Camping Stoves Head to Head
There are many advantages and disadvantages of the two main types of camping stoves. Liquid fuel camping stoves have been a favorite among hikers and backpackers for a very long time. Cartridge camping stoves offers advantages that appeal to beginners and even some of the experienced.
A stove that fails during a hiking trip can ruin the experience and in winter can put you in danger. That’s why reliability is the most critical element for a camping stove.
The problem is that reliability is not easily assessed. It depends on too many conditions to make a reliable judgment.
Liquid fuel camping stoves have improved tremendously on safety and control from the older versions but this also means that there are more parts and more parts means that more things are bound to go wrong.
Cartridge camping stoves have seen major improvement in the way the cartridge is coupled to the stove. Puncturing the cartridge to the stove are no more in existence. Now cartridges are coupled by means of machined threads or twist-lock couplings.
Lighting a cartridge camping stove is also easy with the use of piezoelectric ignitions that produce a spark without flint or steel. Some cartridge camping stove can even function in extremely cold conditions.
So in the area of reliability, it’s a matter of design rather than of the type of camping stove.
Heating efficiency is affected by temperature, altitude and wind. The performance of cartridge camping stoves is greatly affected by the cold. Even so, at high altitude where it’s cold, cartridge camping stoves perform better because of the lower pressure on the outside.
Liquid fuel camping stoves are not as much affected by the cold as cartridge camping stoves but wind affects the heating efficiency of all camping stoves. Some models of both camping stoves have some kind of shielding from the winds. Others depend on windscreen with the fuel tank sitting outside.
The problem with the cartridge camping stove is that the heating efficiency decreases as the gas runs out. Liquid fuel camping stoves burn at its peak even until it empties. Liquid fuel camping stoves outperform cartridge stoves in this area.
Specifications show that cartridge camping stoves are lighter. For example, the MSR Dragonfly stove (liquid fuel camping stove) weighs at 14 oz (395g) while the MSR PocketRocket stove (cartridge camping stove) weighs at a mere 3 oz (86g).
But generally liquid fuel camping stoves last a little bit longer as they are more efficient. To assess the weight of your camping stove you need to estimate the amount of fuel you are going to need for a specific trip that takes into account the number of days and expected weather conditions.
The size of the container also greatly affects the weight of the camping stove. For longer trips, larger containers are more economical in terms of weight.
Figures show that 20 small cartridges give you 72 oz of gas and 69 oz of steel (not good). Ten medium cartridges give you 76 oz of gas and 41 oz of steel. And five large cartridges give you 80 oz of gas and 27 oz of steel.
How much gas is enough? Backpacker estimates that 8.75 oz of gas per day on a mild day is enough for the average user. Double the number when you need to melt snow for drinking water.
For long and/or cold trips we recommend that you use and liquid fuel camping stove.
The reason why cartridge camping stoves are so popular with beginners is because of their convenience. There is no doubt that cartridge camping stoves are easier to use and you can have heat almost instantly. They’re also cleaner and quieter.
For liquid fuel camping stoves you need to preheat and prime the fuel which deter many beginners. Though it’s not such a fuss when you get used to it.
Cartridge camping stoves are known to blow up when used in a damaged state. Their relative predictability makes it safer to use inside a tent, though you should only do when you have to for fear of setting your tent, sleeping or other gear on fire. If you do use your camping stove inside the tent please make sure the tent is ventilated well as carbon monoxide poisoning may cause dementia and death.
While there’s a possibility of using a cartridge camping stove inside your tent using a liquid fuel camping stove is highly dangerous and should never be attempted.
There’s another possibility for cartridge camping stoves but this time not in a good way. Stoves attached to the cartridges in your backpack can accidentally have their fuel knobs turned on and fill your pack with combustible fumes.
If your backpack is badly packed cartridge camping stoves are also prone to having the parts bent and broken. The more parts you have the higher the chance that there is going to be a problem. That’s why it is important to test for camping stoves especially for new camping stoves before you go hiking. Try to simulate the conditions that you are likely going to be in.
The Litter Problem
Liquid fuel camping stoves don’t have any problems with litter. For cartridge camping stoves you need to carry your empty cartridges with you.
Don’t throw the empty cartridges in the wilderness because not only that its ugly, it can explode if exposed to the sun and cause forest fires.
Even though the price of cartridge camping stoves are a lot lower than liquid fuel camping stoves, the running cost is much higher. A gallon of white gas for liquid fuel camping stoves cost $3 to $4 each and should last a season.
Cartridges on the other hand cost $4 to $10 each and they don’t last as long so even when cartridge camping stoves may cost as low as $40 while liquid fuel camping stoves may cost $70 or more, you might easily spend 5 to 10 times more on cartridges.
My stove of choice is the liquid fuel camping stove. It cooks much faster, works better in a variety of weather conditions, running cost is low and doesn’t cause a litter problem.
Cartridge camping stoves or commonly called propane stoves may be tempting on short trips at times when there is lots of sunshine due to its convenience and cleanliness.
If you are going to buy only one camp stove then go for the liquid fuel version.
Jonsky (author) on September 15, 2010:
I don't know any but I figured it would take a lot of power to run a heater so I don't think it would be practical just yet.
luxury camping on September 08, 2010:
Hi Jonksy, being the innovative camper, do you know of any solar powered camping heaters?
Jonsky (author) on June 18, 2009:
The whisperlight is sort of the heavier version of the simmerlight but it's pretty tough as well and about half the price. I'm sure it won't fail you for a few more years.
Camping Dan on June 16, 2009:
I have used the MSR whisperlight for years and it has never really let me down. There has been times it was not running smoothly while I was on the trail but they are easy to maintain even in the field to keep it running.
Jonsky (author) on February 13, 2009:
optimus nova on February 13, 2009:
I agree with your take on this, though I wouldn't weigh the safety issue very heavily. I covered some of the same ground at http://www.packstove.com/choosing-a-backpacking-st...