You’re looking to buy a new camping stove. But you don’t want just any camping stove, you want the best camping stove. So how do you go about find that perfect one? They all pretty much look the same and it’s just a stove, right? Surely there can’t be that much difference.
You just might be tempted to just go out and buy any camping stove, but that would be a mistake. All camping stoves are not the same! There’s quite a range in performance and different stoves are suited to different situations.
Keep on reading to understand the differences between camping stoves and learn how to pick the best camping stove for yourself. But if you want to jump straight to our recommendations you can use this link – take me to the best camping stoves!
Camping Stoves vs. Backpacking Stoves
First, let’s make a distinction. You can roughly group stoves into two categories, (car) camping stoves and backpacking stoves. Camping stoves are appropriate when you don’t have to carry them any considerable distance. They are big and heavy so you don’t want to have to carry them very far from your car trunk. Backpacking stoves are used for backcountry travel when you have to carry everything in your pack and distance is measured in miles rather than feet. They are designed to be compact and weigh very little compared to camping stoves.
Which type of camping stove should you buy?
If you mostly car camp where you can mimic some of the luxuries of a home kitchen, a camping stove is the best choice. The added versatility and easy of use are huge benefits. They are much better when cooking for larger groups.
If you are an avid backpacker (or want to be one) the best stove is a proper backpacking stove. The volume and weight penalty from a regular camping stove will be very detrimental in a backpacking situation.
If you engage in both types of camping and only want to buy a single stove, purchase a backpacking stove. You can still use these in car camping situations. Just don’t expect to cook multi pot meals or be able to quickly feed a large group (at least not easily!).
This article is specifically about choosing the best camping stove. If that’s you, read on. If you need a backpacking stove, check out this guide by REI.
How many burners do I need?
The size of your camping stove is mainly determined by the number of people you are feeding and the complexity of the cooking. Don’t think about the maximum number of people you might cook for. To choose the best camping stove, think about the number of people you usually cook for on your camping trips. For many of us, that number is usually between 2-4. Also think about what you like to eat while camping and your cooking style. Do you like to make several items or dishes that need to be cooked separately? Are you a one pot meal type of chef?
Single burner camping stoves
These are no frills, simple camping stoves consisting of a single burner mounted to a base. They are good for 1-2 people and can even work well for smaller groups if you keep the cooking very simple. These are the best camping stove option if you are looking for something compact, lightweight, and inexpensive.
The main drawback, though, is that you can only cook a single thing at a time. Say for example you want to cook a stir fry and eat it with rice. You’ll probably have to make the rice first and then try to keep it insulated and warm while you cook the rest of the meal.
Due to their simple, open design, single burner camping stoves are also susceptible to breezes. Even a slight breeze will significantly increase cooking time and reduce fuel efficiency. During windy periods you may have to look for objects to block the wind to cook effectively on a single burner camping stove.
Our recommendation for best single burner camping stove: Coleman Powerpack Propane Stove
Dual burner camping stoves
Dual burner camping stoves are a lot more versatile than their single burner siblings. Cooking is much easier when you can have more than a single pot or pan going at the same time. If you regularly cook for small groups (3-4 people) you definitely want to go with a dual burner stove. Dual burner camping stoves also come with more features. They are built with wind screens to block breezes and also come in combination models where there is a burner on one side and a grilling surface on the other.
Yes, they are a bit bigger and heavier than single burner stoves, but the added flexibility and cooking speed more than makes up for that. When choosing a dual burner camping stove, pay attention to the maximum usable width of the unit. The windscreen creates a partial box that you must cook within and you’ll want to make sure your pots and pans can fit side by side. On some models you can just fold the windscreen down to accommodate larger cookware. The best camping stoves have large windscreens but still allow you to use decent sized cookware side by side.
The bottom line is that for the majority of folks, a dual burner stove is going to be their best camping stove choice.
Our recommendation for best dual burner camping stove: Camp Chef Everest High Output 2 Burner Stove
Group camping stoves
If you’re regularly cooking for groups larger than a few people, you’ll want something that has high heat output and can hold several pots and pans at a time. The best camping stoves for groups are usually free standing units. This is useful for freeing up table space which is often at a premium when camping with groups. Group camping stoves have two or three burners and are design to run on standard 5 gallon propane canisters (the kind you use for gas grills and heat lamps). These things are almost like outdoor kitchens.
The negatives are that these group stoves are heavier, take up more room, and generally require some on-site assembly.
