Best Backpacking Stoves of 2016
A steamy cup of java on a crisp, quiet morning is just about the perfect start to any day in the wilderness. And a warm meal at the end of a long trek is pretty tough to beat as well. Backpacking stoves can enhance your wilderness adventures in a way that few other tools can.
The good news is that backpacking stoves have gotten increasingly light and convenient over the past few years. That means you’ll spend a lot less time cooking and your pack will stay nice and light too. The bad news is there are more backpacking stoves to choose from than ever before, which can make picking the right one difficult. I've created this list to help cut through the clutter and share the very best backpacking stoves available today. Enjoy!
Author: Dave Collins
Last Updated: December 2016
CRITICAL STOVE CONSIDERATIONS
STOVE TYPE - There are many different types of backpacking stoves, which can be a big source of confusion. Canister stoves, liquid fuel stoves, solid fuel stoves, alcohol stoves, and wood stoves are a few of the most common stove types. In my guide below I layout the pros and cons of each category and explain their best uses.
PRICE - Backpacking stoves come in a wide range of prices. Some are cheap and easy to make yourself. Others may cost more than a hundred dollars, but they usually provide much greater convenience and durability. I recommend a wide variety of exceptional stoves below and I pay close attention to value. If you backpack a lot, it might make sense to spend a little more for a stove you plan to use for many years.
WEIGHT - Weight will vary greatly among different stove types. Big power burners used for snow melting can weigh close to a pound and ultralight gram-saver stoves can weigh under an ounce. I recommend a wide range of useful stoves below. This post is mostly focused on lightweight stove options because backpacking light makes hiking far more enjoyable.
COOKING VS BOILING - Most backpackers these days make very simple meals that only require boiling water for rehydrating food. For that reason, the main design for most backpacking stoves is to boil water quickly, not necessarily to cook. Freeze-dried meal packages, ramen noodles, soup packets, and rice/couscous/pasta meals are some common trail dinners that don't require much cooking.
SIMMER CONTROL - If you want the ability to cook more complex trail meals, you’ll definitely want a stove with good simmer control. Some canister stoves and liquified gas stoves have this feature, but not all of them. Simmer control can be a handy feature even if you only plan on making simple backcountry meals. It’s a lot easier to keep a pot from boiling over when you have a choice between off and turbo.
GROUP COOKING - If you’re going to be traveling in a group, it’s usually a good idea to have at least one small stove for every two people. Stoves are so light these days that it’s not even uncommon for every hiker to carry their own cooking setup. More stoves means less waiting for dinner, which is generally good for group morale, especially at the end of a long day. If you plan on making large one-pot meals (like boy scouts or guiding services), you’ll probably want a sturdy stove with a wide base that will handle big pots better.
WINTER USE - Winter camping presents a different challenge for backpacking stoves: melting snow for drinking water. This means you’ll be using your stove a lot, so you’ll need more fuel and a stove that performs well in below-freezing conditions. Of the groups of stoves listed below, only the liquid fuel stoves are really built for this task. The other stove groups may perform well in limited winter use, but extreme cold is not really what they’re designed for.
STABILITY - Knocking a fully cooked dinner onto the ground is the pits. Unless you enjoy eating dirt, you’re going to want to avoid that move at all costs. If you plan to cook large meals in big pots, get a stove with a wide base that will rest securely on the ground. Smaller pots cooked on upright canister stoves will work just fine, but they do tend to be a little less stable, so cook with care.
PRIMING - Some backpacking stove types require priming before they will work properly. Priming is essentially preheating. You light a small amount of fuel in the stove and give it time to warm up. When the stove gets hot enough it will work as designed. Priming is generally easy to do, but it can be a source of confusion (and danger) for beginners. Most liquid fuel stoves require priming with every use. Some alcohol stoves require priming as well. Canister stoves do not require priming.
WIND PERFORMANCE - Backpacking stoves don’t like wind. Strong winds will whip away heat before it ever gets to your pot, which will make your stove less efficient. Some stoves perform better in windy conditions (integrated canister stoves) and others perform very poorly (alcohol stoves, wood stoves, and solid fuel stoves). For that reason, a windscreen is recommended with most backpacking stoves. The one exception to this would be canister stoves because it can be dangerous to directly heat a fuel canister. If using a canister stove in exposed conditions, seek out some wind shelter to boost stove efficiency. That’s usually pretty easy to do.
