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On $25 a Day or Less
HOW TO SEE THE WORLD
Art of Travel - European and World Backpacking


Chapter 19

Stoves and Cooksets

Fuels  Screens  Comparisons  Recommendations  Cooksets  Tips


CAMPING TRAVELERS WILL save money and eat better by carrying a source of instant fire. With this method some can experience Europe for $15 per day, plus transport. You can cook eggs the way you like, make soups and stews, and call up a hot drink at any time. You can combine efforts with neighbors to create a gourmet meal, or one that seems so at the time. The money saved should afford occasional feasts of local cuisine at restaurants.1

Note that some campgrounds and most hostels have cooking facilities available.


Fuels

Isobutane
Butane and twenty percent propane which is sold in light steel canisters. It has replaced straight butane since it ignites in outside air temperatures down to about 15 F (-10 C). It is the most convenient and clean-burning fuel for normal conditions since you just strike a match and turn on the stove.
Isobutane is mainly sold in two incompatible formats: canisters manufactured by Camping Gaz-Bluet, a French company that dominates the gas stove market, and more or less industry standard canisters sold by EPI (British), Primus (Swedish), MSR and Coleman (American), and Olicamp (Chinese).
Gaz-Bluet fuel canisters are practically everywhere in continental Europe, widely available in outdoor shops in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, and somewhat available in sixty-two other countries. In France, where the canisters are also widely used for lanterns and heaters, you can cheaply buy them in grocery stores.
Industry standard canisters are slightly more available than Gaz-Bluet canisters in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. In my overall experience, however, most shops that carry industry standard canisters also have Camping-Gaz, while the reverse is less true.
Butane
Same characteristics as isobutane, except it won't ignite if the outside air temperature falls below freezing.
Propane
A gas that must be contained in heavy steel canisters, making it suitable only for car and RV camping.
White Gas
Also known as Coleman fuel and Blazo, white gas is a hot and relatively clean-burning gasoline. Widely available in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in outdoor shops and some hardware stores.
Unleaded Gas
Available wherever modern cars run. Additives in fuel are noxious (injurious to health). Stoves and pans will require frequent cleaning.
Leaded Gas
Produces very noxious fumes, not recommended as a fuel. Will clog the jets on stoves quickly.
 
Kerosene
Available worldwide, this is the chief heating and lighting fuel for developing countries. Cheap, but often of such a low grade it should first be filtered through a cloth. More difficult to light than gasoline, especially in cold weather. Usually the stove must be "primed"--the burner is initially heated with a flame from preheating paste, gasoline, or paper. Kerosene is also dirtier, smellier, and smokier than white gas, and it blackens pots.
 
Jet Fuel and Stoddard Solvent
Similar to kerosene.
Diesel
Stove combustion byproducts of this heavy fuel are noxious, enormous, and immediately cancel out ten years of broccoli.
Alcohol
Coolest burning fuel with one-half the heat output per weight of any of the above. May be difficult to find in the 200 proof variety. I don't recommend alcohol-only stoves for travel.


Windscreens

Even a slight breeze greatly reduces stove efficiency as the windscreens built into stoves are always insufficient. Make a windscreen from four feet of aluminum foil by folding it over a few times until you have a piece approximately six inches high by twenty-four inches long (15x60 centimeters) that just or mostly surrounds your stove. Attach a few paperclips for later anchoring and rigging. Or create from a large pie plate. Or spend $10 to $29.95 for a pre-made contraption at your outfitter.

Be aware you don't want to heat up the fuel bottle or canister with the windscreen.

Illustration: Scorpion model I stove, industry standard isobutane canister, sierra cup, and aluminum windscreen. Scorpion I stove


Tents, Cooking, Fire, and Carbon Monoxide

 

