Backpackers need 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 2019, including leading canister, liquid gas, alcohol, and wood-burning models. For more background information, check out our backpacking stove comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 13.1 oz.
What we like: Super fast boil time and a great price.
What we don’t: Only excels at boiling water.
With the increased quality and selection of dehydrated meals, many backpackers now use their stove primarily to boil water. If this sounds like you, an integrated canister system like the Jetboil Flash is an excellent option. This all-in-one stove offers fast boiling with an included insulated cozy that attaches directly to the stove via a heat exchanger, making it efficient and weather resistant. The Flash can boil one liter of water in around 3.5 minutes, and considering that you don’t need an additional pot, the total weight of 13.1 ounces is fairly reasonable. For backpackers making pouch meals and hot beverages, it’s our favorite backpacking stove of 2019.
What are the shortcomings of the Jetboil Flash? In tough conditions, MSR’s Windburner and its burlier design offers better performance in the wind (for a notable $50 and 2.2 ounces more). In addition, Jetboil’s own MiniMo and MicroMo below include simmer control (the Flash is more of an on or off operation), but both models boil slower and cost more. Finally, the Flash certainly isn’t ultralight by thru-hiking standards—but keep in mind that most other stoves require carrying a pot, which will add at least a few ounces even for the thinnest titanium models. All in all, it’s tough to beat the boiling speed, price, and ease of use of the Flash, which is why it’s ranked here.
See the Jetboil Flash Cooking System
Best Ultralight/Budget Backpacking Stove
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 2.6 oz.
What we like: Lightweight, inexpensive, and a surprisingly strong burner.
What we don’t: Integrated canister systems are more stable and windproof.
If keeping weight and cost down are your top priorities, MSR’s Pocket Rocket 2 is a streamlined screw-on stove that should get the job done. This tiny stove attaches directly to the top of an isobutane canister, allows for nice simmer control, weighs just 2.6 ounces all-in (.5 ounces less than the previous version), and takes up very little space in your pack. With a surprisingly powerful burner for its size and price tag of less than $50, the Pocket Rocket 2 is one of the most popular backpacking stoves on the market.
Keep in mind that the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 lags behind the Jetboil Flash and other integrated systems in performance. It’s slower to boil water, more exposed to wind and rain, and you will need to find a flat surface for placing the canister directly on the ground (the legs of liquid fuel and integrated systems give you a little more surface area and flexibility to work with). In addition, you’ll need to purchase a separate pot, which adds cost and weight to the equation. These nitpicks aside, the big selling points of the Pocket Rocket 2 are its low weight and price, making it a great option for minimalists and those on a budget. For an even lighter screw-on stove, see the Snow Peak LiteMax below (1.9 ounces and $60).
See the MSR Pocket Rocket 2
Most Versatile Backpacking Stove for Travelers
Fuel type: Liquid
Weight: 10.9 oz.
What we like: Compatibility with many fuel types for $40 less than the MSR Universal.
What we don't: No simmer control.
We all know the difficulty of tracking down specific fuel canisters in far-flung parts of the world—or even at home sometimes—which is why MSR created the WhisperLite International. This one-piece stainless steel stove is tough, simple to use and clean, and can run off of anything from white gas and kerosene to unleaded auto fuel (the latter of which you should be able to find just about anywhere). In terms of weight, the International clocks in at 10.9 ounces, which does not include the required MSR Fuel Bottle sold separately ($20 and 5.25 ounces empty). It’s true that you can go lighter or cheaper elsewhere on this list, but we love the versatility and toughness of this stove.
Another intriguing stove option for travelers is the MSR Universal below. That model adds the ability to use isobutane canisters, in addition to the white gas, kerosene, and unleaded mentioned above. It’s a close call, but we feel that the International performs better in practice, boils slightly faster, and is more reliable with less moving parts. Of course, the International also is a healthy $40 cheaper and ever so slightly lighter, which tipped the scales for us. If adding canister fuel compatibility to the mix is a deal breaker for you, go with the Universal. Otherwise, the International provides a lot of versatility for less money.
See the MSR WhisperLite International
Best Alcohol Stove for Backpacking
Fuel type: Denatured Alcohol
Weight: 0.4 oz.
What we like: Ridiculously light and small.
What we don’t: Slower boiling times compared to the options above; no on/off valve.
