What are the risks of using a portable camping stove?

Gas canister and liquid fuel stoves can be very dangerous if not used correctly. They are just like cars, guns, knives, food blenders, chain saws, pointed sticks and Leggo bricks.

You can ensure safe stove usage by understanding the risks of using stoves and by ensuring that these risks are effectively eliminated.

There are a number of dangers of using canister gas stove and these are the main focus of the KOVEA design process. MercatorGear.com has also conducted research into the stove accidents and we have a good understanding about how accidents happen.

The accidents which occur most often with all brands of gas canister stove are;

o burns, and

o carbon monoxide poisoning

Burns can be broken down into several categories according to the cause:

o Scolds occur from accidents with boiling water and very hot food. These usually result from pans falling off stoves, or accidents during pouring, or lifting up pans with very hot handles. These accidents can be disfiguring but they are rarely life threatening. They normally occur as a result of user error, or accidents with children, dogs, footballs, frisbys and intoxication, so it is important to make sure that the cooking set-up is stable, protected from moving objects, that there is enough room to move around and that the user(s) are in a coherent state.

o Minor Contact Burns usually occur from accidentally touching hot stoves. Stove can give serious burns to fingers even several minutes after the flame has been extinguished.

o Flame Burns: can come from accidentally touching the flame directly, or from accidentally setting fire to clothing or other material. These range in severity from minor to fatal. Little statistical data has been generated about these types of burns.

Accidents with gas stoves result from stoves being knocked over, or from canisters exploding. Canister top stoves are liable to flare dangerously if knocked over. Remote canister stoves like the KOVEA Spider are fitted with anti-flare tubes to prevent dangerous flaring. Cheap remote canister stoves do not have anti-flare tubes and in our view are much more dangerous.

• Canister explosions: gas canisters which conform to European Standard EN417 are manufactured in very large numbers, and undergo rigorous testing. They are extremely safe unless misused, heated until hot to touch, or used with faulty appliances. There are several cases each year of canisters exploding and causing injuries. In Europe these are invariably a result of human error, but there are some cases where stoves (usually budget models) have been found to be at fault. Recent real cases of canister explosions include:

o Using a canister stove on top of a lit grill (the canister was heated from underneath). The canister eventually exploded causing serious injuries to the upper body of the user.

o Running two stoves in a tent at the same time, only one of which was lit. This resulted in a fatal gas explosion in the tent.

o Heating a canister with a candle flame in cold conditions. In one case the canister exploded, causing a tragic fatality to a mountaineer. 

o Incorrectly attaching a canister to a well know low-cost brand of camping stove. The gas leaking from the connector ignited, and over several minutes the resulting jet of flame heated the canister to exploding point.

o Injuries from such explosions include severe burns to hands, face, arms, shoulders and neck. Loss of eye sight can also occur. Fatalities have also occurred, so please be very careful at all times when using a gas stove.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is a serious hazard if stoves are not used correctly. All stoves sold in Europe, North America and in other advanced markets must have a carbon monoxide warning tag attached to the stove. Every year there are around 40 fatalities and thousands of injuries recorded from carbon monoxide in the UK alone. Around 15 % of these are in a camping, caravanning or boating environment. Generators, disposable BBQs and gas appliances are the most common source of carbon monoxide in such accidents.

Camping stoves and lanterns are sometimes identified as the source of the carbon monoxide poisoning, though this is rare.

Experts in the field believe that the recorded incidents are only the tip of the iceberg because many serious non-fatal carbon-monoxide incidents are not reported or are not diagnosed correctly by medical staff.

Recent incidents in the UK of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

o A camper who left a gas stove running in a small tent without adequate ventilation. As the oxygen was used up, combustion became inefficient. This resulted in the creation of carbon monoxide and a life threatening case of carbon monoxide poisoning.

o A camper who left an incorrectly set up gas lantern running which resulted in carbon monoxide leaking into the tent. This also resulted in a fatality.

Safety Recommendations

We recommend that you:

  • Thoroughly familiarise yourself with your stove before going on a camping trip.
  • Make sure you know how to connect it, light it and extinguish it safely.
  • Understand how long it takes to cool down to the point that it is safe to touch and to pack.
  • Try the stove on low (simmer) and full power and notice how hot it and the surrounding area becomes.
  • Make sure you instinctively know which way to turn the regulator (“lefty loosy, righty tighty”) so you can turn it down or off in a hurry if you need to.
  • Make sure you know the sound and smell of gas which may result from incorrect connection.
  • Regularly touch your gas canister to ensure it is not warming up. If it is warming up, or is hot to touch, turn off your stove and let it cool down.
  • A healthy flame is blue. So keep an eye out for persistent orange flames which indicate inefficient combustion. Turn it off if the flame looks red or orange.
  • If you haven’t used your stove for a week or two you may see orange streaks in the flames for the first couple of minutes. This is oxidation burning off and is nothing to worry about.
  • Pay attention to your cooking area. Make sure it is clear of clutter such as bottles, gas canisters and anything that could burn, explore, melt or fall over.
  • Make sure your cooking area is not in the way of passing adults, children, dogs or anything that could knock over or disrupt your cooking area.
  • Remember that stoves are still hot for several minutes after the flame has gone out, so don’t pick them up by the pot supports.
  • Gas canisters should also be treated with care.
  • Full canisters should be stored away from the stove and disconnected after use.
  • Empty canisters should be stored away from sources of heat as they can still explode if overheated. Ensure that they are empty by running them until no more flame or gas comes out. Always put empty canisters in recycling bins.