- 1 Overview
- 2 Top Things to Consider
- 3 Best Backpacking Stoves
- 3.1 Best Canister Stoves
- 3.2 Best Liquid Stoves
- 3.3 Best Alcohol Stoves
- 3.4 Best Wood Stoves
Unless you are hardcore enough to forgo hot meals in favor of cold food, then a reliable backpacking stove is of the utmost importance. When I go backpacking, I tend to use mine twice a day.
In the morning, I boil water for coffee so I can start the day off right. The hot liquid does a great job of warming me up and the caffeine buzz gets me ready to hike.
Once we have settled in to camp for the night, I boil water to hot soak my freeze dried or dehydrated meal. On backpacking trips, I always consume the most calories at dinner. It is the perfect time to settle down, hang out with the crew, and enjoy a hot supper.
Choosing the best possible backpacking stove for your needs can be a difficult task. There are a lot of options out there, and it is not always clear what the pros and cons are for each one. For that reason, I wrote this guide to help you decide on the right one. Continue reading to learn about the different types of stoves available, which ones I like best, and why.
Top Things to Consider
Size and Weight
If a piece of gear is going in your backpack, then it should be as lightweight and compact as possible. If you live by this rule, your body will thank you and your legs will carry you many more miles.
Your backpacking stove is no exception to this, but it requires some additional calculations to be made. This is because you must also carry fuel — a consumable — for your stove to work.
Your stove’s level of efficiency will determine how much fuel you need to bring, which adds some weight to the equation. For this reason, I think of my stove, fuel, canister, lighter and pot as a stove kit. Each can be weighed separately, but they are all needed to perform the function of boiling water.
Type of Stove
There are a lot of backpacking stoves available for sale, so it is important to know what they are, how they work, and why they exist. To begin sifting through the hoard, we will need to sort them by type. There are a few determining factors at play here. The main consideration is fuel. What does the stove use for fuel, how does it burn that fuel, and how is that fuel carried?
See below for a list of the types of stoves out there, along with descriptions, advantages, and disadvantages.
By far, the most popular type of stove backpackers use are canister stoves. This type of stove screws onto an aluminum fuel canister that holds a mixture of isobutane, propane, and butane (n-butane). The canister sits flat on the ground (or a rock) and the stove sits upright. In most cases, this makes for a relatively sturdy cooking surface.
The canisters are available in different sizes that hold the following amounts of fuel: 4 oz, 8 oz, and 16 oz. When full, a canister’s respective weight varies, depending on the manufacturer. In general, the weight breaks down like this:
- 4 oz: 6.8 oz
- 8 oz: 12.6 oz
- 16 oz: 22.8 oz
Ultimately, the reason canister stoves are so well liked is because they are lightweight, easy to use, work well, and burn clean. The biggest downside of them is the fuel canister itself.
First, the canister is a loose item with a somewhat substantial weight. Second, the manufacturers strongly discourage that you refill them, so after your hike you are left with a problem. After a few backpacking trips, you will end up with several used canisters. As I write this, I am reminded of a few currently sitting in our garage.
Most recycling centers will accept your canisters, but make sure to burn off any remaining fuel and crunch it down beforehand. To aid this process, pick up one of these:
Jetboil Crunchit Recycling Tool:
Canister Brands and Performance
You DO NOT have to buy a particular brand of fuel canister for your canister stove to work. Anything will do. However, the brand does impact cold weather performance. In my experience, MSR does better than others when temperatures dip below 50° F.
The wind can hurt your efficiency too, so make sure to keep your stove sheltered from it. To help with this, you might want to consider making a wind screen from aluminum foil.
MSR IsoPro Fuel Canister:
Integrated Fuel Canister Stoves
Many backpackers like to use integrated fuel canister stoves because they boil water fast, have Piezo (push-button) igniters, and feature screw-in, insulated pots, which are more stable. I am not convinced by these models, the most popular being JetBoil.
Some may find them slightly more convenient than a normal canister stove, but they are heavier, bulkier, and only good for boiling. Good luck trying to cook food in one of these doodads! Even the ones that claim they can do it are useless.
We tried it once on a backpacking trip to Grand Gulch, Utah and ended up with scrambled eggs seasoned with teflon. It was disgusting, and our JetBoil overheated, thereby melting the plastic components at the stove’s base. Why on earth would you use plastic on a stove?
Many backpackers will argue that liquid fuel stoves are the most versatile of the bunch. Typically, this type of stove consists of a burner with foldout legs and a fuel line that runs into a fuel pump.
