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How to Choose a Camping Stove

How to Choose a Camping Stove
We test the stoves side-by-side (or back-to-back, as the case may be), so we can compare their strengths and weaknesses with one another.
Credit: Jared Ross
Friday October 29, 2021

Whether getting back to camp after a long day of adventuring or relaxing in nature for the weekend with friends, mealtime is an important and necessary part of the process. Having the right tools for the job can mean the difference between a tedious chore and a raging good time. With so much camp kitchen equipment on the market, how do you know what is best for you and your crew? Well, you've come to the right place. Discerning foodies and ramen junkies alike can benefit from our extensive testing process and articles. Read on to learn why you would want a camping stove and some tips to help you choose the right one. We discuss what is essential and what is not, as well as the size, design, style, and features that are ideal for different cooking styles and applications.

camping stove - pour over coffee and a mountain of bacon, what else do you need when...
Pour over coffee and a mountain of bacon, what else do you need when camping?
Credit: Chris McNamara

Camping Stove or Backpacking Stove?

Whether or not you want a car camping stove will depend on the proximity between your car and your backcountry kitchen. If you plan to cook near your car, then a camping stove is the way to go, hence why we call it car camping. If you plan to cook meals a quarter mile or more from your vehicle or if you plan to bikepack or travel with your stove, then a backpacking stove is the better option.

Next up, you will want to consider how much space you have for storing a stove, as well as any weight limitations you may have. Car camping stoves tend to be heavy and awkward to carry very far from your vehicle (at least compared to backpacking stoves). Most of them are relatively large (ranging from somewhat compact to outright ginormous!) and function similarly to the stove in your home kitchen. This means you can cook multi-pot feasts that are more complicated than a freeze-dried backpacker meal. Further, car-camping stoves can accommodate standard kitchen cookware — like cast irons and woks — and are made from more durable materials.

On the other end of the spectrum, backpacking stoves are lightweight, compact, and more fuel-efficient. Some backpacking stoves do little more than boil water, while others can accommodate a pot or pan for cooking a one-pot meal. Simmering with a backpacking stove requires some finesse — if it is even possible — and nearly all backpacking stoves are top-heavy, demanding some forethought to avoid spilling your dinner on the ground.

camping stove - a top backpacking stove can also be useful when car camping. tea...
A top backpacking stove can also be useful when car camping. Tea, coffee, and oatmeal prep can be easier and faster if you have an efficient backpacking stove along.
Credit: Ian McEleney

As with most outdoor gear, durability and weight are often a tradeoff. Backpacking stoves are engineered to be lightweight, which renders them less durable than their bomb-proof car camping counterparts that are often made from steel. Some backpacking stoves are made with more delicate materials — such as aluminum — while others are made from titanium, which is much more durable. While some backpacking models are more delicate than your average car-camping stove, they can be a great tool for car camping. These stoves can be the most fuel-efficient means to boil water, especially if you need burner space for scrambling eggs and frying potatoes. When we car camp, we like to bring a backpacking stove to make coffee in the morning while the bigger stove is busy with breakfast.

What Size Camping Stove Should You Buy?

The first couple of questions to consider when narrowing down what type of stove to buy is the number of people you plan to feed and whether you prefer a tabletop or freestanding stove. There are essentially two designs of camping stoves to choose from: compact tabletop models with 1-3 burners and large freestanding stoves with their own legs and 2-3 burners. Tabletop models work best on a table or tailgate (unless you don't mind kneeling down to the ground). Compared to freestanding models, these stoves have less available cooking area — so you may need to use smaller pots and pans. Freestanding models stand on their own legs but can also be situated on a tailgate or table. They feature more cooking space and wider burners, so if you plan to make meals in a giant stockpot or wok for every meal, this is the ideal type of stove for you. Be forewarned, freestanding stoves are heavier and more awkward to move around, and they take up much more space in your rig. Many people use freestanding stoves to cook for large groups during fieldwork or field school, or as a permanent outdoor kitchen for endeavors such as deep-frying, beer making, or canning. When it comes to car camping, most folks will prefer a tabletop model. They're easier to transport and almost always have superior wind resistance.

