There’s just something about firing up that camp stove after a long day on the trail. Warm food raises the spirits of your troop and gives you the energy to get up the next day and do it all over again.
“I’ve spent my fair share of time on the trail eating energy bars and bagels,” says Penn Burris, vice president of Backpacker’s Pantry. “But when you’ve backpacked 15 or 20 miles, sitting down to eat something cold that’s not very tasty is really a drag.”
Besides being a former mountain guide and owner of several outdoors gear shops, Burris now spends most of his time at the company finding ways to come up with tastier camp food. He knows tons about cooking with backpacking stoves — and after reading this, you will, too.
There are two main types of backpacking stoves. Liquid-fuel stoves use a liquid fuel such as white gas or kerosene to cook your food. The stove attaches to a fuel bottle with a small hose and requires you to manually pump it to create fuel pressure. They burn hot and are very reliable, but they also require regular cleaning and maintenance.
Canister or cartridge stoves are small burners that screw on top of butane fuel canisters. The fuel is a pressurized gas, so it’s always ready to burn. A lot of models come with a built-in igniter. Though they are not as reliable in cold conditions, “canister stoves are super easy to use and the best bet for Scouts who are new to backpacking stoves,” Burris says.
PRICE: Expect to spend about $40 for a good canister stove. Liquid-fuel stoves start around $70.
FUEL: You’ll also have to pay for the fuel. Butane gas canisters cost about $3 each. That can add up, because they can’t be refilled and reused. You’ll also have to pack them out of the wilderness when they’re empty. That means on a weeklong trip, they’ll be dead weight clanking around in your backpack. Liquid-fuel stoves run on refillable fuel bottles.
“For $8, you can buy a gallon of white gas that will last you for several seasons,” Burris says. It’s a little messy to refill, but they are cheaper in the long run — and better for the environment because there’s less waste.
CLEANING: Liquid-fuel stoves need to be cleaned regularly. Burris says over time carbon builds up in the stove’s port and prevents it from burning properly. The cleaning isn’t difficult, but it must be done.
“With a canister stove you don’t have the cleaning problem,” he says, “but if something fails, you are less likely to be able to get it repaired.”
WEIGHT VS. DURABILITY: You’ll see some ultra-light backpacking stoves at outdoors stores, but unless you’re experienced with stoves, Burris recommends steering clear of those.
“They’re really just stripped down versions of canister stoves built for adventure racers or ultra-light backpackers,” he says. “The problem is they are more expensive, and because the parts are so lightweight they’re not as durable.”
For your first stove, Burris recommends sticking with a standard canister stove because any extra weight will be more than made up for by its reliability and durability.
Stoves help make camp cooking quick and easy, but you have to use them properly. For a complete guide to stove safety, see Chapter 10, “Cooking,” of “The Boy Scout Handbook.” (BSA Supply No. 33105, www.scoutstuff.org, 1-800-323-0732)