Every bicycle traveler has a special relationship with their stove J He or she chooses it carefully, sometimes brags about it, and takes good care of it, as it is the one thing that will bring warmth and sustenance at the end of a long day’s ride. If you’re planning to go bike touring, you will need a stove-- but which one?
There are numerous types of stoves, but I will review only the ones I consider adapted for bicycle touring. I will pass on the candle stove, wood stove, solar stove, electric stove, and the large family-sized 4-burner stove, as these are not suitable for cyclo-touring.
There are several points you should consider when choosing a stove (see below), but the most important one is choosing the type of fuel that you will use. This narrows the choice down to 3 categories: liquid fuel stoves (white gas, petrol, kerosene, etc.), gas cartridge stoves (butane/ propane), and multi-fuel stoves (uses cartridges and various liquid fuels). Liquid fuel and cartridge fuel each have distinct advantages and disadvantages.GAS CARTRIDGES vs. LIQUID FUELGas Cartridges (or LP Gas):
Most gas cartridges contain a mix of butane and propane. The cartridges come in 3 different sizes adapted to backpacking and cyclotouring (4 oz., 8 oz., and 16 oz.). The puncture type cartridges are not suitable for bike touring, as they are made for a one-time attachment and must be used completely before removing.
Your stove should use the screw-thread cartridge. This is the most common type and is standardized worldwide, so any brand cartridge will fit on your stove. These cartridges are re-sealable, making it easy to take everything apart after use, and store nice and compact. There are 2 basic models: with and without line. The first one is heavier but allows you to use a windscreen, and is more stable. The second type has the burner directly screwed on top of the cartridge and is among the most compact stoves on the market. Pros:
- Very compact (especially the one without line)
- Very light weight
- Most efficient
- Maintenance free
- Burns cleanly with no residue
- Relatively quiet
- No preheating required
- The cartridges are available in western countries (can find in outdoor stores and often enough in large grocery store)
- Very easy to operate
- Provides the possibility of simmering
- The main problem is the poor availability of the gas cartridges which are impossible to find in many developing countries
- Difficult to operate at subfreezing temperatures
- Could be an environmental nightmare as you have to throw the cartridge away (I crossed Tibet carrying an empty cartridge for weeks!)
- Much more expensive than petrol
- More difficult to use at high altitude than liquid fuel stove
There are numerous types of liquid fuel to use in most backpacking type stoves. Ranked best to worst: white gas, kerosene, petrol and, if suitable, alcohol, diesel and oil (check the stove instructions for compatibility). Pros:
- Petrol is available everywhere, even in the most secluded regions
- Performance unaffected by cold
- Petrol is a very cheap fuel
- High heat output
- Possibility to reduce the pressure for better efficiency at high altitude (see below “tips and tricks”)
How does a liquid fuel stove work?
- Needs impractical priming – or preheating (requires precaution – see below “how does a liquid fuel stove work?”)
- Produces fumes and residue (blackens cookware)
- Needs more maintenance, especially using petrol, or worse, kerosene (some stoves have the clean-by-simply-shaking feature)
- Unpleasant odor
- Only a few models allow you to simmer
- Heavier and bulkier due to the pump system
What is priming/pre-heating?
A white gas stove has a refillable tank to hold the fuel and a pump to pressure the fuel into a fuel line and into the burner assembly. The fuel line needs to be preheated in order to vaporize the fuel so it will burn when coming out of the fuel jet at the burner assembly.
Stoves are designed so the fuel line passes directly through the flames emitted by the burner, so the fuel is continuously vaporized. To preheat the stove you need to let some of the liquid fuel pour into the depression at the bottom of the burner, inflame it so it heats the fuel line. It creates a fairly large flame that could be scary for the novice. FEATURES TO CONSIDER:
These are the features you should consider, but differences are quite minimal from one brand to the other (as long you don't choose a cheapo brand).
THE TYPE OF STOVE DEPENDS ON YOUR TYPE OF PLAN:
- Weight: The weight is the #1 enemy of the bicycle tourer. You will need a compact and lightweight stove. Thanks to their simple design, the lightest stoves are the ones using cartridges (usually a butane/propane mix) without a gas line (the cartridge is directly adapted onto the burner assembly). In that category you will find some extremely compact and very light stoves.
- Fuel efficiency: It is usually rated by how much time it takes to boil 1 liter of water. Personally, I don’t care if my stove takes an extra minute or two to boil my water!
- Multi-fuel: These stoves allow you to use any kind of liquid fuel. The Primus OMNIFUEL even use LP gas cartridge, a perfect choice for world travelers!
- Stability: I would not choose a cheap stove for this reason: poor stability=poor design. Having your meal go to the ants is not fun, and having a pot of boiling water end up in your lap could be a disaster.
- You might find it useful to have the clean-by-simply-shaking feature.
Depending on what kind of bicycle journey you are planning, this is the type of stove I would suggest:
1) “I will rarely use my stove”
If you are extremely cautious about the weight you carry, are not planning to cook much, or are planning to cook only in case of emergency, a simple, very light and very compact stove is what you need. Some white gas stoves (and the Guinness Record Smallest Stove) fall into this category. See liquid fuel vs. white gas. An excellent model is the Markill Peak ignition Titanium stove.Peak ignition Titanium
If you need stoves that are even lighter and more compact (usually for emergency use or if you are very weight conscious), two other options are:
A stove consisting of a simple steel or titanium structure using solid non-toxic chemical fuel tablets or one using denaturated alcohol like the Evernew Titanium alcohol stove. The Vargo Titanium triad can actually use both.Fuel tablets stove
(Hexamine, Trioxane or Sterno®):
Note that alcohol stove have similar characteristics. Pros:
- It is the lightest system available
- Quite efficient
- Extremely compact
Vargo Titanium triadEvernew Titanium alcohol
- Impossible to simmer
- Produces unpleasant odor
- Expensive fuel
- Leaves a brown sticky residue on the cookware
- Very limited availability (only in outdoor stores)
2) “I am planning a bicycle journey in a Western country”
If you are planning to camp often enough and use your stove frequently in Western countries, you will have the choice between a fuel stove, a white gas stove, or a stove that can use both because it is easier (although not always possible) to find white gas, which is the best fuel to use. See white gas vs. liquid fuel.
