The choice of a camping stove is first dependent on its use and second depending on each individual desires. These two terms are interdependent. If I buy a camp stove for a hiking event, certainly the lighter the better, except for a person who likes to eat, and needs more capability. You can cook at a tailgate party with a two burner (total 20,000 BTU) stove or you might want a three burner (30,000 BTU per Burner) stove which will allow all kinds of cooking and speed.
Under hiking, you will find ultra light, single burner, tablet and other light weight fuels such as alcohol or propane and butane gas stoves. There are some ultra light two burner stoves, but they do weigh more. You might be better with two, single burner stoves. Along with some of the very light weight stoves come in a kit form with a pan, lid and sauce pan, Some of the pans have graduated markings for more exotic cooking. One I have seen allows the stove to be folded up and fits under a pan which then fits inside two other pans, thus giving you a very light system if the pans are made of titanium or aluminum alloy. Some even are designed to hold heat and transfer it to the food quicker. Any are even Teflon coated to allow cooking without a lot of washing.
Several companies have a stove that fits on the top of a gas canister. Thus you can easily carry a canister for your cooking and for light, on a short trip. These are light and easy to assemble. The pot and pans are usually separate. I have a light two burner stove that uses butane or propane. This stove allows for more cooking while being light weight. Thus weight and space are important when we carry it, and additional weight and more pans are a choice.
When we think of camping stoves we look at the old camp site fire, that the old grizzled chief would prepare biscuits and gravy, or beans and other trail fair. With the advance to a safer environment, we have sought to build a cooking machine that was both safe and functional. Coleman introduced us to a stove that worked under pressure, used white or un-leaded gas and made a great place to cook. Many others have followed and many different variations have been provided. Now we have the choice of many fuels, and systems. Some will burn almost anything. Some call themselves multi-fuel while truly being very limited. But most camp stoves will have one to two burners. Some have two burner heads, but both work off the same fuel source. One I know has a separate canister of gas for each burner, thus you really have two stoves in one. But in a nut shell you have more cooking capability. They will boil water rapidly, have wind shields, some have variable burner controls to allow simmer or max burner use. Some have a built-in-grill and others have a detached grill that can be added. Another thing you will find is greater burner heads and cooking space, and the handle for both stove and pots will be made so that they do not absorb heat, thus you can pick it up without burning your hand. Many of these stoves were hard to clean and maintain in the old days (Last Year), but times are changing and the systems are improved almost daily. Like cars, a new model comes out almost every year. Some of the stainless models are very easy to clean. Some use aluminum alloy or titanium which is very light and easy to clean.
Thus the two burner stove has become a stove repair glendale standard for the old camp fire. The one burner stoves are made more for individual use or for couples. This range of one burners has so many stoves and so many fuels that it is very hard to keep up with changes and with the different fuels. Even new wood stoves are appearing which will not scorch the earth or leave a trace. The single burner also brings out the purest who seeks the best of cooking, with the lightest load and the smallest space and weight. There are even websites where you will find Zin Stoves and data for each along with fuels. If you are seeking the lightest and the best cookers, be sure and look for these sites. They are not traps that will force you to a new religion, but really some good and detailed sites about camp stoves, their use and the best for any given situation..
When we talk about cookers we are looking at stoves that can cook for lots of people are a lot of food at one time. There are high BTU single burner stoves that can quick cook a turkey or 100 pounds of catfish. Camp Chief has built a 3 burner stove with each burner producing 30,000 BTU’s. This would cook a lot of food quickly, while allowing the cook to vary how much fuel he was using on each burner, and how much heat he needed. Here we equal the restaurants as far as cooking capability. Also we see the stove in an outdoors environment which allows some variety in the foods prepared and the types of spices used. Chili, comes to mind along with Catfish and some exotic brisket, hotdogs, hamburgers and many other fair that have come about because of outdoor stoves and charcoal cookers that have been developed. Again need has required a larger stove, not as portable, but not fixed in the house. Years ago, Army National Guard Cooks in Louisiana were taking the old Korea war vintage water carriers, called water buffaloes, and were converting them into charcoal grills that could be hauled to anywhere, and unbelievable meals cooked. This was the early 1970’s. It was also a contained system. I have even seen some cooking on the road, while moving to a new site. Sounds more like today.
The Party stove ranges from the 3 burner above to some charcoal and gas with up to six burners and also include infrared systems and fire starters. Of course do not forget the rotisserie and maybe even a sink and a refrigerator. This has come about in the last 10 years. These are truly chef stoves for the outdoors. They range in price from the hundreds to the many thousands. Some allow the cooking of anything and even have an oven.
To say this is all there is about stoves, is un-realistic. We need to talk about choice. Every where you look there is something different. This is caused by choice. Some people want this and others want that, One guy will want an open burner and a grill on the same stove. Thus a company will soon be producing the same. If sales are good, then we see them all over the market. Someone will like a brand and see a feature on another stove. He will ask and soon it will be available. Choice has a big effect on this market. Coupled with a need, we have a market that grows every year, and gets more competitive. I like the choice part. I like to be able to go to several stores and find camping stoves in several varieties. I enjoy a market that produces new things with emphasis on safety and on portability. That might be because of my age and the lighter weights, helping me. People might think this is innovation from the Far East, but most of the ideas are backyard America. Some one asked and the company figures a way to build it.
One more comment on ends and outs. If placed in a book, it would be a very big book, and most probably very detailed. Even the breakout into 4 categories, is not sufficient. You can easily break these areas down farther and add a few, like high altitude stoves, stoves that start in very wet climates or several different variants. Some of the pellet stoves will burn almost under water after they start, and some of them are very toxic, so be careful. Alcohol is light but does not get real hot. Thus, on goes the variants of both choice and purpose. People have designed stoves for Mt. Everest where altitude and pressure are critical as is weight.
We need stoves that work in the desert, at the lake, in storms or emergency. We need stoves that are ready for times like hurricanes when we find whole systems like water, gas and electricity are not available for days. These stoves will do the job asked, if you just look for the right stove. Maybe it is not perfect, because you were looking to take care of too many situations. We also need to look at times where fuel will be limited, Could we need more than one type of stove, to conserve fuel. On and on goes need and choice in determining the right camping stove. We may come to the time when gas is gone and only wood and solar systems are available. The market includes some truly wonderful solar ovens and wood stoves that channel the heat to conserve wood.