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No camping trip is fun if you have to eat energy bars the whole time. Whether you’re a leisure camper or doing some serious hiking, meal time matters, and that means cooking on a camp stove. Your camp kitchen setup will be determined by your style and duration of activity, as well as your appetite and group size; all these things influence what is the best camping stove for you.

The Basics About Camp Stoves

The best camping stove is not a one-and-done category. There are propane camping stoves, electric camping stoves, wood camping stoves — and that’s before you get to single burner or multi-burner, on-the-ground stoves or camping stoves with legs.

But the search for the best camping stove does not have to be exhausting, and once you break it down by a few essential considerations, the right one for you should be pretty obvious. Before we jump into those, a couple terms and features to keep in mind when it comes to these camp kitchen essentials:

  • BTUs: British thermal unit, a.k.a., the standard measure of energy output. Read carefully, as this is often listed as the total number for all burners. To make the number less abstract, just compare it to a home stove, which averages 10,000 BTUs/hour per burner. That “per hour” part is important: The measure is really about how much food you can prepare, and how quickly. Remember that the climate and altitude will affect this too, as you’re cooking in the open air.
  • Fuel: Most camping stoves use propane, butane, isobutane—and/or a mix of the three called Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG). You’ll also see gasoline, alcohol, and wood-powered stoves, too. In general, propane and LPG win out. They’re reliable in the cold, and burn fairly cleanly and with good cost and fuel weight-to-burn power efficiency. They of course require canisters to be carried wherever you go, which can make a wood stove more appealing.

Now: Onto the questions you need to be asking when choosing a camping stove.

Do you need a lightweight camp stove?

Car camping versus backpacking is an obvious consideration when choosing the best camp stove. But where you’ll store it, who will be carrying it, how much space you have to cart it from place to place — and just how simple or cumbersome it is to use, and therefore how likely you are to pull it out — are also essential factors. If you’ll be backpacking, you’ll need a stove that weighs very little and can be set up nearly anywhere.

Best Backpack Camping Stove: Jetboil Flash Cooking System

Zero to boiling in 100 seconds. Jetboil

Weighing in at 13.1 oz, this LPG-powered camp stove holds a liter of water or grub, and the surface-area-to-burner ratio means it heats up fast. The Jetboil Flash system of accessories also makes it something like a Swiss army knife of camp stoves, as it can be easily converted into a coffee press or fry pan, as well as support a satellite burner or even be used hanging. BTUs: 4500 to 9000. Combined with lightweight backpacking food, you’ll eat well anywhere.

Do you prefer a classic camp stove that operates on gas?

If you like your camp stoves like you like your woods — untouched and the way they’ve always been — a classic, metal, two-burner propane camping stove may be for you. (These have gotten some upgrades, like matchless ignitions and improved wind screens.) 

One big advantage is that propane is cost-effective and easily obtained. Most propane camping stoves can be hooked up to portable 1-pound canisters, or attach to a large 20-pound propane tank via an adapter. Another advantage is that these stoves can accommodate normal sized pots, pans, and camping griddles.

Best Propane Camping Stove: Coleman Triton+ Stove

A high-powered, push-button upgrade to the original for reliable propane cooking. Coleman

This Coleman camp stove, the Triton, is the quintessential propane camping stove. It has what you need and nothing that you don’t in a streamlined package, like its metal wind shield pieces that latch onto its cover and carrying case, too. At 11,000 BTUs per burner, it’s a great choice for a small camping crew.

Do you want a camp stove that can use found fuel sources, like sticks and twigs?

At the end of the day, you need to make sure your camping essentials don’t way you down. Self-reliance, sustainability, convenience, and less stuff to carry: All factors in favor of camp stoves that can use wood and other readily found sources of fuel. If you’re already building a campfire — or want to feel like you have a campfire without all the work, smoke, and mess — wood stoves for camping are a natural fit. You can purchase small, food-safe fire starters in case of rain, but they also operate on twigs, sticks, paper, cardboard, and similar organic matter, providing remarkably quick and effective cooking flames.

Best Camping Wood Stove: BioLite CampStove 2+

Cook over an open flame—and charge up your cell, too. BioLite

The BioLite CampStove 2+ heats quickly and completely smoke free on any biomass, and has a built-in fire-powered USB charger for your lantern, phone, and other electronics. An integral fan gets and keeps that fire hot and smokeless. This BioLite stove also supremely lightweight, and with no additional fuel to factor into your weight calculations. Any pot or pan can sit on top, or you can get BioLite’s lightweight kettle, coffee press, and grill top. BTUs depend on the fuel used.

Will you be cooking for a whole crew?

If you’re cooking for a crowd or want side dishes as well as mains, more burners on a cooking stove are necessary—as are the ability to cook on both a grill and a griddle, along with a stove at a reasonable height to eliminate all that up and down and crouching. You’ll also want to aim on the higher end of the BTU spectrum so you don’t spend the whole adventure waiting for food to cook. You’ll also be requiring more fuel, so make sure your camping stove of choice accommodates a large propane tank, not just a canister.

Best Multi-Burner Camp Stove With Grill: Camp Chef Big Gas Grill

A cooking and grilling station built for on-the-go. Camp Chef

The 38-by-16 inch Camp Chef grill rivals most home stoves and grills, and with the three propane burners offering 30,000 BTUs of energy each, you’ll be cooking hot and fast, making quick work of whatever is on the menu. The two-burner, cast-iron grate grill has a vented lid, and the third side burner on the side is for standard stovetop use. There’s a handy adjustable prep surface, and the legs pop on and off for easy transport.

Shopping for Camping Essentials on a Budget?

Extend the same logic you’d use for home appliances and backyard grills when it comes to price and performance with camping stoves. Sure, you can absolutely find a cheap one, just don’t expect it to work as well or last as long. But depending on your needs and bank account realities, it’s still better than a camping diet of cold canned veggies and beef jerky.

Best Cheap Camping Stove: CANWAY Camping Stove

Heat without the fuel tanks or high price tag. CANWAY

If your walkabout in the woods is more like a casual night at a campsite than a full-on outdoors adventure, this lightweight, affordable wood-burning camping stove will do the job. It’s not going to heat like the BioLite above (it’s the fan system that really makes it work so well) or the gas-fueled stoves, but it makes a concentrated fire and weighs just a hair over a pound.

FAQs

Q:

Is propane or butane better for camping?

If you’re going to be using your camping stove in cold weather, propane is the better option. Many camp stoves also use Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG), which are a mix of propane, butane, and/or isobutane that balances out the pros and cons of the different fuels.

Q:

What is the best lightweight camping stove?

The best lightweight camping stove that runs on LPG is the Jetboil Flash Cooking System. The best lightweight camping stove that uses wood and other organic materials is the BioLite CampStove 2+.

Q:

How many BTUs do I need for my camping stove?

Generally, look for 10,000+ BTUs per burner per hour, as that equates to the output of a burner on an average home stove. You can find camping stoves that range fairly below and above that, but know that it’s how you will be using the stove that matters. Fewer BTUs isn’t inherently bad, and in some cases can be desired (e.g., if you just want a low or slow simmer) and more BTUs isn’t always better (e.g., if you’re not doing anything fancy and want your fuel to last).

The Takeaway on the Best Camping Stove

The best camping stove is the one that you actually use, so while choosing, consider ease of set-up and break-down, weight and portability, fuel needs, burner BTU power, and available cooking surface area/compatible cooking tools. Then pack it up and get outside already.

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