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There is a lot of portable camping stove and oven options out there. In fact, the choices have gotten to be pretty out of hand. With all the cheap stoves on the market today it can be hard to decide which one is the best deal for your needs. I have found it is helpful to break stoves down into different categories based on fuel type and purpose.
There is no stove that is perfect for all situations and group sizes so I have tried to include a good variety of stoves from ultralight backpacking stoves to larger stoves for bug out cabins and family car camping trips.
Small stoves that reach high temperatures on little wood fuel are sometimes known as rocket stoves. These are amazing and affordable stoves that are lightweight and very compact. For those that want to go as light as possible, paying more for a folding titanium rocket stove may be worth the investment.
More sophisticated wood burning stoves like the Biolite can help provide you with some electricity when out on the trail as well as a range of accessories such as a grill or even some low voltage lights. I like how versatile the stove systems is but that versatility and special features puts this stove system in a price range that only serious campers and backpackers want to spend. The bundle comes with a grill and a coffee pot with a french press feature for a great cup out on the trail.
The Biolite and all the accessories add up to a hefty weight for something designed for backpacking. The bundle comes in at just over 7 lbs which is a lot more than I would want to haul around when on a backpacking trip.
These wood-fired stoves are known for their fast boil times and exceptional quality. The smaller Solo Stove Lite weights a mere 9 oz and has a boil time that averages about 8-10 minutes. This stove is a good choice for a single person or couple that wants to go as light as possible. For a slightly bigger version with a boil time of 4-6 minutes, you will want the Titan. This stove still only weighs in at just over 16 oz!
Solo wood stoves are not the least expensive stove out there but they are made to last and stand up to the rigors of the bush. The boil times are very impressive too. I know that I really don’t like having to wait forever to reach boiling point when I am hungry or want something hot to drink when out in the bush.
Solo Stoves can also be used with an alcohol burner which is sold separately. Sometimes it is nice to have a second fuel option, especially when in areas where there is very little or no firewood that is easy to get.
Propane stoves are great because the fuel is easy to get and they cook well. In fact, a lot of people prefer propane because it closely mimics the cooking experience they have at home on their conventional gas ranges.
Earlier this month, Matt and I went camping with his parents and our niece and we used a Coleman propane stove to cook on when not cooking over the fire. It rained a lot during this trip so it was nice to have a backup cooking method on hand. The stove takes the standard 1 lb propane canisters that you can purchase at many convenience stores and box stores like Wal-Mart.
While I know that the canisters can be costly compared to the price of propane in larger tanks, you can get refillable 1 lb canisters and use those. Of course, that can be an extra hassle so unless you plan on using a propane stove that takes small canisters a lot, it may not be worth it to you.
White Gas or Coleman Fuel Stoves
The Coleman camp stove has been around a long time. They are very reliable and can be used on a picnic tabletop, making them a popular choice for families and car campers.
Coleman fuel is available at practically any grocery store. In my area, you can get it at just about any store that sells household goods. A gallon or two of fuel is easy to put back and have on hand for tough times. Fuel goes a long way too so you can be prepared for an extended emergency.
When Matt and I first got together in college he had one of these stoves. Years later we still had it. The only reason we got rid of it is we didn’t realize at the time that we could have easily refurbished it and kept in going. It was one of those live and learn lessons. At just over 13 oz without fuel, this is a lightweight stove that delivers a lot of cooking power.
The Whisperlight Universal runs on basically any fuel. You can choose from isobutane-propane, white gas, kerosene, or even unleaded gasoline!
Fuel Tablet Stoves
A fuel tablet stove is essentially a metal stand that can support a small pot, frying pan, or cup, that is fueled with tablets that behave a lot like Sterno fuel. While I am not a fan of this stove type for regular use, I can see how they would be nice to have for an unexpected emergency. They are an option when you do not want to create smoke or are in an area where there is no firewood readily available. I would consider one of these for a get home bag or car survival kit.
The tablets are not inexpensive and it would be difficult to utilize this style of stove for more than 2 people for any length of time. Since the stoves are small and folding, it is impossible to use them as a wood fired stove. It may be possible to use an alcohol burner if you have one.
I like these little stoves and keep one in my camping pack. These simple alcohol burners are lightweight and portable. While they will burn with 70% alcohol, they burn the longest and hottest with 90% “pure alcohol”.
Alcohol stoves have no moving parts and there are no rubber seals to go bad except the one that keeps the stove from spilling when it is being transported, so it should last a long time if properly cared for. Their small size makes them best for 1-2 people but one could be used to cook for up to 4 in a pinch.
Alcohol has a lower burning temperature than propane, or white gas so these stoves will cook a little slower than those fuels. Temperature control on this type of stove is limited to “on” or “simmer” which is achieved by placing the top brass ring over the burner to control airflow.
Care must be used when operating these simple stoves if one is knocked over when in use the open reservoir will spill flaming fuel.
Matt and I picked up this little alcohol stove at Carolina Readiness Supply. It is a very affordable option for those that want a simple burner with a strong stand for supporting larger pots. The boil time for 32 oz of water is around 8 minutes. The stove and stand are made in Sweden which I found surprising considering the price point but not surprising in terms of the quality of construction. If you want to try out an alcohol burner, this one is a winner.
Solar Stoves and Ovens
A lot of people are familiar with the Sun Oven and what it offers those that are living off the grid or that move around a lot and want a stove option for cooling large meals.
