One of the most important pieces of camping gear is the stove. In our article about camping food ideas you’ll find that the stove is the heart of the meal. You, of course, can do your cooking in cast iron over the open fire, but cooking every meal like that is not for the faint of heart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, it’s entertaining, and the food comes out delicious, but it’s just not practical for every meal. So let’s talk about the camping stove. But one more thing, keep in mind that most of the gas camping stoves and tips described below are related to car camping. Stay tuned for an article geared towards backpacking stoves, which are smaller and lighter.
Propane vs Electric
A Propane camping stove is going to be very versatile and many of them run off of the camping stove small propane tanks which are very portable or the larger tanks that are typically used for the backyard barbeque. Electric camping stoves are somewhat problematic, you see they need electricity! Most camp sites are not going to have electricity, but if you always camp in areas with electrical hookups then they might work for you. I know at home most people prefer cooking on gas so this article is going to focus on the propane camping stove. There are a lot of factors to consider; including BTU’s, construction, including size and weight, wind blocks, how easy it is to clean, and of course costs, plus bells and whistles such as auto ignition.
Let’s start with BTU’s, BTU’s measure how much energy is required to heat a pound of water by 1 degree. So basically how hot are the burners, how quickly will they cook (or burn) your food. If you are doing a lot of boiling or heating large items and large iron skillets then look for more BTUs. Otherwise it might not be the most important factor. And if it boils your coffee water to fast you won’t have a chance to relax in your comfortable camping folding chair.
Construction: how durable is it, is it as heavy as a lead brick or as light as a feather? This factor will have to do with the material it is made from, usually either steel or aluminum. Steel is usually tougher but weighs more and could rust. Also think about the size, can it fit on a standard campsite picnic table? We usually take a fold up rectangular table for this purpose and try to save the picnic table for eating. It makes a big difference. Don’t overlook the construction factor; you want a stove that will last a long time.
The design of the camping stove will affect how easy it is to clean. Are there a lot of cracks and crevices where food is going to get stuck and be difficult to get out? One seamless piece under the burners is the best choice. And look for a cooking grate that is easy to remove and clean as well. It is best if there are not a lot of little parts to disassemble and clean, less is more, such as the solo stove Yukon.
On a typical camping stove the lid opens up and there are flaps on the sides that attach to the lid. The lid and flaps combine together to block the wind from blowing on the flames and reducing the efficiency of the burners. Look for side flaps that securely attach to the lid. This is often a weak point that allows the lid to flop down, it can get annoying.
The auto ignition function is fantastic. You turn on the gas, click a button and voila you are cooking with fire. It’s not the worst thing in the world to light the burners manually with a long lighter or match but it is slightly more dangerous and more troublesome. Keep this feature in mind as optional when comparing costs.
That leads us right into budget. As with most things the more you spend the more you get, but there are some great stoves that can be found in the mid-level price range. Most decent stoves are going to start at $50-$60 and go up to well over $100 from there. Sticking somewhere in the middle you should be able to find a quality stove that will allow you to cook gourmet meals in the woods for years to come.
As for specific brands, the Coleman camping stove has been around for years and has a solid reputation. Coleman has many models to choose from. However competition has been “heating” up over the years and there are quite a few really good brands to choose from including; Primus, Stansport, and Camp Chef, to name a few. Amazon and REI will both have some good camping stove reviews. Make sure to read those before buying one.
In the end, the best camping stove is the one that can help you cook a great meal in the great outdoors. If you follow these guidelines above you can’t go wrong. And read our article about camping food ideas once you are ready to test our your new camping stove.