Equipment Advice: Camping stoves

Photo: Jens Klatt
Petrol or gas, titanium or aluminium: Hardly any other piece of equipment in the outdoor scene gets so much shop talk as the camping stove and its accessories. Globetrotter expert Frank Holst explains the current trends and established standards.
Frank Holst (50) is a qualified carpenter 	and wholesaler and was an enthusiastic customer even before he started at Globe­trotter Frankfurt in 2012. His favourite products are stoves and water filters. During his six-week bicycle tour through the Atacama desert and Norther Patagonia he cooked with Optimus Nova. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Frank Holst (50) is a qualified carpenter and wholesaler and was an enthusiastic customer even before he started at Globe­trotter Frankfurt in 2012. His favourite products are stoves and water filters. During his six-week bicycle tour through the Atacama desert and Norther Patagonia he cooked with Optimus Nova. | Photo: Julian Rohn

Frank, what has changed in the range of camping stoves in previous years?

The trend is towards light-weight equipment, for almost all types of stoves. For example, Primus has brought out a titanium version of its multi-fuel classic Omnifuel – the Omnilite Ti is smaller, a little bit lighter but just as powerful and sturdy. Gas stoves like the Soto Windmaster or the Crux from Optimus have also been optimised for the smallest pack size and least weight. Even in the already minimalist niche of solid-fuel stoves, Esbit has been considering how to get even lighter. Out came a cooker with three pieces of stainless steel which only weights 80 grammes.

Are there any other innovations?

Efficiency is an important topic, for example how to cook with as little energy loss as possible and to save fuel. Primus started with its Eta series featuring heat-exchanger rings underneath the pots. The idea of developing the stove, pots and windbreak to an energy-saving system is becoming more attractive to other manufacturers as well.

How does the heat-exchanger work?

There is a multi-plate ring underneath the pot. It can retain the heat of the stove better and transfer it to the base of the pot. The efficiency is much higher. A standardised test was carried out by the magazine “Outdoor” and an Eta pot used 25 percent less fuel to bring one litre of water to boil than a stainless steel pot of the same size. And less consumption also means I can be out longer on a self-sufficient tour and carry less fuel with me.

A heat exchanger underneath a pot saves fuel. | Photo: Jens Klatt
A heat exchanger underneath a pot saves fuel. | Photo: Jens Klatt

Can you use the pots only on special stoves?

No, although there are special systems like the Eta series, the Jetboil Flash or the MSR Reactor. Those are all gas stoves, and the stove, pot and windbreaker fit perfectly together to achieve the best performance. However, you can also use your normal multi-fuel cooker with an Eta pot and save fuel. Even Esbit has now launched a spirit cooker onto the market featuring a heat-exchanger in the pot.

Further developments for more efficiency?

The Windmaster model mentioned from the Japanese noble manufacturer of Soto can resist gusts of wind up to three metres per second without an additional windbreaker. In order to achieve that performance, the burner is trough-shaped and the outer burner ring has been positioned higher. Also, the stove sits closer to the pot than is usual. Thanks to a micro regulator, the stove can be adjusted extremely finely, especially when the pressure of the gas cartridge declines when becoming empty.

Cooking with a system: Primus Eta Power.  | Photo: Globetrotter
Cooking with a system: Primus Eta Power. | Photo: Globetrotter

This is a piece of equipment for the specialist, isn’t it?

It is for people who are travelling with light luggage and who value a maintenance-free and uncomplicated stove so you can quickly heat up water for drinks or packed food. Because of its relatively high build design, the wind master is not too stable for extensive cooking use. It is made especially suitable for little pots because the stove concentrates the heat in the centre. Whoever chooses a stove like this will not lug along a three-litre pot anyway.

What kind of stove would you recommend to a normal user?

What is normal? In general, when giving advice, we always ask exactly about the field of use. If it is not too cold in your chosen destination and there is no problem with the supply of gas cartridges, a gas stove is perfect. They do not rust, they are safe and easy to operate. Sounds good? To sharpen your requirement profile, I would like to show you the advantages and disadvantages of the Campinggaz equipment and a screw-on gas cartridge…

What are they?

Especially in France you can get the blue Campingaz cartridges in almost every super market – and in countries with a French-connection too – like Morocco. You do not screw on their valve cartridges but click them on. We call them click cartridges to make the difference clear. Campingaz also builds quite affordable stoves, but they are not for hardcore use.

