One of the most important things to bring on a backpacking trip is a stove. Everyone looks forward to a nice cooked meal at the end of the day and a hot cup of coffee in the morning.
There are many types of camping stoves on the market, and there are several factors that will determine what type is best for your adventures. We’re here to help you find the perfect stove that will meet your needs.
Types of Backpacking Stoves
There are four basic categories of camping stoves: canister stoves, alcohol stoves, liquid fuel stoves, and alternative fuel stoves. If you plan to camp at high elevations or in very cold temperatures, you may need to invest in a different stove that performs well in those conditions.
Canister stoves are easy to use, relatively lightweight, and small. They are also light on the wallet. Expensive canister stoves fall in the $120 to $150 price range, but there are many quality ones on the market for under $80.
Canister stoves use pressurized fuel, usually a butane-propane blend. The canisters cost between $5 and $20, depending on size. Unfortunately, they burn with less intensity when you run low on fuel (of course, this is logical) and they don’t work well when the temperature is below freezing.
There are two types of canister stoves, integrated and remote systems.
Integrated Canister Systems
These are tall cooking systems with a burner that screws directly onto the fuel canister. The insulated pot and integrated windscreen help prevent heat from escaping, making it an efficient system.
It’s not easy to cook and simmer food on integrated canister stoves, but if you primarily plan to boil water or eat freeze-dried meals and ramen, then this stove is perfect. Some integrated canister systems can attach to accessories like a French press or a wider pot that is easier to cook in.
Compared to remote canister systems, integrated canister stoves are tall and easy to tip over.
Remote Canister Stoves
The stove portion sits on the ground and connects to the fuel canister with a short hose. Remote canister stoves are versatile, lightweight, and they pack small.
You can use many types of pots and cookware on the burners, and it is easier to control the temperature of a remote canister stove. They are usually sturdier than integrated canister stoves with less tendency to tip over.
Most remote canister stoves are compatible with any self-sealing threaded fuel container. Unfortunately, they are slightly less efficient than integrated canister stoves because they have less protection from the wind, but you can put a windscreen around the stove portion.
Some remote canister stoves can be used with the canister upside-down to improve their performance in cold weather.
Both integrated and remote canister stoves are ideal for anyone looking for an easy-to-use, lightweight stove for short or medium length backpacking or paddle camping trips. There are even “micro” canister stoves for ultralight backpacking.
The fuel canister usually self-seals, meaning you won’t have to worry about fuel spilling or leaking in your backpack.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
Liquid fuel stoves burn white gas and use a separate, self-pressurized fuel bottle. They are perfect for longer adventures and larger groups because it is easy to bring additional fuel. Liquid fuel stoves also perform well at higher elevations and in cold temperatures.
One significant benefit to liquid fuel stoves is that white gas is inexpensive and easy to find. Some liquid fuel stoves can also burn kerosene, a big advantage if you plan to travel internationally. And it’s easy to see exactly how much fuel you have in the bottle!
Liquid fuel stoves tend to burn hotter than canister stoves, but require a little more care and maintenance. Be prepared to clean the fuel hose or replace the O-rings in the stove and on the fuel bottle periodically.
One disadvantage of liquid fuel stoves (and many canister stoves) is that they are loud when in use. Leaks and spills are also possible because the fuel containers are not fully sealed.
Most liquid fuel stoves require pumping the fuel canister to pressurize it and priming the stove. Priming is a relatively involved process that includes igniting a few drops of fuel in the priming basin.
Denatured Alcohol stoves are compact and very lightweight, making them a popular choice among ultralight and long-distance backpackers. Most alcohol stoves weigh less than 3 ounces.
Alcohol stoves are relatively budget-friendly, averaging between $15 and $50. They burn denatured alcohol and methanol, which cost between $4 and $10 per pint. However, denatured alcohol fuel can be difficult to find outside of America.
