Backpackers want a stove that is lightweight, dependable, and will get the job done quickly after a long day on the trail. Thankfully, the market is full of both time-tested models and newer, more innovative designs. From all-in-one setups made exclusively for boiling water fast, to those that cook gourmet meals in the most alpine of conditions, there’s a stove to match every need. Below we break down the top backpacking stoves of 2018, including leading canister, liquid, and multi-fuel models. For more background information, check out our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
 

1. MSR WindBurner Stove System ($150)

MSR WindBurner backpacking stoveFuel type: Canister
Weight: 15.25 oz.
All-in-one system: Yes
What we like: An all-in-one stove system with excellent windy weather performance.
What we don't: No built-in igniter and a little heavy.

With the increased quality and selection of dehydrated backpacking meals, many of us now use a stove primarily to boil water. If this sounds like you, an integrated canister system like the MSR WindBurner is an excellent option. You get all-in-one functionality with an included pot that attaches to the stove via a heat exchanger, making it more both extremely efficient and weather resistant. Water boils in a matter of minutes, and considering that you don’t need an additional pot, the total weight and cost are perfectly respectable.

In terms of quality, just about everything about this stove from the honeycomb burner to the lid seems well made and has stood up over time. Most of all, 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. In terms of capacity, the standard 1-liter WindBurner is great for one or two backpackers, but for larger groups we recommend the 1.8-liter version. And for those who don’t plan on using their stove in the wind, the Jetboil MiniMo below is another popular integrated stove system and $15 cheaper.
See the MSR WindBurner Stove System

 

2. MSR Pocket Rocket 2 ($45)

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 backpacking stoveFuel type: Canister
Weight: 2.6 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Lightweight, inexpensive, and a surprisingly strong burner.
What we don’t: Integrated canister systems are more stable and windproof.

In terms of weight, simplicity, and price, it's hard to beat the MSR Pocket Rocket. Updated to the “2” last year, the stove appeals both to ounce counters and those on a budget. Notable changes to the new model include an even lower weight (our Pocket Rocket 2 is 2.6 ounces vs. 3.1 ounces for the original), along with redesigned supports that pack down smaller and can accommodate a wider range of pot diameters. But what we love most about the Pocket Rocket hasn’t changed: it has a surprisingly powerful burner for its size and good temperature control.

Our top two picks represent significant differences in design. If keeping weight low is one of your primary concerns, a simple screw-on stove like the Pocket Rocket 2 or Snow Peak LiteMax below are your best options. That said, the Pocket Rocket isn’t as fast to boil or wind resistant as an integrated canister system like the WindBurner, plus you’ll need to add a pot to the mix. Both rely on a fuel canister for their base, which can be tippy on rough ground (especially when cooking with a detached pot rather than simply boiling water with an all-in-one system). For extra stability, we’ve like the MSR Universal Canister Stand (although it adds a bit more weight and cost to your setup).
See the MSR Pocket Rocket 2

 

3. Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System ($135)

Jetboil MiniMo backpacking stoveFuel type: Canister
Weight: 14.6 oz.
All-in-one system: Yes
What we like: Built-in igniter, good simmer control, wide-mouth opening.
What we don't: Not great in the wind, which is common in the alpine.

The popular MiniMo continues a long line of excellent integrated stove systems from Jetboil. And with an upgraded temperature regulator for vastly better simmer control and cold weather performance, the MiniMo is a far cry from the all-or-nothing burner of the past. In terms of features and functionality, the 1-liter cooking cup is wrapped in a neoprene sleeve for safe handling, set up and take down is quick and easy, and the MiniMo boils water extremely fast.