Testing and touching is part of the advice on stoves. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Testing and touching is part of the advice on stoves. | Photo: Julian Rohn

And if I do not want to go to France, I need the screw-on system?

Exactly. The cartridges with the ten millimetre screw-on connection correspond to the international standard. There is another thread in North America but we can ignore that fact for a moment. A simple gas stove with a screw-on cartridge is the Primus Express. Conveniently, it is also available with a “duo” connection. So Campingaz cartridges also fit. It comes in handy when one year you travel to Scandinavia where there are mostly screw-on cartridges, and the other year you go to southern Europe. There is another solution though: For all stoves not fitted with a “duo” connection, we have an adapter by Edelrid in our range which turns click cartridges from Campingaz into screw-on cartridges.

Are the simple pierceable cartridges not available any more?

Yes, we still have one stove for them in our range. However, it is quite a task to heat up a can of Ravioli at the festival. When the cartridge is pierced, you cannot pack up the stove without having to let off all the gas. Advantage of these cartridges is that they are available worldwide.

Headstand against the cold: Optimus Vega turns the gas cartridge upside down. | Photo: Optimus
Headstand against the cold: Optimus Vega turns the gas cartridge upside down. | Photo: Optimus

But in winter, gas stoves do not work, right?

It is not that simple. Gas stoves lose performance when it is cold because the pressure in the cartridges drops. Normally, the limiting temperature will be between five and ten degrees below zero. If you store cartridges in the warm sleeping bag and put your hand on a cartridge while cooking, a gas stove also works quite well when it is cold. On some models with a flex cord, the cartridge is positioned upside down so that gas can still flow out despite low pressure. And the MSR Reactor is also used successfully on Himalaya expeditions despite its tower-like design. Additionally, gas mixes with a higher percentage of propane are even more cold-resistant. If you need more performance in the cold, you should have a look at a multi-fuel stove.

Besides the ability to work in a cold, what other advantages does a multi-fuel cooker have?

It is a perfect companion if you do not know what kind of fuel you will get on your trip. Multi-fuel stoves are petrol stoves but also work with gas, paraffin oil, kerosine and diesel. Thus they are very flexible. You will be able to get one of the various fuels at nearly every place there is some kind of civilisation. Additionally, these stoves are very powerful. And with such a fuel, you do not have empty cartridges you need to dispose of.

A cooker can be crucial to morale on tour.  | Photo: Jens Klatt
A cooker can be crucial to morale on tour. | Photo: Jens Klatt

What is the catch?

There is no catch but these models are the tricky ones. You need to practice with them. You need to pre-heat them, burn all the fuel off after cooking and keep them clean. In return, they also work at great heights and in subzero temperatures. On around-the-world trips or on expeditions, multi-fuel stoves are the right choice but you need to bring along a bit of curiosity to engage with them. On a big tour, you should always take a maintenance kit and spare seals with you. Fuel is a solvent, here and there it washes off the silicon fats. You need to look after it.

What about the classic of all Nordic fans?

You are talking about the storm stove from Trangia? The spirit stoves are still much in demand because you get a good and affordable set consisting of stove, windbreaker and pans. Furthermore, spirit is available almost everywhere in Europe, and the simple design does not break and is easy to use.

Different materials for pots have different characteristics. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Different materials for pots have different characteristics. | Photo: Julian Rohn

Are spirit burners not too slow?

Are you on tour or on the run? True, methylated spirit is not a high performance fuel. Some users want to have higher performance after a while. There is a suitable gas inset from Trangia. It is even possible to use petrol: With a simple modification kit and the Nova by Optimus, the Trangia becomes ready for an expedition – with no change to the excellent windbreak or the stability of the system.

Without pots, there is no dinner – has anything changed on that note?

On the one hand, you can upgrade with the pots already mentioned which feature a heat exchanger. On the other hand, pure aluminium pots have fellen into disrepute. The pots quickly get greasy with steady use, and it is thought that eating out of aluminium dishes may increase the possibility of Alzheimer’s. A good alternative are pots made of hard-anodized aluminium i.e. the surface is hardened by electrical oxidation. They are scratch-proof and look good even after long usage. And there are also aluminium pots with a non-stick coating. You always had to make sure that you did not scratch the surface with metal cutlery. Primus now has a ceramic coating which is much tougher and not scratch-sensitive.

The powerpot generates electricity. | Photo: Globetrotter
The powerpot generates electricity. | Photo: Globetrotter

What are the alternatives to aluminium?

