stoves & lanterns
choosing and using cooking equipment and lanterns
I spent the spring of 1995 on the north side of Mount Everest. Some of my time was spent at the tented village on the North Col, at an altitude of 7000 metres. One evening, I prepared a meal inside my tent with three other climbers, as the weather outside was so ferocious that cooking al fresco was impossible. Suddenly, the stove – which was positioned in the centre of the tent – turned into a flame-thrower and belched out four great tongues of fire. Miraculously, none of us were set ablaze, and just as the flames began licking the walls of the tent they retreated into the burner. The experience taught me a number of lessons, not least the importance of adhering to safety drills: these days I always cook outside or in the open porch of the tent, whatever the weather.

Safe cooking starts with a decent stove, and this leaflet aims to ensure that you make the correct choice. There are words of advice too if you wish to camp with a lantern. However, for guidance on individual models, chat to a member of Cotswold’s staff, who are well placed to describe the differences between the various designs available.

Paul Deegan
Paul is the author of the award-winning ‘The Mountain Traveller’s Handbook’, published by the British Mountaineering Council and available from Cotswold.
pots & utensils
types of burner
Pots are generally made from one or sometimes two key materials: steel, aluminium and titanium. Titanium is the lightest material and is stronger than aluminium. Aluminium finds favour with backpackers who want lightweight gear but without the steep financial penalty associated with titanium. Aluminium is also an excellent conductor of heat. Steel is the heaviest of the three, and in comparison to aluminium it is a poor conductor. But steel is very durable, making it a popular choice on expeditions and group treks. Non-stick pans and pots are also available. (Just as in the kitchen, non-stick requires the use of plastic utensils, the toughest of which are made from inexpensive Lexan.)

Whatever pots you buy, do make sure they have close-fitting lids. Placing a lid on a pan of water is the most effective method of decreasing boiling time. The best lids also double up as frying pans. At high altitudes, pressure cookers have a useful role to play; most Himalayan base camps are staffed by cooks who use their pressure cookers in order to turn out vast quantities of fluffy rice for hungry trekkers, climbers and porters.

A decent pot gripper is vital; make sure that yours is strong enough to hold your pan when it is full of water and food: trying to drain pasta with a flimsy gripper can result in dinner being eaten off the ground.

The beating heart of any stove is the burner, and to a great extent this is what your money is buying. All burners fall into one of two categories: pressurised and unpressurised.

Pressurised stoves require pressure of one sort or another in order to function. For example, stoves which run on gas require butane, propane, or a mixture of the two. These fuels are supplied in sealed and pressurised metal cannisters. The largest gas bottles (which are used in caravans and on gas-powered barbecues) can be re-filled by trained staff; the smaller bottles favoured by campers and mountaineers can only be used once.

By contrast, liquid fuel burners which run on petrol and paraffin (kerosene) can be topped up by the user. Consequently, the specially engineered tanks which these fuels are dispensed into need to be manually pressurised by way of an integral pump.

Unpressurised stoves, that run on either solid fuel or liquids such as methylated spirits and ethanol, can be ignited without any pre-amble.

Unpressurised stoves, and burners fuelled by pressurised bottled gas, need little in the way of attention. Not so pressurised liquid fuel burners, which require regular maintenance.

The decision as to whether to opt for a pressurised or un-pressurised stove depends largely upon where you plan to use your stove. At low altitudes, unpressurised stoves are a superb hassle-free option. But in cooking situations where an infinitely adjustable flame is required, at altitudes greater than a couple of thousand metres, or when a real burst of concentrated heat is essential for snow melting, then a pressurised stove is essential.

improving stove performance
Radiator-style attachments are available which fit on all pots. Wrapped around the exterior of the pan, and with the lower lip extending below the base of the pot in order to catch the heat that would otherwise escape around the sides, this type of so-called ‘heat exchanger’ can reduce the amount of time it takes to boil a pan of water and therefore decrease the amount of fuel required on your trip.

