Backpacking stoves, like most gear, come in almost all imaginable shapes and sizes and fit users whose needs may vary dramatically.
Some stoves do one thing exceptionally well. These stoves might be extremely lightweight, or extremely easy to use.
Other stoves are a balance of all asset classes, they’re usable in extreme weather, reliable, and durable.
Neither stove is, necessarily, the best ultimate solution for all situations but we’re going to break our best backpacking stoves of 2017 into three categories to help you decide what’s best for you!
Let’s dive into it – here’s what this article will cover:
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How to Choose a Stove
Best Ultralight Backpacking Stoves 2016
By far the best ultralight backpacking stove solution on the market in 2016, in my opinion.
The Caldera Keg solves several of the drawbacks of ultralight stoves by:
- Providing a windscreen which seamlessly integrates with the pot and is designed for efficiency
- The windscreen doubles as a very sturdy pot holder… great idea!
- The pot is made from a Foster’s can… my personal favorite ultralight pot solution (though not proprietary to Trail Designs)
- Providing a lightweight, rigid carry case to protect the lightweight stove components (a worthwhile trade off in my experience)
Half an esbit tab can bring two cups of water to a boil which is more than enough for any freezer bag cooking recipe. If you’re looking for lightweight, efficient, and thoughtful design then this is your system.
Zelph’s Stoveworks offers the StarLyte Burner basic burner in several designs. One design is a standalone stove, another design is meant for use with a caldera cone (as seen above), and the third design is meant for generic use for any application.
This is an alcohol stove with the added benefit of being un-spillable. If you knock it over you won’t have to worry about burning alcohol fuel flying everywhere.
Major drawbacks include a lack of stability and no windscreen. You’ll want to have an idea for how to solve these issues before purchasing.
If you’re looking for one of the best alcohol stove standalones on the market, however, you’ve found it.
Best All-in-One Backpacking Stoves
If you’re looking for the single easiest buy-and-go solution for backpacking stove cooking you’ve found it. The Jet Boil system is well loved because of its efficiency, simplicity, and very low learning curve.
Integrated heat dispersing fins help improve fuel efficiency and boil times. A built-in insulated pot keeps your warm drinks hot for a good long time. Built on the test convenience of canister stove systems, this is a great solution for 90% of backpackers.
Pick up one of these little Jet Boils and you’ll never get lonely on the trail because everyone and their brother will be carrying the same stove.
Just enough room to cook a small meal or easily heat up your morning coffee means this system is a good balance between a water-boiling system and a cooking-focused system.
MSR is manufactured by Cascade Designs, a company which demands respect in the industry. Cascade is known for quality design, construction, and customer support. You’ll be hard pressed to steer wrong with a Cascade product.The WindBurner stove is an obvious all-in-one system designed to compete with the Jet Boil.
This stove is virtually untouched by any outside weather including extreme wind, rain, snow or other imaginable violent weather.
Designed so you can pack away your canister fuel and accessories inside the pot when not in use, this improves space efficiency in the pack.
Best Backpacking Stoves for Gourmet Cooking
Weight: 17.8oz (excluding fuel bottle)
One of the coolest things about this stove (other than the noise it makes in operation) is that you can burn virtually any liquid fuel in it. White gas, gasoline, kerosene, diesel, or jet fuel. Burn ’em all.
It also happens to be manufactured by MSR (remember Cascade Designs?) and has been in wide spread use and refinement for years. It’s a proven stove.
The biggest advantage of the MSR Dragonfly is a double valve system which allows for amazing flame control. These stoves are great for backcountry baking and cooking. Get your gourmet chef hat out and carry it into the backcountry with you when you take the Dragonfly.
Weight: 12oz (excluding fuel bottle)
The main competitor to the MSR liquid fuel stoves, Primus tends to see more widespread use in Europe and MSR in America.
The biggest annoyance when switching between the two is that they both use proprietary fuel pumps and fittings so the only thing you can really swap out is the fuel bottle its self.The Omnilite TI also works with any fuel common fuel source, much like the Dragonfly.
Ultimately I’d say the decision between the two comes down to where you’re planning to use the stove. In the US you’re more likely to have easy access to replacement parts for MSR products, in Europe you may have an easier time servicing your Primus.
Not sure which one to pick?
Here’s how to choose a stove
We’re going to make sure you really understand what it takes to pick out the best possible stove for backpacking today!
Types of Backpacking Stoves
There are three main categories of backpacking stove:
Canister stoves us a pre-pressurized mix of fuel in a disposable can to power your stove. These stoves are simple, effective, and efficient. Here are the main pros and cons:
- Simple and straightforward – easy to learn and use
- Lightweight and compact
- Good flame adjustment and temperature control
- Heavier than alcohol and solid fuel
- Spent fuel canisters are bulky and heavy and must be carried out of the backcountry
Canister stoves are great solutions for beginner hikers who need a simple all-in-one solution for boiling and cooking in the backcountry.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
These stoves include some of the oldest and most tested name brands in the industry and are highly versatile and robust solutions for backcountry cooking.
