With crisp fall days on the way in the high country, cooking up a mug of some steaming hot coffee on my little MSR stove is pure backpacking heaven. However, a camp stove can also be very dangerous if used carelessly. Here are a few strategies to keep you safe and your tummy satisfied.

Check local regulations in the area you plan to camp. Due to the extreme fire risk in our local wilderness, a permit is required to use a camp stove for both day hikes as well as overnights, and campfires are totally prohibited in the high country. Fire regulations may change throughout the year, so make sure to contact the ranger station for the latest info.

Get to know your stove. Each camp stove has specific guidelines in it’s manual to keep you from burning your eyebrows off.

Tips: in order to avoid any nasty surprises, make sure you set your stove up at home and take it for a quick spin before you take it out on the trail.

  1. Think before you fire up. Before you light your camp stove, make sure you have placed it stably on a level area clear of dry fuel like pine needles and duff. This will prevent little inconveniences like starting a raging forest fire or having boiling water spill all over you;
  2. Light it carefully. During lighting, keep your face, hair and expensive (and flammable) hiking clothes away from the stove;
  3. Use a fuel like isobutene appropriately. Be careful how much gas you let out before you light your stove since too much can cause a big flame-up. A friend who shall remain unnamed recently lost his facial hair this year in a freak camping stove incident.
  4. Keep it outside. When the weather turns bad it’s tempting to try and cook inside your tent. Don’t. Backpacking tents tend to be exceedingly flammable and cooking inside them is a generally a bad idea. A moment of inattention and you could lose your shelter. For periods of heavy wind, rain or snow bring along some foods that don’t require cooking.
  5. Monitor bright light. Be very careful if you are cooking while it is still bright out. The flames generated by some fuels can be difficult to see in bright light and it’s easy enough to burn yourself on a flame you didn’t think was lit.
  6. Be careful with your hands. I’ve learned first hand not to touch a camp stove too soon after extinguishing the flame. Angry red blisters covering your fingers are a great reminder that patience is a virtue. Let your stove cool before you put it away.
  7. Stow it safely. Before you put away your stove, allow it to sit outside in a well-ventilated location so that any remaining fuel inside can disperse. Check your fuel container to make sure it is properly sealed. Store stove and fuel containers away from any sources of high heat.