When camping in winter conditions, it is important to insulate your stove from the snow. Otherwise, the whole assembly will melt into the ice and finally be snuffed out or simply fall over. Anything from a proprietary stove support (made from aluminium with holes drilled throughout to reduce weight) to a metal snow shovel can be used to prevent the stove from sinking into the surface of the snow. Or you can make your own from a thin sheet of plywood, although you will need to take care not to set it alight.

Ultralight foil windshields are available which fit around all types of camping stove. These prevent the wind from snuffing out the burner whilst it is alight, and also help to concentrate heat around the pan. When used in conjunction with a heat exchanger, these windshields can greatly improve the performance of any stove.

fuel types & availability
Lanterns have always enjoyed a steady stream of support from the family camping and caravan enthusiasts. Now they are being made small and light enough for backpackers too.

The main choices to be made here revolve around the amount of light you want, for how long, and from what type of fuel supply. Battery operated lanterns are the safest type, and can be used inside tents without any real risk of fire. By contrast, lanterns fuelled by gas or liquid fuel need to be intelligently sited away from flammable materials such as flysheets and inner tents. If you do decide to opt for a bottled gas or liquid fuel lantern then it’s probably a good idea to choose one that runs on the same fuel as your stove. That way, if you start to run low on fuel for cooking, you can siphon some from your lantern.

Some lanterns come with a glass mantle, which is likely to shatter if subjected to any sort of stress. This sort of design is not ideal if you plan to carry your lantern inside a rucksack all day long. Some lanterns are supplied in durable containers, but even so you may want to line the housing with some squares of foam in order to reduce the chance of damage to fragile parts.

• type of stove: pressurised liquid fuel
• available in: Asia, Africa, Himalaya
• pros: cheap and available even in rural areas; efficient up to 6500m
• cons: stove requires priming; fuel line clogs quickly if not cleaned; messy

petrol/unleaded petrol/benzine
• type of stove: pressurised liquid fuel
• available in: almost everywhere that has vehicular access
• pros: widely available; cheaper than white gas; efficient up to 6500m
• cons: stove requires priming; fuel line clogs quickly if not cleaned

white gas/benzina blanca/Coleman fuel
• type of stove: pressurised liquid fuel
• available in: North America, UK; increasingly available in South America
• pros: clean; efficient up to 6500m
• cons: stove requires priming; fuel more expensive than regular petrol

alcohol/methylated spirits/ethanol/alcool á brűler
• type of stove: unpressurised liquid fuel
• available in: Europe, Scandinavia, North America
• pros: evaporates quickly if spilt
• cons: expensive; burns quickly; low heat output; performs poorly above 3000m; some fuels are clear so difficult to see flame – take care when re-filling to ensure flames have been extinguished

butane and propane
• type of stove: bottled gas
• available in: Europe, North America, and certain popular trekking regions
• pros: clean; hassle-free; propane/butane mix burns well at altitude and in cold weather
• cons: heavy; several types of connection produced so compatibility with stove not guaranteed; empty cartridges must be disposed of carefully; butane-only mix performs poorly in sub-zero temperatures

solid fuel/hexamine
• type of stove: open, uncontrollable
• available in: Europe, North America (especially military units)
• pros: easy to light in any weather; solid fuel gel can be used to ‘prime’ other stoves
• cons: very low heat output; uncontrollable flame; fumes often poisonous so always light in extremely well-ventilated area

Some pressurised liquid fuel stoves which run on more than one type of fuel are known as ‘multi-fuel stoves’. If you choose to take a pressurised liquid fuel stove, make sure that the fuel line can be removed and cleaned, and pack plenty of spares, especially fuel jets and jet ‘prickers’.

Fuel types & availability chart reproduced with permssion from the BMC’s ‘The Mountain Traveller’s Handbook’.
safety advice
Stoves and lanterns are probably the most hazardous products in your arsenal of outdoor equipment. So it’s important to follow all instructions supplied by the manufacturer to the letter. It also makes sense to practice using new products before setting off on a trip.