In the world of ultralight backpacking, alcohol stoves have gained traction as the ultimate minimalist cooking system, and the Tin Man Aluminum Can is among the lightest on the market. At just .4 ounces (that’s not a misprint), it truly is unbeatable in terms of weight and size. Denatured alcohol is quite efficient—1 ounce can last between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the stove—and therefore it’s easy to keep fuel weight low, even during extended backpacking trips. Moreover, a lightweight pot can sit directly on top of the stove once the fuel is lit, which eliminates the need for a pot stand.
What are the downsides of the Tin Man Stove? Although it was relatively fast at boiling water compared to other alcohol stoves (during our testing, it boiled .5 liters of water in about 6 minutes), the Tin Man still pales in comparison to the power of a canister stove. And it’s worth noting that we tested the stove in a controlled, non-windy environment—boil time would likely slow significantly in wind or cold weather (we highly recommend adding a windscreen to your cooking setup). Second, the Tin Man feels incredibly thin and long-term durability is questionable, although that’s not a huge risk at this price point. Last but not least, there is a fair deal of concern about the potential fire danger of alcohol stoves, and the lack of an on/off valve in particular. If you do decide to go this route, make sure to check stove regulations in your area and be very attentive during use.
See the AntiGravityGear Tin Man Alcohol Stove
Best Wood-Burning Stove for Backpacking
Fuel type: Wood
Weight: 9 oz.
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, it burns off biomass (small pieces of wood, pinecones, etc.) from around your campsite. Wood-burning backpacking stoves have become increasingly popular in recent years, and a number of key features set the Stove Lite apart. The double-wall construction allows the fire to feed off both wood and smoke, creating a strong, efficient flame, and a burn plate at the base protects the ground underneath. It’s simple and easy-to-maintain, and the design includes an all-in-one windscreen and pot support that packs down into the stove body for compact carrying. Finally, the Stove Lite can double as a denatured alcohol burner, giving it added versatility.
At 9 ounces, the Solo Stove Lite is not ultralight like the wood-burning Vargo Hexagon below, and it certainly cannot keep up with liquid or canister stoves in terms of boiling time. You also need to be traveling below tree line and won’t be able to use the stove in areas with fire restrictions or rules against collecting downed twigs and brush. Finally, keep in mind that wood stoves do not burn clean, meaning your pot or pan likely will gather some soot during use. But for some backpackers, the benefit of not having to carry fuel and the joy of having a warm flame is worth the clean-up.
See the Solo Stove Lite
Best of the Rest
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 15.3 oz.
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.
Similar to the Jetboil Flash above, the MSR WindBurner is a great integrated stove solution if your backcountry cooking routine consists mostly of boiling water. 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 (this can be a weakness of Jetboil models, which leave more of the stove exposed). In terms of quality, practically everything about this stove—from the honeycomb burner to the lid—is well made and has stood up over time. The price of the WindBurner is steep at $150, but it’s a top-notch backpacking stove overall.
So why is the MSR WindBurner ranked here? The added weather protection is overkill for many summer backpackers, and in our opinion is not worth the $50 increase in price from the Jetboil Flash, our top pick. Furthermore, the WindBurner takes longer to boil a liter of water than the Flash at 4 minutes 30 seconds (it outputs 7,000 BTUs vs. the Flash’s 9,000). But for those traveling to windy regions who expect a lot of exposure, the MSR is a premium all-in-one stove with a great track record.
See the MSR WindBurner Stove System
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 14.6 oz.
What we like: Impressive simmer control.
What we don't: Not great in the wind.
Jetboil has become synonymous with all-in-one systems that boil water fast, but the MiniMo has some additional tricks up its sleeve. With an upgraded temperature regulator for impressive simmer control, the MiniMo offers the easy set-up and fast boil times of the Flash above, but with better cooking functionality that many backcountry travelers seek. In terms of features, the 1-liter cooking pot is wrapped in a neoprene sleeve for safe handling, and its short and stout build offers stability over the flame and doubles as a bowl when your meal is ready to eat. If you like to cook and not just boil water, the MiniMo is a great option.
