Backpackers want a stove that is dependable, durable, and will get the job done quickly after a long day on the trail. Thankfully, the market is full of proven designs that perform well in nearly all conditions. Backpacking stoves can be broken into two main categories based on their fuel type: isobutane/propane canister and liquid-fuel stoves. Generally, canister stoves are compact and less expensive, while liquid fuel stoves are a bit bulkier but excel in colder, more extreme conditions. MSR is the market leader for both types with a strong reputation for making high quality stoves, but a number of other outdoor companies like Jetboil and Snowpeak are on the radar as well. Below are our picks for the best backpacking stoves of 2016. For more background information, check out our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
 

1. MSR WindBurner ($130)

MSR WindBurner backpacking stoveType: Canister-fuel stove system
Weight: 15.25 oz. for the full kit.  
Best for: Boiling water and cooking simple meals for 1-2 backpackers.
What we like: Integrated system, cold and windy weather performance.
What we don't: No built-in igniter and a little heavy.

For boiling water for freeze-dried meals or coffee in the morning, there is no better stove type than the canister stove system. These stoves offer all-in-one functionality because the pot locks onto the stove (for this reason, they also are more stable), and they burn very efficiently. Jetboil had the integrated sit-on-top stove market cornered for years, but MSR has overtaken them with our favorite stove on the market, the WindBurner.

The WindBurner boils water fast and has all the features necessary to cook and eat in a single pot. The standard 1 liter pot is great for one or two backpackers, but for larger groups, we recommend the 1.8 liter. Everything from the lid to the honeycomb burner is well made. And we love the windproof design: after lighting the stove and snapping everything into place, the enclosed burner brings water to a boil quickly, even in gusty conditions. It’s true that the WindBurner is heavy and a little pricey, and we’d appreciate the convenience of a built-in igniter, but for solo backpackers on a food regimen of instant oatmeal, coffee and freeze-dried food, there isn’t a more efficient choice. 
See the MSR WindBurner

 

2. MSR WindPro II ($100)

MSR WindPro II StoveType: Canister-fuel stove
Weight: 6.6 oz.
Best for: Cooking real meals in the backcountry.
What we like: Great stability and temperature control without a weight penalty.
What we don't: A bit pricey for what you get.

The MSR WindPro II is one of our all-time favorites—we’ve used it for many years and counting without any maintenance. Instead of a screw-on or integrated system that sits vertically on the cansiter, the WindPro II has a separate fuel line with the canister off to the side. Accordingly, the center of gravity is lower and the support arms are larger and more stable (we’ve seen many dinners ruined by toppled sit-on-top stoves).

In addition to its practical design, the MSR WindPro II is easy to set in place, has an adjustable boil to simmer flame, and comes with an aluminum windshield for faster cooking. It’s also better at holding larger pots than the screw-on style stoves below, making it a viable option for a couple or small group of backpackers. We prefer the lighter WindPro II over the similar MSR WhisperLite below. The latter, however, uses a refillable white gas container instead of canisters, which burns hotter and makes gas usage easier to measure. 
See the MSR WindPro II

 

3. MSR Reactor (from $190)

MSR Reactor stoveType: Canister-fuel stove system
Weight: 14.7 oz. for the 1-liter kit.
Best for: Boiling water at high elevations and in cold temperatures.
What we like: By far the most alpine-ready all-in-one stove system. 
What we don’t: Big price jump from other stoves on this list.

Canister fuel systems often suffer at high elevations and in cold temperatures, but not the MSR Reactor. Thanks to a super efficient and powerful burner, the Reactor is built to handle extreme alpine conditions with aplomb, quickly melting large amounts of snow into drinkable water or cooking food. In fact, the WindBurner above is based on this successful burner design but has been adapted for the more casual weekend backpacker with a built-in cozy and handle. Between the two, we recommend the Reactor if you need the high elevation capabilities or have a large capacity pot (you can get a Reactor in a 2.5-liter size). Otherwise, most normal backpackers will be best served with the more flexible and affordable WindBurner.
See the MSR Reactor

 

4. MSR WhisperLite Universal ($140)

MSR WhisperLite Universal StoveType: Multi-fuel stove
Weight: 11.5 oz.
Best for: International travelers.
What we like: Multi-fuel compatibility and easy maintenance.
What we don’t: A bit heavy for backpacking.

