Every backpacker and hiker needs a great cooking stove. But with a ton of brands offering similar products to each other, and loads of different types of backpacking stoves to choose from, figuring out which the best backpacking stoves are for you can be a super daunting task.
But rest assured that the huge choice means that there’s something out there for everyone, including you! So to make things as simple and easy as possible, we’ve found the best backpacking stoves in existence. One of them is guaranteed to be perfect for you.
In our guide to the best backpacking stoves, you will find information on what to look for in a great stove, and if you take the time to read and digest the whole article, you’ll come away knowing which stove is for you. You’ll learn about all the different types of stoves available, with the pros and cons of each, and which type of camp cooking scenario each stove is best suited to.
The best backpacking stoves in 2018
|Product||Type of Stove||Weight||Price||Rating|
|MSR Pocket Rocket 2||Canister gas stove||73g||$|
|Soto Windmaster||Canister gas stove||65g||$$|
|BRS Ultralight||Canister gas stove||25g||$|
|MSR Windburner||Integrated canister stove||419g||$$$$|
|Jetboil Flash||Integrated canister stove||375g||$$$|
|MSR Reactor||Integrated canister stove||417g||$$$$$|
|MSR Dragonfly||Liquid fuel stove||397g||$$$|
|MSR Whisperlite||Liquid fuel stove||305g||$$|
|Optimus Nova||Liquid fuel stove||435g||$$$|
|Soda Can Stove||Alcohol stove||10g||/|
|Caldera Cone||Alcohol stove||50g||$|
|Trangia Spirit Stove Kit||Alcohol stove||340g||$|
|Solostove Lite||Wood burning stove||225g||$$|
|Biolite Camp Stove||Wood burning stove||900g||$$$|
|Bushbox Outdoor Pocket Stove||Wood burning stove||270g||$|
|Esbit Ultralight Folding Titanium Stove||Solid fuel stove||11.5g||$|
|Esbit Ultralight Folding Pocket Stove||Solid fuel stove||92g||$|
|Gram Cracker Stove||Solid fuel stove||3g||$|
What sort of backpacker are you and what stove do you really need?
The first thing you need to think about is what sort of backpacker you are. Before you even look into your stove options, knowing what you will be using your stove for is essential, and although there is no single backpacking stove that will fit the bill for every type of cooking adventure, some will be more suited to you than others. So, which of the following are you?:
- Weekend wanderer – you love day hikes with a hot coffee and a great view. Or a last minute Friday night getaway to your local wilderness. You’ll need something lightweight and easy to use that boils water quickly.
- Lone wolf – you prefer enjoying it all to yourself and love those long distance thru-hikes. Odds are, that you’ve already over-packed, so an ultralight backpacking stove will be your best bet. But you’ll also need fuel that goes the distance without breaking your back, or the ability to re-fuel easily.
- Mountain goat – you’re a sucker for true adventures in the wilderness – the higher, windier and colder, the better! Lightweight is important, but most essential is the ability for your fuel supply to function at low temperatures.
- Social climber – taking on the challenge with others is what you love the most about backpacking. So for group cooking you’ll need a stove with a stable base for larger pans and an efficient fuel source so as not to add too much extra weight.
- International jetsetter – your backpacking adventures take you further afield where you never quite know what your fuel source may be. Flight friendly fuel is a must and the ability to use varied fuels will heighten your chances of never running out.
- Gourmet camp chef – you love getting creative with your backpacking recipes so will need to be able to control the fuel flow to a simmer as well as boil.
It’s likely that you sit in more than one category, so might need to make some compromises here and there if you don’t want to add more than one new stove to your ever-growing stash of outdoor gear. But there are still a multitude of other things to consider which will help you decide which lightweight camping stove will tick as many of your boxes as possible. So keep the above in mind and read on.
Things you need to consider when choosing a backpacking stove
The weight of your mobile cooking setup is one of the first things to look at, with an ultralight backpacking stove system being a big contender on the list of stove ‘must-haves’. It’s not enough to simply look at the device itself, you also need to consider the fuel for your fire. This is where things get complicated as there is no easy way to directly compare every backpacking scenario with every stove setup option available. You’ll need to weigh up your options with a clear picture of which type of backpacker you are and how long you intend to be using your outdoor stove for at a time, and go from there.