What differentiates the MiniMo from the MSR Windburner above? The Jetboil has a built-in piezo igniter, which adds convenience to the start-up process (although historically, these igniters tend to fail all too quickly). Additionally, it’s slightly lighter and the flame adjustment on the MiniMo makes it a great candidate for cooking as well as boiling water. But the MSR performs better in wind by a healthy margin, which is why we give it the nod despite the $15 increase in price. If you don’t plan on using your stove in windy conditions, the MiniMo is a great choice.
See the Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System

 

4. MSR Reactor 1.7L Stove System ($220)

MSR Reactor stoveFuel type: Canister
Weight: 17 oz.
All-in-one system: Yes
What we like: Efficient burner and fast boil time.
What we don’t: Expensive and overkill for most backpacking

The MSR Reactor is expensive and getting a little long in the tooth, but it’s still a top choice for melting large amounts of snow or boiling water quickly with minimal fuel waste. Along with the WindBurner above, the protective housing, efficient burner, and stable design make it one of the best we’ve tested for cooking in tough conditions. In choosing between the two MSR models, the WindBurner is the more versatile and affordable option for backpackers, but we recommend the Reactor if you need the stronger burner (9,000 BTUs vs. 7,000 BTUs) or larger capacity pot (up to 2.5 liters).

We’ve ranked the Reactor stove very highly on our list in the past, but with models such as the WindBurner and MiniMo being better fits for all but discerning alpinists, the Reactor may soon become obsolete. Unlike the MiniMo, it cannot simmer. Further, the Reactor did malfunction during our testing, failing to light at temperatures below 5°F (a backup WindBurner saved the day). That said, as one of the only truly windproof stoves, the Reactor is popular for cold weather and high elevations, and we still see alpine climbers using it more than any other stove.
See the MSR Reactor Stove System

 

5. Jetboil Flash Cooking System ($100)

Jetboil Flash (2018) Cook SystemFuel type: Canister
Weight: 13.1 oz.
All-in-one system: Yes
What we like: Super fast boil time and a great price.
What we don’t: Only excels at boiling water.

Jetboil’s updated Flash has all the ingredients that make integrated cook sets so popular: simple set up, fast boil time, and enough space in the pot to store the burner and a small fuel canister. The Flash is Jetboil’s mid-range offering and includes a 1-liter pot, which is great for 1 or 2 backpackers, and upgraded features like a built-in igniter and a heat indicator on the outside of the insulated cozy (although we find the latter to have questionable value). The Flash doesn’t perform nearly as well in blustery conditions compared with the WindBurner above, but it does save you a significant $40 and is more than 2 ounces lighter.

Within Jetboil’s lineup, we prefer the MiniMo over the Flash, although the Flash still is a fine option for those who only need to heat water. The MiniMo has superior heat control and simmers far better, which is important if you plan to cook diverse meals. And the wider MiniMo is easier to eat directly out of than the rather tall and narrow Flash. Where the Flash excels is boil time and value, and saving you $35 from the MiniMo is enough to get it high on our list.
See the Jetboil Flash Cooking System

 

6. GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 4 Season ($80)

GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 4 SeasonFuel type: Canister
Weight: 5.8 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Cold weather functionality and compact size.
What we don't: Less efficient than an integrated system.

GSI is known for its quality and innovative cookware sets, but is relatively new to the backpacking stove market. The 2018 lineup includes the standard screw-on Pinnacle, which goes head-to-head with the Pocket Rocket above, as well as a versatile 4 Season model. As the name indicates, the 4 Season is designed for cold conditions with a separate stove base and fuel line that allow you to flip your isobutane/propane canister upside down (inverting the canister improves heating efficiency in freezing temperatures).

We tested the GSI Pinnacle 4 Season on the Huemul Circuit in Patagonia and came away impressed. Overall, it was easy to operate with good simmer control, stability, and a compact folding design. One notable downside of the stove is the extra weight at 5.8 ounces versus 2.4 ounces for the 3-season version, and we found that it wasn't nearly as fast at boiling water as the all-in-one Jetboil MiniMo we had along for the trip. But we do appreciate the added stability compared to a screw-on stove, and if you travel light and don't want to compromise on performance as temperatures drop, the Pinnacle 4 Season is a solid choice.
See the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 4 Season

 

7. MSR WhisperLite Universal ($140)

MSR WhisperLite Universal StoveFuel type: Canister/Liquid
Weight: 14.9 oz.
All-in-one system: No
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 canisters and liquid, the WhisperLite Universal is a go-to stove among traveling backpackers. No matter where your destination is, you should be able to find fuel (we found the flexibility very helpful when traveling recently in Peru). And it’s not a bad performer domestically either. If you need the convenience and simmering capabilities of a canister stove, you’ve got it. When you require a workhorse at high elevations, swap in the white gas. And the WhisperLite is a cinch to maintain–an essential feature for adventures in far-off regions.

