Before Buying Consider the 1, 2, 3’s
1) Fuel first! If you choose a less expensive stove, but can’t get fuel for it (or afford much), you’ve saved nothing.
2) Complexity of Design or Operation could lead to failing parts (or operator-error that could cause injury to you or the stove). Be prepared to READ the INSTRUCTIONS and always keep them with the stove and re-read before firing it up again, unless of course it’s simply the next meal or day. (Better-to-not-get-literally-burned than to be stubborn about such things.)
3) Get Honest Detailed Feedback…my experience is admittedly limited and my backpacking-days are long since past. But, but, but, go beyond Amazon. I suggest you go directly to outdoor-equipment specialty sites. I found much more detailed reviews that way, even down to How-well-StoveX-simmers (i.e. it was good for true cooking as opposed to merely heating water for coffee or MountainHouse® meals. (Personally, we have never had a MountainHouse entree that was less than Very Good and some were as-good-as-home-cooked! Sadly they have a much smaller selection now than they did three or four years ago.)
At the bottom of the article (“Drumroll, please!”) I’ll make my considered recommendation for the Total-Campstove-Novice. Before that, though, I’ll link to stoves that are very similar to the ones I tested, especially the super-performer Coleman® “Peak1APEX” that “is no more” (though you might find it on eBay, etsy, or similar).
We’d prepared for years before the Texas Valentine’s Day Deepfreeze
Many folks in Texas lost not only power for several days, but running water as well, the week of Valentine’s Day 2021. Fortunately for us, we knew all too well about power-outages striking at random times: sunny and clear, breezy and clear, or dark and stormy. For many years the conditions prior to All Modern Conveniences going KAPUT hadn’t seemed to matter whatsoever. One calm sunny day I’d finally asked a power-company man who’d come by to go into our back yard to assess things: Why, oh why is this always happening to us and not to people up/down/over from our street? His answer was short and more annoying than sweet: SQUIRRELS. Specifically, messing up the transformers.
Needless to say, by the time of the Valentine’s Day Deepfreeze we’d become accustomed to firing up a generator for the refrigerator if it was a hot summer day, firing up the gas-grill for dinner, and lighting a camp-stove for morning wash-up water, coffee, or the simplest grub such as the aforementioned MountainHouse®.
The biggest difference this “outage” was just how dad-gum-blasted COLD it was (and that the outage went on and on and on…)! After two days electricity was restored. But power was still out for so many others I had to come up with something useful to do, otherwise I would have crawled under an empathetic mountain of blankets and awaited the full Return-of-Civilization. Then it came to me: I’d have a contest. A stove contest.
Stove versus Stove
I’d left our two-burner “car camping” propane stove on the porch from the start of the freeze, earlier in the week. Thursday the 18th I gathered around the remaining four in the illustration (I didn’t bother with the “baby brother” one-burner propane stove we have). The Svea® was a brand new purchase (January 22nd). Thank goodness I’d fired it up once, for practice, before the deep-freeze came (and I actually needed it)!
COMPETITION-day CONDITIONS: The chart shows the results but it doesn’t reveal an important factor…Ambient Air Temperature. According to my notes, the morning of the 18th at 8AM it was 20 degrees F; by 10AM it was 24 degrees; but at test time, 11AM, it was back to 23 degrees!
THE COURSE: Each stove was required to heat 8 ounces of water taken from the house, utilizing the same cold teakettle (aluminum Trangia® 0.6 Liter) placed on a cold, unlit stove. The stoves are listed, top to bottom, from slowest to fastest to boil.
THE HANDICAP: It was a breezy day, even on our covered porch, so the two-burner had the advantage of its built-in windscreen. Because of the conditions I used a small multi-fold windscreen with three of the four other competitor-stoves (The Peak1APEX kit had its own).
Fun Fact: turns out I’m almost a collector of Camping Stoves
As I started planning the sketches for this post, “Photo Shoot” popped into my head. Then I remembered two of the stoves I wanted to draw were in the Inaccessible Region of our garage. It was off-to-the-internet for other folks’ photos to sketch from.
First I looked for “Vintage Svea®” (though mine is less than a year old). The picture I settled on linked to a camping-stoves forum. Great. But the picture I wanted wasn’t there, an old unopened Svea box was. Long story short: the particular gem had been procured by the excited Collector but there seemed to be a back and forth in the comments as to whether he should open the box or not. It made me wonder if Stove Collectors were a little like Barbie-doll fanatics…preferring to leave the boxes pristine for a higher valuation.
I promise to never buy a stove without intending to use it!
The stress of a sub-freezing test on both me AND the stoves was valuable in that it quickly clarified:
1) EASIEST to use (Propane and Alcohol = Light a match and you’re cooking!);
2) MOST EFFICIENT (Propane & White-gas);
3) TEMPERMENTAL (Svea® – its priming flame didn’t warm sufficiently, so I added the folding windscreen and tried again);
4) Which needed to be “ALWAYS PREPARED”…i.e. FUELED-UP and ready to light (White-Gas-fueled: my Peak1 & the little Svea® – you don’t want to be pouring gas in sub-freezing weather with bare hands) (bare hands because you don’t want “stray” fuel soaking into gloves);
5) ALL should come with a wind-screen or the buyer should understand they benefit greatly by being used in the shelter of a gas-grill or similar (Alcohol stoves and the Svea®, especially).
