There’s nothing like a hot meal after a day of blazing the trails and taking in nature’s bountiful sights. But, how to go about preparing your hot meal? That’s where camp stoves come in! The skill of using a camp stove will prepare you and your Girl Scouts to branch out into multi-day hikes, backcountry camping, camping in every season, and camping culinary arts.
Not just that, but camp stoves are more reliable than fires for cooking, allow for water purification through boiling, and can be used in areas that don’t allow campfires (like many remote sites in National Parks). Plus, using a camp stove inspires curiosity about how the stove works (most stoves can be completely disassembled and reassembled fairly easily—perfect for those tinkerers), has a built-in bonus chemistry lesson (Why does a hotter flame appear to be blue while a yellow flame is cooler? Why does the fuel canister need to be pressurized?), and encourages girls to problem solve if their stove doesn’t work the first time. Let’s do a quick run-down of what you need to get cooking on a camp stove.
Know your stove
The two most common types of camp stoves are canister stoves and liquid-fuel stoves. Here’s the gist:
- Canister stoves: Uses an isobutane/propane fuel canister as the base and a burner that screws directly into the fuel canister. Pros: Lighter weight, generally easier to use, and require less maintenance. Cons: Not as reliable in cold weather or at high altitude. The fuel canisters are single-use and difficult to recycle.
- Liquid-fuel stoves: Uses a fuel bottle with a pump that connects to a fuel line that runs to the burner. Pros: Work in almost all weather conditions, and fuel bottles can be refilled and used with many types of fuel. Cons: Can be slightly more complicated to use (But don’t let that deter you!), and require more frequent cleaning.
Lighting your stove
Set up your stove according to the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s best to set it up on a flat, even surface. If you’re cooking on snow or ice, you’ll want a base (like a piece of plywood wrapped in tinfoil) to prevent your stove from sinking. If it’s windy, you’ll want to make a windscreen around your stove before you light it. Some stoves come with a windscreen, but you can also make your own with aluminum foil, a pie pan, or even rocks or snow.
Using a lighter, match, or your stove’s built-in push-button spark, light your stove. Use caution while lighting, as an initial burst of flame is common with some models. Wait until the flame is steady before placing your pot or pan over the heat to avoid scorching your food or your cookware. A blue flame signifies a hot, steady flame.
Cooking with your stove
Before you cook, make sure to practice turning the heat level up and down on your stove. You’ll want to get a feel for how low you can turn it down without putting out the flame completely. Heat distribution is usually uneven when you’re cooking on a camp stove, so stir your food frequently. Because of this, pre-cooking meat is also a good idea. Covering your cookware can significantly increase cook speed and fuel efficiency, but make sure to check your food often to avoid burning. If you’re using your stove to purify water, follow CDC recommendations for making water safe to drink.
When you finish cooking, close the fuel valve and wait for the flame to go out (be patient—it won’t extinguish immediately). Make sure the stove is completely cool before you take it apart and be sure to shake out any excess fuel from liquid-fuel stoves. Remember to follow Leave No Trace practices when disposing of your greywater.
Learning to use a camp stove (especially liquid-fuel stoves) can be frustrating at first. Practice your skills before you head out so you and your girls can put together a meal quickly when you’re at your actual campsite. First-time stove-learners will go through lots of matches, so be prepared and pack extras. And though you may be tempted, don’t skip out on camp stove cooking just because the weather is bleak—a hot meal can be one of the best morale boosters!
As always, be sure to follow Safety Activity Checkpoints when cooking outdoors with your girls. Want to get cooking, but need to brush up on your skills first? No worries—we’ve got a training for that. So, step aside, cold sandwiches—with a little time and practice, you can enjoy some hot eats (yellow curry, mac and cheese, and beef stew, oh my!) on your next camping adventure.
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a program resources specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.