How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

With so many backpacking stove choices available, you can get lost in the proverbial forest of backpacking stove options. Here's some guidance to help you.


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    Decide what kind of backpacker you are. This can be determined by base pack weight (the weight of your backpack and gear before you put in any food and water). Here are some guidelines:
    • Ultra-Light Backpacker = 10 - 25 lbs base pack weight
    • Kind-of-Light Backpacker = 26 - 35 lbs base pack weight
    • Regular Backpacker = 36 - 45 lbs base pack weight
    • Everest-Climbing Backpacker = 46 + lbs base pack weight
  2. Image titled Choose a Backpacking Stove Step 2
    Decide how many people you need to cook for. Often backpackers will cook for themselves even when going out in a group. However occasionally you may want to get in on the communal cooking experience.
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    Consider your options accordingly. Figure out how much weight you are willing to carry, how many people you want to cook for, and how long you are willing to wait for your food to be ready to eat. Whatever you decide to go with, always do some test runs with it before you take it with you backpacking, and do some test meals you have prepared with it. That will help you be prepared to use your stove properly because whatever type of stove you choose it will not be foolproof or condition proof unless you have learned how to use it right, and have appropriate meal plans.
    • Canister Stoves. These typically run on pressurized canisters of butane and burn hot and fast.
      • Boils 2 cups in around 2-3 minutes. Will burn at almost any altitude, in most any weather except very cold. You will have to keep the fuel canisters warm (above 40 deg F) continuously to vaporize/pressurize the fuel. And they are a plug & play set-up for the most part. Hook up the canister, light the stove and away you go. Plenty of power for group cooking. But you will pay the price in weight and literally with your wallet (not just for the stove, but for the fuel as well). Also, it is very hard to tell how much fuel has been used or is left in a canister, requiring extra canisters to be carried.
      • These expensive stove systems weigh a little under a 1lb not including the weight of the fuel canister which can be an additional 1lb of weight. 2 lbs of weight has you set solidly in the regular backpacker category perhaps nearing the climbing Everest category depending on how you assemble your pack.
      • Three problems with these stoves are that they are heavy, pricey, and produce a lot of garbage due to the disposable packaging.
    • White Gas (liquid fuel) Stoves. These stoves are pretty similar to the canister stoves except they typically burn white gas and are sometimes not as expensive as the canister stoves, but not always.
      • The benefits of white gas is that it's cheap, and has a lot of energy. But is also a little more finicky of a stove system. You may have parts you need to keep clean when you store your fuel bottle that hooks into the stove. You also have to pump up the fuel bottle to pressurize it before use, and if you have any spills in your pack because you forgot to screw the lid on tight you'll end up smelling like a gas station, and have stained gear where the fuel has leaked.
      • Boil times are competitive with the canister stoves at about 2:30 - 4:00 minutes per 2 cups. You will typically always have enough fire to take care of all your cooking needs. Plenty of power for group cooking. It is very useful for cooking at high elevation or melting snow as the cooking time on other stoves becomes excessive.
      • The weight price ends up being about the same as the canister stoves at about 1lb not including fuel. You are still a regular backpacker possibly climbing Everest but if you're lucky you could be considered a Kind-Of-Light Backpacker. The fuels (butane and white gas, as well as kerosene, alcohol and fuel oil) have the same amount of energy (heat) per pound of fuel.[citation needed] However, the container for butane must be heavier (steel)to withstand the pressure.
    • Alcohol Stoves. Seem to be by far the most favored choice among most ultra-light packers often being made of recycled soda cans. That being said, typically inexpensive and reliable. See also How to Make a Simple Beverage Can Stove.
      • Alcohol stoves need little fuel to cook most average backpacking meals allowing the user to carry less weight compared to other systems. Boils 2 cups in about 4:30 minutes. Plenty of power for group cooking, just make sure your stove is sturdy enough to handle the amount of weight you want to put on it.
      • Weighs 1.5 oz, and fuel + bottle weight can be as light as 4 oz for a 2-3 day trip. Aren't as robust in cold cold weather situations, or extremely high altitudes The fuel is safe to carry if it spills typically will not leave stains and completely evaporates so no smell is left behind. You have many different fuel choices you can burn in your stove that can be found at many different stores. Burn Liquid Heet® from your auto-parts store, Denatured Alcohol from the hardware store, or 91% Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol from the pharmacy.
    • Esbit Stoves. These aren't really stoves as much as they are pot-stands with a cup to hold fuel. The fuel comes in solid tablets and are really lightweight.
      • Price is relatively cheap for amount of cooking time and fuel you'll need, but you also can buy just enough for one trip to make the price easier.
      • Cooking times can be slow in comparison to the above stove types. Somewhere in the range of 12 minutes for 2 cups of water. There is probably nothing lighter or simpler except for perhaps a campfire. But you pay for it in cooking time and not really being able to cook for a group.
    • Wood Stoves. These aren't really stoves as much as they are mini metal fire pits.
      • The weight can even beat esbit stoves, because you don't have to carry your fuel source (wood) with you. Of course there-in lies the problem if it is your sole means of cooking and aren't prepared to learn how to start a fire with wet wood in case you are caught in a downpour which happens all too frequently.
      • They are a practically cost-free choice if you have a tin can and the means to punch some holes in the bottom.
      • Boil times range widely, and are about what you could expect from cooking over a campfire. Some models are sufficient for group cooking while others are solely solo cooks only.


  • Carry alternate fuel sources.
  • Carry extra fuel canisters.


  • Never transport fuels in unapproved containers.

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