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Camp Stove Shopping Guide

The Standard: For the vast majority of three-season backpacking trips, a canister stove is the best choice. These small, lightweight burners–usually weighing only 3 to 6 ounces–are easy to light and operate, and require little or no maintenance. They also offer the best flame control, which lets gourmet cooks simmer, sauté, and otherwise fine-tune delicate dishes. These stoves run on pressurized canisters of gas (usually a propane/butane mix) that are easily recycled.

Variables: Most canister stoves perform poorly in temperatures below 40°F, and their small size and configuration (burner on top of canister) generally makes them tipsy under large pots of water. If you’re cooking in winter or for groups, consider a liquid-fuel stove; white gas performs reliably in bitter cold, and white-gas stoves are much more stable due to their separate-burner-and-fuel bottle configuration.

You are… You should buy…
A soloist The smallest, lightest canister stove you can find–that fits inside your one-person cookpot. Take it to the store to make sure. The smartest solo cooksets let you nestle a stove and canister inside.
An average weekend hiker You’re probably boiling water and cooking for at least two people, so stability is more important than for the soloist. You could go rock-solid with a white-gas stove, but you’ll get more weight savings, better flame control, and decent stability if you select a canister stove whose burner arms lock into place.
A guide or troop leader For durability, stability, and all-conditions reliability, a multi-fuel stove is the best bet. These workhorse burners will take a beating and keep cooking, and they are easily cleaned and repaired in the field. Downside: They’re bulky and heavy compared to canister stoves, and they clog more often.
A winter camper or mountaineer There are tricks that make canister stoves cook in cold weather, but when you’re melting snow and boiling huge quantities of water, its better to avoid the uncertainty by packing a liquid-fuel stove.
An ultralighter You’re probably boiling water and cooking for at least two people, so stability is more important than for the soloist. You could go rock-solid with a white-gas stove, but you’ll get more weight savings, better flame control, and decent stability if you select a canister stove whose burner arms lock into place.

Going ultralight? Some hardcore ounce-counters swear by tiny alcohol stoves.

Advantages: widely available and inexpensive fuel; superlight stove construction (one popular version is made from a Pepsi can); and minimal bulk.

Disadvantages: reduced cooking power (alcohol doesn’t burn as hot); invisible flame; and minimalist cooking surface.

Key Accessories: Most liquid-fuel stoves come with windscreens and heat reflectors. Use them: They improve fuel efficiency and boil times significantly. Windscreens can also be used effectively with canister stoves, but do so cautiously: Overheated canisters can explode. Other essentials: A spare lighter tucked in your first-aid kit; a pot gripper; and (for canister stoves) a folding stove tripod.

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