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.
22 thoughts on “A Camp Stove Comparison”
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.
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!
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.
What are the major differences in the Whisperlite and the Whisperlite International?
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.
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!
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…
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.
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 https://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!
Flying with a stove .. can be done.. Think I’ve posted the full thing over on https://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.
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”.
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: https://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”.
Soda can stoves work great but remember they will not work above the tree line in which case we must use the pressurized stoves.
That’s a good point Norm. Thanks!
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!
Try the honey stove, you won’t be disappointed
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.
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.
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.
Trangias come complete with two nesting pots and a pan and the burner has a simmer ring so you can actually use it to cook rather than just boiling water. The Model 27 is pretty lightweight and reasonably compact. They last a lifetime and their cost is not prohibitive; I don’t see much point in preferring a much less capable ‘soda can stove’.
Love the bit about the DIY Alcohol stove.
I’ve hiked, hitchhiked and toured a great deal of Canada and the U.S.
Mostly just find a pop or beer can on the side of the road, 6-7 minutes later I have a stove, only carry a small bottle of alcohol. Finicky in the winter cold, but always works and it is cheap. $2 bottle lasts forever.
If you don’t mind. Just a question. What is your cycle maintenance routine for both winter, (my main question) and gritty summer road conditions?
Thanks in advance and happy travels.
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