Choose The Right Cooking System For Your Trip

Most of the time when you’re out on the trail camping you will want to do some form of cooking. In many cases it may just be boiling water for your freeze-dried food. There may be other times when you want to cook up some eggs. Either way you will most likely want to cook something. How you go about cooking is another question. There are many different types of cooking systems on the market. With so many options it can be hard to decide on what to take. In this article I will be discussing cooking systems and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Cooking System

There are many things you should consider when choosing a cooking system to take on the trail. Different cooking systems can accommodate certain things better than others. Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself before choosing a cooking system:

  • How many people will be using it?
  • What type of food will you be cooking?
  • How often will be you be using it?
  • How available is the fuel?
  • What are the local regulations?
  • How heavy is the system?
  • How quickly do you need to get the job done? (this should be considered secondary after everything else)

Components of a Cooking System

  • Heat source – This is what you will heat up your water or food with and must be needed with any cooking system.
  • Cookware – This is what you will cook your food or heat up your water in.
  • Utensil – This is what you will eat your food with. Examples include, spoon, fork, spork.
  • Ignition – This is what will ignite the heat source.

Heat Sources

Open Fire

An open fire heat source is nothing more than a simple campfire. With this type of heat source you will have no fuel or stove expense. You simply gather wood off of the ground and build a campfire. The problem with this is in some areas it may be hard to find. This is especially true in high traffic areas. You can risk starting a wildfire. You should also note that your cookware will get covered soot which will get on things in your pack. This is a good option for when you need to boil water quickly for a large group.


Woodstoves are kind of like open fires except the fire is much smaller and built in a dedicated stove. With this option you do not have to carry fuel containers but rather gather wood off of the ground. The problem with this is it still may be hard to find dry wood on the trail. Woodstoves will boil water quickly and are great for long unsupported trips.

Liquid Fuel Stoves

This MSR liquid fuel stove can burn off of multiple fuels.

Liquid fuel stoves will run off of white gas and in some cases kerosene, gasoline, and diesel. They work really well in cold temperatures and it is very easy to find fuel for them because most convenient stores will have it. They will also boil water quickly.

The downside to liquid fuel stoves is you have to preheat the stove and they can be somewhat expensive. These types of stoves are fairly heavy also. You should also note that these stoves will require maintenance because the fuel lines get clogged up and there is room for failure with them.

Canister stove

This MSR Canister Stove is easy to use but the canisters may be hard to find.

Canister stoves are a much better and lightweight alternative to liquid fuel stoves. This type of stove attaches to a pressurized nonrefillable fuel bottle that can be hard to find unless you are at an outdoor store. They can boil water just as fast or faster than liquid fuel stoves but with less fuel. They’re also much easier to operate than liquid fuel stoves because you simply open the valve and light with a match or other form of igniter.

The problem with this type stove is the canisters are expensive and heavy and you cannot refill them. It is also very hard to only take what you need in terms of fuel because of the way the canister is designed. This type of stove will work great for large groups though.

Alcohol Stove

This homemade alcohol stove is made out of a soda can and is extremely lightweight.
This homemade alcohol stove is made out of a soda can and is extremely lightweight.

The alcohol stove is extremely lightweight and great for solo hikers. They can be easily homemade very cheap and fuel is very widely available. You can also take exactly the amount of fuel you need for your trip by storing the denatured alcohol or gas line antifreeze like HEET in a plastic bottle. Alcohol stoves are very easy to use because you simply pour alcohol into the stove and light it.

While this little stove is great it is not perfect. They are extremely difficult to turn off because there is no valve and you must smother them or blow them out. Is much easier to learn how much fuel is needed for any given amount of water. Their fuel efficiency is also greatly impacted by wind and you may have to make a windscreen out of a foldable piece of aluminum foil. This type of stove is also very slow to boil water and can be difficult to actually cook on due to having no way of turning the flame up and down.

Solid Fuel Stove

This solid fuel stove is easy to use but slow.

Solid fuel stoves are comparable to alcohol stoves in their efficiency. They can boil 2 cups of water in about seven minutes. Just like alcohol stoves they will work much better with a windscreen. They are also very easy to use because you simply light the fuel cube.

Solid fuel stoves are very expensive compared to alcohol stoves because you are having to buy cubes of hexamethylenetetramine. These cubes will leave a sticky residue on your cookware.


This 2.5 quart pot is practical for multiple people not solo hikers.

The volume of your cookware will greatly depend on how many people are in the group. You should also take into consideration what type of food you are cooking. If you’re using your cookware to melt snow having a larger pot can be more efficient. Another thing to note is if you’re wanting a hot drink with your meal you may need a larger pot to boil more water.


  • Stainless steel – Is the cheapest and heaviest material.
  • Titanium – Is the lightest and most expensive but very durable.
  • Aluminum – These are right in the middle stainless steel and titanium in terms of weight and cost.


This extra long spoon is great for eating directly out of the freeze dried bags.

The type of utensil you take on the trail with you greatly depends on the type of food you are eating. If you are eating directly out of the freeze-dried bags to you may prefer a longer handle. Many people prefer sporks because of their multi use.

Ignition Sources

  • Matches – Are very cheap and ultralight.
  • Lighters – Are more wind resistant than matches. It is also easier to get burned because your fingers are much closer to the flame.
  • Firestarter – Is a magnesium rod that when striked sends out sparks. The problem is the sparks are not very accurate.

As you can see there are many different options for your cooking system. I know it can be confusing at first and I hope I have helped you in choosing the right cooking system for your trip. If you found this article helpful please like and share below so that other people can find it more easily. Also if you have any questions please leave a comment below or contact me via my contact page.