If you’ve checked out camping stoves you’ve probably seen the term BTU (British Thermal Unit) tossed around. When I first started camping I looked at those terms and had no idea what they meant.
Does the BTU output of a camp stove actually matter? How many BTUs do I need for a camping stove? Let us simplify this for you.
What Does BTU Mean?
BTU is the abbreviation for the term “British Thermal Unit”. It’s the American measurement for the amount of energy released as you burn 1 match.
So that means a 20,000 BTU stove would be the equivalent of burning 20,000 matches at a central point(that doesn’t really help). For reference, your gas stove at home is usually 10,000 BTU per burner.
Is a Higher BTU Stove Better?
Generally speaking, higher BTU stoves heat up your frying pan/pot faster than lower BTU options. Going with a 20,000-30,000 BTU propane burner is great when cooking in a massive stockpot, but it’s overkill for the average camper.
Most people are used to a standard 10,000 BTU stove so they almost always scorch their dinner when using high BTU stoves. You end up with a nasty black on the outside raw on the inside meal.
How Many BTUs Should a Camping Stove Be?
As a quick example, check out the Coleman Double Burner Gas Camping Stove(On Amazon). This is by far the most popular camping stove on the market. Head down to your local flea market and I guarantee you’ll see a Coleman double burner for like 5-10 bucks. It’s crazy how many of these stoves I’ve seen over the years.
Unsurprisingly, Coleman labels this stove as having 20,000 total BTUs. That’s 10,000 BTU per burner so it’s just like cooking on your oven at home.
For basic outdoor cooking and small families you should stick to a single burner 10,000 BTU Stove. When you have large gatherings consider adding a few more heating elements. Generally speaking, most families won’t need more than a 20,000 BTU propane double burner camping stove(On Amazon).
How Many BTUs for Backpacking Stoves?
Compact and ultralight backpacking stoves rarely list BTUs on the package. Honestly, it doesn’t matter all that much since you’ll only be doing light cooking on the trail.
You really can’t go wrong with an MSR Pocket Rocket(On Amazon). It’s a lightweight stove, weighing only 2.6oz and it’s the perfect size for backpacking. After calling up MSR I found out this backpacking stove is approximately 8500 BTUs under normal operating conditions. That’s just a little bit lower than your stove at home.
What About High BTU Camping Stoves?
Most people will never actually need a stove that goes above 20,000 BTUs. The only time you might want to consider a high BTU stove is if you’re cooking for a massive group.
Companies like Camp Chef are building double burner stoves that push out 60,000 BTU(30,000 per burner). That’s a lot of power for the price(On Amazon). These stoves give off a whole lot of heat and have a large enough surface area to cook a ton of food.
Just last summer I had to cook a large batch of soup for a reverse raffle. With 2 massive stockpots and my 60,000 BTU Double Burner Stove (On Amazon) I was able to cook for a 150+ person crowd. I really hope my wife doesn’t volunteer to cook again next year.
These high BTU stoves are also nice for homebrewing and quickly heating up large cast-iron frying pans. Just be careful when choosing pans for a propane stove. I’ve burnt out the bottom of quite a few frying pans over the years. Now I just stick to my heavy duty cast iron pans and large bayou classic stockpots(On Amazon).