The best backpacking stove is subjective, but there is no doubt you’ll want some form of a stove on your next trip. When backpacking, the three major concerns are food, water, and shelter. That is what makes finding the best backpacking stove so crucial. It should be able to boil water quickly, be big enough to cook a full meal, and sturdy enough to withstand whatever harsh conditions you may find yourself cooking in.
However, these are not the only concerns. With so much that goes into making the best backpacking stove. There is a vast range of types, features, and fuel options to consider before you purchase this essential piece of backpacking gear.
Here, we break down some of the best backpacking stoves currently on the market, so you can go into the store knowing what might work best for you.
The Best Canister Stoves
Canister backpacking stoves are by far the most popular among 3-season backpackers – and with good reason. These small stoves are some of the lightest you can carry, giving them a massive advantage over the competition, and making them the go-to stove for ounce-counters and thru-hikers alike. They are also extremely easy to ignite, requiring little to no prep, and the isobutane fuel canisters can be found just about anywhere.
MSR PocketRocket Deluxe
This is the latest burner from MSR who has been designing these burners for ages, and the Deluxe is their best one yet. It’s not the lightest burner on the market, but at only three ounces, it’s pretty close. It’s a significant update to the old RocketPocket 2 with new recessed burner holes, regulator, a piezoelectric lighter, and pot supports. The result is a burner that is easier to light, burns consistently, and handles wind very well that feels nothing like its predecessor.
In use the burner is exceptional, and it’s easy to deliver a consistent temperature whether boiling water or simmering to cook food on a pan. Most impressive it the sheer amount of heat the burner throws our boiling water faster than any other cooker we’ve used. It also comes with a small stuff sack that fits well inside your cook kit. Other than the typical drawbacks to canister burners, the PocketRocket Deluxe didn’t always light on the first ignition click (nit-picking here) and could stand to be a little more fuel-efficient. Altogether, it’s likely the best backpacking stove, and I love it to use it when we’re hiking in the mountains as it handles wind surprisingly well.
The Windmaster has been a backpacking favorite for years now. Soto is a Japanese company that delivers typical high-quality manufacturing. It’s very similar to the RocketPocket Deluxe in metrics and uses — very likely where MSR gained inspiration. The burner has a recessed heat source, regulator, and piezoelectric lighter. A consistent temperature is easy to maintain and holds up well against the wind. It loses a few points for the pot supports that must be attached as opposed to the Deluxe and a regulator that is a little tougher to maintain a consistent temperature. Never the less, it’s one of best canister burners to take camping, and it’s $10 cheaper than its competitor the Deluxe.
MSR PocketRocket 2
Whether you are an ultralight backpacker, a thru-hiker, or just someone who likes to keep it simple, you may want to consider the MSR PocketRocket. This compact, tiny stove weighs in at only 2.6 ounces and has three foldable serrated pot-supports that can hold a range of pot and pan sizes and styles. The self-sealing thread fits onto the top of any standard isobutane canister, and the side lever gives you optimal simmer control in almost any environment. It’s not the best in high wind environments and it’s pretty loud when cranked up.
All that being said, it is important to note that these are not the best choice for alpine or winter backpacking. This is because the stove’s ability to heat is significantly reduced in temperatures below 20F. Also, these stoves do not come with their own cooking system (i.e., pot or pan); however, you can opt for the additional stove kit which solves this problem. It’s a pretty affordable stove that’s served many hikers very well throughout the years.
On the other end of the backpacking stove spectrum is the MSR Windburner. This fully integrated stove system is robust, with the ability to stand up against strong winds without reducing efficiency. This is due to its enclosed design and internal pressure regulator that work together to manage the amount of heat with no effect from the outside environment. The one-liter pot comes with a handle and a cozy, helping it easily transition from a pot to a bowl or from a bowl to a mug.
While this backpacking stove seems to cover all the essentials, there are a few things to consider. First, the Windburner can be a little top-heavy when placed on top of the canister. You may want to consider purchasing canister stabilizing legs if you decide on this option to prevent it from toppling. This backpacking stove is also much heavier than the PocketRocket above, weighing in at a whopping 15.5oz.