Stoves Compared

Gaz-Bluet 470HP, Turbo, and Micro
$30, 8 oz. (225 g.) All are light, compact, very convenient, and have excellent fuel availability in Europe. They simmer well, burn hot, and pop on either a CV 270 or 470 gram isobutane canister ($3 and $4.50, two and four hours burn-time on medium) making heat instantly available for your pleasure. The convenience of these stoves is unbeatable--you flick your lighter and turn the valve. No spare parts necessary.
Camping Gaz stove and frying pan Illustration: Gaz-Bluet 470HP stove, 470 gram propane/butane cartridge, and non-stick fry pan. The folding handle was so long it tipped the fry pan at every opportunity. Hence I finally ripped it off and now use a pot gripper, which saves weight and works okay, as pictured below.
While Gaz-Bluet makes several stoves compatible with CV270 and CV470 cartridges, beware the Gaz-Bluet model 206 stove. It uses an old-style cartridge which is punctured by the stove, and therefore must remain attached to the stove until empty. The 206, while cheap, is inefficient and, in my opinion, dangerous.
Olicamp Scorpion
$25, 8 oz. (225 g.) This nifty Taiwanese stove (a very good simmerer) uses industry standard fuel canisters. The model III has a large built-in windscreen that is less effective than the the lighter and more compact Scorpion model I with external screen pictured above.
Other stoves that use industry standard canisters
are sold by EPI, Primus, MSR (RapidFire only), and Coleman (some models only). Most would work reasonably well for travel.
Beware
Hank Roberts and certain models of Optimus stoves which use incompatible canisters (but at first glance may look standard) that can be difficult to find. These are specialty stoves for souls who willfully suspend themselves thousands of feet up sheer mountain faces and concurrently want to relax with a cup of hot chocolate.
MSR XGK
$90, 15.5 oz. (440 g.) Like all MSR stoves, includes windscreen, pump, and stuff sack, requires fuel bottle. Operates on white gas, auto gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel, Stoddard solvent #4, and AV gas. Burns very hot and very loudly, like a blow torch. It doesn't simmer. (For all practical purposes it's either on or off.) XGKII Stove
The XGK is a proven design used on expeditions for melting snow and boiling water. It has a large-diameter generator tube which resists clogging. This is the most omni-fuelish stove, and it cleans easily. Spare parts and repair kit, $10. Mountain Safety Research is based in Seattle.
MSR Dragonfly
$100, 17 oz. (480 g.) A new product that reportedly burns all the fuels of the XGK, but simmers better.
MSR Whisperlite Internationale 600
$60, 14 oz. (400 g.) Burns white gas and with a change of a jet, kerosene. Burns hot. More compact, quieter, and slightly better at simmering than the XGK. Cleans easily. Spare parts and repair kit, $10. Don't confuse this stove with the MSR Whisperlite, which burns white gas only.
Sigg Fire Jet
$70, 13 oz. (370 g.) Burns white gas, gasoline, and kerosene, but simmers about as well as most other multi-fuel stoves. Sigg is a Swiss company best known for quality camping cookware.
Peak One multi-fuel stoveColeman Peak1 Multi-fuel
$65, 21 oz. (600 g.) Burns white gas, kerosene, and jet fuel. Has a built-in twelve-ounce fuel tank, which runs on high for ninety minutes. Not as compact for a given burn time as other designs, but is a proven product. Coleman stoves simmer better than other multi-fuel designs, and require little or no priming. Due to weight and bulk, however, the pictured stove is better for hunters than travelers
Zipstove Sierra
$43, 15 oz. (425 g.) Burns wood or charcoal. A single AA battery powers a fan which intensifies the heat. It works. Some love it, some hate it. One Appalachian Trail hiker hated hunting twigs every time he needed fire, as this is a busy stove. Others consider the Zipstove a magnificent invention, with fuel available everywhere. Blackens pots and your hands.
Optimus and Primus
Stoves by these Swedish companies were oft-carried by travel backpackers/explorers from the end of the last century until about 1980. While Primus has moved to gas stoves, Optimus still manufactures remarkable relics with the 8R/Hunter and SVEA/123R models.


Stove Recommendations

For travel backpacking/camping throughout the developed world I recommend a newer model Camping Gaz-Bluet or industry standard gas stove. Advantages include space, gravity, and convenience.

When I wake up after a late night what I want from my stove is to flick, turn, and cook or kick back. I never want to deal with the pumping, priming, lighting, relighting, monitoring, adjusting, fiddling, cleaning, and stowing rituals of gasoline and kerosene stoves.

When I need more fuel I'll pick some up at the camp store or the next time I pass an outdoor shop.

Furthermore, gas stoves burn so cleanly they leave nothing on the bottom of your pots, unlike sooty gasoline and kerosene stoves which also heavily pollute that all-important local environment below your nose.

Overall I give an edge to Gaz-Bluet fuel canisters over the so-called industry standard for worldwide availability and lower price.

The MSR XGK, as the most omni-fuelish stove, is recommended for camping in remote areas and developing countries where fuel supply is likely to be a problem, or for expeditions that will be boiling lots of water or melting snow for drinking.

While this stove simmers about as well as a Saturn V rocket, it is matchless for producing a reliable, hot flame from many different fuels. It is also extreme overkill for European campgrounds at six in the morning.


Cooksets

Cook scene less food bag.For one or two people a one- to two-liter pot should handle all the pasta and soups you can eat. (A one-liter pot is just barely adequate.) I use a light eight-inch (20 cm.) non-stick fry pan for much of my cooking. It cleans with an easy wipe, which is a big plus after a big feed.

Every cooking camper should have a sierra cup, which is stainless steel and has a wire around the rim that quickly cools the rim. Sierra cups are great for heating water for tea and coffee, as well as sauces, vegetables, and soups. You can cook a lot with just these three items. I also carry a light aluminum plate for use as a lid, and for guests.

For utensils I carry a knife, fork and spoon. My knife and fork are made from Lexan, which saves an ounce. Note that Lexan melts if left in the fry pan (although this led to one of my greater inventions--the spife). Some diehards travel with only a spoon, and use their Swiss army knife for cutting and buttering.

 Travelers' Tips

When traveling in China bring your own utensils or buy your own plastic chopsticks because poorly washed or even unwashed wooden chopsticks are a leading cause of sickness there. Jennifer, Vancouver


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Notes

1. Also, there are still a few places in the world, including Norway, where fish leap into the pan for free and tasty meals. back