When you’re tramping, do you look forward to a nice hot cooked meal at night and a hot brew in the morning? If so, you’ll need to bring a tramping stove. But what kind of stove you need depends on a few different factors. Read on to find out things you should think about when it comes to buying your new tramping stove.
- How light do you want the stove to be?
- How versatile? Do you need a stove that boils quickly, or do you want one that simmers?
- How many people are you cooking for?
- Are you going to be travelling internationally? And what type of fuel will be available to you where you are going?
When deciding how to choose the best tramping stove for you, the following decision points will help you choose:
- Stove type: Tramping stoves are loosely categorised by the type of fuel they use and how the fuel is stored.
- Stove specs and features: Burn time, average boil time, weight and convenience features may help you narrow your choices.
- Stove usage tips: Understanding some of the small details of how a stove works will ensure that you’re making the right choice and getting the best out of your stove when you’re out in the bush.
Types of tramping stoves
There are three main categories of tramping stoves:
- Canister stoves: These easy-to-use, low-maintenance stoves typically screw onto the threaded tops of self-sealing fuel canisters that contain a mix of two pre-pressurized gases: isobutane and propane.
- Liquid fuel stoves: These versatile stoves connect to refillable fuel bottles. While most liquid-fuel stoves run on white spirits, you have other options such as diesel and kerosene available, which can benefit you if you’re travelling internationally.
- Alternative-fuel stoves: This growing category includes stoves that run on fuel pellets or wood.
Canister stoves are easy to use and low-maintenance. They screw onto the threaded tops of self-sealing fuel canisters like the Jetboil Jet Power Gas Canisters that contain a mix of two pre-pressurized gases: isobutane and propane. Some of these stoves are incredibly small, fold up compactly and weigh very little. The Primus Essential Trail, Jetboil Mighty Mo, Soto Amicus and Soto Windmaster are all great stoves that fit into this category. The Jetboil Stash fits into this category, but also into the integrated system style.
- Often relatively small and lightweight.
- They’re quick and easy to light. No priming is necessary before lighting a canister stove. Turn the valve and light with a match, lighter or piezo-igniter.
- The flame adjusts easily and sometimes simmers well depending on the stove you choose.
- The canister is self-sealing, so there is no worry about spills and leaks when you have unscrewed the stove off the canister.
- Some canister stoves have a built-in pressure regulator to provide consistent heat output throughout the life of the canister. This improves cold weather and high-altitude performance, too.
- The pot supports may not be long enough to hold large pots safely.
- It’s tough to know how much gas is left inside the closed canister, so you may want to carry an extra to be sure you don’t run out. (A small 100g canister makes a good backup.)
- A windscreen should not be used with an on-canister stove because it can trap excessive heat and lead to fuel exploding.
- In cold weather, canisters can depressurise and produce a weak flame (unless the stove has a pressure regulator)
- Compared to liquid-fuel stoves, the cost of fuel can be quite a bit higher.
- Canister waste: Empty canisters need to be disposed of properly; you’ll want to research recycling options.
Within the category of canister stoves are a couple of extra subcategories,
Integrated canister systems: These tall-profile cooking systems feature a burner that screws onto the fuel canister and pairs seamlessly with a twist-on, insulated cooking pot and a lid. They can be used with some accessories such as a coffee press. A 100g fuel canister can often fit inside to save space. They’re generally designed to boil water rapidly but not cook and simmer foods. They boil water fast and efficiently, thanks to a built-in windscreen. Some of these stoves also have a built-in pressure regulator that allows for consistent performance in low temperatures and at higher altitudes but also has the added benefit of some small amount of simmer control. However, compared to standard canister stoves, the integrated system is heavier and prone to tip-overs if you do not use a stabiliser. Some choices of this style of tramping stove are, Jetboil Flash 2.0, Primus ETA Lite, and the Jetboil MiniMo.
Remote canister stoves: This type of stove sits on its base and has a fuel hose that connects it to the canister. They typically pack down small and lightweight, though you’ll add a few more grams and bulk than a standard canister stove. These stoves may have wider support arms for large-pot stability. A windscreen may be used with off-canister stoves. These are generally not very popular due to their similarities to screw on-top stoves.
All liquid-fuel stoves run on white spirits, which are highly refined to have few or no impurities. It burns hot and clean, performs well in below-freezing temperatures, and is a much less expensive fuel option than canister fuel’s per-gram cost. Some multi-fuel stoves can also run on other fuels such as unleaded petrol, kerosene, jet fuel or diesel. It pays to check this before you purchase. However, there is nothing worse than buying a stove to run on a specific fuel and finding that it doesn’t. Fuel versatility makes multi-fuel stoves an excellent choice for international travellers who may face limited fuel choices outside New Zealand. If you are in the market for a liquid fuel stove then have a look at the Primus Omnifuel stove, it’s a reliable option that runs on a large number of fuels
There are two main drawbacks to liquid-fuel stoves:
- Most require some priming; this involves igniting a few drops of fuel in an integrated cup below the burner, creating a small flame that will preheat the fuel line. This enables the stove to convert liquid fuel into vapour. You will also need to pump your fuel bottle to increase and maintain pressure for a reliable flame.