The Jetboil Minimo backpacking stove was designed with convenience in mind. This impressive, fully-integrated cooking stove comes with a push-button ignitor, which helps when trying to cook in the rain. It also features its own fuel can stabilizer, a stout and sturdy body, and an excellent simmer control for cooking various types of meals. Like the MSR Windrunner, it also comes with a sturdy handle, allowing it to easily transition from a bowl to a mug, and is almost as good at standing up against high winds.
The downside, as with most integrated stoves, is that you will have to deal with the excess weight – 14oz to be exact. Also, like all canister stoves, it is only best for 3-season backpacking, with diminished performance below 20F.
Best Liquid Fuel Stoves
Liquid fuel backpacking stoves can be thought of as picking up the slack for canister stoves. These stoves are designed for sub-zero temperatures which may occur at extremely high altitudes or in arctic conditions. They are also perfect for international backpacking trips where isobutane canisters are harder to find.
This is because these stoves can be run on readily available fuels such as kerosene or unleaded auto fuel. They also tend to be sturdier, with a broader base and cooking platform and more intricate construction. These details also make them an optimal choice for larger backpacking groups where you are cooking for multiple people.
While these stoves are not recommended for standard 3-season backpacking because of their heft, the regular need for maintenance, and complicated ignition, they have their benefits when utilized in the right scenario.
The MSR Dragonfly is probably the best liquid fuel backpacking stove you can currently find in stores or online. It is about the same weight as your average integrated canister stove at 14oz, but much sturdier and closer to the ground. This backpacking stove can run on a large number of fuel types, such as jet fuel, diesel, kerosene, and even white gas, making it extremely versatile and functional wherever you find yourself in the world.
It pumps out an incredible amount of heat for when you need to boil quickly or melt large amounts of snow but can be dialed down to a simmer using the dual-valve. It also has a large enough base to handle pots and pans up to 10 inches in diameter, giving you the ability to cook gourmet meals for large groups in any setting.
All of this power comes with one major drawback – sound. These backpacking stoves are so loud that having a conversation over the dinner fire will be virtually impossible. But at least this will help you scare away hungry predators looking for scraps.
MSR Whisperlite Universal
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is the first true multi-fuel backpacking stove on the market. MSR labels this stove as a hybrid, blurring the lines between a canister stove and a liquid fuel stove. With simple part exchange, the Whisperlite can go from running off a canister (upright or inverted) to running off higher-powered liquid fuels. This solves many of the conditional uses for the two fuel types and leaves you with one of the only backpacking stoves that can be used year-round. This gives you the flexibility to utilize the same stove at high altitudes, overseas, and even weekend campouts with friends.
While this stove does solve many of the concerns presented by the canister and liquid fuel stoves individually, it also lessens their positives. Naturally, this backpacking stove will not be as light as other canister stoves nor have the same ease of use. It requires many small parts which can be hard to keep track of, and it does not support pots smaller than 4 ½ inches or 11cm in diameter.
Best Wood Stoves
Wood burning backpacking stoves are still an extremely popular option in the ultralight backpacking community. This is because they weigh almost nothing and you don’t have to carry an additional fuel source. They allow for an unlimited supply of free propellant (i.e., twigs, branches, kindling) and require little to no maintenance, even through years of use. Wood burning stoves also give you a sense of nostalgia, harkening back to the old-fashioned ways of surviving in the wilderness.
The only problem with these backpacking stoves is they are extremely location specific. For example, if you are planning a backpacking trip in the western United States where wildfires are a serious concern, this should not be your choice of stove. This is because you never know when a fire ban may be in effect, and many of these areas don’t allow for any sort of woodburning through the summer and fall months.
The BushBuddy has been the top choice in wood burning backpacking stoves for years. The reason? Quality construction and engineering. The stove is double-walled, which allows for the possibility of secondary combustion air, giving you an extremely clean burn that is free of smoke. This design also helps the stove regulate the amount of oxygen that is fed to the fire, making your cooking heat more predictable while burning the wood at an efficient rate.
This backpacking stove is also heat shielded to prevent damage to the ground while lit. At 6.4 oz, it is one of the lightest stoves you can purchase when you consider not having to carry an external fuel source.
