Best Backpacking Stoves

At the end of a tough day’s hiking, I want my coffee and a hot meal. I want it fast and with minimum fuss. Having the best stove for backpacking is crucial to making this happen. The main differences between backpacking stoves come down to the fuel they burn. Each has pros and cons which we’ll delve into a little more below. Choosing the best one largely comes down to your budget and the conditions you’ll be hiking in. We’ve included a few of each type in our best backpacking stoves review below.

Quick Answer:

*If you want to stick around and see what I think, you’ll find detailed reviews and a buyer’s guide, but you can also click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.

best backpacking stoves

Backpacking Stove Reviews

MSR Windburner

At a Glance:

  • Canister is integrated into stove
  • Completely windproof
  • Boils extremely fast – 2:45 minutes even in wind
  • Insulated pot can be handled safely after cooking
  • Comes with coffee press and hanging kit
  • Not self-lighting – need matches / lighter
  • High price tag
If you’re tired of trying to get your stove burning in windy weather then this may be stove you’ve been waiting for. The enclosed, windproof design means your flame will survive those cold gusts with ease.

This is one of the most efficient backpacking stoves we’ve reviewed. It uses an integrated canister and once it’s lit it gets really hot, really quickly with very little fuel.

We really like the design features that come with this stove. The 1 Liter pot is covered by a heat-resistant fabric so you can pick it up with your hands after cooking.

It also has a straining lid that allows for spill-proof drinking straight from the pot. When you’re done cooking it breaks down quickly and everything stores inside the pot.

It also accommodates a coffee press, skillet, accessory pots and hanging kit that are sold separately. If you want to use a pot of your own on this stove you can.

The stove burner is compatible with standard locking pot supports like the ones that Jetboil supply.

Jetboil MiniMo

At a Glance:

  • Shallow pot and bowl make for easier eating and even heating
  • Boils really fast – about 2 minutes
  • Integrated igniter
  • Good performance in wind
  • Expensive
  • Canister doesn’t pack into pot

This is another great integrated canister stove. It’s in the same league as the MSR Windburner when it comes to efficiency and speed but there are some subtle differences. The pot and bowl have a wider, shallower design than the MSR stove.

This gives the stove a squatter overall size while still holding 1 liter of liquid. The squatter design allows for a shallower entry for your spoon which makes it easier to reach that last morsel in the bottom of the pot.

The lid has a convenient sipping hole and a strainer section to get rid of liquid if you’re cooking rice or pasta. The design is also windproof and the integrated igniter makes it easier to light than the MSR unit.

Once lit it will boil a liter of water in about 2 minutes which is pretty quick. The valve and regulator give you excellent control if you want to have something simmer rather than have it go full blast.

As far as accessories are concerned, you can buy the coffee press, hanging kit or pot support if you want more flexibility. The shallower pot design and integrated push-button lighter make it worth considering paying a little extra.

MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove

At a Glance:

  • Very light and compact
  • Reasonable pricing
  • Regulator and valve offer excellent flame control
  • Pot support accommodates wide range of pot sizes
  • No built-in igniter
If you want the lightest and smallest backpacking stove then the PocketRocket 2 is the way to go. This updated model replaces the MicroRocket and previous model of the PocketRocket which have both been discontinued.

The clever design allows the stove to fold up into a tiny form factor that fits into the small plastic case it comes with. Once in the box, it only weighs around 119 grams so you hardly need to bother to add this to your weight budget.

If you’re packing a small pot you could easily pack the stove and canister into the pot. It boils a liter of water in 3.5 minutes.

It’s not completely windproof but the burner has three wind isolated areas to prevent a complete blowout. We also like how quickly the stove cools down after use.

MSR WhisperLite International

At a Glance:

  • Burns multiple fuels – unleaded gasoline, white gas, kerosene
  • Lightweight and folds up small
  • Wide span legs offer good stability
  • Great for cooking for long periods or melting ice
  • Generates plenty of heat for larger amounts of water
  • Difficult to start in the wind
  • It’s pretty loud
  • Little to no flame regulation – hard to simmer
If you want the option of burning multiple fuels then ditch the canister and get one of these stoves. This is a liquid fuel stove and it will run on unleaded gasoline, white gas or kerosene.