Why do we have the MiniMo ranked below the Flash? At $145, it costs significantly more than the $100 Flash, which was our biggest consideration. It also boils water slower (4 minutes 30 seconds for one liter vs. the Flash’s 3 minutes 20 minutes) and weighs about an ounce more. Again, if you cook your own meals and want the added stability and simmer control, go with the MiniMo. But for those who just need to heat water for dehydrated or freeze-dried pouch meals, the Flash is the better value. And a final note: the MSR Windburner above offers better wind protection (but less simmer control) for $5 more.
See the Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 14.7 oz.
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 stoves 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 the most 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
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 1.9 oz.
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 the LiteMax one of the lightest canister stoves on the market. 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
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 12 oz.
What we like: The lightest stove in Jetboil’s lineup, plus simmer control.
What we don’t: Smaller pot size can be difficult for two backpackers.
For solo backpackers or those who love Jetboil but want to shave a little weight, enter the MicroMo. We know, all of these Jetboil deviations are a bit confusing, but we’ll break it down for you clearly. At 12 ounces, the MicroMo is the lightest stove system in their lineup. Unlike the Flash but similar to the MiniMo, you get simmer control for cooking meals straight out of the pot. The boiling time of 4 minutes 30 second ties it with the MiniMo but is slower than the Flash. Last but not least, the pot on the MicroMo has 27 fluid ounces of capacity (.8 liters), which is smaller than the other two models, both of which are 33.8 fluid ounces (1 liter).
Who is the Jetboil MicroMo best for? The easy answer is those backpacking solo or who don’t mind cooking up a second batch of water for their partner. Many backpacking meals require adding approximately .5 liters of boiling water, so the .8-liter capacity on this stove leaves you with a perfect cup of hot tea on the side without needing to fill the pot to the brim. The weight savings are fairly insignificant (the difference between all three models is just a couple of ounces) but the simmer control is nice. With the MicroMo, Jetboil has provided ample stove options for everyone, which isn’t a bad thing.
See the Jetboil MicroMo
Fuel type: Canister/liquid
Weight: 11.2 oz.
Simmer: Yes (with canister)
What we like: Multi-fuel compatibility, including canisters.
What we don’t: Expensive and a bit heavy.
The MSR WhisperLite International above is our top pick for travelers with its more budget-friendly $100 price tag, but the MSR Universal is another popular option. Its most notable feature is the ability to burn isobutane canisters in addition to white gas, kerosene, and unleaded auto fuel. Simply put, you won’t find a more versatile backpacking stove. 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. All in all, the Universal can be taken just about anywhere in the world with confidence that you’ll find fuel.
The MSR Universal is not a bad performer domestically either. Our testers found that it performed consistently well at 15,000 to 17,000 feet and boiled water reasonably quickly in temperatures well below freezing. Plus, the detached canister allows you to invert your fuel source, making the stove more efficient in cold temperatures. You are, however, paying a price for the multi-fuel capability at a steep $140, which is why we have it ranked here.
See the MSR WhisperLite Universal
Fuel type: Denatured Alcohol
Weight: 4.8 oz.
What we like: Efficient for an alcohol stove.
What we don’t: Still pales in comparison to canister models.
For thru-hikers and ultralighters looking to step up from the basic Tin Man stove above—or their own DIY model—the alcohol-burning Caldera Cone from Trail Designs is the real deal. The design is simple: a lightweight metal cone surrounds a small stove, providing both a windscreen and stand for your pot. With very few moving parts, it’s an impressively tight and efficient system that is far less likely to malfunction than many of the more complex stoves on this list. And the total weight can vary based on your pot and cone size, but our set-up was just 4.8 ounces all-in, including the stove, windscreen, empty fuel bottle, and Caldera Caddy to protect it all.
Compared to the other alcohol-burning stoves on the market, we appreciate the efficiency of the Caldera Cone. Because it acts as both a windscreen and pot stand, it can handle wind and other adverse conditions much better than others. Our main nitpick with this system is that it’s built to match particular pot sizes, eliminating the option to swap out cookware on a dime. And while alcohol stoves have their place, they’re certainly not for everyone. The heat output is significantly less than a canister or liquid stove, and even the Caldera Cone is not ideal for boiling water or melting large amounts of snow in a hurry.
See the Trail Designs Caldera Cone
Fuel type: Liquid
Weight: 14.1 oz.
What we like: Multi-fuel, unmatched flame control, stable base.
What we don’t: Noisy, loud, obnoxious (see a thesaurus for more synonyms).