With the ability to run on a number of different kinds of fuel, including both liquid and canisters, the WhisperLite Universal is a go-to stove for overseas travelers. This means that you can use nearly any type of fuel at your destination (travelers to remote places like Patagonia will appreciate the flexibility). It’s also a cinch to maintain, which can be essential during extended travels in far-off regions. 

The WhisperLite Universal is not a bad performer domestically either. With a stable base and the ability to run on white gas, this backpacking stove can be a workhorse at high elevations. You are, however, paying a high price for the multi-fuel capability: it’s essentially the same design as the MSR WindPro II above but $40 more expensive. Domestic backpackers may prefer to hone in their fuel type and save some dough, but for international adventurers who want to stay flexible, the WhisperLite Universal still stands above the rest.
See the MSR WhisperLite Universal

 

5. Jetboil MiniMo ($130)

Jetboil MiniMo backpacking stoveType: Canister-fuel stove system
Weight: 14.6 oz. for the full kit.
Best for: Summer backpacking, cooking and boiling water for 1-2 backpackers.
What we like: Built-in ignitor, good simmer control, wide-mouth opening.
What we don't: Lacks in windy weather performance, pricey.

Their best stove to date, the MiniMo continues a long line of excellent integrated systems from Jetboil. And with an upgraded temperature regulator for vastly better simmer control, the MiniMo is a far cry from the original Jetboil, which was an all on or all off kind of affair. Much of what made those stove systems popular is still here, however. The 1-liter cooking cup wrapped in a neoprene sleeve makes for safe handling, set up and take down (as well as storage) is quick and easy, and it's a fast water boiler.

Differentiating it from the WindBurner above is the built-in igniter, bringing added convenience to the start-up process. It does, however, fall short in windy weather compared with the WindBurner by a good margin and tacks on a few extra bucks, which we feel is unwarranted. The head-to-head comparison with the WindBurner pushes it down our list, but the MiniMo remains a great option, particularly for those that will appreciate the improved valve and easy eating large diameter pot.
See the Jetboil MiniMo

 

6. MSR Pocket Rocket ($40)

MSR Pocket Rocket StoveType: Canister-fuel stove
Weight: 3 oz.
Best for: Budget and ultralight backpacking.
What we like: Very light, packs down small, dependable performance.
What we don't: Stability issues and slower boiling time than other canister stoves. 

For simplicity, weight and price, it's hard to beat the MSR Pocket Rocket. At around 3 ounces and $40, this popular lightweight backpacking stove screws directly to the top of an isobutane/propane canister without a fuel line (this means that the fuel canister serves as the base of your stove). To alter the flame intensity, just twist the built-in flame adjuster. 

If you can create a flat and stable surface for your stove and are careful while cooking, the MSR Pocket Rocket works great. The design does mean that the center of gravity is higher than stoves above that sit directly on the ground with the canister to the side, and the overall surface area of the pot support arms is smaller too. For extra stability, we’ve had success with and recommend the MSR Universal Canister Stand.
See the MSR Pocket Rocket

 

7. MSR DragonFly ($140)

MSR Dragonfly Backpacking StoveType: Liquid-fuel stove
Weight: 14 oz.
Best for: Camp chefs in the US or abroad.
What we like: Multi-fuel, unmatched flame control, stable base.
What we don’t: Noisy, loud (see a thesaurus for more synonyms).

