STOVES AND FOOD

Most hiking areas have banned campfires, and those that have not should. They are dirty, smoky, and sterilize the soil. They use up precious resources. Even if the responsible fire builder only uses dead, downed wood, dead downed wood provides essential microorganisms in the soil. The role of unseen flora and fauna in backcountry health is crucial, and most of these unseen contributors live in rotting dead things, like fallen wood (or the occasional lost hiker).

In any case, cooking on a stove is much easier and cleaner than cooking on a fire. Dutch oven cooking should be relegated to car camping.

There are basically three types of hiking stoves: white gas, compressed gas, and alcohol.

The better white gas stoves are pressurized in some wise. The usually require pre-heating. They work better at high altitude and in cold weather than compressed gas. It is easy to ascertain how much fuel is left in the fuel tank, and they can be refilled

Compressed gas stoves are light and pre-pressurized. Turn on the stove and light it. Easy. They do not always work well at altitude or in cold weather. Once the stove has been used, it is difficult to tell how much gas is left in the canister. I weigh the canister and keep track of how many ounces have been burned. It is also possible to float the canister in water and mark the float line: this is where the gas is. However, how does one tell exactly how many minutes burning time are left, particularly since wind and cold make a difference?

So usually we throw in another canister or two just to make sure. They are bulky and they do have to be carried out. I will never forget reading an article in Backpacker Magazine, albeit a long time ago, that one disadvantage of canister stoves is that the canisters cannot be burned in the campfire. Anyone who tries to burn metal trash in the campfire deserves what would happen if they put in a fuel canister.

Alcohol stoves are designed for ultra-light backpackers. There are commercial stoves available, or plans can be found to make one. These are good for heating a cup of water at a time, not for boiling a full pot of pasta for 12 people.