Whether you want a camping stove for disaster preparation, the campground or backpacking, choosing the best fuel for your needs is the first step. Common fuel types include propane, white gas or other petroleum-based liquid fuels, alcohol, wood, isobutane or blended gases. Each fuel has significant advantages and disadvantages for different situations.
Propane: Best overall, propane is easy to use and easy to find. For situations where weight doesn't matter that much -- such as car or campsite camping -- propane is a great choice. Propane is clean-burning and efficient. It comes in small disposable canisters or in larger refillable canisters. Propane stoves usually have two or more burners and are suitable for a griddle or for group camping.
White gas: This type of liquid fuel comes in quart or gallon containers from which you pour as much fuel as you need into your stove's refillable canister. The upside is that you only carry as much fuel as you need, so you can keep pack weight low. For long campsite stays with a big group, it's easier to carry cans of white gas than several 20-pound propane tanks. White gas works well in cold weather and high elevations, and it's also inexpensive to buy. The downside is that white gas is tricky to use and more prone to flare-ups. Stoves using white gas need priming before you light, and you have to mess with refilling your canisters. Some stoves that burn white gas can also burn unleaded gasoline or kerosene. If you are camping near water, reviews suggest avoiding petroleum-based fuels like white gas, kerosene or unleaded gasoline. Experts say that spilling just one capful of unleaded gas can pollute 1,000 gallons of water.
Canister gas: This fuel contains butane, isobutane or a blend, and comes in disposable (and recyclable) aluminum canisters, so it is very convenient to use. Canister gas doesn't work that well in cold weather or at higher elevations, so these stoves are best for weekend backpacking, bike trips and warm-weather camping. Canisters are more expensive than buying white gas in bulk, but most backpackers say canister gas is a lot more convenient and easy to use.
Alcohol: Easy to find and inexpensive, alcohol is a good choice for disaster-preparation kits, since it stores well and has other uses. The catch is that it only burns half as hot as other fuels, which means it takes a longer time to boil water.
Expert reviews suggest considering these factors in choosing a camping stove:
Be aware that you probably will not be able to bring your stove with you if you are traveling by plane. Department of Homeland Security regulations prohibit taking any type of camping stove on an airplane once it's been used, since traces of flammable fuel may remain. You may not be able to take a new, unused stove or bottle for liquid fuel, either, due to misunderstandings about stoves by security personnel. To avoid having a stove confiscated at the airport, experts say you should consider buying your camping stove and fuel after you reach your destination, then giving it away at the end of your trip or shipping it home.