Many moons ago, backpackers would simply cook food and boil water over an open fire.
But building a fire to make your morning coffee is a drag, and cooking on an open fire can be tricky for novices.
It isn’t even legal (or eco-friendly) to build a fire in some places any longer.
Accordingly, modern backpackers typically rely on backpacking stoves when headed through the back country.
But knowing that you need a backpacking stove and choosing between the 8 million models on the market are two different things. It’s easy for beginners to go slightly mad when trying to sort through all the options.
Do you want one that uses a cannister, a liquid, or an alternative fuel?
What kind of boil time do you need?
Do you need a windscreen?
And what the hell is priming, anyway? Do you want a stove that requires it?
We’ll sort through the weeds, explain everything you need to know, and help you make a choice.
What Are the Basic Types of Backpacking Stove?
There are a variety of ways you can categorize backpacking stoves, but fuel type is likely the best way to begin dividing them up.
Cannister Fuel Stoves
There are two reasons these are likely the most common type of backpacking stoves on the market:
- They’re pressurized and therefore very easy to use — simply screw in the cannister, light it up and start cooking.
- It’s easy to find the fuel these types of stoves require.
Cannister fuel stoves typically use butane, propane, or a mixture of the two. You can find these fuels at most outdoor stores, but they’re also available via Amazon and other online retailers.
But these obviously aren’t perfect for all situations, otherwise manufacturers wouldn’t give us other options.
The biggest drawbacks to cannister fuel stoves is that they don’t work very well in cold weather. You can get around this a little by warming cannisters up in your jacket before cooking and by relying on isobutane-propane mixes, but you’ll still find them tricky to use in really low temperatures.
Additionally, it’s hard to determine how much fuel is left in a cannister, and you can’t adjust the amount of fuel you bring on the trail (meaning that you’ll end up carrying more weight than necessary).
The cannisters also present a disposal challenge — you’ll have to recycle or discard them when you get back home.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
Liquid fuel stoves are typically most popular with more experienced backpackers, thanks to their superior performance in cold weather and because they give you the ability to measure out the precise amount of fuel necessary for a given trip.
It’s also a more eco-friendly long-term option for people who backpack a lot, as you can reuse the container. For that matter, liquid fuel is also costs less than cannister fuels.
But these benefits come with a convenience tax.
Liquid fuels aren’t pressurized the way cannister fuels are. This means you’ll have to pressurize them before you start cooking by using a small (included) hand pump.
You’ll also have to “prime” these types of stoves by burning a little bit of the liquid fuel on top of the burner. This basically heats the liquid being drawn up the line and turns it into a gas, which allows it to burn.
Care is obviously required here; you could conceivably spill this stuff on or near your tent, whereas cannister fuels contain gas, which won’t “spill.”
In terms of specific fuels, different stoves are designed to work with different fuels.
Most liquid fuel stoves work with white gas, which is generally the preferred option. However, some will also burn kerosene, automotive gas or diesel.
Everything Else (Alternative Fuel Stoves)
Some stoves use neither cannisters nor liquid fuel tanks and instead rely on other types of fuel.
- Some experienced backpackers use stoves that burn solid fuel tablets. These nifty little things work in super compact stoves (some models weigh less than 4 ounces, including a tablet), and they’re easy to light. You can even extinguish them an re-light them later if need be. They aren’t perfect though. They don’t generate as much heat as most other fuels and they can be smelly. They can even gunk up the bottom of your pots and pans.
- Other stoves burn denatured alcohol. Stoves built to use denatured alcohol weigh even less than those designed to burn fuel tablets — some weigh only 2 ounces or so. Alcohol is also a cheap fuel that’s easy to find (in the U.S., anyway). But alcohol doesn’t burn as hot as cannister gas or liquid fuel, so it takes more of it to boil water and cook food, thereby offsetting some of the weight benefits it provides.
- One of the most intriguing alternative fuel sources is the most obvious: wood. To use one of these stoves, you simply fill a can-like container with tinder and twigs, light it and then start cooking. On the “pro” side, these stoves alleviate the need to carry fuel at all. Plus, burning wood to cook your camp meals is certainly charming. But best of all, you can actually find wood-burning stoves that’ll charge your electronic devices. All that said, these stoves aren’t quite as easy to use as cannister-fuel stoves, and they aren’t legal to use in all areas. Beginning backpackers should also consider the fact that it can be tricky to find dry wood in rainy weather.
The 8 Best Backpacking Stoves
1. Jetboi MiniMo Backpacking Stove System
Jetboil doesn’t need an introduction among seasoned backpackers — they make some of the most popular stoves around.
Primarily designed to boil water quickly, the MiniMo is perfect for serious trail trekkers who are after functionality and dependability in a lightweight, compact package.
An all-in-one camp cooking system, the Jetboil MiniMo boils 1/2 liter of water in 135 seconds, features a push-button ignition and comes with everything you need except the fuel.
