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A Camp Stove Comparison

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

It was during my third long distance bicycle trip that I began to fully understand the importance of having a good stove. Unable to fly with a tank full of propane, I landed in Raleigh, North Carolina with the intention of finding the first sporting good store I could and purchasing myself the propane/butane mixed fuel I would need for the rest of my trip.

Unfortunately though, after three days of travel, I had not only failed to find the fuel I needed, but I was completely incapable of finding a sporting good store with anyone that knew anything about camp stoves.
After a week on the road, I decided to ditch the stove I had brought with me (my MSR Pocket Rocket) and purchased a totally new stove that ran on unleaded gasoline (the kind you fill your car up with). Of course, when I went to the gas station to fill up the stove’s tiny tank, the attendant immediately ran up to me, arms waving, screaming at me to get off his property… telling me in broken English that I couldn’t fill up my little camp stove at his pump.

So I went down the road and found a gas station that would let me fill up my little stove. In fact, they even pumped the gas for me! All $0.13 worth!

For the rest of the trip, my little unleaded fueled stove worked just fine. It leaked a little and made my panniers smell like gasoline, but overall, I was incredibly happy with the performance of this cheap little gas-guzzler.

A month and a half later I was in Portland, Maine, checking my bike onto the airplane, when three men in police uniforms grabbed me and pulled into the office of the chief security officer at the airport. “What was happening?!” I thought. I was completely freaked out!

As it turns out, I had not thoroughly cleaned out my camp stove and the smell of gasoline was still pouring from this “bomb-like” device. After an intense investigation and questioning by at least six different uniformed men, the chief of security let me go and I never saw my little stove again (I can’t tell you what happened to the stove, but if you ever run into me, be sure to ask about this story and I’ll tell you exactly what happened! It was scary and very, very strange!).

In the end, I made it on the plane, I didn’t get arrested, the plane didn’t blow up, and I never saw my little camp stove again. But all of this got me thinking about the fact that traveling with a camp stove can just plain SUCK! If you’ve ever given it a try, you probably know what I’m talking about. There are numerous types of stoves, and finding the types of fuels that match up with your correct stove when traveling can be, at times, totally impossible.

In this article I am going to show you three different camp stoves that I have used on my past bicycle tours and point out the benefits and drawbacks of each of these cooking devices.

MSR POCKET ROCKET PROPANE/BUTANE MIX:

The MSR Pocket Rocket is a small, lightweight, and foldable camp stove. It is my favorite camp stove, and if I could only find the fuel for this stove anywhere in the world, I would never bother with any other type of stove. This is the stove I was traveling with on my third bicycle tour, but was unable to find fuel for. For some strange reason, the state of North Carolina did not seem to carry this type of fuel at the time (or I just couldn’t find it!).

The reason I like this stove so much is because of the fact that it is so incredibly lightweight and compact. I also like it because it comes in a durable hard case (which is excellent for protecting the stove while out on the road). The main reason this stove is so great though is because the stove is so incredibly controllable. Simply turn the nozzle to the desired level and unleash the preferred amount of heat. With this stove you can turn the flame up high or let is simply simmer. The choice is up to you!

I still travel a lot of with this stove, but I only use in on trips where I know I will not be traveling by train, plane, or any other form of public transportation. Finding this propane/butane mixed fuel is relatively easy if you are in a big city with an adequate sporting good store, but if you’re out in the boondocks, you’re likely to be eating cold food for quite sometime, as this specific fuel can be difficult to find.

MSR WHISPERLIGHT INTERNATIONALE:

The MSR Whisperlight Internationale is the best stove to bring along if you plan on traversing the globe as the stove runs on numerous types of fuels. The Whisperlight can run on white gas, kerosene, and unleaded auto fuel. The stove and it’s fuel bottle (sold separately) detach when not in use and the stove itself folds up to a level that is about twice as large as the Pocket Rocket reviewed above. This small increase in size is totally worth it if you are traveling overseas and are unsure as to which type of fuels you’ll be able to find while out on the road.

Caution: Read the directions for this stove carefully… and be sure to keep the gas lines clean! Each time you use this stove, you must pump air into the bottle so that the gas can disperse into the stove. But be warned… do not over pump! The first time I used this stove I was at a campground in Washington State and put way too much pressure into the fuel bottle. As soon as I lit my match, the stove and the entire picnic table it was sitting on burst into flames. Luckily, I was able to extinguish the fire with two water bottles that I had nearby, but I was incredibly lucky. This stove cannot be controlled as well as the MSR Pocket Rocket , but it is incredibly useful in the way that it burns just about every fuel imaginable (but most importantly – unleaded gasoline).

