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How to Buy a Camping Stove For Your Next Adventure

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:

MSR PocketRocket 2

MSR PocketRocket 2 ($45, msrgear.com): For performance, simplicity, price and low weight, it’s hard to beat the PocketRocket. Screw it onto a canister, fold out the pot-support arms, turn it on and you’re cooking. A liter of water boils in a blazing-fast 3 1/2 minutes, and the flame control won’t burn your noodles. It’ll pack inside any pot and last for years. 2.6 oz.

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.

MSR Whisperlite

MSR Whisperlite ($90, msrgear.com): A generation after its introduction, the Whisperlite remains a solid and affordable choice among liquid-fuel stoves. Burning white gas, it has a self-cleaning jet (below the burner, where the fuel gets vaporized) and provides a wide, stable platform for large pots. It’ll boil a liter of water in 4 minutes and works in wind and cold. Flame control is limited. 11.5 oz.

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.

Esbit Titanium Stove

Esbit Titanium Stove ($18, industrialrev.com): You can’t get much simpler, cheaper or lighter than the Esbit Titanium Stove. The three folding legs double as pot supports, opening around a tiny tray that holds a solid fuel tablet (purchased separately). Unfold, light a fuel tablet and you have a slow cooker. It pairs well with the 750ml Esbit Titanium Pot ($70) or any pot of similar size. 0.4 oz.

“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

Optimus Crux Lite Solo Cook System

Optimus Crux Lite Solo Cook System ($60, optimusstoves.com): The Crux Lite pairing offers a complete backcountry cooking system (for one hiker) weighing less than 10 ounces and all at a great price. Using screw-on isobutane fuel canisters, the tiny stove can boil a liter of water in 3 minutes. The entire system, including a 0.6-liter pot and lid/fry pan with folding arms and a 100-gram fuel cartridge, nests together and packs inside an included stuff sack.

Solo Stove Lite

Solo Stove Lite ($70, solostove.com): For a long hike where sticks are plentiful (and dry), the Solo Stove Lite burns pretty efficiently for a wood stove. Its air intake holes at the bottom and vent holes at the top pump oxygen to the flames, producing good heat but little smoke. It’s light and compact, and there is basically nothing to break or fall. 9 oz.

Camp Chef Everest

Camp Chef Everest ($125, campchef.com): This portable two-burner tabletop stove creates a campsite mini-kitchen suitable for large groups, delivering top performance at a competitive price. Its propane burners provide excellent flame control. It folds up into a sturdy case with two solid latches. 12lbs.

Jetboil MiniMo and Sumo

Jetboil MiniMo ($135, jetboil.com) and Sumo ($140, scoutshop.org): Jetboil changed the game when it introduced integrated stove-and-cookpot systems. The MiniMo is sized for solo use, with a 1-liter pot/cup, while the Sumo can cook meals for three or four with a 1.8-liter pot/cup capacity. They both have push-button igniters and good flame control, and boil water in 4 1/2 minutes. Both stoves are designed to break down and store the entire system inside the pot. 14.6 oz. (MiniMo), 1 lb. (Sumo)

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.

21 Comments on How to Buy a Camping Stove For Your Next Adventure

  1. 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.

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

    MSR Dragonfly

  3. My favorate is hexamine solid fule tablets

  4. 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

      • There was an adult leader from my former (now defunct) troop who found out the problems with can stoves the hard way. It is not safer than a campfire or normal stove. He wound up catching his legs on fire and couldn’t smother it. Stop, drop, and role did nothing (and to add insult to injury, it was in a cow pasture and he rolled through some cow pies). Only when all of the fumes were burned up did the fire go out.

  5. 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,

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

    MSR Dragonfly all the way !!!

  7. 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.

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

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

  10. what is a good stove

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