Selecting a camping stove is easy once you know the choices and have decided what type of camping trips your family will be taking. Stoves can have one, two or three burners. They will use propane, butane, white gas (“Coleman fuel”), unleaded gasoline, or kerosene. Here is the info you need in order to pick a stove for your trips.
It will be easier for your first few trips if the stove has at least two burners. This will allow you to use nearly all the same food as at home. With two burners, you can have a typical two-pot meal, like pasta on one burner and sauce on the other. You can even add a third pot by heating up one dish and setting it aside while you heat the others.
Brands like Coleman typically offer a couple versions of each two-burner stove, with the difference being the space for the pots. The “standard” sizes are adequate for most small families, and with a little creativity and planning, can function well for up to ten persons. This size can be a good choice for larger families if there will be a campfire which could be used to heat some dishes. Otherwise, you might want to try the extra large size stove, as it will accommodate larger pots and may even put out more heat.
White Gas (“Coleman”) Fuel
You will encounter all the fuels named above such as propane, butane, white gas (“Coleman fuel”), unleaded gasoline, or kerosene. However, I recommend only two real choices – propane or white gas (“Coleman Fuel”).
The white gas stoves will product the most heat of any camping stoves. It burns cleanly without any odor or effect on food taste. If you spill the fuel it will evaporate very quickly and will not leave an odor. This is very important – sooner or later some fuel will spill on your hand or clothes, maybe even on your table. No problem though.
Many of the white gas stoves now come in a “dual fuel” version. This will allow you to use unleaded auto gas. Many campers use the auto gas and are satisfied with it. However, if you spill it or get it on your hands, you will have a hard time getting rid of the odor (check your hands the next time you fill up at the self service gas station).
I recommend using only the white gas in the dual fuel stoves, unless you run out and can’t buy any – then use a little unleaded gas. This is the advantage to the dual fuel stoves.
The main advantage of the unleaded fuel over white gas is cost. Auto gas is about $1.50 per gallon, while white gas is about $4.50. I feel the extra cost for the few gallons of white gas used each year is worth paying so you get the cleanliness of this fuel.
The second fuel option is propane. Propane does not give out as much heat as the white gas stoves, but it has some very significant advantages for family camping.
First, propane stoves are much easier to use. The propane comes in bottles that are screwed into the stove, not poured into a small tank’s filler spout. It will not spill. All you need to do to start the stove is turn on the gas, and light the burner – just like home. There are even propane stoves with built in electronic starters – just like home. This feature makes the transition from cooking at home to cooking at camp easier for most people.
Second, propane stoves are available for use with small fuel bottles, or even large RV type bottles. If you start camping a lot, you will find that the small bottles may be very, very, convenient, but very, very expensive. However, if you buy a stove that has a hose to screw into a larger fuel tank, you can get a better price at the RV refill center. You will also save a lot of bottle changes that can happen right in the middle of cooking your meals.
The propane tanks come in 5, 10 and 20 pound sizes. A typical patio gas barbecue grill has a 20 pound tank. The BBQ tank could be hooked up to a stove for the camping trip. Another option with the propane tank approach is to get the optional attachment that will supply propane to a lantern from the same tank. Now you will have a light in your “kitchen.”
This may be more than you really want for starting out. But if you start with the disposable-bottle type propane stove, you can grow to the tank version later.
A note about the single burner backpacking stoves: These aren’t made for preparing an entire family meal. Nevertheless, they can come in handy as an extra burner, or to carry with you for a picnic lunch away from your base camp. Most of these stoves will be the white gas type. This is because weight is very important when backpacking, and white gas provides the most heat for a given weight of fuel.
Some extra things you will find helpful when using your stove are a windscreen, a starter, a stand, and a fuel funnel (if using white gas).
The heat your stove puts out can be blown away making it take a long time to heat up your meal. Most larger stoves come with built-in back and side windscreens. You will be glad you have them on cool, rainy and windy days.
The stove starter is a long handled sparker that you use to light the burners. You can use a match, but the sparker is much easier and, I believe, much safer. If you get a propane stove, get one with the ignition system built in.
Even though many campgrounds provide picnic tables, you might want to consider a folding stand for your stove. This leaves you with more room on the table for preparing the food, eating, and having the kids play games while waiting for dinner.