Choosing a stove

All stoves have pros and cons depending on where you will be using them and the length of your trip. The MSR Pocket Rocket is one of the fastest and lightest gas stoves, the Jet Boil is easy to use in poor weather and the MSR liquid fuel range are the most reliable and work well at altiitude, but only if you are meticulous about clean fuel.

When choosing a stove consider

  • Is it light and compact? Can it fit in the billies?
  • Is it sturdy enough to take the abuse of mountain camping?
  • Is it easy to set up?
  • Is it stable on uneven ground? Do pots sit well on the top?
  • Which fuel will work the best for your trip? - Consider cost, burn time, availability of fuel and the number of people (see fuels)
  • Can the gas canister be easily detached before it's completely empty?
  • How easy is it to light - does it require priming?
  • Can it be primed with fuel from the stove itself?
  • Will the stove simmer?
  • How easy is the stove to maintain in the field?
  • Does it have a windshield?

TOP TIP -  Carry a lighter stick – they work even when it is wet!

Fuels

Petrol is better as a fuel on trips of more than a few days and gas for overnight trips, unless you have to melt a lot of snow. Petrol stoves generate a lot of heat, but are heavier. Gas stoves are clean and light, but expensive to run and you have to dispose of the canisters. Alcohol stoves are safer and more environmentally friendly, but do not burn as hot. Solid fuel stoves are useless and open fires ruin the environment. The amount of fuel you take will depend on your trip. Are you melting snow? Do you need to cook your food or just add water to a pre-cooked meal? A calculator is available on www.kzpg.com to help you decide how much to take but as a rough guide 250ml (typically 1 hours burning time) for a party of two for an overnight camp double it if you are melting snow

Butane, Propane or Isobutane blend –   Expensive, convenient, clean and easy to light. They burn hot immediately and do not require priming. Easily adjusted for simmering. Can't easily spill. You must carry and dispose of the canisters. Work better than straight butane in cold conditions. Great when weight and convenience are important.

Kerosene –   Inexpensive and easy to find throughout the world and has a high heat output. Does not ignite easily, smelly, burns dirty and spilled fuel evaporates slowly. Priming is required, and it tends to gum up stove parts.

Alcohol -   A renewable fuel resource with low volatility and burns silently. Alcohol- burning stoves have fewer moving parts, decreasing the chance of breakdown. However they have a lower heat output, aren’t good in the cold, require more fuel and this can be hard to find.

White Gas (pure petrol) -   Inexpensive, clean, easy to light. Spilled fuel evaporates quickly but can also ignite quickly. Fuel from the stove can be used to prime it. Can be hard to find in third world countries.

Unleaded petrol -   Inexpensive, easy to find throughout the world. Burns dirty/sooty and can lead to frequent blockage of the jet. An attractive option for backpackers travelling in remote areas, but make sure the stove is easily maintained.

Multi-Fuel Stoves -   Cost more than single-fuel models but if your plans involve visits to a wide range of destinations, the added flexibility is worth the extra cost.

An easily maintained petrol stove is noisy, but better on trips of more than a few days, but the convenience of gas is an advantage for overnight trips

Performance

The stove’s performance is typically measured in the boil time for one litre and can range from 2.5 to 10 minutes - a good range is 3-5 minutes. A stove that boils water quickly is likely to work better at altitude and in the cold. The size and material of your pan, and how sheltered you are, will also affect the cooking time.

At altitude water boils at a lower temperature – at 3000m food takes almost 4 times longer to cook and at 7000m 13 times longer. The most suitable foods are then those that only require warming.

Clean and maintain the stove frequently. Keep the fuel warm and filter it through a coffee filter before use. Use a lid, windscreen, and a reflective base, and consider a heat-exchanger on trips of more than a few days.

To conserve fuel, try the Dutch oven method: bring the food to the boil for about 15-30 seconds, with a lid on. Turn off the stove and keep the pot hot with some sort of insulation around it for about 10-15 minutes. The food will cook as well as if it was boiling, but you use no fuel in this time. This works well with most foods, although some types of rice can be a bit stubborn.

Cooking in tents

Manufacturers of tents tell you never to cook inside your tent because of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires. However, if you have to do so when camping on snow or in a storm, or choose to do so to keep the tent warm, remember the following:

  • Always start the stove outside the tent but take care not to scorch the ground.
  • Have something ready to smother the flames.
  • Check the vestibule is large enough to allow you to cook there.
  • When it is taken inside the tent have a thin piece of closed cell foam with a stiff foil covering, or a thin piece of wood, on which to place the stove,
  • Ventilate because Carbon Monoxide sinks and kills you.
  • When you have finished cooking put the stove outside in case it leaks.

Pots and pans

A proper cook set is better in terms of weight and space than a set from home. Aluminium is the lightest but dents easily; stainless steel is heavier and can scorch the food; titanium is lightweight but expensive. Non-stick coating on your pans sounds great, but in my experience they do not last long.