There are numerous different types of backpacking stoves which are all defined by the fuel they use. And to keep things as complex as possible, there are also loads of types of fuel that, of course, all perform differently with pros and cons for each. More on this later, but the main sources of fuel for backpacking stoves are:
Canister gas – isobutane and propane
- Liquid fuel – white gas (a very pure form of gasoline), kerosene, unleaded auto-fuel, diesel
- Wood – twigs, sticks, logs etc
- Alcohol – denatured alcohol, methanol, ethanol, gelled alcohol
- Solid fuel tablets – Esbit, hexamine
This is applicable to liquid fuel stoves and is essentially a way of preheating the system, enabling the stove to convert the liquid fuel into a vapour. It’s easy to do, once you know how, so take a look at this video to learn the basics:
Most lightweight backpacking stoves are designed for the dining solo. Of course the size of your cooking pot will make a difference, and most stoves will deal with a simple one pot meal for two without too much trouble. But if you’re looking to feed your family then you’ll need a stove with a wide and stable base or better still, more than one stove.
Ease of use
At the end of a hard day of trekking, having a stove that is easy to use and is reliable, is a big plus. Having to do on-trail stove maintenance is not ideal and will test the patience of any weary, hungry hiker.
Boiling or simmering
Some types of outdoor stove are designed specifically to just boil water efficiently – ideal for the cook-and-go ramen noodle lovers. Others have the capacity to control their energy output to a simmer, making happy campers of those with a penchant for gourmet creations.
Different types of backpacking stoves
So now it’s down to the nitty-gritty of your mobile cooking options and what all the different types of stoves can do for your backpacking culinary adventures:
Canister gas stoves
Canister stoves are the most popular type of wilderness food cooker, and for good reason: easy, inexpensive, reliable and lightweight – the perfect dinner date! They’re designed to boil water quickly, which is useful in emergency situations or just when you’re dying for dinner after finally making it to camp before dark. They pack down to palm-sized packages that can easily disappear into the depths of a fully laden backpack if you’re not careful, and their simplicity outranks most other types of stoves by a mile making them the best backpacking stoves for most camping scenarios. Fuelled by a small canister of isobutane or propane gas, (which store nicely inside most cooking pots), the stoves clip or screw onto the gas and are ready to be ignited with zero fuss.
Cons of canister stoves:
They don’t perform brilliantly in the wind
- Gas is more expensive than other fuel sources
- They don’t perform well in extreme cold conditions
- They are not good for international travel as you can’t fly with gas canisters. There is also uncertainty of the fuel that will be available on arrival, and connection valves may not be compatible
If you liked the original MSR Pocket Rocket, then you are going to LOVE the Pocket Rocket 2. New this year to MSRs lightweight camping stove range, this little guy will not fail to impress. At only 73g (2.6oz) and 7.8cm x 4.8cm, it is not only smaller and lighter than its original version but it has also upped its game when it comes to simmer control and power. The focussed flame does an exceptional job at keeping boil time low, and the simple control lever allows precision cooking for even the most gourmet camp chefs to show off their skills.
It’s also one of the most inexpensive ultralight backpacking stove options you will find, without compromising the usual MSR quality – which definitely seals the deal. The lack of bells and whistles holds big appeal for most users who don’t need the faff of priming or maintenance at the end of a long day on the trail.
As the best backpacking canister stove out there, it is an excellent choice for backpackers of all kinds. So good, in fact, that we think it’s one of the best backpacking stoves full stop, fitting comfortably into most camp cooking scenarios. It gets our top choice award from all the categories.
So if you’re just out for a day hike and want hot soup with a view, thru-hiking the John Muir Trail and living on freeze-dried fodder, or car camping and getting creative with your camp cooking, the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 will have your culinary needs covered. A big thumbs up from us! Read our full review of the Pocket Rocket 2.
Other canister stove options:
- More expensive than the Pocket Rocket
- Outranks most other canisters stoves for wind performance
- Has built-in ignition
- Has the ability to clip on a pot stand extension for use with larger pots (at an extra cost)
- Very cheap
- Very light
- Not as durable and less stable than the Rocket
- Doesn’t perform well in the wind
Integrated canister stove system
For military style camp cooking, integrated canister stove systems will step up to the challenge and not fail to deliver; extremely efficient, seriously fast, and hard as nails in adverse conditions. The system works in a similar way to a normal canister stove, but is an all-in-one setup that typically includes a burner, pot, heat sink, windshield and piezo lighter, all attached together.
