Stoves are now a necessity for backcountry travelers because many camping areas no longer have enough firewood, and others have banned natural-fuel fires. Stoves have a minimal impact on the wilderness and can be used in a variety of conditions.
In choosing a stove, consider a number of factors, including its weight, the altitude and temperature where it will be used, fuel availability, and its reputation for reliability. Whichever stove you select should be easy to start, operate, and maintain, even in cold, wet, or windy conditions.
Practice starting a new stove at home before a trip to be sure it's working and to be sure you know how to operate it. A stove kept in good working order will last for years. Check the stove frequently for dirt and carbon build-up. Stoves with pumps periodically need replacements for deteriorated pump leathers and gaskets. Mountaineering stoves typically weigh 1 to 11 /2 pounds and burn about an hour on approximately 1/2 pint (I/4 liter or so) of fuel.
You'll be rewarded with a more productive stove if you make sure it has a wind shield to screen the flame and prevent heat from being blown away. If you don't have a shield for your stove, improvise a way to block the wind. Most mountaineering stoves will boil about 1 quart (ap proximately 1 liter) of water at sea level in 4 to 8 minutes. Wind can increase the time to as much as 25 minutes, or even prevent boiling.
Some preventive maintenance will help guard against dumping a pot of stew on the ground. Check the stability of the metal framework that supports the pot on the stove. Also see that the stove is solidly supported on the ground. In snow, a small square of Masonite or ensolite serves well as both a smooth base and insulation under the stove.
A direct flame under the pot is desirable for boiling water or melting snow. For heating food, you might consider some means to diffuse the direct heat of the flame, such as a large metal lid. Just place the lid on the burner, then sit the cooking pot on the lid. Some stoves have an adjustment valve that permits you to further control the stove's heat output and prevent scorched food and wasted fuel.
Mountaineers have a range of choices in stove designs (fig. 3-13) and in fuels (with white gas, kerosene, and butane being the most common). All stoves require a means of pressurization to force the fuel to flow to the burner. This is usually provided by a hand pump for white gas and kerosene stoves and by a pressurized cartridge for butane units. All stoves also need a way to vaporize the liquid fuel before it is burned. With white gas and kerosene stoves, a common method is to prime
(preheat) the stove by burning a small amount of fuel in a priming cup to start the fuel vaporizing in the main supply line. With butane stoves, the fuel vaporizes inside the pressurized cartridge.
A pump on a stove lets you increase the pressure in the fuel tank; this causes the fuel to burn faster and hotter and brings water to a boil more quickly. Stoves that boil water fastest often do not simmer well, while those with a lower heat output give you more control at lower cooking temperatures.
White gas is probably the most popular fuel in the United States for mountaineering stoves. It tends to burn hotter than butane and is excellent for melting large amounts of snow, boiling water, or heating food quickly. Unlike kerosene, white gas
Fig. 3-13. Types of outdoor stoves
Fig. 3-13. Types of outdoor stoves
Kerosene stove: high heat output; requires white gas, alchohol, or lighter fluid for priming.
White gas stove with enclosure: compact carrier for safe, convenient packing.
Butane/propane cartridge stove: uses 80 percent butane/20 percent propane for better cold-weather performance.
White gas stove: white gas only; burns hotter and boils water more quickly than y other fuels.
Multi-fuel stove: burns most fuels-white gas, leaded or unleaded automobile gas, aviation gas, deodorized or regular kerosene, Stoddard Solvent No. 1, diesel fuel or No. 1 stove oil; easy to clean; ideal when clean fuel not available.
White gas/kerosene stove: burns either fuel; ideal stove for international use.
Isobutane stove: uses isobutane for best performance in cold weather.
can be used as its own priming agent. Use only refined or white gasoline prepared for pressurized stoves; don't use automotive gasoline, including unleaded gas. The correct fuel is less likely to clog jets, build up excess pressure, or emit toxic fumes. However, spilled white gas evaporates readily, with little odor, and is very flammable.
Kerosene is not as volatile as white gasoline and therefore is safer to transport and store. Kerosene stoves need to be pressurized in addition to being primed with either white gas, alcohol, or lighter fluid. (Liquid kerosene does not burn hot enough to preheat its own burner.) If the burner has not been heated sufficiently, the stove will burn with a sooty yellow flame, producing lots of smoke and carbon. But when it burns efficiently, a kerosene stove has a high heat output, equal to or greater than white gas.
Butane cartridge stoves are popular because of their convenience: easy to light, good flame control, immediate maximum heat output, and no chance of fuel spills. The pressure forces the fuel out as soon as the valve is opened, eliminating both pumping and priming. Most butane stoves are not recommended for temperatures below freezing unless the fuel is warmed. An exception is a stove that uses isobutane fuel, which has performed well at high altitude and in cold, wet conditions. With its windscreen/heat reflector, this stove has proven superior in the wind as well.
The disposable butane cartridges cannot be refilled. Therefore, you may end up leaving home with a cartridge that is only half full becausc it was already used on an earlier trip. The cartridges are bulky, and all too frequently the spent canisters arc found discarded in the wilderness. Pack them out. Another drawback is that the maximum intensity of the flame declines as the fuel is used up (and the pressure in the cartridge drops correspondingly). This problem is partly compensated for at higher elevations, where lower atmospheric pressure means the interior cartridge pressure is relatively higher. Some cartridges cannot be changed until they are empty. Always change cartridges outside your tent because residual fuel in spent canisters can be a fire hazard.
Solid fuels such as candles and canned heat serve primarily as fire starters. They are lightweight and cheap, but provide only limited heat. Most are carried for emergency use only, along with a metal cup for heating small amounts of water.
On foreign trips, fuel filters may be necessary because a high grade of fuel is often hard to find. Find out beforehand what fuels are available and take an appropriate stove. Kerosene is generally available worldwide, while white gas is not. Check airline restrictions about carrying fuel on planes. Most do not allow it.
Carry extra fuel in a tightly closed metal container that has a screw top backed up by a rubber gasket. Plastic containers aren't good because fuel gradually diffuses out through the material. Plainly mark the fuel container and stow it in a place where it can't possibly contaminate any food. Some stoves have their fuel bottles directly attached to them, while others require a pouring spout or funnel to transfer the fuel from a storage container to a stove fuel tank.
How much fuel should you take along? It will depend on the conditions of the trip and the food you plan to cook. Will you have to melt snow for water? Will you cook your dinners on the stove or simply heat water for pouring into a food package? Practice and experience will eventually tell you how much fuel you need, but a good beginning would be to bring between 11/2 and 2 quarts for two people for one week.
Tents have been blown up, equipment burned, and people injured by careless stove use. Apply rules of safety and common sense. Don't use a stove inside a tent unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must cook in a tent, provide plenty of ventilation to minimize the danger of fuel escaping and igniting. Always change pressurized fuel cartridges, and fill and start liquid-fueled stoves, outside the tent and away from other open flames.
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