Stoves and Fuels
Burner on Gas Cartridge
Pros: the Camping Gaz Bleuet or Globetrotter style
burner with a pierceable cartridge isn't really an awful lot of use
to the backpacker, simply because you can't demount the cartridge until
it's completely used up - which makes packing a bit awkward, plus you
have the added delight of watching boiling times get longer and longer.
The latest versions allow small lightweight burners to connect straight
on top of a valved cartridge, so it can all come apart for ease of packing,
at the same time allowing you to swap between cartridges so you can
use the more depleted one for simmering, the newest for fast boil-ups.
Cons: not usually so brilliant on stability, although the problem
has been addressed to an extent with some cartridges being fatter and
squatter, thus providing more of a stable base.
Burner on Flexible Pipe
Pros: makes for a much more compact setup where burner
and cartridge can be separated when they're packed, and the burner in
use is also closer to the ground - usually on fairly wide-spaced legs
- so it's a good deal more stable.
Cons: you need to take care to inspect the flexible tube fairly
regularly to ensure it and the points where it joins the burner and
valve assemblies are secure and not leaking
Burner on Rigid Pipe
Pros: if you're going to have the fuel reservoir separate
from the burner, a rigid tube is by far the best means to connect the
two. Apart from the fact that it's more robust, it also turns the fuel
tank into an outrigger for the burner, providing the best overall stability.
WHAT KIND OF FUEL?
The kind of fuel you burn comes partly
down to local availability, and partly what you feel most happy with.
Backpackers of a nervous disposition might prefer to give petrol stoves
a wide berth and opt for the ease and convenience of a gas stove. On
the other hand, if you take off to wilder parts of the world, you're
really governed by what fuel you can actually lay your hands on - for
much of the third world, paraffin will be the most readily available.
Pros: no messing about, and no mess, too. Meths (methylated
spirit) is the absolute foolproof fuel, requiring no pressurised burners,
valves or anything which might break down or clog up. The best example
of a meths burner is still the Swedish-made Trangia, with its integral
windshield/pot stand. Meths is volatile, and it's easy to clean up spills.
Cons: the flame is difficult to see, and it tends to be rather
smoky, so expect blackened pans. You can reduce the effect by mixing
a little water (around 10%) with your meths - makes the fuel go further,
too. Meths isn't always so easy to get hold of, and you may even have
to sign a poisons register in some places before they let you have it!
Pros: burns in a pressurised stove - not the same
calorific value as petrol, but it's a good performer nonetheless. If
you're trekking in third world countries, this is likely to be your
best option, as this stuff will be available even in places where you
might find it difficult to get hold of petrol.
Cons: needs a separate fuel such as meths or alcohol paste to
light the stove initially (unless it has a built-in wick). Needs care
when lighting, as, like petrol, it can flare up until the fuel flowing
through the delivery tube is vaporising properly. Doesn't evaporate
readily, and it's rather smelly, so don't spill it!
Pros: stoves capable of burning automotive petrol
offer a good fast boil-up, using a fuel which is readily available almost
Cons: tends to clog up jets and fuel tubes, so don't use it unless
you can strip the stove down for fairly regular cleaning. Low octane
fuel is advisable - don't burn lead-free unless your stove is specifically
made for it. Lighting in cold weather needs extra care, as it has a
tendency to quite dramatic flare-ups until the fuel running through
the delivery tube starts to vaporise properly.
White Gas (Coleman Fuel)
Pros: the best fuel for petrol stoves - clean, additive
free, and a lot more pleasant to cope with if you have to deal with
Cons: expensive, horrendously so in some places, and that's even
if you're lucky to find someone selling it!
Butane / Propane
Pros: quick and easy to light - some stoves even come
with built-in piezo ignition to give you all the comforts of home. Used
to be regarded as a lazy burning fuel best suited to low level summer
conditions, not much use in cold or wind. But recent technological developments
have made gas stoves some of the quickest boilers on the market, whilst
the addition of a proportion of propane gives the fuel the ability to
burn well in the cold.
Cons: boil-ups tend to take longer as fuel and pressure in the
cartridge becomes depleted.
If you have the right multi-fuel
stove, you can burn an awful lot more besides petrol and paraffin. My
staple fuel for many years was white spirit (paint brush cleaner) -
a bit smoky on start up, but as good as paraffin when it got going.
Others worth a try are diesel and aviation fuel. My favourite for the
sheer daftness of it all was a half bottle of vodka (I drank the other