As a rule we are not allowed to make open fires in the Drakensberg and thus all cooking need to be done on a camping or backpacking stove.
As a guide I not only own a lot of different stoves but have used quite a few different and interesting ones as well. I am not going to try and explain all the technical aspects of hiking stoves as there are a good number of good websites available to do research on. One thing I do know it that you can get quickly hanged up on all the specks and the works, however in the field there is a lot of factors that can influence the working and performance of a stove.
When choosing a stove look for one with a large base that will provide more stability when using bigger pots. A stove that is separated from the fuel source by means of a pipe will give you a far more stable base to cook on than a stove that is attached on top of the cylinder. Look for s stove including the fuel and fuel container to weigh less than 800grams or less if you want to go ultra-light. Most modern stoves can disconnect from the cylinder, that’s self-sealing, making most stoves very compact.
Next you need to look at what type of fuel you want to use. Butane/Propane mix gas in a re-sealable container is easy and convenient and also clean to use and ideal for newbie to hiking due to its ease of use. The heat output on the stoves is relative high and on some like the Jetboil range can also be very economical to operate. There is no soot and residues left to clean up and the stove can be separated from the cylinder making it compact and easy to pack. The down side is that it does not perform well in sub-zero temperatures although the new iso-fuel mixes does work in low temperatures they do tent to “freeze” at some stage. Unfortunately this convenience also comes at a price as out of all the stoves, gas is the most expensive to operate.
Liquid fuels like paraffin, benzene or “white gas” is more suitable for colder temperature and high altitude where temperatures will be dipping below freezing. This type of stoves is relative cheap to operate and fuel is relative easy to get as you can even use petrol in some of them like the MSR Dragonfly Stove. The heat output is very high and the amount of fuel used on a trip could be substantially little compared to other stoves. The down side is that liquid fuel stoves is expensive and requires a separate fuel container not always included in the initial cost. It not as easy to operate and it takes some time to master the whole procedure on how to successfully operate the stove. Often times you might find that some pots might have soot on them that can easily be cleaned off but can be messy. Spilled fuel can leave a lingering smell in your bag that can permeate just about everything including your food. With regular maintenance and the use of clean and good quality fuel this type of stove will give you years of service.
Other stoves like alcohol or storm cookers (Trangia), is a relative cheap stove and easy to operate and cheap to run. It is very suitable to be used by inexperienced users where safety might be of concern. They usually come in a set, cooker and burner including pots and is relative clean and easy to use. Fuel is relative easy to come by and cheap. Some drawbacks is that it can be a bit slow on boiling times but can be used to cook some gourmet meals on. The fuel when spilled does not smell as bad as it does evaporate quickly, however methanol is poisonous and need to be kept in a container designated only for methanol. I have found that for inexperienced users, that they tent to use way too much fuel for cooking, and over time you do get a feel for the amount of fuel to use. A word of caution; be careful when filling a alcohol stove as it burns with an almost invisible flame and filling a lit stove can have dire consequences.
There is unfortunately no perfect stove and you might find that you end up owning more than one stove – each being best suited for the type of trip you are going to be doing. Again look around talk to the people you go hiking with and see what they use and then make you decision. Remember it need to suit your budget, be easy to use and maintain, and most importantly be able to give you a
Hiking South Africa has got some good and in-depth reviews on hiking stoves and even some other gear – check it out here.