A lot of outdoor gear – including tents, sleeping bags and fleece clothing – is flammable. Constant attention needs to be paid to stoves and lanterns when they are alight to ensure that no combustible materials come into contact with these devices. Particular vigilance is required during the lighting process when flaring can occur. This can result in flames being shot several feet into the air. For this reason, ignition should always take place outside, even if the stove is subsequently placed under an awning in order to cook during periods of bad weather. Re-filling fuel tanks also requires attention to detail. Critically, stoves must be fully extinguished before re-fuelling commences. This might sound obvious, but with some stoves – most notably unpressurised liquid fuel models – it is physically possible to re-fill the burner whilst the stove is alight. This is an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Eventually, parts on your stove will wear out and need replacing. Of course, this might happen when you are on a trip. Consequently, it is worth purchasing a small pack of spare parts so that repairs can be made in the field.

enviromental conditions
stove features
In addition to ensuring that your stove cannot scorch the ground it is placed upon, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the fuel you are using, as well as the safe disposal of liquid or canisters at the end of your trip.

It is common in some countries for fuel to be contaminated; for this reason it is a good idea to carry a fuel filter in order to minimise the number of agents that could clog up the stove’s fuel line.

It is illegal to carry flammable liquid on aircraft, so consider distributing any remaining liquid fuel to your trekking staff or local families, rather than pouring the toxic liquid away and contaminating the environment and water sources.

If your stove runs on pressurised gas cannisters, then you will need to leave room in your rucksack to carry out empty cylinders at the end of your trip. Puncture-style metal cannisters can be recycled when empty as the hole in the top means that there is no chance of gas remaining inside. However, it is possible that pockets of gas can remain in cylinders with self-sealing valves. So before placing this type of canister out with your regular rubbish, keep the burner alight until the stove self-extinguishes in order to minimise the chance of any fuel remaining inside. As with liquid fuel, it is illegal to take gas canisters on an aircraft.

Of course, there’s more – much more – to a stove than the burner and the fuel used to operate it. Some of the other features you will probably want to consider before purchasing include:

automatic ignition
This type of gadget removes the need to hold a flame to the stove in order to ignite the burner. Handy if you forget to pack a lighter or matches.

pan supports
These are essential in order to keep your pot from tipping over. Some stoves have fold-out supports which reduce the bulk of the stove when packed in your rucksack. Ultralight stoves may struggle with anything larger than a 1.5 litre pan, so it is worth considering what volume of food or water you want to heat at any one time.

fuel tank
Most pressurised liquid fuel stoves either sport an internal fuel tank, or utilise the separate fuel bottle as the external tank. Given that for anything more than a weekend trip an extra fuel bottle is pretty much essential, being able to use that bottle as your tank can result in a significant weight saving. Such a system also allows you to take a smaller bottle for weeklong trips, and several larger containers for extended adventures. However, it is critical that you only use the brand of fuel bottle recommended by the stove manufacturer, otherwise the seal between stove and bottle may fail with potentially disastrous results.

fuel line
Some stoves allow pressurised gas cartridges to be screwed onto the base of the burner, whilst others connect via a hose. The advantage of the former is that there is less to go wrong (some rubberised fuel lines can be prone to wear and tear). The advantage of the hose concept is that this type of stove is likely to be supplied with fold-out legs that are larger – and therefore more stable – than the diameter of the canister.

fuel pre-heater
In cold conditions, fuel needs to be warmed before it can be ignited by the burner. So some stoves designed for expedition use incorporate a fuel line that passes over the burner, ensuring that fuel is primed prior to coming into contact with the flame. (It is worth noting that in very low temperatures, a dollop of burning paste may need to be spread around the burner in order to allow ignition to commence.)

All outdoor activities are potentially hazardous. The information provided on this site offers guidelines only, and is no substitute for personal instruction from a qualified person. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility can be accepted by the author or Cotswold Outdoor Ltd. for any errors or omissions. By choosing to follow any of the advice contained in this leaflet, the reader accepts personal responsibility for a) learning any techniques required, b) any risks involved, and c) any damages or injuries of any kind - including death - howsoever caused. Cover shot: Checking the way ahead on the Trekker's Haute Route, between Chamonix and Zermatt.
© Paul Deegan & Flirt Design under license to Cotswold Outdoor Ltd.