During my time dirtbagging around the country, I earned my Ph.D. in the art of making a gourmet meal outside, using little more than good ingredients, minimal gear, and a dash of ambience. Throughout all my years on the road, I relied on one stove: the Camp Chef Rainier Camper’s Combo ($125).
In 2010, I sprung for a discounted Rainer with $80 in tip money and a pro deal through the whitewater rafting company I worked for. It was an expensive purchase for me at a time when my monthly food budget was around $60. But hey, along with a Roll-a-Table, two chairs I “borrowed” from the rafting company, and my cooler, I had almost a full kitchen that I could deploy from the back of my truck. And the Rainier quickly proved a wise investment.
For one, it can cook anything. The 10,000-Btu single burner, coupled with the massive 8,000-Btu grill surface (Camp Chef offers a griddle option now, too) allowed me to quickly whip up single pot meals or make a feast of beans and steak simultaneously. Boiling water for the French press in under eight minutes? Hefty chunks of meat? No problem.
I don’t know how many meals I cooked on that thing, but it’s been enough to make me a hero and de facto camp chef among my friends. I seared up a tri tip large enough to feed four hungry kayaking buddies at the Salmon River Festival one year, then covered it with foil and cooked it on indirect heat for one of the best steaks of my life, which we happily consumed in the middle of nowhere. The grill also perfectly charred onions and peppers to deliver a mountain of chicken and beef fajitas to a crowd of ten. I still get compliments on that one.
The Rainier is also hearty as hell. It survived banging around in the bed of my truck for four years. And I didn’t exactly baby it, cramming it into the limited storage space in my truck with paddles, helmets, and all manner of gear. But I never worried that it wouldn’t fire up to cook another meal. Once, one of the stubby rubber legs popped off as I was pulling the Rainier out of my truck. The stove sat crooked for a weekend, but I eventually found the leg and simply screwed it back on.
I bequeathed the Camp Chef Rainier to a buddy last summer as he headed out for a road trip with his wife. I am sentimental about gear, but I trust that the stove will serve him well—not to mention whoever he hands it off to when he’s done.