Wilderness cooking: which type of burner to choose?

A hot meal is often good for morale, makes you warmer and gives you much-needed energy. Of course you can use the usually excellent facilities in mountain huts. But you may prefer the freedom of bivouac over a mountain hut. Or maybe there aren’t any mountain huts around when you need it.

However, cooking during a multi-day trek is a specific challenge. It is more windy than you think and just when you need the heat the most, some cooking methods are not the most convenient. So it requires some planning: what are you going to cook on and what are you going to eat? This blog post discusses the best type of burner for your trip.

What will you cook on: the type of burner

There are a number of options: romantic campfire cooking, a gas burner, a petrol burner and a dry fuel burner.

Cooking on a campfire is not recommended. Firstly, because of the potential fire hazard to the surrounding area. But also because of the mess it leaves behind (burn marks on the floor), the large smoke development and the laboriousness of putting down your pan. If the fire is too hot, everything will burn, but if the fire is not hot enough, the bottom will be blackened by the soot deposits.

Gas burner /stove

A gas burner is a good alternative: the burners are relatively cheap and the cans are readily available in Europe. This type of cans is usually of the “disposable cans” type and therefore generate a lot of waste. In addition, gas burners are more sensitive to wind and to both temperature and thin air.

The gas is compressed in the tank. Thanks to this overpressure, the gas flows out and when ignited, it produces a flame. However, at higher altitudes this air pressure is lower: this means there is less pressure and the can will appear “empty” sooner. The same effect occurs at low temperatures. Higher temperatures create a higher pressure in the can, causing more pressure build-up in the can. At lower temperatures there is less pressure due to the expansion of the gas. These two factors often come together and can cause your cans to appear empty, while an unpleasant gas smell collects during the descent: the can was not empty after all.

A gas burner is therefore especially recommended at moderate temperatures, in the lowlands. Ideal for a cycling holiday or a hike through the summer forests in Scandinavia where altitude plays less of a role.

Petrol burner / gasoline stove

Gasoline burners are more expensive to purchase, require slightly more maintenance and are more difficult to operate. They have a pressure valve, through which you can pressurize the fuel: this causes it to flow out. With too much pressure, a lot of gasoline comes out, which can cause a nice flame development. It takes some practice to use this properly and safely.

But the advantages are great: they burn just as well at low temperatures and at high altitudes as they do at lower altitudes and higher temperatures. They are less sensitive to wind and have a large capacity, so cooking is faster. Moreover, gasoline is available all over the world, so you will not run out quickly. An additional advantage: your backpack becomes a little lighter because you burn a little more petrol every day. This is compared to the disadvantage that they are also slightly heavier than gas burners.

Most petrol burners also work with white spirit and Coleman petrol.

Dry fuel burners

The name says it all: dry fuel burners work with a solid substance as fuel. They are light and cheap. But there are also disadvantages: the food can taste like the fuel and the flame is difficult to control or extinguish. There are also more innovative models: the heat drives a fan, which in turn generates electricity. It allows you to charge devices via a USB cable.

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