SODA CAN ALCOHOL STOVE (HOME MADE):

As promised, I’m now going to talk about the stove that I use almost exclusively on my bike tours and other outdoor adventures. The best thing about this stove is that it cost me less than $0.50, I made it myself in less than half an hour, and the fuel for this particular stove can be found anywhere in the world! (Not to mention that this stove weighs practically nothing!

The soda can stove is a home made stove created from two aluminum soda cans. It runs on alcohol (or I like to use a product called HEET, which can be found at just about any gas station or auto care center.)

When you are traveling by bike, hiking, or doing any sort of activity in which you need a compact camp stove, there are three main things you are going to look for, and the soda can stove has them all: It’s lightweight. It’s small. And the fuel can be found anywhere. Beyond that, the flames are never out of control and it is surprisingly good at doing its job (cooking your food and drink).

The drawbacks of this tiny camp stove are that it can be damaged during travel (although this is rare if you’re sure to pack it well), it gets extremely hot and should not be touched while in use (and for several minutes after the flame has been extinguished), and the flame can not be turned off until the fuel runs out (meaning that it’s better to put in less fuel that more). But with a little practice and some common sense, this little aluminum stove can be a surprisingly reliable and durable camp stove for use on your next bicycle adventure.

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About Darren Alff

My goal as the Bicycle Touring Pro is to give you the confidence and inspiration you need to travel by bicycle anywhere in the world. I do all of the work on this website by myself. Since 2007, all of the articles, books, emails, interviews, photos, podcasts and videos have been created by me in my spare time. Thanks to the generous donations I receive from readers like you, I'm able to focus on creating regular, high-quality content; invest further in developing the website; and cover the costs related to my bicycle touring activities.

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21 Comments

  1. Paul

    June 18, 2008 at 12:26 am

    I’m in the process of purchasing a cooking stove and thought the MSR Superfly was a good choice but after some research feel the Jetboil might be a little more practical. Have you tried a Jetboil? Just looking for some opinions before making a purchase.

  2. Darren Alff

    June 18, 2008 at 12:26 am

    Unfortunately, I have never used the Jetboil stove before. I have heard some good things about it, but I have no experience with it myself. If it is okay with you, I am going to post your question on the website and maybe someone else can help to answer this question. Thanks… and have a great week!

  3. F Thomas

    June 18, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Having owned a Whisperlight Intl for a long time, I have found it to be an awesome stove. I also have the Superfly, which I like using better because you can control the cooking temperature. The JetBoil is a great stove and they have added a line of pots and a frying pan to the original giant mug. It is extremely fast. The only problem in my opinion with any of the canister stoves is obtaining fuel when in out of the way places. The MSR Superfly can adapt to most canisters making it a bit more convenient. Another stove I really liked is the Optimus Nova The only problem was that out of the two stoves I had they both had mechanical problems. They would not turn off. There are lots of good choices and not every stove fits every situation. I own too many!

    You cannot fly anywhere with a canister of fuel. As Darren mentioned, if you are using a liquid fuel stove, WASH OUT THE BOTTLE and let the whole stove air out and dry before packing or you will get sniffed out and loose time and the stove. I have flown with a liquid stove and had it inspected by the airline people prior to putting it back into my baggage to ensure that there was no smell and they would carry it. This was after 9/11 and security has been increased even more sense.

  4. Michael Johnson

    June 18, 2008 at 12:27 am

    What are the major differences in the Whisperlite and the Whisperlite International?

  5. Darren Alff

    June 18, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Michael, this is a good question and something I did not address in the article, so thank you for asking!

    To answer your question, the main difference between the MSR Whisperlite and the MSR Whisperlite International is that the International can run on multiple types of fuel (white gas, kerosene, and unleaded gasoline), while the regular Whisperlite stove only runs on white gas. There is a small difference in price between the Whisperlite and the Whisperlite International, but the difference in price is because the International gives you the ability to run your stove on a variety of different gasses. The main reason to pay the extra price and get the Whisperlite International is because you can use unleaded gasoline in the stove, which you can purchase almost anywhere in the world.

  6. Bob Morgan

    June 18, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Have you considered wood burning stoves?

