When you are on the trail, a warm dinner at night or a hot cup of coffee in the morning are creature comforts that truly elevate the experience. Because preparing meals is such an essential part of camping, an overland stove is one of the first pieces of equipment you’ll need to invest in for your backcountry kitchen.
Camping stoves are generally durable pieces of gear that may last decades, so it’s worth doing some research before purchasing one to make sure it fits your needs.
How to Choose an Overlanding Stove
In this article, we’ll explore factors to consider when purchasing a camp stove for overlanding or car camping and go through some of the different types of stoves on the market.
Number of burners
Camping stoves typically come with one or two burners. The advantage of one-burner stoves is that they will usually be lighter and more compact, which makes them ideal for small groups and situations where you have less room for cargo.
Two burner stoves take up more space, but you have the ability to heat two pots or pans at once. This is a big advantage when you want to, say, cook breakfast and heat up some coffee at the same time. For this convenience, we’re big fans of two-burner stoves. If you are traveling with a lot of people on a group overland expedition, stoves with more burners can make preparing large meals more efficient. These larger stoves are often free-standing (not for tabletops) and come with their own legs.
Heat output (BTUs and Kilowatts)
The heat output of a camping stove is rated by the maximum amount of energy it can generate per unit of time. In the United States, this is given in British Thermal Units (BTUs) per hour. One BTU is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit (which is equivalent to 1,055 joules of energy, using the modern SI units). That’s about the amount of energy released when burning a single match.
In Europe and other regions of the world that use the metric system, stoves are rated by how many kilowatts (kW) they are capable of producing. If you ever need to make the conversion from BTUs to kWs, the formula is 1 kW = 3412.142 BTU/hr.
The heat output rating for a camp stove will typically refer to how much heat one burner on the stove can produce per hour, though sometimes it will be given for two burners combined. As an example, Coleman’s Dual Fuel stove, a popular US-made option for overlanding, can produce a maximum of 7,000 BTUs per burner (2.1 kW).
There are camp stoves on the market that are rated from everything from 3000 BTUs to upwards of 60,000 BTUs. Most models fall in the 7,000 to 20,000 BTU range. Smaller, lighter backpacking stoves often don’t list BTUs, instead offering the rating of how fast the stove can boil a liter of water. This is a useful measurement for backpackers and climbers, as they often eat meals that are prepared by adding boiled water.
Generally speaking the higher the BTUs of your camp stove, the faster it will heat food and water. On the flip side, a stove that’s overkill for your cooking situation can be inefficient in terms of fuel use. For overlanding, a camp stove in the 7000-10000 range will suit most purpose. Consider going bigger if you’ll be cooking for large groups.
Camping stoves used for overlanding burn a variety of different fuels including liquid fuels and compressed gasses.
Liquid fuels stoves, such as those that burn gasoline or white gas are the most versatile, as you can source those fuels in many countries (unleaded gasoline in particular). On the flip side, dealing with liquid fuels can be messy. Liquid fuels perform really well in cold conditions, and for this reason are popular among explorers travelling in cold regions, seasons, or elevations.
Stoves that burn pressurized propane gas are popular in North America, as small camping propane tanks are available at many stores. It’s also possible to get large bottles of propane that you can carry in your vehicle or trailer. If you are mostly going to travel in countries where compress gas is readily available, this can be a great option. If you’ll be crossing a lot of international borders, a stove that can burn different types of liquid fuels is probably your best bet.
Small backpacking stoves often burn isobutane, which is light weight and well-suited to carrying in a backpack. It is more expensive than propane, so unless you’re planning to do a lot of backpacking on your overland trips, stoves that burn propane or liquid gases are probably a better choice.
A number of companies make portable stoves that burn wood or other organic debris. For instance, BioLite makes stoves that can burn sticks, wood scraps and pellets. One plus for these stoves is that wood is available in every country. On the other hand, wood isn’t an efficient fuel for its weight and size, and finding clean burning dry wood can be a struggle. We generally don’t recommend using this type of unit as your primary cooking stove.
Weight and size
It’s worth considering how much cargo capacity you’ll have in your vehicle when choosing an overlanding stove. If you’ll only be cooking near your vehicle, then you can easily carry a larger two-burner stove. If you plan to also use your stove for backpacking, you’ll need something more compact and lightweight.
