The first time I bought a propane camping stove, it was purely out of necessity.
It was summer 2020, and my roommate and I were days away from escaping our apartment where we had been sequestered and told to stay in place for much of the spring. With 48 hours til we hit the road to Irwin Lake in Crested Butte, Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide ban on open fires as four different wildfires grew in different parts of the state.
Admittedly, we weren’t the most high-tech campers and we’d been planning to cook all our meals over a wood-fueled campfire. Truth be told, we had never done anything differently. So we frantically called every sporting goods store near Denver for suggestions and ended up purchasing a Coleman double burner propane stove.
Fire restrictions in Colorado can change on a dime and vary by county across the state. But if one thing has become clear over the last several years, it’s that fire bans are inevitable and increasing in frequency. As a result, recreators should be prepared to comply with them at a moment’s notice. That means having the right gear so you’re not breaking the law and endangering the state’s natural amenities.
Kimberlee Phillips, spokesperson for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, said local, state and federal agencies are constantly evaluating fire risk, weather outlooks, human risk factors and preparedness, among other factors, as they decide when and if to implement fire restrictions.
Fire restrictions are issued in stages, with stage one being the least prohibitive and stage three being the most prohibitive. On federal land, stage one prohibits burning wood or charcoal anywhere but Forest Service-developed campgrounds and picnic areas, as well as in anything other than a fire pit or grill built and maintained by the Forest Service, Phillips said. Under stage two restrictions, no fires whatsoever are permitted. (Under stage three, the forest service will likely close the forest, though that is rare, she added.)
There is an important exception: Flames produced by propane are permitted under both stage one and two fire restrictions. Another safe bet is anything solar-powered that doesn’t require a flame at all.
“Anything with a gas-fueled, on and off switch is allowed,” Phillips said. “So the little portable fire pits, petroleum-filled stoves or lanterns, any pressurized liquid fuel is allowed, as long as it had a shut-off valve.”
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The moral of this story is that it pays to be prepared. So be sure to check online resources like coemergency.com to understand the fire risk where you’re headed and consider buying these essential items that will help ensure a fire ban doesn’t ruin your camping trip.
There are innumerable gas camping stoves on the market with a variety of sizes and capabilities to tailor to specific adventures.
If you are backpacking or have limited storage space, experts recommend a single burner that is lightweight and energy-efficient, since you’ll have to carry the gas. Something like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 ($49.95) is just 3 inches tall, connects directly to a gas canister and boasts the ability to boil 1 liter of water in under 4 minutes.
If you’re camping next to your car or have more storage flexibility, the aforementioned Coleman double-burner stove ($74.99) is apt for cooking large meals. The brand, an outdoor stalwart, has additional sizes and designs, such as a hybrid grill and stove setup ($149.99).
And if you’d rather forgo fire altogether, consider a solar grill. GoSun makes several different products that use the reflection of the sun to cook food in what can easily be described as an air-tight, metal drawer. The smallest is the Go model ($129), which weighs two pounds and feeds a single person and the most popular is the Sport ($249), which feeds two people. The company also sells solar kitchen setups that feature its other products like a sun-powered cooler that makes ice.
RELATED: What Colorado’s top chefs cook when they go camping
For heat and ambiance
Any propane fire pit is technically permissible under stage one and two fire restrictions, so when choosing one to bring camping, you should consider the type of site where you’re staying and how many people are in your party.
If you’d like to shop locally, LavaBox makes pits out of military-style ammo boxes, which are both durable and waterproof. The company’s Tabletop Vol-CAN-no ($195) is said to provide heat for up to six people, while its Krakatoa FireBreather ($345) can heat up to 10.
Other popular, camping-specific brands Camp Chef and Ignik.
Courtesy of LavaBox via BusinessDen
The Tabletop Vol-CAN-no retails for $195 on the company’s website and in 21 small outdoor retailers around the country.
Courtesy of LavaBox via BusinessDen
LavaBox's portable campfire options include a 50-cal ammo box and can warm six people.
Conventional wisdom suggests it’s safe to roast s’mores over a propane fire pit – it’s like a propane grill but different, right? – though several factors regarding the pit itself could impact the flavor. Otherwise, chafing gel and sternos have long enabled restaurant patrons to roast marshmallows without ever going outside and are suitable and portable for taking with you on a trip.
Elevate the experience with a contraption like the Chef’n S’mores Roaster ($49.95) from Crate & Barrel, which even includes a tray that will hold your chocolate and graham cracker while you achieve that perfect golden brown.
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