Food and sustenance are essential for survival. We all know that. It’s no exception with Overlanding (noun and verb). Few things are worse than being in the backcountry and being forced to drink cold coffee because you didn’t plan for heating it. I know there are WAY worse things that could happen, but I’m talking about coffee here and that’s serious business. But I digress. No one wants cold coffee or food. What you choose to eat is your deal, but let me help you out in deciding the best way to cook it. There are several different outdoor stove options available.
Let’s start at square one and build from there. All heating sources burn fuel and have an energy output (uh, duh). In the basic form of a stove, wood or gas is consumed, and heat and flames are produced. The way this energy expenditure is measured is called British Thermal Units, or BTUs. One BTU is equal to the amount of energy used to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
Still with me? Good! Most cooking sources will include a measure in BTU per hour. So the higher the number, the more powerful the heating/cooking source is. Easy, right? It’s not that simple. Other items play into the overall effectiveness of the stove such as design, weather, and altitude.
Regardless of BTU, you need to pick the right method for your adventure and your group size. You can try to cook for lots of people on a canister stove, but it would take you all day to do one meal, and you would end up with a majorly hangry group. Also important to consider is the season you’re adventuring in as well as the overall space you want it to occupy both in the rig and at camp.
Most of us know about fires. Many of us use them while out overlanding to cook our meals. This can either be using a campfire or using a bio-stove (one that uses small bits of wood or twigs as the fuel).
In simple settings, they work great for outdoor cooking and as a secondary heat source. Different woods have different BTU levels, but an average of 8,600 BTU can be expected from wood. Fire is easy to create and maintain, so there is little to carry in the rig, provided wood is available. But be aware when it comes to fire, as there could be restrictions due to weather or fire seasons. Even if restrictions aren’t in effect, be careful. Nothing ruins a trip faster than burning down an entire forest and having to call for a danger-close water drop on your position. Keep a bucket of water and a shovel at hand and avoid using fire if it is windy. With keeping safety in mind, nothing connects one with the outdoors quite like a hearty breakfast cooked in a cast iron skillet over a warm fire.
Camping stoves: Canister Stoves
Canister camping stoves are those types of stoves which are attached to a canister of isobutane, or other fuel mixture at the bottom. The BTU can range depending on the mix of fuel but sit somewhere in the 18,000-21,000 BTU.
These little guys are usually the lightest options, weighing in around half a pound or less for stove and fuel. They are better suited towards warmer weather use as the canisters lose pressure in colder temps more than their liquid fuel counterparts. Most people would recognize a JetBoil or an MSR canister stove as popular versions.
Canister stoves are quick to set up and take down and work very well for boiling a liter of water. They are ideal for preparing a freeze-dried meal or making a warm beverage on the trail.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
The liquid fuel stoves were the original backpacking stoves. These models have an integrated fuel tank or a separate gas bottle that is connected to the stove by a hose. These stoves have some of the lowest BTU output. Today they usually burn white gas, but early models were fueled by kerosene. Some multi-fuel models will even burn auto or aviation gas.
Liquid fuel versions are typically slightly heavier and bulkier than the canister stove option, if only by a few ounces in some cases. The liquid fuel is a better option in the colder months as the tank or bottle is pressurized via a pump, and the fuel does not freeze. It is easier to monitor fuel consumption and refill when needed. Some drawbacks include occurrences of fuel leakage in transit and storage lifespan for the fuel.
These stoves are well suited to larger parties with bigger outdoor cooking requirements. They can usually support larger cookware and heat larger quantities of water with their larger fuel capacity than a canister stove. Some models also have more than one burner, although unusual for a stove of this size.
Standard Propane Campground Stove
This option of stove is definitely the most popular with most car campers. They come in many different configurations and options ranging from single burner up to 4 burners with a grill. With so many different build-outs, the BTUs are all over the map. The one commonality is that they almost exclusively run on bottled propane fuel – either the small green bottle or a larger BBQ type 5 gallon LP tank.
As you can tell, there is nothing standard about this option. The most popular version of the campground stove is the Coleman dual-burner. This stove can take care of most families’ outdoor cooking needs on any given trip. There’s a reason the dual-burner propane stove is one that you’ll find in nearly any campsite. Major drawbacks for the campground stove are the size and weight.
But with the larger size comes versatility and capacity. I can attest to the capabilities of the larger grills/burners cooking for large crowds (we cooked for 23 people using one).
There is no one right answer for which stove to take overlanding. You have to play a quirky version of the Match Game and find the best for your needs. You may even find that you’ll own several and switch stoves depending on the particular trip.
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