Backpacking Stoves: A Guide On Choosing One

Looking forward to a freshly-cooked dinner and that hot cup of coffee when you get up in the morning? If yes, then backpacking stoves should be on top of your list.

However, the right stove for you depends on a lot of factors. You must consider its weight, versatility, added functions, etc. to ensure that what you get fits your requirements.

If you have a trip planned out soon and are searching for a stove, we got your back. In this post, we’ll be discussing your different options for a hassle-free backpacking adventure.

What to Consider When Looking for Backpacking Stoves

When shopping for a backpacking stove, consider the following factors to help you make the best choice:

  • Type – backpacking stoves are often divided into what type of fuel they use and how it is stored.
  • Features and specs – knowing the stove’s boil and burn times, weight, and additional features may help narrow your choices.
  • Usage tips – familiarizing yourself with the nuances of how a stove works will help you make an informed decision. Plus, understanding this will also get the best out of your money once you’re out in the field.

Types of Backpacking Stoves

Here are the three main kinds of backpacking stoves:

Canister Stoves

These low-maintenance and easy-to-use stoves screw on top of self-sealing fuel canisters. The canisters contain two pre-pressurized gases, propane and isobutene.

Some models are incredibly small, compact, and only weigh a few ounces. They may be usable in some foreign destinations that accommodate American trekkers.

Advantages:

  • Small and lightweight.
  • Quick to light, you don’t need to prime them before lighting. Just turn the valve and light with a lighter, match, or piezo-igniter.
  • Flame adjusts easily and simmers well.
  • Canister self-seals once you unscrew the stove, so there’s no need to worry about leaks and spills.
  • Some models have a built-in pressure regulator that provides consistent heat output throughout the canister’s life. This feature enhances high-elevation and cold-weather performance as well.

Disadvantages:

  • The arms are often not long enough to securely hold large pots.
  • It’s difficult to know how much gas is left inside the closed canister. We recommend always carrying an extra canister to be on the safe side.
  • You shouldn’t use a windscreen with an on-canister stove since it can trap excess heat and result in fuel exploding.
  • The canisters can depressurize and produce weak flames in colder weather (except for stoves with pressure regulators.)
  • The fuel can cost more compared to liquid-fuel stoves.
  • Empty canisters mean waste. Make sure to throw them properly and look for recycling options near you.

Liquid-Fuel Stoves

You can connect these versatile stoves to refillable fuel bottles. They typically run on white gas, which is highly refined to have few to zero impurities. It burns hot and clean, performs well in extremely cold weather, and is cheaper compared to the per-ounce cost of canister fuels.

However, you can also find models that run on jet fuel, diesel, kerosene, or unleaded auto gasoline. This versatility makes them a great choice for international travelers who may have limited fuel options outside the US.

Advantages:

  • Have a low profile and provide greater stability on uneven surfaces.
  • You can simply peer into the bottle to tell how much fuel is left.
  • While you still have to buy fuel bottles, there are no canisters to discard.
  • These stoves are your best bet if traveling to high elevations and cold temperatures.

Disadvantages:

  • Priming and periodic maintenance are required.
  • Fuel spills are possible.
  • May be heavier than canister stoves.
  • Multi-fuel stoves are more expensive.
  • The fuels other than white gas have more impurities that can clog some parts, like the fuel tube, over time.

Alternative-Fuel Stoves

These stoves are your best options if long-distance backpacking and for home emergency kits. Some are very lightweight, while others are a bit heavier.

Denatured Alcohol Stoves

These stoves only weigh an ounce or two, making them ideal for ultralight backpackers. Plus, you only need to carry a small bottle of alcohol to meet your needs.

Advantages:

  • These stoves only have a few parts that need maintenance.
  • Denatured alcohol is cheap and is easy to find throughout the country.
  • The fuel burns silently.

Disadvantages:

  • The alcohol doesn’t burn as hot compared to white gas or canister fuel. So, they take longer to boil water and require more fuel.
  • A windscreen is almost always a must.
  • Denatured alcohol can be hard to find outside the US.

Wood-Burning Stoves

These burn leaves and twigs you can find in the backcountry. Meaning, you don’t need to carry fuel—which is great for lighter and longer trips.

