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.
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.
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.