The MSR DragonFly is a do-it-all backpacking stove. First, it burns multiple kinds of liquid fuel, including white gas, kerosene, unleaded auto fuel, and diesel. For the international traveler, this means you can cook up local delicacies around the globe no matter your access to a certain type of fuel. Second, it has very stable design that is both efficient and able to handle large cookware. And the DragonFly’s calling card is its simmer and flame control. Camp chefs will love the combination of hot flames and precise adjustments from simmer to boil. Just don’t expect a peaceful environment while you’re making those gourmet meals: the DragonFly is known for the roaring sound that is noticeably louder than other liquid-fuel models. 
See the MSR DragonFly

 

8. Snow Peak LiteMax ($60)

Snow Peak LiteMax Backpacking StoveType: Canister-fuel stove
Weight: 1.9 oz. 
Best for: Ultralighters who appreciate the highest quality gear.
What we like: Weighs less than the Pocket Rocket and is more stable.
What we don’t: 50% price jump for 1 ounce of weight savings.

For ultralighters that scoff at the “heavy” MSR Pocket Rocket above, the Snow Peak LiteMax is a similar screw-on design made with higher-end materials. A mix of titanium and aluminum reduces the total weight to an incredible 1.9 ounces, yet the support arms are even more stable than the Pocket Rocket. We still recommend, however, taking extra care while cooking with a stove of this design. 

Japan-based Snow Peak is known for craftsmanship and the LiteMax is beautifully made. It does come at a cost: you’re spending $20 more than the Pocket Rocket for minimal weight savings. You do get great flame adjustability, the LiteMax burns hot for a stove of this type, and the support arms even provide a little wind protection. Is this an absolutely necessary upgrade? Probably not, but we love it nevertheless.
See the Snow Peak LiteMax

 

9. MSR XGK EX ($160)

MSR XGK EX StoveType: Liquid-fuel stove
Weight: 13.2 oz.
Best for: High elevation expeditions, extreme alpine conditions.
What we like: Durability and cooking speed.
What we don't: Cost and weight, lacks the flame controls of the DragonFly.

For expeditions and extreme conditions, you won’t find a tougher or more weather-resistant backpacking stove than the MSR XGK EX. It has extra wide feet for stability in poor conditions and can bring large pots to a boil in a matter of minutes (mountaineers can’t rely on running water and often use their stove to melt snow and ice). The MSR XGK EX also uses a number of fuel types including kerosene, white gas, and diesel. On the whole, the stove is hot, fast, and as durable as they come.

This is not the stove that we recommend for the casual hiker—the extra heft and lack of a temperature control limit its appeal. But for high altitude adventures or expeditions where a reliable and effective stove is imperative (you know who you are), we recommend checking out the XGK EX.
See the MSR XGK EX

 

10. BioLite CampStove ($130)

BioLite CampStoveType: Alternative fuel stove
Weight: 33 oz.
Best for: Car camping or luxury backpacking.
What we like: No fuel bottles or canisters.
What we don't: Bulky and heavy, relies on finding fuel.

The BioLite CampStove is a very cool concept: instead of using gas, the stove burns off biomass (small pieces of wood, pinecones, etc.) from around your campsite. The heat powers a small fan to keep the flames going strong and extra electricity can be used to charge small electronics through a USB outlet (you don’t really need to bring your iPhone backpacking, do you?). 

All in all, the stove functions well and the wood is able to create a reasonably hot flame, but the chamber needs to be re-loaded every five minutes or so to maintain high heat. Depending on where you’re camping, there may be restrictions on having a fire or clearing out a campsite of twigs. It’s also bulky at 33 oz. and 8.25 inches tall. We do love the concept and eco-friendliness of the BioLite stove—no more gas canisters to carry or throw away—but it’s too heavy for our tastes.
See the BioLite CampStove

 

11. Esbit Pocket Stove ($11)

Esbit Folding Pocket StoveType: Alternative fuel stove
Weight: 3.25 oz.
Best for: Minimalist backpacking
What we like: Cheap and ultralight.
What we don’t: Cooks slowly, messy and stinky, and no flame control.

