When it comes to preparing a meal while out on your hiking trip a stove will certainly come in handy. There are a lot of options out there from a simple alcohol stove, gas, pressurised liquid and solid fuel burning models, not to mention a good old fashioned fire. Whilst hiking in Australian National Parks however a fuel stove is required and the fire pit will have to stay at home.
When deciding what type of stove to choose it is important to consider what type of cooking you plan to do.
Are you and outdoor gourmet who will spend hours juggling pots and creating a perfect meal for you and your companions?
Are you more of a boil some water and pour it into the bag containing your freeze dried meal and struggle to wait the ten minutes for it to rehydrate?
Perhaps you are in the middle and want a bit of both worlds.
Another thing to consider is will the stove be more than a cooking device, will you be needing to melt snow for all your drinking water and therefore need to rely on the stove to operate at very low temperatures, high altitudes, be efficient and repairable in the field.
Lets have a look at some of the typical stoves on the market.
Alcohol stoves can be as simple as a “Fancy Feast” stove. Yes you read that right a stove made from a Fancy Feast cat food tin with some holes punched in the rim to allow the stove to combust.
The classic Trangia Stove and Cook set is an alcohol stove, a small burner is contained in an aluminium housing allowing the pots or frying pan to be suspended over the flame. It is generally classified as a slow method to heat and boil water and the weight of the set is quite high in comparison to other stoves. In saying that the Trangia is quite a versatile stove if you want to get creative with your cooking.
Gas stoves are the most common these days and there are hundreds of models available. Some stoves are designed to simply turn cold water into boiling water in the shortest period of time. Some models of the ‘Jet Boil’ are good examples of this, such as the ‘Flash’ model. These gas stoves also feature heat exchangers which act to channel the heat from combustion to the base of the pot as efficiently as possible. These stoves are also designed to be a modular system where the burner and gas canister can be stored inside the pot to make transport easier.
Most gas stoves will give you the function to reduce the heat output allowing you to gently simmer a meal and avoid scorching it to the bottom of your pan. Jetboil’s MiniMo is an example of this.
Simple gas burners attach to the top of your gas cylinder, these burners are generally the lightest and afford the greatest number of options on the market. These stoves typically come as just a stove only and you will be need to purchase cookware separately. The 360 Degrees Furno stove is a good example of this.
There are many options in this market. Keeping an eye on weight and functionality is important.
A quick note on the Gas itself, there are generally two types a three season mix and a four season mix. The difference is in the ratio of Butane, Isobutane and Propane. Higher percentages of propane provide a higher vapor pressure at lower temperatures and the Isobutane provides more constant pressure as the fuel gets lower. Think of a standard lighter filled solely with butane, if you leave it out overnight in the cold you get a small flame when you light it, as it sits in your hand for ten minutes it warms and the next light produces a bigger flame. The higher the Propane and Isobutane as opposed to simple Butane the better your canister will work.
This isn’t really an issue unless you are planning on using your stove in close to zero degrees Celsius or lower. You can mitigate this loss in performance by keeping the canister in a coat pocket or sleeping bag prior to use. I have kept my gas close by and when I begin to wake in the morning I bring it into my sleeping bag to warm and then into my jacket pocket when I get up until right before I use it. Insulating the can from the cold helps as well, if you are cooking outdoors then sitting the can on a small piece of board or plate firmly on the ground can prevent the can cooling.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
Liquid fuel stoves are different from alcohol stoves due to the type of fuel (shellite, petrol, diesel, etc) they use. Putting these fuels in an alcohol type stove will end in a fireball, which could be dangerous.
These liquid fuel stoves rely on building pressure in the fuel canister by way of a pump mechanism. This pressurised fuel is then released in a small quantity into a priming cup and then ignited. This ignition and priming turns that liquid fuel into a gas vapor which when the priming process is complete will burn as a gas.
As you can probably gather from that explanation these stoves are a bit more complicated to use. However these stoves are great if you need to melt snow for water, are traveling in remote locations or at altitude. Some models will burn multiple types of fuel from petrol, kerosene, shellite or diesel. These multi fuel stoves are awesome if you are going into remote countries where you may need to adjust what you are burning due to what is available.
Solid fuel stove are quickly becoming obsolete as many National Parks do not allow them to be used as they can not be easily extinguished and in the case of wood burning options leave embers and require the user to collect twigs as fuel which encroaches on the leave no trace philosophy.
Hexamine stoves use a fuel tablet similar to a firelighter and the user simply places it in the stove unit and lights it with a match or lighter. These stoves were originally issued through the military and do still have a following especially amongst the bush craft and survival crowd due to their simplicity and reliability.
For us hikers there are limited areas they can be used and the fuel tablets are not pleasant to smell, they tend to leave residue on the pots which is not ideal when you need to repack your bag.
As you can see there are a lot of option to choose from and as I mentioned above, the best stove is the one that suits the requirements of your trip.
I keep a few stoves in my collection to use depending on the trip I am taking and what style of cooking I will be doing.
For getting hot water quickly to prepare freeze dried meals I typically use either my Jetboil Flash or its new cousin the Jetboil Stash. The fast boiling enables me to utilise gas efficiently and simply pour hot water into the food pouch and the remainder into a Cup-a-soup and have dinner prepared in ten minutes or so.
If I plan to use packet rice or pasta as a staple food on the trip I choose a stove that allows me to simmer and provide gentle heat once the water has already boiled. In this instance I will use a Furno 360 stove and pot set or a BRS3000T and titanium pot. The latter combination is a lighter option coming in at just over 100g in total.
My Trangia remains in my collection but in all honesty I haven’t used it in over ten years and given its size, weight and finicky use I will probably keep it as a relic as times gone by. This does not mean they are not a good reliable stove, it means for me it doesn’t meet the needs of my trips.
I recently sold my liquid pressurised MSR Whisperlite and wish I hadn’t, I plan to do some Winter hiking again and this is great at melting snow and as it vaporises the fuel to produce a gas it isn’t as affected by seriously low temperatures and gas can be. I guess I will be eyeing off the sales until I find one at a good price.
So there you have it, hopefully enough information that you can decide which type of stove or stoves will suit your plans and cooking style.