How to Choose a Car Camping Stove

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Campers and outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the outdoors in different ways. Some folks head into the wilderness, happy to be miles from civilization.  Others drive to a licensed campsite with amenities and near a store where supplies can be purchased using a credit card.

Despite the myriad of different camping experiences, there is one thing that unites all campers: the need for something to cook meals. For this article’s purposes, we will pass over the campfire as a means of cooking and focus on the types of car camping stoves and their features.

Some stoves are more applicable to specific camping scenarios than others. The purpose of this article is to provide relevant information so you can choose a car camping stove for your needs.

To help you do this, we'll cover factors to consider when buying a stove and these types of car camping stoves:

  • Single Burner Tabletop Stove
  • Compact Double Burner Tabletop Stove
  • Single Burner Freestanding Stove
  • Multi-Burner Freestanding Stove
  • Solid Fuel Camping Stoves
  • Things To Consider When Buying A Car Camping Stove

Types of Car Camping Stoves

There are different ways to categorize camping stoves. We will keep it simple and divide it into tabletop and freestanding stoves.

butane camping stove with aluminum teapot for boiling water

Single Burner Tabletop Stove

This basic camping stove is placed on a tabletop or other flat, raised surface, and has a single burner. It tends to be one of the cheaper types.

This camping stove is primarily designed for simple cooking techniques such as boiling or frying and is not going to be used for creating large meals for a large group of people. Nevertheless, these stoves are very popular and used as a supplemental burner to a large camping stove.

Some single burner tabletop camping stoves only use butane cartridges, which unfortunately are becoming harder to purchase. We checked Walmart and Home Depot and found they could be ordered online and shipped to a store near us.If you purchase them online and have them shipped to your home, shipping costs can be expensive due to safety regulations concerning compressed gas. 

Gas One offers a single burner dual fuel camping stove that is compatible with either propane or butane.

Advantages

  • Small and lightweight: These can be carried in rucksacks, and if you are walking to your campsite, this stove is not going to weigh you down. If you are traveling by car, it requires a minimum of space.
  • Easy to use, easy to clean: If you are looking for convenience in a camping stove, then a single burner unit is the one you want. Not only is it straightforward to operate, but cleaning it afterward takes a couple of minutes.
  • Low cost: When it comes to the budget required for a tabletop single burner camping stove, it likely costs less than double burner camp stoves and freestanding models.  

Disadvantages

  • No shielding from the wind: The design of this type of stove does not typically include shielding from the wind, meaning the camp chef needs to pay careful attention to ensure the flame does not go out, nor burn anything adjacent to the stove, especially if it is windy.
  • Limited cooking capacity: With just one burner, it is unlikely that you will create a culinary masterpiece, no matter how keen a chef you are. With this camping stove, you will be limited to cooking the basics, although, when you go camping, that is part of the fun.
propane camping stove, eggs frying and coffee pot

Compact Double Burner Tabletop Stove

We now come to the double burner tabletop camping stove, which is undoubtedly the most common. This stove can be used to cook for up to 4 people and has the means to cook full meals.

Not only does it provide you with greater capacity than the single burner stoves, but compared to freestanding double burner camp stoves, they are easier to transport, given that there are no legs, and they tend to weigh less too.

You will find differences between models in terms of the overall length, and this will influence the size of pots and pans you can use with it. Bear in mind, the bigger the stove, the more it will weigh, so you won’t want to have a long distance between your car and the campsite. 

Advantages

  • Automatic ignition: This does not apply to every model, but many compact double burner camping stoves have Piezo ignition. This type of igniter makes lighting the burners much easier, especially when matches won't stay lit due to a strong wind blowing.
  • Lock and protect: Most of these stoves have a hinged lid or cover, which can be closed and locked when you have finished using them. This helps keep the stove protected, making transporting more manageable, especially if the stove has a handle.
  • Wind protection: The lid we've just mentioned also acts as a windshield when it is open, and the stove is being used. Most stoves usually have two side panels, which means when you are cooking, the burners are protected from the wind, and the food is also protected somewhat from debris blowing into pots and pans.

Disadvantages

  • Size and weight: Again, with it having two burners, you have a camping stove that is larger than many others and weighs quite a bit more too. For these reasons, they are generally more suited to camping trips where you are not traveling long distances on foot.
  • More surfaces to clean: With the lid, side panels, and a large drip tray, if there are a lot of splashes created when you are cooking, there is going to be more cleaning to do afterward.

Single Burner Freestanding Stove

Undoubtedly one of the simplest camping stoves, often seen at outdoor festivals and rock concerts, and while not the most commonly used for car camping, it is still very popular with those who use them.

