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A camp stove is a mighty useful object if you're not a fan of the "I'm just going to rub these two sticks together until my wrists fall off" school of wilderness survival. Of course, there will always be something magical and primal about marshmallows roasting over an open fire, but that's a story for another day and another node.

Well, let's get on with the show. What should you think about when you're searching for that perfect stove?

Conditions of use
In a nutshell, this comes down to two questions: who are you going to be cooking for, and where are you going to be doing that cooking? If you venture into the woods solo, there's no need to buy that ultra-mega-gargantuo-stove that, like your SUV, burns a gallon of fuel a minute. Leave those babies for the folks who go camping en masse < /i>, and for those people (scout troops, large families, etcetera) you can't go wrong with the classic Coleman stove. This is the big green monster sold just about everywhere. It's got four burners, a heat shield, hell, the deluxe models come with legs and reflecting oven attachments. However, it is also rather heavy, so it's good mostly for car camping. The Coleman stove is a workhorse, and if you need something durable and dependable, and don't mind the weight, get that. For most backpackers, however, it's overkill.

Most other campstoves are single burner models that run on a variety of fuels, and that's the next thing to consider.

Burn, baby, burn
Most campstove fuels are either your garden variety petroleum products or your simple, straightforward sticks and twigs. We'll consider the former first.

White gas : AKA Coleman fuel, for the manufacturer who most commonly markets it, white gas is one of the more popular fuels. It's lightweight, readily available, (in big red metal gallon containers), and a little goes a long way. (Also, it removes pine pitch instantly from your hands, just make sure you wash them throroughly after applying the gas.) However, a strike against Coleman fuel is that it is rather, well, combustible. Personally, I have never seen something explode or catch on fire because of spilled white gas, but it is something you do need to be concerned about. Keep it in special fuel bottles, either the original containers or something specifically designed to carry fuel, preferably a container with some type of gasket or seal that will protect against leaks.

Kerosene : Also very popular and widely available, some people prefer kerosene because it's less volatile than white gas. I've also heard some testimony to the effect that kerosene is more efficient, but that's just hearsay, as I know of no tests or experiments on that, although they probably exist. The efficacy of a stove is more often due to it's design than anything else. Like Coleman fuel, kerosene is highly portable. Some stoves are advertised as being "dual-fuel" capable; this means that you can use two different fuels, usually white gas or kerosene, or sometimes something else entirely.

Sterno : Sterno is a bottled fuel, AKA "canned heat," which is also fairly popular, depsite the fact that it's heavy, expensive, and generates a lot of waste. (The empty containers cannot be refilled.) The reason for Sterno's popularity is it's ease of use. You just attach the canister to the stove and go. It's also quite versatile- if you've ever gone to a hoity-toity function where tiny flames are keeping the food warm, that's just a polished version of Sterno. It's good for emergency use because you don't have to fiddle with tubes and gaskets like you often do with kerosene and white gas.

Miscellaneous others : The three previously mentioned fuels are the most widely used. However, people are not averse to using other things to heat their food. Some folks use regular gasoline. Yes, the kind you put in your car. I've never done this myself and have no experience with it, so I really have no opinion, although I imagine it's not that safe and is rather stinky. There are also a few stoves out there that use candles as a heat source. Again, I've never used these, so, proceed with caution. There are also alcohol-fueled stoves. Same disclaimer as for the previous two. If you have anything to share about these types of stoves, feel free to add onto this writeup or /msg me and I'll add it in.

Dead trees : At the risk of getting horribly off-topic, always use dead and down (i.e., lying on the ground, and not green) wood for your campfires, or for your wood stove. Green wood smokes a lot and in most places it's illegal to cut down a living tree to make a campfire. That said, there are some campstoves on the market that don't require liquid fuel. All you need to do is set the sucker up, add wood, and let 'er rip. I've used these stoves a couple times and have generally been impressed with their speed, efficiency, and cleanliness. A drawback, however, is that some models require batteries to power a little fan that feeds the flames, and, also, if you're camping somewhere that is lacking in trees (such as a desert, or an incredibly overused public campground) you might be shit out of luck.

Your budget and your safety
There are cheap stoves and there are incredibly overpriced stoves. Stay within your means but remember that you should never settle for something that might be dangerous to use because you couldn't afford something better. Any stove has the potential for injury, so make sure you read the directions- and don't argue with me, just read them. They'll answer a lot of your questions. Talk to your fellow adventurerers and see what they recommend. If you can, try before you buy. If a stove is too complicated for you to use in an emergency, or in less than ideal conditions, don't buy it. As always, your comfort and safety is key.

There are two basic categories of stoves, liquid fuel and gas fuel. First gaseous fuel, things like Gaz and other brands where the fuel comes in a canister that you attach the stove too. There are two more categories in this one, detachable and not detachable. The detachable ones have a valve on the canister that you screw the stove on and off of. In non-detachable ones, the stove punctures the canister, and you have to keep it attached until the canister is out of fuel. I really, really don't like canister stoves. The make a lot of waste, you have to haul the canisters around, and I consider them dangerous. Leaving the gas on an unlit stove can be very dangerous, since most fuel gas sinks in normal conditions, it pools and you can accidently ignite it.

Now liquid fuel ones: they run on a variety of fuels, white gas, kerosene, gasoline, alcohol, etc. The fuel is an important consideration if you aren't camping in North America. White gas will be hard to find, kerosene and gasoline pretty easy. In general, however, white gas (essentially just ultra-refined kerosene) burns cleaner and better than kerosene. Gasoline is not fit to burn in anything except an emergency. Alcohol stoves, rare these days, require a lot of fuel, and don't really get that hot. Stoves can either have a base where fuel is poured, or can have a hose that attaches to a bottle. I much prefer the kind that attaches to a fuel bottle, they eliminate the need for pouring, and are easer and safer to store. Liquid gas stoves mostly work by heating the input pipe with liquid fuel, until it becomes gaseous, at which point it sustains itself. Main disadvantages of liquid fuel stoves are the risk of spill (which is why fuel bottles are mainly carried outside the pack) and the fact that they're a tad complex to use.

There are also solid fuel stoves, for example Sterno. They burn what is essentially napalm. I don't like them either, they generate lots of trash. They are, however cheap. The fuel can get expensive though. another problem is that once a fuel chunk or can has been lit, you really can't put it out and save the rest for later. all in all. Solid fuel stoves tend to be heavy because of all the fuel and canisters you have to carry, but OK for short trips.

Without a doubt in my mind, the only brand of camping stove I would condone is MSR (www.msrcorp.com/stoves). I like the Whisperlites, they're light (11 oz) and burns white gas (and kerosene, depending on the model) and only cost about US$80. They're a little tricky to use, but once you get the hang of it, you can be cooking in 3 or 4 minutes. For real gourmets, you might try a MSR Dragonfly, which lets you adjust temparture a little better and burns more stuff, and for real hard core types, the MSR XGK can burn everything from white gas to brandy, jet fuel, diesel,paint thinner, whatever you got. It'll set you back about $110 though.

Regardless of what stove you buy, be careful with it, don't spill fuel, and if you do, for god sake, move the stove over.


Thanks to Accipiter for reminding me about solid fuel, and wertperch for a few typos.

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