Advantages:

  • Simple and lightweight.
  • Some models can produce enough electricity while burning to charge a small gadget or your phone using its USB connection.
  • You may even equip some models with an optional grill.

Disadvantages:

  • Looking for dry fuel in wet weather is a challenge.
  • Not allowed usually during a burn ban or in some places at high elevation. For instance, Yosemite National Park prohibits using twig-burning stoves over 9,600 feet.

Solid-Fuel Tablet Stoves

These are another popular option among ultralight backpackers. Some models are super small that you can fold them up and fit in your pocket.

Advantages:

  • Inexpensive.
  • Very lightweight. Foldable models can weigh as low as 3.25 ounces, while stove/pot combos weigh 7 ounces.
  • Compact.
  • Tablets light easily and can be extinguished for future use.

Disadvantages:

  • Relatively slow when bringing water to a boil.
  • Tablets may have an unpleasant smell.
  • Tablets can leave a greasy residue on the underside of your pot.

Common Specs and Features of Backpacking Stoves

Weight

You’ll probably want to count ounces if going on long, solo hikes. Conversely, your choice may be different from someone who mainly enjoys backpacking with friends on weekends.

Burn Time

This is how long the stove burns using a given amount of fuel.

Average Boil Time

This spec can help you choose among models, especially if fuel efficiency is a priority. Here are some boiling and simmering guidelines:

  • Canister stoves – boil water quickly and some models are good to excellent at simmering. This makes them perfect for camp gourmets.
  • Liquid-fuel stoves – also boil water quickly even in cold weather. Simmering ability, however, depends on the model.
  • Alternative-fuel stoves – made mainly for boiling, although still a bit slow (sometimes by minutes.)

Piezo-Igniter

This is a push-button spark producer that you can find on some canister stoves. It’s a great feature, especially if your matches got lost or wet.

Stabilizers

You can attach stabilizers under your fuel canisters to reduce the chances of upright models tipping over. These are sometimes sold separately.

Backpacking Stoves Usage Tips

For ALL TYPES of Backpacking Stoves:

  • Never cook inside tents and enclosed spaces. Doing this causes carbon monoxide poisoning, which creates a high fire risk.
  • Make sure to inspect all connections, valves, and lines for damage or leaks before turning the stove on.
  • Place the stove on the most level surface available.
  • Carry a multi-tool with pliers in case you need to do some repairs on your stove.
  • Consider using an old car license plate to make a base for the stove, especially on sand.
  • Even if your stove features a piezo-igniter, we still recommend carrying matches if ever the piezo-igniter fails.

For Canister Stoves:

  • New fuel canisters usually have a small amount of air on top. Once this bleeds off, the fuel will flow and ignite. If the stove tips, a huge yellow flame-up may occur.
  • Keep the canister warm by placing it in your sleeping bag or hiking with it in your jacket pocket. Warmth keeps the pressure up, so doing this is especially handy in colder temperatures.
  • Stoves with pressure regulators burn more efficiently at higher elevations. Therefore, you won’t waste fuel.
  • When cooking in the snow, put a piece of foam under the canister for insulation. This will help prevent chunks of ice at the bottom from forming.
  • Some places let you recycle old fuel canisters, which were considered hazardous waste. Ask your local recycler to see if they can take them.

For Liquid-Fuel Stoves:

  • If possible, use alcohol for priming to help keep the stove soot-free.
  • Avoid filling the fuel tank to the brim. Leave some room for the air you pump in when you pressurize it. Additionally, fuel expands as it warms. So, leaving some space prevents excess pressure from building up.
  • Use a windscreen.
  • Empty your fuel tank first if storing the stove for several months or more.
  • Never spill fuel on bare skin. In colder weather, this can cause frostbite because of the quick evaporation of fuel.
  • Use a heat exchanger for long trips or cold weather. Its metal collar directly transfers heat to the pot for faster boiling. It helps save fuel, too!
  • White gas degrades over time. Thus, we always suggest using new ones to prevent the small sediments lurking within from clogging the stove.

Conclusion

Backpacking stoves allow you to enjoy hot meals and beverages even outside the comforts of your home. We hope we helped you pick the right product for a pleasurable outdoor experience.

Happy shopping and have fun outdoors!

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