Our testers found that the WhisperLite Universal performed consistently well at 15,000-17,000 feet and boiled water reasonably quickly in temperatures well below freezing. You are, however, paying a price for the multi-fuel capability. The stoves costs $140 and boils water more slowly than all-in-one options like the similarly-priced MSR WindBurner. And for liquid fuel only, the standard WhisperLite costs only $90.
See the MSR WhisperLite Universal

 

8. Snow Peak LiteMax ($60)

Snow Peak LiteMax Backpacking StoveFuel type: Canister
Weight: 1.9 oz. 
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Very light and well made.
What we don’t: Price jump for minimal weight savings.

For ultralighters that scoff at the “heavy” MSR Pocket Rocket 2 above, the Snow Peak LiteMax is a similar screw-on design but with higher-end and lighter materials. A mix of titanium and aluminum reduces the total weight to an impressive 1.9 ounces, making it one of the lightest canister stoves on the market (it is beat out by the BRS Ultralight below). You also get great flame adjustability, the support arms offer a pretty wide base, and the LiteMax burns hot for a stove of this type.

What are the downsides of the LiteMax? Japan-based Snow Peak is known for craftsmanship and the LiteMax is beautifully made, but it’s also an extremely slow boiler. We took one on a summer backpacking trip in the North Cascades and could literally boil multiple pots of water with our MSR WindBurner is less time than it took one pot to boil with the LiteMax. Further, stability is compromised by the ultralight design. The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 isn’t a standout in stability or boil time either, but it still beats out the LiteMax in both categories (and costs $15 less).
See the Snow Peak LiteMax

 

9. MSR DragonFly ($140)

MSR Dragonfly Backpacking StoveFuel type: Liquid
Weight: 17.8 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Multi-fuel, unmatched flame control, stable base.
What we don’t: Noisy, loud (see a thesaurus for more synonyms).

For those who like the fuel versatility of the MSR WhisperLite Universal but are particular about flame adjustment, MSR created the DragonFly. Like the WhisperLite Universal, this stove burns multiple kinds of liquid fuel, including white gas, kerosene, and even unleaded auto fuel and diesel. But it has an even more stable design that is both efficient and able to handle large cookware. Another calling card of the DragonFly 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 its noisy roar (third party sound dampeners actually are available, which says something). Moreover, it’s one of the bulkiest stoves on the market and the design is not ideal for windy endeavors. But for precision cooking at basecamp with flexibility in fuel choice and cookware, the DragonFly is your best bet.
See the MSR DragonFly

 

10. Optimus Crux Lite Solo System ($60)

Optimus Crux Lite Solo SystemFuel type: Canister
Weight: 9.6 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Compact and lightweight
What we don’t: Not as reliable as the Pocket Rocket.

For a convenient stove and cookware combination at a reasonable price, check out the Optimus Crux Lite Solo. This kit includes a canister stove, a pot with retractable handle, and lid that doubles as a frying pan—all held together in a mesh storage bag and weighing under 10 ounces total. A 4-ounce canister fits perfectly into the pot, allowing you to carry all of your cookware in one compact package.

Keep in mind that the Optimus Crux Lite is not for gourmet meals. It’s known for its finicky flame adjustment, and the included pot only offers 0.6 liters of capacity. Furthermore, while we appreciate the convenience, a quick check of the math reveals that the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 with a comparable cookset like the Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium gets you an almost 2-ounce weight savings (although it will put you out almost $40 more). But for an affordable solo kit and a good weight, the Crux Lite is a fine option.
See the Optimus Crux Lite Solo System

 

11. Etekcity Ultralight Portable Stove ($12)

Elekcity Ultralight Portable stoveFuel type: Canister
Weight: 3.3 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Really, really cheap and still works.
What we don’t: Inferior performance.

