Come on baby, light my fire

Mastery of fire was arguably the single most important human achievement. It vastly increased our species’ ability to survive and prosper, and to this day we are ultra-reliant on fire. It’s entirely possible that the device you’re using to read this was powered by electricity generated by either coal, or gas-powered power stations, and those rely on fire.

Fire gives us heat, to warm us through freezing nights, and it allows us to cook our food, and so much more.

When I refer to fire, I am referring to anything that produces a flame. Whenever you hear camping being mentioned, you may immediately also think of a campfire.

After all, sitting around a good campfire, along with some friends, can be a very enjoyable experience.

Let’s look at some options available to you when cycle camping.

Wood  fire
Ah, the good old traditional wood-fuelled campfire. Nothing better, is there? Well, actually, this one you should try to avoid, unless at a formal campsite with designated spots for making fire. A fire like this carry risks, and will inevitably leave an ugly black scar behind, and that goes against the first rule of the outdoors: Leave no trace.

Even when pouring water on the fire in the morning, when packing up, there’s a risk of it not being put out properly, and so it might flare up again after you left, and even spread. Do you really want to be responsible for a wildfire? Besides, once you set up camp, you’d have to hunt for firewood, and that often leads to people breaking branches off trees. Also, wood-fuelled fires give off smoke, and smoke attracts attention, so when wild-camping, this is a particularly bad option.

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Gas  stove
This, for most people, is by far the best option. Gas cannisters used by camping stoves tend to be quite small, and don’t weigh much, so you can easily carry it with you. A gas stove is easy to use, easy to light, and makes it super easy to control the temperature. When you switch it off, there’s no further risk of fire. Gas stoves also don’t produce any smoke, meaning they’re idea for a bit of stealthy wild-camping.

I use a tiny little Vango gas stove, and I see no reason at all to change it. A word of warning though: gas cannisters typically contain butane gas, and butane gas doesn’t burn well at all when cold. If there’s any chance at all of you waking up on a very cold morning, and wanting to boil water for coffee, or make a hot breakfast, do ensure you get a cannister that’s a mix of butane and propane, else you’re in for a luke-warm coffee, at best.

Solid  fuel  stoves
You get a variety of camping stoves that use solid fuel tablets. I tend to view these as emergency survival options, and I certainly wouldn’t want to rely on one as primary means to cook food. As for boiling water, well, good luck. You’ll probably find it takes far, far longer than you expected, and may require multiple fuel tablets.

Liquid  fuel  stoves
Some liquid fuel stoves require a very specific fuel. For example, some can only work using paraffin while some require petrol. If you’re going to cycle really long distances, especially through developing countries, you absolutely need a liquid fuel stove that can work with multiple liquid fuels, else you risk your stove running out of fuel.

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If using a liquid fuel stove, never pack the fuel in the same pannier as your food! Just a tiny fuel spill, even if not directly onto food, can render your food completely inedible.

Most liquid fuel stoves require pressure, and therefore have a pump that must be used before the stove will work. However, there are exceptions – there are a few methylated spirits stoves that you simply light. In fact, there are surprisingly effective methylated spirits stoves that you can fairly easily make yourself. These include the penny stove, and my firm favourite, the liquid fuel stove made by Kajsa Tylen in the video below. Do yourself a favour and follow her superb YouTube channel, and follow her on Twitter.

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