Alternatively you can also use multiple camping stoves at the same time. If you also have a backpacking stove you can bring that car camping to supplement your camping stove. It’s always better when you can make your gear do double duty and perform multiple functions.
Our recommendation for best group camping stove: Camp Chef Pro 90 3 Burner Stove
How many BTU’s do I need?
BTU’s (British thermal units) are used to measure the power output of a camping stove. Basically the higher this number the more heat and the faster you can cook. This can range anywhere from 7,000 BTU’s for a single burner camping stove all the way to over 100,00 BTU’s for multiple burner group camping stoves.
However, BTU’s aren’t the only factor and the stove with the most BTU’s isn’t necessarily the best camping stove. As we mentioned above, windscreens can make a huge difference in cooking efficiency. If you often camp in windy conditions (coastal campsites are often windy) the best camping stove for you probably has a big windscreen rather than maximum BTU’s. Note that not all windscreens are equal some some camping stoves have larger ones than others.
What type of fuel should I use?
The best camping stoves generally run on propane fuel that is cheap and easy to find nearly anywhere. The original stoves ran on liquid fuel such as white gas (naphtha) or unleaded gasoline. You can still buy liquid fuel camping stoves but you are much better off buying a camping stove that runs off of propane gas. Besides being cheap and ubiquitous, propane burns cleanly and is nearly odorless. You can’t say the same about liquid fuels. Propane camping stoves also have easy to use push button Piezoelectric starters and do not need to be primed like liquid fuel camping stoves.
The main advantage of liquid fuel is cold weather performance. Propane needs to be pressurized to flow to your burner properly. You notice this when a propane canister is nearly empty – the flame won’t burn anymore but there still seems to be a tiny bit of gas left. Cold weather will also reduce the internal pressure of the canister and reduce flame output. If you’re camping in extremely cold conditions, a liquid fuel model may be the best camping stove for you. This is why you see liquid fuel camping stoves made for alpine use.
You will also find some portable, single burner camping stoves that use butane canisters. This fuel is less common than propane and may be harder to find.
There are even some speciality camping stoves that burn wood. For most campers they are not recommend and we aren’t going to cover them here.
What else should I consider?
There are a few more things to consider when choosing the best camping stove.
Some camping stoves offer a combination of regular burner and a flat, grill or griddle surface. This let’s you easily cook camp classics like bacon, burgers, or pancakes. While convenient, some consider these stoves slightly less flexible as you can always cook these food items in a regular skillet or even use a separate griddle surface that lays on top of the burners. But if you want to carry fewer items in your camp cooking kit, these combination models may be the best camping stove for you.
Propane canister size
The 16 oz propane canister is probably the most common and convenient size for camping stove usage. You’ll see the green Coleman canisters at nearly every campsite in the summer. But if you’re doing a lot of cooking and going through a lot of these, the best option for your camping stove may be a refillable propane tank.
These refillable tanks are what you see running bbq grills and come in 1lb and 5lb sizes. Some camping stoves can be used with these tanks out of the package, but you’ll most likely need to purchase an adapter hose.
By using the refillable tank you save money, reduce waste (throwing away canisters), and get better camping stove performance which means shorter cook times. The only negative is that the tanks are obviously bigger. If you go this route you’ll also need to a propane adaptor hose. These things are pretty standard and you can find one here.
We think these are the best camping stoves
We’ve covered how to choose the best camping stove and hopefully this guide has been helpful. But in case you wanted a short cut, here’s our list of the top camping stoves on the market right now. So go pick up a camping stove and get out there and camp!
Our pick for the best camping stove – Camp Chef Everest
We’re also not the only ones who love this stove. The Camp Chef Everest consistently tops lists for the best camping stove. You really can’t go wrong with it.
Best compact camping stove – Coleman Powerpack Propane Stove
The Coleman Powerpack also makes a great backup or supplementary camping stove. It’s convenient to use one of these as a secondary stove when cooking for a larger group.
Best camping stove for a group – Camp Chef Pro 90 3 Burner Stove
If you regularly cook for groups of 6 or more, this is the best camping stove for you. Please note that this bad boy runs off of full size propane tanks.
Best cheap camping stove – Coleman Triton 2 Burner Camping Stove
Make sure you don’t pick up the Coleman Classic Propane Stove by mistake. That model is a bit cheaper but the flame control is so bad we can’t recommend it.