Peter Gostelow

Adventure Cyclist, Speaker, Photographer, Writer

Light my fire: What cooking stove?

A cycle tour that involves camping usually means packing a cooking stove of some description. Choosing the right one depends partly on how much you want to spend, but also where you’re going to tour and how much camping/cooking you’re planning to do. This is by no means an extensive review of camping stoves. There are plenty of longer and more detailed blog posts found through a simple google search. This is merely my experience. 

During my first long tour I started with a Jetboil. This is a great stove if you’re going to use it for quickly boiling up soups/tea/coffee/packet noodles etc whilst out on a short tour or walk, where it’s probably not necessary to be carrying more than one extra butane gas canister as a spare and where size and weight are important.

On a long tour, through countries where camping gas isn’t available and your hunger extends beyond packet noodles, which I found myself surviving on for much of the time in Tibet, the Jetboil is not the best stove. Setting off from Kashgar in western China I was carrying about 6/7 gas canisters as I had no idea where/if I could find another in Central Asia.

A number of countries and wild camping nights later I eventually got my hands on a multi-fuel stove, which has been with me ever since.

I bought the Primus Omnifuel on the basis of reviews and reputation of the company. I’ve run it almost entirely on petrol in the last 5 years, although did accidentally once use diesel in Tunisia when my schoolboy French assumed gazole was petrol! Multifuel stoves, despite the name, generally don’t run very well on diesel, creating huge amounts of black smoke and a fuel jet which soon becomes blocked. Lesson learnt. I have not tried running it on kerosene, which is also possible.

The advantages of a multi-fuel stove over a camping gas stove is that petrol is available almost anywhere in the World, and is much cheaper to use than camping gas canisters. My half-litre fuel bottle might cost anything between £0.30-0.70 pence to fill, and will last for at least 6-7 nights of camping when I’m using it for 30-40 minutes of cooking each evening. At altitude they are also far more powerful. Most camping gas canisters suffer above 4000m. The other advantage of the Omnifuel is that it has the ability for you to control the heat, a function that not all multi-fuel stoves have. This makes cooking rice much easier, and anything else where a low simmer heat is necessary.

The disadvantages of a multi-fuel stove is that they do occasionally need cleaning, depending on the grade of petrol that is used (in much of Africa petrol is of a poor grade and I had to frequently clean the Omnifuel through Central Africa) and there is often a smell of petrol involved in the setting up, priming and taking apart of the stove. A multi-fuel stove is also far more potentially dangerous, as this excerpt and picture from a recent email I received makes clear.

Regarding the MSR and the fire: Cycled long time in the Sahara and arrived that day in Senegal. Hence, it was my first night wild camping in the Sahel, with the soil covered with dried grass instead of only sand.. Due to the routine that I got from the Sahara, I was not thinking about getting rid of the dry grass around my stove. The moment I put the fire on the stove a quick flame burst set the grass around it on fire. The moment it happened I grabbed a bottle of water but was doubting a split second whether to extinguish the fire with water with benzene in the stove. I decided to extinguish the fire with my feet. Unfortunately the fire was already too strong and I couldn’t get control over it. The only thing I then could do was saving my stuff by dragging it away from the quick moving fire. In the dark with my headlight on I saved my bicycle and my tent with most of the gear inside it. In the meantime the fire expanded as a ring around the area and I was in a shock. Luckily, within a couple of minutes from all around people arrived and quit the fire by beating with branches..It was my most horrible night during my trip.

That’s a scary story, and a clear illustration that cooking on a multi-fuel stove requires more care and attention.

Despite the seriousness of this case, I don’t think you should be afraid to use a multi-fuel stove, particularly if your tour is going to include parts of Africa, Asia and South America, where petrol is by far and away the easiest source of fuel to find, and the cheapest.

 

 

MSR make several popular multi-fuel stoves. Had I owned one and used it successfully like the Primus Omnifuel I would be able to offer more judgement. Tom Allen has written a good review of his MSR Dragonfly stove, which is an equal choice for a robust and durable multi-fuel stove, although on recollection I bought the Omnifuel as the fuel cable between bottle and stove is longer, which allows you to position the fuel bottle at a safer distance from the stove. The pump of the Omnifuel also has more metal rather than plastic in its construction, leading me to feel it was a stronger design. It has to be said that like most multi-fuel stoves, the Dragonfly and Omnifuel are loud.

