As I’ve been living on portable stoves for a few days, I thought documenting the experience might be of value.
The $10 (a few years ago) single burner 1 kW electric burner from my road / hotel kit works fine for everything. It is easy to use. Just plug it in and turn the knob. It is more flexible than the electric skillet, so things like steaming vegetables or making coffee are easy. As long as you have electrons, it is the best and cheapest solution. The only downside is the lower power for things like running a canner or big pots that take about twice as long to heat as on a regular 2.2 kW stove burner. For use in hotels, the lack of any flame, fumes, or similar “smoke detector fodder” is a major benefit. (I also have a one person sized slow cooker for use in hotels too ;-) Cost to operate ranges from free in hotels to very low in the home at 7 ¢ to 40 ¢ per hour depending on how political your local electricity supplier might be…
This looks like a fancier one at $12 from Amazon:
The surprise star was the Asian style butane stove. These are common in Asian homes as a table top appliance for various foods cooked at the table. Low and flat with a large burner surface, they cook like a regular gas stove. I got mine for about $20 at an Asian grocery store about 15 years ago. Just saw one for $30 at Smart & Final who also sell the fuel as $10 for a pack of 4 cans of 8 ounces each. Yeah, that’s $1 / 3.2 ounces. Not cheap, but not as expensive as some other choices. It runs a long time on a can, so for all practical purposes the cost isn’t very important. BIG feature is the “turn and go” ignition with the built in sparker, and then the stability and even cooking of the large burner area. Being low and flat, it is very stable. Nearly no odor or other issues. Very even cooking and fast responsive burner ( it has reminded me why I really really like cooking on gas more than electricity). It came with a carry case and I’m tempted to put it in the car kit when next I go on the road. Only problem I’ve had is forgetting that there’s an interlock that prevents loading a fuel canister if you have the burner assembly upside down in the stowed position…
The GasOne stove I have is now $31 on Amazon on the first search, but subsequent searches turned up this one at $16
But for $27 you can get a dual fuel version, propane / butane:
Go figure… The blurb says “backpacking”. Not hardly! This is a table top item not for the pack. They also have 2 burner models and more in the same general pattern. At $13.32 for 4 fuel cans, it’s cheaper to hit up Smart & Final for fuel. Interesting to note that Coleman has one for $20 ATM (regularly $30)
Alcohol stoves are good indoors but don’t stand up well to wind outdoors. Wind shields helpful. Quiet, low smell, easy to operate (pour in fuel and light). Small and light weight. As an emergency stove for use in the home, a very good choice. Fuel keeps forever and not under pressure so leaks not a big deal. As a portable or camping stove, good for an individual. I’ll likely use it in the office for making coffee now that the big butane canister is used up ;-) A bit slower than the other stoves, but very workable. The Trangia type are a good “carry in the pocket” stove for hiking & biking as the fuel is already in the stove and the whole thing is palm sized. You do need an ignition source, so carry matches, a Bic lighter or a sparker of some sort. Fuel can be found in most all hardware stores (methanol is lacquer thinner) and auto parts stores / departments (fuel line dryer). Just a very nice, but smaller and slower, stove. It will boil water fast enough to make the kettle whistle, just takes a couple of minutes longer. You must be comfortable working with flaming liquids and dropping a metal top on the fire to put it out. There is a fire risk of flaming spreading liquid if you knock it over when lit.
I like this one for general use when camping and such, but realize small Sierra Cup like things don’t get support from the “ring” and you will need a larger sized pot or use the pot that is the case.
Small butane camping stoves work great, indoors or out. With a built in spark igniter nearly trivial to operate and absolutely reliable. The small size of the platform / burner can make for a tippy experience with larger pots / tea kettles and the concentrated flame makes for a hot spot with things like a 9 inch frying pan. Eggs will cook fastest in the middle of the pan while being under cooked at the edges. Still, for camping it is nearly ideal and as an emergency stove packed in a bug-out bag or car kit it’s great. It took forever to use up a 15.5 ounce (440 gram) large size fuel canister. I’ll only be buying the smaller 220 gram size from here on out. The lower height makes things more stable and, frankly, the fuel lasts more than long enough. They can suffer fuel leaks. Yeah, the canister is supposedly self sealing when you remove the stove, and it seems to work fine, but in a life or death situation do you really want to be dependent on a bit of rubber? Leaving the stove on the canister for weeks seemed to not have any leak issues, but may depend on the stove. (I was using it to make coffee in the office before the main house stove went out…). No smells and works well in wind or bad weather. As an emergency stove, it’s a great choice. For day to day cooking, the ‘tippy’ nature of the small burner surface is an issue as is the hot spot from the small flame head. For making ramen cups and coffee on the road in an Aw Shit situation, ideal; especially with the built in spark igniter models where you don’t need to worry about where the matches have gone, or running out of matches.
