We researched 16 camp stoves, tested seven, and dissected two of them down to welded copper tubing and soldered burner plates. After all that, we discovered that a good picnic table stove doesn’t have to be complicated to be great. It should cook food and boil water quickly, be rugged enough to withstand travel in the back of a car, and not require a burdensome amount of fuel to run. The Coleman Classic Camping Stove is exactly that. No more, no less. It also costs less than half of any other stove we tested.
Though it didn’t boil water the fastest or slow-cook the longest, we decided it just didn’t matter. Who cares if your water boils a minute faster or slower? The most important feature of the Coleman is that after getting tossed in and out of your car over and over again, it has the best chance of not breaking. With that in mind, it still boiled water faster—6 cups in 5 minutes on high—than anything except our upgrade pick. It is gentle enough to griddle golden-brown pancakes when turned down low, can cook with both burners on high on a single 16.4-ounce tank of propane for roughly an hour, and has the barest minimum of parts for easy maintenance. This model does not have a Piezo ignitor—that little red button you see on a lot of stoves that lights the gas—so you’ll have to bring a lighter. To us, that’s just one less thing to break (and they always break).
It surprised us to find out that the Stansport 2-Burner Propane Stove had the best range of temperature controls of any we tested, even beating more expensive boutique brands we thought might offer more cooking finesse. On high, it boiled 6 cups of water in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, faster than anything we tested, but it was the stove’s low-temperature control that helped it stand out even more. Low temperature cooking is a difficult task for many camp stoves, most lack the fine valve controls necessary to maintain a simmer without the flame going out entirely, but the Stansport took 7 minutes, 30 seconds to slow-cook soft scrambled eggs, the longest of any we tested—that’s a good thing. However, the Stansport’s burner design is more complicated than our top pick, which makes it potentially less durable—we think the original Coleman stands a better chance of withstanding several years of wear and tear. This model does include built-in automatic ignition (but seriously, still bring a lighter).
Why you should trust us
We interviewed Matthew McKean, a camp chef and expedition leader for Canadian wilderness lodge Outpost Co and the rugged Keewaydin Canoe Camp in Ontario, about his experiences cooking for large parties in all manner of outdoor situations.
Kit Dillon has covered gear as a journalist at The Wirecutter and The Sweethome for two years. For a while he lived in a makeshift community in Hawaii, cooking off of propane stoves just like these for nine months.
Who should buy this
These stoves are not for hiking expeditions, but if you use your car or truck as the base for your overnight trips, two-burner camp stoves like these are fundamental to a successful adventure. They’re essential for trips to national parks or local recreation areas, where cooking on an open fire or barbecue pit may not be allowed.
And we’ve never heard the maxim that a tired and hungry family is a happy family—two-burner camp stoves are the workhorse of any group camp outing, able to cook meals for four or more people quickly. Simple to load and easy to carry, they’re built to be packed in the trunk beneath a pile of camping gear, pulled out after too long a drive, and set up on a table or ground to cook dinner without complaint. The good ones will do that. The best ones will do it for a lifetime.
Where we tested
Our top picks stacked together in Camp Comfort Park, California.
We wanted to test the stoves in two specific situations. The picnic tables of a recreational park and against the winds of an open beach. This year we took the stoves to:
- Mondo’s Beach, birth of Ventura, California: A sandy beach and beginner’s surf break, Mondo’s was perfect for testing our stoves against a stiff Pacific wind.
- Camp Comfort Park, Ojai, California: This camp has facilities to shower, do laundry, throw a large barbecue on a winch pit, or throw horseshoes.
How we picked and tested
Testing camp stoves means all-day breakfast.
There are a few reputable (and a few less-than-reputable) online sites that offer reviews of camp stoves. We began with OutdoorGearLab, Camping Stove Cookout, HiConsumption, and BestProducts.com. We narrowed down the top 16 contenders from these reviews and Amazon best sellers and came up with our short list for testing: the Coleman FyreCadet, the Coleman Classic, the Coleman Triton, the Camp Chef Everest, the Camp Chef Rainier, the Stansport 2-Burner, and the Stansport Outfitter.
