Help choosing a campground stove


Later this year my family will be setting out on a two-week car camping vacation across the country. We’ll be starting in northern Michigan and ending up in Montana where we have friends that we want to visit. We already have several pit stops planned along the way such as a few nights stay at Mount Rushmore over July 4th, but for the most part we plan on seeing how we do and stopping when necessary.  My kids will be 6 and 4 so there won’t be any hardcore hiking taking place – mostly a few easy day hikes.

This type of camping is new territory for me, I’m used to carrying only what I need and keeping the pack weight down to a minimum. Car camping will afford us the benefit of being able to take along gear that we wouldn’t ordinarily carry with us – such as a larger camping stove.  I usually carry my lightweight cooking system which consists of an alcohol stove and small pot that is just big enough to serve two people.  That’s not going to work for a family car camping trip where we have to feed four in a hurry.  I’m not entirely sure what the best camping stove options or important considerations are? So, I thought I’d ask you, my readers.

I’m looking for a reasonably priced, two-burner camping stove that can be packed up small when not in use.  I’ll have my two small kids with me and while they won’t necessarily be doing the cooking, I want to ensure that the stove is as safe as can be.  So far I’ve been doing research based on the following criteria:

  • Number of burners
  • Temperature Control
  • Stability
  • Fuel type (liquid fuel, propane, butane, combination)
  • Ease to light
  • Ease to clean
  • Overall weight

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what the pros and cons are with some of these factors, such as fuel types. I use liquid fuel all the time in my alcohol stoves but dread the thought of having to carry it in a car or near my kids – in which case would propane be better/safer?

I’m looking for your recommendations on styles of stoves, brands, fuel types, and models to help me make a more educated decision. I don’t know what I don’t know!  If you have any experience, good or bad, with campground stoves I’d love to hear from you.  Please help me choose a reliable and safe stove for our upcoming vacation, thanks!

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10286816493637692728 Andrew

    Brian, Check out the Cobb Grill. It is efficient, uses just a few charcoal briquettes and cooks really well. The latest place I have seen them is at Garrett Wade, but they are a bit expensive: http://bit.ly/9J5CCA

    I would poke around a bit and see if you can get a better price, but it is a fantastic system. I am going to start looking for a new one after my last one vanished.

    If that is too rich for your blood, I would stick with a standard coleman propane unit. You can run them very effectively off 1 lb. propane bottles (which you can refill, if you are aware of the precautions) and they are generally lightweight, pack up small and they work well with the integrated windscreens. They also have one that is 1/2 grill, 1/2 grate, but I would tend to avoid that and just cook in skillets or over a campfire, to avoid having to clean the stove. I would probably choose this: http://bit.ly/9J5CCA

    Some things to consider with car camping versus pack camping are that you will want to have some form of table to use for the stove and such. While many places have picnic tables, I have learned (the hard way) that it sometimes pays to bring one of those folding camp tables, just in case. Also, bring some folding chairs, a roll of tin foil (to cover the fire pit grilling surface, if for nothing else) and, whatever you do, don’t forget the toilet paper! :-D

    Car camping is a whole new monster, I am sorry to say. I would be happy to help with any other info I have that might be of use.

  • http://www.cejcamping.com/ Marc

    Brian, I have a Coleman two burner liquid fuel stove and it does great. You could probably make the entire trip on one can of fuel, and if not, they are very easy to find (although the propane canisters are too). I lug it all over in my Jeep with the kids, including off-roading, and have no issues with it. Just make sure you vent out the stove to relieve the pressure before you pack it up.

    I have had issues with the propane cylinders at altitude. I had one freeze open (it was around 9,000ft and around freezing). When we took it off the stove it kept releasing the propane out into the air. We had to tie it up onto the luggage rack so that it would be outside the vehicle, you could still smell some of the gas coming back in the vehicle when we would stop. Not a problem on the highway!