If your wilderness wanderings err on the wrong side of extreme, and you often find yourself crawling back from the brink of hyperthermic stupors with the help of a hot mug of tea, then you need an integrated canister stove in your life. These things take fuel efficiency and fast water boiling very seriously. Try cooking anything more than instant noodles or boil-in-the-bag feasts though, and you’ll have a burnt mess of a pot on your frost-bitten hands.
An expensive set up
Heavier than normal canister set ups
- No simmer function
- Lots of components make them very difficult to repair in the field
- Not as versatile as normal canister stoves
New on the scene, the MSR Windburner has come straight in at pole position, outranking even the most popular integrated stove systems including the Jetboil backpacking stove. MSR have taken the best features of other models and made them even better in the MSR Windburner. And although it is an expensive option for the price conscious backpacker, it’s unrivalled prowess in blustery conditions make it worth the investment and one of the best backpacking stoves for fast and light hikers and trekkers. MSR’s Radiant Burner Technology provides excellent fuel efficiency and their intelligent design has produced a stable and reliable little camping burner.
Other integrated canister stove options:
- Very pricey
- The ‘world’s fastest, most fuel-efficient all-condition stove system’
- Doesn’t perform as well as the Windburner in breezy conditions
- The pot doesn’t attach to the stove which allows for varied pot sizes to be used with it
Liquid fuel stoves
Liquid fuel stoves are probably the most versatile of the backcountry cooking stove options, enabling culinary creativity to keep the whole crew in high spirits. The free-standing outdoor stove sits low to the ground providing a wide and stable base for cooking with larger pots and pans. And to make things even more appealing to the gourmet camp chefs, some models offer excellent simmer control to rival that of an indoor stove.
The refillable fuel bottle feeds the sturdy stoves with white gas via a tube which needs to be primed before use. The fuel also continues to function well in sub-zero temperatures (unlike canister stoves), making them perfect for melting large volumes of snow. Most liquid fuel stoves have the capacity to use multiple fuel sources – making them one of the best backpacking stoves for international backpacking when you don’t know what you might need to resort to for fuel.
To top it off, the fuel is generally cheaper and lasts longer than gas canisters, and it’s much easier to gauge the amount of fuel in the bottle. So why do liquid fuel stoves not make it onto the packing list of many backpackers? Well, it’s mostly due to their weight. The stoves alone weigh more than a canister stove and a full gas canister put together. So although there is a definite place in the backpacking scene for these versatile and powerful miniature kitchens, it’s probably not in the backpack of the minimalist ultralight trekker.
- Needs priming
- Maintenance needed
- Complicated to use
Another excellent product from MSR, the Dragonfly delivers the very best in high level heat control. Although not the most light or compact of the liquid fuel stoves, its versatility and durability makes up for its weight problems. Additionally, the simple design and ease of use is an appealing feature for the gloved hands of those cooking in cold conditions.
If you can put up with the louder than average noise that this thing puts out, then the long-standing quality of the Dragonfly will not disappoint.
Other liquid stove options:
- Lighter and less expensive than the Dragonfly
- Doesn’t have multifuel capabilities
- Doesn’t simmer well
- Heavier and more expensive than the Dragonfly
- Has a long and flexible fuel line
- Complicated to use
If you’re looking for a super cheap outdoor stove that weighs next to nothing, then look no further. Alcohol backpacking stoves offer an easy to use heat source for basic wilderness cooking that has been used and enjoyed by hikers for generations. However, with the ever-growing number of lightweight canister stoves taking over the market, alcohol backpacking stoves aren’t as popular as they used to be, with the slow cooking times and poor performance in the wind putting many backpackers off. But their ability to burn a variety of alcohol types that are very easy to get hold of at low cost, means that there is still a place for them in the backpacking world, above other ultralight backpacking stoves. They are ideally suited to the international explorer as they are so small to pack and you can pick up suitable fuel pretty much anywhere.