Now running at $9, this looks like the one I’ve got. Just ran 15.5 ounces of fuel through it, and it worked every time. Folds up small enough to be easily in the pocket with the car keys. Holds a full sized tea kettle if you center it well ;-) I have this stove and 3 smaller sized fuel cans (220 gram) as the default OMG kit for home or road. I also have a much more expensive smaller all titanium version in my car backpack. Why? Why not? ;-)
I love my Coleman Dual Fuel 533 camp stove for the ability to run on some of the cheapest fuel you can get, unleaded gasoline. BUT: It does smell a bit. I only run on Coleman fuel as it runs a bit cleaner and isn’t that expensive, but you do need to accept a bit of smell when fueling it up, or when shutting down. It cooks well and has a nice sized burner with good responsive flame control. There’s some noise in operation, but not much. There’s also the “fiddly bit” of pumping it up to operating pressure. At first ignition it takes a while for the “generator tube” to get hot and for the flame to stabilize. I’m fine with that, but others might not be. As an EOTWAWKI stove, the ability to run on the gas from the car tank is a big feature. For general use it isn’t. I just used it to make coffee and this is after standing for a year (or three?) with fuel in it. No Problems. (This is NOT a preferred behaviour, BTW, and especially not with gasoline that polymerizes on standing) It is vastly heavier than the pocket sized alcohol and butane stoves, so not for backpacking unless you are seriously into big packs and don’t care about weight. Yet if the society started to collapse a few months ago (Impeach 45!…) it’s the stove I most want in the kit. Durable and reliable, even if a bit fiddly and with a bit of smell in operation. But not for day to day use inside the home…
Running $62 at the moment, and listed as $90, I’m glad I have mine, but I’d not buy another one prior to buying a couple of the things above. IMHO calling it a “backpacking” stove is a bit of hype. Car camping, yes.
Some time ago I used the Sterno Stove for some experiments with alternative fuels. Alcohol and such in an empty tuna can in the stove. It is slow to heat with regular Sterno fuel, but has a nice even flame. Small, light, and easy to pack, and with the added tuna can a stove able to use ‘found fuels’ like alcohol or sticks, it’s a great EOTWAWKI stove. But the low power means it isn’t great in wind and cold (snow) where you want a lot of heat fast. It’s OK indoors for making coffee and ramen (if you have some patience…) and great for things like frying eggs. Fuel is everywhere, reasonably priced, and you can make your own (do a web search…) if desired. If you run out, you can just pour methanol, ethanol, or even rubbing alcohol in the can and light it. Be careful about spilling though, as spreading flaming liquid alcohol is not as safe as solidified Sterno alcohol. As a food warmer in the home, or as a “last ditch out of gasoline” stove, it’s great. For day to day use or as your main camping stove, not so much. The Trangia style alcohol stoves beat it (though at higher cost). Very wide base so handles all size pots, and with the narrow grids works well with Sierra Cups too. Built in wind screen feature is also nice. One of my favorite stoves given the added tuna can, but does take some fiddling to set up and operate. Think Origami Stove ;-) Matching a Trangia style burner with this stove also works well for various sized pots. Does require an ignition source.
Looks like these are up to $14 now. I think I paid $5 for mine some several decades back.
Propane Stoves: There’s several of these. Similar in cost to operate to the Butane Asian stove and cheaper fuel cost than the Butane camp stoves, but bigger and heavier. Not for backpacking, but great for “car camping”. I have both 2 burner and single burner versions. They work great and are easy to figure out and operate. Over-all, just about ideal for the person who doesn’t want to deal with the fiddly bits or smell of a gasoline stove, but wants something a bit more economical than the fancy camping stoves and doesn’t care about the size or weight (i.e. not carrying it on your back). The single burner stoves tend to be tall and a bit tippy. I like the brief case shaped 2 burner versions better for the purpose of cooking for 2+ folks. One of these and a couple of cans of fuel and you are set for a long power outage. I’ve had fuel canisters in the garage (hot in summer…) for years and then used them. Just no problems. Even heat. Cooks well. Very fine burner adjustment. All in all a great stove. Just a bit big for the bug out bag. Also with the wind screen wings and all, not as suited to table top use in the home (but way better out doors…). If planning a camping trip with the car, this is the go-to stove. Also for emergency power out use at home where I’m expecting things to recover before I’ve used up 2 fuel cans ;-) I.e. not EOTWAWKI but “Standard Operations Of Socialist California Electricity”…
Looks like about $44 for the Classic Coleman 2 burner version:
This single burner one is overpriced at $30
I have 2 of them (from 2 different makers) bought over the years. They work well on the short fat canisters but are tippy on the tall skinny ones. They do work very well, handle all sized pots, and have very good power and control (but you need an ignition source). IIRC mine were about $10 at Target or similar decades back. I would not buy one again, preferring a shorter less tippy solution. But have one in the car and you are set for fuel anywhere there’s a store…
So there you have it. Life with too many stove choices ;-)
Were I stoveless, and trying to decide what emergency stove to buy as a ‘first stove’, it would come down to the question of backpacking weight or in the house. For backpacking I’d get the igniter built in butane camping stove. For the home, I’d get the Asian style butane stove. (For hoteling, I’d get the electric hot plate ;-)
For EOTWAWKI, I’d get the Sterno stove, then add the Coleman Dual Fuel. Oh, and save an empty Tuna can for “found fuels” in the Sterno stove ;-)
As a second tier, I’d get a Trangia style alcohol burner kit. This is also usable for backpacking / hiking / whatever, and the burner increases the power of the Sterno stove (at the expense of heating the grids a bit…)
Only if I did a lot of car camping or cookouts would I bother with the Propane stoves. Yes, they save on fuel costs, but unless you use them a lot it just doesn’t matter. Too heavy for backpacking, and a bit clunky for use in the house, they are only really suited to a camp ground with a big picnick table and a car to haul them back and forth.
There are hundreds of other stoves and styles out there, and this is by no means an exhaustive exposition. It is intended as a “Start Here!” not as a be all and end all. For example, I have a very nice high power kerosene stove for baking with a portable oven over it. Fairly specialized, it uses a very stable fuel that’s low cost. It also would work well for canning outdoors. But it just isn’t something for the typical urban person in the First World. It does fit in well in India for a main house stove though. It’s a bit big, has a bit of smell, and fuss to make it go, but with daily use the lower fuel cost really matters. But this isn’t really about daily use. It’s about having something that’s not in the way for when you need it.