For those who like the fuel versatility of the MSR International but are particular about flame adjustment, MSR created the DragonFly. Like the International, this stove burns multiple kinds of liquid fuel including white gas, kerosene, and even unleaded auto fuel and diesel. But unlike the International, the DragonFly has great flame control: camp chefs will love the combination of hot flame and precise adjustments from simmer to boil. Plus, it boasts an even more stable design that is both efficient and able to handle large cookware.
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
Fuel type: Liquid
Weight: 8.4 oz.
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 sturdy, wide-set pot stand and offers impressive simmer control, perfect for cooking over the flame.
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. Furthermore, it has an excellent simmer function, which is a bonus when compared to the WhisperLite International. On the other hand, the Primus isn’t as easy to maintain as 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 a well-made stove worth considering.
See the Primus Omnilite T1
Fuel type: Alcohol
Weight: 3.8 oz.
What we like: A standout alcohol stove with a thoughtful design.
What we don’t: Weaker flame than canister or liquid fuel options.
The Trangia Spirit Burner is an alcohol-burning alternative to the Tin Man and Caldera Cone above. It stays true to the simple tin can design, but with some convenient features added to the mix. With a durable brass construction that includes a “simmer ring” to adjust the flame, the Spirit is tough, burns efficiently, and provides more temperature control than 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 in the process).
Keep in mind that the Trangia Spirit is less of an all-in-one system than the Caldera Cone above. You’ll need to purchase a windscreen or pot stand separately or use rocks to prop up your pot. As a result, boil times can be anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes for a liter of water. And compared to the Tin Man’s feathery .4 ounces, weight jumps up significantly to 3.8 ounces with the Trangia. All that said, the affordable $15 price, unique feature set, simmer capabilities, and added durability of the Spirit Burner make it an intriguing alcohol stove option.
See the Trangia Spirit Burner
Fuel type: Wood
Weight: 4.1 oz.
What we like: Very light and packable for a wood-burning stove.
What we don’t: Unstable and requires a lot of attention to maintain flame.
At 4.1 ounces, the Vargo Hexagon Wood Stove is the lightest wood-burning backpacking stove we’ve tested. And because it eliminates the need to carry the added weight of fuel, it’s in the running for the lightest stove system on this list. With a unique collapsible design, the Hexagon packs down flat and set-up is a breeze. With the right fuel—small branches, sticks, twigs—it makes a great ultralight solution to heating water or food. And although we list the titanium version here, you also have the option of purchasing the stainless-steel Hexagon for only $20. At 7.5 ounces all-in, the stainless steel is still a lighter-weight option than most.
Keep in mind that the build of the Vargo Hexagon feels considerably less sturdy than the Solo Stove Light above. Specifically, the metal side panels snap together loosely enough to be somewhat concerning when boiling a pot of water on top. In addition, given the small compartment for debris, it’s more difficult to build a sizable flame and keep airflow going in order to boil water quickly (when we tested the stove, it took 9.5 minutes to boil a half liter of water). But if you’ve got time on your hands to tend to your stove, the Vargo can be worth the hassle for its streamlined weight and build.
See the Vargo Titanium Hexagon Wood Stove
Fuel type: Canister
Weight: 3.3 oz.
What we like: Really, really cheap and still works.
What we don’t: Inferior performance.
At a double-take-worthy price of $14, 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
Fuel type: Tablets
Weight: 3.25 oz.
