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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. If temp about 30 or less I use a Whisperlite. Used down to -10. To me white gas is the only way.

  2. The best stove is the snow peak gigi power. It is about $50. it works really good.

  3. jet boil is the way to go

  4. I usecoleman multi fuel,itsgreat! and only 50$

  5. Pinhoti Pablo // September 26, 2008 at 4:56 pm // Reply

    I have been using the whisperlite international by MSR for some time now with no problems. A yearly maintenance, (rebuild, o-rings, etc.) and an occassional cleaning and i am good to go. The shaker jet system is great system to have if the stove’s jet should clog in the field. A simple shake and your back up and running.

    Doesn’t simmer well but if you are only boiling water it is excellent and very fast. You can use a deflector shield, (thin pan to deflect direct heat) and simmer very well with the whisperlite.

    I have heard complaints about soot and smoke at initial ignition. I carry a small bottle of denatured alcohol for my backup/penny stove. I use a little bit of the alcohol on the wick/fuel pan to prime and preheat the stove instead of regular fuel. Once preheated just turn on the regular fuel and no smoke or soot. This seams to work well with everything but diesel.

    Constructed well out of sturdy materials which makes it worth the little bit of extra weight. well worth the money

  6. The MSR Reactor (photo at top) is great. cheap, light, and effective.

  7. Bob the T-Rex // August 22, 2008 at 12:51 pm // Reply

    I got a stove that runs on little chemical tablets for $15

  8. I’ve been using the “cat stove” for 7 years now and haven’t found anything better. It is a cat food can with denatured alcohol. Nothing under pressure. I’ve burnt up Whisperlite, Coleman, and butane and several accidents with them because of the pressured fuel. I don’t care for them. The “cat stove” is a great project for the scouts and it only take about 30 minutes to make the stove, stand and windscreen for less than a $1.00.

  9. I hve a Wisperlite stove which works grea,t except on BSA property.

    Tried to use one at camp and got my head handed to me.

    So check with your Council before brining one to a BSA Camp.


  10. cool

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