The Best Backpacking Stove Review
What is the best backpacking stove for trips in the backcountry? We tested 14 of the industry's top products side-by-side in the wilderness during all kinds of weather, as well as in our garage for a more scientific head-to-head boil time test. We used these stoves over several seasons all over the United States on many backcountry and front-country adventures to find out what stoves work best for different applications. The amount of miles walked, pitches climbed, and Ramen noodles consumed are immeasurable, but we think we have a handle on what the best stove is for you. We evaluated each stove in the areas of versatility, fuel efficiency, boil time, weight, stability, and packed size.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
The stoves we tested in this review fall into four categories: (1) liquid fuel stoves, (2) small canister stoves, (3) integrated canister stoves, and (4) wood/chemical burning stoves. Our individual reviews compare stoves within each category as well as across categories.
When considering purchasing a new backpacking stove you should ask yourself: How much stove do you really need? Are you going solo on a fast-and-light mission or are you out with a group cooking gourmet meals? Do you need to melt snow or are you hiking in the desert and just boiling water for a dehydrated meal? There is a stove out there for everyone's needs, you just need to decide what your priorities are: speed, weight, cooking ability, or all of the above?
What kind of stove is best?
A canister stove is our favorite choice for short, fast, and light backpacking trips. They are lightweight, small, and easy to use. Read on to learn why.
In general, small canister stoves are best for fast and light backpacking where space and weight are premium concerns. Integrated canister stoves, which combine a burner with a heat exchanger pot, can be more wind resistant and fuel efficient than small canister stoves, making them better for high wind environments but less versatile for cooking, and they are sometimes heavier. Liquid fuel stoves separate the burner unit from the fuel bottle, allowing for a more stable, versatile and durable cooking platform. Liquid fuel stoves perform under the harshest conditions, but may be too large and too heavy for some purposes. Wood burning, chemical, and alcohol stoves are a common choice for ultralight and thru-hikers who are looking for the lightest weight cooking method possible, but they tend to sacrifice cooking ability.
Types of Backpacking Stoves
Liquid Fuel Stoves
These stoves are the workhorses of the backpacking stove world. Generally liquid fuel stoves are used for longer expedition style trips, usually with 2 or more people. These stoves take a bit of knowledge to correctly operate because they have many parts and often need to be primed properly before use. The stoves in this category are the most versatile of the bunch. You can take them completely apart, clean and trouble shoot them easily, and then put them back together, all while out in the field.
Many of the stoves we tested are multi-fuel and will burn anything from white gas to diesel fuel. This is great for international trips when you're not sure what type of fuel will be available. Liquid fuel stoves are very stable for any kind of cookware and are quite fuel efficient. Some of them have the capability to simmer, which makes cooking more complex meals easier. We take our liquid fuel stoves along when we are guiding groups on the John Muir Trail for 3 weeks, on expeditions to Denali where lots of snow melting is involved, or we want to cook our sweethearts a gourmet meal on a weekend backpacking trip.
The liquid fuel stoves included in this review are the MSR Whisperlite, MSR Whisperlite International, MSR Whisperlite Universal, MSR Dragonfly, MSR XGK-EX and the Optimus Nova+.
Small Canister Stoves
These stoves are handy, compact little units that are super easy to use and very lightweight. Small canister stoves are a great addition to any backpacker or adventurer's tool box. They are so light it is a no brainer to throw in your pack for short overnight trips or as backup stoves. We take one along when we're testing other stoves that we are dubious about as a back up – just to ensure that we'll be able to eat dinner that night.
These stoves are less fuel efficient than an integrated canister stove because they have no wind resistance or a way to diffuse heat to the bottom of the pot; however they are slightly more versatile because you can use different cookware on the burners and there is more temperature control and simmering capability. We take our small canister stoves along for short backpacking trips when we want to be able to cook meals with friends, or on short solo missions with a small canister and pot.
The small canister stoves included in this review are the Optimus Crux Lite, MSR Pocket Rocket, and MSR Micro Rocket.
Integrated Canister Stoves
The latest type of stove to make a splash in the backpacking stove scene – integrated canister stoves – are so hot right now! These stoves combine a burner with a heat exchanger pot for efficient boiling. Jetboil was the original big name producing these stoves, but now MSR has joined the market with their Reactor and Windburner products. These stoves are fantastic water boiling machines, but are not very versatile for heating things other than water. If all you plan to eat on your trips is Ramen noodles or freeze dried meal-in-a-bag dinners – and you want food fast – this type of stove is all you need. The Jetboil MiniMo has made an attempt at better temperature control and you can cook simple meals like pasta with this system.