On a long cycle tour in remote parts of the World where you plan to camp a lot, then a multi-fuel stove is the obvious choice. In the long-term it will certainly be worth the money, and don’t be deterred by occasional maintenance/cleaning that needs to be done.

On shorter journeys, and where more fuels are available, I would possibly revert back to using camping gas. They are quicker to set up and use, and certainly cleaner. If you have used another stove and have recommendations and comments about it, please do share them.

 

 

 

14 Comments

  1. The Omnifuel is as robust a stove that is available and with moderate care last you a very long time. Perfecting the simmering does take time and experience unlike a gas stove. It simmers better the cleaner the fuel, Panel wipe used for in the motor spray painting industry works great. It is basically petrol with the additives taken out. This is similar to Coleman fuel which is very expensive. I carry a very small bottle of methylated spirits to burn clean the jet when using petrol after it eventually becomes blocked. This does the trick easily and very quickly and is really the only regular maintenance.

    • Thank for this. I haven’t cleaned the stove in a while and it seems to be burning very well. Can methylated spirits be used with the same jet that I burn the petrol through?

      • No, i dont think so. is metho available out that way? it used to be available in LAM but they water it down now to put the winos off. So i took an MSR and it was horrible. horrible customer service at MSR. stupid metal multitool that will inevitably damage the plastic pump. really poor compatibility between the two. got back up to the usa and went staright back to alcohol stove. clean simple easy. no pumping, no lubricating, so easy, just pour it in and light. they say it burns less, i dont know, once the metho gets boiling it really rages.

  2. Test

  3. Test Comment

  4. MSR Dragonfly, only stove you will need and use for a decade. Only issues when seals are worn and using dirty fuel in Argentina bunged up the filter but service kits are pretty cheap. Had seals go in NZ few years back led to bit of fire that couldn’t put out – reinforces always use liquid fuel outside.

  5. I agree with you comments about the MSR… Had one self destruct on me once in Texas during a bad drought… fuel under pressure shot out and the plastic pump started to melt… spewing more fuel… I kicked a lot of sand and dirt on it and got it under control… but the idea of 500ml of fuel under pressure a short distance from my tent and gear… not pleasurable. MSR did replace the pump.. but I don’t trust it now.
    Will probable get the Omnifuel for a serious tour. The canister stoves are convenient but not for a longer tour IMO.

  6. I have the jetboil system and it is by far the best stove I’ve used while motorcycling across Canada and Europe (have since sold motorcycle and am now using bicycle). The only downfall is that you have to buy the hybrid fuel canisters with the threads. At times they can be hard to locate in the outer reaches of society. However, they are relatively small, light and last quite a while using the jetboil. If you haven’t had a jetboil, you’re missing out on my opinion. I’ve had it for 5 years with heavy usage during summers and never had so much as a burp from it. Knock on wood.

    • Yes, they are compact and clean, but not great for Africa!

      • Funny enough I bought this one in Cape Town specially ordered from Canada. Is the reason it’s not good in Africa simply because of access to the threaded fuel canisters? If so, I’m trying to tackle that very issue by having a friend make a refillable canister out of an old one I gave him. Going to try to install pump from coleman lantern on canister.

        • Good luck with that! I once tried to refuel one of those canisters in Syria after an Iranian told me it was possible. The result was an explosion that could have been fatal looking back on it. Threaded fuel canisters are expensive and in Africa only really available in South Africa, Namibia and probably Botswana. A few other places like Nairobi will have camping shops etc, but they will be even more expensive. Personally the most simple and cost affective way to use a stove in Africa is to run it on petrol.

  7. Well, the pump in OmniFuel is not so durable as it looks. The piston has a leather cup, which will probably break sooner or later. Mine lasted for 2 years.

    Fortunately, cyclists may replace the pump piston with a quick fix, which makes it possible to use bicycle pump instead:
    http://north-south.info/en/photo/primus-omnifuel-cycling-variant,640/

    • Were you using the omnifuel through Africa?

      • Yes, all the time. Mostly with gasoline but also tried kerosene. Works, but makes the stove very dirty and requires frequent cleaning of the nozzle.

Leave a Reply to welovemountains Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>