For those going ultralight and who don’t use their stove often, the Esbit is a true test of your minimalist loyalties. Powered by solid fuel tablets, this system is lightweight and bucks the need for canister or liquid fuel systems altogether. It’s best uses are as a backup or emergency stove, not a primary stove, and some people even use it the Esbit for day hiking to heat up beverages and small meals. For the weight and price, it’s a pretty decent option for these purposes.

Each fuel tablet weighs 0.5 ounces and offers about 12 minutes of burn time, but cooking is much less efficient than canister or liquid fuel systems and you have little control over the intensity. You also may find a sticky residue on the bottom of pots and pans from burned up tablets. As a final note, there are new restrictions on using Esbit or alcohol stoves in at least one U.S. National Park due to the potential fire danger (see our buying considerations below for more information).
See the Esbit Pocket Stove

 

Backpacking Stove Comparison Table

STOVE PRICE WEIGHT BOIL TIME TYPE INCLUDES
MSR WindBurner $130 15.25 oz. 2.5 min.
(.5L)
Canister stove system 1L pot, burner, lid, canister stand, bowl
MSR WindPro II $100 6.6 oz. 3.6 min.
(1L)
Canister, 
Liquid feed
Windscreen, heat reflector, canister stand, stuff sack
MSR Reactor $190 14.7 oz. 3.5 min.
(1L)
Canister stove system 1L pot, burner, lid
MSR WhisperLite Universal $140 11.5 oz. 3.5 min
(1L)
Hybrid-fuel Fuel pump, windscreen, heat reflector, parts kit, stuff sack
Jetboil MiniMo $130 14.6 oz. 2.25 min.
(.5L)
Canister stove system 1L pot, burner, lid, canister stand, bowl
MSR Pocket Rocket $40 3 oz. 3.5 min.
(1L)
Canister,
Sit-on-top
Soft and hard-sided case
MSR DragonFly $140 14 oz. 3.5 min
(1L)
Multi-fuel,
Liquid feed
Fuel pump, windscreen, heat reflector, parts kit, stuff sack
Snow Peak LiteMax $60 1.9 oz. 4.5 min
(1L)
Canister,
Sit-on-top
Stuff sack
MSR XGK EX $160 13.2 oz. 2.8 min.
(1L)
Multi-fuel,
Liquid feed
Fuel pump, windscreen, heat reflector, parts kit, stuff sack
BioLite CampStove $130 33 oz. 4.5 min.
(1L)
Wood burning USB cable, firelighter, stuff sack
Esbit Pocket Stove $11 3.25 oz. Variable Fuel tablets 6 Esbit fuel cubes


 

Backpacking Stove Buying Advice

 

Canister Fuel vs. Liquid Fuel

Nearly all backpacking stoves run on either isobutane/propane fuel canisters or traditional liquid fuel. Reasons for choosing one type over the other will vary based on your needs, but for the vast majority of backpackers a canister stove is your best option. From there, it’s down to deciding whether you want an integrated system or separate stove and pots/pans setup. If however, you're deciding between the two fuel options, we've broken down the primary considerations below:
Stoves for backpacking
Isobutane / Propane Canister Stoves
A mix of primarily isobutane and propane, or IsoPro as it’s referred to by MSR, is the most popular type of fuel used for backpacking. The 4 oz. (110g) or 8 oz. (220g) canisters are significantly more compact than bringing along a 20 to 30 oz. fuel bottle and have enough fuel to accommodate weekend trips or longer. The fuel burns very clean, can be set to either simmer or boil quickly (depending on the stove type) and heats very efficiently. But it’s not the end-all and be-all of backcountry fuel (that perfect fuel actually doesn’t exist, but these canisters are about as close as we get). Below we detail the most significant pros and cons of the isobutane mix:

Pros:

  • Easily found in the U.S. (although thru hikers may still need to plan ahead)
  • Simple to use
  • Burns clean
  • Fast performer in mild weather and at lower elevations
  • Self-sealing canisters are easy to store and transport
  • Universal threading between brands (don’t have to match MSR stove with MSR fuel)
  • Smallest stoves on the market are canister stoves


Cons:

  • Suffers in cold weather
  • Disposal of used canisters
  • Carrying multiple canisters adds weight
  • Not always available overseas
     

Liquid-Fuel Stoves
Stoves that are setup to run on liquid fuel have a fuel line that connects to a separate refillable bottle. Most liquid fuel stoves run on at least white gas, and many, including the MSR stoves that made our list, can run on multiple fuel types. The advantages of the multi fuel capabilities include being able to take these stoves overseas, but they are bulky items. 