At a double-take-worthy price of $12, the Etekcity Ultralight doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but its performance stacks up surprisingly well to standalone stoves from MSR, Snow Peak, and others. The generic design—we’ve seen very similar models under the name Icetek Sports—doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but offers decent flame control and reliability for casual backpackers. The stove functions in a similar way to the MSR Pocket Rocket above, running on isobutane/propane canisters, and includes folding pot supports and a push-button igniter. Just like Jetboil stoves, the igniter can be finicky in use.

At such a low cost, there are a few letdowns in the build. For one, the stove doesn’t burn nearly as efficiently as the Pocket Rocket or LiteMax, so you will go through a fuel canister in a shorter amount of time (this can add up, particularly on longer trips.) Moreover, the stove doesn’t do well in the wind and will take longer to boil at full power. But for first timers with reasonable expectations, the Etekcity is an intriguing budget option.
See the Elekcity Ultralight Portable Stove

 

12. Primus Omnilite T1 ($200)

Primus Omnilite T1 stoveFuel type: Liquid
Weight: 8.4 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Lighter and less bulky than the WhisperLite Universal.
What we don’t: Expensive; reports of maintenance issues.

Primus shaved ounces off their popular multi-fuel stove by giving the Omnilite T1 a premium titanium build. The result is a stove that is lighter and less bulky than both MSR’s WhisperLite Universal and DragonFly, without sacrificing too much in the way of sturdiness. And like the DragonFly, the Omnilite T1 has a burner that is noisy enough to wake your camp mates in the morning. 

At $60 more than the competition, we’re not sure the Omnilite T1 has enough standout features to make it worth the extra cash. It does sport an aluminum pump instead of MSR’s plastic build, giving it a bump in durability. On the other hand, the Omnilite isn’t as easy to maintain as the WhisperLite Universal and DragonFly (one of the biggest upsides when traveling with the MSR stoves). But for those on the hunt for a liquid fuel alternative to MSR, and who aren’t opposed to the hefty price tag, the Omnilite T1 is worth considering.
See the Primus Omnilite T1

 

13. Trangia Spirit Burner ($12)

Trangia Spirit BurnerFuel type: Alcohol
Weight: 3.9 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: A standout alcohol stove with a thoughtful design.
What we don’t: Weaker flame than canister or liquid fuel options.

For thru hikers and ultralighters looking for an alternative to bulky canister stoves, denatured alcohol designs are a popular option. Some people create their own with a simple tin can, but purchasing a model like the Trangia Spirit adds some convenient features to the mix. With a durable brass construction that includes a “simmer ring” to adjust the flame, the Spirit burns efficiently and provides more temperature control than most other alcohol stoves. Moreover, a screw-on lid allows you to store excess fuel in the stove rather than pouring it back into your container (and inevitably wasting a few drops).

Alcohol stoves might have their place, but they’re certainly not for everyone. The heat output is a great deal less than a canister or liquid stove, and not sufficient for boiling water or melting large amounts of snow in a hurry. And unlike more expensive denatured alcohol models like the Caldera Cone, you’ll need to purchase a pot stand/windscreen for the Spirit (or surround it with rocks to prop up your pot). But for those looking for a quality, minimalist alcohol stove with just the right amount of features, this is our top pick.
See the Trangia Spirit Burner

 

14. MSR XGK EX ($160)

MSR XGK EX StoveFuel type: Liquid
Weight: 17.2 oz.
All-in-one system: No
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 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 casual backpackers—the XGK EX’s extra heft and lack of a temperature control limit its appeal. Simply put, it’s overkill for most (heck, even the name is a mouthful). But for high altitude adventures or expeditions where a reliable and effective stove is imperative (you know who you are), check out the MSR XGK EX.
See the MSR XGK EX

 

15. BRS Ultralight Stove ($18)

BRS Ultralight StoveFuel type: Canister
Weight: 0.9 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: The lightest stove money can buy.
What we don’t: Small and weak pot supports.

