How to Choose a Car Camping Stove

How To Choose the Best Car Camping Stove

One of the best parts about car camping is the food. Unlike backpacking, you aren’t carrying your sustenance any farther than from the grocery store to your car, so the cooking possibilities can feel endless. A good camp stove can replicate anything you’d make during a normal dinner night at home. Whether you’re prepping for the camp edition of MasterChef with a three-burner do-it-all, on a road trip with your college bestie, or out for a solo quest, there’s a type of stove that’ll suit you best.

Picking the right car camping stove boils down to a few key points: performance (boil time, wind resistance, simmering capability); ease of use (transport, set up and cleaning process); and efficiency (fuel type, stove design). 

First, Ask Yourself These Questions

Narrow your choices by determining how you see yourself using the camp stove.

Cooking for a big group? 

Stove size and handling can influence how much fun you’re having. A two- or three-burner stove or a stove with larger burners will come in handy, as will one that’s easy to clean.

Car camping every weekend?  

Consider how well the stove performs. If you’re spending a lot of time with it, you want it to be efficient and easy to use. For extended car- and van-based journeys, think reliable and packable—try one of the more portable single-burner stoves; they’re often the most capable of simmering and by far the easiest to pack.

Are you a foodie who occasionally camps and does not want to sacrifice the quality of home cooking? 

Performance will matter, especially factors like simmering capabilities, but also will the stove’s footprint: Are the burners crammed together? 

Camping on a budget?  

Some of the most basic options out there will work just fine. The camp stove has come a long way through the decades. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get something that’ll boil water for coffee and heat up your mac and cheese or hot dogs. 

Cooking in a cast iron skillet

Selecting Your Stove Type

Car camping stoves can vary, depending on the set-up infrastructure, number of burners, and what type of gas is used.

Two-burner stoves  

Two-burner stoves are among the most popular camp-cooking instruments as they’re easy enough to transport and can accomodate cooking for groups of people. These stoves typically use propane canisters and can weigh 8 to 13 pounds.  

Single-burner stoves

Single-burner stoves are usually the best at simmering and can be the most simple to transport due to their slim profile (compared to a two-burner). These typically use propane canisters as the fuel source as well, and can weigh between 3 and 5 pounds.

Biofuel Camp Stoves

Biofuel camp stoves use natural materials such as twigs and pinecones to ignite and maintain a flame. If you’re in an area without access to natural materials (like high alpine or beach), you can bring hardwood pellets to burn. 

Portable Camp Grills

Portable camp grills come in many shapes and sizes. On one end of the spectrum, a camp grill can be as simple as a standing grate that is placed over your campfire; on the other end of the spectrum are portable, self-contained grills that provide the heat along with the grilling grate (these tend to be pricier than other camp stoves). While some use natural materials like wood or charcoal, others use gas—some butane, others isobutane-propane—which can help keep grill temperatures more precise and speed up the entire cooking process (no waiting for coals to develop). 

Hitch grills 

Hitch grills attach to the hitch of your car, serving those who like to tailgate or road trip. 

Performance 

Performance is gauged by a combination of boil time, ability to block wind, and capacity to simmer. 

Boil Time

Boil time matters when you want dinner. It’s all about how fast you can heat up a pot or pan. Check the stove’s Btu capacity rating: In theory, the higher the stove measures in Btus (British thermal units) of heat emitted from the burner, the quicker it will boil water. The burner diameter size can also impart more or less heat: The larger the burner, the more heat across more surface area. In the field, boil time is also impacted by factors like temperature and wind strength (both decrease boil times). 

Wind Blockage 

Wind blockage can be important because wind dampens the effect of flames, reducing heat, costing you more in fuel, and making you wait longer for dinner. Different types of windscreens exist, the most efficient being a back and side panel system. 

Simmering

Simmering gets you those subtle, nuanced flavors. It also saves your pots and pans from prolonged exposure to high heat. Low flames are best for simmering, so the range of your flame size (how accurately the stove knob turns the Btus up and down) will matter if you want to go from boiling water to simmering sauce.

Ease of Use

Ease of use refers to the territory between awkward to manage and idiotproof. How does it feel getting the stove packed up, unloaded, set up? Cleaning might always feel like a chore, but some elements make it easier than others.

Transport

Transport will always be a factor due to the nature of a camp stove. How big is too big and how heavy is too heavy for your tastes? The smallest, most packable camp stoves often have windshields that are set up around the stove, not attached to it, which can hamper flame performance, but might make transportation the easiest.

Setting up a camp stove shouldn’t be a hassle when you’re out there to relax, right? How many parts do you have to screw together? Will it stand freely on a table, or need legs added? How sturdy does the ground need to be? Is there a built-in igniter? If so, the Piezo Ignitor is a trusted industry standard.

Cleaning

Cleaning is an imperative, so it must be factored. Importantly, do the stove grates lift up? How many nooks and crannies and corner grooves are there? Are there a lot of parts? Pro tip: Black is the most filth-friendly color. 

Efficiency

Efficiency is determined by the performance of the system that transforms fuel into heat and then distributes that heat. In other words: the stove design and its fuel. Does it have a good windscreen? Propane is what most camp stoves will use, as it keeps for a long time. Different propane tanks have different gas lines and connection threads; if you want to upgrade to a larger propane tank (which means less-frequent fill-up runs and less waste of the small green bottles) look for adapters. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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