Groups of 4 or Less

If you have a group of four or less and are just camping for a few days, a compact stove like the Stansport 3-Burner hits the sweet spot. It doesn't weigh a ton, fits in the car easily, provides an impressive amount of BTU cooking power for a small group, and it has three burners. To further reduce the weight and dimensions of your burners, a foldable two-burner like the Jetboil Genesis Basecamp is another great option. If you prefer something compact, but you crave some extra cooking space, the Camp Chef Everest 2X could be the way to go. While this stove is slightly heavier and bulkier than many of the two-burner options, it boasts more cooking space, impressive power and efficiency, and it simmers well too. Single-burner butane stoves, such as the Gas One GS-3000, or the Eureka SPRK+ are also sufficient for groups of 1-3 if you intend to keep your meals simple and you want to avoid breaking the bank in the process.

Most car camping stoves are designed to work with small 16-ounce green propane canisters. However, the cost of these tanks adds up, and they can be expensive to dispose of properly (some counties will recycle them, but in some places, you have to pay to recycle these canisters). To save money and resources over the long haul, you can use your stove with a refillable propane tank (like the one you would use with an outdoor grill) by purchasing a bulk tank hose adapter for your regulator.

camping stove - if you're ok with one dish at a time, or simple one-pot meals, you...
If you're ok with one dish at a time, or simple one-pot meals, you can save space and a lot of money by opting for a single-burner like the Gas One.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Make sure to pay attention to the cooking dimensions when buying a compact stove. You want enough usable cooking space to fit your preferred pot and pan set up. Some two-burners we tested could only accommodate one 12" skillet with little room left on the second burner for more than a tiny pot. Others could only fit a 12" skillet by removing the side wind flaps. A few could fit two 12" skillets. Reported dimensions can begin to help you decide if a stove has enough cooking space, but also consider burner size and placement in your assessment of the usable cooking surface.

Groups of 5-7

With mid-sized groups of 5-7, it can be harder to choose the perfect product. Start by considering your cooking demands and your average trip length. One possible option is to pay attention to the available cooking space on the tabletop models and choose one that has a larger cooking area. The Everest 2x, the Eureka Ignite Plus, and the Stansport 3-Burner boast the widest cooking areas and can accommodate larger pots or pans for bigger groups. To extend the use of your two-burner stove, you could add a single burner stove to the mix, like the Gas One GS-3000. You could also plan to have a couple of small folding two-burners like the Jetboil Genesis Basecamp on hand. This will increase flexibility and allow two or more people to cook at once. A two- or three-burner freestanding model can also provide you with plenty of power and space but might not seem worth the hassle to assemble and transport unless you are cooking for a big crew or staying in the same locale for multiple days. It all depends on your cooking preferences and how many folks in your posse plan to help with cooking.

camping stove - a couple of foldable two-burners is a great way to bring a lot of...
A couple of foldable two-burners is a great way to bring a lot of burners to the camp kitchen without taking up a ton of space in the car.
Credit: Penney Garrett

Groups of 8+

If you have a group of eight or more, you will need more cooking space and, most likely, more than two burners. Either go for a large three-burner freestanding model with legs, like the huge Camp Chef Pro 90, or multiple compact two-burner models. Alternatively, you could consider pairing a large freestanding two-burner like the Camp Chef Explorer or the luxurious Camp Chef Pro 60X with a tabletop model of your choice. We recommend the freestanding option as it expands your kitchen and doesn't take up precious tabletop space. The Pro 60X also comes equipped with fold-out side prep tables, which provide counter space — this is especially valuable if your campsite doesn't have a picnic table.

camping stove - the pro 60x fits right in on beach cookouts.
The Pro 60X fits right in on beach cookouts.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Keep in mind that larger products require more energy to pack, assemble, and maintain. However, they are great if you have a large group and need to conserve your tablespace. If prep space isn't an issue, two of your favorite compact camping stoves could be an equally powerful but more mobile option.