Unlike canisters, liquid fuel stoves burn hot no matter how cold it is. That is why mountaineers and alpinists tend to prefer them. When you trek across glaciers and snowfields, you have to melt snow to make water. Without a functional stove, you could be in a world of hurt.
In addition, liquid fuel stoves are better for the environment than canisters. This is because they use refillable fuel bottles, which happens to be extremely convenient too. They also provide you with the ability to simmer, so if you plan to cook gourmet meals, you need one.
Another benefit to liquid fuel stoves is that they are not exclusive to one type of fuel. Suppose you are hiking in the wilderness of a foreign country and run out of fuel. Most villages do not stock isobutane canisters or white gas. However, there is a good chance they will have kerosene or diesel, and it is always nice to have fallback options.
Still, there are some notable drawbacks to liquid fuel stoves. They are prone to disrepair and require maintenance on an annual basis (at minimum) to upkeep. They also have a lot of parts and require that the operator is knowledgable on how everything works together. My number one critique is that they are too heavy and bulky for my liking.
How to Use a Liquid Fuel Stove
To feed fuel into the line, attach the pump to a refillable bottle and pressurize it with a couple dozen strokes. Then, open the control valve to release some liquid fuel into the priming cup on the stove. Close it, then ignite the small pool of fuel.
The flames can get pretty high, so stand back and watch until they die down. Once they are almost gone, open the control valve slightly. If you see a blue flame, then the stove is working properly.
If you are the DIY type, then I suggest assembling your own alcohol stove. You can make them from a beer, soda, or cat food can, and there are a gazillion tutorials online that teach you how. Try a Google Search for “DIY alcohol stove” and sort through the listings until you find a suitable match.
Alcohol stoves are increasingly popular among ultralight backpackers because they are both lightweight and efficient. Plus, the parts are widely available and basically free. Let’s face it, you were going to pound that Pabst anyway, amirite?
Pure ethanol, high proof liquor (> 190 proof), denatured alcohol, methanol (not preferable due to toxicity), or isopropanol can all be used to fuel an alcohol stove. This means, fuel is easy to find and can be kept in a container of your choosing. If you decide to go with Everclear, you can even combine it with water and an Emergen-C packet to make a backpacker’s cocktail!
Despite all of the perks, homemade alcohol stoves are a bit fussy and can be difficult to light when it is below freezing out. Also, they do not produce as much heat as other types of stoves, so you have to hold it in with an impervious wind screen. During blistery conditions, this can prove to be a frustrating task.
If you want an alcohol stove and are too lazy to make one, then I suggest ordering one of these.
Lately, I have been seeing more and more wood stoves flood the market. Many of these models are designed and built by brilliant engineers. Some of them are made from titanium and, as a result, are extremely lightweight. A few are collapsible and take up almost no space.
Perhaps, the most attractive thing about a wood stove is that its fuel source is free, plus sticks and twigs are bounteous on most hikes. If you have ever cooked over an open campfire, you know how good food can be. With a wood stove, all of your meals will taste that way. Unfortunately, it will not take long for your pot to get covered in ugly black soot.
If you can get past that, then there is one other obstacle to be aware of: When it rains like hell and all of your kindling sources are sopping wet, getting a fire started can be difficult. As preparation, I like to coat cotton balls in Vaseline and stick them in a Ziploc.
Best Backpacking Stoves
Below are my recommendations for the best backpacking stoves in no particular order. Because each stove type has its own advantages and disadvantages, I have included choices for each category: Canister, Liquid, Alcohol, and Wood.
Best Canister Stoves
Note: Boil times vary depending on elevation and are based on one liter of water.
- Weight: 2.6 oz
- Boil Time: 3 min 30 sec
- Heat: 8,200 BTUs
I have used the same MSR Pocket Rocket for the better part of a decade and it has never let me down. Since then, MSR has released a smaller, lighter version of the original. It weighs 2.6 oz and boils 1 liter of water in 3.5 minutes.
- Weight: 1.9 oz
- Boil Time: 4 min 25 sec
- Heat: 11,200 BTUs
The LiteMax is a small, dependable, and lightweight stove with arms that fold inward. This makes for a compact package that fits neatly in the stuff sack provided with the unit. At 11,200 BTUs, this stove puts out a lot of heat.
