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The ultimate guide: Choosing your next hunting stove

 

Stove choices for hunters
Photo credit: goHUNT.com

I have used about every type of backpack stove ever made, and have used them all on hunting trips. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. Hopefully, my long-time experience with backpack stoves will help you decide which one will work for you. 

Stove Fuel types:

Different stoves can be broken into categories by the type of fuel. There are backpack stoves that burn solid fuels, including wood or any other natural solid you can find in the woods, like pine cones or packaged solid fuel tablets. Other backpack stoves can burn a variety of liquid fuels like unleaded gasoline, deisel, kerosene, white gas and even denatured alcohol. These liquid fuel stoves either use a built-in tank that you fill and pressurize, or they use a fuel bottle that is attached and can be pumped. When using the alcohol stoves, you fill them from a bottle before use. Pressurized gas stoves are also available that burn propane or butane/propane mixed fuel from canisters that screw onto the burner.

Solid fuel stoves
 

Solid fuel tablet type stove
All other photo credits: Robert Streeter

Let’s start with solid fuel stoves. I regularly use an Esbit stove (solid fuel), in the blind during turkey season. It fits in my shirt pocket, with fuel tablets inside, and will heat up a cup of tea or boil water for an instant breakfast. The stove works great, but the downside is that it coats any metal cup you use with black carbon. The current model now comes with an integrated pot.

Wood stoves 

If you really want to get primitive, stoves are available that use wood (similar to the so-called hobo stove). Most of them are a little bulky, but nothing is easier. There are also portable wood-fired grills that can be used for cooking like the SlatGrill. We often use the SlatGrill while fishing or kayaking. These grills fold down into a small package and are light enough to carry. They use whatever dry wood you can find. 

Built in fuel tank stoves

Built in fuel tank stove

Stoves with integrated fuel tanks are available with many configurations. My old Svea backpack stove still works to this day. There are also stoves like the Optimus Hiker Plus that are configured similarly with a tank. On the Svea, you can fill the fuel tank and lite some of the white gas around the nozzle, and it will go. These stoves are a bit heavy compared to the ultralight backpacking models, but they are sturdy. The Svea that I have does not work well in the cold (under 38 degrees or so) because there is not a way to pump the tank up to add pressure.

Alcohol stoves

Alcohol stoves are popular with the do-it-yourself backpackers. You can make your own from simple materials, or buy a commercial model. They use denatured alcohol, which is available at most hardware stores. You basically fill up the fuel wick (many use fiberglass insulation) and light the stove. There is not a way to regulate the flame and you need some sort of pot support.

Fuel bottle type stoves

Fuel bottle type stove

Ultralight backpacking models that burn liquid fuel are popular. I have an MSR Whisperlight with a fuel bottle. The stove is light and includes a windscreen. There are a variety of similar stoves available and some of them use different types of fuel. These stoves work well under cold conditions, but being as light as they are, it can be easy to tip over a pot filled with your evening meal.

Fuel canister stoves

Canister fuel stove type

There are also stoves that use fuel canisters. These include disposable propane cartridges that are widely available and other models that use the butane/propane mix. These stoves work well in a variety of conditions. However, some of the very light models are easy to tip over and the manufacturers often offer added legs that clip onto the fuel cartridge to provide stability. The Jetboil systems are a popular example of this type of stove. They have an integrated pot that is insulated and cuts down on the time needed to boil water.

Stove options for hunting

Stove
type

Cost

Fuel
type

Fuel
availability
Advantages Disadvantages Examples
Solid fuel - wood Minimal Dry wood,
pine cones, etc.
Tough in
wet weather
Easy to use,
cheap to operate
Can be bulky,
cannot regulate flame
Solo stove,
Trailstove
Solid fuel - tablets Minimal Solid fuel tablets Difficult in
remote areas
Easy to use,
inexpensive
Soot on cookware,
cannot regulate flame
Esbit
Liquid fuel - alcohol Minimal Denatured alcohol In any
hardware store
Easy to use,
inexpensive
Cannot regulate flame Docooler,
Solo Alcohol Stove
Liquid fuel - built in tank Expensive White gas, kerosene,
diesel, jet fuel
Easy to find Reliable operation,
can regulate flame
Bulky and high weight Optimus Svea,
Optimus Hiker
Liquid fuel - fuel bottle Moderately
expensive
White gas,
isobutane-propane,
etc.
Easy to find Reliable operation,
can regulate flame
Some tip over,
need windscreen
MSR WhisperLite,
Optimus Nova
Canister fuel Moderately
expensive
Propane and butane mix Difficult in
remote areas
Reliable operation,
can regulate flame
Some tip over,
need windscreen
Jetboil, MSR MicroRocket,
Snowpeak Litemax

Accessories:

For a remote trip where wind might be an issue, get a windscreen for the stove. These are a thick aluminum foil type material that will block the wind and keep the flame going evenly. As I mentioned earlier, it is a good investment to buy the add-on stability legs for the cartridge stoves.
 
For any extended trip, if there is an optional repair kit for the stove, I would buy it and carry it. You may want to consider spare parts as well for an extended trip. You may also want a piezoelectric lighter for the stove.

Considerations on a hunting trip:

Everything is heavy on a backpacking trip. A sheep or mountain goat hunter worries about every ounce and needs a reliable ultralight stove that does not take up a lot of pack space. If you can go a little bigger, the larger stoves are easier to cook on and more stable. What stove you select is based on the question of weight and bulk.
 
Make sure you have used the stove before heading out on a remote hunt. You need to be able to operate it and have a good idea of how quickly it uses fuel. Going on a trip and running out of fuel is not a fun thing and it is necessary to practice with the stove at home if you are relying on a it for your meals and beverages on a hunt.
 

Making coffee while hunting
Photo credit: goHUNT.com

If the only thing you want to do is boil water for hot beverages and instant meals, something like the Jetboil makes a lot of sense. If you are actually cooking meals on the stove, be sure and pick one that the flame can easily be regulated on to turn it down. Many pack stoves are hard to simmer food with because you cannot get the flame low enough.
 
It should go without saying that all of these stoves should not be used in tents. We do use a single burner Coleman on bad days in Alaska, but we make sure we use the base to hold the propane bottle. Make sure to bring a tarp you can get under to help stay out of the weather when cooking if possible. 
 
With all of these stoves, you cannot take the fuels along with you on an airline, even in checked baggage. Make sure that there is fuel available at your destination for whatever stove you choose, and it usually makes the most sense to pick a model that can use more than one type of fuel. 

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