Basic Stove Choices

In choosing a stove it pays to consider just what you are normally going to be doing with it. For instance, if all you will ever do is make a cup of tea while everyone else catches up and has a long rest, speed of boiling might not matter. If you belong t

Basic Stove Choices

In choosing a stove it pays to consider just what you are normally going to be doing with it. For instance, if all you will ever do is make a cup of tea while everyone else catches up and has a long rest, speed of boiling might not matter. If you belong to the American 'boil water and make mashed potato' school of cooking, most anything might do. On the other hand, if you want to cook decent meals for two people, you would be well advised to go for a stove with an adequate fuel capacity and the ability to simmer well. We will start with the more basic stove matters, and later on we get a bit more detailed and also list a whole lot of tricks for good stove use.

Stove manufacturers boast about their fast boil times, but in truth comparing ""3 minutes 30 seconds"" with ""3 minutes 45 seconds"" is pointless. There are lots of external factors which can change these times, and anyhow you rarely want the stove going full roar. Doing so is extremely wasteful of fuel, and that's weight you have to carry. The advtisements rarely tell you this: it isn't macho. Far more important is whether you can turn the stove down to a gentle simmer so you don't burn the stew. They rarely tell you about this either - maybe because few stoves can be throttled down. But a stove on simmer is very cheap to run - and makes a nice background sound late in the evening in your tent. To us, that sound means food is coming.

None of the stove ads mention how long it takes to set the stove up, nor how long it takes to light the stove. Liquid fuel stoves (petrol and kero) generally require you to fill the tank, then pump up the pressure inside to drive the liquid, then make sure the jet is clean, then do a bit of priming, then pump some more, then warm the stove up ... This takes quite a bit of time and fuel, but fortunately you don't have to do all of it every time. Other stoves usually are much easier to light. Lighting a petrol stove is usually fairly simple (unless it is sub-zero), needing no priming apart from a slight leak of petrol and a match. The disadvantage of a petrol stove is that petrol is extremely dangerous, especially when that leak is too large, and people do have accidents with it. (The author is now very wary of petrol, having lived through too many ""happenings"".) Kero stoves require complex priming which takes a few minutes. On the other hand, it is a very safe fuel - but it smells. With a gas stove you screw the burner onto the cartridge, turn the valve and flick a lighter. No smell either. If you have a piezo-ignitor, well, too simple!

It is understandable that a small special-purpose stove made in limited quantity will cost a bit. However, I have never understood just why some bushwalking stoves are so incredibly expensive. We'll cover costs elsewhere in more detail, but a basic gas stove costs about $40. If you want to spend upwards of $200 on a stove, so be it. These days you should also consider buying over the web instead of from a city gear shop: sometimes it can be cheaper.

Control of a Stove and Simmering

You usually want to be able to turn a stove down once your dinner is (near) boiling, to let it simmer. Here we have a problem. Most liquid fuel stoves with a single valve on the liquid are, basically, a pig to control. The very fine valve clearance needed to control the liquid flow is not stable. Sure, the stoves function like a flame thrower, but many of them are notorious for having no ability to simmer. Some liquid fuel stoves have two valves: a shut-off valve on the tank and a gas flow valve near the burner. These work much better, but can be more complex. Metho stoves have little control anyhow, while gas stoves in general have superb control over a wide range. Solid fuel? Throw another tablet on the fire or blow it out ... So choosing a stove is not that simple.

Flame Speed and Wind

Let's introduce a critical technical point right here: flame speed. Some fuels burn with a very high flame speed (think of an oxy-acetylene torch), while other burn with a very slow flame speed (think of a candle). How fast the flame goes matters quite a lot when there is wind around. If the flame is slow it can be blown a long way sideways, even to the point of missing the cooking pot entirely. So different fuels and stoves are going to be affected by wind to different degrees. The normal way to handle this is a windshield: we will come back to this later. Suffice it for now to note the problem.

Safety

Most of our gear is fairly harmless, but stoves are not. You can be playing around with a quantity of highly volatile, even explosive, fuel. The potential for disaster does not end there: people have been harmed and even died in snow caves and tents from the fuel fumes, lack of oxygen or excess carbon dioxide, and more insidiously from carbon monoxide. But most users manage to handle all this with complete safety, just by following some simple safety precautions.