Pros: 

  • Cold weather performance
  • White gas tends to burn hotter than canister stoves
  • Can bring a single, refillable fuel bottle (less waste)
  • Various compatible fuels often available in US and internationally
  • Can actually see how much fuel is remaining (less fuel anxiety)


Cons:

  • Slower setup and use (you often have to pump)
  • For short trips, liquid fuel heavier overall than one or two isobutane canister(s)
  • Not available in a compact, integrated system like canister stoves
  • Expensive

 

Canister Stove Systems

 MSR WindburnerIf you fall into the large group of backpackers that are best served by choosing a stove powered by an isobutane/propane canister, the next step is deciding whether or not a complete stove system is the best choice for you. These all-in-one setups consist of a burner, heat exchanger and pot that all sits on top of (and screws into) a fuel canister. They often are designed for solo backpackers with a small 1-liter pot, but the system can also work well for 2 or more people in a pinch. Most models have a built-in handle and insulated cozy around the pot, which lets them pull double duty as a bowl to eat out of (the larger MSR Reactor is a notable exception). Although a little tall, the systems are often more stable than screw-on stoves like the MSR Pocket Rocket because every part of the system is interconnected.

Jetboil can be credited with igniting the integrated stove craze thanks to their lineup of cook systems that now span a wide range of models. MSR followed suit with a number of compelling stove options that further push how quickly and easily these personal systems can boil water. The clear advantage of the integrated system is efficient heating: when everything is so tightly connected, the system heats faster and uses less fuel. However, the smaller pot and smaller diameter burner means it’s more of a one-trick pony. Yes, you can buy pan attachments for the JetBoil, but they don’t heat as evenly as something like the MSR WindPro II and flame control often is lacking.

Verdict: If you plan to heat up water for your meals, we suggest picking up an integrated stove system. Our favorites are the new MSR WindBurner and the tried-and-true Jetboil Flash or new MiniMo. If you’re the camp chef type that requires greater flame and simmer control, we suggest a stove like the MSR WindPro II or the liquid-fuel DragonFly that offer exceptional fine-tuning of the heat output and a wider base to accommodate pots and pans of various sizes. If you’re of the ultralight persuasion, you can cut weight by combining a screw-on canister stove with a lightweight pot.
Adding water to meal (stoves)

Flame Control

If you plan to do more than boil water, you may want to avoid a canister stove system and pick up a stove with a flame control. This feature will often be readily apparent in pictures because you will see an attached control valve. This regulates the amount of fuel in a precise manner to raise or lower flame intensity. And while we have highlighted above that liquid fuel stoves are often better for these kinds of precise cooking, this is not a universal truth. Independent of fuel type, there are some products that let you simmer and others that simply do not. It’s best not to assume that a liquid fuel stove will have an adjuster (the MSR XGK EX does not), just as it’s not a good assumption that a canister stove will not adjust well (the WindPro II has solid functionality). 
MSR WindPro simmer

Piezo Igniters: Are They Worth It?

You’ll often see upgraded canister-style stoves with a built-in starter, referred to as a Piezo igniter. With a simple push of a button (after loosening the fuel control valve), your stove is lit. Piezo lighters save time and are particularly helpful in windy conditions when a match could easily be blown out. On the downside, if they do fail (and some have been known to stop working over time), you have a useless protrusion stuck to the side of your otherwise fully functioning stove. Should this happen, however, you can continue to light the stove the old fashioned way. No matter what, we always suggest bringing some backup matches for the just in case. 

