Wilderness cooking doesn’t have to be all instant noodles and oatmeal from a packet; a camp stove lets you have all the cooking comforts of home wherever you are—that is, if you buy the right one.
Published Feb. 11, 2020.
Ah, the great outdoors! While fresh air, exercise, and communing with nature all have their benefits, if you’re like me, the best part of camping is the food. Sure, food is a survival necessity, but there’s nothing quite like chowing down on a bowl of chili near the fire or waking up to mountain views and the smell of freshly made pancakes. However, unless you’re adept at live-fire cooking, you can’t enjoy camp food without a camp stove.
Camping stoves fall into two categories: backcountry stoves and car camping stoves (also called “base camp” stoves). Backcountry stoves, which need to be extremely light and compact because they’re meant for carrying with you while hiking, are usually small apparatuses that sit on top of a fuel container and can hold one small pot. While you can cook meals on backcountry stoves with some finesse, they’re primarily meant for boiling water to add to ready-to-eat foods. Car camping stoves, referred to as such since you take them in your car to your campsite, are heavier than backcountry stoves and have one to three burners. For this testing, we focused on car camping stoves because they’re more versatile for campers interested in cooking. We tested eight models, priced from about $45 to about $240, and used them to boil water, make Easy Ground Beef Chili, prepare Perfect Scrambled Eggs, cook 1 pound of bacon, and make pancakes. Since it was also essential to see how the stoves performed in the wild, we also asked testers to take the stoves with them to camp sites around New England.
Most camp stoves operate using a small fuel canister that you purchase separately. Many of the models we tested use propane, just like a gas grill, but in smaller containers. One stove required isopropane-butane (a mixture of different fuels usually sold in canisters at outdoor stores such as REI), and another could be operated with either propane or butane. We also included one camp stove fueled by wood; we were intrigued by its innovative design that uses heat from the fire to power a battery that can charge your phone or power a USB light.
Butane and fuel mixtures such as isopropane-butane are often preferred for backcountry stoves because the cans are lighter to carry, but for car camping, where the weight of your gear doesn’t matter as much, propane is the most versatile option. Unlike butane, propane works at high altitudes and in temperatures below freezing. While we didn’t base our ratings on the type of fuel a stove required, it’s worth noting that 1-pound propane tanks for camping are much e...
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