These are all easier to obtain and cheaper than gas canisters. The fuel bottle (not included) is also refillable so there’s nothing to throw away after your trip.

The stove comes supplied in a stuff sack with the fuel pump and a small maintenance kit. It takes a little effort to get the stove to start but once it’s hot it’ll keep burning even in windy conditions.

In the beginning, there are plenty of flames so it’s not ideal to use in a tent. Once it gets up to speed it’s great for longer periods of cooking.

If you want the versatility of being able to also use a canister for fuel then you can spend a bit more for the WhisperLite Universal stove.

MSR Dragonfly

At a Glance:

  • Dual valve design allows for good simmer to boil control
  • Compact size – folds to a third of its size
  • Generates plenty of heat – boils a litre in about 3 minutes
  • Really loud
If you want the fuel flexibility of the WhisperLite but with simmer control then the Dragonfly is a great option.

This stove will run off kerosene, white gas, unleaded fuel, diesel and even jet fuel. The latter being rather fitting as this stove sounds like a jet taking off. The loud operation aside, it provides plenty of heat and will accommodate a pot of up to 10 inches in diameter.

The real benefit of this stove is level of control you get. You can boil up snow at full blast or simmer a stew at a low temperature on the same stove.

The noise does get a bit much though. If you’re only ever going to boil your food then go for the WhisperLite. If your camp cooking needs a little more finesse then this stove is a better bet.

Solo Stove Lite – Compact Wood Burning Backpacking Stove

At a Glance:

  • PrCompact and lightweight designo
  • Double wall design minimizes smoke
  • Burns hotter than regular wood stove
  • Efficient burning – uses less wood than open fire
  • A little pricey

We love the idea of free fuel but wood burning stoves can be smoky and inefficient. This cleverly designed Solo stove solves this problem.

The double wall feeds heated oxygen back into the firebox creating a secondary combustion. This results in a more efficient use of the fuel, less smoke and higher heat.

Fill it up with some hard wood twigs and you’ll boil a liter of water in 8 to 10 minutes. The stove has been designed to pair perfectly with the Solo Stove Pot 900.

You could use other pots but the stove has been designed to pack into the Solo pot for better packability.

Vargo Triad Titanium Alcohol Stove

At a Glance:

  • It doesn’t get much lighter or smaller than this
  • Fuel cost is extremely inexpensive
  • Rugged design and tough construction
  • Not great in the wind – needs a windscreen

If you’re an ultralight backpacker then this stove will fit nicely into your tiny pack. It weighs around an ounce and is 2.5 inches in diameter.

The sturdy legs fold out to make for a fairly stable stove when they’re pressed into the ground. It takes a little priming to get started but once it does you get plenty of heat while burning very little fuel.

It’s nowhere near as fast as a canister stove so you’ll have to be patient. It will boil 0.5 liters of water in 5 to 6 minutes.

Wind is not your friend when using this stove so make sure you buy (or make) a wind shield to use with it. If you’re looking for a tiny stove that’s inexpensive to run on environmentally friendly fuel then this is a great choice.

Just don’t expect to be cooking a meal for 4 people on it.

Sterno 70138 Inferno Stove Kit

At a Glance:

  • Lightweight stove / pot integrated design
  • Good performance in wind
  • Price
  • Lid is tough to remove when pot is hot
Alcohol or spirit burner stoves are normally pretty basic and susceptible to wind. The Sterno Inferno kit gives you the clean and cheap fuel option combined with a 16 oz cup and a windproof design.

The whole set weighs just over 10 ounces (without fuel) and packs down into the cup. The stove base clips out of the cup lid with legs that fold out for a secure base.

You can pack two 7 ounce cans of Sterno fuel inside the cup but you could probably use other gel or spirit fuel if you prefer.

As with other alcohol stoves, it’s not the quickest. The heat sink integrated into the bottom of the cup improves the fuel efficiency over regular alcohol stoves and takes 6 minutes to boil 8 ounces of water.