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
|Stove||Price||Fuel Type||Weight||Simmer||Boil Time|
|Jetboil Flash Cooking System||$100||Canister||13.1 oz.||No||3.3 min (1L)|
|MSR Pocket Rocket 2||$45||Canister||2.6 oz.||Yes||3.5 min (1L)|
|MSR WhisperLite International||$100||Liquid||10.9 oz.||No||3.5 min (1L)|
|AntiGravityGear Tin Man Alcohol Stove||$15||Alcohol||0.4 oz.||No||5-6 min (.5L)|
|Solo Stove Lite||$70||Wood||9 oz.||No||8-10 min (1L)|
|MSR WindBurner Stove System||$150||Canister||15.3 oz.||No||4.5 min (1L)|
|Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System||$145||Canister||14.6 oz.||Yes||4.5 min (1L)|
|MSR Reactor Stove System||$220||Canister||14.7 oz.||No||3.5 min (1L)|
|Snow Peak LiteMax||$60||Canister||1.9 oz.||Yes||4.5 min (1L)|
|Jetboil MicroMo||$140||Canister||12 oz.||Yes||4.5 min (1L)|
|MSR WhisperLite Universal||$140||Canister/liquid||11.2 oz.||Yes||3.5 min (1L)|
|Trail Designs Caldera Cone||$35||Alcohol||4.8 oz.||No||6-10 min (.5L)|
|MSR DragonFly||$140||Liquid||14.1 oz.||Yes||3.5 min (1L)|
|Primus Omnilite T1||$200||Liquid||8.4 oz.||Yes||2.7 min (1L)|
|Trangia Spirit Burner||$15||Alcohol||3.8 oz.||Yes||10-15 min (1L)|
|Vargo Titanium Hexagon Wood Stove||$60||Wood||4.1 oz.||Yes||8-12 min (.5L)|
|Etekcity Ultralight Stove||$14||Canister||3.3 oz.||Yes||Not reported|
|Esbit Pocket Stove||$13||Tablets||3.25 oz.||No||Variable|
- Backcountry Stove Types
- Integrated (All-In-One) Systems vs. Canister Stoves
- Weight and Packability
- Simmering Capabilities
- Cooking at Altitude and in the Cold
- What is a Piezo Igniter?
- Ultralight Cooksets
- Traveling Internationally with a Stove
Canister stoves, which run on a mix of primarily isobutane and propane, dominate the backpacking market. What makes them so popular is the user-friendly design: you simply connect the 4- or 8-ounce fuel canister to the stove, light it, and you’re good to go. Further, the mixture 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. Canister stove models vary widely, ranging from small and light (MSR’s Pocket Rocket) to all-in-one systems that boil water efficiently (Jetboil’s Flash).
But canister stoves do have their downsides. For one, they often suffer in cold weather, especially when compared to white gas models (see more on this below). Second, the metal canister itself is fairly heavy and bulky, which can become an issue if you need to carry a lot of fuel for extended backcountry travel. If you’re cooking two meals a day for a week or two—not just boiling water, but cooking meals—a liquid-fuel stove is a better option. Third, isobutane/propane canisters don’t refill easily, which results in a great deal of waste (recycling is an option, but can be difficult to find). And finally, isobutane/propane canisters aren’t always easy to track down overseas, and you certainly can’t fly with them.
Liquid and Multi-Fuel Stoves
Stoves that are set up to run on liquid fuel, like the ubiquitous MSR WhisperLite, have a fuel line that connects to a separate refillable bottle. Most liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, although there are a number of models that can use multiple fuel types, including kerosene and unleaded gas (the MSR WhisperLite Universal and DragonFly are two examples). If you’re traveling overseas, these versatile designs are your best bet. Liquid gas (namely white gas) burns hotter than isobutane/propane, so the stoves offer better performance in cold weather and at altitude. Furthermore, white gas is a far better fuel choice for longer trips, as you can bring more with less bulk, and even store your backup supply in a lightweight plastic bottle (just don’t mistake it for water!). But perhaps our favorite thing about liquid fuel is the way that it cuts down on waste—you can purchase it in bulk and reuse the same fuel bottle over and over again.
For short trips, we still prefer stoves run on isobutane/propane over liquid fuel models for their lightweight, compact builds and remarkable convenience. Liquid fuel stoves are slower to set up and use, and you’ll need to pump the bottle every few minutes to maintain pressure (especially when it’s less than full). These stoves are also usually bulkier, heavier, and more expensive than their canister alternatives. All in all, if your trips extend past the length of a week (without resupply) or outside of the United States—or venture into cold or high-altitude environments—we recommend a liquid fuel stove. For all other backpacking needs, a canister stove is still our cook set-up of choice.
Stoves that run on denatured alcohol are popular among ultralight and thru-hiking communities, preferred for their affordable price, lightweight construction, and simplicity. The most basic design can be made by punching holes along the rim of a tuna fish or cut-off soda can (similar to the AntiGravityGear Tin Man), and more complex stoves offer features such as simmer control, an integrated windscreen, or a pot stand (the Caldera Cone, for example). Alcohol stoves can’t compete with the liquid or canister stoves above in terms of efficiency, heat output, or flame control, but they do take the cake for simplicity and overall weight. And perhaps one of the biggest selling points of an alcohol stove is the ease of acquiring fuel, especially at hardware stores or gas stations in small resupply towns.
