A reliable stove is essential to any well-planned backpacking trip.

A warm meal at the end of a long day or that first sip of hot coffee in the morning can make any trip more enjoyable.  But with so many stove options available it can be difficult to know where to start. What kind of stove you need depends on a variety of factors.

Let's start with some simple questions: What kinds of trips do you plan on taking? Are you going ultralight? Do you plan on being on the trail for weeks or months at a time thru-hiking? Maybe you’re a weekender out for a quick getaway from work. Also, how many people you will be cooking for. Are you using the stove to boil water or do you have full meals planned? Keep these things in mind while you decide.

Camp dinner

Features to consider

Weight – Did you drill holes in your toothbrush handle just to shave off a gram or two? Then your choice in stove may differ from someone on a shorter weekend trip with friends.

Burn Time – How long a stove burns on a given amount of fuel will determine how much fuel you need to carry.

Boil time – This measures how quickly a stove can boil water.

Temperature Control –  Is the stove capable of maintaining a simmer for prolonged cooking, or is it designed primarily for boiling water?

Maintenance – Will the stove require periodic field maintenance and special tools?

 

Types of stoves

Backpacking stoves can be placed into three major categories, based on fuel type. These are canister, liquid fuel, and alternative fuel.

camp stove selection

Canister – Canister stoves are usually easy to use, requiring very little maintenance. They typically screw onto the top of a threaded fuel canister containing pressurized gasses.

Liquid – Liquid fuel stoves offer a bit more versatility with refillable fuel bottles. Often utilizing white gas, some may accept multiple liquid fuels for those traveling internationally.

Alternative fuel – These stoves are gaining in popularity and run on a variety of fuels, including solid fuel tablets, wood, and denatured alcohol.

Each type of stove has advantages as well as drawbacks. Let’s take a more detailed look at some of these pros and cons.

 

Canister Stoves

Canister stoves are some of the cleanest available. They are very low odor and require almost no maintenance. The fuel stored in non-refillable self-sealing canisters that almost eliminate fuel spills and leakage. They burn butane, isobutene, propane, or combination of these gasses. Canister stoves are often the easiest to operate. They are light and dependable and provide solid temperature control.

The performance of these stoves can be markedly reduced at high altitudes and extremely low temperature. Canister depressurization can occur when the fuel is cold, resulting in inefficient or weak output. Canisters are not refillable and must be packed out for disposal or recycling.

Camp Stove

Pro:

Compact – innovative designs often allow the stoves to fold for storage

Lightweight – Some can weigh as little as 1.9oz

Easy to light – many are equipped with a Piezo electronic igniter

Sealed canister – no fuel leakage or trailside spills

Temperature Control – Allows for simmering

 

Con:

Hard to gauge remaining fuel – Sealed canister offers no way to accurately gauge remaining fuel

Cost of fuel – Compared to liquid-fuel stoves, the cost of fuel is greater

Lack of windscreen – Use of windscreens can cause canisters to overheat and rupture

Depressurize in cold weather – Causes inefficient fuel use and weak flame

Canister waste – Empty canisters must be packed out for proper disposal

 

Liquid Fuel Stoves

This style of backpacking stove burns liquid fuel, primarily in the form of white gas, but some multi fuel models can utilize kerosene or unleaded gas. The fuel bottle is pressurized manually using a small hand pump, offering enhanced performance in cold weather. Fuel bottles can be refilled as often as needed.

Liquid fuels do not burn as cleanly as the gas from canister stoves, resulting in fouling and frequent field maintenance. The refillable fuel bottle has an increased risk of fuel leakage and spills and must be pressurized before use. Many of these stoves must also be primed for optimal usage.

liquid fuel stove

Pro:

Stable – A low center of gravity provides a more stable cooking surface for larger pots

View fuel levels – Fuel levels can be visually inspected between uses

No Waste – Reusable fuel bottle eliminates the need to pack out disposable canisters

Perform at high elevation / cold temp – The hand pump allows you to control fuel pressure

 

Con:

Prime & maintain –  Requires priming and maintenance for proper operation

Fuel Spill – Refillable bottle increases the risk of fuel spills and leakage

Weight – Tend to be heavier than canister stoves

Cost – Higher initial cost

 

Alternative Fuel Stoves

Wood Burning

Because these burn small twigs gathered at camp, it eliminates the need to carry fuel, a nice option for longer or lighter trips.

wood burning camp stove

Pro:

Simple – Few parts, often consists of a simple base with pot support and windscreen

Lightweight – Frequently constructed of lightweight titanium

No fuel – Eliminates the need to carry fuel bottle or canister

 

Con:

Locating fuel – requires gathering of small twigs prior to use

Wet conditions – wet conditions can severely limit access to dry fuel

Use prohibitions – May be prohibited during a burn ban or in areas of high elevation



 

Solid Fuel

These are frequently carried by ultralight backpackers. Some models are small enough to fit in your pocket.

solid fuel stove

Pro:

Inexpensive – Low initial cost

Lightweight – Few parts and small sizes help reduce weight

Ease of use – Fuel tablets light easily and may be extinguished for later ues

 

Con:

Slow – Operate at lower temperatures and are slow to bring water to a boil

Odor – Tablets may burn with an odor

Availability of fuel – Fuel tablets may not be readily available in all locations

 

Alcohol

These stoves appeal to ultralight backpackers because they weigh only an ounce or two. Fuel can be carried in lightweight bottles sized to fit individual needs.

alcohol stove

Pro:

Inexpensive – Low initial cost

Low maintenance – Alcohol burns clean eliminating fouling and maintenance

Cost of fuel – Denatured alcohol is inexpensive and relatively easy to find across the U.S.

Lightweight – Small with few parts

 

Con:

Slow – Alcohol burns at lower temperatures than other liquid fuels

Windscreen – Windscreen is essential for optimal performance

Difficulty locating fuel internationally – Denatured alcohol can be hard to find outside the U.S.