- They will require periodic maintenance, such as cleaning the fuel hose or replacing O-rings (in the stove and on fuel bottles). There may be many small parts and pieces to keep track of.
- Liquid-fuel stoves tend to be low-profile and offer better stability on uneven ground.
- It’s easy to tell how much fuel you have left by peering into the fuel bottle.
- While you have to buy a fuel bottle, there’s no canister to discard.
- These stoves perform better than other options at higher altitudes and colder environments.
- Priming and maintenance are required.
- Fuel spills are possible.
- They tend to be heavier and bulkier than most canister stoves.
- Multi-fuel stoves can be more expensive for the initial purchase.
- Fuels other than white spirits have more impurities that may, over time, clog stove parts such as the fuel tube.
These stoves can be good choices for long-distance backpacking and home emergency kits. Some are ultralight; others are a bit heavier. There are a few different kinds:
Because these burn twigs and leaves you collect during your trip, you carry no fuel, an excellent option for longer or lighter trips.
- These can be simple and lightweight, such as a titanium base-and-windscreen/pot-support setup that folds flat.
- Some models can generate enough electricity while burning twigs to charge a mobile phone or other small gadgets via a USB connection.
- Finding dry fuel during wet weather can be challenging.
- Use may be prohibited during a fire ban.
Alcohol Stoves (Meths burner)
These stoves often appeal to ultralight backpackers because they weigh only a few grams. Plus, you only need to carry enough meths to meet your trip needs.
- Meths stoves have very few parts that would require any maintenance.
- Methylated Spirits are inexpensive and easy to find across the NZ.
- The fuel burns silently.
- Alcohol does not burn as hot as canister fuel or white spirits, so it takes longer to boil water and requires more fuel.
- A windscreen is often a requirement.
Solid-fuel Tablet Stoves
These are also a popular choice with ultralight backpackers. Some models are so small that they fold up and fit your pocket.
- Low weight
- Compact size
- Fuel is light and cheap.
- They are slow to bring water to a boil.
- Tablets may have an odour.
- Tablets may leave a greasy residue on the pot’s underside.
Tramping stove specs and features to look at
Below are a few of the other key decision points that will factor into choosing the best tramping stove for you.
The stoves weight: If you’re counting grams on a long, solo thru-hike, your choice will differ from someone who mainly enjoys weekend tramping with mates.
Burn time: When looking at your choices, you can compare how long a stove burns using a given amount of fuel.
Average boil time: This spec can help you choose between models, especially if fuel efficiency is a priority. Some general boiling and simmering guidance:
- Integrated canister systems boil water fastest while also using minimal fuel. Simmering may be possible, but it’s an afterthought in their designs.
- Canister stoves boil water quickly, and some models are excellent at simmering—great for camp gourmets.
- Liquid-fuel stoves boil water very quickly, even in cold weather. Simmering ability varies widely by model.
- Alternate-fuel stoves are primarily for boiling, though they are slower, sometimes by minutes.
Piezo-igniter: This is a push-button spark-producing gadget found on some canister-fuel stoves, similar to what starts your barbeque at home. It’s a handy feature, especially if your matches are lost or wet. However, it would be best to carry a lighter or matches still.
Stabilisers: Sometimes sold separately, stabilisers can be attached to the bottom of fuel canisters to reduce the chance of upright models tipping over.
Stove usage tips
Usage tips for any tramping stove:
- Do not cook inside poorly ventilated areas, open a window if inside a hut, or ensure you have good airflow if you are in the vestibule of your tent.
- Check all fuel lines, valves and connections for leaks or damage before lighting your stove.
- Operate your stove on the flattest surface you can find.
- Consider bringing a multi-tool with pliers if you need to do any field repairs on your stove.
- If your stove comes with a piezo-igniter, it’s still a good idea to always carry storm-proof matches if the piezo-igniter fails.
Usage tips for canister stoves
- New fuel canisters usually contain a small amount of air near the top; after this bleeds off, the fuel will flow and ignite. If the stove tips, a large yellow flame-up may occur.
- In cold temps, keep the canister warm by putting it in your sleeping bag at night or hiking with it in your jacket pocket. Warmth helps keep the pressure up.
- A stove with a pressure regulator will burn more efficiently at higher altitudes, so you can avoid wasting fuel.
- Recycling: You can recycle your spent fuel canisters. Use a tool such as a Jetboil Crunchit to ensure the canister is empty and completely de-pressurised.
Usage tips for liquid-fuel stoves:
- Don’t fill a fuel tank to the brim. Leave room for the air you pump in to pressurise it. Also, fuel expands as it warms, so leaving an air space prevents excessive pressure build-up.
- Empty the fuel tank before storing your stove for several months or longer.
- Use a windscreen.