FIRE BANS - Forest fire danger is an important consideration for any stove user any time of year, but especially when conditions are dry. Fire ban rules differ from place to place, so check specific regulations in your area. In some strict fire ban areas, all stove usage is prohibited, though that’s not common. In general, canister stoves are usually viewed as the safest option. Solid fuel stoves may be permitted as well. Wood stoves and alcohol stoves are usually not permitted. Liquid fuel stoves may be allowed, but exercise extreme caution when priming. Spilling highly flammable fuel while priming is easy to do and could quickly start a fire.
BUYING ONLINE - Check the seller's return policy before you buy, but you can almost always return an unused stove within a certain timeframe after purchasing. I recommend buying your top choice, testing it at home, and returning/exchanging it if it doesn’t work quite right. I’ve been buying lightweight stoves online for years and I’ve yet to have any problems. Also, I'm a huge fan of Amazon Prime, where you can get unlimited free two-day shipping.
In my opinion, no other stove type comes anywhere close to beating canister stoves. Canister stoves are the clear frontrunner for 3-season backpacking, and with good reason. They’re light, compact, easy to use, and they work fast. With a canister stove there’s no priming, pumping, or maintenance of any kind. Simply screw in your stove and light it up for a quick meal.
In addition, when you get down to analyzing which backpacking stoves are the lightest, small canister stoves are right on par. You won't need to carry a pot stand or windscreen with a canister stove and their fuel is more efficient than Esbit and alcohol. An empty 100g isobutane fuel canister will weigh about 3.3oz, which is a small weight penalty to pay for a huge increase in convenience, speed, and temperature control.
The main downside with canister stoves is that you’ll need to use a compatible isobutane fuel canister. These fuel canisters are very easy to find in outdoor stores and online. But if you’re backpacking internationally or in really remote locations, you might have a harder time finding them. Also, fuel for canister stoves is slightly more expensive and they won’t work well in extreme cold (usually below 20F).
For the vast majority of backpackers, canister stoves will be the best choice for 3-season adventures. I use canister stoves almost exclusively for my backpacking trips these days. Their convenience, speed, weight, and ease of use is tough to beat. Also, fuel canisters are getting much easier for thru-hikers to find in small trail towns. Pick up a crunch tool for the ability to properly recycle spent fuel canisters.
CANISTER STOVE SUMMARY
- Light & compact
- Rapid boil times
- Easy to use
- No maintenance
- Clean burn - no smell or pot residue
- Slightly more expensive fuel
- Harder to find fuel internationally
- Not as good as liquid fuel stoves in extreme cold
WEIGHT: 14.6oz (stove + pot)
The Jetboil MiniMo is a complete cooking system that’s just about as convenient and reliable as backcountry stoves get. The MiniMo is loaded with useful features including a sturdy handle, push-button igniter, excellent simmer control, and a stout shape that makes eating out of it easier. Metal coils along the bottom of the Jetboil increase cooking efficiency and produce incredibly fast boil times. The MiniMo is slightly heavier and more expensive than some ultralight stove options, but it’s speed and convenience make it a no-brainer for lightweight backpackers. Throw in the Jetboil Coffee Press for making baller backcountry java.
The Jetboil MiniMo is my top pick for integrated canister stoves. For more of my top picks, check out the CleverHiker Top Picks page.
WEIGHT: 15.5oz (stove + pot)
The MSR WindBurner is another extremely convenient integrated stove system. The main advantage it has over the MiniMo is it’s excellent wind resistance. Stiff winds can greatly reduce stove efficiency, but that’s not an issue with the WindBurner. This stove does an excellent job of retaining heat and cooking fast, even in harsh exposed terrain. The downsides with the WindBurner are that it doesn’t have good simmer control, a push-button igniter, or sturdy handles like the MiniMo. I also prefer the stout body shape of the MiniMo, which makes eating out of it easier. That said, if you often backpack in really exposed and windy locations, this stove might be a better fit for your adventures.
