Even as a part-time camping enthusiast, you’ll recognize that your heat source and means of cooking food is crucial for a successful campout. If you often camp, deciding when to use a camp stove versus a fire has the potential to ruin your trip.
Leave the camp stove behind, and you might be eating cold food for the weekend. Bring it along but don’t use it, and you might be carrying unnecessary extra weight. Here we’ll explain what’s best and when depending on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing once you get there.
If you picture a roaring bonfire when you hear the term “campfire,” it’s likely not very accurate. Depending on where you’re camping, there are restrictions on how high your fire can go and where you can start it. You must tend to the fire while it’s lit, and make sure it’s entirely out before going to bed at night or taking off on a hike.
In most campgrounds, fire rings or pits are on-site, and you must either haul in your wood or purchase it from the campground. That means you’re starting the fire on your own, so you might need to bring a means of fire starter, kindling, matches or a lighter, and a container for water in case it gets out of hand.
Camping stoves are more than just a grill that you bring from home. Actual camp stoves are compact and transportable, allowing you to cook much as you would at home on a stove. At the same time, camping stoves also have unique features that are different from your home’s range.
There are two primary types of camping stoves: liquid fuel and solid fuel models. Liquid fuel camp stoves use alcohol or gas, and many use cartridges for their fuel. With cartridges, you must exchange your containers or visit a refilling station to refuel.
Solid fuel stoves can use wood, charcoal, coal, or store-bought fuel tablets. With some stoves, you can even use natural fuel like local wood and twigs. If you choose the right type of camping stove for your trip, you might not need to pack anything other than the stove itself.
As someone who’s new to camping, it’s easy to think ahead to a campground’s fire rings and assume that cooking over an open flame is the simpler choice. However, choosing which type of fire to use involves factors like where you’re traveling to, how long you’re staying, what you plan to eat, and how many people you need to feed.
For most commercial campgrounds and state parks, your choice of campfire may depend on regulations. The same applies if you’re traveling somewhere off the beaten path. In some places, open flames are dangerous, so consider safety warnings for the area you’re going to before packing your camp stove.
You should also think about how close you’ll be unpacking to your campsite. For hike-in locations, it’s not feasible to make multiple trips with heavy bags. In this situation, campfire benefits include not having to carry supplies in, unless you’re bringing your fuel.
With campfires and a little know-how, you can likely start a fire nearly anywhere. However, it’s not that simple if your camping location bars visitors from collecting firewood from the local forest. Conversely, some locations do not allow outside firewood due to pest concerns.
One of the benefits of camping stoves is that you can choose the type of fuel that works for your most frequent camping locations. For example, if you often camp where you can’t collect firewood, it might be easier to carry along a camp stove, especially a backpacking wood stove that doesn’t add much weight to your pack.
While backpacking alone, carrying along a backpacking wood stove or a fire-starting kit might be simpler than bringing a camp stove. However, using a camp stove means less time getting a fire going, and therefore an earlier mealtime.
If you have many people in your party, using a portable stove that accommodates large pots or skillets makes sense. It also allows you to control the heat more precisely than you can with an open fire, meaning dinner is less likely to be scorched.
If you’re camping in cold weather conditions, you’ll appreciate a roaring fire at the end of each day. For this reason, campfires have a substantial benefit over camping stoves. However, many camping stoves also have high heat output, but that also means more fuel for the energy you’re losing to the surrounding area.
Also, consider what the wind will be like where you’re traveling. If gusty winds keep blowing out your campfire, a stove with a protective shield can keep you on schedule for mealtimes.
We’ve already mentioned firewood sourcing, but the same challenge arises with camping stoves. One drawback is running out of a specific fuel type in a location where you can’t purchase more. In these cases, you’ll have to resort to building a campfire. That is if you can find firewood or other material to burn.
The bottom line is, it depends on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing once you get there. For most people traveling alone and cooking meals for one, a small camp stove is faster and easier than making a big campfire.
For larger parties making a lot of food or jockeying for the prime marshmallow roasting position, using both a campfire and a camp stove may prove the smartest choice. However, having a camp stove on hand can’t hurt, either.
There’s also the saying that you’re better off safe than sorry, and that applies to needing a way to cook food or warm up your hiking group in a pinch. Bringing along a portable camping stove on your next excursion could keep you from going cold or going hungry. If conditions are poor for starting a wood fire, at least you’ll have a backup plan in place.
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