Where the BushBuddy begins to falter is with the boil time. On average, other fuel-fed stoves boil one qt of water in 3-5 minutes. The BushBuddy takes approximately 8-10 minutes to boil the same amount. Also, don’t expect any sort of easy to use simmer control. You can have less flame by adding fewer twigs, but this is unpredictable at best.
Solo Stove Lite
The Solo Stove Lite is a new wood burning backpacking stove category, but it has quickly risen in the ranks and is the only real competitor to the BushBuddy. It has a similar double-wall design, with natural convection and inverted downgas gasifier. All of this means is that you have an effective clean-burning stove that properly regulates air, won’t scorch the earth, and can hold up against strong winds and light rain.
So where do they differ? The Solo Stove Lite is much bulkier, weighing in at 9 oz, and only has three pot-holding prongs, while the BushBuddy only has three. Outside of these two differences, these products are virtually identical, making your product choice is a personal preference.
Alternative Stove Options
Solo Stove Alcohol Stove
If you are a minimalist through and through, you may want to consider an alcohol stove; specifically, the Solo Stove Alcohol Stove. The simplistic design is made with a sturdy titanium base plate that is durable and able to withstand a variety of weather conditions. To use, you simply fill the concave center with denatured alcohol and light. Finished cooking? Easily extinguish by just blowing it out. This type of fuel is abundant throughout the world, and this little gadget can be thrown into your carry on for your next overseas adventure. You will also enjoy the added benefit of the most eco-friendly backpacking stove there is.
However, there are a few downsides to every alcohol stove. The first is the potential for spills. It’s sturdy while cooking, but pouring the alcohol into the stove takes a while to master, and you are very likely to make a few mistakes as you learn. These types of backpacking stoves also do not have long cook times. You will learn the exact run time at the maximum fill levels through trial and error.
Esbit Folding Pocket Stove
The Esbit is what is known as a solid fuel stove. Similar to alcohol backpacking stoves, these types are extremely simplistic in design, light in weight, and extremely portable and easy to pack down. This stove uses fuel tabs that on average run for about 12 minutes total. They create a very clean flame, and once finished, the entire stove can be folded down to fit into your pocket (hence the name).
The concerns with this type of backpacking stove have little to do with the stove itself and everything to do with the fuel source. The Esbit fuel tabs tend to leave a sticky residue which can be hard to clean and have a very distinct unpleasant smell. They are also not the easiest fuel source to find, so you will need to stock up when you do.
What to Consider when Buying a Backpacking Stove
Average Boil Time
After a long day on the trail, the last thing you want to do is wait an hour for your food to cook. Longer average boil times also mean more fuel consumption, which means you will have to carry more fuel. A good boil time is going to be between 2-5 minutes for most 3-season backpacking stoves. When you are looking into liquid fuel or solid fuel stoves, expect your average boil time to be a minimum of 8-10 minutes.
Weight should always be a high priority when choosing any piece of backpacking gear. The heavier your base weight, the harder and longer your trek will be. That is why assessing the total ounces of your stove is so essential. For 3-season backpacking stoves, it is best to stay under eight ounces, which includes the pot, fuel source, and cooktop. Most ultralight backpackers cut that even further staying under five ounces.
That being said, when looking at 4-season stoves, you still want to pay attention to weight, but 15 oz is average. The weight is because of the added features that make them more stable, durable, and able to cook for larger groups.
Each backpacking stove is going to come with its own specialized features as an attempt to keep them ahead of the pack. Some of these are necessary, while others are just for looks. Here are a few that are actually beneficial to your outdoor experience.
This is a great backup feature for when your matches or lighter get lost, or waterlogged. It is found on some canister stoves and creates an instant spark at the fuel source.
Outside of the standard boil option, many stoves don’t have a way to reduce the flame. A backpacking stove with this feature is great for longer treks and more elaborate meals.
These are the legs that attach to the bottom of your stove to keep it from tipping over while cooking. These are especially beneficial for liquid fuel stoves where spillage is a real concern. These can be added after purchase on some and come standard on others.
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