What To Look For
When you're camping, the right stove can make or break your cooking experience. The most important thing to consider when choosing a stove is the kind of camping you'll be doing, whether it's camping or backpacking. Whether you'll be feeding a group or going solo is an important factor. If you're a backpacker, choose a lightweight stove specifically designed for hiking. If you're car camping, you can choose a larger, heavier model with one, two or even three burners. The type of weather you'll be camping in is another important consideration. Finally, consider ease of operation. It's no fun to fumble with your stove when there's a group of hungry campers to feed.
Don't choose a stove without carefully considering the type of fuel it uses. Balance fuel availability with performance, weight, cost and bulk. Another mistake is skimping on price when a few extra dollars can buy much more convenience. For example, if you're choosing a car camping stove, don't skimp on burners. Keeping the coffeepot going while you're cooking the bacon and eggs is a convenience you won't regret. If you're choosing a backpacking stove, a few extra bucks can give you features that will help ensure your stove operates reliably in all kinds of conditions.
Where To Buy
The best place to buy a camping stove is at a full-service outdoor supply store, where you can get a varied selection and expert advice. Many online outdoor retailers also feature an excellent selection and often a lower price. Some of these companies also give one-on-one advice. Big box stores usually carry car camping stoves, and they may offer one or two basic backpacking models. Hardware stores are great for entry level stoves and some fuels.
For backpacking stoves, cost generally depends on weight and the fuel used. Campers pay more for the convenience of being able to use more than one type of fuel. Basic one-burner, single fuel backpacking models start at around $40. Multi-fuel models with more convenience features can cost over $200, although many fall in the $50 to $100 range. Single-burner car camping stoves can start at around $30. Double or triple burners, multiple fuels, and easy-start features bring the cost up between $80 to $150. Deluxe models may sell for close to $300.
Propane stoves use widely available canisters that screw onto the stove and don't require pouring fuel. These are convenient, but canisters are heavy and require disposal. White gas or other liquid fuel stoves are popular among backpackers. White gas is economical and can be carried in small, reusable bottles. However, these stoves often need more assembly and maintenance, along with pumping to maintain pressure. Butane/propane blend canister stoves are another option. These are lightweight and easy to use. However, many don't perform well in windy conditions or freezing temperatures. Multiple fuel stoves may use these and other options, including unleaded gas and kerosene.
If it doesn't come with its own bag or case, consider buying one when you purchase your stove. This helps keep it clean, dry and ready to go. If you're buying a liquid fuel stove versus a canister stove, be sure to pick up one or two fuel bottles as well. A windscreen is another great addition. It will help keep the flame going in frustrating weather conditions.
Consider renting one or two stoves from a wilderness outfitting company or your local recreation club, before you buy. This will help you determine which features are most important to you. This is especially helpful with backpacking stoves, as features like stability, ease of lighting, maintenance and fuel availability vary quite a lot between models.