- Weight: 2.3 oz
- Boil Time: 4 min
- Heat: 11,000 BTUs
The Soto WindMaster is an excellent stove that performs well in cold weather. It includes two detachable pot supporters, one with three arms for small pots and the other with four for big ones. The WindMaster also has a built-in igniter that works great.
Note: If you are worried about losing the pot supporters and do not need a built-in igniter, try the Amicus instead.
- Weight: 3.3 oz
- Boil Time: 3 min
- Heat: 10,200 BTUs
The Optimus Crux Lite is a tiny, compact stove with foldable arms and an included stuff sack. It has an impressively fast boil time, but is not as effective in the wind.
- Weight: 0.9 oz
- Heat: 9,200 BTUs
Weighing less than an ounce, the BRS-3000T takes the prize for world’s lightest canister fuel stove. It also costs less than $20, which makes it an absolute steal. Consequentially, it has gained a lot of notoriety among thru-hikers on shoestring budgets.
However, its build quality is somewhat questionable for long term use. There have been reports of the titanium alloy melting when subjected to high flame. If you run the flame low you should not have any problems, but be forewarned.
Best Liquid Stoves
- Weight: 11.5 oz
- Boil Time: 3 min 30 sec
Without a doubt, the MSR WhisperLite is the longest tenured, infallible standard of liquid fuel stoves. Since 1982, MSR has consistently manufactured these units with exceptional quality. Of the liquid fuel stoves MSR makes, the WhisperLite is the smallest, lightest (11.5 oz), and most efficient.
It is important to note that there are three WhisperLite models. Here are the differences:
- WhisperLite: Burns white gas. Not compatible with other fuel types.
- WhisperLite International: Burns white gas like the base model, but also burns kerosene and unleaded auto fuel.
- WhisperLite Universal: The most versatile of models. Compatible with all types of fuel that the International version burns, plus the addition of canister fuel (isobutane, propane, and butane).
- Weight: 6 oz
The Kovea Spider is a simple, affordable, and lightweight (6 oz) stove that burns canister fuel (isobutane, propane, and butane). However, if you turn the canister upside down, it can burn that fuel as liquid fuel. This gives it the ability to operate in cold temperatures, unlike screw-on canister stoves. The Spider is a great option for backpackers that need a four-season stove.
- Weight: 11.5 oz
- Boil Time: 2 min 40 sec
If you are looking to cook gourmet meals in the backcountry, you are going to want something that can simmer like nobody’s business. The MSR Dragonfly (14 oz) does that, but it is heavier than the Primus Omnilite Ti (11.5 oz).
Because it is made from titanium, the Omniite Ti is light and stable. It works with auto fuel, kerosene, and aviation fuel.
Best Alcohol Stoves
- Weight: 3.8 oz
- Boil Time: 8 min
The Trangia Spirit Burner is the best all-around, easiest to use alcohol stove available for sale. The twist-on cap with o-ring makes it possible to seal the burner shut so you can easily reuse unconsumed fuel. For the price (< $15), this unit is hard to beat.
- Weight: 3.5 oz
Intended as a backup for their wood burning stoves, the Solo Stove Alcohol Burner works well as a standalone too. It takes 5-7 minutes to burn 32 fl oz of water and features a flame regulator so you can control/extinguish the flame.
Best Wood Stoves
- Weight: 4 oz
- Boil Time: 3 min 10 sec
Available in both titanium (4 oz) and steel (6 oz) versions, the Firebox Nano is an inventive stove that folds up small enough to fit in your shirt pocket. It accommodates small or large pots and offers a large range of possibilities for cooking. Follow the Firebox Stove YouTube channel for some great ideas.
The Nano makes for an extremely effective wood burner, but also gives you the option to drop a Trangia Spirit Burner in (it fits perfectly).
- Weight: 9 oz
The Solo Stove Lite is an ultra-efficient, lightweight (9 oz), wood burner that fits into a 900 ml pot. With a few twigs, sticks, pine cones, or other biomass you can get this stove flaming hot enough to boil water. For a few extra bucks, tack on the accessory kit and get a windscreen, alcohol burner, Swedish FireSteel, and Tinder on a Rope.
- Weight: 3.5 oz
Compatible with Esbits and Trangia burners, the Emberlit FireAnt Titanium Ultralight is lighter than the original stainless steel version. However, its panels are somewhat susceptible to warping. You will not have this problem with the Firebox Nano, which costs the same amount. Still, I decided to include the FireAnt Titanium because it receives a lot of praise from backpackers that own it.