First of all, there is titanium. Very light, very stable. The thermoconductivity is not that great though. Directly below the flame it gets especially hot, but not so hot further away. Titanium also tarnishes and is rather expensive, thus it is something for light-weight freaks. Stainless steel pots weight the most but are very stable and easy to clean. I would take them on a camping holiday when travelling by car. Stainless steel also does not transfer heat very well and is the reason why we have pots in our product range which have been coated with copper on the outside. On balance, aluminium – whether coated or not – has the best weight to thermoconductivity relationship.

Is that it, as far as innovations are concerned?

Almost. Another idea is to generate electricity while cooking. An example is the Powerpot by Power Practical. The system features a pot with a thermo-electric generator underneath the pot’s base to convert heat into electric energy. With up to five watts, you can charge MP3 players or mobile phones. The pot weights 500 grams, so it is not very light and a complete charge of a smartphone would use much fuel – but it is a start. Ten years ago, people smiled about electric cars.

Super power: MSR Reactor and Jetboil Flash. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Super power: MSR Reactor and Jetboil Flash. | Photo: Julian Rohn

How many people can you feed with one stove?

If there are more than four people, I would take another stove with me – also because of the size of the pot. Because cooking pasta for four to five people using a 4.5 litre pot does not make sense on such a small stove. It is better when you split up such a quantity to two 2.5 litre pots. Little pots are also easier to put into the luggage.

Some of the gas models also have a piezo igniter, does this make sense?

Piezo igniters are handy but unfortunately also a bit vulnerable when it is wet or if they get bashed about. You should always take a lighter with you – or even better, a fire steel. That always works. A piezo igniter should not be the only item to consider when buying a stove.

What else do you look for?

A stove featuring a stable surface for the pot is important to me. However, it always depends on the purpose. When I am travelling light, I cannot expect that the stove will be the best for a big three-litre pot. Furthermore, I also appreciate when manufacturers offer replacement parts and a good service. In general, all our retailers fulfill that though.

What other accessories are useful?

You should definitely use a windbreaker as it reduces fuel consumption a lot. The same applies to lids: If you leave them at home because of weight you have to carry more fuel. I always take half a sponge with me so that I can clean the pans – even the ones featuring a coating – without detergent. For uncoated pots, a little bit of sand is good for cleaning them.

Compact: Simple stoves are an uncomplicated choice … petrol stoves need a bit more practice. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Compact: Simple stoves are an uncomplicated choice … petrol stoves need a bit more practice. | Photo: Julian Rohn

Which stoves can I take on a plane?

In general, all cookers can be checked in. Fuel is not allowed on board though. The most uncomplicated ones are petrol stoves because they are absolutely clean and do not smell. You need to make sure that you can purchase the right cartridges at the destination though. Sometimes it is complicated to fly with multi-fuel stoves. Petrol leftovers in the pipe, pump or bottle can smell and lead to problems. A new and therefore unscented bottle increases the chance of getting past the checks. Another tip is to wash out the pipes or pumps with shampoo or coke to eliminate the smell – there are heaps of hints online. However, some inspectors have been known to allow you to take the stove even with an old smelly petrol bottle. So to cut a long story short, it always depends on the country and the airport personnel.

Keyword value for money: Which fuel is the cheapest?

It depends on the frequency of usage. The cheapest fuel is petrol. One litre at the petrol station costs around 1.60 euros. 300 millilitres of petrol can be compared with a 230 gram gas cartridge. A cartridge costs 5.45 euros. On average it costs 50 euros to purchase a gas stove, whereas you pay three times as much for a multi-fuel stove. So, if you need your stove a lot, in the long term your costs will be lower with multi-fuel. But purified petrol is a little bit more expensive than petrol from a petrol station …

Everybody needs a little warmth – especially when bivouacking. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Everybody needs a little warmth – especially when bivouacking. | Photo: Julian Rohn

Is it not okay to use the same petrol I use for my car?

Purified petrol is better. The additional additives in petrol for cars will make the stove dirtier than otherwise, and the fumes are unhealthy. In Germany, it is also often not possible to purchase only one litre for the stove at the petrol station. But the more remote the region is, the more likely you will be able to purchase a small amount somewhere. This winter, for example, I always filled up my petrol bottle at petrol stations in South America. By the way, you should only operate your petrol stove with the correctly fitting lid for your pans. If a lid is too big and protrudes beyond the pot, fumes can build up there and drip into the pot with the condensed water. That will not taste so good and is not healthy either.

 
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