  These ultra-light stoves offer tremendous heat at all altitudes and in all weather.  They can be broken down into two basic fuel categories, liquid or bottled, each of which has advantages.

In the liquid fuel category, you can go with stoves that use only “white” gas (Coleman type), or multi-fuel stoves which can burn everything from white gas to kerosene to plain gasoline to aviation fuel.  Personally, I like the MSR Whisperlite International 600 with shaker-jet.  It’s a regular flame-thrower, and can run on almost anything that’ll burn.  To date it’s been very dependable and works well under all weather conditions.  With a multi-fuel stove you can find fuel almost anywhere in the world. The negative to any liquid fuel stove is that they can be messy to work with, usually requiring “priming” before use, making them sooty.

The other lightweight stoves are those which use bottled gas.  Though propane is okay, I don’t suggest it as they tend to freeze up in low temperatures.  I do suggest that you invest in an iso-butane system if you go with bottled fuel.  This is my preference for short hikes where fuel acquisition is not necessary.  I use an MSR Superfly for the short trips.  My reason for getting this particular model is that it’s designed to utilize fuel canisters from a variety of companies.  I’ve used Campingaz, MSR, Peak and other brands with it successfully.

This is a real plus if you’re flying to a destination.  With airport security being what it is, you’ll not want to take anything that can be considered dangerous and a fuel bottle or tank would be a problem.  With the Superfly stove you can buy your fuel almost anywhere.

If you’re car camping, it’s hard to do any better than the old standard Coleman multi-burner stoves.  They come in liquid and propane models and have been a mainstay of camping for decades.  Their dependability is unquestionable.  I’m using a stove which is probably almost as old I am.  To date, I haven’t even had to replace the generator.  The only downside to these stoves is that the liquid models do tend to “flare up” when cold, but otherwise they’re excellent.

Last modified on: March 1st 2012.
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