Part of their appeal is their simplicity and how easy they are to use. They also do not require a tabletop and can be set up on a flat piece of ground. With a single burner, it is most suitable for cooking meals for one or two people unless you are happy to cook in shifts, in which case more people could use it.

Some models use isobutane or propane, which is the most commonly used for this type of camping stove.

Advantages

  • Small and lightweight: This is an ideal camping stove if you do not wish to be weighed down while walking to your campsite or have limited storage space in your car while driving there.
  • Easy to clean: Unless you allow your pots to boil over, keeping this stove clean typically requires no more than a simple wipe with a damp cloth.

Disadvantages

  • Can be unstable: Those that use screw-in fuel canisters can be unstable, especially if you place a large pan on the burner, so great care must be taken in those circumstances.
  • No resistance to wind: As they do not have side screens, there is absolutely no protection from the wind, so be wary of the flame either going out or blowing towards you when you are cooking.
  • Lack of choice: As these are not as widespread as the other types of camping stove, there is less choice for consumers in terms of manufacturers and models.

Multi-Burner Freestanding Stove

This is a camping stove that is more akin to the barbecue grill that you may use in your yard or garden. It is for those campers who wish to create a complete family meal and do so for four or more people.

They are called multi-burner, not “dual,” because contrary to what you may think, not all of them have two burners. Some of the higher-spec models can have three or even four burners, at which point your camp chef can create most meals, assuming they have all the ingredients with them.

The purists might argue that these are not “real” camping stoves, and more akin to tailgate stoves. However, they can be seen in plenty of campsites around the country, and as we said in the intro, camping can be done in many ways, as can camp cooking.

Advantages

  • Powerful and controllable burners: The burners on these camping stoves are powerful, and therefore suitable for cooking quickly. They also tend to have quality controllers, similar to those you might have your BBQ or cooker at home.
  • Fueled by large, refillable tanks: Of course, large tanks’ benefit is that they last longer and are more economical than the 16-ounce canisters. The larger tanks can be refilled, and as most of them use propane, it is inexpensive to do so.
  • Greater cooking capacity: Not only are you able to cook more food due to the additional burner(s), but the options you have in terms of the types of food you can cook are significantly increased, which will no doubt lead to well-fed, happy campers.

Disadvantages

  • Weight: This is the most apparent disadvantage given you also have the legs and the fuel tank to take into consideration in addition to the cooking unit. For this reason, this is not a camping stove that lends itself to hikes up hillsides to a camp area.
  • Size: Just as the weight might be an issue, so could this camping stove's size. This type of stove takes up more room in your car.
  • Additional effort to clean it: Due to the size of the cooking area, plus the different types of cooking that are likely to be undertaken, there is more than likely going to be more mess created, which in turn will require more cleaning effort.
woodburning foldable camping stove with pot

Solid Fuel Camping Stoves  

Solid fuel camping stoves tend to be made from stainless steel and are often assembled and disassembled before and after each time they are needed. They are fueled by dry twigs and small sticks which burn underneath a pot or pan sitting on the stove. Alternatively, solid fuel tablets, small coal bricks, or charcoal can be used.

These are not going to be used for elaborate meals and are more suited to basic cooking types, such as boiling rice or frying meat; and vegetables. Some are very basic, and others come with more elaborate features such as a grill grid, ash pan, or adjustable cooking plate.

Advantages

  • Extremely small and lightweight: While there are some larger ones, the vast majority of solid fuel camping stoves are small, weigh no more than a few ounces, and are foldable. This makes them ideal for carrying while backpacking, hiking, and camping.
  • Multiple fuel options: Many of them use small fuel pellets or bricks easily acquired from most camping or hardware stores. Alternatively, if you have no solid fuel, you can turn to nature and use the twigs and small sticks you find lying around your campsite.

Disadvantages

  • Limited cooking options: You have one flame, and in most cases, not a very large one, so you are going to be somewhat hampered in terms of cooking large quantities of food.
  • Easily damaged: While most are made from stainless steel and shouldn't rust, they are slightly fragile, and therefore prone to being bent or bashed if dropped or kicked accidentally.

Things To Consider When Buying A Car Camping Stove

Now that we have given an overview of the two main types of car camping stoves that you can buy, it is time to go through some details to consider when choosing a car camping stove.

Hopefully, you will identify and consider those features that are the most important to you and those which are not so important.

After that, if you compare two or more camping stoves, you can assess them based on those features, either, in terms of whether they have them or not, or which stoves exceed the others regarding that feature.

Remember that not every feature will apply to every camping stove type, although some are prevalent in all.

Fuel Types

Although the fuel that a camping stove uses might not be considered by some to be a feature, this is still an important consideration when choosing a camping stove.  