Esbit Ultralight Folding Pocket Stove with Solid Fuel Tablets

At a Glance:

  • Compact folding design
  • Quality construction – Made in Germany
  • Supplied with 30 fuel tablets
  • Price
  • Not very efficient

This stove offers the convenience of solid fuel cooking in a compact, folding design. Esbit have been making these since World War 2 so it’s a tried and tested design.

Once folded it is 3.9”x3”x0.9” and weighs just 6.3 ounces. When folding it out there are two positions to cater for a cup or a larger pot. The stove comes supplied with Esbit fuel tablets that each burn for about 12 minutes.

It’s pretty slow though and takes around 8 minutes to boil 500ml of water. The flame is virtually smokeless and, unlike other solid fuel tablets, won’t leave a residue on the underside of your pot.

The tablets will burn at high altitudes and in sub-zero conditions and can be stored for up to 10 years. The stove is made from galvanized steel and comes with a 2-year warranty.

MSR Reactor 1.7L Canister Stove System

At a Glance:

  • Boils fast – 0.5L in just 1.5 minutes
  • Very efficient
  • Excellent performance in the wind
  • Compact – all components fit into the pot
  • Price
  • No good for simmering

This newer version of the tried and tested MSR Reactor comes with a few ounces shaved off and a handy pour spout lid. This is one of the fastest boil times we’ve seen and can be attributed to the attention MSR have given to improving efficiencies.

The large pot and stable base make it a good option if you’re cooking for more than one person. Where it really shines is when you’re cooking in the wind. This is one of the few stoves that can honestly claim to be windproof.

The excellent efficiency means the canister will last you a long time too. A medium canister will last for about a week of boiling water for breakfast and dinner for two people.

It may be a little big for solo use but if you’re a party of two and you want food boiled in a hurry then the Reactor is hard to beat.

BRS Ultralight BRS-3000T

At a Glance:

  • Extremely light – weighs less than an ounce
  • Titanium Alloy is durable for its weight
  • Good flame regulation
  • Price
  • Pot support is very narrow
If you’re a gram-weenie backpacker that likes to have the “mine is lighter than yours” conversation then you’ll love this stove. At under an ounce, it’s about as light as it gets.

It’s really compact too. When you fold it up it occupies a space of only 2”x1”x1”. It isn’t the most efficient stove but it will still boil 500ml of water in just over 3 minutes. This small stove is ideal for shorter ultra-light trips.

If you’re going on longer trips then the weight you save on the stove will be negated by the need to carry an extra canister. The pot supports are a little narrow though so you’ve got to be extra careful when cooking.

The price, titanium construction, and light weight make it a good option for ultralight backpackers.

An Overview of the Different Stove Types

Canister Stoves

Pros
These stoves use canisters filled with isobutane fuel and offer the fastest heating of all backpacking stove types. The stoves are compact, light and very fuel efficient. Because the canisters are pressurized these stoves are also less susceptible to wind.

Cons
The fuel canisters are expensive and you’re not going to be able to buy them just anywhere. This is especially true if you’re traveling outside of the US. Once the canisters are empty they can’t be refilled so there’s an environmental footprint to consider. Canister stoves also don’t work very well in extreme cold so they’re not a good option for winter hiking or at higher altitudes.

Why? In spite of the higher fuel cost these stoves are probably your best bet for lightweight, convenient, 3-season backpacking. Get one with an integrated windshield and a decent flame regulator and you’ll have most of your camping cooking bases covered.

Liquid Fuel Stoves

Pros
Liquid fuel stoves will often work with kerosene, unleaded gasoline, white gas and sometimes even diesel. These are often cheaper than canisters of isobutane and easier to source. These fuels also burn in sub-zero conditions so and provide plenty of heat at a good efficiency. Once they’re up to temperature they’ll keep burning in windy conditions.

Cons
A liquid fuel stove requires the stove, a fuel bottle, and a fuel pump so they’re heavier and bulkier than the canister stoves. They take a little effort to get started, especially in wind, and the bigger flames while starting make them a fire risk. The nozzles will require some periodic maintenance. These stoves can be pretty noisy.