BTUs & Power

BTUs, or British Thermal Units, are the amount of energy required to heat or cool one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. It is a measure of power. In theory, the more BTUs a camping stove has, the more heat it should generate. In practice, it isn't so simple. Beyond BTUs, the overall design of the stove body, the placement and size of its burners, and its ability to resist the wind are significant factors in determining the true strength of a stove's output.

Case in point: in our boil test, the Camp Chef Everest, with two 20,000 BTU burners, beat out the Camp Chef Pro 60X with 30,000 BTU burners. The Everest is a compact model where the lid provides an 11" windscreen in back. The Pro 60X has an open, airy design and a much lower profile windscreen. For maximum efficiency, you want a model that strikes a balance between BTUs and a smart, compact design.

camping stove - the pro 60x definitely has the coolest looking flames licking our...
The Pro 60X definitely has the coolest looking flames licking our pots and pans, thanks to the large burners putting out 30,000 BTUs each. But that still didn't mean it boiled the fastest or had the best wind resistance.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Time to Boil

To further narrow down the field of competitors, we suggest looking at each model's performance in our boiling tests. Pretty much all stoves boil water adequately if there is no wind, the temperature is moderate, and you are not in a hurry. Once you add in the wind, cold temperatures, and a big group, water boiling time can become quite an ordeal and might be the difference between a 45-minute breakfast and a two-hour-long breakfast event. As we mentioned above, the number of BTUs gives you a general idea of how fast water might boil, but it's not a complete picture. Be sure to note whether the model you're considering comes with a windscreen and how the windscreen is designed. Rectangular windscreens provide better protection than L-shaped windscreens, sheltering the burners on three sides of the stove, rather than only one. You will also want to pay attention to the design of the burners themselves. Burners that are wider in diameter, well protected by the stove body, and physically closer to where your cookware sits tend to provide a much more efficient boiling experience.

camping stove - look at that big burner! you won't be waiting long for the everest...
Look at that big burner! You won't be waiting long for the Everest to bring your agua to a boil.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Simmering & Wind Resistance

Great simmering capability and good wind resistance are sometimes overlooked with camp stoves. Many products we tested boiled water fast enough, but struggled with more sophisticated dishes and windy conditions. When thinking about whether a given model simmers well, we want a burner that can provide even heat at a low setting and doesn't easily turn off when you finesse the burner down low. Just because you are outside doesn't mean that you have to give up cooking performance.

Bottom line: yes, a quality camping stove can perform as well as your home stove! Do you cook a lot of dishes that require simmering at home? Is risotto your go-to car-camping meal? Then make sure to prioritize the simmering ability of a camping stove. The Camp Chef Everest 2X, Kovea Slim Twin, and the Primus Kinjia, had excellent simmering capabilities. The single burner butane stoves, the GS 3000 and Eureka SPRK+, may have lacked the power to excel in our boiling tests, but they both have a great simmer ability. The Pro 60X and Camp Chef Explorer were excellent as well, though more susceptible to the wind, which lends to the flames flickering out when you have them dialed down for simmering.

camping stove - despite massive power output, the camp chef everest 2x can sustain a...
Despite massive power output, the Camp Chef Everest 2x can sustain a low enough flame to slow cook an egg scramble to perfection.
Credit: Jared Ross

Wind resistance is a bit more straightforward: models with large rectangular windscreens tend to keep the wind out more effectively. However, burner placement and how well the stove body protects the burners also plays a huge role. These are design elements that can be difficult to discern from an online photo, which is why we test, assess, and report on these design details in our reviews.