Wood-burning stoves use sticks, pinecones, leaves, and other dead and downed forest items for fuel, resulting in an extremely lightweight stove that doesn’t require you to pack any additional fuel weight or bulk. Logically, these stoves make a good option for those heading out for long-term sojourns in the woods—you can collect your fuel as you go. However, wood-burning stoves take a great deal of care, and don’t hold a candle to the ease of use or output of a more traditional canister or liquid-fuel stove. Because of this, we recommend them for backcountry travelers who enjoy the novelty of an actual fire and don’t mind a slower meal prep process. And take note: wood is not a clean-burning fuel and will leave your stove and cookware covered in soot. You will also need to check for local fire and twig collection regulations before you use a wood-burning stove, and consider the fact that your potential fuel may be wet.
Solid Fuel Tablet Stoves
We include one tablet stove on our list: the Esbit Pocket Stove. This ultralight, fringe piece runs off of solid fuel tablets, and clocks in at just over 3 ounces. We wouldn’t want to cook or boil water consistently with such a stove—the small cubes don’t burn as hot as other fuel and are known to leave a sticky mess on the bottom of pots. But the Esbit—and other tablet stoves—is a great backup option to bring along just-in-case. And as with wood stoves, you’ll want to check on regulations before you use your tablet stove in the field; notably, a couple of years ago Rocky Mountain National Park banned alcohol and Esbit stoves because they lack a shutoff switch or valve.
An integrated system—like the Jetboil Flash—is unique to canister stoves, and consists of a burner, heat exchanger, and pot that all secure to the top of a fuel canister in one streamlined package. The all-in-one set-up has the clear advantage of efficient heating: when everything is so tightly connected, the design allows faster heating with less fuel. As a result, these stoves are the clear winners in terms of quickest boil times. And it doesn’t hurt that integrated stoves are simple purchases: you get everything you need in one fell swoop, rather than having to make multiple decisions about pots, fuel bottles, and windscreens.
However, the tall and skinny pot size, small diameter burner (making it difficult to substitute a different pot), and lack of simmering capabilities mean that integrated stove systems are often one-trick ponies, used primarily as a means to boil water for dehydrated meals and hot drinks. Jetboil's MiniMo is a notable exception here, with the ability to simmer and a short and stout pot for convenient cooking. If you want to make gourmet feasts, look below at the non-integrated stove systems. But for the trend toward dehydrated meals over backcountry cooking, all-in-one systems offer the best in stability, convenience, and wind resistance. Plus, with a built-in handle and insulated cozy that easily turn the pot into a mug, they are the most streamlined and user-friendly systems available.
On the other hand, a non-integrated stove functions as two separate units: the fuel source and stove are at the bottom and a pot or frying pan is then perched on top. These stoves don’t include the heat exchanger of an all-in-one system and are generally less stable and less efficient. Further, the flame is more exposed to the wind, so it’s a good idea to use a windscreen in most cases to keep the stove functioning effectively (this is particularly true for fuel types like alcohol, wood, and tablets that don’t burn as hot). These set-ups also lack the convenience of the systems above, and you’ll need to purchase your cookset separately.
But non-integrated stoves are not without their benefits. Most notably, they offer a great deal of versatility. You can swap out your pot for one of a different size (or even a frying pan), simmer a meal over the flame, and use white gas for better functionality in the cold or at higher elevations. Additionally, non-integrated stoves are often lighter and more affordable than those of the integrated variety (provided you choose a lightweight cookset). We think of these stove systems as an excellent choice for backpackers who like to cook over the flame and don’t need a particularly windproof set-up. Camp chefs will especially like the wide base and fuel control of designs like the Primus Omnilite T1 or MSR DragonFly, and those of the ultralight persuasion can cut weight by combining a screw-on canister stove (like the MSR Pocket Rocket) or alternative fuel stove with a lightweight pot.
Like most backpacking gear, weight is an important consideration when choosing a stove. Before we start in on the specifics, it’s important to note that weight is rather difficult to compare among backpacking stoves, as you need to consider your type of fuel and amount needed, in addition to whether or not you’ll be adding the weight of a cookset. For each stove on our list, we’ve listed the bare bones weight, which does not include the isobutane/propane canister or liquid-fuel bottle, fuel pump (if required), or additional pots. One exception is an integrated system like the Jetboil Flash, which factors its pot into the weight.