Why? If you’re planning on cooking for longer periods and multiple people then liquid fuel stoves are your best bet. Also, if you’re heading into snow then these stoves will work far better for melting large amounts of snow for water. Just be prepared for the added weight and space in your pack.

Alcohol Stoves

Pros
Alcohol stoves use simple containers with denatured alcohol or similar cheap fuels to produce a flame. The simple construction makes these stoves very cheap, lightweight and compact. The fuel is easy to source and burns without making any noise.

Cons
These stoves don’t produce a lot of heat so they take a long time to boil water. Because the flame is less intense they perform poorly in wind and need to be used with a windshield. Filling the stove with alcohol can get messy or even dangerous.

Why? If you need a cheap backpacking stove and you don’t mind waiting a little longer for your cup of coffee then these will do just fine. Just make sure you have a plan to deal with any wind that comes up and a safe way to store the fuel.

Solid Fuel Stoves

Pros
These stoves are really cheap due to their basic construction. Because the fuel pellets, or tabs, are solid there’s no mess or fuss when fuelling the stove. These stoves are simple to use and require nothing more than placing a pellet in the stove and lighting it.

Cons
The pellets can be a little pricey and hard to find in small towns. While they are easy to light they are very susceptible to wind. Unlike alcohol fuel, the tabs give off an odor and some will also leave a deposit under your pot. They only manage a medium flame so work very slowly.

Why? If you want a cheap, simple stove that is very compact then these will get the job done. They’re less messy than an alcohol stove but you’ll need to deal with the pricier, smellier fuel.

Wood Stoves

Pros
Having a supply of free fuel wherever you go makes wood stoves a great option for your pocket and the environment. Simply fill it with sticks, leaves and pine needles and you’re done. Not having to carry fuel with you saves space and weight in your pack. With a wood stove, you get the pleasant “campfire” effect but with a more efficient use of the heat.

Cons
If there aren’t any sticks around or if it’s been raining you’ve got no fuel. The soot produced by burning wood will blacken the bottom of your pot. The smoke the stove generates makes them impractical to use in a tent. These stoves are not safe to use during fire bans.

Why? If you’re sure that you’ll find fuel when you make camp then a well-designed wood stove can be very effective. They don’t heat very quickly but they’re more pleasant to use if you prefer more old-school methods.

Backpacking Stove Fuel Considerations

Committing to a stove type is committing to a fuel. Besides the performance of the stove, it’s worth noting the pros and cons of different backpacking fuel types.

Fuel efficiency vs weight

An easy way to think about fuel efficiency is how much fuel (in weight) you need to burn to boil 500ml of water.

As an example, you’d need to burn twice as much alcohol as gas to produce the same amount of heat. Canister stoves are also lighter and more compact than liquid stoves.

But, besides the actual weight of the fuel, it’s important to consider the weight of the container the fuel comes in.

While alcohol stoves or liquid burning stoves aren’t as efficient, if you’re looking to cut weight on a long trip they’re a good option.

Alcohol containers are lighter and less bulky than the multiple gas canisters you’d have to carry.

Fuel calculation for trips

You should only bring the fuel you need but you also don’t want to run out of fuel. So, how much fuel will you need for your trip?

Here’s an example of how you’d work it out. Let’s assume you’re boiling around 500ml of water for each meal using a canister stove.

First, work out how many times you’ll be cooking. For each cooking session on a canister stove, you’ll be using between 6 to 8 grams of fuel.

If you’re cooking breakfast and dinner for each day of a 5-day trip you’ll need at most 80g of fuel. In this case, a 110g canister would be a safe bet.

For better accuracy, you could weigh your fuel container (gas or liquid), boil a pot of water, and then weigh the container again. That will give you a fair idea of how much you’ll be using for each meal.

What to Consider when Choosing a Backpacking Stove

So you’ve decided that you like the idea of a having hot meal on your next trip but which backpacking stove should you choose? Here are a few important considerations to take into account before pressing that buy button.