For most people, wind resistance may not be the top priority, as you can create a wind block by situating your stove in the most protected area of your campsite. However, wind has a way of whipping around in an unpredictable fashion and from all angles — sometimes wreaking havoc on even the most protected setup. If you live or camp in a windy area, it is worthwhile to invest in a product with an extra powerful burner, windscreens with a tight seal for three-way wind protection, and a smart, compact design.

camping stove - we were able to control the flame and cook with precision on the...
We were able to control the flame and cook with precision on the Everest, even under the whipping winds that move across Lake Tahoe.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Fuel Types

Most camping stoves use propane, the stuff inside those little green bottles you see at every campsite. Butane is slightly less common (the fuel type used by the one-burners in our review), but it is becoming more normal as the years roll on. We focused primarily on reviewing propane-burning models, because this fuel tends to be cheaper, more accessible, and easier to use. Propane lights instantly, burns clean, and requires none of the pumping necessary to pressurize a liquid fuel (white gas) tank — not to mention the mess that can ensue during refills. However, liquid fuel does perform better than propane in colder climates and given that you hand-pressurize white gas fuel tanks, they maintain performance until the fuel is gone. Propane canisters become inefficient when they get close to empty. Butane struggles in cold temps and is also less readily available.

If you decide on a propane model, we recommend getting an adapter and a hose that allow you to use a refillable barbecue-style propane tank. Five-gallon, or 20-pound, tanks are the most common size - however, if you look around, you can find a 5-pound tank that commands much less space. A hose adapter for the regulator enables you to place the propane tank under the table, freeing up valuable cooking space. Refillable tanks also reduce the waste that results from empty 16-ounce canisters — which can be notoriously difficult to recycle. Big tanks can be exchanged at most gas stations or grocery stores. You can also refill smaller tanks, though you may have to look harder for stores that refill smaller tanks. If you still need some convincing, large refillable tanks can speed up boil times by 10-20 percent in comparison to 16-ounce propane canisters, and they are much more cost-effective. Canisters are $3-6 each or $24-48 a gallon, whereas refill prices for propane are around $3-6 a gallon!

If you decide to go with the refillable tank and hose, the next question is which hose adapter to buy. During our testing period, we were continually hooking and unhooking propane tanks. In the end, we decided that all of the adapters performed about the same. What differentiated our favorites from the rest was the stove's ease of setup, which was primarily influenced by the design of the propane tank connector. We suggest a connector that has a generous plastic grip on the five-gallon tank end, sometimes referred to as the Type 1/ACME fitting, such as the Stansport Appliance-to-Bulk-Tank-Hose.

Wood-burning stoves have recently gained in popularity. While these stoves are definitely intriguing, we have not yet decided to include them in our review. They are dependent on the availability of dry sticks and twigs, which could encourage campers to scavenge forest floors, and these stoves can only be used when there isn't a fire ban. It would be terrible to get somewhere far away from home, only to discover you can't use your stove or there is a dearth of dry wood. For the time being, our reviewers have chosen to stick with mainstream camp stoves, but rest assured: if we change our mind, you'll be the first to know.

camping stove - just look at all those stoves! we cooked a ton of meals on all kinds...
Just look at all those stoves! We cooked a ton of meals on all kinds of models to help you find your perfect camp kitchen set up.
Credit: Penney Garrett

Ignition Types

Camp stoves will either require you to light the burners manually with a flame source, or they will come equipped with a Piezo ignition system. Piezo ignitors use piezoelectricity--a pressurized electric charge--to ignite your fuel with the press of a button or flip of a lever. They are generally very easy to use and don't require you to get your hand close to a flaming burner. However, these ignitors usually add a bit to the price point and over time, they become less reliable. Piezo ignition or not, you should always have a backup lighter and/or matches when you go camping.

camping stove - piezo ignitors are the easiest way to light your stove, though it is...
Piezo ignitors are the easiest way to light your stove, though it is recommended to always keep a lighter in your kitchen kit, as they are prone to wear out over time.
Credit: Jared Ross

Accessories & Hybrids

There are a plethora of accessories available for your camp kitchen setup. Supplemental griddles, grill plates, pizza ovens, and more can be a lot of fun if you want to mix it up or get fancy. There are hybrid models that offer combos such as a regular burner on one side and a grill or griddle on the other. While this can be fun in theory, in practice it can be rather limiting. Unless you plan to grill or use a griddle for every outing, it's better to bring a quality cast iron grill/griddle plate to convert your two-burner stove to a full-width grilling surface when it suits you. Rather than being locked-into a hybrid single-burner/griddle-combo, you can simply place the grill/griddle plate over both burners to create a large surface. This option is great for grilling steaks or cooking a monumental stack of pancakes for all your friends.

