Campers and hikers carry lightweight cooking or backpacking stoves to prepare hot meals and beverages during their explorations. There are four main types of stoves with different designs and weights that use various types of fuels for cooking; all have pros and cons.
One of the least expensive options, alcohol-burning stoves only have three parts: a burner, windscreen and pot stand. They use readily available fuel, either denatured alcohol, available at most hardware stores, or a product called Yellow HEET, a gas line antifreeze sold at auto-parts retailers and service stations. Alcohol stoves are lightweight but you have no control over the temperature, which limits them to boiling water, and they have to be relit constantly in windy conditions.
Solid Fuel Burners
Solid fuel tablet stoves have two parts, a stand to hold the tablet and a support for the pot, which makes them lightweight. Each tablet burns for about 10 minutes, which is usually sufficient to boil water. However, like the alcohol stove, the flame is delicate and easily extinguished by wind, so multiple tablets are often required to heat the water. Fuel tablets are hard to find in many locations, so packing a good supply is important. Other disadvantages are the toxic fumes the tablets emit and the sticky black coating they leave on pots and pans.
Gas Canister Stoves
Although somewhat heavier than alcohol and solid-fuel stoves, gas canister stoves have adjustable flames for cooking and the flame stands up well to wind and inclement weather thanks to protective wings on the burner. The two-part design consists of the stove, which holds the cooking pot, and the fuel canister. The isobutane fuel canisters are not available in many remote areas, but a 4-ounce canister can last about four to six days and an 8-ounce size between 10 and 14 days.
This type of stove is generally the heaviest but has the advantage of needing no fuel packed with it since you power it with small pieces of wood gathered at the campsite. Styles range from homemade versions made from 2- or 3-pound coffee cans with holes punched in the sides for ventilation to high-end models with multiple chambers and battery powered fans to keep the fire burning. Since they are fueled by wood, this type of stove is not practical for camping above the tree line or in areas where fires are prohibited.
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