RELATED: Pick up the WindBurner Coffee Press Kit to elevate your backcountry brewing game.
If you’re looking for a light, durable, and compact canister stove to feed 1-2 people, it’s tough to beat the Snow Peak LiteMax stove. The LiteMax is built with titanium to keep weight to a minimum. It has great simmer control and a slim shape that makes it easy to pack away in any cook pot. It won’t be quite as efficient as the integrated canister stoves listed above, but it still has very fast boil times. Pair this stove with a lightweight cook pot (my favorite is the Snow Peak Ti Mini Solo Set - 5.5oz) for a combination that will weigh less (and could cost less) than most integrated canister stove systems.
RELATED: Snow Peak HotLips can be a nice accessory for protecting your lips from hot single-wall cook pots and mugs.
The Soto WindMaster is a fantastic canister stove with a few very convenient features. It has excellent simmer control, a push-button igniter, and it’s inverted burner performs better in the wind than most upright canister stoves. It also has two clip-on pot stands. That gives you the ability to use the smaller/lighter stand on solo trips or the larger stand for better stability with big pots and frying pans. The biggest downside with the WindMaster is that it costs more than many other canister stoves.
The MSR PocketRocket has been a favorite choice among lightweight backpackers for a long time, and with good reason. It’s light, durable, dependable, and it won’t break your budget. The PocketRocket has good simmer control, packs up small, and it boils water fast. Pair this stove with a lightweight cookpot (I recommend the Snow Peak Ti Mini Solo Set - 5.5oz) for a cooking system that will weigh and cost less than most integrated stove systems.
RELATED: The MSR MicroRocket is also a fantastic stove. It’s slightly lighter and more compact, but it does cost more.
The Snow Peak GigaPower Auto is a compact canister stove that’s big on convenience. One of the nicest features of the GigaPower Auto is it's Piezo igniter, which means you’ll be able to light it up with the push of a button. The GigaPower also has four flat stove legs, which makes it slightly more stable than three-legged stoves. It has great simmer control and fast boil times. The only real downside with the GigaPower Auto is that it’s slightly heavier than my other canister stove picks.
RELATED: Snow Peak makes a GigaPower Manual version as well, which doesn’t have a push-button igniter, but is slightly lighter and less expensive.
The Optimus Crux is a durable and dependable canister stove with a unique storage trick up its sleeve. The Crux has a folding burner head, making it one of the most compact canister stoves on the market. It comes in a soft case that will fit in the hollow space underneath a fuel canister, which is ideal for saving space on the trail. It also has great simmer control and quick boil times.
RELATED: This stove pairs well with the Optimus Terra Weekend HE cook pot (9.7oz), which has sturdy handles and an efficiency ring like an integrated canister stove. You could also purchase both items as a combo set to possibly save some dough.
There are a number of cheap, lightweight canister stoves sold on Amazon. The BRS Ultralight Stove, Canister Camp Stove, and Etekcity Ultralight Stove are a few popular models worth checking out. Stoves like this can be a good fit for budget backpackers and beginners, just be aware that you’ll often get what you pay for. Budget stoves are usually less efficient (use up more fuel) and have higher rates of malfunction. That’s one of the reasons I prefer to purchase my stoves from experienced manufacturers that back up their products with excellent warranties.
LIQUID FUEL STOVES
If you’re planning to do a lot of cooking (or melting snow), a liquid fuel stove may be your best bet. Liquid fuel stoves are much heavier and bulkier than other backpacking stoves, so they’re not nearly as common these days as they used to be. They also require much more maintenance over time than canister stoves, which is annoying. That said, they can still be good for winter trips, international trekking, and big group outings.
Liquid fuel stoves work well in below-freezing conditions and their fuel (white gas) is cheaper than canister stove fuel. That makes them ideal for frigid winter trips where melting lots of snow for drinking water will be necessary. Some liquid fuel stoves can be used with different fuel types (like kerosene and unleaded auto fuel), which makes them a good fit for international trips where isobutane canisters and white gas will be harder to find. And lastly, if you’re planning to make big group meals in large pots (like boy scouts or guiding services), a liquid fuel stove could be better because they have stable bases and more cost effective fuel.