Number of people in the group

Are you doing dinner for one or are you the designated chef for a group of hungry hikers? If you’re only cooking for yourself then you could go for a small, light option designed specifically for ultra-light hikers.

If you’re cooking for a few people then you’re going to need something with a larger pot support and the pot to go along with it. A liquid fuel stove would be a good option if you’re looking for a stable support for a larger pot.

It may make more sense to use two smaller stoves instead of having one person carrying a big stove.

Trip length/location

How long you’re going to be out for and the locations you’ll be in is important too. Your stove is going to need fuel and that means you’ll either have to take it with you or be able to source some fuel when you get near the start of your hike.

Gas canister stoves are great for shorter trips. The stoves are lighter and more compact than liquid fuel stoves. The problem with them is that the canisters are bulky and on a longer trip you’d need to bring more than one.

For longer trips, it makes more sense to take a liquid fuel stove. The stove may be a little bulkier but carrying sufficient fuel for the trip takes up a lot less space.

Gasoline is also a lot easier to find than gas canisters are. If you’re heading overseas or if you’re not sure about the availability of gas canisters then rather opt for a multi-fuel stove.

Compressed gas stoves don’t like cold weather. If you’re heading into higher altitude or cold weather a white gas burning liquid fuel stove will perform a lot better than a gas canister or alternative fuel stove will.

Ease of operation

Which camping stove is easiest to use? Testing your kit at home is one thing but trying to get your stove set up with cold fingers, in the rain or when you’re exhausted is a different story.

Gas canister stoves are the easiest to use and don’t need any maintenance. Screw in the canister, open the gas, light it. Done.

Liquid fuel stoves require periodic maintenance and need to be primed before use. It takes a little practice to get the right amount of fuel come through before lighting it and getting it burning properly without getting flare-ups.

Boiling or simmering

Are you looking to boil some water or warm some food by letting it simmer? Most simple hiking meals just require boiling water to rehydrate the food.

Fast boiling stoves are great at boiling some water but terrible if you need food to simmer for a while.

The MSR Windburner and Pocket Rocket stoves are great for boiling water fast and are fairly inexpensive.

If you want a camping stove that can simmer you’ll have to spend a little more and get something like the Jetboil MiniMo or Dragonfly which have great simmer control.https://amzn.to/2JKrBVT

Alcohol or solid fuel burning stoves are ok for basic simmering but take really long to boil water or regulate.

Pot and stove stability

If you’re using a smaller pot then you can get away with using a taller stove like a canister stove. As long as you’ve got a flat base to put it on then it’s not likely to fall over.

If you want to use a larger, heavier pot then you’ll need to opt for a lower profile stove like a liquid fuel stove that doesn’t sit on top of its fuel source.

Placing a big pot on top of a tall canister stove is not going to end well.

Identify your backpacking cooking style

  • Freeze-dried meals – There are some great suppliers like Mountain House or Backpackers Pantry that supply delicious meals that just require boiling water. They cook in the bag and you can eat out of it too so there are no dishes. If you’re happy to just eat these meals then a simple stove that boils water fast is all you need.
  • Freeze-dried and DIY meals – If you want a bit of variety in eating some boil in bag meals as well as some of your own DIY meals you prepared at home then you’ll need a stove that can do more than just boiling. You’ll want a stove that boils fast but also has good simmer control.
  • DIY meals – If you prefer the taste of your home cooking and only take DIY meals along then a stove with good simmer control and good heat distribution is important. Boiling speed isn’t that big a factor then unless you don’t like waiting a while for your coffee.

What type of cookware will you be using?

Your choice of pot or pan is worth considering when choosing the heat source or style of cooking you’ll be doing.

Titanium

Titanium pots are really light and very durable but they’re fairly expensive. Titanium is a poor thermal conductor and is prone to scorching and heat spots. This makes them fine for boiling water but not for cooking food that needs simmering for a while.

Anodized aluminum

Great conductivity and very lightweight. Anodized aluminum offers the versatility you’re after if you’re boiling some meals and letting others simmer.