Next, we brought them to the beach to see how they would work under sustained winds; as well as to a public park to cook up a full breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and coffee. Initially, like many of the sites listed above, we focused on how quickly the stoves could boil water to give us a baseline for general performance.
Testing our idioms.
What we learned was that the boiling water test isn’t nearly as important as overall stove build quality. Most of the stoves could boil 6 cups of water uncovered to within a few minutes of each other. While it does offer a point of comparison, what does it matter if your stove can boil water a minute faster, if when you open it up, one of the burners has fallen apart or the propane line won’t connect to your gas tank?
What was more illuminating was a test to determine the stove’s ability to maintain a small and steady flame, which you will want if you value the precision necessary for certain recipes such as soft scrambled eggs or pan-fried fish. We tried a recipe that required the lowest stove temperatures to cook properly on our three finalists: the FyreCadet, Coleman Classic, and Stansport 2-Burner. For this test, we consulted with Lesley Stockton, Sweethome kitchen writer and guru, who came up with an order for soft scrambled eggs from thekitchn.com. Ideally, on a decent home stove, these eggs should cook for 10 to 15 minutes on the lowest possible heat. While none of the camp stoves we tested could match the cook times of a modern stove, our two top picks quickly stood out against the FyreCadet in head-to-head testing.
The greatest strength of the Coleman Classic Camping Stove is its simplicity. Unlike many of the other stoves we tested, there aren’t any extra parts or complex accessories to break or otherwise get in the way of what should be an uncomplicated product. The Coleman Classic tears down roughly into six pieces: a cooking grate, two removable burners, a gas connection, the case, and the internal gas lines. That’s it. The Coleman boiled water faster than nearly every other stove we tested, while still having delicate enough temperature control for most things you might want to cook. What it doesn’t have is an ignition switch, but we think, for a camp stove, that’s just one more thing to break.
Besides the lid, there are barely any moving parts on this stove to break
During testing, the Coleman boiled 6 cups of water faster than any other model, except our upgrade pick. Uncovered, it took 5 minutes with the right burner and 6 minutes, 30 seconds with the left burner. While this time was fairly typical for most of the stoves we tested, it stood out compared with some much more expensive models. The Camp Chef Rainier, for instance, took a ridiculous 20 minutes to get anywhere near boiling. The Coleman was also 3 minutes faster than the more expensive (and reportedly more powerful) Coleman FyreCadet.
Attached wind guards fix into place with two pin clasps inserted into the side of the case.
The cooking controls on the Classic were delicate enough that we could crank it up and boil water and fry bacon or turn it down to poach an egg and get golden-edged pancakes with ease. With 10,000 BTUs of heat emanating from both burners on high, you should be able to cook almost anything you can imagine and still surprise your family and friends with the quality.
In our comparative test for low-temperature control, the Coleman cooked soft scrambled eggs from raw in 4 minutes. While this isn’t anywhere near the 10 to 15 minutes that the recipe calls for, it was 2 minutes, 30 seconds slower than the more expensive Coleman FyreCadet. If you require a wider range of temperatures, our upgrade pick, the Stansport 2-Burner Propane Stove is your best overall choice.
While not able to maintain as low a temperature as our upgrade pick, the Coleman still helped us produce delicious soft scrambled eggs.
A neat feature for when you’re using larger pots and pans is that the stove lid lays completely flat, which creates more stovetop room, unlike with the Coleman FyreCadet, and while this removes any protection from the wind it does lend a little more flexibility when cooking for a crowd in a sheltered spot.
The Classic gives you plenty of cook time, about an hour on a single 16.4-ounce tank of propane with both burners on maximum. We found that a single tank will last closer to an hour and a half under more typical cooking temperatures, which is standard for all of the two-burner stoves we tested. One thing to note: The Classic does not come with an ignition switch. So be sure to pack your matches or lighter.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
While nearly 70 percent of the almost 900 reviews on Amazon were positive, two common complaints repeatedly showed up: The lid can get stuck, and the cooker dials are unresponsive. It’s frustrating that these problems exist at all, but thankfully they’re relatively simple to fix.