- All components nest in the included pot
- Weighs only 14.6 ounces
- Proprietary regulator technology allows simmering
- Includes stabilizers, cover, stove, lid, pot support & pot
- Uses isobutane/propane fuel mix
- Works with a litany of Jetboil pots, pans & accessories
- Packs away neatly
- Very lightweight
- Boils water extremely quickly
- Allows simmering
- Works with other Jetboil accessories
- Pricey system
- Jetboil fuel can be pricey
2. MSR WindBurner Personal Stove System
MSR is another household name in the backpacking community, and their stoves have plenty of devotees. We gave Jetboil the edge because their stoves allow for a little more cookware flexibility.
Like the Jetboil MiniMo, the MSR WindBurner is designed primarily for boiling water.
A complete modular backcountry cooking system, the Windburner Personal features MSR's incredible windscreen, radiant burner and heat exchanger, which allow it to boil water quickly while using fuel efficiently.
- Built-in windscreen
- Radiant burner and heat exchanger boil water quickly
- Includes locking pot and extra bowl
- Removable fuel cannister stabilizers included
- Cannister, stabilizers, and burner fit inside included pot
- Weighs only 15.3 ounces
- Boils 1 liter in 4.5 minutes
- All in one modular system
- Convenient to pack
- Very lightweight
- Boils water very quickly
- Built-in windscreen is very helpful
- A bit of an investment
- Matching pots and pans are pricey
- Doesn't always simmer well
3. SOTO WindMaster
A perfectly capable and more affordable alternative to the Jetboil or MSR, the SOTO WindMaster has become a backpacking favorite thanks to the value it provides. It does everything you would want, and it does so for a very reasonable price.
Is it as good as a MiniMo or WindBurner?
But it’s closer than it should be, given that it costs about one-third what the others do.
A feature-packed, lightweight stove that is a great option for intermediate backpackers, who want more than an entry-level stove, yet don't want to spend a fortune.
- Weighs only 2.3 ounces
- Boils 2 cups of water in approximately 150 seconds
- Adjustable flame allows for simmering
- Includes 4Flex arms to support large pots
- Lindal valve system is compatible with most fuels
- Extremely highly rated by users and other publications alike
- Provides fantastic value
- Multi-fuel capabilities are always convenient
- Can be used with TriFlex arms to reduce weight
- Some users complained it is a fuel hog
- There were a few complaints about igniter durability
4. Odoland Windproof Camp Stove
There are a ton of budget-priced backpacking stoves on the market, including scads that are priced below 20 bucks. But few are even worth considering.
Meanwhile, this little trooper from Odoland is priced just a skosh higher and is actually pretty good.
No, it isn’t going to hold up for a trek across Patagonia, but it’ll likely last for your first few backpacking trips. And that’s a lot more than we can say about some of the other budget-priced stoves out there.
An affordable backpacking stove that works with multiple fuel types and comes with a number of features often reserved for more expensive options.
- Weighs only 12.8 ounces
- Uses either propane or isobutane-propane fuels
- Boils 1 liter of water in approximately 3 minutes
- Comes with piezo ignition system
- Adjustable flame allows for simmering
- Great price point for casual campers
- Surprisingly quick boil time
- Works with two different fuel sources
- It's not especially durable
- A few users complained of problems with the valve
5. Fire-Maple FMS-300T
Ounce-counters in need of a cannister stove will be hard pressed to find a better option than this little beauty from Fire-Maple. Weighing only 1.6 ounces and featuring a unique folding design, the FMS-300T is the perfect tool for feeding yourself without weighing your pack down.
Best of all, this stove will work with three different fuel types, providing that much-desired flexibility traveling backpackers demand.
One of the lightest, most compact options around, this stove will run on any of three different fuels.
- Weighs 1.6 ounces
- Unique, folding-blade design
- Folds up into a 52 mm long, 37 mm wide package
- Uses propane, butane, or isobutane
- Capable of simmering
- Remarkably lightweight and compact
- Multi-fuel stoves are always convenient
- Excellent combination of features and affordability
- Doesn't include a carrying case
- A small number of users complained of flame consistency
6. Solo Stove Lite
A capable little wood-burning stove featuring air-delivering ventilation holes and a low-smoke design, this is a great option for backpackers who want to avoid carrying fuel.
Just be sure you know how to find dry tinder during rainy weather before committing to a wood-burning backpacking stove.
Weighing only 9.6 ounces, this small but mighty wood-burning camping stove is easy to use and completely eliminates the need to carry fuel.
- Low-smoke design promotes secondary combustion
- Will nest in Solo's Stove Pot 900 (not included)
- Stainless steel construction
- Ventilation holes to bathe the fire in oxygen
- Boils 32 ounces (0.94 liters) of water in 8 to 10 minutes
- Features no moving parts
- Eliminates the need to carry fuel
- Durable unit
- Easy and intuitive to use
- Fun to use
- Simmering is possible, but difficult
- Can be tough to find fuel in wet weather
- Not legal in all backcountry areas
7. Optimus Polaris Optifuel Stove
Travel internationally? Want a stove that’d keep you fed during a zombie apocalypse? Then you need one that’ll burn as many fuels as possible.
