When factors like emissions, renewability, and heat / energy efficiency are all taken into account, what would be the very best fuel source(s) to use for camping cooking, with sustainability and environmental impact in mind?

If in the case of alcohols (such ethanol), you might assume I produce my own - as in grow my own sugar cane (sustainably), harvest the sugar, or, use an alternative biomass like my own wood waste, produce my own brewer's yeast and brew my own (efficient-burning) ethanol myself. Or if wood, I would gather fallen wood from the natural environment around me. Even in the case of coal, (though I don't assume it the most sustainable fuel), there are actually natural open-air coal seams in places I frequent that I could technically gather and burn, as opposed to buying it.

I assume though that some fuels are out of the scope of self-production / sustainable gathering such as highly-processed petroleum-based fuels (e.g. industrial kerosene).

But for each case I would like to compare their very best (sustainably DIY) possibilities in their own right (where growing or sustainably gathering obviously is much more sustainable than purchasing ready-made materials), within practical reason such as the examples above.

So what would be the best one(s)?

  • 1
    Have you considered solar? I know it is out of your ability to produce a sun. But a prefabricated one is available.
    – Aron
    Jul 9, 2014 at 5:13
  • 1
    Then trouble with "gather wood" is that it destroys popular camping areas.
    – Móż
    Jul 11, 2014 at 23:05
  • 2
    keep in mind that to cook on wood (as opposed to just enjoying the campfire) you must build a larger fire than you need and then let it burn down for as much as an hour until you have coals. You do not cook over flame, but over embers. Also, you will probably need to make 5-10 times the size of an ember pile than will actually provide heat to your pot. To cook with a stove fuel, you light the stove, cook on it, and turn it off again. So do not compare just btu for btu. Jul 13, 2014 at 17:29
  • @Móż there is plenty of would from fallen branches, especially after a windstorm. I have never had difficulty gathering these. At times, they are too soggy to be useful. Feb 26, 2018 at 11:46

1 Answer 1


Solar thermal

Given your limited criteria, solar thermal is in fact the ideal solution. I assume you say that "[solar] heating is so inefficient and the materials for solar panels introduce a can of worms sustainability", you refer to PhotoVoltaic panels, and not solar concentrators (mirrors and lens), which are silly cheap and sustainable. A large parabolic dish is also potentially extremely portable.

In terms of efficiency. The amount of fuel you actually need to acquire and use per use is minimal to none, hence has almost infinite efficiency.

As to sustainability of materials. A simple solar concentrator could be built by coating the inside of a large umbrella with tin foil, and hanging the food from the umbrella stem. Given the extremely limited materials required to make this, and the HUGE lifetime of the equipment, I would have to say that such a setup would have a minimal sustainability footprint (especially amortized over its lifetime).

The one downside to this setup is of course, extreme cooking times (in order of hours). But of course, that was not on your requirements.


  • 1
    I own a solar water heater. The thing is absolutely awesome during a hot summers day. However when it is overcasted it automagically turns on an electric heater element. Even so, there are savings/sustainability gains from a bog standard electric water heater. The electric heater is left off more days than it is on. Similarly, if you really were pasionate about sustainability, you could use solar on good days, and run a "stored solar (biofuel)" stove on bad days.
    – Aron
    Jul 9, 2014 at 8:16
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    This has been an inspiring suggestion and although there are issues to be dealt with, I think I'll look into it and see if when I can get round to it, use it as a (principal) method of sustainable food cooking. For this, I will mark your answer as the accepted one. Thank you. Now shall we clean up our banter (the earlier comments and first two sentences of your answer - I've deleted my initial comment and can delete this one too, and maybe you can put the useful info from above comment in the answer then delete it), and make it worthy of SE googable destination quality? :)
    – user487
    Jul 9, 2014 at 10:42

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