    Over time, the Scouts have changed from white gas systems to propane/butane systems for safety reasons (you won’t spill it and become suddenly flammable). The propane might allow you to have your kids participate in the cooking at an earlier age, as its pretty simple. People that tend to stay with the white gas seem to be of the ‘old school’ mentality. Or, like me, have a lot of old gear left around that they aren’t quite willing to part with!

    I also place a griddle across the two burners and it works great for making pancakes, eggs, fajitas, etc. I have also put the griddle over a campfire and it works equally well (on top of a grate, not right on the fire!). I’d recommend getting a cheap griddle to really expand the purposes of whatever stove system you end up with.

    Overall, I don’t think the fuel system matters so much. My suggestion would be to get a stove that matches the fuel type of any other gear you have. Do you have a propane lantern, or small single burner stove? Than go propane. If you have liquid fuel for other things, go liquid. That way you only have to keep one type of fuel on hand. Overall, if you don’t plan to be out in the really cold, and you don’t have any other car camping gear yet, I’d probably go propane for ease of use and keep building on into that system.

    Coleman makes a great single burner stove that fits right on top of the propane canister. Works great for making coffee while the main dish is on the larger stove. Its good for cooking in general as well. Could be a good addition to a two-burner.

    I’d also agree with Andrew on the small, collapsible table. You can always use the top of the cooler in a pinch, but that can get old after awhile.

    Of course, now that you are moving into the family/car camping realm, don’t forget the dishes, cookware, silverware, etc.! Say goodbye to lightweight packing, hello living in the lap of luxury (relatively speaking!).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05781682537911777910 kirby

    I remember the Coleman liquid fuel stove from my childhood, and I can’t say anything would make me go back to one.

    I had a cheap two burner propane canister stove (Bear, I think, no longer made) that lasted almost twenty years. A few years ago I replaced it with the two burner Coleman you’ve got pictured there, and have no complaints. I’ve used it in the heat of Death Valley and the Sierra winters with no problems. I had a canister leak after hook-up once, in warm weather ( it took a few minutes to empty entirely) but since we were using a borrowed Wal-Mart canister and not our usual Coleman, I’d say the problem was with the cheaply made canister rather of canisters in general.

    As for the surface, what do you cook? Lots of pancakes at breakfast, then the half griddle, one burner stove might be best. Pot of coffee and breakfast burrito filling in another skillet? The two burner then. I’ve used mine for soups and stews, toasting bagels and quesadillas right over the open flame,and even grilling a hot dog in a pinch.

    We’re three in our family. Cooking on one end of the campground table and eating at the other doesn’t leave a lot of spare room. The suggestion of a separate aluminum table for the stove is a good one.

  • http://www.cejcamping.com/ Marc

    Brian, I have a Coleman two burner liquid fuel stove and it does great. You could probably make the entire trip on one can of fuel, and if not, they are very easy to find (although the propane canisters are too). I lug it all over in my Jeep with the kids, including off-roading, and have no issues with it. Just make sure you vent out the stove to relieve the pressure before you pack it up.

    I have had issues with the propane cylinders at altitude. I had one freeze open (it was around 9,000ft and around freezing). When we took it off the stove it kept releasing the propane out into the air. We had to tie it up onto the luggage rack so that it would be outside the vehicle, you could still smell some of the gas coming back in the vehicle when we would stop. Not a problem on the highway!

    Over time, the Scouts have changed from white gas systems to propane/butane systems for safety reasons (you won’t spill it and become suddenly flammable). The propane might allow you to have your kids participate in the cooking at an earlier age, as its pretty simple. People that tend to stay with the white gas seem to be of the ‘old school’ mentality. Or, like me, have a lot of old gear left around that they aren’t quite willing to part with!

    I also place a griddle across the two burners and it works great for making pancakes, eggs, fajitas, etc. I have also put the griddle over a campfire and it works equally well (on top of a grate, not right on the fire!). I’d recommend getting a cheap griddle to really expand the purposes of whatever stove system you end up with.

