The backpackers' kitchen

By Steve Page and Colin Hogarth

Backpackers need to eat and there's nothing more enjoyable than pitching up your tent and enjoying a meal cooked in the great outdoors. We've put a selection of stoves and cookware to the test, and thrown in some useful tips and a recipe for you to try.

Trangia 25K Steel

Price £47.99 A common sight for many years in the outdoors - not because they are necessarily the best but they are so simple as to be indestructible. Coming as a complete package containing the burner housing, windshield and all the pots (usually 2 pots and a frying pan included) which fit neatly together for packing. A bit pricey but then it may outlast you. The stove burns methylated spirit which is easily available throughout the world but has the downside that it can burn with a near invisible flame making it a little hazardous. One option is to purchase a gas conversion kit which allows it to use standard Coleman gas cylinders. The stove comes with a small kettle for which I've never seen the point - surely a pot of water will do the same? Trangias also come with an instruction manual complete with a few recipes to try out.

CA All Weather Camping Cookset

Price £25 A similar design to the Trangia, this stove has the advantage of being considerably cheaper (half the price) and is supplied with larger pots, and a larger kettle! The drawbacks are that the burner housing and pots do not fit together very well making it a rather bulky item to carry around and the frying pan is made of such a thin metal that it buckled badly the first time I used it (with the help of a nearby rock is was relegated to life as a plate instead). Available in the more general camping stores such as Millets.

Coleman Alpine Stove

Price £35 This Stove has been a favourite of mine for many years. It connects to its resealing gas cartridges by means of a short hose allowing the burner head to lie very close to the ground. This makes for a very stable design which is generally easy to shield from the wind. It also allows you to carefully alter the position of the stove in relation to the canister, allowing you to squeeze out that little bit more power or make the canister last that few minutes longer when you're caught out. The unit will boil a litre of water in about three and a half minutes. With a price tag of £35 its not particularly cheap but I'm still using one after many years of intensive use without anything other than routine cleaning being needed. SP

Coleman 3001HPX Backpacking Stove

Price £25 Using an identical burner to the alpine stove this unit screws directly to the top of the resealing gas cartridge making it a very compact piece of kit and therefore useful for general use as well as mountain marathon-style applications where space and weight are at a premium. The down side is that the burner is exposed to the elements and relies on the gas cylinder for stability. Works best with the 250 cartridge. The unit will boil a litre of water in around 3.20 minutes. Compact and lightweight, easy and quick to use and excellent value.

MSR Superfly

Price £36.95

An ultra-lightweight butane stove that fits almost all self-sealing butane canisters. The burner sits on top of the canister in the same way as the Coleman HPX3001, again making it slightly less stable than the Alpine design. It offers a high speed boil time and great flame stability which enables it to stay lit in high winds. The basic unit weighs in at 4.5 ounces and the flame control is good with a nice protruding handle that allows the stove to be adjusted even when wearing gloves. The legs on which pots sit are serrated to prevent slipping and they fold up flat for packing. The unit boils a litre of water in just under three minutes. Accessories including a hanging kit which allows pots to be suspended above the flame and a wind screen. The basic stove costs £36.95 or, with auto-start and hanging kit, £74.95. CH

MSR Pocket Rocket

The MSR Pocket Rocket is a tiny stove with mighty performance. Slide it out of its triangular plastic carrying case, fold out the arms, stick it on to the top of a standard EN 417 threaded self-sealing gas canister and you're off. Instant heat with no need for any priming, pressurizing or maintenance. With the flame adjuster control fully open, the Pocket Rocket directs an intense heat at the base of a pot and the claimed three and a half minute boil time for a litre of water is no idle boast. We used it on our trip to Suilven and had supper cooked in no time at all. Simmering is no problem either and the control is easy to handle, even with gloves on. We also found the stove to be fairly economical. With a litre of water on the boil, you have to make sure the canister is firmly bedded into the ground for stability and watch the pot at all times as there is no real grip in the arms and we found our pan had a tendency to slide about on top. Also, you can only really use the squat 220g canisters as the taller 450g ones are too high, making the stove highly unstable. Weighing in at 3oz (without canister), the Pocket Rocket is ideal for lightweight backpacking trips where space is at a premium. Although supplied in a plastic box, you might want to leave this at home as we found, due to bending in the plastic, it was fiddly to extract the stove.

Hexamine Folding Stove

Price £5 An incredibly light, compact stove designed originally for the military and still widely used by the army. The light metal housing folds out allowing you to pop in the hexamine tablets. Set light to them and there's sufficient fuel for cooking a quick meal or making a brew, although you have absolutely no control over heating. It is fairly smokeless and odourless, but the fuel tablets can smell a bit when you're handling them. Whatever you do, don't mistake them for Kendal Mint Cake! Incredibly cheap.

Stove tips

Camping stoves are potentially dangerous so when getting a new stove read the instructions and check over all the components for any sign of damage - if in doubt don't use it but take it back to the shop and have it replaced.

With methylated spirit the fuel can burn with an almost invisible flame, especially problematic in bright sunlight so wave a piece of paper over the burner or carefully hold your hand over the stove (start with your hand at least twelve inches away and then go lower!) to check. Meths has a low flash point so don't refill the burner immediately after previous lot runs out - it could ignite instantly just from the heat of the metal and take your fuel bottle with it! When lighting the stove you don't really need the windshield to be in place - it will stop you from taking your hand away quickly if it flares up. Overseas meths is often sold as a clear liquid - our purple stuff is exactly the same but the colour has been added for safety. Drinking meths is not to be advised! For this reason if the stove is being used by young people they may have trouble buying the fuel. Lastly, store the meths on an outside rucksack pocket wrapped in plastic to avoid problems if it leaks.

The fumes of meths will give you a headache but gas fumes can kill, so don't take chances. Check that the stove is kept clean and properly fitted together. If it doesn't seem to be burning correctly or is making strange noises then switch off straight away.

Stoves are for cooking not for heating. Don't leave a stove burning for more than is required. Leaving a gas stove to burn just to provide heat is suicidal. Even if you manage to avoid knocking it over and burning your tent down, eventually the gas will burn away to a level that it can no longer support a flame but will quite happily provide enough gas fumes to fill a tent. In any case the amount of heat you would get is questionable.

Weather conditions will affect the performance of the stove - but this can be reduced by always carrying a full gas cylinder as a spare which guarantees reasonable pressure. SP

Fuel costs

Meths - £1.50 for a 0.5 litre bottle from chemists and hardwear shops. Gas cartridges - Coleman Micro 100 - £2.50. Coleman 250 cartridge - £3. Coleman 500 cartridge - £5. Coleman Camping Gaz C206 Super Cartridge - £1.50. Coleman white gas, around £3.50 for 0.5 litre. Hexamine tablets - £1.60 (also useful for lighting campfires).

What else will you need?

Matches or a lighter. If you're taking matches, make sure to keep both them and the striker in a waterproof container (a plastic camera film container is ideal). A disposable cigarette lighter is more flexible and won't fail in the wet.


Coleman Gordano Gate, Portishead, Bristol, BS20 7GG. Tel 0800 317466.
MSR First Ascent, Units 2-7, Limetree Business Park, Matlock, Derbyshire, DE4 3EJ. Tel 01629 580484.