What To Look For
The three main types of camping stoves are liquid fuel, canister and campground/car-camping stoves. Canister stoves are the lightest, most compact choice and offer easy, maintenance-free use. Liquid fuel stoves are slightly larger than canister stoves but are still highly portable. They are a more reliable option and are better for cold-weather cooking. However, liquid fuel bottles are larger and heavier and liquid fuel stoves require more maintenance than canister stoves. Types of liquid fuel include white gas and kerosene, and some liquid fuel stoves add versatility by supporting multiple fuel types. Campground stoves are large, powerful, expensive stoves designed for car camping.
Camp stoves come in a variety of sizes, from large dual-burner stoves to tiny ultralight stoves designed to heat a cup at a time. Consider whether you'll be using the stove for backpacking, car camping or a mixture of both and purchase a stove that offers an acceptable mixture of cooking power, convenience and portability. Small, minimalist Esbit stoves can weigh under an ounce, whereas large multi-burner stoves designed for car camping can weigh several pounds. Note that stove weights don't generally include the weight of fuel.
Features of stoves to look for include pushbutton ignition and adjustable burners. Also pay attention to specs like weight, size, burn time and boil time. Some backpacking stoves include a cup or pot that doubles as a holder for transporting the stove.
Carefully consider what type of activity you will most use your stove for. Backpacking stoves provide an excellent compromise between convenient cooking and light, portable design. Larger stoves designed for car camping will provide more power, quicker cooking, more burners and a more convenient cooking experience for your typical campsite. These stoves are typically too large for backpacking, however. If you plan to car camp and backpack, you may be better off buying two stoves rather than using a small, inefficient backpacking stove for camp cooking. Don't forget to consider other options for car camping like propane and charcoal grills and campfire cooktops.
Where To Buy
Camping stoves are typically found where outdoor sporting goods like tents and fishing equipment are sold. You'll find the best selection at outdoor-specific shops like REI, Backcountry and Campmor. You will typically find a more limited selection in the camping section of department stores like Walmart and Target and at general sporting goods stores like Dick's Sporting Goods.
Camp stove prices vary dramatically depending upon size, features, output and weight. Some of the most basic, lightest backpacking stoves that are fueled by solid Esbit tablets can be found for as little as $10--and some campers prefer to build their own ultralight stoves using little more than an old aluminum can. Powerful, multi-burner camp stoves, on the other hand, can cost several hundred dollars. You'll find a wide selection of canister stoves priced between $50 and $100 and a good selection of liquid fuel stoves between $70 and $150. Campground stoves typically run from $80 to $500.
Fuel bottles and canisters are generally sold separately. Take this into account when pricing stoves out and remember to purchase a fuel source. Fuel sources may be pictured in the stove's online description, but that doesn't mean fuel is included with purchase.