Final Thoughts with LINKS
(I get nothing in return for you going to these.) (I notice that many stoves are Out-of-Stock.)
Windscreen, small folding: (https://www.amazon.com/Windshield-Windscreen-Foldable-Lightweight-Backpacking/dp/B07WJF5JVR) mine is like this and I don’t give it many stars. Some small rocks put in various places on interior and exterior keep the wind from buffeting it to and fro. I presume the “pins” at the opening edges could be pushed into the ground but I was set up on my porch table so as to cook standing up.
Stove, Alcohol: the gold-standard seems to be the Swedish Trangia®. It’s all brass and is available in two cook-kit sizes, both of which include the all-important WIND SCREEN. NOTE: if you purchase JUST the burner, it will not come with a POT-STAND, so you’d need to use bricks or similar to shelter the burner and to support your cook-pot. If you have some intention of backpacking or trying the #VanLife, I would recommend getting the Trangia in one of their kits (https://trangia.se/en/). Look for my next post which will go into more detail about alcohol stove-fuels and more.
Stove, Alcohol, copycat: under the same conditions it performed as well as the Trangia burner. But considering what I said, above, you will need to spend additional money to add a better shelter than the linked folding screen. Also consider the cost of lightweight (i.e. quick-heating) cookware, which is a large part of the Trangia kits. Yes, it’s pricier up front, but a great choice, in my opinion, especially if your intention is to use freeze-dried emergency foods or MREs. For COLD WEATHER use I recently discovered they even have a pre-warmer that hooks underneath the alcohol-burner (https://shop.trangia.se/en/accessories/winter-attachment.html). I found one on Amazon without the bottom plate – but no worries, simply set your stove on a leftover 12” x 12” floor tile or other stable non-flammable surface. (UPDATE: it is awesome and of course works with a homemade Brick Pot-Support, too.)
Stove, Propane, two-burner: most STABLE of all the stoves; easy to operate; built-in windscreens…best of all you can get the coffee going AND the bacon and eggs at the same time! (https://www.coleman.com/grills-stoves/camping-stoves/classic-propane-gas-camping-stove-2-burner/SAP_2000037883.html)
Stove, Propane, one-burner: a Coleman® like my old Primus® stove (https://www.coleman.com/grills-stoves/camping-stoves/bottle-top-propane-stove/SAP_2000038235.html)
Stove, White-gas, self-contained (i.e. no separate fuel-container), Svea: (https://www.campsaver.com/optimus-svea.html) This happens to be the company I bought mine from. Fast service, fair price. Here’s a nice video run through: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z2fiRODiCE)
Stove, White-gas, Separate fuel-container: I have never owned and MSR® stove. It’s a respected brand, though, and the stoves seem very well received. (https://www.msrgear.com/stoves/liquid-fuel-stoves) All the MSR stoves at the link are substantially the same. I was quite surprised to see that they, like the SVEA, require pre-warming the stove “head.” These MSRs do it in a more or less “hands-free” manner, (unlike the SVEA, which requires placing the fuel or gel in a hard-to-reach area – if you keep the included windscreen in place). Watch their video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXXaIU0VNx0) to see the specific differences between the models (Fuel-bottles sold separately and the “windscreen” included looks like a piece of heavy aluminum foil!). I like the MSR DragonFly®, which is (of course) the most expensive model. However, it is the closest in OPERATION to my Peak1APEX.
NOTE: my Coleman® Peak1APEX does NOT require pre-warming AND the pressure-mechanism is left IN the fuel bottle and so is attached and detached from the stove-head). I forgot to sketch the WindScreen that comes in the Peak1APEX kit. It is aluminum and fits over and sits on the burner to give a bit more protection from the wind, so the folding-screen was not used in the test for this stove.
Taking into consideration the “1, 2, 3’s” listed at the start of this post, my highest recommendation for the Total-Campstove-Novice is an Alcohol Stove. And, as I’ve noted above, consider purchasing it with the full Trangia kit if you have little or no cookware and/or are moving into the “minimalist lifestyle.”
“But wait, there’s more”
In my next blog post I’ll share more pics of this awesome homemade “Brick Alcohol-Stove Pot-Support,” as well as results of a burn-test of various “alcohol fuels” including Everclear (done in the little 3.5″ Ohuhu-cup shown in pencil drawing with the “25-kit,” above). Discover along with me, the results of a Fuel-versus-Fuel challenge using the classic/large Trangia®25 (pitting traditional “Klean Strip” fuel against Everclear).
I gotta say, I had a blast cooking in cast iron on the tiny Trangia alcohol-burner! So…if YOU have a few nice bricks around, don’t order that Trangia® kit quite yet!
‘Til next time!