The pressed metal of the Coleman Classic cooktop, held in place by two thin slip rings clasped around the burner heads, has a tendency to move out of alignment, catching against the rolled inner lip of the lid when closed. At one point I had to use the handle of a spoon to pry the case open again. Other reviewers also came across this issue. You could fix the problem with a Dremel and a grinder if you have one.
Some people also reported that the dials on their stoves could feel sticky or unresponsive. One reviewer posted a solution here, which involved about 10 minutes of work and the application of silicone lube. We followed the instructions and were pleased with the results.
A stove for camp gourmets
If your camp cookouts are filled with ambitious recipes, the Stansport 2-Burner Propane Stove is your best choice. It had the greatest range of cooking temperatures that we encountered. The Stansport claims that its burners both individually produce 25,000 BTUs, which is 15,000 more BTUs per burner than our main pick.
The versatility of the stove was evident during testing when it set the bar for both high and low cooking temperatures. Both its burners were able to boil 6 cups of water in less than 4 minutes, faster than anything else we tested, while also maintaining the precision to slow-cook soft scrambled eggs in a leisurely 7 minutes, 30 seconds.
The interior of the Stansport 2-Burner stove.
Stansport’s design is not unique. This stove is nearly identical to the more expensive Camp Chef Everest. Several review sites compare the two stoves, often grading one above the other, but the only discernable difference inside and out is that the Stansport 2-Burner has a twist ignition while the Camp Chef Everest uses a push-button igniter. Both are piezoelectric starters and don’t require batteries.
The nearly identical construction of the Camp Chef Everest. Only the ignition switch is different.
In our opinion, the twist ignition on the Stansport, which doesn’t require you to brace the stove, is easier to use, but the testers at OutdoorGearLab felt that it was less ergonomic. Peculiarly, the Camp Chef rates the twin burners of the Everest at 20,000 BTU while Stansport rates the 2-Burner’s at 25,000 BTU despite the identical construction. We’ve spoken with both companies and, although Camp Chef says it originated the design, it seems that in this case choice is an illusion and you might as well buy the cheaper option.
We dismantled both the Camp Chef Everest and the Stansport 2-Burner to compare parts.
A note about accessories
In our opinion, after hours of testing, any stove with integrated accessories like griddle pans just isn’t worth the money. They’re often slow to cook, difficult to clean, and don’t save you all that much in time or convenience. You’re better off bringing quality cookware and using a stove that can produce a good amount of heat.
Bacon, which should have been delicious, tasted rubbery and sad when cooked on a griddle pan.
We tested one model with a built-in griddle, the Camp Chef Rainier, and it left us underwhelmed. Its dedicated burner took longer than 20 minutes to boil 6 cups of water on full, while its griddle pan was lethargic.
Coleman also makes cooking accessories that are sized to fit on its stoves. But the 49 reviews, only 53 percent of which were positive, aren’t all that inspiring. By comparison, Lodge, the maker of our top pick for a cast-iron pan, offers a similarly sized pan with nearly 1,300 overall reviews, 70 percent of which are positive. It seems to make the most sense to trust stoves to the people who make stoves, and when it comes to cookware to trust the people who make cookware.
The problem with propane bottles (and a few solutions)
From left: A disposable 1-pound Coleman Propane bottle, a refillable 1-pound Flame-King Bottle, a refillable 5-pound propane tank, and a 20-pound standard refillable propane tank.
The awful truth of the standard 1-pound propane tanks that power these stoves is that they’re built to be disposable while also being incredibly difficult to properly dispose of. Empty propane tanks are considered hazardous waste in most jurisdictions around the country, making them difficult to recycle. You could take them to a hazardous waste facility, but that costs time and money: Most end up either stockpiled in people’s garages, abandoned near campsites, or dumped as trash. An estimated 40 million of these tanks already sit in landfills around the country.