The BRS Ultralight might seem like just another budget canister stove, but take a closer look. It’s crazy lightweight, clocking in at less than one ounce. Made primarily with titanium alloy, it’s about half the size of the Snow Peak LiteMax (the next lightest stove on our list) and boils water at roughly the same pace. Not only that, but it’s $42 less. So why the low ranking?

In sum, this stove is a pretty niche piece of gear. Although it does have a simmer function like the Pocket Rocket or LiteMax, it doesn’t work very well and the small pot supports limit your cooking vessel to a narrow mug or pot. In reality, the BRS Ultralight is suitable for boiling water and not much more. Further, we’re skeptical about the reliability of such an inexpensive, lightweight model that substitutes aluminum for brass on many vital parts. But as a backup stove or for ounce counters looking to shave even more weight, it’s a viable ultralight option.
See the BRS Ultralight Stove

 

16. Solo Stove Lite ($70)

Solo Stove Lite stoveFuel type: Wood
Weight: 9 oz.
All-in-one system: No
What we like: Burns efficiently, simple design.
What we don’t: Some wilderness areas are too fragile for a wood-burning stove.

The Solo Stove Lite is a very cool concept: instead of using gas, the stove burns off biomass (small pieces of wood, pinecones, etc.) from around your campsite. And a number of features set this model apart from other wood stoves. The double-wall design allows the flame to feed off both wood and smoke, creating a stronger flame, and a burn plate at the base prevents your fire from leaving its mark on the ground beneath. Further, the simple, easy-to-maintain design offers an all-in-one windscreen and pot support that packs down into the stove body for compact carrying.

At 9 ounces, the Solo Stove Lite is not ultralight, and it does not keep up with liquid or canister stoves in terms of boil time. In addition, you’ll need to be traveling below tree line to use this stove, and you need to be careful not to use it in areas with fire restrictions or rules against clearing a campsite of twigs. The Stove Lite’s design does, however, allow it to function also as a denatured alcohol burner, giving it added versatility. All in all, for those looking to avoid carrying fuel or wanting the novelty of a wood-burning stove, this is our top pick.
See the Solo Stove Lite

 

17. Esbit Pocket Stove ($11)

Esbit Folding Pocket StoveFuel type: Tablets
Weight: 3.25 oz.
All-in-one system: No
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. Its best uses are as a backup or emergency stove, not a primary stove, and some people even use 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 may be 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 Fuel Type Weight All-In-One Boil Time
MSR WindBurner Stove System $150 Canister 15.25 oz. Yes 4.5 min (1L)
MSR Pocket Rocket 2 $45 Canister 2.6 oz. No 3.5 min (1L)
Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System $135 Canister 14.6 oz. Yes 2.25 min (.5L)
MSR Reactor Stove System $220 Canister 17 oz. Yes 3.5 min (1L)
Jetboil Flash Cooking System $100 Canister 13.1 oz. Yes 1.6 min (.5L)
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 4 Season $80 Canister 5.8 oz. No 3.9 min (1L)
MSR WhisperLite Universal $140 Canister/Liquid 14.9 oz. No 3.5 min (1L)
Snow Peak LiteMax $60 Canister 1.9 oz. No 4.5 min (1L)
MSR DragonFly $140 Liquid 17.8 oz. No 3.5 min (1L)
Optimus Crux Lite Solo System $60 Canister 9.6 oz. Yes 3 min (1L)
Etekcity Ultralight Stove $12 Canister 3.3 oz. No Not reported
Primus Omnilite T1 $200 Liquid 8.4 oz. No 2.7 min (1L)
Trangia Spirit Burner $12 Alcohol 3.9 oz. No 10-15 min (1L)
MSR XGK EX $160 Liquid 17.2 oz. No 3.5 min (1L)
BRS Ultralight Stove $18 Canister 0.9 oz. No Not reported
Solo Stove Lite $70 Wood 9 oz. No 8-10 min (1qt)
Esbit Pocket Stove $11 Tablets 3.25 oz. No Variable

