The last time I was strolling through the aisle at REI I was taken by how small things have gotten in the camping department. Compact LED flashlights now weigh less than the D-cell batteries that we used to carry for over-nighters. The new sleeping bags that keep folks warm in lower temperatures stuff compactly to smaller volumes than my old socks could, and the camp stoves are about as cool and small as one could every ask for. Curiously enough, the freeze dried food hasn’t gotten any lighter, and I’m not sure it has begun to taste any better either. I’d imagine that the same saying applies to camping today as it always did, the best tasting food is the stuff in the pot at the end of the days hike. (That adage has subsequently been refined in my book to describe the best beer: It’s the first cold one at hand after mowing the lawn.)
Trail camping, as opposed to car camping or tailgating, suggests that the lower the weight of any tool, the better. If you’ve actually hiked anywhere to camp overnight, this is pretty obvious.Trundling up or down a trail can be arduous and unpleasant, especially if you’re carrying a heavy load. The new stoves with their variable fuel sources are light, compact, powerful and eminently store-able. A stove’s ability these days is measured similarly to an oven, and for camping, that’s awesome. Soon enough, we’ll be hiking around with self-heating pots and canteens that will keep water hot or cold depending on our whims. As far as the MANVIL tool of the week goes, it may be an old school tool, but this dinosaur from Coleman is still being produced today. So I think it is still pretty valid as a tool you should know.
Before there were light and compact aerosol fuel tank stoves this 12 pound monolith was where large meals were cooked. Of course you could wander around, collect dry firewood, make a sooty mess of your pots, food and campsite, and potentially set the forest ablaze, but we had one of these so we used it. Sure some poor sucker would have to get stuck carrying the hulking mass in their pack, (That guy was usually me) but nobody wants to blow all that energy hiking just to eat cold PB&Js for dinner. With an extra white gas fuel tank, or two, this stove could heat up water for coffee or a dehydrated meal bags, cook a meal, and be broken down and jammed back into a pack in under an hour. For about five days of cooking you could get by on a gallon and a half of fuel, and that’s pretty good when you’re hiking on trafficked routes where the firewood and kindling is at a minimum.
With all the big green stove’s setbacks, (girth, weight and fuel consumption) I should take some time out hand a bit of praise to it. I’ve been white-water rafting with one, and damn near drowned it as well as myself, but it sprung back to life after a bath and some time alone. My buddy and I ate a great meal of rib eyes and onions on it not an hour after it was completely submerged. With the proper seals and planning, we didn’t even lose any fuel either.
As far as tailgating or car camping, the big green box holds another advantage over smaller stoves, it’s got this big flat bottom. The kind of bottom that finds a place to sit and hunkers down. To date, I have yet to see a camp table that is actually level. I don’t mean this as an insult to the parks division, every small stove I’ve seen has that as its’ downfall. No large bowl of hot water will stay put on one if there is a slight tilt. No pan full of bacon will remain upright if the compact stove has even a minor list. No dutch oven will remain balanced on a mini if the stove top isn’t solid and level. At least none that I’ve seen, and for this reason alone there will always be a place in my garage for an old school green camp stove, but there are other reasons.
I’ve watched the warm summer sun come up over Mount Hood while making breakfast on a big green camp stove. I have watched the sun go down brilliantly in that same place as somebody cooked me dinner on that stove. My folks used their green camping stove to make dinner when they were remodeling their kitchen as a younger couple. My favorite fishing memories all include that drab hunk of tin, and although I have no remembrances of me with a fish, I still love the idea of going fishing.
Finally, I recall that every time I ended up carrying the stove when I was hiking with friends, nobody ever started a meal without me. I’m not sure that same could be said today. I’m still a pretty pokey hiker compared to everybody else, but today, they’d all be carrying their own stoves. Maybe the burden wasn’t quite as big a detriment as I used to think.