All that said, I almost never bring a liquid fuel stove on a 3-season backpacking trip anymore. They’re much heavier, more expensive, and more complicated to use (priming required) than other lightweight stoves. Also, some of them are quite noisy and over time they require much more maintenance than canister stoves.
LIQUID FUEL STOVE SUMMARY
- Fuel is less expensive
- Fuel bottles are refillable and easier to gauge usage
- Good for melting snow on winter treks in extreme cold
- Can be better for international travel
- Heavy and bulky
- More expensive - need to buy fuel bottle too
- More complicated to use - priming required
- Can be dangerous - fuel can spill when priming
- More maintenance necessary
- Some are very noisy
The MSR WhisperLite is one of the most popular liquid fuel stoves ever made, and with good reason. It’s among the lightest, smallest, and least expensive liquid fuel stoves on the market. It’s also much quieter than many other roaring liquid fuel stoves. It’s simple to use and it will last for a long time with regular maintenance. The biggest downside of the whisperlite is that it doesn’t have simmer control.
RELATED: If you’re looking to backpack internationally, consider the WhisperLite International or WhisperLite Universal. They cost more but have the ability to burn multiple fuel sources. A WhisperLite service kit will come in handy down the line with this stove.
The MSR Dragonfly is a liquid fuel stove with a great blend between convenience and functionality. One of its strongest qualities is its excellent simmer control, but it can also pump out heat, which is nice for fast boil times and melting snow. It has a wide and stable base, making it good for one-pot meals to feed large groups. It can also be used with a variety of different fuels when traveling internationally. The biggest downside with the Dragonfly (other than its weight) is that it’s really loud. Like, harrier jet takeoff loud. Okay, it’s not that bad, but it’s noise output may be annoying to some.
RELATED: A Dragonfly service kit will come in handy down the line with this stove.
If you’re looking for a high-powered burner that can melt snow fast in extreme conditions, the MSR XGK-EX is your guy. This stove is a favorite among climbers and mountaineers that often venture into the harshest and most exposed terrain on the planet. It works fast, burns several fuel types, and is built to last for the long haul. The biggest downsides with the XGK-EX are that it’s heavy, bulky, and it doesn't have simmer control. It's also very loud, so don’t expect any quiet conversation around the dinner table. For the vast majority of backpackers this stove will be too heavy and specialized, but if you’re heading into really extreme climates, this stove is for you.
RELATED: An XGK service kit will come in handy down the line with this stove.
Alcohol stoves are very light and simple. In the past they were the dominant choice for thru-hikers because of their weight, affordability, and readily available fuel in small towns. That’s not so much the case anymore. Over the past few years canister stoves have become much more common among thru-hikers because of their convenience, quickness, weight, and safety. Also, it’s getting much easier to find isobutane canister fuel in small trail towns.
Alcohol stoves are cheap to buy or make, they weigh close to nothing, and their fuel is easy to find. Heet (in the yellow bottle) is a gas-line antifreeze that is commonly used as fuel for alcohol stoves. You can find Heet at most gas stations and almost anywhere with a small auto department.
The main downsides with alcohol stoves are they have slow cook times, perform poorly in wind, burn less efficient fuel, and they don’t work well in the cold. Cooking times for alcohol stoves can be increased with a system like the Caldera Cone, which will help block wind and hold heat against your pot to increase efficiency. But even with a good windscreen, cooking with an alcohol stove will require more patience.
Also, be very careful when using alcohol stoves because their fuel burns clean blue and can be hard to see. Always make sure your stove has fully burned out before handling it or attempting to re-fuel. Never use an alcohol stove in a fire ban area. A small amount of spilled fuel can easily ignite dry brush.
Reliable alcohol stoves can be purchased from the retailers listed below. You can also try making one on your own. Check out these websites or do a quick search on YouTube for directions: thesodacanstove.com, andrewskurka.com.