Integrated canister stoves are extremely fuel efficient, but sometimes have trouble in high winds and cold temperatures, so you will want to choose a sheltered location when cooking. What makes them fuel efficient is the integrated, often insulated pot systems where the heat from the burner is in very direct, diffused contact with the pot. These stoves are a great choice for fast and light alpine missions or having a quick hot drink or cup of soup while out on a cold day ice climbing.
The integrated canister stoves included in this review are the Jetboil Flash, Jetboil MiniMo, MSR Reactor and MSR Windburner.
Wood/Solid Fuel Burning Stoves
Thru-hikers are always looking for new ways to lighten their packs and make cooking easier. Wood and solid fuel burning stoves are the most recent attempt to lighten loads. A backpacker with this type of stove often has the choice to carry chemical fuel such as Esbit and Trangia or to forage for burnables along the trail, although some models are dedicated to the use of one fuel type or another. We saw many people using these stoves out in the woods this summer, but have found there are many drawbacks to these gimmicky stoves.
The appeal of these stoves is that they are very lightweight. Unfortunately we think there are more drawbacks than benefits, and these are the least functional and reliable stoves of all the stove types we tested. First, they burn awful chemicals that smell horrible. Second, they have zero temperature control for cooking. Third, if you choose to solely burn wood in your stove you are at the mercy of the environment around you. Many places, like the Pacific Northwest, are often extremely wet, which makes it difficult to find dry wood. On the flip side, places like the Sierra Nevada often have fire bans where use of this type of stove would be illegal. Lastly, expect to have a completely blackened pot after use that you will have to store in a stuff sack or clean off every time after cooking.
The wood burning and solid fuel stove we tested was the Bushcraft Essentials Bushbox Outdoor Pocket Stove.
These ultralight stoves originated from people figuring out how to make an alcohol burning stove from a Red Bull can, but now there are a myriad of manufactured options on the market. These stoves burn denatured alcohol and are best used only for boiling water to make dehydrated or freeze dried meals. Thru-hikers tend to favor these stoves because denatured alcohol is inexpensive and available in any small town, even if there isn't an outdoor outfitter. There is no flame control on these stoves, and they can sometimes be finicky, especially at altitude. We have not tested any alcohol stoves in this review, but stay tuned for next season when we take one out.
Criteria for Evaluation
This category helps you decide how much backpacking stove you really need. Do you want a light weight stove that's sole purpose is to boil water fast, or do you need to be melting snow and cooking meals on a glacier in Ecuador? While evaluating for versatility we look for:
The most versatile stoves we tested were the MSR Whisperlite Universal and the MSR Dragonfly, both of which are multi-fuel capable and great for cooking for large groups. The least versatile is the Bushbox wood burning stove, while the integrated canister stoves are also limited to the specific use of boiling water.
Fuel efficiency is a tricky category to evaluate and includes many variables. We tested for fuel efficiency on our own with standardized boil time tests, but also took the manufacturers word for it on certain specifications like max burn times. Other factors we considered when evaluating this category were wind resistance and insulation.
Having a fuel efficient stove is important for many reasons, the main one being that you don't want to be left high and dry by running out of fuel when all you have left to eat are freeze dried or dehydrated meals, and you're 2 days walk to the trailhead. Fuel efficiency is also an important consideration for obvious environmental reasons, as well as weight savings. If you are an ounce counter, as many backpackers are, sometimes having a fuel efficient stove can cut down on the ounces of fuel that you need to carry. When you are calculating how much fuel your stove will use, you may be able to leave that extra canister at home or carry a smaller canister if your stove can save you a few grams. We talk in depth about this concept as well as how to calculate how much fuel you'll need for your trip and other information about canisters in our How to Choose the Best Backpacking Stove Article.
The most fuel efficient stove we tested was the MSR Windburner because of its very wind resistant construction, large integrated heat exchange syestem, and insulated pot. The least fuel efficient stoves were the Bushbox Outdoor Pocket Stove, because the Esbit fuel source we used burned out before we even got a boil, and the MSR Pocket Rocket because of its absolute lack of wind resistance. Liquid fuel stoves are relatively fuel efficient because they come with wind screens to help protect the stove from the elements and these screens also act as a reflector to intensify the heat.