    I am preparing to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) this year and we have stretches of as much as 6-7 days between re-supply locations. I mean there is nothing out there. It is just you and nature. We also have a couple of 2-3 day desert stretches and I am not sure I want any kind of fuel heating up in my panniers or trailer at those temperatures. Sometimes we will have to carry over 20 pounds of water and 10-15 pounds of food; not to mention clothes, camping gear and bicycle repair parts and tools. So, ditching the fuel is sometimes desirable; not just on public transportation.

    On Lynne Whelden’s DVD called “How to Hike the Continental Divide Trail” (CDT) there was a fellow who used a Sierra wood burning stove. Until a couple of months ago the Sierra stove was manufactured by ZZ Manufacturing in California, but right now they are in the process of selling out to Wisemen Trading Company in Alabama.

    Another fellow in my group has a Sierra stove and loves it. On that recommendation I placed an order with ZZ Manufacturing for a Sierra stove at the end of December. I even had an order number, but after a week I called and found out about the sale of the business. I called Wisemen Trading Company and learned that they are determined to get the Sierra stove production going again for their customers. Apparently, they also tried to place an order with ZZ Manufacturing and found out that ZZ had stopped manufacturing, so they offered to buy the business and move it to Alabama.

    In the meantime I heard about Woodgas Stove. They were a little heavier, but still made a lot of sense based on the conditions of my trip (trailer versus panniers). So, not being sure how long it would take Wisemen Trading Company to get the Sierra stove back into production I purchased a Woodgas stove and a solar panel to drive the fan and charge the AA batteries. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Woodgas stove was defective out of the box. The fan rapped against the shroud very loudly. You probably would not have to worry about bears if you had that fan making such a racket, but cooking would give you a headache every time you fired up the stove.

    As I was typing this comment I received an email from the folks at Woodgas Stove and they are going to ship me a new stove right away. However, the best news is that I was invited to disassemble the stove and report on my findings… I did disassemble it and if you are mechanically inclined then it may be a relatively minor problem. I am going to try preparing a meal on it right now and I will let you know how things resolve with the company.

    Another slight problem with the Woodgas stove is that the pot standoff that sits on top of the stove has squared edges and has sliced up the carrying bag during shipping. You can imagine what my gear would look like with that thing bouncing around in my trailer for 2700 miles. I have made this observation to the folks at Woodgas stove and I suspect they will let me grind it so it is not pointy anywhere.

    Here are the web site addresses for the various stoves that I mentioned above. I don’t have any interest in or know anyone who owns or works at any of these places. I am just trying to find something that will work reliably for the 9-10 weeks I will be off road touring through the Rocky Mountains this summer as I ride about 2700 miles from Antelope Wells, New Mexico to Banff, Alberta. This includes about 200,000 feet of vertical climbing and altitudes of almost 12,000 feet. I really need something that will work without fail while using whatever I can find along the way for fuel.

    http://www.woodgas-stove.com
    http://www.wisementrading.com
    http://www.zzstove.com

    My blog on my upcoming GDMBR trip is: http://bikerbobonthegdmbr.blogspot.com

    P.S. I have also tested about a half dozen different alcohol burning stoves and have found plus and minuses for each of them. I will probably be discussing those findings in my blog soon.

  7. juliann bradshaw

    July 18, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    I love your homemade soda can stove and would like to know exactly how to make them. Thank you.

  8. Darren Alff

    July 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Juliann,

    I used to sell a short video on the site here where I showed you how to make the soda can stove for yourself. I’ve recently decided that instead of selling the video, I am going to give it away for free. I just haven’t added it to the site yet! I will do that soon however, so please keep your eye out for that in the near future. Thanks for writing!

  9. Jon

    August 2, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    That Woodgas stove reminds me of a newspaper grill we used to have. You rolled up four sheets of newspaper into balls, tossed them in the bottom, and lit them. The grease from the meat helped keep it burning, but it burned for a while (you could add paper), and burned hot. Much bigger than these, but still… hm…

    -Jon

  10. Greg Gamache

    August 6, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Propane/Butane canisters come in two basic types. The MSR/Primus/Jetboil/Snowpeak type has a thread on the center post. This is where the stove screws into the canister. The GAZ type canister (Blue in color) does not have a thread on the post. It is made only for their stoves.

    A great advantage of the Superfly is that is can work on any canister. The stove grabs the housing of the connector and not the post. I recently visited Red Meadow on the John Muir Trail and all they sold was the Blue GAZ cannisters.

