White-gas stoves run on the purest, most refined fuel (also called naphtha). White gas burns cleaner and hotter than other liquid fuels, and is widely available in the United States. (It's often sold in gallon jugs by Coleman, MSR, and Primus. Tip: Don't overfill the fuel bottle–leave gas about a finger length short of the top.) Typical stove cost: $80 to $110. Examples: MSR WhisperLite, Brunton Bantam
Multifuel stoves come with interchangeable jets that burn not only white gas, but also kerosene, jet fuel, or even diesel (great if you're traveling abroad, where white gas isn't always available). Burn white gas whenever possible; other fuels have slower boil times and require more maintenance to clear soot buildup. Typical cost: $150 to $200. Examples: MSR XGK-EX, Coleman Denali
Hybrid stoves allow you to burn canister or liquid fuel for supreme versatility, but they're pricy. Typical cost: $200 and up. Examples: Primus OmniFuel, Brunton Vapor AF, Coleman FyreStorm TI
Prime To preheat the stove (required for almost all models), release a small puddle of fuel into the priming cup or pad. (Don't overfill it, or you'll get a fireball.) Once lit, that flame heats the liquid fuel in the generator tube, transforming it to vapor. As the flame begins to burn down, pulse (open and close) the control valve to ignite the stove. Don't rush it and over-flood the generator tube, or you'll get a big yellow flame instead of the hot blue one you want.
Simmer The key: Don't over-pressurize the bottle. Before igniting, pump the plunger 10 to 15 times, rather than the standard 20 to 30. When cooking, be patient with adjustments: Expect a delay when you turn down the flame. When you find your stove's perfect simmering point, mark the control valve and its housing with a Sharpie, advises Drew Keegan, director of product management at MSR. Even easier: Choose a stove with a separate flame adjustor valve that metes out vapor instead of fuel, like the MSR DragonFly or the Optimus Nova.
Regularly clean carbon residue from the fuel line. Here's how: Loosen the cable from the fuel line and push it in and out using five-inch strokes, then remove it and wipe with a rag. (For heavy buildup, lightly rub with sandpaper, then wipe clean.) For a full cleaning (once per season, or whenever the stove acts balky), remove the jet and cable, then attach the fuel line to the pump. Pressurize the bottle with 15 strokes and open the control valve to let about four spoonfuls of fuel run through the stove (catch it with a container like a pie plate). This flushes out soot particles. Reassemble the stove, using a bit of lubricant (WD-40 or any mineral-based oil) on the end of the cable.
Clean the jet. On some models, a quick shake will activate an internal cleaning needle; on others, disassemble the stove and clean it using the provided tool or a needle threader from a sewing kit.
Regularly check that O-rings aren't cracked or nicked. Pack replacements and change them out if they're damaged to prevent leaks.
Inspect the pump cup frequently and lubricate it with mineral-based oil or saliva. The cup acts as a gasket to create a seal within the pump–and if the leather dries and cracks, the bottle won't pressurize.