A larger free-standing camp stove, while larger and heavier than smaller tabletop stoves, can take up less space overall on a group overland expedition, since you could use one stove for the entire group (though it’s a good idea to bring a lightweight back up just in case your main stove breaks).
Integration with camp galley
When you first start car camping and overlanding, you’ll likely store your cooking gear in a cargo box and pull it out for use on a camp table. This may well evolve over time into some type of camping galley kitchen that’s built into your vehicle or overland trailer. In that case, you’ll want to make sure your stove integrates well into your overland galley.
You may even move away from traditional camping stoves into a more permanent RV-style stove that’s built into your galley. That said, a standard camp stove, such as a two-burner propane stove, can often be easily integrated into a tricked-out overland galley.
Types of Overland Stoves
As we mentioned above, there are a number of types of stoves on the market, from lightweight backpacking stoves to freestanding stoves designed for larger groups.
Table-top Camp Stoves
We’ll start with the most common stoves used in overlanding, which are those you can set up on a picnic table or portable camping table (and not designed for backpacking). Perhaps the most iconic camp stove in this group would be the two-burner Coleman camp stove, which was first manufactured in the 1950s in a liquid gas-burning model.
Table-top stoves most often come in one and two-burner models, though there are also three-burner models on the market. They typically burn either propane, butane, or liquid gas. If you are looking for a camp stove for your overland adventures, a two-burner tabletop stove is a good size and may be all you ever need. If you are pinched for space or money, go for a single burner.
This style of camp stove is often integrated into vehicle- or trailer-mounted overland galleys. Their compact size allows them to be easily stowed into a drawer or cargo box when not in use.
Free-standing camp stoves
Some camping stoves come with their own raised stand so that you don’t need to use up scarce tabletop space. This comes in handy when you have limited table space in camp, and also gets the hot stove away from flammable wooden tables and plastic kitchenware that can melt easily.
Some freestanding stoves are designed for camping with large groups and come with multiple burners, in which case they typically will run off a large propane tank. Some of these models are also capable of producing higher BTUs for faster cooking and cooking larger quantities of food.
The downside of this style of table is that they can be heavy and take up a lot of cargo space. They will also likely cost more than your average table-top stove. These can be a good choice if you are travelling in a large group, hate crowding your camp table with a stove, or are planning to cook complex meals that require multiple burners or high heat.
Backpacking stoves are designed to be as light and compact as possible–because you’ll have to carry it around on your back. Some newer models that screw onto small butane tanks can fold down so small you can stick them in your pocket. Tiny, tiny, tiny!
This ultralight design ethic, however, doesn’t really apply to overlanding, where you’ll most often be cooking near your vehicle. Unless you plan on doing a lot of side backpacking trips, we’d recommend going with a more substantial stove. A basic two-burner Coleman propane camp stove costs about the same as a single-burner backpacking stove, so you’ll get more burn for your buck.
A grill features a grate where foods are cooked directly over open flames. A propane grill could be used as your sole camp stove, but they tend to inefficient in terms of fuel use for activities like boiling water and heating food in pots and pans. That said, there are camp stoves on the market that include both burners and grills, and these can make a solid daily camp stove.
Charcoal or wood-pellet burning grills are not ideal as a primary camp stove, as they are labor-intensive and don’t burn as efficiently as liquid and pressurized gas.
We’re classifying fire pits here as receptacles meant primarily as places to burn heat for warmth and cozy campfire vibes. Some firepits come with grates for grilling and can be used for cooking. Designs range from simple metal tubs with a grill grate to high-tech devices with electric fans that provide extra oxygen for the fire to burn hotter and cleaner.
While you can certainly cook over fire pits or over a campfire, for reasons similar to a wood-burning grill, you probably don’t want to use one as your primary camp stove. Don’t get us wrong, we like grills and fire pits and often bring them on our trips. We bring a fire pit for situations where we want a campfire, but no fire ring is available, and we might roast a hotdog or marshmallow with it.
But we also bring a separate dedicated gas-burning camp stove for cooking most meals. Not everyone shares our dedication to gas stoves, so be aware this is our opinion based on experience and not dogma handed down from the camping gods.
Best Camping Stoves for Overlanding
There are MANY camping stoves on the market nowadays. Here we’ve curated a few great options for different situations, from lightweight stoves you can throw in a backpack to stoves that will work well for international overlanding expeditions.