In 2009, Coleman introduced a so-called green key that emptied the bottles of any remaining gas, which made them much safer (and easier) to recycle. But it was not widely adopted and was phased out about a year later.
While refill kits are legal to buy, it remains illegal to commercially transport one-use bottles after they have been refilled. Improper filling can be dangerous and lead to injury, and the manufacturer expressly recommends not to (even though many people do).
There are some safer solutions, however.
Bernzomatic offers a good resource online to help you track down your solid waste disposal authority and to take the proper measures before disposing of your tanks. Contact your local government or recycling company to determine if they handle Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) and offer any special collection days when you can deposit the canisters.
When disposing of your bottle, be sure that you’ve completely emptied a tank of all its remaining gas. Attaching a tank to an open valve on your stove will burn off the final fractions of fuel but be aware, the last bits of fuel and vapor empty the canister at a remarkably slow rate. Always keep the valve open, even after the flames have sputtered, for a while longer to ensure that any final vapor has escaped.
A 5-pound propane tank attached to your stove barely takes up any more space than a 1-pound tank and is refillable, which reduces waste.
You could also consider refillable alternatives. If you’re car camping and don’t mind the extra weight, 5-pound propane tanks and adaptor hoses are available, which can hook up directly to these stoves. Not only are the 5-pound tanks refillable, but it’s also cheaper over time to refill a reservoir with gas than to constantly buy new disposable bottles.
Setting up a stove this way couldn’t be easier: You simply attach one end of the adaptor hose to the propane tank and the other end to the fuel inlet on your stove. Once set, you open the cylinder valve on the tank, and then ignite your stove the same way you would if your were using a disposable tank.
If you can’t manage the extra weight, consider purchasing a refillable 1-pound bottle. Like the 5-pound option above, the savings are significant when you consider how much cheaper it is to refill a propane tank with gas directly than it is to buy a disposable bottle.
The Flame-King refillable setup converts your standard propane tank into a reservoir that can refill the included 1-pound bottles.
What to look forward to
In the future, we’d like to broaden our scope for this article by including the Coleman 2-Burner Dual Fuel Stove and the Snow Peak Giga Power Stove. Though we don’t expect either to unseat our top picks, we’d like to see how they compare.
Century Outdoors claims that its upcoming Infinity two-burner stove has the first truly adjustable flame on this kind of stove. We hope to test this out when it’s released in spring 2018.
Coleman Triton: The Triton is practically the same as our top pick in a more modern case. The same strengths and flaws apply. If our top pick isn’t available, this is a viable replacement.
Coleman FyreCadet: We wanted to like this stove. It’s well-built; probably the best-made stove we tested. The components are all excellent. The only problem? It cooked terribly. During testing, it took longer to boil water than any other stove, and yet it still managed to scorch our slow-cooked egg recipe in a ridiculous 1 minute, 30 seconds. Since it costs nearly twice as much as our upgrade pick, we think you’re much better off with a Stansport.
Camp Chef Everest: The Everest is, as far as we can tell, identical in every way to our upgrade pick except that its ignitor is a push-button instead of a twist and it’s $30 more expensive. Save yourself the money and buy the Stansport 2-Burner instead.
Stansport Regulated Burner: Some stoves can be too simple. The barebones build of this model was terrifying to cook on. Nothing felt stable or secure, and the whole time I was worried about it tipping over and spilling a skillet full of bacon grease onto my feet. Spend just a little bit more and get the Coleman Classic.
Primus stoves: We considered several stoves by Primus, including the Primus Basecamp, Primus FireHole 100, and Primus FireHole 200. However, with limited and frankly lackluster reviews online when compared with the other big manufacturers like Camp Chef and Coleman, we decided to skip Primus this year.
(Photos by Caleigh Waldman.)
- professional outdoor chef, interview ,
- How do you recycle a used stove fuel canister?, Outdoors.org, August 1, 2014
- Gas Cylinders, California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC)