Stephen Lord, author of the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, has this guide to choosing the right camp stove for your cycle tour of France.
Bike touring gets a lot more interesting when you start camping. You save a lot of money and have much more freedom to choose where you spend the night. It’s the same with camp cooking, as you’re no longer confined to a narrow choice of nearby restaurants each night, you can be self-sufficient with a couple of days of food in your panniers and head off into the wilds or simply enjoy quiet evenings cooking dinner in front of your tent. As a cyclist, you will want to find good nourishing food after a long day in the saddle, so it’s worth building your cooking skills and getting a versatile stove that will do more than just boil noodles.
When I’m planning a trip, I first think about where I’m cycling before selecting which stove to take (yes, I’ve got one or two of each kind!) A long trip or anywhere in the Developing World means I need to take a petrol or multifuel stove, because that’s the cheapest fuel and I know I can find it anywhere. But in Europe there are more options for fuel and I would probably choose a small gas stove for solo or lightweight trips. However if I’m sure I can find the fuel, I will take my meths-burning Trangia stove. What this tells you is that each kind of stove has its good and bad points, so first consider which type is best for you.
Fuel for thought
Petrol or multifuel stoves are the easiest to find fuel for because you can fill your tank at a petrol station. Petrol is also the cheapest fuel by a long way, but it’s smelly stuff and you need to keep any trace of it away from your hands when cooking, and store it well away from your food, ideally in a bottle cage on your bike. The best fuel for these stoves, known in the USA as white gas and in the UK as Coleman fuel (see this list of fuel names by country) is expensive and harder to find but burns much better and your stove will need much less cleaning and maintenance than if you run it on petrol, or worse, diesel or anything you find in the Developing World.
Petrol stoves are complicated pieces of kit and people who aren’t into fiddly gear often don’t get on with them. They’re more prone to flare-ups than other stove types and also noisier. But if you’re on a long trip or headed off beyond Europe, they’re the only choice.
The best choice would be the Primus Omnifuel, also the most versatile as it takes gas canisters besides liquid fuels. It’s pricey, but if you don’t want to become a stove collector, then this stove could be all you need. It has a great fine-tuning control so you can cook rice and omelettes without burning them to the pot. Another great simmerer is MSR’s Dragonfly. The MSR Whisperlite Internationale doesn’t simmer as well but it’s the lightest and best-selling of all petrol stoves.
If you don’t like having to connect the fuel bottle to the stove each time you cook, check out the Coleman range for tried and tested stoves that are nice and simple, with the stove sitting on a tank big enough not to need a refill for a couple of days (but you’re still advised to double-wrap and pack it well clear of your food and clothes, as you should with all petrol stoves).
Cooking with gas
Gas canister stoves are the most convenient and easiest to use. There was a time when French maker Camping Gaz dominated the market for these stoves, but now they only dominate in France. So if it’s only France you’re concerned about, Camping Gaz is a good option, but first consider the disadvantage. Apart from the little Bleuet 206 cartridges which have gone generic and can be found in climbing shops in all sorts of places, only Camping Gaz make canisters that fit their stoves. They’re very easy to find in France but a little over-priced as no one else makes them.
You’re better off buying a gas stove that uses the universal screw-in fitting – they’re easier to find (except in France) and cheaper. There are dozens of different kinds of gas stove including some fantastic lightweight models such as MSR’s Pocket Rocket - just 85g and ideal for short backcountry trips – or something from the excellent Primus range. I would opt for something more substantial for a bike tour, such as a stove that comes with pots and an integrated windshield and heat exchanger: more bulk, but it uses a lot less fuel, it's stable and a pleasure to cook on.
My number one choice, especially in northern Europe, is a Trangia. It’s a meths-burning stove, with only one moving part and it operates in silence as it is not pressurised, making it safer than any other type of stove. The fuel, well you can’t actually drink it but it’s the least toxic of all of them and it evaporates easily if spilled and leaves no smell. Meths stoves bring water to a boil more slowly but once up to speed cook as well as any of them. Trangias come with pots and a built-in windshield and the base is so wide it’s almost impossible to tip it over. I would never cook inside a tent or even in the vestibule, but the Trangia would be the least dangerous to bring inside the vestibule in a storm. Finding fuel can sometimes be a problem (see the website referred to above for the names you need to learn in different countries) - try hardware or decorating shops or in a last resort, a pharmacy but it’s never cheap there and they’ll want to know why you want a litre of it! There’s a bit of a cult around Trangias (see the Flickr group devoted to them) but for a little extra weight you got a lot of extra pleasure in owning and using one. Go for the hard-anodised model and get the larger ’25’ size.
The Trangia pictured at the top of the page is between 20 and 25 years old – and still going strong. (Thanks to Christian Buhl Sørensen for the photo.)
Books and recipes
For even more campsite cooking tips, see the Cool Camping Cookbook, The Camping Cookbook by Annie Bell, The One Pan Gourmet: Fresh Food on the Trail by Don Jacobson, or The Complete Trail Food Cookbook. See also Travelling Two's guide to making perfect camp coffee, which is based on Stephen's technique.
See our separate article for more on campsite cooking and Emma's simple campsite recipe ideas. We also have an overview of cycle camping and a guide to choosing a tent for your cycle camping holiday.
Where to buy camping equipment for cycling
Cyclocamping.com is an online camping store run by a Franco-American couple with 10 years' touring experience. It has an excellent range of bike accessories and spares, plus a full range of camping kit, and products are field-tested. They offer worldwide delivery.
REI is a US-based eco-sensitive clothing and camping store that also stocks a diverse range of bikes.
Camping World is one of the UK's largest camping retailers. Their prices are usually very competitive and they offer free UK delivery, as well as delivery worldwide for a surcharge.
Stephen Lord is the author of Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook (UK, US), published by Trailblazer.