There are a number of ways to cook your food while out on trail. When you walk a couple of long distance trails you will see a lot of different options that people use.
Everybody has there own point of view for which is better. You should decide for yourself which stove to carry, in this article I will do my best to explain the differences and in my opinion the pros and cons for each system. Lets get to it!
Gas / Cartridge stoves
Gas and Cartridge style stoves are the most used by hikers and campers alike. The ease of use and highly controllable flame of cartridge gas stoves are the main reasons why they are so popular.
My Kovea Supalite Titanium cartridge stove has been with me for many years and adventures. I mainly use this stove for my hiking needs. I have several older CampingGaz stoves that still use the old prick tanks but those are not used anymore.
You have a lot of options for a gas stove, I suggest looking for the lightest stoves you can find and whichever one fits in your budget. Initial cost is not a huge investment like a new tent for example. But your cook kit and stove is a vital part of your gear.
The MSR pocket rocket is a very popular one with the hiking community, and its only around 40 euro’s. I have used the first model in the past from a friend and its very powerful. My burner is one from Kovea Supalite titanium as mentioned and I have always liked it as well.
Another one that keeps popping up in forums and videos is one from Amazon. The BRS-3000T which is only at the time of writing 16 euros. I have no personal experience with this stove, however they are recommended by other hikers who’s opinion I trust.
But keep in mind that these stoves are mass produced in China and customer service / warranty is pretty much non existent. Something that you do get with MSR and Kovea for example.
Solid fuel stoves
Solid fuel stoves are very popular in the different armies of today and in the past. They are very cheap to produce and can store for a very long time without any side effects. Cook times are usually quite slow because the flame is not pressurized like a lot of the other options.
A very popular solid fuel stove is from the brand Esbit. This is a German company that sells the stoves and the fuel for a very long time. I have had the solid fuel stoves since my very start in to hiking and I believe many of us started with these stoves.
The flame is in almost all the cases not adjustable and that can intervene with cooking. If all you do is boil water for your instant meal. Then it is not such an issue. But if your going to make some simple soups or pasta then you can very easily burn the food.
For short hikes where you can take all the necessary fuel with you in one go the Esbit stoves are a good option. When thinking about bringing a Solid Fuel stove for longer hikes where you need to resupply, think again. Fuel for these stoves is difficult to find. Not impossible, but nowhere near as easy to find as some of the other options. A separate review of the Esbit stove can be found on that page.
Alcohol stoves come in many different shapes and sizes and will always have a soft spot with me. I started making homemade alcohol stoves as a kid from coke cans and every other can I could get. You can find a bunch of YouTube tutorials for this if your interested. And it is a fun way of spending an afternoon. These homemade alcohol stoves are very cheap and can be made in various difficulties. In its most simple form a basic tealight case is all you need.
Cook times are a bit longer than with gas or cartridge stoves and are mostly around the 9 minutes for 1 liter of water. Some stoves you can regulate the heat output and some stoves only burn one way. The type of alcohol fuel matters and can make or brake your cook times and soot on your pots and pans.
Methanol fuel is considered the best and most clean burning of the different types of fuel. But in a pinch you can use pretty much anything that’s higher than 70% alcohol content. The type of fuel I always use is Spiritus fuel that you can get in any supermarket in the Netherlands. For 80 cents you have a liter of fuel that will last you quite a while on trail. Methanol is around 5 euros when you get it at an outdoor store here. 80 cents versus 5 euros is a big difference of course and that played a part in my choice of fuel.
Trangia Alcohol stoves
A big name in alcohol stoves is the Swedish brand Trangia. Their alcohol stoves come in a cook set that is designed around the Alcohol stove. This cook set is a bit heavier than most hikers are willing to carry but are ideal for camping with multiple people. Or hiking in and staying in a base camp.
The Trangia stoves are made of solid brass and are tough as nails, you can also store alcohol fuel in them while not in use. Something of a rarity in Alcohol stoves. This makes them in my opinion also a good candidate for hiking as you don’t have to baby them as much as other alcohol stoves.
Cook time for the Trangia alcohol stove are also around 9 minutes for 1 liter of water. It comes with a simmer ring for if your making something that does not require a lot of heat. Applying the simmer ring can be a bit of a hassle. But at least its there for when you need it.
I carried the Trangia alcohol stove in America on a section hike of the Appalachian trail and for the duration of the Hadrian’s wall path in Britain. It served me well but if your looking for the easiest no frills approach to cooking then a gas stove is more for you.
If your going bushcrafting or hiking then your bound to run in to somebody that’s carrying a wood stove. Its the dream for many hikers to not have to carry fuel around. Different cooking wood stoves have quite evolved over the years, from the Kelly kettle to all the different high tech wood gas stoves of today. I think they are a great option but they do come with some downsides.
Downside is that its more work to get your dinner or coffee ready. That is a point that becomes less important if your not having to get up and go each morning. In my opinion the wood stoves are a great option for more of the base camping style where your centered around a smaller area.
I heard about somebody that was a day ahead of me on the Appalachian trail section hike around Big Bald Mountain that hated his wood stove. At that point it was raining heavy for a few days and everything and everybody was soaking wet. He had to find dry wood and fuel and screw around with the fire making while everybody else at the shelter was eating already. Sure you get better with practice but for many hikers its just to much of a fuss to use. More power to you if you use it successfully.
No stove and cold soaking
Cold soaking is something that is not for me. I think robbing yourself of a warm meal or drink after a long hike is demoralizing. Even with the lighter weight and ease of eating its not worth it for me. It makes you feel like an animal and its disgusting. Feel free to disagree.
That’s all I have to say about cold soaking.
Fuel availability for all the different kinds of stoves
An important feature of stoves in general is the availability of the fuel your going to use. My experience is for a couple of different countries, beware that experiences differ quite a bit country to country. I will elaborate in a future post more about this topic. In general you can get Alcohol fuel pretty much anywhere in the World.
- Gas cartridges are widely available in Western countries.
- Solid Fuel stoves like Esbit you have to get lucky and find a specific store that sells something you can burn.
- Wood stoves are obviously not difficult to find fuel for. You only have to make sure that its dry.
If you have anything to add you can leave a reply below.