Less efficient and slower than other stoves
- They don’t have simmer control
- Perform poorly in the wind without a windshield
- Can’t be used during a fire ban
- You can’t see the flame in daylight
Soda Can Stove
One of the best things about an alcohol stove is that you can make your own. Ultralight, almost free, recyclable and really fun to create. There are loads of different ways to make a homemade backpacking stove, but one of simplest and most effective ways is to use an empty soda or beer can. All you need is a pocket knife and a can, and you have the makings of the most lightweight, low-tech, low-cost homemade backpacking stove out there. The soda can stove isn’t the most stable, with slow boiling times, and it will need to used with a windshield, but if you can get past these few negatives then you’ll love using a homemade backpacking stove that is hands down the best value backpacking stove out there. Check out how to make your own soda can stove.
Other alcohol stove options:
- More expensive and heavier than a homemade alcohol stove
- Has effective protection from the wind
- Is highly stable
Wood burning stoves
Lightweight and compact aren’t the first things that come to mind when considering backpacking wood burning stoves, but there are actually some really great (and lightweight) options available that take the problem and weight of carrying fuel out of the equation altogether. Backpacking wood burning stoves are ideal for the eco-friendly backpacker as well as international travellers that might not know where their fuel source will come from. And it’s not just a cooking stove that you will gain from using a backpacking wood stove; the unlimited fuel source means you can enjoy fireside dining with warmth and cosiness late into the evening. If you’ve ever cooked directly on a fire before then you’ll know that temperature control is an issue. So don’t expect boiling time to be fast or simmer control to be possible.
Can be difficult to get the stove going if the wood is wet
- Can’t be used in areas where there is a fire ban
- Pots become sooty and messy
- Greater effort to get the fire lit and keep it going
The Solostove Lite is one of the most efficient and lightweight wood burning stoves out there. Small enough to store inside your cooking pot but big enough to put out an excellent heat source for cooking up your well-earned meal and warming your hands at the same time. The cleverly designed double wall creates a system of air and smoke combustion that provides super efficient wood burning. As a result, the fire burns with very little smoke output. Provided you are in an area where dry wood is abundant, and you don’t plan on cooking anything too complex, the Solostove offers an excellent alternative to liquid fuel stoves with the added romance and nostalgia of campfire cooking.
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Other backpacking wood stove options:
- Offers decent simmering capabilities and boils faster than the Solostove
- More expensive and much heavier than the Solostove
- Energy from the fire is used to charge most USB-chargeable devices
- Cheaper than the Solostove
- Can be used with Esbit tablets or a Trangia as well as wood
- Packs flat for easy storage
Solid fuel stoves (Esbit)
This type of stove mostly features in wilderness survival kits as a reliable and simple way of heating water or food. The stoves themselves are extremely lightweight and compact, as are the Esbit tablets that fuel them. You can also keep things super cheap and build your own homemade backpacking stove. But the negatives to this inexpensive type of ultralight backpacking stove tends to drive backpackers towards the more conventional methods of camp cooking. Esbit tablets, which are made of hexamine, burn for around 12 minutes each, but fail to put out a decent heat source so as to boil water with any speed. They are one of the more expensive fuels and not as easy to get hold of as other sources. Like alcohol stoves, they’re not made for windy conditions and to add another black mark to their already dwindling appeal, they put out a pretty bad odour when burned. So what’s to like about them? Well, their weight – they provide the lightest fuel and stove combo possible.
The fuel produces a bad odour when burned
- Less efficient and slower than other stoves
- They don’t have simmer control
- Perform poorly in the wind without a windshield
- Can’t be used during a fire ban
Esbit Ultralight Folding Titanium Stove
You will seriously struggle to find a backpacking stove and fuel system that is lighter and simpler to use than the Esbit Ultralight Folding Titanium stove. And although using Esbit tablets aren’t to the tastes of many camp cooks, this really is a handy and inexpensive option to have as a back up stove or to make the odd cup of tea here and there. The foldable stand provides decent stability for pots and pans and it packs down into a tiny mesh bag that will hang from your backpack or slip into your pocket.
Other solid fuel stove options:
- Provides support to wide pots
- Heavier than the Titanium
- Provides a greater level of wind protection than the Titanium stove
- Super lightweight but needs to be used with a caldera cone or other pot stand
- Packs down flat
- Is easy to use
As mentioned, there is no ‘one size fits all’ stove, and unfortunately it is most likely that you will have to sacrifice something in order to tick most of your boxes. Additionally, your backpacking stove needs may evolve over time as your camping habits and preferences change, so you might just end up with more than one stove in the end anyway! But whatever type of stove you choose, it will no doubt facilitate many adventures and provide you with fuel to enjoy them all.