Choosing any type of outdoor equipment can be confusing. The multitude of equipment choices can be overwhelming. One of the best ways to choose is to use someone else's experiences. Let's visit with a new hiker while he chooses a backpacking stove.
Otis was getting ready to go on his very first backpacking adventure with a of couple friends, Hank and Scout. None of them were overly experienced, but between them they had decided to learn everything they could before hitting the trail.
As they went through the list of supplies they needed, one of the many items Otis would need to buy was a backpacking stove. He thought this should be pretty easy. He had been camping before and had used the nice propane double-burner camp stoves and decided that finding a backpacking stove ought not to be too hard.
Otis ventured off with his list of items that he needed to pick up. Acknowledging the fact that he needed some guidance, he searched out the camping "expert" at the local outdoor outfitter. Thomas was indeed a wealth of knowledge about camping, backpacking and pretty much anything outdoors. When they got to the stoves, Thomas asked, "What kind do you want? Propane, butane, mixed, chemical?"
Needless to say, Otis was overwhelmed. Many of us have found ourselves in a similar dilemma when shopping for any type of camping equipment, stoves included. While everyone has their favorites, there are a few general considerations that need to be attended to. The stove should:
Be Lightweight and Compact
Many stoves today are still a single burner coil style stove that screws on to the top of a propane cylinder. These are okay in a pinch, but every ounce counts when backpacking. Single burner stoves today come as small as 2" high by 5" wide. Some are even smaller. They should also have their own carrying case making it easier to protect them in your pack.
Rely On Readily Available Fuel Source
Image courtesy Daniel Leathers
Your fuel, whether butane, propane or a mixture, should be readily available along the trail (if you're hiking numerous days) and be lightweight. Small containers of butane/propane mixtures can be fairly lightweight. A canister that weights 8.9oz can last about three days depending on use. There are also numerous chemical options.
Be Easily Lit
Some stoves come with an igniter attached while others rely on external sources such as a lighter or match. Whichever you choose be sure the igniter is working properly and you have matches as a back-up.
Have Wind Protection For Flame
Image courtesy Daniel Leathers
Most modern backpacking stoves come with wind protecting pot supports which serves duel purposes. However, do not presume your stove has them. Be sure to read the specs. The protection from the wind ensures proper cooking flame.
Have Flame Control
The ability to control your flame allows you to go from a simmer to a boil and will assist in conserving fuel.
Image courtesy Steve Cyr
One other item to consider is your expected elevation. Some fuels burn better at higher elevations than others do due to lack of oxygen in the air.
Seeking out experienced, knowledgeable help in picking out a stove (as well as any equipment) is always a good idea and will help you just like it helped Otis. The person you ask to help should have a teacher's heart and not push their favorite item. They should help you find what's best for you.