Liquid fuel stoves use, most commonly, white gas in a standalone bottle which is pressurized by the user. This fuel is then supplied to the stove through a series of valves and often requires a (sometimes) difficult process to ignite and operate.
- Can be adjusted to cope well with extreme cold and extreme elevation
- Sometimes lighter than other solutions when used in large group backpacking
- Certain stoves can be made to run on almost any fuel (diesel, jet fuel, gasoline, white gas, etc.)
- Some stoves feature extremely accurate flame control for gourmet cooking and simmering
- Often complicated to operate
- Bulky and heaviest option among those discussed here
- Users must understand maintenance and repair of the stove and be able to perform field repairs
- Priming usually involves open flame and fuel which can cause accidental fires or burns
Liquid fuel stoves excel in large group backpacking where gear is shared among a large number of hikers as well as extreme environments where they’re more reliable and efficient than other options.
This category includes all the unconventional options which gram weenies (myself included), seemingly alone, love to tinker with.
These stoves are sometimes difficult to find and purchase, often consume strange fuel sources, and frequently are more difficult to operate than other solutions.
Then why use them? Because some of these solutions weigh less than an ounce and are smaller than a tin of breath mints.
We’re going to include alcohol stoves in this section even though they could *technically* be called liquid fuel stoves. It makes more sense to have them here.
Solid Fuel Stoves
This includes Esbit stoves and wood burning stoves. These stoves are usually made of titanium and are usually extremely simplistic, based on very basic chemistry and physics.
Esbit is a solid fuel tablet which contains extremely high levels of potential energy and, when burned, releases huge amounts of heat for its size and weight.
Wood burning stoves are very small twig-burning stoves meant to reduce fuel weight carried in the pack by using forest refuse to heat your water.
- Esbit tablets are very compact and lightweight, wood burning means you won’t have to carry any fuel at all
- Solid fuel tablets, or wood, can’t spill fuel which could lead to fire hazards or damaged equipment if spilled inside a backpack
- These stoves often can be built at home by the avid DIYer – this means you can tinker and build them exactly to your liking
- Extremely lightweight – these stoves often weigh less than 2 ounces and generally fall within the 1 – 3oz range
- Esbit can be expensive and hard to find for resupply, wood fuel can sometimes be absent altogether from certain locations… leaving you without any fuel
- Solid fuel stoves have zero flame and temperature control which means they’re no good for precise cooking or simmering
- Stoves in this category are rapidly evolving and being improved upon by the small handful of manufacturers making them
- These ultralight, ultra small stoves are usually made from delicate materials which need careful attention and care.
Alcohol stoves are, in many ways, a liquid fuel stove. Users of these stoves carry a container of 100% alcohol which is then added to tiny little stoves and used solely for boiling water.
These stoves can epitomize ultralight and ultra small. Easily weighing less than an ounce, many of these stoves can be built at home out of an old beer can.
- Extremely lightweight and compact
- Exceedingly inexpensive – the fancy feast stove can be made with an old cat-food container
- Very simplistic design and construction utilizes basic chemistry and physics
- Open fuel source in some variations can be tipped over and spilled while aflame… leading to burns, injury, and accidental arson
- Often quite delicate little pieces of gear can be easy to accidentally destroy
- Usually tricky to built stability due to small size and weight, balancing a pot can be a challenge
Weight is obviously a factor in stove choice. If you’ve followed the article up until now you will understand which types of stove lend themselves to heavier or lighter options.
Remember that sometimes weight can be divided among members of a group which will change the equation… literally.
Simmering, cooking, or baking all require precise flame control.
See the headings above which illuminate exactly what type of stove will be best for good flame control and why. Speaking broadly flame control will be as follows from best to worst:
- Liquid Fuel
- Solid Fuel & Alcohol
Extreme elevation or cold temperatures will render certain stoves less efficient than others. If you’re going in to either or both of these conditions then you’ll want to prioritize as follows (with #1 being the best choice):
- Liquid Fuel
- Solid Fuel & Alcohol
Liquid fuel and solid fuel / alcohol stoves can swap places for first choice depending on your priorities. Both stove types handle extremes well.
Wind really shouldn’t be a factor because windscreens need to be used with all stoves at all times.
Windscreens massively improve efficiency and performance and are vital to effective use of stoves. Choosing a cooking location which is as sheltered from the wind as possible will also help and should be done regularly.
Each type of backpacking stove is right for different circumstances. Remember to choose your stove based on how you plan to use it.
Lighter does not always mean better and often times there’s a balance to be struck between price, weight, size, and use among many other factors.
Don’t hesitate to ask to borrow a friend’s stove if you’re curious about what type of stove works best for you!