In terms of fuel, we are talking about those contained in canisters or bottles, instead of wood, which is gathered when you arrive at your camping site.  

There are three fuels used, and even within these, there can be differences in the kind of container the fuel is kept in while being used to fuel a camping stove. Let's take a look at each of them.

portable butane camping stove with canister

Butane

Butane typically comes in small canisters with the standard capacity being around 8 ounces. Butane tends to be used to fuel tabletop stoves.

While the small canisters are convenient, it can be an issue trying to find a supplier, and even then, the cost of shipping them is high.  It is best to find a local supplier (Walmart, Home Depot, for example) to buy them in the store for less money.

Isobutane

A better option than butane is isobutane, which shares many of the same chemical properties, but has some advantages. It is usually available in a broader range of canister sizes, and they tend to be lighter. However, it is more expensive, so there are budget considerations for using it.

camping stove with propane gas cylinder

Propane

Generally considered to be the best fuel for camping stoves and is the most widely used. One significant advantage it has is it can be used in much lower temperatures than the others. Propane is available in 16-ounce canisters or larger tanks, which are more cost-effective. 

Size and Weight

The camping stove size varies considerably, especially when you consider the tiny, fold-away single burner standalone stove at one extreme of the size options. The other extreme is the large three or four-burner stoves that can be as big as your home barbecue.

In many cases, the size you choose for car camping might be most influenced by what you wish your cooking options to be, as discussed in the last section. However, if you are neutral on what it can cook, you may be considering the size based on the fact that whichever one you choose has to be transported in some way to where you are planning to camp.

This is where the stove’s weight is also a consideration, and for some, it may be more of a concern than the size of the camping stove. Larger sized stoves tend to weigh more, and that weight has to be carried somehow by someone in your camping party.

The larger multi-burner camping stoves are certainly not ideal if your camping trips involve long hikes, especially if some of them will be up inclines. 

This is why the smaller camping stoves, such as the single burner standalone or wood-fueled ones, which can weigh less than one pound, are usually preferred by those who walk long distances when they are camping. Even tabletop single burners camping stoves weigh less than four pounds. The smaller ones can fit in rucksacks very easily.

The larger sizes and weights are not an issue if your camping trips are ones that involve packing up the car, truck, or SUV, and all your camping equipment, including the stove, is stored in the trunk or on the roof rack.

Lighting/Ignition

The vast majority of camping stoves are lit using an automatic ignition or a match or lighter  That being the case, we haven't forgotten the more rustic way, which is to use a flame on a stick from the campfire.

With these, your only issue is likely to be on those days where a strong wind is doing its best to stop your cooking activities by blowing out the flame. To combat this, manufacturers have added a windscreen in the form of side panels attached to a hinged cover. This feature is typically found on larger stoves, especially those designed for tabletop use. 

There will be many who think fighting the wind and trying to light the stove is all part and parcel of the fun of camping and laugh about it when they have tried a dozen times and still not got it going. However, there will be others for whom that is inconvenient and want a much easier option.

If you are in the latter group, you will be pleased to know there are camping stoves with Piezo ignition whose burner lights in the same way you would a gas cooker at home. You push in and turn the controller to create a spark and start the gas flow, which should see the burner light immediately.

Controlling the Heat

Even when you are cooking the basics on a camp stove, you will still need some way to control the amount of heat produced.  On the simpler standalone stoves with just one burner, you will most likely have a regulator, which is often no more than a small metal hoop or a knob, which you turn to increase or decrease the heat levels.

Some controllers look like those on your barbecue or cooker on the larger and more advanced camping stoves. They may even have markings so that you can select the heat level more accurately.

The main point is that almost all camping stoves have some means to control the flame being produced by the burner. However, how advanced and convenient that level of control differs significantly among stoves.

We say almost all camping stoves because those fueled by wood have no fuel controller dials or regulators. However, the amount of wood you add to the stove gives a modicum of control over how much heat is being generated.

Summary

If you will be satisfied with simple boiled food, such as soups or 'boil in the bag' meals, then a single tabletop burner should suffice. However, if you plan to cook for more than two people and think you will want a reasonable variety of meals, then you need to consider the greater number of options a multi-burner tabletop and freestanding camping stove will provide.

Hopefully, we have enlightened you and answered many of your questions regarding choosing a car camping stove. Some basic questions you will need to ask yourself when deciding which stove for car camping to buy.

  • What type of vehicle will I be using and how much available space do I have?
  • How many people will I be cooking for?
  • How varied do I need the food I cook to be?
  • Do I have a preference for the fuel type?
  • How much am I willing to spend?
  • Will the car be close to the campsite?

Your answers to each of them will reference some part or parts of the information we have provided, and so you should be well equipped to choose the right car camping stove for yourself.