In general, you can expect alternative-fuel stoves to be the lightest options, and liquid-fuel stoves to be the heaviest. Our top picks for alcohol stoves (AntiGravityGear’s Tin Man at 0.4 oz.) and liquid fuel (MSR Whisperlite at 10.9 oz.) highlight these differences. Canister stoves—especially non-integrated canisters models like the 1.9-ounce Snow Peak LiteMax—are truly a happy medium in terms of weight. In choosing the right system for you, it comes down to priorities: you’ll nearly always be sacrificing something—convenience, speed, durability, cold-weather performance, etc.—when you shave ounces. That said, every model here on our list is what we consider light and packable enough for backpacking. Even a relatively heavy design like the 14.7-ounce MSR Reactor is still sub-1-pound, and well worth its weight at high elevations or in the extreme cold.
Those that plan to do more than just boil water will want a stove with quality flame control. Most backpacking stoves have a dial or twist valve to adjust the height of the flame—exceptions include alternative-fuel models—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, nor do many basic liquid-fuel stoves. Further, all-in-one systems like the Jetboil Flash often are among the worst with flame control—they operate best at full heat for boiling water. That said, the MiniMo from Jetboil is a positive indication that this can 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.
Interestingly, fuel reacts similarly to both cold weather and altitude. For traveling in these conditions, we’ll always recommend a liquid-fuel stove over a stove run on isobutane/propane—white gas and other liquid fuels simply operate better in the cold, and you can regulate the dropping pressure with the fuel pump too. On the other hand, canisters have the tendency to depressurize in the cold or at elevation, making for inefficient cooking and a very weak flame. If you don’t want to give up the convenience of a canister stove, we recommend one with a remote connection that allows you to invert the canister, such as the MSR WhisperLite Universal or Primus Omnilite T1. And if you’re in a pickle in cold weather with a standard canister stove, you can keep your fuel warm by putting it in your jacket pocket or sleeping bag, or wrapping it in a layer during use. But for the best results, leave your canister stove at home for cold or high-altitude trips, and bring a liquid-fuel stove instead.
Even with a liquid-fuel stove, there’s not much you can do to speed up cook times at high altitudes. Here, you’re dealing with two contributing factors: first, water evaporates faster at higher elevations, and second, water has a lower boiling point. This means that you’ll need to boil more water, and importantly for dehydrated food eaters: your meals will take longer to cook because of the lower water temperature. In general, you’ll start to notice this slowing down around 5,000 feet, with the boiling point dropping roughly 5˚F every 2,500 feet.
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 or a lighter for the just-in-case.
There are a number of ways to cut weight and packed size from your current stove system, and pairing a non-integrated stove with an ultralight cookset is a big one. Titanium offers the best in ultralight cookware, with ridiculously low weights and a higher strength rating than aluminum. Combine a titanium pot (like the 4.2-ounce MSR Titan Kettle) with a lightweight canister stove (the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 is 2.6 ounces) or an alcohol, wood, or tablet stove, throw in a lightweight spork, and you have a stove system in the ballpark of 8 ounces (without the fuel canister). That’s not too shabby and considerably lighter than the integrated systems on our list (Jetboil’s lightest offering, the MicroMo, is 12 ounces).
While a small titanium pot will always be your lightest option, it does come with a few downsides. For one, the price: for the cost of one titanium pot or kettle, you can likely buy three stainless steel pots. Second, titanium is great for boiling water, but will form hot spots if you cook with it, resulting in burned food and difficult to clean pots. If you’re not too focused on counting ounces, hard-anodized aluminum is a less expensive but still lightweight option, seen in popular cookware like the GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler Pot.
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. White gas and isobutane/propane canisters are not sold everywhere, but multi-fuel stoves can run on almost every type of fuel you might find throughout the world, including kerosene and unleaded gasoline. Our favorites include a few proven options from MSR: the WhisperLite International, Universal, and 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 fuel on the plane with you, whether in your checked bags or your carry-ons. Some travelers have even run into issues with dirty or used fuel lines creating some security delays at the airport. 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. And 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.
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