 

Backpacking Stove Buying Advice

Fuel Types: Canister vs. Liquid

The vast majority of 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 most backpackers a canister stove is your best option. If, however, you're still deciding between the two fuel options, we've broken down the primary considerations below.
MSR Reactor (cooking)

Canister (Isobutane/Propane) 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 ounce (110g) or 8 ounce (220g) canisters are significantly more compact than bringing along a 20 to 30-ounce liquid 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 (especially with an advanced design like the Jetboil MiniMo) 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/propane 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)
  • Many of the smallest stoves on the market are canister stoves
     

Cons:

  • Suffer in cold weather
  • Disposal of used canisters can be a hassle
  • Carrying multiple canisters adds weight
  • Not always available overseas
  • Canisters are generally not reusable and thus create more waste

Backpacking stove (fuel)

Liquid-Fuel Stoves
Stoves that are set up to run on liquid fuel, like the MSR Whisperlite Universal, have a fuel line that connects to a separate refillable bottle. Most liquid fuel stoves run on white gas, and more and more we’re seeing models that can run on multiple fuel types (like the MSR WhisperLite International and DragonFly). 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 and bulk)
  • Various compatible fuels often available in U.S. and internationally
  • You 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 is heavier overall than one or two isobutane canister(s)
  • Not available in a compact, integrated system like canister stoves
  • Expensive

Liquid Fuel Stove (MSR WhisperLite)

All-In-One Systems vs. Canister Stoves

If you fall into the large group of backpackers that is best served by choosing a stove powered by an isobutane/propane canister, the next step is deciding which type of system is the best choice for you. The two most common designs are simple canister stoves and all-in-one systems, and both have their intended uses and pros and cons.
Boiling Water (Jetboil MiniMo)

A canister stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 screws on top of a fuel canister, and a pot or frying pan is then perched on top. This style of stove is the lightest type available, although generally less stable and less efficient (especially in the wind). That said, canister stoves have simmering capabilities and are far more affordable than all-in-one systems. For backpackers who use their stoves for more than just boiling water and don’t need a particularly windproof flame, a canister stove is an excellent choice.
Backpacking stove (in hand)

On the other hand, an all-in-one setup like the MSR WindBurner is much more streamlined. This system consists of a burner, heat exchanger, and pot that all secure to the top of a fuel canister. With the standard size being 1 liter, these stoves often are designed for solo backpackers, but can also work well for 2 or more people in a pinch. Most models (the Jetboil MiniMo is an exception) don’t  simmer well and thus are used primarily as a means to boil water for dehydrated meals and hot drinks. With a built-in handle and insulated cozy around the pot, these vessels can pull double duty as a mug for eating or drinking (the MSR Reactor is a notable exception). Although a little tall, all-in-one systems are often more stable than screw-on stoves like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 because every part 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 (including our top-ranked WindBurner and Reactor systems) 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. True, you can buy pan attachments for the JetBoil, but they don’t heat as evenly as something like the MSR DragonFly, and flame control often is lacking.
Adding water to meal (stoves)

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

Stove Weight and Packability

Like most backpacking gear, weight is an important consideration when choosing a stove. A quick check of the table above shows that standalone models like the BRS Ultralight and Snow Peak LiteMax are the clear leaders at less than 2 ounces, and they’re small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It’s important to note that these do not include pots like the all-in-one systems, although integrated models can be easily undercut by combining a standalone stove with a lightweight pot (we cover this in detail in our ultralight cookset section below).

