For the past few years, I’ve been using a cheap gas stove for camping and backpacking. The actual stove costs just 900 dinars ($7.50) at my local market. It uses refill puncture-style gas cartridges and these cost less than a dollar. Yes, the cheap gas stove is big and bulky, but it goes to show that you don’t need any fancy expensive gear to go camping!
But then, on a recent camping trip, my cheap gas stove started leaking. It was only a 1-night camping trip so it wasn’t a big deal. Luckily the fuel didn’t stink up my backpack nor did it result in some crazy accident.
So, despite my insistence on the fact that you don’t need expensive gear, I figured it was time to upgrade to a better camp stove.
I went into my local mountaineering shop to see what they have. The only option was the “Primus Express Stove with Piezo Igniter.”
First Up: Cost of the Primus Stove
When I took a look at the price tag of the Primus stove, I only winced a little. It costs about $50 – or about 1/8 of an average salary in Serbia. Considering that you can buy a gas stove at the local market for less than $8, it seemed excessive to shell out that much money for a camping stove.
But I go camping with just me and my daughter. I don’t have a car (or know how to drive) and have to carry everything on my back. The Primus folds up nicely. It was really worth it for me to spend extra for a camping stove that would free up space in my bag. Now maybe I can bring an extra pair of panties or socks and be slightly less stinky on the way back. 😉
You only have to buy camping gear once, so it is usually worth it to pay for quality gear if you are going camping frequently. However, what did make me cringe was the cost of the fuel canisters.
The Primus fuel costs about $7 for 230 grams.
Compare this to $0.80 for puncture-style gas canisters.
Even when you factor in the shorter boiling time with the Primus fuel, it is still a LOT more expensive than using puncture-style gas canisters.
I walked out of the store without buying anything. But I kept thinking how nice it would be to shave some weight from my backpack and have a bit more space. So I went back to the store the next day and bought the Primus and a large gas canister.
More space in my pack is a luxury that I was willing to pay for.
Second Problem: The Screw-Top Gas Canisters
Other than the cost of the Primus gas stove, my main issue is that it uses space screw-top gas canisters.
As it is now, I usually plan my backpacking trips so we spend 3-5 days camping at one spot. Then we move on to another camping spot. On the way there, we pass through civilization. This gives me an opportunity to buy a new gas canister so I don’t have to carry reserves with me.
I’ve never had a problem finding puncture gas canisters.
A tiny store on a mountaintop in Albania? Yep, they had them.
The general store in a small Bulgarian town? They also had puncture gas canisters.
But I have NEVER once seen screw-top gas canisters anywhere except specialty stores.
The guy at the mountaineering store assured me that I could find screw-on gas canisters all over the place. I am pretty sure he works on a commission.
So, the solutions to this gas cartridge issue is to:
- Carry reserve screw-top gas canisters with me (which defeats the space-saving benefit of using the Primus stove)
- Only use the Primus stove for shorter camping trips where I won’t need to refuel
- Have a backup cooking method in case I run out of gas for the Primus and can’t find anywhere to get a new screw-on gas canister. A tiny alcohol stove or solid fuel tabs would be good as a backup and would take up less space than a spare gas canister.
Is the Primus Stove Worth It?
I’ve now used the Primus stove on two short camping trips. The first trip was 5 days long and the second trip was 2 days long. Here’s what I think of the Primus camping stove after using it.
I Love the Super- Fast Boiling Time
I friggin’ love how fast it boils water! I can make my morning coffee in just about 30 seconds!!!
Of course, bear in mind that I got used to using a cheap gas stove which takes about 5 minutes to boil water just for coffee. It was a nearly revolutionary experience for me to realize I could get my dose of caffeine so quickly.
The downside is that I drank a lot more coffee than normally during these camping trips. 😉
Gas Canister Life
I bought the 450 gram gas canister for the Primus. It hasn’t run out yet. When I give the canister a gently shake, I can hear gas splashing around. It sounds like it is more than half full. Not bad for 7 day’s worth of cooking for 2-4 people (we went with friends on one trip).
By comparison, I had to replace my puncture-style gas cartridges about every 4-5 days. However, those gas canisters contain less gas. So, it is hard to compare which option really has a longer fuel life.
One annoying thing about the Primus stove is that the stove top is really wobbly. It also seems like it isn’t 100% level. I have to be really careful about where I set up the stove and am worried that my pot will topple over while I’m cooking. This wasn’t an issue with my cheap gas stove. But, of course, that stove was also a lot bigger.
The Bottom Line?
Despite the high cost of the fuel canisters, I’m going to keep on using the Primus stove for short camping trips. The extra cost is really worth it for me to get my morning coffee so quickly.
For longer camping trips, I’ll have to figure out a backup in case I run out of gas during the trip. I guess now is the time to start experimenting with DIY alcohol stoves. Now I’ll just have to learn how to ask for alcohol – and not the drinking kind – in the language of each country I go backpacking in. 🙂