3) “I am planning a bicycle journey in a non-Western country”
If you plan a bicycle trip around the word or a journey in a developing country, (even if you are not planning to cook much), do not choose a butane/propane type of stove. It will be very difficult (or often impossible) to find the right cartridge. Because of this limitation, I would recommend either a multi-fuel stove or a liquid fuel stove. CYCLOCAMPING FAVORITES:Primus OMNIFUEL
I like multifuel stoves for the opportunity to use whatever is available. I own a Primus multifuel for the past 7 years and it still works like a charm. I am very pleased with it since it never failed to cook me a warm meal. It uses any kind of fuel you can think of (except solid fuel, of course). Since I bought it, several quality brand competitors have produced multi-fuel stoves that are just as good. TIPS AND TRICKS FOR USING YOUR STOVE:
1) Clean the jet without the tool:
At the burner assembly, the fuel comes out of a tiny hole called in the jet which can get obstructed. The cleaning tool consists of a very thin wire encased in plastic. It is likely that the wire may break and get lost. You may not have realized it, but your brake and derailleur cables are made of the very same wire! Just cut a piece of one thread of a cable and voila! You have your very own cleaning tool!
2) Primer "sponge" broken or lost:
Some stoves come with a piece of material that will absorb the fuel you let go before priming. Depending on the model you use, this piece of fabric may eventually break and so may the spare part. A cheap way to replace it is to use a piece of thin fiberglass sheet cut at the same size. It works just as well, does not burn, and will never break.
3) Running your gas cartridge stove in cold temperatures
can be tricky. Propane burns much better in subfreezing temperatures than butane. If you don’t try to keep your cartridge warm while you cook, you will end up with only butane in your cartridge and won’t be able to use it. Here are some tricks to keep it warm:
- Hold it in your hand
- Use chemical hand-warmers (while you cook and then use them for yourself!)
- Dip the cartridge in warm water (or urine)
- Keep it in your jacket to warm it up
- Sleep with it in your sleeping bag so you can use it for breakfast
- Place the cartridge close to the stove (be careful not to overheat the cartridge as it might explode). Note: Warning sign of overpressure: cartridges are designed with a concave bottom that will pop outwards before complete cartridge rupture.
4) Use a windscreen
to dramatically improve the efficiency of the flame, as well as decrease fuel consumption.
5) What liquid fuel should I use?
In gas stations, especially in less developed countries, I always buy the most expensive fuel, hoping it is the cleanest one (I might be wrong!). I prefer unleaded over leaded, for obvious health reasons. White gas is more difficult to find and is more expensive. However, it is cleaner, has less of an unpleasant odor, and produces less fumes, leaving less residue (so easier dish washing!). Kerosene should be your last choice since it is the dirtiest and least efficient fuel. Some stoves claim to work with everything: oil, diesel, etc. (I know someone who used vodka in his MSR XGK!), but those fuels are extremely inefficient and dirty.
6) Cooking in your tent
: Every instruction manual highly recommends against cooking in your tent. So do I! I certainly would not recommend cooking inside the inner part of the tent, especially when using liquid fuel. However, some tents have a large vestibule, and many bicycle tourers cook underneath of it. If you decide to do this (at your own risk), make sure you practice many times beforehand, and that you are very familiar with your stove. It is highly recommended to cook near an opening of the tent so the toxic CO and CO2 gases can escape. Be extremely careful with the priming of the liquid fuel stove (the flame is uncontrollable and can set the tent on fire).
7) Saving on weight by choosing a small fuel bottle size
: I would recommend you take a small fuel bottle size (1/3 or ½ - liter bottle) unless you are planning to bike through an extremely remote area, stay for a long period of time in an area with no gas station, or plan to use only white gas. We started with a 1L bottle and found it was much bigger than what we needed, and we changed to a 1/3 liter.
8 ) Repair kit:
This can come in very handy. Stoves usually come with a tool that will allow you to clean it and keep it running. A repair kit is used to replace missing, worn, or broken parts, as well as maintain your stove. I would recommend taking one with you if you are going on an extended trip (several months or longer).
9) High altitude:
By reducing the number of pumping strokes during priming, you will reduce pressure in the fuel line, allowing you to operate the stove more efficiently at high altitudes (the stove won’t function as well at high altitudes due to higher pressure and less oxygen).
10) “Simmering” with a liquid fuel stove:
A lot of liquid fuel stoves don’t allow you to simmer (some design fixed that problem). Tip #9 can also be used when lower heat is needed for slow cooking. If the heat is still too high, you can hold your pot or pan 2 or 3 inches higher (not real practical to simmer a stew, but can come in handy when your meal is starting to burn).
11) Use a puncture type canister with a screw-thread canister type stove
: Vaude manufacture a convenient adapter allowing you to use puncture type canister with your screw-thread-cartridge stove. Very useful since the puncture type canister are easier to find, plus it is light and compact.See the latest update of this article