This is a specification we did not simply take the manufacturer's word for. We wanted to see results for ourselves. We do not claim to be scientists, but we made our tests as scientific and objective as possible, controlling the environment and other factors to create a fair playing field. We did our testing in a garage where the ambient temperature was approximately 48 degrees Fahrenheit and the water we used was approximately 41 degrees. We tested the boil time of .5 liters of water for each of the stoves. Boil time was calculated when the burners were already primed and at maximum flame. All of the fuel bottles were full and the canisters used were all identical. To read more details about our boil testing process check out our How We Test article.
Liquid fuel stoves inherently take longer to boil water because they must be primed before putting water on to boil. We found it took anywhere from 36 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds to prime these stoves, and the average boil time after priming was 2 minutes 40 seconds, the fastest being the MSR Dragonfly at 2 minutes 38 seconds. All of the liquid fuel stoves we tested were very close in time, and we think that boil times for these stoves are less important because the other functions of these stoves, including their versatility, are more important than speed.
Small canister stoves are generally very quick, hot stoves and the ones in our test had an average boil time of 2 minutes 6 seconds to boil half a liter. This specification will quickly change if any type of wind is factored in. During our field testing, we found that water took much longer to boil unless the stove was in a very sheltered location.
The integrated canister stoves tested have an average boil time of 2 minutes 33 seconds. Although this may appear to be longer than the small canister stoves, this time is much more reliable, as the integrated canister stoves are generally more wind resistant. That being said, the Jetboil Flash fully blew out when tested at high winds. The Jetboil MiniMo was the fastest in this category, boiling half a liter of water in 2 minutes 5 seconds, followed closely by the MSR Reactor at 2 minutes 25 seconds.
We weighed each stove at its bare bones, fast-and-light weight. This did not include any kind of packaging or accessories, but simply what you would need to cook or boil water. The lightest stove was the MSR Micro Rocket weighing in at 2.5 oz. The heaviest stove was the Optimus Nova+ at 15.3 oz. One thing to consider in this category is if the pot is included or not; all of the integrated canister stoves come with a pot and weigh an average of 13.15 oz, so if you are deciding between one of these and a small canister stove, don't forget to factor in the weight of a pot as well.
Generally lower and wider equals more stable. We found that liquid fuel stoves are the most stable of all the stoves because they are low to the ground and have wide stove legs that act as stable platforms. The MSR Dragonfly was the most stable of all the stoves we tested. The small canister stoves seemed the least stable as they were all quite tall once screwed on to a canister, and left the pots feeling as though they would teeter in the wind.
The integrated canister stoves we tested were also relatively unstable because they became quite tall once the canisters were attached – the Windburner was the tallest. All of the manufacturers try to address this problem by including canister stands, but we did not bring these along most times because they add weight and we find them unnecessary.
The small canister stoves won this category hands down, the smallest of them all being the aptly named MSR Micro Rocket. These stoves do not include any type of pot, so the volume of this and a fuel can will need to be factored in. We think the most space saving unit overall is the Jetboil MiniMo. Its pot allows you to nest the burner unit and a small canister inside. Liquid fuel stoves have the largest packed size, and are somewhat bulky. You can nest most of the liquid fuel stoves inside a 2L pot easily.
Here are some things that will come in handy for specific applications when using your backpacking stoves:
The Jetboil models and the MSR Micro Rocket come with their own Piezo Igniters, but these are handy gadgets to have for any backpacking stove.
Strike Igniters are much more reliable than a lighter, last longer, and come with a can opener!
These are sold separately from your liquid fuel stoves, and an essential item to make it work! Fuel Bottles come in many sizes including 11oz, 20oz, and 30oz.
Do you like drinking coffee in the backcountry? We thought so! There are many accessories to pair with your stove for great coffee making. Here are a few:
Jetboil Flash Java Kit
MSR Trail Light Duo Coffee Press
MSR WindBoiler Coffee Press Kit
For your integrated canister stove for when the weather is foul outside and you want to cook in your tent:
Jetboil Hanging Kit
Reactor Hanging Kit
Windboiler Hanging Kit
For integrated canister stoves when cooking with larger groups.
Jetboil Sumo Titanium 1.8L Companion Cup.
For cooking on your liquid and small canister stoves, the MSR Quick 2 Pot Set is a great set.
While there is no best backpacking stove for every application or budget, we hope we have informed you about one that might be right for you. For more information on how to choose the right stove for your needs, check out our Buying Advice article. Looking to expand your backcountry menu? Check out The Best Backpacking Food Article for meal planning ideas. If you're more into cooking on your tailgate and car camping, check out our Best Camping Stoves Review for more deluxe outdoor cooking options.
— Jessica Haist
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