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Guide to liquid fuel camping stoves


These days, 'liquid fuels' usually means non-pressurised methylated spirits or pressurised multi-fuel.

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The fuel tank may be integral to the stove or attached via a fuel line to the fuel bottle that can be pressurised by a pump. The pressure applied is why manufacturers stress not using any old water bottle as an alternative to the stronger fuel bottles.

Paraffin-only stoves, once the backbone of camp cooking, are now collectable as the new breed of camping stoves can burn unleaded petrol, paraffin, proprietary fuels, diesel and, even, aviation fuel. Although the initial outlay is more than that of a gas stove, such multi-fuel stoves offer a great heat/weight ratio, are not affected by cold, use readily available fuel and are cheap to run. Sure, you need to pay more attention to the instructions and learn how to maintain and make the most of your stove but that is part of the fun of mastering a range of outdoor skills.

By contrast, the meths stoves popularised by the Swedish company Trangia need little care and are so safe that they became the stove of choice for youth groups and schools years ago. That's despite the fact that they tend to be slow to cook with, have awkward heat control and use more fuel than other stoves. Trangia and Optimus options come as complete stove and pan sets with built-in wind protection, and a number of other manufacturers have followed suit with similar set ups.

By far the most useful two burner liquid fuel stove is Coleman's iconic Dual Fuel Type 424 that burns either pressurised unleaded petrol or Coleman's proprietary white gas fuel. In fact, it is the only twin burner generally available in the UK.

Cooking food with a stove

(Photo courtesy of )

Single burner models come in a variety of guises from a small number of manufacturers. The needs for technical expertise, quality of manufacture, safety and reliability has ensured that this is one area of camping gear that has not seen a stampede of brands entering the market.


From 'skinny' lightweight models such as MSR's Dragonfly through Coleman's Sportster II to the innovative Primus EtaPower MF cooking system, there is plenty of brochure and online information to keep you busy comparing weights, performance and versatility along with your personal interests and preferences.

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Using liquid gas when cooking

At its simplest (such as the Trangia) meths is burnt from a reservoir. A sliding disc provides crude heat control and you snuff out the flame with the reservoir’s screw-on cap. Some reservoirs allow meths to enter between twin walls where it vapourises and exits under pressure to burn from outlet holes located around the rim.

In other models, more volatile fuel is placed under pressure by pumping air into its fuel tank. The fuel flows through a generator tube where it vapourises. This is directed by the jet onto a flame spreader that, as the name implies, ensures the ignited vapour spreads across the surface of your pot.

Less volatile fuels like paraffin, require initial help to vapourise – as does petrol in really cold temperatures. In these cases meths is often burnt in a priming cup to pre-heat the generator tube.

What is paraffin power and how can you use it?

I love the roaring sound of a traditional pressurised paraffin stove at full stretch as well as the ritual of priming and lighting one. Shame really that they fell out of favour a while ago. Happily, there are plenty available via online auction sites and there are even forums for classic stove collectors to exchange arcane info and prejudices.

Easily portable pressurised stoves burning paraffin first appeared towards the end of the 19th century when Frans Lindqvist started a trend that turned into the Swedish domination of the small stove market. Primus was founded at this time and soon became the generic term for all pressurised camping stoves. In the 1960s, the paraffin division was sold to Optimus and started confusion between the manufacturers' models – well, it confused me for years. Optimus phased out paraffin stoves in the 1990s in favour of petrol and multi-fuel stoves at around the same time that Primus re-entered the liquid fuel arena.

How to take care when using stoves

Pressurised petrol and multi-fuel stoves need regular attention paid to their components to ensure safety and best performance:

  • Your stove’s instructions and maintenance kit will give you a clear indication of what to clean and what might be a problem.
  • On a regular (but not obsessive) basis, clean all parts carefully to maintain efficiency, flame control and to avoid corrosion. Pay particular attention to the pump washers that ensure pressure can be maintained safely
  • For cleaning, stoves can just be wiped down with warm water and washing up liquid but take some time to clean the burners and dry thoroughly before storing.
  • Whether the fuel tank is integral or separate, drain it completely. Petrol left standing can deteriorate affecting fuel lines and potentially causing a build up reducing fuel flow. If you have nothing in which to store the fuel, burn it off as pouring it away is hardly a considerate way to dispose of toxic waste. Keep fuel as clean as possible by pouring it through a filter funnel.
  • Oil the pump cup on the stove's plunger with a light oil to help seal the pump against the inside of the compression tube so that it can be pressurised to deliver fuel to the burner. Replace dodgy-looking rubber seals and hose connections.
  • Fuel lines, jets and needle valves collect deposits that, sooner or later, will clog your stove. Take care to clean them carefully. A pipe cleaner is a useful accessory to clean and dry awkward places.
  • Many jets are self-cleaning. However, some may require ‘pricking’ to clean the outlet. To avoid damage, do this carefully using a jet pricker – a thin wire with a diameter that matches the outlet you are cleaning.
  • Stove generators vapourise fuel; they can block up with deposits and may need to be replaced if cleaning isn't possible.

A liquid alternative stove

Aspen 4T fuel is designed for garden machinery normally and is claimed to be the cleanest petrol that you can use. It is made from Alkylate Petrol that is itself made from the gases from the top of the distillation tower synthetically modified into a liquid again. The result is petrol totally free from sulphur, benzene and solvents and chemically inert.

It does not smell, the exhausts do not smell, it will not smoke and you are breathing a much cleaner air when cooking. Coleman fuel costs around £7 a litre bottle whereas Aspen fuel costs under £4 a litre.

Other useful websites

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