Before I was a backpacker, I was a camper. At the age of four. And maybe credit goes to this piece of gear, the Coleman two-burner stove. As a very little kid I can remember the smell of Coleman Fuel (this wasn’t called “white gas,” in my family it was Coleman Fuel, in a red can). My father would emerge from some dusty corner of the garage toting the green stove and I’d be tailing him, delighted at the idea that the family was about to go on a road trip, sleep outside, get stung by mosquitoes, and see…who knows what? A bear? A giant sequoia?
It didn’t much matter where we were going, only that we’d be piling into the Ford Country Squire and sleeping in the woods somewhere and that my mother would be cooking on the Coleman. I asked her about that the other day, what she remembers about cooking on one of these when her three children were children. She said making chicken curry on a picnic table and all the other campers around us coming over with great curiosity to see what the smell was. That’s my mom, making Indian food for the family at a KOA in the 1970s when the rest of America had barely gotten past the idea that something called fettucini could be food.
Ever since childhood I’ve come to think of the Coleman two-burner as a kind of touchstone. Merely seeing one conjures warmth, the smell of a canvas tent, the squish of down, firewood, s’mores — all of it rises in my memory when I see this green chunk of tin and metal and the simplest regulator and fuel system on earth.
After 50 years in service, the Coleman is still sold. It’s not quite as romantic. Now you can get them to run on canisters or dual-fuel (gasoline/white gas). But the lid and sides still serve as wind blocks, and if you go with a white gas model it still just takes about 50 pumps of priming to fire it up in colder weather. It’s fickle when simmering, as it always was, and it still gives off the smell of fuel. And it’s still useful for making childhood memories.
Proven is stuff that stands the test of time.