Camping stoves come in two basic types: gaseous (propane/butane/isobutane) or liquid fuel. They are usually single burner units although dual and even triple “suitcase” stoves are available.
Propane stoves currently dominate the market due to simplicity, inexpensive design, minimal smell and widespread retail availability of propane bottles. Propane stoves are generally regarded safe to burn indoors with ventilation, fume-wise at least.
Butane stoves can be similar in design to propane stoves, other than running on a different kind of fuel. Butane is less popular due to higher fuel costs, somewhat lower availability of fuel canisters, and poor performance in freezing conditions.
Isobutane stoves typically consist of very lightweight burners that screw directly onto squat fuel canisters. They are very popular with backpackers due to reduced weight but fuel cost is much higher than butane or propane. Cold weather performance is improved over butane due to the addition of ~20% propane in the fuel mix.
Liquid-fuel pressure stoves run on compressed liquid fuel of some kind, traditionally Coleman fuel or unleaded. They were the default stoves for decades before the rise of propane. Pressure stoves typically cost less to run1), put out more BTU in a smaller package. The tradeoff is smellier fuel than propane and more complexity than the “turn the knob and light a match” starting procedure seen in propane gear. Liquid fuel stoves are generally not used indoors – they flare during startup, and emit fumes strongly when starting or extinguishing.
See this comparison that includes liquid fuels.
Electric stovetops, either traditional resistive or induction, have become popular because of the “clean and shiny” look and how pretty they are on Instagram. However cooking with electricity is realistically only possible with shore power, or for those who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on their house electrical system.
There are other, sometimes more exotic fuels often used used by backpackers who watch their grams.
Another popular countertop stove is the Coleman propane stove pictured right.
Since countertop stoves are relatively wide some 'dwellers opt for slimmer camping models.
“Bottletop” propane camping stove burners mount directly to the top of the 1# bottle. This makes for light weight and easy storage, but can also be top-heavy and unsteady. Even so, these stand-up stoves by Coleman and others are quite popular. The Martin stove out of Canada is reputed to have the highest quality valve and burner.
There are also ultralight stoves for isobutane3) containers, but the fuel is expensive so they are most often used only by hikers and backpackers for whom light weight is more important than fuel cost. Lindal valve adapters can be used to run isobutane burners on propane or butane.
Related: guide to gaseous fuel connectors
For people who need to conserve space and who mainly use stoves to boil water, a JetBoil system makes efficient use of isobutane.
Liquid fuel pressure stoves do not burn liquid fuel directly; they gasify (atomize) the liquid fuel into a vapor that the stove can burn efficiently. Gasification occurs in a gas generator, which is a portion of the fuel delivery tube that pass near or through the burner's flames. The liquid fuel hisses as it vaporizes in the generator.
Until the generator is hot enough to gasify the fuel, the stove will flare up, generally misbehave, and smell strongly of fuel. This can be alarming to first-timers, and may be responsible for the overall decline in pressure stoves in the camping stove market. Flare up can be minimized by pre-heating with alcohol: a bit is poured on the burner area near the generator and lit on fire. Just before the alcohol fire is goes out the liquid fuel valve is gently opened. This technique is especially helpful in very cold ambient temperatures where the flare-up could last a while.
Lighting demo (youtube)
Pro: The Dragonfly pictured above is known for simmer regulation. Field maintainable and repairable. Some people like the sound.
Con: Cost about 2x as much as a non-skeleton regular pressure stove. This type of “roarer” stove can be quite loud.
The most popular current sportster (single burner fount-top) stove is the Coleman 533 Dual Fuel. The stove can run on Coleman fuel (white gas) or unleaded. Note that unleaded will foul the generator (fuel gasification tube) more quickly.
Note that some compact sporster stoves can overheat their fuel tank if too wide a pan is used:
It affects any stove that has the burner and fuel tank close to each other, which is common in small, portable, or backpacking singleburner stoves. The reason wide pans are deprecated is that they reflect more heat back onto the tank/font. Taller, narrower pots will help the stove run cooler if it is prone to overheating.4)
Suitcase stoves have two or more burners and are shaped like a suitcase.5). Because of their large size they are uncommon in the vandwelling world.
Alcohol stoves are found in open, low-pressure, and high-pressure configurations – the latter is rare except for marine applications.
Low pressure stoves may be:
In all cases it takes a minute or so for pressure (and therefore jets) to form
The most common commercial alcohol stove is the Trangia type: a freestanding, low pressure, double-walled stove that holds about an ounce of fuel.
The simplest hiking stove is a “penny” alcolhol stove, so called because in some variants a penny is used to cover the fill holes.
Sterno is a jellied alcohol fuel. It is rarely used in vandwelling because of the cost and because the flames are nearly invisible.
Hexamine bars or tablets (esbit, military surplus) are very expensive by the BTU produced (and relatively sooty-burning) but are lightweight and stable. They make great additions to day packs and emergency bags.
The simplest stove is a cut-out tin can, often called a “twig” or “hobo” stove.
Rocket (gasifying) stoves are more efficient than traditional stoves. Small portable versions exist for the camping market.
…rocket stoves used 18 to 35 percent less fuel compared to the traditional stoves and reduced fuel used 39-47 percent compared to the simple traditional open three-stone fire, as well as a large reduction in emissions.6)
In real world terms this means less smoke and more heat for a given amount of fuel. The camping versions also run quite well on small “scrap” fallen wood like bark freagments, twigs, chunks of partially burned wood, etc.
Resistance and induction cooking both use 1000-2000w watts of power to run each “burner” although the induction unit will be ~12% more efficient.7) Note that plain hotplates run fine on Modified Sine Wave inverters but induction versions require pure sine wave.
Although power is generally ON/OFF at full blast with temperature controlled by varying the duty cycle, some induction units seem to use regulated amounts of power. Of special note is the Nuwave Pic that allows manual choice of 600w, 900w, or the default 1,300w.
Lab hotplates are similar to cooking hotplates only generally smaller using much less wattage. They may not work for full-on cooking but might suffice for reheating/simmering. See this blog post by secessus.
from most cheapest/BTU to most expensive:
The amount of fuel consumed can be reduced if needed: