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Backpacking stoves buying guide

Backpacking stoves buying guide

There’s just something about firing up that camp stove after a long day on the trail. Warm food raises the spirits of your troop and gives you the energy to get up the next day and do it all over again.

“I’ve spent my fair share of time on the trail eating energy bars and bagels,” says Penn Burris, vice president of Backpacker’s Pantry. “But when you’ve backpacked 15 or 20 miles, sitting down to eat something cold that’s not very tasty is really a drag.”

Besides being a former mountain guide and owner of several outdoors gear shops, Burris now spends most of his time at the company finding ways to come up with tastier camp food. He knows tons about cooking with backpacking stoves — and after reading this, you will, too.


There are two main types of backpacking stoves. Liquid-fuel stoves use a liquid fuel such as white gas or kerosene to cook your food. The stove attaches to a fuel bottle with a small hose and requires you to manually pump it to create fuel pressure. They burn hot and are very reliable, but they also require regular cleaning and maintenance.

Canister or cartridge stoves are small burners that screw on top of butane fuel canisters. The fuel is a pressurized gas, so it’s always ready to burn. A lot of models come with a built-in igniter. Though they are not as reliable in cold conditions, “canister stoves are super easy to use and the best bet for Scouts who are new to backpacking stoves,” Burris says.

PRICE: Expect to spend about $40 for a good canister stove. Liquid-fuel stoves start around $70.

FUEL: You’ll also have to pay for the fuel. Butane gas canisters cost about $3 each. That can add up, because they can’t be refilled and reused. You’ll also have to pack them out of the wilderness when they’re empty. That means on a weeklong trip, they’ll be dead weight clanking around in your backpack. Liquid-fuel stoves run on refillable fuel bottles.

“For $8, you can buy a gallon of white gas that will last you for several seasons,” Burris says. It’s a little messy to refill, but they are cheaper in the long run — and better for the environment because there’s less waste.

CLEANING: Liquid-fuel stoves need to be cleaned regularly. Burris says over time carbon builds up in the stove’s port and prevents it from burning properly. The cleaning isn’t difficult, but it must be done.

“With a canister stove you don’t have the cleaning problem,” he says, “but if something fails, you are less likely to be able to get it repaired.”

WEIGHT VS. DURABILITY: You’ll see some ultra-light backpacking stoves at outdoors stores, but unless you’re experienced with stoves, Burris recommends steering clear of those.

“They’re really just stripped down versions of canister stoves built for adventure racers or ultra-light backpackers,” he says. “The problem is they are more expensive, and because the parts are so lightweight they’re not as durable.”

For your first stove, Burris recommends sticking with a standard canister stove because any extra weight will be more than made up for by its reliability and durability.


Stoves help make camp cooking quick and easy, but you have to use them properly. For a complete guide to stove safety, see Chapter 10, “Cooking,” of “The Boy Scout Handbook.” (BSA Supply No. 33105,, 1-800-323-0732)

107 Comments on Backpacking stoves buying guide

  1. Ok. I tried to comment earlier but it doesn’t seem to have shown up. That’s OK because I was in error.
    BSA policy prohibits the use of home made stoves in regards to chemical stove, this includes solid fuels. But, the policy does NOT address or specify homemade store in regards to biofuel (wood). A homemade wood burning stove may be frowned upon by some Scouters, but it is not banned. Building a homemade wood burning or woodgas stove is a valuable skill.

  2. Woodburing or soild are allowed, even homemade.

  3. I have purchased and tried the Solo Stove, which burns small sticks or denatured alcohol (take it in a metal container like the Coleman fuel for the Whisper Lites). I have not taken it camping yet, but it looks like a good alternative and uses dead sticks/branches from the area. (I have 2 Whisper Lite stoves and love them.) The Solo Stove boils water quickly (backpacking meals), and can be adjusted down by a slower feeding of the fuel. I am surprised that no one has mentioned it.

  4. I do not like how close i have to get my hands to the stove to pump the container of fuel! Are there extenders? But other than that, these are great stoves!

  5. We like the Pocket Rocket; simple and light to carry. It’s truly a stove made for us.

  6. Trail Master // May 3, 2013 at 6:15 pm // Reply

    Stick with white gas stoves, they are superior to canister types. MSR make the toughest; I prefer the Dragonfly.

  7. me myself and I // November 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm // Reply

    I made a small wood stove out of a large peanut can with air holes on the bottom and coper wire for a handle. Best part about it is you can burn any non toxic substance in it, so you don’t need to bring fuel if it hasn’t rained in a wile.

    • Refer to the BSA Chemical Fuels policy and the guide to safe scouting…

      • Pylades211 // December 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm //

        Actually the BSA policy is only with regards to homemade stoves that use chemical fuels. Homemade wood stoves are not prohibited because they don’t use chemical fuels.

  8. jetboil all the way its also a good stove

    • Off-trail-Monkey // July 8, 2013 at 5:26 pm // Reply

      Jet boil is not a stove, it’s a water boiler. Try cooking pancakes on it, or a steak, or a fish filet. Enough said.

      • Anonymous // December 2, 2014 at 7:44 pm //

        You can remove the canister from the base with a simple twist and viola’ you have a back back stove. I recommend using a frying pan to cook your food on.

  9. i love the Esbit pocket stove. it is a boss for under 15 dollars.

    • Where did you get a cool stove like that?!! I need one very badly, now that I heard about them!!!

    • Just remember that the fuel tabs don’t have real long burn times and they don’t simmer.
      There is an ultralight titanium stove for the esbit tabs that I think weighs under an ounce.
      I bought one of the regular ones for an emergency kit. If all you have to do is boil water they work just fine.

  10. Stove Expert // August 7, 2012 at 7:47 pm // Reply

    MSR Dragonfly

  11. My favorate is hexamine solid fule tablets

  12. NOLA Backpacker // July 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm // Reply

    ps. – everyone should learn how to make a “pop-can” stove. It came in handy in a pinch…

    • Off-Trail-Monkey // November 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm // Reply

      But please remember to never use one on a scout outing. They’re not allowed in scouts according to the “Guide to Safe Scouting” as is any home-made liquid burning stove. Also do not use alchohol, auto gas, jet fuel or tiki torch fuel as a stove/fire burning source either. If you do you’re subject to disipline and not covered by the BSA insurance. The can stoves have been known to break down and cause injury.

      • BUT, homemade woodburning stoves ARE allowed

      • Weird dude // March 29, 2015 at 2:01 am //

        When has a can stove cause more of an injury than a wood fire or normal stove if anything its safer than other stoves because there is no pressurized liquids that can explode

  13. NOLA Backpacker // July 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm // Reply

    After 10 years as a survival instructor, international traveler and spending a lot of time with a pack on my back I have used many types of stoves. I highly recommend liquid fuel stoves over canister stoves except in very specific situation. I currently use a Primus stove and it is nearly indestructible. This stove burns “anything”, liquid fuels and canister fuel. It is completely field serviceable as well with a small tool that is included. These stoves tend to be on the expensive side but will outlast anything else out there.
    Keep on Trekking,

  14. Knife overlord // July 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm // Reply

    MSR Dragonfly all the way !!!

  15. 007 dragonfly // January 24, 2012 at 6:46 pm // Reply

    I have been camping for 14 years and I recommend the whisperlite international. it burns most of your liquid fuels and diesal plus auto fuel.

  16. i like using home made alcohol stoves from pop cans but sterno works in a pinch.

  17. pop can stove, there cheap and great. run’em off anything

  18. what is a good stove

  19. After 22 years of scouting and trying many stove types (13), the MSR Dragon fly is tops on my list. Unlike many others, it is fully flame controlable from a jet engine to a minimal simmer thus saving fuel. It also has several features other stoves don’t: a self cleaning fuel line (Simply shake the unit and its clean), variable fuel bottle sizes, multi fuel options, and can fold up for compactness. A 21 oz bottle of white gas lasted 6 of us 5 days in the BWCA.
    If cost is an important element, we start our new scouts out with the coleman peak stove (Silver model w/ self-contained fuel tank). It’s not as fuel efficiant but is tough as nails and only costs us about $35.00 each at the local camping store.

    We have tried several butain type stoves too including Jet Boil (2 different models)and the Optimus Crux and feel it’s like throwing money away because of the cost vs use time. Secondly, they both froze up during the klondike derby leaving us in a pinch; thus making them useless in Minnesota 4 months every year and on our high alttitude adventure in Montana last year.

    For base camp camping in the warmer months, the boys do occasionally use propaine and butain stoves that they own because they are simple and room is not a major factor, we simply do not suggest them as a primary stove if you are going to own only one stove. As I suugest to eveyone, try several stoves out before buying one.

    As I always suggest, try several stoves and then decide what’s best for you.

  20. Can anyone recommend a stove that I could use for the pacific northwest?

  21. the schnauzer // November 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm // Reply

    i have a primus classic trail and it is EPIC. plus its 25 bucks. Its great and you can find it at rei.

  22. captain crunch // November 14, 2011 at 9:57 pm // Reply

    i agree with dfxscghyjv;ik jetboils work great. i have a camo personal cooking system.i went backpacking with 10 people from my troop for 3 days and boiled water to cook and clean with for almost every meal and used only about half a canister of fuel. i also bring it with when i play paintball to cook inbetween battles. if u get one u will need a stablizer.

  23. My Coleman Peak 1 micro stove works really good.

  24. I like the MSR Whisperlite which is the picture on top of this article.

  25. I prefer hexamine stoves as they cost only $1 and really light and compact.

  26. boyscout21 // July 27, 2011 at 7:02 pm // Reply

    back packing stoves are really good and the white gas is ten at gander mt and bass pro and at dick sporting goods

  27. I love this article, ive been searching all over the web for how much money to buy white gas for and this article gave me the straight on answer that i needed

  28. dfxscghyjv;lk"'' // June 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm // Reply

    jetboils work really really good and they are compact

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