Ceramic coated aluminum

These have the same lightweight and high conductivity properties that you get with anodized aluminum but with the added benefit of being non-stick. The non-stick coating doesn’t do well with high heat so you’ll need to be able to regulate the heat you’re using.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is heavier and less conductive but it’s a lot cheaper and very durable. It also handles high heat and flames from a wood fire a lot better.

Backpacking stove considerations – specs & features

Backpacking stove reviews and manufacturer’s descriptions will mention all sorts of specifications and features. A number of these may or may not be important to you but it’s worth knowing what each is referring to.

  • Burner size

    The size of the burner determines the size of the area of your pot that will get heated and how fast your fuel will be consumed. A smaller burner will be more fuel efficient but will produce a small hot spot on a pot with poor conductivity. A larger burner is great for simmering food but will be less fuel efficient.

  • Cooking platform

    What will be supporting your pot? If you plan on using a larger pot your cooking platform, or supports, need to be big enough. If you want the versatility to be able to use large or small pots then choose a stove with expandable supports.

  • Regulated or unregulated (canister fuel)

    Canister stoves will either be regulated or unregulated. An unregulated stove relies on the pressure inside the canister to force the fuel out. As the canister becomes emptier, or if the outside temperature drops, the internal pressure will drop and you’ll get a weaker flame as a result. A regulated stove will give you the same flame strength regardless of how full the canister is or how cold the weather is. The addition of a regulator does add to bulk and weight, though.

  • Integrated ignition

    Some stoves need to be lit by an external source while others have a built-in ignition source. Integrated ignition is very convenient but it does add some extra weight and can fail. You’ll need to carry a lighter as a backup.

  • Simmer control

    Simmer control refers to the ability to regulate the strength of the flame. Some stoves will deliver a flame that burns full speed only and these are great for fast boiling. If you want to be able to have your food simmer then you’ll need to be able to regulate the flame.

  • Wind protection

    Using your stove in windy conditions can be challenging. The wind will disperse the heat and could extinguish the flame. Some stoves will have integrated wind-shields while others will require the use of make-shift or specialty windscreens.

    Canister stoves present a particular challenge as completely covering the stove could cause the canister to overheat. The physical separation between burner and fuel tank with liquid fuel stoves means you can use a tighter windshield around the burner.

  • Stove weight & packed size

    While weight and size are always important, reduced weight will come at a performance or feature cost. It’s not enough to focus purely on the size or weight of the stove. These considerations need to be balanced with the weight and bulk of the fuel canisters that also need to be carried. Additional features like simmer control and integrated ignition may be worth the extra ounces added to your pack.

  • Average boil time

    How long are you prepared to wait for your water to boil? Besides the time factor, the average boil time also gives you an idea of the fuel efficiency of the stove. Canister and liquid fuel stoves have short average boil times while alternative fuel stoves will take longer, and burn more fuel before bringing water to the boil.

  • Stabilisers

    Canister stoves have fairly narrow bases so they’re prone to falling over if you’re not careful. Some have integrated stabilizers or you could buy them separately. These help to keep the stove from tipping over and are especially handy if the surface is a little uneven.

  • Flame control

    Flame control refers to the ability of the stove to regulate and vary the amount of heat it delivers. If you’re only interested in boiling then you probably don’t care about this but if you’re looking to have your food simmer, and not burn, then you need to be able to control the flam. A stove with a wide range of simmer control will give you more control, especially if you want to cook something really slowly.

  • Cooking vs boiling

    A stove that can boil can’t necessarily be used for cooking. If you’re packing basic meals that just need rehydration then boiling is fine. If you prefer heating some DIY meals then you’ll need a stove with better flame control to be able to cook it more slowly.

  • Priming

    Canister stoves do not need to be primed but most liquid fuel stoves need to be primed. The burner needs to be preheated so that the liquid fuel burns efficiently as a gas and gives you a hot blue flame. Priming involves getting a small amount of fuel into the small reservoir under the stove, lighting it and then waiting a few minutes for the fuel to burn up and heat the burner.

  • Fuel efficiency

    You don’t want your fuel to run out before the end of your trip but you also don’t want to carry more fuel than necessary. The fuel efficiency of a stove refers to how much fuel it burns to produce a certain amount of heat. While the efficiency can be greatly affected by conditions and operator, better quality stoves will generally heat more efficiently than cheaper ones will.