If you are grilling for larger groups regularly, then consider adding a top-ranked portable grill which performs better than a grill stove. An example is the Napoleon TravelQ 285, which performed exceptionally in our tests both camping and at home.

camping stove - we liked knowing that delicate kabobs wouldn't stick to the q 1200.
We liked knowing that delicate kabobs wouldn't stick to the Q 1200.
Credit: Valentine Cullen

Eco-Conscious Options

Hate the waste from all those 16-ounce green propane canisters? We sure do! The Sierra Club estimates that 60-million of these canisters are made each year, and most of them end up in the landfill. They shouldn't be there because they are considered hazardous waste in many places (mainly because they are a fire hazard), and yet it is very difficult to recycle them for this same reason. Most people honestly don't know what to do with them, so they end up piled high in garages or, worse, abandoned in nature.

We realize these canisters are often the best option, so we just ask that you take the time to find a proper recycling facility in your area to dispose of empties when you have them.

Better yet, as mentioned above: car camping stoves can be fitted with an adaptor that allows you to use a refillable propane tank (like the one attached to the grill on your patio) that come in an array of sizes from 5-20 pounds (with the 20-pound tank being the most common size). If you have space in your car for a larger tank, this option saves a ton of money and waste.

If those green canisters really are the best or only option for you, consider looking into something like the Flame King 1lb Refillable Cylinder + Kit. This setup allows you to refill a small 16-ounce canister with a larger propane tank. You can find an informative video on how this works on the Flame King website.

If you already have a Flame King refill kit, check the serial number. The manufacturer recalled several models sold between November 2013 to September 2016 due to gas leaks stemming from the refillable bottles, not the attachment to the propane tank. If your model is one that has been recalled, you can opt for either a replacement or a refund.

One other option is looking into a stove with a refillable liquid tank, like the Coleman Dual Fuel 2-Burner. This allows you to refill the fuel chamber from a larger can. The drawback is that this still produces waste (the container you're refilling from), and it can be messy and annoying to deal with.

Tips for Using Your Camping Stove

After living outdoors for months on end, we've picked up a few tricks. Here's some advice for your next outdoor meal:
  • When finishing up after using a 5-gallon propane tank, always first turn off the tank and wait for the flame to extinguish completely. If you turn off the stove first and then the propane tank second, some gas will be left in the system and will shoot out when you disconnect the hose.
  • Always keep a dedicated cleaning rag in your cooking supplies (that old washcloth with the bleach stain works perfectly). A rag has many uses, from cleaning the drip tray to keeping hoses, propane adapters, and windscreens from rattling when you are driving.
  • Have two stoves? Consider a propane splitter to get it all done with just one tank. We like to have one stove dedicated to boiling water and one dedicated to cooking.
  • Is your stove running sluggish? Are you not getting good propane flow to your stove? Sometimes stoves need a reset, just like your phone. Turn all knobs off and close the propane tank all the way. Unscrew the hose from the tank, let it rest for about 10-15 seconds, then screw it back to the tank. Open the tank REALLY slowly, only ¼-½ turn, no need to open it any more than that. Turn your knob(s) to medium and relight your burners.
  • If boiling water for coffee or tea results in a meal-prep bottleneck, consider getting a dedicated water-boiler like the JetBoil MiniMo. This will allow you to boil rounds of water quickly and also provides another vessel for simple things like boiling eggs or heating some soup.

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