Gear Advice: Backpacking Stove

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The preferred choice of backpacking stoves can almost start a religious war, so I will attempt to cover the various options fairly…..

There are two major categories: Liquid fuel, and pressurized gas.
Liquid Fuel stoves tend to burn one or more of the following:

  • White Gas
  • Unleaded Fuel
  • Kerosene
White Gas is by far the most popular of the three, and a stove that burns only white gas will tend to do it well. There are also multi-fuel stoves that will burn all three. The down side of this is that it will not really be optimized for any of the fuels, and will tend to burn more fuel than a single fuel stove. The up side of the multi fuels is that if you are in a place where white gas is not available, you can still use the stove. That is an academic discussion for the vast majority of scouts as white gas is usually available.

Pressurized Gas stoves tend to come in one of three varieties:
  • Propane
  • Butane
  • Propane/Butane mix
Propane stoves work well until it gets cold, and their output tends to drop off in those conditions. Butane works well when cold, but it does not work well at high altitude. The mixed gas stoves tend to work well in both conditions, but you need to make sure you shake the can to mix the fuels before use.

In general, the down side of liquid fuel stoves is that you need to preheat the stove before you can use it. Generally this involved pumping up the stove to pressurize the fuel, lighting the stove and waiting for it to heat up before it settles down. Fuel spills can also be an issue, so you need to be very careful. On the plus side, a can of liquid fuel will tend to last longer than pressurized gas.

Pressurized fuels are generally very simple to use, are very easy to light, and you can’t easily spill the fuel. Do however ask me some time about finding my self in the middle of a burning cloud of propane….but I digress…..

The down side of pressurized gas is that the bottles are not reusable, and you must buy the type of bottle made for your stove. These tend to be proprietary and you may have a hard time finding fuel when away from your favorite store.


Bill's Choice

I have been running the Coleman Exponent Xtreme Stove since 2000, and absolutely love it. It runs Coleman’s Powermax fuel. The stove is simple to run, fuel is readily available, and it has never broken down. I have lead two crews of 12 to Philmont using these stoves. The fuel bottles are not all that heavy, so I simply have everyone on the trip carry a bottle, and we don’t run out. It should be noted that in 2001 & 2006, Philmont only had 2 different fuels available at the re-supply points: White Gas, and Powermax.

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