Buying a Folding Camp Stove: What You Need to Know

rothco foldable stove
A Rothco Foldable Stove

If you are planning a long distance hiking trip, or a camping trip that requires that you carry much of your gear to the campsite, a folding camp stove is an invaluable item. Many of these collapsible stoves are so small when folded that they could fit into your pocket. Yet, when they are set up to operate, foldable camp stoves provide many hours of heat and a design that makes cooking very convenient and easy.

Why Use a Folding Camp Stove?

Usually, when you're camping out of a car or a truck, you can bring as many conveniences as you want, such as coolers and even large multi-burner stoves. But when you're faced with the logistical nightmare of carrying all of your equipment on your back, reducing the size and weight of every single item becomes the most important priority on your camping preparation list.

There is an entire niche industry within the camping world that focuses on providing comfort and convenience at your remote campsite without significantly increasing the weight of your hiking pack. This is accomplished through the use of plastics and advanced metals that are extremely strong, but also lightweight at the same time. The folding camp stove is one of the most common items on the list of the lightweight camping enthusiast, because food is a basic necessity, and the ability to heat water and food at the campsite is critical.

Basic Features of a Simple Camp Stove

Even though many larger stoves come with additional "features" like drop pans, control valves and heat shields, but when it comes down to basic requirements, most of these additions aren't really needed to cook food or heat water. There are three basic requirements of any camp stove.

  1. Must contain a heat source powerful enough to boil water within a reasonable time.
  2. Must have a solid support structure that can hold metal pots and pans over the flame.
  3. Should burn long enough so that a meal can be prepared without the need to change the fuel source while cooking.

Some people create their own homemade camp stoves that meet all of these requirements, but if you aren't the type of person to build things on your own, or you like the peace of mind of purchasing professionally manufactured products, then the foldable camp stove is just right for you.

Types of Available Folding Stoves

The basic one-burner foldable stove is very common and comes in a variety of sizes, brands and colors. They are commonly made of coated steel construction with some stoves also adding aluminum panels to reflect the heat of the flame upwards. The most popular fuel source for folding stoves is "canned heat," an ethanol/calcium acetate gel originally invented by the Sterno, that burns slowly and for a long period of time. However, there are some folding stoves that use standard camping propane tanks.

coleman foldable stove
  • Single Burner "Canned Heat" Stove: These stoves feature one of the simplest and most lightweight designs available. The stove is simply four steel sides and a steel or aluminum bottom that holds the can of fuel or fuel tablet. About an inch or so above the can, these foldable designs usually incorporate a steel grate that provides even more support for the pan just above the hot flame.
  • Foldable "Propane" Stove: While canned heat provides a steady hot flame that is sufficient for basic cooking needs, it doesn't provide the steady intensity of a propane burner. For this reason, many people provide the various foldable propane stoves that are available on the market today. These are narrow propane burners encased in a compact frame made of very lightweight material that often folds in on itself for compact storage.
  • Foldable Natural Stoves: While they are uncommon, you may also come across "natural-fuel" foldable stoves in some outdoor stores. These stoves are usually made of collapsible steel with a central compartment where you can burn sticks or small pieces of wood. The top of these stoves feature a flat area where you can rest pots or pans for cooking.

The best way to choose which stove is right for you is to consider what sort of cooking you'll be doing at camp. If you only plan to boil water or warm up soups, then the very lightweight canned heat stove is more than sufficient. For frying or grilling, or other high temperature cooking, either natural or propane stoves are the way to go.

How to Safely Use a Folding Camp Stove

Don't forget that even though these camp stoves are small, they still get very hot. Many people make the mistake of assuming that because the Sterno flame is small, it isn't very hot. However, if you look closely you'll notice that the flame is blue - a sign that it is a very high temperature flame. Regardless of which stove you choose, the metal casing and the top brace for cooking pots can get extremely hot. Never touch the stove during cooking, and always give it time to properly cool off before you attempt to collapse the stove and stow it away.

More Information

Cooking is a big part of camping, and because of that there are many cooking enthusiasts who take pride in the meals they come up with in the great outdoors. If you would like to become a camp cook yourself, don't forget to check out the following LoveToKnow Camping resources that can help.

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Buying a Folding Camp Stove: What You Need to Know