A camp stove is a mighty useful object if you're not a fan of the "I'm just going to rub these two sticks together until my wrists fall off" school of wilderness survival. Of course, there will always be something magical and primal about marshmallows roasting over an open fire, but that's a story for another day and another node.

Well, let's get on with the show. What should you think about when you're searching for that perfect stove?

Conditions of use
In a nutshell, this comes down to two questions: who are you going to be cooking for, and where are you going to be doing that cooking? If you venture into the woods solo, there's no need to buy that ultra-mega-gargantuo-stove that, like your SUV, burns a gallon of fuel a minute. Leave those babies for the folks who go camping en masse < /i>, and for those people (scout troops, large families, etcetera) you can't go wrong with the classic Coleman stove. This is the big green monster sold just about everywhere. It's got four burners, a heat shield, hell, the deluxe models come with legs and reflecting oven attachments. However, it is also rather heavy, so it's good mostly for car camping. The Coleman stove is a workhorse, and if you need something durable and dependable, and don't mind the weight, get that. For most backpackers, however, it's overkill.

Most other campstoves are single burner models that run on a variety of fuels, and that's the next thing to consider.

Burn, baby, burn
Most campstove fuels are either your garden variety petroleum products or your simple, straightforward sticks and twigs. We'll consider the former first.

White gas : AKA Coleman fuel, for the manufacturer who most commonly markets it, white gas is one of the more popular fuels. It's lightweight, readily available, (in big red metal gallon containers), and a little goes a long way. (Also, it removes pine pitch instantly from your hands, just make sure you wash them throroughly after applying the gas.) However, a strike against Coleman fuel is that it is rather, well, combustible. Personally, I have never seen something explode or catch on fire because of spilled white gas, but it is something you do need to be concerned about. Keep it in special fuel bottles, either the original containers or something specifically designed to carry fuel, preferably a container with some type of gasket or seal that will protect against leaks.

Kerosene : Also very popular and widely available, some people prefer kerosene because it's less volatile than white gas. I've also heard some testimony to the effect that kerosene is more efficient, but that's just hearsay, as I know of no tests or experiments on that, although they probably exist. The efficacy of a stove is more often due to it's design than anything else. Like Coleman fuel, kerosene is highly portable. Some stoves are advertised as being "dual-fuel" capable; this means that you can use two different fuels, usually white gas or kerosene, or sometimes something else entirely.

Sterno : Sterno is a bottled fuel, AKA "canned heat," which is also fairly popular, depsite the fact that it's heavy, expensive, and generates a lot of waste. (The empty containers cannot be refilled.) The reason for Sterno's popularity is it's ease of use. You just attach the canister to the stove and go. It's also quite versatile- if you've ever gone to a hoity-toity function where tiny flames are keeping the food warm, that's just a polished version of Sterno. It's good for emergency use because you don't have to fiddle with tubes and gaskets like you often do with kerosene and white gas.

Miscellaneous others : The three previously mentioned fuels are the most widely used. However, people are not averse to using other things to heat their food. Some folks use regular gasoline. Yes, the kind you put in your car. I've never done this myself and have no experience with it, so I really have no opinion, although I imagine it's not that safe and is rather stinky. There are also a few stoves out there that use candles as a heat source. Again, I've never used these, so, proceed with caution. There are also alcohol-fueled stoves. Same disclaimer as for the previous two. If you have anything to share about these types of stoves, feel free to add onto this writeup or /msg me and I'll add it in.

Dead trees : At the risk of getting horribly off-topic, always use dead and down (i.e., lying on the ground, and not green) wood for your campfires, or for your wood stove. Green wood smokes a lot and in most places it's illegal to cut down a living tree to make a campfire. That said, there are some campstoves on the market that don't require liquid fuel. All you need to do is set the sucker up, add wood, and let 'er rip. I've used these stoves a couple times and have generally been impressed with their speed, efficiency, and cleanliness. A drawback, however, is that some models require batteries to power a little fan that feeds the flames, and, also, if you're camping somewhere that is lacking in trees (such as a desert, or an incredibly overused public campground) you might be shit out of luck.

Your budget and your safety
There are cheap stoves and there are incredibly overpriced stoves. Stay within your means but remember that you should never settle for something that might be dangerous to use because you couldn't afford something better. Any stove has the potential for injury, so make sure you read the directions- and don't argue with me, just read them. They'll answer a lot of your questions. Talk to your fellow adventurerers and see what they recommend. If you can, try before you buy. If a stove is too complicated for you to use in an emergency, or in less than ideal conditions, don't buy it. As always, your comfort and safety is key.