  • Versatility

    Do you want your stove to do more than just boil a single serving of food? A versatile stove will allow you to use a range of pot sizes and will be able to both boil quickly as well as simmer slowly. Some liquid fuel stoves also offer you the versatility of using multiple fuel types like white gas, gasoline, kerosene or even diesel.

  • Winter use

    As conditions become colder, canister stoves become less effective. The best backpacking stove for winter use is a liquid fuel stove. Getting it primed properly in the wind can be challenging but once it’s going it burns efficiently in even the coldest conditions.

  • Can you take it on a plane?

    If you’re planning on flying to your backpacking destination then you’ll probably have to leave your canister stove back home. Or you’ll at least have to leave the gas canisters behind and hope you can get fuel on the other side. If you’re traveling internationally then finding gas canisters can be tricky. A multi-fuel stove is a better option. You can find gasoline or diesel pretty much anywhere.

To Canister or not to Canister

Should you go for a canister stove? Well, it depends. It really comes down to which of the following pros and cons are a deal breaker for you:
Pros:

  • Canister stoves are a lot lighter and more compact than liquid stoves
  • A single gas canister weighs less than a single liquid fuel bottle
  • No priming required
  • No maintenance required
  • Canister stoves are cheaper than liquid stoves

Cons:

  • On longer trips multiple gas canisters will be heavier and bulkier than the equivalent amount of liquid fuel
  • Canister stoves perform poorly at altitude and in cold weather
  • Gas canisters have a greater environmental impact than liquid fuel (energy input, few recycling options)
  • Fuel availability – not everyone sells gas canisters, tough to find overseas
For winter hiking or longer trips, a liquid stove is your best bet. For weekend hikes in milder temperatures, a canister stove is tough to beat.

Fuel type

Canister stove – Uses a mix of butane and propane, or isobutane and propane, in a pressurized canister.

Liquid Fuel Stove – Most of these stoves will burn a few different liquid fuels:

  • White gas – cleanest burning but hard to find in rural areas or abroad
  • Automotive gasoline – lights easily, easy to find but fuel additives can clog your stove
  • Diesel – easy to find but is tough to light and smells bad when burning
  • Kerosene – Easy to find in most hardware stores and burns easily and fairly cleanly

Alcohol Stove – Burns either ethanol or denatured alcohol

All in one systems vs canister stoves

The simplicity and low cost nature of a canister stove makes them very attractive but there are some great integrated all-in-one systems available from the likes of MSR.

Canister stoves are small and light but can be a little unstable and inefficient, especially in windy conditions. The simmering capability of a canister stove makes it a better bet if you want to do more than just boiling.

Most all-in-one systems are very efficient, perform well in wind but are only really suited for boiling. But they do it fast.

The integrated windshield and efficient direction of the flame make these super fast. Integrated systems are more expensive but they use less fuel and the pot doubles as a mug too.

Backpacking Stove Accessories

Even the best stove could do with a little accessorizing. Here are a few cool optional extras to consider throwing in with your backpacking stove.

  • Piezo igniters

    A piezo igniter uses a piezo crystal to generate a spark that you can use to ignite the gas of your stove. The igniter doesn’t use any fuel so you can use it for ages and it’s lightweight and tiny.

    You need to get the spark right up against where the gas is coming out but it’s a lot easier than trying to get a lighter or matches into a tight spot to light the stove. A piezo igniter is also going to make lighting your stove in windy conditions a lot easier too.

  • Steel Striker

    If you’re more of an old-school, back to basics, kind of backpacker then you probably already have a steel striker and flint in your pack.

    Getting your backpacking stove going with one of these feels infinitely more satisfying than using a lighter. Also, a steel striker will still work in rain or snow when other ignition sources fail.

  • Fuel bottles

    Your liquid burning stove may have come with a fuel bottle but it’s always worth having a backup.

    On longer trips, the overall weight might make it worth buying a bigger fuel bottle rather than carrying two smaller ones.