The Optimus Optifuel is ideally suited for such situations. But it also has a number of nifty features and bonus inclusions, such as a fuel bottle and storage bag.
Compatible with any of five different fuel types, this premium backpacking stove is ideal for serious backpackers and anyone who likes to camp in the cold.
- Works with liquified petroleum gas, white gas, kerosene, diesel and jet fuel
- Includes 0.4-liter fuel bottle and storage bag
- Weighs 16.75 ounces including fuel pump
- Quick priming burner reduces prep time
- Fantastic fuel versatility
- Comes with tons of extras
- Pump is slightly heavier than some competitors
- Several users complained that the burner is loud
- A few users complained about cannister-fuel performance
8. Optimus Svea
A favorite of old timers, the Optimus Svea is great for those who just want a stove that’ll work, work and work some more.
But despite being a no-frills camp stove, it is still fun to use, and you can even simmer with it. Just note that this isn’t the tidiest stove in the world — leak complaints are fairly common.
It's not right for everyone, but if you prioritize reliability over everything else, this little stove will work no matter what the trail (and Mother Nature) throw at you.
- Runs on white gas
- Utilizes self-pressurized tank
- Can be used to simmer
- Weighs 4.6 ounces
- Small cooking pot included
- Works well in cold weather and at altitude
- Doesn't require the use of a pump
- Built-in cleaning needles streamline maintenance duties
- Relatively loud
- There were a few complaints of leaks
Backpacking Stove Buyer’s Guide: Things to Think About
Picking a fuel type is only one part of the stove-buying equation. You’ll also want to keep a few other things in mind when trying to find the best backpacking stove for your needs.
- Weight: If you’re just heading out on a weekend camping trip, you don’t necessarily need to spend twice as much money to shave 2 ounces of weight. But if you’re an ultralight-minded backpacker, you may want to spend a little more to get the lightest wood- or tablet-burning stove available.
- Space/Packability: Weight tends to be one of the first things backpackers consider when picking out gear, but space is important too. In some cases, it’s easier to haul another few ounces than it is to find more free cubic inches in your pack. This is generally most important for stoves that have long stabilizers or fuel lines.
- Cost: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — beginners should not spend a fortune on equipment. You don’t know what you want, what you like or what you need yet. Pick up a capable entry-level unit and try it out a few times before you consider upgrading. On the other hand, seasoned backpackers who know what they want will be much better served by coughing up a bit more cash to get the kind of gear that’ll perform well and is built to last.
- Maintenance Required: Most camping gear requires a bit of maintenance, and backpacking stoves are no different. However, the fuel type you select will significantly impact the amount of maintenance your stove requires. Liquid fuel stoves tend to require the most maintenance, while wood-burning stoves generally require very little.
- Lighting Method: You’ll generally have to use a lighter or matches on stoves that burn alcohol, solid-fuel tablets, wood or liquid fuel. But cannister-style stoves often come with a piezo ignition system. Simply put, it’s a little button you press to light up the fuel. These probably shouldn’t ever be considered mandatory, but they are hella convenient at times.
- Boil Time: Casual campers probably don’t need to concern themselves with boil time very much, unless you are trying to maximize fuel efficiency. But for serious backpackers who’re either counting ounces or camping in cold (read: fuel hungry) weather, it’s worth considering the fact that cannister-style stoves typically boil water the quickest, while alternative fuel stoves generally take a lot longer to achieve a good, rolling boil.
- Simmering Capabilities: Boiling water is clearly important. Even if you don’t need to do so for purification purposes, you’ll likely need to do so for cooking or making coffee. But many recipes call for lengthy simmering periods. Some stoves (especially cannister-type and liquid-fuel stoves) make this easy, but it’s often difficult to impossible to do so with stoves that utilize alternative fuels.
- Stability: You do not want your stove toppling if you barely graze it. That could be annoying when using a wood-burning stove or downright dangerous when utilizing a liquid- or alcohol-burning stove. So, look for things like long stabilizing legs and designs that are wide and short, rather than tall and narrow.
- Durability: Durability isn’t a huge concern among entry-level stoves. You’ll likely be spending less than $25, so you can just replace it once a season if you like. But if you’re spending some money on a high-end camping stove, you’ll want to factor in durability.
- Legal Considerations: As mentioned earlier, some countries and municipalities prohibit the use of some fuel types and designs. Accordingly, you’ll want to research the laws governing backcountry fire use in the area you intend to visit before making a choice.
- Matching Accessories: Some camping stoves come with ancillary items designed specifically for the stove — think windscreens, small pots and grills, among other things. These things can be very convenient and increase the value of a given stove, but they can also be hard to replace if lost or damaged.
Don’t forget to pick up a carabiner for your camping stove!
These carabiners from Booms Fishing are super affordable and perfect for the task.
We hope this backpacking stove buyer’s guide has helped you make a decision. As you can surely tell by now, simply deciding on the fuel type you’d like and a budget will whittle things down very quickly.
Have you tried any of these backpacking stoves out? Do you have another model you like that we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments below!