There are more compact solar cooking options out there. The tube style solar ovens fit in a much smaller space but still cook a large meal.
This is one of the more well-known brands out there. It is a bit bulky for on the trail but is great for car camping or taking to an off-grid location as long as you have a way to haul items in. The oven can be used as a dehydrator or water distiller if you have the right accessories. While some may think that solar cooking gadgets would struggle to reach a high temperature, the Sun Oven can reach temps as high as 400 degrees F!
The Sun Oven is a considerable investment for preppers so you need to ask yourself just how much outdoor cooking you plan on doing. The amount of sunlight you average per day and your climate are factors to consider but plenty of people in cold places get good results with solar cookers, even if they take a little more time to reach temperature.
The GoSun is a smaller solar cooker with more limited function than the SunOven. For those that want to test out solar cooking with something that is very compact, the GoSun is a reliable brand.
Larger Yet Still Portable Stoves
Some may not want a small stove that can be stashed in a backpack. What if you are looking for a stove that you can use for car camping or at a cabin you occasionally use? There are larger yet still portable stoves that are worth being aware of if you need something that is versatile for use at various locations and suitable for group situations. Some of the stoves listed here could be transported to a cabin for part of the year or they could be a good back up in case of an emergency.
This is an extremely affordable barrel stove with an optional tank that allows you to have hot water off grid! The easy to use tap on the side is very convenient. I love the idea of having warm water on demand while heating a tent or cabin. This stove is also an option for those that want an inexpensive yet portable option for a bug out location. The pipe and everything you need except the water jacket, fits into the barrel section of the stove for easy storage or transport.
The EcoZoom caught my eye a long time ago because it is a very basic style but it is made to be heavy-duty enough to use a large pot. The stovetop is constructed of cast iron so nothing flimsy to warp or bend due to heavy use. I like that it has a rack for supporting larger pieces of wood as they are fed into the fire.
These are great for family and group camping trips. They are a bit large and do not break down for transport but they offer a cooking option where open fires are not allowed.
The combustion chamber itself is insulated so you get a lot of heat right away and more out of each log. At 13 lbs this is not a lightweight stove but it is a reasonable option for stashing at cabins or for car camping.
I have to include this oven because it has served our family so well. You can bake a 13″ x 9″ casserole and use two fill sized propane burners to round out your meal. My husband’s parents used this oven for more than 3 months while their house was being remodeled.
Questions to ask yourself when deciding what stove or stoves are best for you
- How many people are you going to be cooking for?
- Will you be camping with a car or other transport or do you want a stove that is lightweight and small enough to pack into remote locations?
- What type of fuel do you prefer? Remember that having multiple fuel options can be nice because you may in an area where wood and debris are sparse or non-existent. Wet conditions can make it hard for you to get a fire going without using something besides wood.
- How often will you be using the stove? Do you plan on getting away regularly, car camping on the weekends, or is the stove just in case of an emergency? These questions may be relevant to how much you want to spend on your stove or if you want to buy more than one type.
- What is your budget? The stoves in this article range from under $20 to $200. Stoves, like all gear, vary a lot in price.
- Do you want a stove that will provide heat or just a stove for cooking?
Camping Stove Maintenance
Like any piece of gear, a stove may require some maintenance over the years. If your stove uses liquid fuels or gas then you want to be sure to have a refurb kit complete with seals. A bad seal on a stove can cause fuel to spew out which can be very dangerous. If your stove starts to have even a minor leak, it needs to be addressed immediately.
You also don’t want to throw out a great stove just because it has a minor leak that can be fixed for just a few dollars. The higher-end camping stoves are made to last and be as easy to repair as possible.
Whatever stove you decide to buy, make sure to look up how to clean and maintain it and check for any aftermarket kits for refurbishing it. Order the supplies and parts necessary to keep your stove going and put them back in your preps.
Long Term Fuel and Fire Concerns
There is a big difference in thinking about fuel for a stove during good times and during a long emergency or SHTF scenario.
Propane, white gas, alcohol, and even wood can be problematic to acquire during a long emergency.
Consider carefully your area and what would be most available to you. For a lot of us, a stove that uses wood makes the most sense if buying fuel at the store is not possible.
Of course, it is entirely possible to put back some extra fuel to get you through some hard times. Consider putting back some extra propane cylinders, Coleman fuel, etc.
Remember that camp stoves require an ignition source so you want to be sure to not overlook having some matches and lighters in your preps. Periodically check your fire-starting kit so when you need it you don’t find that the lighter fluid has leaked out or your matches won’t strike.
I am a big fan of wood-fired stoves but they can be cumbersome and annoying when you want to eat or drink something fast or all the wood around you is damp. In our area, there are people that actually volunteer to walk trails and throw good firewood in the rivers or creeks to prevent people from having campfires.
Firewood can become a lot harder to find during long emergencies when people realize they cannot get other fuel and wood is all they have. The problem with wood is that it does make a noticeable amount of smoke and smell so it is not a good idea if you are trying to stay hidden. Rocket stoves can help reduce the odds of being discovered somewhat because they don’t require a lot of wood and they reach a boiling point very fast.
Open fires can be hazardous during dry periods and drought which is part of the argument for having a contained stove to cook on and not just a fire ring. It doesn’t take much to start a devastating fire given the right conditions.
What is your favorite stove for camping? Have you had a negative or positive experience with any of those discussed in this article?