ALCOHOL STOVE SUMMARY
- Light and compact
- Easy to make
- Easy to find fuel
- Very quiet
- Slow cooking times
- Less efficient fuel
- Poor performance in wind
- No temperature control
- Can be dangerous - Hard to see flame, easy to spill fuel
- Can’t use during most fire bans
- Not good for winter trips
WEIGHT: 1.5oz - 3.25oz
The Trail Designs Caldera Cone is all about efficient use of energy. This system creates a way to block wind and hold every bit of heat against the cooking surface of your pot. This is especially helpful when using alcohol as a fuel source, because it has a lower heat output which leads to slower cook times. This package comes with a cone, alcohol stove, and fuel bottle. The downside with this basic model is that the cone won’t fit in your cook pot. To solve that problem Trail Designs created the Sidewinder Ti-Tri, which packs away in cook pots, but it does cost quite a bit more.
If you’re looking for maximum efficiency out of an alcohol stove, you’re going to want to combine a slow burning stove with an enclosed windscreen (like the Caldera Cone). This will help conserve fuel, which means you won’t have to carry as much. The Zelph Modified StarLyte is great for exactly this purpose. Slower burn times and a cap to save unused fuel will help keep your fuel weight to a minimum. This stove will obviously have slower cooking times and should really be used with a cone windscreen to be most effective.
The Trangia Spirit Burner is a dependable alcohol stove that’s been around for a long time. It’s more durable than most alcohol stoves, it has a a simmer ring to provide better temperature control, and it comes with a screw top lid to save unused fuel. It’s downsides are that it’s heavier than other alcohol stoves and it doesn’t come with a pot stand or windscreen. If you’re looking to build a complete system around this stove, check out the 27-3 Ultralight Cookset and the 28-T Mini Cookset (both include the stove).
RELATED: The Solo Alcohol Burner is a copycat design, but it does have a handle for the simmer lid, which is nice.
WEIGHT: 1 oz
The White Box Alcohol Stove is a tough and tested model built to withstand the challenges of hiking long trails. It's built out of recycled aluminium bottles and is manufactured in the US. A windscreen is included with this stove to increase efficiency and no pot stand is needed. If you use a pot with a smaller diameter, you'll probably want to go with the Solo II stove, which has a tighter burn ring for smaller pots.
SOLID FUEL STOVES (ESBIT)
Solid fuel stoves are just about as light and simple as stoves get. They use Esbit fuel tabs, which burn a low-medium flame for about twelve minutes. All you need to do is open up a fuel tab, light it on fire, and place your pot on a stand over the flame until your water boils. Solid fuel stoves are compact, easy to make, and they’re very quiet too.
It’s not all rosy for solid fuel stoves either though. Like alcohol stoves, solid fuel stoves have much slower cooking times, so patience is required. They’re also very susceptible to wind, so a good windscreen is critical. The fuel tabs are pricy when compared to other fuel sources, so over the long haul, they don’t make as much economic sense. The tabs also give off an unpleasant odor and they will leave a sticky residue on the bottom of your cook pot. In addition, fuel tabs can be hard to find in small trail towns, which makes them a tough fit for thru-hikers.
Reliable solid fuel stoves can be purchased from the retailers listed below. If you're the do-it-yourself type, you might consider building one. For alcohol stove users, simply flip your alcohol stove over and using the bottom for cooking with solid fuel tablets.
SOLID FUEL STOVE SUMMARY
- Light and compact
- Inexpensive stove
- Easy to make and use
- Very quiet
- No fuel spilling
- Slow cooking times
- Expensive fuel
- Poor performance in wind
- No temperature control
- Residue left on pot
- Odor is unpleasant
- Can be tough to resupply fuel
- Not good for winter trips
WEIGHT: 3.3 oz
If you're looking to try out Esbit affordably, the Esbit Folding Pocket Stove is a great place to start. It's a simple and durable stove that packs up small and comes with six Esbit tabs to get you started. The main downside with this stove is that it's a bit on the heavy side for Esbit stoves and you'll need to add or make a simple windscreen.
WEIGHT: .1 oz
The Trail Designs Gram Cracker is a stove that proves just how simple and light solid fuel stoves can be. It will hold one or two Esbit tabs while they burn under your cookpot. It works best with the Caldera Cone System, which creates a more efficient cooking enclosure for stoves that have low heat output. You'll need to add a pot stand and a windscreen if you don't plan to use the Caldera Cone with this stove.