Stoves for Countries Where Propane is Easy to Find
If you live in North America or other countries where propane tanks are easy to purchase and refill, a propane camp stove is hard to beat. We have a small butane stove for backpacking, but our classic Coleman two-burner gets way more use.
One nice thing about propane stoves is that you can typically use either the small 1lb propane tanks, which are often available convenience and department stores nowadays, or you can buy larger tanks like those used for backyard grilling. Below are some great options, offering a range of prices and features.
Coleman Classic Two-Burner Propane Stove
Max BTU: 10,000 per burner
Weight: 11.9 lbs
Fuel: Liquid propane/Liquid Petroleum Gas
The Coleman company has been making camp stoves since WWII, so suffice it to say, they have it wired. Their two-burner classic propane stoves are an affordable and reliable choice for an overland camping stove.
The stove has two adjustable burners and fold-out panels to protect them from the wind. It folds down to the size of a briefcase for easy storage. These fit nicely into the bottom of a storage case or a drawer in a built-in camp galley. There aren’t any frills — for instance, it doesn’t have a self-ignite switch, so you’ll need a lighter or matches to start it. But this is a stove that will last you decades and comes at a reasonable price.
Coleman also makes the Triton stove, which is very similar but can produce somewhat higher BTUs.
Camp Chef Everest 2X High-Pressure Stove
Max BTU: 20,000 per burner
Weight: 12 lbs
Fuel: Liquid propane
The Camp Chef Everest High-Pressure Stove is a great choice for a two-burner propane stove when you want more heat or plan to cook in challenging conditions. This Camp Chef stove can produces a blazing 20,000 BTUs per burner, which make it one of the most powerful camp stoves for its size. The burners are adjustable so you don’t have to burn so much fuel if you don’t need it.
Like most propane camping stoves, the Camp Chef is designed for use with 1lb propane bottles out of the box and can be adapted for use with standard bulk propane tanks. Another nice feature of this stove is it’s matchless ignition system.
Camp Chef Explorer 2x Cooking System
Max BTU: 30,000 per burner
Weight: 29 lbs
Fuel: Liquid propane
If you plan to cook for larger groups, Camp Chef’s Explorer 2x stove has power to spare. Each burner on this stove can produce a whopping 30,000 BTUs of heat on high, which will boil water and cook food much more quickly than smaller stoves (that’s three times the max BTUs as the Coleman Classic).
The stove is designed to run on bulk propane tanks like those you’d use for a backyard grill. It comes with a three-sided windscreen. The burners can fit up to 14-inch pots and pans, so you can cook large quantities of food quickly. The removable legs put the stove at 29 inches tall.
Jetboil HalfGen Base Camp Cooking System
Max BTU: 10,000
Weight: 3 lbs 8 oz
Fuel: Liquid propane
If you’re looking for a small propane-burning stove that doesn’t take up much room, the Jetboil HalfGen Base Camp Cooking System is a great option. This 3-pound 8-ounce camp stove can produce up to 10,000 BTUs. The stove’s top is a lightweight 9-inch ceramic frying pan, which saves space. It also comes with a self-start ignition lever.
The stove is compatible with JetBoil’s JetLink system, which allows you to couple multiple stoves together using a single propane tank. You could start off with one burner and add them as your needs and budget evolve.
Stoves for International Overlanding Trips
Propane isn’t readily available in many countries and international expeditions may call for a stove that burn other types of fuels. Stoves that can burn multiple types of liquid fuels such as gasoline and white gas are the go-to for international overlanding expeditions.
Coleman Dual-Fuel 2 Burner Stove
Max BTU: 7,000
Weight: 12 lbs
Fuel: White gas/unleaded gasoline
One of the most popular international overlanding stoves is the Coleman Dual-Fuel 2 Burner Stove, which the company has been making in some form since the 1950s. The stove can burn white gas or unleaded fuel which makes it possible to find gas for the stove in most countries.
The burners produce up to 7,000 BTUs each and can fit up to 10-inch pots and pans. On a full tank, the stove will burn for up to 2 hours, and 1 gallon of Coleman Liquid Fuel will last as long as 4.5 1 lb cylinders of propane. One side benefit of these stoves is that you don’t have to deal with disposing of used propane tanks.