    Overall, I don’t think the fuel system matters so much. My suggestion would be to get a stove that matches the fuel type of any other gear you have. Do you have a propane lantern, or small single burner stove? Than go propane. If you have liquid fuel for other things, go liquid. That way you only have to keep one type of fuel on hand. Overall, if you don’t plan to be out in the really cold, and you don’t have any other car camping gear yet, I’d probably go propane for ease of use and keep building on into that system.

    Coleman makes a great single burner stove that fits right on top of the propane canister. Works great for making coffee while the main dish is on the larger stove. Its good for cooking in general as well. Could be a good addition to a two-burner.

    I’d also agree with Andrew on the small, collapsible table. You can always use the top of the cooler in a pinch, but that can get old after awhile.

    Of course, now that you are moving into the family/car camping realm, don’t forget the dishes, cookware, silverware, etc.! Say goodbye to lightweight packing, hello living in the lap of luxury (relatively speaking!).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10286816493637692728 Andrew

    Brian, Check out the Cobb Grill. It is efficient, uses just a few charcoal briquettes and cooks really well. The latest place I have seen them is at Garrett Wade, but they are a bit expensive: http://bit.ly/9J5CCA

    I would poke around a bit and see if you can get a better price, but it is a fantastic system. I am going to start looking for a new one after my last one vanished.

    If that is too rich for your blood, I would stick with a standard coleman propane unit. You can run them very effectively off 1 lb. propane bottles (which you can refill, if you are aware of the precautions) and they are generally lightweight, pack up small and they work well with the integrated windscreens. They also have one that is 1/2 grill, 1/2 grate, but I would tend to avoid that and just cook in skillets or over a campfire, to avoid having to clean the stove. I would probably choose this: http://bit.ly/9J5CCA

    Some things to consider with car camping versus pack camping are that you will want to have some form of table to use for the stove and such. While many places have picnic tables, I have learned (the hard way) that it sometimes pays to bring one of those folding camp tables, just in case. Also, bring some folding chairs, a roll of tin foil (to cover the fire pit grilling surface, if for nothing else) and, whatever you do, don’t forget the toilet paper! :-D

    Car camping is a whole new monster, I am sorry to say. I would be happy to help with any other info I have that might be of use.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05781682537911777910 kirby

    I remember the Coleman liquid fuel stove from my childhood, and I can’t say anything would make me go back to one.

    I had a cheap two burner propane canister stove (Bear, I think, no longer made) that lasted almost twenty years. A few years ago I replaced it with the two burner Coleman you’ve got pictured there, and have no complaints. I’ve used it in the heat of Death Valley and the Sierra winters with no problems. I had a canister leak after hook-up once, in warm weather ( it took a few minutes to empty entirely) but since we were using a borrowed Wal-Mart canister and not our usual Coleman, I’d say the problem was with the cheaply made canister rather of canisters in general.

    As for the surface, what do you cook? Lots of pancakes at breakfast, then the half griddle, one burner stove might be best. Pot of coffee and breakfast burrito filling in another skillet? The two burner then. I’ve used mine for soups and stews, toasting bagels and quesadillas right over the open flame,and even grilling a hot dog in a pinch.

    We’re three in our family. Cooking on one end of the campground table and eating at the other doesn’t leave a lot of spare room. The suggestion of a separate aluminum table for the stove is a good one.

  • Evan Lomas

    The picture of the stove featured at the bottom of this article is the stove that I use, except mine is 30+ years old. I have never had to replace anything and It has consistently worked with little to no headaches. I like the fuel system which requires kerosene. You can carry a lot of it in the reservoir and will have to refill the tank seldom. The cost of those little green canisters from coleman will add up quickly, but one 12 dollar jug of kerosene will last AT LEAST a whole season of camping. it has two burners that both have adjustable flames and it all packs down into a little suitcase size, fuel and all. Go simple, go reliable, Coleman. (good catchphrase)