5 Things – Alternative Camping Cookers
With the wild camping season kicking off, unless you’re into winter wild camping, there’s always more options than just your common or garden gas canister or petrol pressure stoves, depending on the kind of camping you plan on doing, and where you plan on doing it. Here’s a run down of the fun alternatives, Although you will need to put a bit more effort in to get your meal cooked on one of these, we guarantee that you’ll find it much more rewarding. We’ll be adding links to the more in-depth review of the stoves soon!
Meths Stove – If you want what’s definitely the cheapest and possibly the lightest camping stoves going, then you’re going to have to go for a ‘Pepsi’ can stove. Often called a pop can stove, usually Pepsi and never a Coca-Cola can stove despite the prevalence of the red can on most of the links later on. The adventurous can even try and construct one from a Red Bull can for an even smaller stove! This little beauty is yours for the contents of an empty can of drink, or free if you have to cadge one off someone. All you need is a little know how and a drill. Failing that, then the Trangia is one of the best known commercial meths stoves out there, it’s easy to use and with no moving parts there’s nothing to break.
We find though that you can burn through meths at an apparently alarming rate on a weekend’s wild camping – however we found in our review that:
Each charging of the [pepsi can] stove takes up about 40ml of meths, which should be good for about 5-600ml of water. It’s still not enough to boil up an entire Titan Kettle, which takes about 800ml comfortably, unless the conditions are perfect. Methylated Spirit is reasonably cheap at £16 for 5 litres of the stuff. This works out at 100 pots of water, or 50 litres of water brought to the boil. I’ve paid £5 for a gas canister recently – with the savings becoming even more apparent on short trips when I favour carrying the more expensive 100g canisters.
You will need a decent wind-shield, but one can be fashioned from foil as you can see above, and they’re not particularly controllable as you can only wait until the fuel’s burned out. The flame can also be invisible in daylight, so make sure it really has burned out AND cooled down before picking it up!
Backpacker’s Oven – This is an unexpected item to take camping, and relatively unknown in the UK. But camping ovens have been about for years, Dutch ovens, but too heavy. This is where the Back Packing oven comes in, weighing only a couple of hundred grams and capable of cooking anything your home oven can provided it will fit in. This ranges from Fray Bentos pies (we had to try that one out!) to pizza, bread, biscuits, cake and even lasagne! We’re also cheating slightly here as you need a gas stove in order to make this work, but oh for the luxury of pizza on the hill!
Esbit Stoves -This stove uses solid hexamine tablets as fuel which provide the ease of use of meths without the mess and guesswork. You can go for the standard stove for around £9.99 with 6 Tablets, or the Ultralight Titanium stove for around £10 without any fuel.
The tablets then cost £7.99 for 12 14g tablets, one of which we found will just about boil 600 ml of water, whereas I’d expect 10 titan kettles full (or so) from a 250g canister without any hassle, and a rolling boil at that. This makes it rather an expensive option compared to gas, assuming a canister costs £5. A Windshield is also an absolute must as like meth stoves, they’re not good in strong winds, and you have to let the fuel burn down if there’s any left or starting another tablet if your water’s not boiled. The tablets also have an unpleasant fishy smell due to the amines (A-Level chemistry wasn’t wasted on me).
The advantage, as always over gas is that you know exactly how much fuel you’ve got left over and each unit of fuel provides the same performance. Unlike gas, which can be highly frustrating when you’re trying to boil water on the dregs. You can also keep weight down by just taking what you need for the trip (with a couple of spare!)
Solid Gel Stoves – We tested a Swiss Army M1 gel stove, as well as trying out the Chafing Gels as a camping fuel, we found the chafing fuel was exceptionally cheap, under a quid each but more expensive with postage, but were said to provide 2-6 hours use depending on brand. Ours was about 2 hours. This makes the Swiss Army M1 look decidedly extortionate as you only get the tiniest pot stand for the additional £7.
However, the M1 stove was much quicker, actually managing to bring 400ml to the boil, heating the beans and frying some bacon in no time and without a wind-shield. The chafing gel was OK for heating slowly, but frustrating if you’re in a rush!
Again like meths, they’re not good in strong winds, and not easily controllable, but at least you can put a lid on these in order to put out the flame. Not really of much use for boiling water however, but OK for warming up a meal and would make an ideal second stove if you intend on getting adventurous with the cooking (e.g. cooked breakfasts!)
Wood Burners – There has been a resurgence of interest in these sort of stoves recently. While you cannot practically cook on an open fire (as in it’s not practical to make fires most of the time) you can still follow the principles. As these need raw materials that are not easy to find if camping in the hill, it makes heather and gorse the best options. Much better if you’re on a trip in wildest Scotland where you might well find yourself on the seashore where driftwood might be available. Rarely do I find myself camping near or in a forest, while someone hiking the PCT or AT will be able to find fuel for the majority of their trips. So for UK conditions, unless you know there’s plenty of wood or they suit your style of camping, they may be of limited use. However, you can take wood pellets (sold as kitty litter) with you as an emergency backup, so these sort of stoves are much more versatile than they first appear.
To make them more useful in different conditions, some stoves such as the Honey Stove will allow you to burn meths when alternative fuels are not available, which makes them truly useful on a long trip if you know your trip will pass sources of wood only occasionally. However, you have to shell out for a Trangia burner in order to do so. Hobo stoves are the wood burning equivalent of the pepsi can meths stove – and often incorporate meths burners into their design – we’ll be putting one of those to the test soon as well.
We also recently used the tiny ECD Box Pocket stove – the most compact stove we’ve used! It was barely usable using wood but you can always use it with an Esbit tablet, or a cheaper generic make fuel tablet and then top up with wood. It is tiny, and takes some hard work to keep that size of fire going.
Here’s an article on what to burn in wood burning camping stoves.
The Kelly Kettle is another wood-burner, but is very efficient with even the smallest twigs – meaning that fallen heather can be used as a fuel source.
Grilliput Travel Fire Bowl and BBQ. This is a relatively heavy and probably a luxury item, but one that can be well worth taking on a trip. For a luxury overnighter you can’t beat a proper BBQ, and while a disposable BBQ will be cheaper and lighter, this just has a lot more class and doesn’t blatantly add to our throwaway culture. Of course, this depends on having the fuel to burn, or you carry some charcoal with you.
In conclusion, there’s a legitimate use for all these methods, depending on the circumstances. Wood burners are great for pretending to be Ray Mears, kids or if you want free and carbon-neutral fuel. Other than the Backpacker’s Oven, none of the stoves require any fossil fuels, so can be an environmentally friendlier option than gas if you choose carefully. However, the best thing about these is that you need to learn something new to use them all. There’s the novelty value, if nothing else, and injecting a bit of fun and challenge into all our wild camping trips. What better joy than to cook foods others consider impossible on the hill, bringing water to the boil on a stove you’ve made yourself or just the primeval pleasure of cooking your food over the embers of a fire.