Overall, we find having the igniters to be a nice, if not essential accessory. There are some stoves, however, where we would definitely prefer an included Piezo push igniter, like the MSR Windburner, because it would allow the stove to light easily in wind (our one complaint in an otherwise excellent design). Instead, it requires a protected environment to light, and then once everything is put back together, the stove really shines.

 

Ultralight Cooksets

There are a number of ways to cut weight and packed size from your current stove system. A common setup is combining an ultralight screw-on style canister stove, like the MSR MicroRocket or Snowpeak LiteMax, with an ultralight titanium cookset. Snowpeak makes the excellent Mini Solo Cookset (1 titanium pot and dish), which weighs less than 6 ounces. A quick check of the math for both the MSR and Snowpeak stoves gives you a complete stove system in the ballpark of 8 ounces (without the fuel canister), and everything will nest inside the .82-liter pot. Not too shabby.

There are a few sacrifices in this type of setup. Although very lightweight, the independent stove and pot is not as efficient at boiling water as an integrated system. Additionally, titanium doesn’t conduct heat as well, further slowing boil times. As a result, you might have to carry an extra canister on a longer trip, adding precious weight. Stick to overnight or weekend trips that won’t require the extra fuel, and it’ll be hard to beat the ease of use and weight of this pairing.
Backpacking stove comparison

Alternative Fuel Stoves

More extreme ultralight options include the Esbit stove featured in our alternative fuel section. This is more of a fringe piece: the small cubes don’t burn as hot as other fuel, and as a result, boil water rather slowly. They also are known to leave a sticky mess on the bottom of pots. What is beyond doubt is that the stove is simple, easy to use (if you can keep the flame protected from wind) and light. If those characteristics align with your stove requirements, consider picking up this cheap stove for light and fast trips.

Ultra-long distance hiker Andrew Skurka’s backpacking strategies aren’t for everyone, but one of his savviest concepts is a do-it-yourself backpacking stove made from a cat food can. With a cat food can (or a tuna fish can for larger pots), a hole punch, and denatured alcohol, you can make your own lightweight backpacking stove for under $10.

With alcohol, Esbit or even the wood-burning BioLite stoves, keep in mind any potential regulations and make sure to check before your trip begins. Based on fire concerns, Rocky Mountain National Park recently banned alcohol and Esbit stoves because they lack a shutoff switch or valves. Thus far, this is the only location we are aware of that does not allow the stove, but it’s worth keeping in mind should the policy expand to other areas. BioLite stoves may not be usable in areas that ban twig collecting (meaning you'd have to bring in your own fuel). The lesson here is to do your homework before heading out on a trip to see if they have any restrictions on fuel type.

 

Tips for International Travelers

A liquid-fuel backpacking stove is a popular choice to bring along for overseas adventuring. Whether it’s backpacking across Europe or cycling through South America, a reliable stove is an absolute must. And the multi-fuel stoves that we detail in our picks above can run on most every type of fuel you may find. Our favorites include a lineup from MSR: the WhisperLite International and Universal, as well as the DragonFly.

It’s always a good idea to research what types of fuel are most common at your destination. Due to airline restrictions, you cannot carry any of the fuel on the plane with you. Some travelers have even run into issues with stoves fuel lines that haven’t been properly cleaned out creating some security delays during transport. It’s our recommendation when researching to dig a little deeper than a basic country guidebook. Don’t be satisfied knowing that the destination country has the fuel available, but get to know (as best you can) how readily available it is and how often can you refill during your travels. 

As a final recommendation, make sure to be familiar with the quirks of your stove before heading out. Unleaded fuel will burn a lot dirtier than white gas or a canister, so make sure you’re savvy in how to quickly clean the fuel lines. Having reasonable expectations for what fuel will be available as well as knowing the ins and outs of your stove will make your travels that much more enjoyable.

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