Nearly every model that made our list is what we consider light and packable enough for backpacking, although our weight tolerance will vary based on conditions. For example, a liquid fuel stove like the MSR XGK EX is well worth its 17.2-ounce weight—which doesn’t include a fuel bottle or pot—at high elevations or in the extreme cold. On the other hand, it’s overkill and too heavy for typical summer backpacking trips.
MSR Pocket Rocket 2 (case)

Flame Control: Simmering Quality

Those that plan to do more than just boil water will want a stove with quality flame control. Nearly all backpacking stoves have a dial or twist valve to adjust the height of the flame, but built-in regulators and advanced valve systems improve a stove’s ability to put out consistent heat. Cheap burners typically don’t have the ability to run smoothly at a low heat. All-in-one systems like the Jetboil Flash often are among the worst with flame control—they’re best at just full heat for boiling water—but the MiniMo from Jetboil is a positive indication that this will change. One of the all-time best models for backcountry chefs is the liquid fuel MSR DragonFly, which has very precise controls, a windscreen, and an extremely stable base for excellent cooking abilities. Other stoves that simmer well include MSR’s WhisperLite Universal and Pocket Rocket 2.
GSI Pinnacle (simmer)

What Is a Piezo Igniter?

You’ll often see canister-style stoves with a built-in starter, referred to as a push-button or Piezo igniter. With a simple push of a button (after loosening the fuel control valve), an electric spark lights your stove. This handy tool does add a tiny bit of weight and can have a small impact on a stove’s packed size, but the convenience factor is significant for some backpackers.

What are the pros and cons of a built-in igniter? 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.
Jetboil MiniMo (piezo)

Ultralight Cooksets

There are a number of ways to cut weight and packed size from your current stove system. A common setup is combining a lightweight screw-on style canister stove, like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 (2.6 ounces) with an ultralight cookset like the titanium MSR Titan Kettle (4.2 ounces). Throw in a lightweight spork and you have a stove system in the ballpark of 8 ounces (without the fuel canister), and everything will nest inside the .82-liter pot. That’s not too shabby and considerably lighter than the integrated systems on our list. In addition, Optimus makes the budget-friendly Crux Lite Solo system (stove plus an aluminum pot and lid/frying pan for $60), which weighs less than 10 ounces total.

There are a few sacrifices in choosing this stove and pot setup. Although very lightweight, the independent stove and pot is not as efficient at boiling water as an integrated system and will waste more fuel. Additionally, titanium is prone to hot spots, which makes it a less ideal choice for more advanced meals. That being said, it’s hard to beat the ease of use and weight of this type of pairing.Backpacking stove (night)

Alternative Fuel Stoves

Toward the bottom of our list, we’ve included a few of our top alternative fuel picks: stoves that use denatured alcohol, wood, or tablets as fuel. These models have their niche uses, especially among the ultralight and thru-hiker communities, and are preferred for their ease of maintenance, affordable price, and lightweight design. However, they cannot hold a candle to the heat and flame control provided by a canister or liquid fuel stove.

Wood-burning stoves appeal primarily to backcountry travelers who enjoys the novelty of an actual fire. Moreover, one huge benefit of these stoves is the ability to collect your fuel as you go—a great option for those heading out for long-term sojourns in the woods. The Esbit stove is another fringe piece: the small cubes don’t burn as hot as other fuel, and are known to leave a sticky mess on the bottom of pots. Lastly, denatured alcohol stoves have become popular for their eco-friendliness and the ease of acquiring fuel in small resupply towns along trails. DIY hikers can even craft their own: use a hole punch to cut holes along the rim of a tuna fish or cat food can, add denatured alcohol, and voilà, you have a lightweight backpacking stove for under $10.

With alcohol, Esbit, and the wood-burning Solo Stove Lite, keep in mind any potential regulations and make sure to check before your trip begins. Based on fire concerns, a couple of years ago Rocky Mountain National Park 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 places. Wood-burning 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

Whether it’s backpacking across Europe or cycling through South America, a reliable stove that can run on fuel that’s readily available locally 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 couple from MSR: the WhisperLite Universal and DragonFly.
Bikepacking (MSR WhisperLite)

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 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.
Back to Our Top Backpacking Stove Picks  Back to Our Backpacking Stove Comparison Table

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