Alcohol stoves have very few parts to break or maintain, and the fuel burns silently, which is a perk. However, the fuel does not burn as hot as white gas or canister fuel so it will take longer and require more fuel to boil water or cook. There is also no real way to control the temperature.
Most liquid fuel and canister stoves can boil a pint of water in about 3 minutes. Alcohol fuel stoves take about 6 minutes to boil the same amount of water. You will also need a windscreen to improve the efficiency and protect the flame from wind because alcohol stoves are very sensitive to even light breezes.
A safety concern about alcohol stoves is that alcohol fuel is hard to see, especially if it spills. This may pose a safety concern, especially if you are new to these types of stoves.
Alternative Fuel Stoves
This is the catchall term that covers all other types of camp stoves that burn any other fuel.
Solid fuel stoves are backpacking wood stoves. Ultralight backpackers like these stoves because they don’t have to carry any fuel; they can burn wood available around the campsite. Of course, you must be confident that dry wood will be available where you plan to camp.
Some alternative fuel stoves burn solid fuel tablets that are easy to transport but do not burn very hot. Fuel tablets also tend to have a strong, bad smell and leave a lot of soot on your pots and cookware.
Another disadvantage to alternative fuel stoves is that many areas have temporary fire bans at various times of the year. If there is a fire ban, this type of stove would be illegal to use.
For the perks of being lightweight and cheap, these stoves are not the ideal choice for most backpacking or paddle camping situations.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Stove
While every backpacking stove has its perks, not every stove will serve your specific needs. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a stove for backpacking or paddle camping (or other adventures where size and weight are limiting factors).
Weight vs. Fuel efficiency
A lighter stove is not always the lightest option. Fuel-efficiency and weight are related. If you choose a stove that weighs a few more ounces but is more efficient, you can carry less fuel. If you are traveling for more than a few days, this is something to seriously consider. Requiring less fuel frees up space and weight in your pack for other things.
Fuel efficiency is more than just how efficiently or hot the fuel burns. It also includes factors like wind resistance and heat escaping from around the pot and insulation. Even adding a windscreen and investing in higher quality cook pots can improve the overall fuel efficiency.
Integrated canister stoves tend to be the most fuel-efficient backpacking stoves because of its design. They are more wind resistant, and the windscreens reflect heat back toward the pot. However, they are not necessarily the most versatile stoves.
Consider all the things you might want to use your backpacking stove for. You may want a stove that weighs a little more or costs a little more but is very versatile. If you think you might travel outside the country, consider a stove that can burn multiple types of fuel.
Do you only want to boil water, or would you like to have some other cooking options as well? Some stoves offer better cooking surfaces than others. Do you already own backpacking cookware? Some stoves require you to only use specific types of cookware.
What are the camping conditions you frequent? If you plan to visit places with very cold temperatures or at high elevations, look for a stove that will work well under these harsh conditions.
There aren’t always nice, level tables to cook on when out in the backcountry. Your stove should be stable enough that you can safely use it on a variety of surfaces. Stoves that have a lower center of gravity and a wider base are a good choice.
If you are considering a taller stove with a higher center of gravity, check to see if there are leg extenders available to improve the stability. The disadvantage to stability legs is that they add a little weight to the stove and are another thing you must pack.
Here are a few helpful tips for using a backpacking stove.
Always check the stove before you begin your adventure. Make sure the fuel lines are not leaking, and everything is in good working order. Make sure the fuel canister has enough fuel for the whole trip.
Even if your stove has a built-in starter, it’s a good idea to pack some extra weatherproof matches and a lighter. Not only is it a good safety and first aid practice, if the self-starter decides not to work, but you will also still be able to light your stove and have a hot meal.
If you have a liquid-fuel stove, empty the fuel tank before you put it away for winter or for an extended period. This will help preserve the gas lines and make sure the fuel doesn’t go bad in your stove.
Never use your stove inside a tent. You could catch your tent on fire, leaving you without shelter, and there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning the fuel in an enclosed area.
If you have any questions or concerns, leave a comment below!