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Here is a little guide to what you need to know when considering buying a stove. There are a million stoves to choose from, some great, some entirely useless. From tiny pocket stoves to family sized barbecue grills, the world of outdoor cooking is massive and initially confusing. To make things more complicated you can get many models made from different materials. Stainless steel or titanium, for instance. And what fuel do you want to use, and why? Should you get a stove that needs a support team to transport it or does it need to be so small that it fits in to your purse? Do the tiny stoves work as well as the big stoves? And realistically, wouldn't it just be simpler to stay at home?

To make it simple we can start by eliminating some of the things that you are not looking for. For the purposes of bushcraft we are going to concentrate on single burners, with the exception of a couple of examples of double burner expedition stoves. And then we'll ignore anything that runs off a large refillable gas bottle as we only really want to take one rucksack. So where to start?

There are two ways of measuring the thermal capabilities of a stove, BTU (British Thermal Unit) or boil time. The boil time is the time it takes to boil one litre of water. This is so simple to understand as usually stove specifications state BTU and boil time so it's easier just to ignore the BTU rating. It is worth noting however that the boil time is given without taking the factor of wind in to consideration.

Wood Stoves


Wood stoves are a nice option for those who want a more natural, low cost fuel option. There are two different types: forced convection, which uses a battery operated fan to force air through the combustion area thus increasing burn efficiency, and natural convection, which draws air in from the bottom of the combustion area using the chimney effect of the heat rising. I don't personally have much experience of either of these stove types but one of the more talked about options is the Woodgas Stove, a forced combustion option. The obvious disadvantage to these stoves is battery life.

Pros: Wood is widely available and free, you are very unlikely to run out. There are many compact and lightweight models available and they are not especially expensive. They are also fairly easy to make yourself.

Cons: Depending on the weather, wood can be difficult to light. While wood stoves are relatively efficient there are far more powerful stoves available.

Worth also mentioning the kelly kettle. This is a kettle that works on the principle of the rocket stove. You make a fire in the bottom using which ever combustible materials are available, for example twigs or leaves and the fire burns up through a chimney, again the heat rising draws air in through the bottom to fan the fire. Around the chimney is a water reservoir and as the heat rises through the chimney the water is also heated.

These are wonderful bits of kit and the water boils quickly. More commercial models come with attachments so you can use the heat for cooking too.

Solid Fuel Stoves


These are about the cheapest stoves to buy but are no necessarily the cheapest to run. A solid fuel stove can be as simple as a tray that folds open, the opening becoming a pot support. Fuel tablets are used as a heat source. These are easy to light in most conditions but do not give out a lot of heat, especially if you are trying to use them in windy, unsheltered conditions.

Pros: Cheap to buy, lightweight and compact. They are almost maintenance free and very clean.

Cons: Low heat means longer cook time. No real alternative if you run out of fuel.



Trangia is an all in cooking system that is based around an alcohol burner. They are lightweight and reliable. They have been around for years and have remained almost unchanged, although slightly different variations are available. Users over the years have and still do include Scouts and military. Boil times again are on the slow side but to most this is an unimportant detail.

Pros: Lightweight and no bigger than a set of camp pans. Cheap to run and fuel efficient. Self contained cookware system and undeniably proven. Almost indestructible. Fuel is also cheap and widely available.

Cons: Again, slow cook time. Alcohol burns clear and it's difficult to see if the burner is alight meaning this can be hazardous.

Cartridge Mounted Stoves


Cartridge stoves are very popular for a number of reasons. The stoves themselves are generally small and very light. The GoSystem Fly Ti (titanium) appears to be the current lightest at around 47g. This is a very wide ranging category though. It ranges from the light weight, folding, compact jet engines with 2min 30sec boil times brought to us by the likes of MSR (Pocket Rocket), Coleman (F1 Power PZ) and Primus (Micron Ti 2.5) to the horrible wire framed puncture cartridge stove that your family used on that camping trip when you were a kid.

These days these stoves run mainly on a Butane/Propane mix generally 70/30 but sometimes 60/40. The two gasses are mixed together to try and cancel out their individual downsides, for instance butane will not become a gas until it reaches -2 degrees C and so does not burn well in cold weather. Propane assumes a gas state above -40C. Butane is a cleaner, less toxic fuel than propane and contains more energy.

These stoves can be used all year round and at altitude, generally to a temperature of -10C and are very reliable.

These stoves are generally very user friendly and easy to use. They are easy to light, the temperature can be controlled fairly accurately and this means that you are less likely to burn food. They take up the least amount of room on their own but the longer you are out for the more cartridges you are going to need and this can take up space. They do however supplement other stoves and can be taken along for use if your main stove fails for one reason or another.

It is worth getting a higher end model when it comes to cartridge mounted stoves, the ones mentioned above being some of the best.

Pros: Tiny and light. Ferocious boil times. While they are more expensive than a lot of the alternatives they are generally cheaper than the multi fuel equivalent. Very clean and low maintenance.