    As for alcohol stoves. Go to YOUTUBE.com. There are several very good videos on how to make a stove. You can, of course, buy one at REI.com. Alcohol stoves are the most common used on the JMT. The people at Reds Meadows said the denatured alcohol is the fuel they sell the most.

  11. Carl Davies

    December 6, 2009 at 10:21 am

    A couple of tips, with the Pocket Rocket it’s well worth making a tin foil scirt to shelter the flame from wind. Just bend some tin foil into an L shape then wrap it around the stove sitting on the legs, the pan will then hold it in place. This has two advantages; one reduces the amount of fuel used and two reduces cooking time. Just make sure it isn’t too long otherwise the canister will over heat, an inch or inch’n’half is good.

    For building your own stove check out http://zenstoves.net/ for a huge list of diferent types.

    FInally I find Trangia Mini (Methelated Spirit or Fuel Tab) and Hexamine Folding Stove (Fuel Tab) to be great cheap little cookers. And I’ve flown with Fuel Tabs without being stopped, I wrapped them in cling film a week or so prior to flying, not sure if that helped or not. I doubt it!

  12. FrankW

    January 6, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Flying with a stove .. can be done.. Think I’ve posted the full thing over on http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/
    But .. you cannot fly with a compressed gas (even air!). Means you have to buy new ones when you arive .. if you can find them.
    You can fly with a gasoling stove .. if it is clean, packed inside a clean sealed bag with some absobent material .. Clean means clean! no smell .. on my coleman stove I tried to empty it and let it breath .. still smelt after 6 days of venting. Best way was to put a bit of fuel in it and let it burn out .. that gets any fuel out of the pipe work .. then vent it .. anyways the complete regs are on the internet somewheres .. ITIA? The stove must go in your checked hold luggage .. not carry on.

  13. Émile Essent

    January 24, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Typo : Luckily, I was able to distinguish the fire with two water bottles that I had nearby, but I was incredibly lucky.

    You mean “extinguish”.

  14. ConnieD

    March 12, 2010 at 1:22 am

    There are a number of variations in the Caldera Cone. First select the “cooking pot”. Next, the Caldera Cone is made to fit. The benefit is the integrated cooking pot, windscreen and (usually) alcohol stove. It is possible to use a “twiggy fire” if you select the titanium Caldera Cone. Others use chemical tablets like the UST WetFire, however that puts lots of soot on your cooking pot, as well.

    I use a Zelph Stove Works “Super Stove” alcohol stove and the Caldera Cone design idea, with a Vargo “Sierra Cup” cooking pot, which actually has more than 3 cups capacity, unlike the original “Sierra Cup”. It also has a lid.

    Here is a photo: http://www.ultralightbackpackingonline.info/photos1.html

    I can also saute, steam and bake in the Vargo “Sierra Cup” design. For baking, I use “egg poachers” to bake a breakfast muffin.

    Another “recent advancement” in getting a hot meal bicycling, or hiking, is “freezer bag cooking”. Google. Pour in hot water. The freezer bag is not actually immersed in boiling water. It would melt. The hot water is poured into the sturdy freezer bag that has your meal.

    Some people use a container from Trail Designs, a container for the Caldera Cone. Other people use a “cozy”. There are a great many really good meals to be prepared using these methods. Recipe ideas are at TrailCooking.com, many recipes utilizing packaged convenience foods with “add-ons” and others are strictly gourmet.

    Really. It is possible to have real meals, not just “instant”.

  15. Norm

    May 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Soda can stoves work great but remember they will not work above the tree line in which case we must use the pressurized stoves.

  16. Merna Amoss

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Terrific review! This is truly the type of article that should be shared around the internet. Sad on the Bing for not positioning this post higher!

  17. Keith harrison

    October 8, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Try the honey stove, you won’t be disappointed

  18. Michael

    February 6, 2014 at 8:32 am

    What materials and specs did you use for making the stand for the soda can stove? Seems very innovative and I was hoping to do something similar.

  19. Will oil

    December 13, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    What about the Trangia alcohol stove which the soda can stoves seem to be trying to copy… Do you have experience with them? I trying to select one and it seems to be the best choice w solid reviews, fuel availability and ease of use.

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      December 13, 2014 at 10:47 pm

      You’re right. The soda can stove is basically the same thing as an alcohol stove. Yes, I’ve had experience with the commercial alcohol stoves and they work pretty much they same way as the soda can stoves. Similar positives and negatives.

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