In the backcountry, a lightweight backpacking stove is a convenience most of the time, an irritation sometimes (when it doesn’t work as it should) and, in certain circumstances, a critical piece of gear that can help get you through a challenging situation (such as when you must melt snow or heat stream water to stave off hypothermia).
It isn’t always essential, but when you want or need a camping stove, you want it to perform reliably.
The world of camping stoves has seen major evolution since your dad’s time, giving you more choices but also requiring a little pre-purchase research. In this buying guide, Gear Guy dishes on all you need to know to get the camping stove for your adventures.
3 BACKPACKING STOVE CATEGORIES
Backpacking stoves fall into one of three basic categories, according to the type of fuel they burn:
CANISTER STOVES run on an isobutane-propane fuel blend in pressurized canisters. These stoves are compact, lightweight, reliable, durable and easiest to operate. They have good flame control, and some are inexpensive. Their designs range from integrated systems — where the pot and stove assemble as a single unit (like a Jetboil) — to separate, tiny backpacking stoves weighing just a few ounces that screw onto fuel canisters made by a variety of brands.
While ideal for three-season backpacking or camping, their flaw is diminished performance in strong wind and sub-freezing temperatures.
LIQUID-FUEL STOVES like the MSR Whisperlite run on white gas and sometimes other liquid fuels like kerosene. They consist of a separate stove and fuel bottle that must be assembled. Users pressurize the fuel bottle by pumping and then prime the stove before lighting. These are heavier and bulkier than canister stoves, and they require occasional maintenance. They excel in sub-freezing temperatures and high altitudes.
“ALTERNATIVE-FUEL STOVES” is a catch-all term for otherwise dissimilar models that do not fall into either of the above categories. This includes camping stoves that burn small sticks of wood you collect (such as the Solo Stove Lite), denatured alcohol or solid fuel tablets (like the Esbit Titanium Stove), purchased separately. While alcohol and tablet stoves are popular with thru-hikers for their low weight and simplicity, they are much slower to boil water and cook food than the above types. The same is true of wood stoves, and dry wood isn’t always easy to find.
The BSA does not recommend alcohol-fueled camping stoves — although they are not banned — because clear liquid alcohol is tough to see and could pose a safety problem to those unaccustomed with proper handling. Read more about BSA chemical fuels and equipment safety guidelines.
HOW TO CHOOSE A CAMPING STOVE
Canister stoves are widely popular and considered the most convenient for backpacking trips. Liquid-fuel stoves are often the choice of winter campers and mountaineers. And many thru-hikers prefer pocket-style stoves that take up little space in their already-stuffed packs.
Consider how you will use your camping stove, talk with your buddies to get their recommendations and check out a few of our favorites, shown on this page.
MORE RECOMMENDED CAMPING STOVES
As with any flame, burning stoves consume oxygen. They also give off carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that can kill. Always cook in a well-ventilated place — not inside a completely closed tent or snow cave.