Cons: Most expensive fuel. Easy to misplace or lose, even within your pack. Some models can be delicate. Care must be taken when cooking as they can be unstable, especially when using the narrower or taller cartridges. As the cartridge de-pressurizes the gas becomes colder and the pressure lower, this limits cooking time, you can however change cartridges and then use the original one after it has warmed up again.

Multi fuel stoves


Multi fuel stoves are a must have if you spend a lot of time outdoors. They also tend to be the most expensive. There are several types, ignoring the less portable double burners and all in one type stoves with the built in tanks, we are left with the expedition stoves. These often fold down to become quite compact but are generally bigger and heavier then the cartridge stoves.

The best fuel to use is white fuel or in some cases, cartridges can be attached upside down so that the liquid is drawn off. They can also be used with petrol, paraffin (kerosene) and in some cases, diesel. However it is suggested that these fuels are only used if you run out of the cleaner white fuel as they are dirtier and less efficient.

These stoves work by preheating the liquid fuel so that it is in vapour form when it gets to the burner. This is done in two ways, a lot of these stoves have a generator, a thin tube that carries the fuel through the flame before it is released into the burner in vapour form. This means that the stove has to be preheated. This is either done by priming, pouring a small quantity of fuel on to the burner and lighting it or by releasing liquid fuel into the burner and lighting it. When the generator is hot you open the valve until the stove is burning as you like.

The other way is by a vapour plate. Fuel is squirted over a metal plate or wick beneath a metal plate and ignited. When this becomes hot fuel is injected on to the bottom of the plate where it vaporises and is pulled round the plate to the burner by the draught caused by the flame above. These stoves can require a little practise to get lighting right and it's worth being quite cautious at first as releasing the fuel before the preheat system is at the correct temperature can cause large flames.

Fuel is driven by pumping air into the reservoir, the less fuel in the bottle, the more air is needed to push the fuel through the pipes. On the expedition stoves, the fuel is usually fed from a bottle separate from the stove. This will have it's own lid and the pump can be withdrawn from the bottle so that the fuel and stove can be stored separately.

Most of the multi fuel expedition stoves fold so that they take up less room. These stoves require maintenance more often that the cartridge mounted stoves, the are usually several seals and valves and the fuel nozzles need unblocking. Also, if using petrol or similar, they become dirty quickly and need cleaning more regularly. A good stove will come with its own tools, bag and windshield. Extra fuel bottles are brought separately and the fuel lasts a long time. Maintenance kits with replacement parts are usually available.

Usage is more or less anywhere. Although more difficult to light, once they are burning all you have to do is pump the bottle up occasionally and change the temperature.

Pros: Fuel efficiency. Generally wider then cartridge mounted stoves and therefore more stable. Usable in most environments.

Cons: Can be very expensive. Require regular maintenance. Fuel can be hazardous.

Hopefully that should shed a bit of light for those who find the subject confusing.

The stoves that I use and am happy with are:

Coleman F1 lite

Coleman F1 Lite.jpg

It is a tiny cartridge stove that has a 3 minute boil time. It folds down into a little stuff sack that fits in the palm of your hand. It has never let me down and cost about £25.

Optimus Nova+

Optimus Nova+.jpg

This is a multi fuel expedition stove which uses the vapour plate. It cost about £130 and after four years it still works fine. It features a clever self purging system, when you have finished using it you simply turn the fuel bottle over and it burns until the fuel lines are empty. Another clever feature is that it has a magnetic pin that cleans the nozzle, you run the supplies multi tool, which also has a magnet under the body of the stove and it pushed the pin up through the nozzle. I've found that it's the little details like this that really make a difference and set some stoves apart from the rest. I've been running this stove on 2 stroke mix for about a year now and although a little dirty it still works fine.

Coleman Exponent Xpedition 2 Burner

Coleman Xpedition.jpg

This is my favourite stove. It's a folding two burner generator stove. It was designed to run on Coleman Max cartridges, now discontinued and now runs from an upturned cartridge through an adaptor as a liquid gas burner. This is great for camping with my daughter or for when you want to boil water and cook at the same time. Coleman, for whatever reason, have discontinued this model. They did produce a multi fuel double burner, the Gemini which seems to have now been discontinued. The only other option that I know of for an expedition two burner stove is made by Primus which runs off two separate cartridges.

I also use a Kelly kettle.

Kelly Kettle.jpg

I wouldn't necessarily say that my choices are any better that a lot of other stoves about, they are just the ones that suit my needs. And indeed I only really have in depth experience of the stoves that I own. I've never visited an outdoor shop where they will demonstrate a stove and with internet sales becoming more and more the norm, more and more people are buying blind. So if you know anyone who can lend you a stove that you're interested in or demonstrate one to you, and you like it then my advice would be to stick with that rather then buy something that you've only ever see a picture of that may prove disappointing. Alternatively, do your homework, read as many reviews as you can before making your choice. This could save you a lot of money and a ruined trip out into the woods.
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