WEIGHT: .4 oz
The Esbit Titanium Folding Stove is just about as fancy as solid fuel stoves get (or need to be). The three legs of this stove fold together for easy storage and make a sturdy pot stand when extended. The design is simple and it works great with Esbit tabs. This stove doesn't come with a windscreen, so you'll want to make one or get a cone system to help cooking efficiency, especially in windy conditions.
Wood stoves are a popular option among lightweight backpackers that like doing things the old-fashioned way. Using a wood stove is very similar to cooking over a campfire, they’re just quicker and more efficient. With a wood stove you won't have to carry any fuel, you'll be able to cook longer, you'll be burning a renewable resource, and you'll get to enjoy the comforts of a fire nearly every night.
Wood stoves do have some significant downsides as well though. They require much more time, effort, and practice than most backpacking stoves, which can be frustrating when you’re tired and hungry after a long day of hiking. It can be also be tough to find good fuel on rainy trips and when camping above treeline (most wood stove users carry backup Esbit fuel). Wood stoves will blacken the bottom of your pot with soot, so you’ll want a solid carrying case for your pot. And lastly, wood stoves are susceptible to wind and can't be used during most fire bans.
While they’re far from the most convenient or speedy stove option, cooking over a fire can be a nice treat if you’re willing to put in the extra effort. Check out my wood stove recommendations below if you think a wood stove would be a good fit for your backpacking style.
WOOD STOVE SUMMARY
- Minimal fuel weight
- Minimal fuel cost
- Renewable fuel resource
- Nostalgic and pleasant
- More time, effort, and practice required
- Slower cook times
- Usually heavier
- Hard to find fuel when wet or above treeline
- Blackens the bottom of your pot - messy
- Can’t use during most fire bans
- Not good for winter trips
WEIGHT: 9 OZ
The Solo Stove Lite is a double-wall natural convection inverted downgas gasifer stove. And what do all those fancy words mean? Who knows! What I can tell you is the Solo Stove is incredibly efficient and effective. Air intake holes in the bottom of the stove feed the fire from below and above. The end result is a hot and less smoky burn that doesn’t require a windscreen and won’t scorch the ground under your stove. At 9oz, this stove isn't winning any weight prizes, but not having to carry any fuel does help. Combine the Solo Stove with the Solo Stove Pot 900 for a completely nested cooking system and more space in your pack.
RELATED: Solo Stove isn’t the first to use this excellent design. The lighter (5.1oz), but far more expensive Bushbuddy has been around for years. The Solo Lite is a good size for 1-2 people. For 2-4 people, bump up to the Solo Titan. For 4+ people check out the Solo Campfire.
COLLAPSIBLE WOOD STOVES
There are a number of popular wood stoves that are built by connecting lightweight metal panels. The Emberlit Fireant Titanium, QiWiz FireFly UL, Vargo Titanium Hexagon, and Bushbox Titanium are some of the most popular collapsible stoves. The chief benefit of this design is reduced weight and smaller pack sizes. Collapsible stoves are very simple. They essentially create a box to hold a small fire and support a pot. Some also have openings that let you feed your stove from the side. The drawback with collapsible stoves is that they require assembly and can be quite messy once they're covered in soot. They also won’t burn nearly as efficiently as a double-wall wood stove, which makes them smokier and harder to maintain consistent heat. I also don’t like that some of them have an open base that will scorch the ground wherever you cook.
It’s important to note that bringing a stove backpacking is completely optional. Some thru-hikers cut out the added weight, cost, and complexity of cooking and hardly miss it at all. Going stoveless is easy to do: just bring more food that doesn’t require cooking. The downside is that some of the weight savings of going stoveless will be canceled out by heavier (not dehydrated) food choices. Also, you won’t be sipping any morning java or enjoying warm dinners, which can be great morale boosters. But for some, the upsides of going stoveless are worth missing out on those comforts. For me, I enjoy my morning coffee and warm dinners a little too much to leave my stove at home. I just prefer to keep my cooking setup as light as possible.
NO STOVE SUMMARY
- No effort
- No hassle
- No weight
- No expense
- No hot coffee
- No warm dinner
- Fewer meal options
- Heavier food choices
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