Propane / Butane / IsobuteneWhite
Stoves vs. Fires
Cooking over a campfire conjures up many romantic images, but
as more and more people discover the joys of outdoor activity,
it is quickly becoming a thing of the past. The forests around
more popular campsites are barren of wood and environmental
concerns prevent us from removing branches from live trees (not
to mention that green wood doesn't burn). Add this to the facts
that wet wood is nearly impossible to work with, that an ax
or hatchet is heavier than any camp stove on the market and
that many parks in Canada and the U.S. are banning open fires,
or imposing fire restrictions during the drier times of the
summer and you will begin to realize that packing your own "fire"
has definite advantages.
Stoves have their own drawbacks: many types use fuels that
come from non-renewable resources (not to mention that the method
of extraction is often less than environmentally sound); small
stoves are not really suitable for large groups of people; many
stoves on the market are finicky and require some playing around
before they operate properly. Still, when all is said and done,
the convenience and lightweight of stoves usually wins out.
The hard part is deciding what stove is right for you. This
is usually determined by what type of fuel the stove uses.
Propane / Butane / Isobutene:
The main advantage of these fuels is their ease of use: strike
a match, turn the knob and presto - a nice blue flame that is
easy to control with a great simmer. But these fuels do have
problems. The fuel is stored as a liquid in sealed metal canisters
under extreme pressures so it will vaporize when released. These
canisters are not reusable, so when emptied they go right to
the landfill (after you have packed them out of course!).
Some manufacturers are starting to introduce methods for recycling,
but so far they are not commonly available. There are other
problems. As the canister empties, it continuously loses pressure
which means a decrease in stove performance: it takes twice
as long to boil water with a nearly empty canister than it does
with a full one. The cooling effect of the fuel vaporizing compounds
this problem, chilling the canister and further reducing the
inside pressure. For similar reasons, these stoves are unsuitable
for cold weather camping. For example, butane will not vaporize
below 0 degrees Celsius; isobutene ceases to vaporize below
-10 degrees Celsius.
The exception is propane which, because of the high pressure
under which it is stored, will continue to vaporize at -43 degrees
Celsius; however, propane must be contained in heavy steel canisters,
making them impractical when weight is an issue. In short, the
ideal user for one of these stoves is someone who does the majority
of his/her camping in the summer months, and uses a mode of
transportation where weight is not much of an issue (camper,
sailboat, car). These users will find the ease of use, clean
burning and flame control to outweigh the disadvantages.
Most commonly known in North America as Coleman fuel, white
gas is also called Naphtha and now MSR fuel. White gas stoves
are probably the most popular type for outdoor enthusiasts for
several reasons: the cost of fuel is relatively low, the stoves
are very efficient even in colder temperatures, and most models
are very lightweight.
Most white gas stoves operate under the same principal: you
pour the fuel into a metal container and pressurizing it with
a pump thereby forcing it through the jet. You can then either
light the stove or you have to prime it (heat the fuel so that
it vaporizes before mixing with oxygen) and then light it, depending
on the model. While they are extremely practical and effective,
white gas stoves tend to have more mechanical failures than
other stove types because of the quality of fuel and the number
of parts found in the stove. For this reason the field maintainability
of the stove may be an issue, especially on longer trips or
in places where fires are not an option. With the purchase of
a maintenance kit the MSR Whisper Lite stove can be completely
re built in the field and is cleaned by simply shacking the
Multi-fuel stoves operate under the same basic principals as
white gas stoves, but they burn a wider variety of fuels (i.e.
Kerosene, jet fuel, Stoddard solvents, some automobile fuels),
making them more practical for travel off the beaten path. The
only real issue is the purity of the fuel: the more contaminated
the fuel, the more likely it is to clog your stove, making it
in operational. For this reason, constant cleaning of the jet
is necessary as is filtering the fuel before you use it. Both
Peck 1 and MSR make this type of stove however the Peck 1 multi
fuel only burns white gas and kerosene. The MSR Whisper lite
international and Dragon fly are a much better bet due to the
ease of cleaning these stoves can be cleaned by simply shacking
Alcohol stoves, while not all that common, definitely have
some features to recommend them. Because alcohol does not require
pressurization to burn, these stoves have very few (if any)
moving parts making them extremely reliable. The low volatility
of alcohol also makes it a very safe fuel to use.
The downside? Alcohol does not produce a great deal of heat,
so cooking times are quite a bit longer than with other fuels.
Also, most alcohol burning stoves come with fairly small fuel
cups, meaning refills might be necessary to finish cooking a
larger meal. To get the most out of a alcohol burning stove,
consider a windscreen and well fitted pots mandatory (most alcohol
stoves come with their own pot set).
These are the stoves that burn small fuel cubes specific to
the stove or the type that burn small twigs, pieces of bark
or just about any other solid flammable material you can get
your hands on. Basically, you place the wood inside the stove
chamber and set it alight; a small battery powered fan forces
the heat up towards the pot. By controlling the fan speed you
can control the heat output. Bulky and useless if you can't
find any dry fuel, these stoves also require nearly constant
attention to keep the flame going and to make sure the meal
you are cooking doesn't burn. However, they do score points
for using a fuel which doesn't harm the environment.
For efficient cooking, a good pot set is just as important
as a suitable stove. Pots are usually made of aluminum, stainless
steel, enameled steel or a combination of two. Each has its
pros and cons.
Aluminum is very light weight and provides fairly even
cooking, but dents easily and there is that pesky aluminum being
linked to health problems issue in the non coated sets. The
MSR Blacklite sets have a non-stick Teflon coating to seal out
the effect of the aluminum and aid in cleaning however just
like the Teflon pots at home you must look after them.
Stainless steel is much more durable, but it is heavier,
more expensive and does not provide as even a cooking surface
as the aluminum. It is still the choice for most outdoor people.
Enamel is lightweight and cooks evenly, however I think every
camper has experienced the chipping and flaking that can seems
to happen immediately after the first use. Combinations of materials
(stainless steel pots with aluminum coatings, aluminum pots
with a more durable enameled coating) try to make the best of
all worlds and often succeed. They can be heavy and expensive,
but if your a back country gourmet they will provide you with
a good cooking experience.
On the other end of the spectrum, if all you need to do is
boil water, just about any pot will do the trick; you may as
well go for the lightest you can find. One way to increase the
efficiency of any pot is to blacken it; this will increase the
heat absorption and may make for more even cooking.
Wind screens should be considered a priority no matter what
the conditions. Wind screens not only block wind, they also
help trap the heat from the stove around the pot speeding up
cooking time. Heat exchangers are bulkier than wind screens
but trap heat more effectively, reducing cooking time and therefore
reducing fuel consumption. This is definitely an advantage on
longer trips where the weight of fuel might be a concern. as
is filtering the fuel before you use it.