  • Coffee accessories

    MSR and some other integrated stove manufacturers make cool coffee press kits that turns your Windburner stove into a coffee brewer.

    The French press attachment fits on top of the pot and makes sure you get your cup of coffee without carrying too much extra kit.

Stove usage tips

Regardless of how good the stove is that you bought, the performance you experience will largely be down to how you operate it. Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your stove:

  • Only cook outside your tent. Using your stove inside your tent could cause carbon monoxide poisoning and is a fire hazard too.
  • Make sure your stove is on a level surface. Sure it’s standing now, but the slightest incline could become a problem when you add the weight of a pot on top of the stove.
  • If you sit on the ground next to your stove, make sure you are on the balls of your feet. Sitting cross-legged means that if the stove were to tip over, you’d be unable to get out of the way fast enough, and risk getting burnt.
  • Make sure you have a backup igniter.
  • Gas and liquid fuel can be dangerous. Always check fuel lines and connections for any damage or leaks before lighting.
  • Find a sheltered spot or use a windshield to reduce cooking time and improve efficiency
    Use a heat exchanger to improve efficiency
  • Turn it down. If your stove has a regulator valve then don’t default to using it at 100%. Cooking may take a little longer but you’ll save fuel.
  • Use a lid. Trapping heat inside your pot will reduce cooking time and improve efficiency
    Use a wider pot. With a narrow pot the flames will often creep up the side and waste heat
  • List item

Tips for liquid stoves

  • Carry a small bottle of alcohol for priming. Alcohol burns cleaner and will leave your stove soot free.
  • Don’t overfill your fuel container. Leave enough room to cater for the air you’ll be pumping in when you pressurize it.
  • If your white gas has been sitting in that bottle for a while rather replace it or filter it before using it so you don’t clog up your stove.

Tips for canister stoves

  • In cold weather try to keep the canister warm. Placing it in your sleeping bag at night or on you while hiking will maintain the internal pressure and it’ll burn better when you use it.
  • If you’re going to use a canister stove at altitude then get one with a pressure regulator. You’ll be able to get your gas / air ratio just right for an efficient burn.
  • Even though your stove manufacturer recommends using their canisters only, as long as the thread matches other brands will be interchangeable.
  • Isolate the bottom of your stove when cooking on snow to prevent ice from forming around the base.

How to measure remaining fuel

If you have an accurate scale at home you could weigh an empty canister and a full one to get your full and empty weights.

When weighing a partially used canister you’ll now have a good idea of how much gas is left over. If you’re not in the habit of backpacking with a scale then you’ll need to check it another way.

Drop the canister in some water and watch how it flips upside down and settles in the water. The more gas it has, the lower it will sit in the water. Some MSR canisters have lines on the canister indicating where the water will come up to indicate full and empty.

If your canister didn’t come with these helpful water lines you could make your own. Place an empty canister in the water and mark the water line and then do the same with a full canister.

Now use these measurements to mark the full and empty lines on the canisters you’ll be taking on your trip. If you’re an experienced backpacker you’ll eventually just be able to slosh the canister around to listen and feel how much fuel is left over.

Brief history of portable stoves

Your backpacking stove isn’t quite as novel an idea as you may have thought. The Japanese can be credited with some of the earliest portable stoves and were using portable charcoal grills way back in the 1600’s.

In the mid-1800’s Alexis Soyer introduced the joys of glamping to the world with his “Magic Stove”. Some well-heeled genteel people wanted to enjoy cooked meals while dining al fresco.

Being the flamboyant chef that he was, Alexis made it happen with the first gas stove of its kind. In the late 1850’s it was used by soldiers in the Crimean war and even made it into the kit of arctic explorers.

Towards the end of the 19th century, it was succeeded by the better known Primus stove.

The Primus stove became so popular at the time that newspapers said of it: “so certain in its operations that a gentleman may cook his steak or chop on his study table, or a lady may have it among her crochet or other work.”.

Well, we’ve not used our backpacking stove while crocheting but it does boil up a cup of dehydrated trail food pretty nicely.

Leave a Comment