The Best Backpacking Stove Review

What is the best backpacking stove? We tested and reviewed nine of the top-rated one-burner backpacking stoves in a back country cook-off that assessed control, versatility, setup, stability, durability, and wind resistance. We bruised and battered these stoves on trips all over the West Coast. From the High Sierra to Oregon's dry desert to the rainy Pacific Northwest, we cooked in a myriad of conditions. Throughout these tests we were searching for the smallest, lightest, most versatile, and most durable stove on the market.

Looking to expand your backcountry menu? Check out The Best Backpacking Food for meal planning ideas.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Backpacking Stoves Displaying 1 - 5 of 11 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #5 #2 #6 #7 #10
Product Name
Optimus Nova
Optimus Nova
Read the Review
MSR Dragonfly
MSR Dragonfly
Read the Review
MSR Whisperlite
MSR Whisperlite
Read the Review
MSR Whisperlite International
MSR Whisperlite International
Read the Review
MSR Pocket Rocket
MSR Pocket Rocket
Read the Review
Editors' Awards    Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $120 - $150
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $120 - $140
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $70 - $90
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $99 - $100
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $31 - $40
Compare at 7 sellers
Overall Score
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71
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65
Editors' Rating
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User Rating
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67% recommend it (2/3)
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83% recommend it (5/6)
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89% recommend it (8/9)
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67% recommend it (4/6)
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83% recommend it (5/6)
Pros Stable, durable, good control.Very stable, excellent simmer.Small, simple, durable, inexpensive, versatileSmall, simple, durable, inexpensive, versatileSimple, durable, inexpensive, strong hardcase.
Cons Heavy, large, complicated.Heavy, not compact, loud, short fuel line.Difficult to simmerDifficult to simmerUnstable
Best Uses Backpacking, mountaineering, kayaking.Base camping, group backpacking, kayaking.Whether it’s backpacking, adventure cycling, or arctic expeditions, the Whisperlite can handle it all.Whether its backpacking, adventure cycling, or arctic expeditions, the Whisperlite can handle it all.Backpacking.
Date Reviewed Oct 13, 2010Oct 08, 2010Oct 10, 2010Oct 25, 2010Oct 14, 2010
Weighted Scores Optimus Nova MSR Dragonfly MSR Whisperlite MSR Whisperlite International MSR Pocket Rocket
Packed Size - 5%
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4
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4
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5
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5
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10
Weight - 5%
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4
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6
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6
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10
Speed - 15%
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6
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10
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8
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8
10
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7
Control - 15%
10
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10
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10
10
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6
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10
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8
Versatility - 5%
10
0
10
10
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10
10
0
9
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9
10
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6
Set Up Time - 10%
10
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4
10
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5
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5
10
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5
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9
Stability - 15%
10
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9
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10
10
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7
10
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7
10
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2
Durability - 10%  
10
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9
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9
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9
10
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7
Wind Resistance - 15%
10
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8
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8
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0
8
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5
Product Specs Optimus Nova MSR Dragonfly MSR Whisperlite MSR Whisperlite International MSR Pocket Rocket
Category Liquid Fuel Liquid Fuel Liquid Fuel Liquid Fuel Small Canister
Weight (ounces) 15.3 14 11.5 11.5 3
Dimensions (inches) 6x5.5x2.8 6.3x5x3.5 6x4x4 6x4x4 4.1x2.1x2
Packed Volume (cubic inches) 92.4 110.25 96 96 17.22
Avg Boil Time 4.13 3.97 3.85 3.85 3.97
Fuel Type Multi Fuel Multi Fuel Liquid fuel Liquid fuel Isobutane
Water boiled per 100g white gas (liters) 6.57 6.7 6.7 6.7 6.6
Burn time (max flame) per 100g NA 26.5 25.6 25.6 26
Additional items included Multi tool, case, spare parts Windscreen, heat shield, tool Windscreen, heat shield, tool Windscreen, heat shield, tool Hard case
Piezo Ignitor

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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MSR Reactor
$160
100
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81
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MSR Whisperlite
$80
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Jetboil Flash
$100
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78
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MSR Dragonfly
$130
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Soto OD-1R
$70
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Optimus Crux
$50
100
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69
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MSR Whisperlite International
$90
100
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71
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MSR Pocket Rocket
$40
100
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65
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Jetboil Sol
$120
100
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78
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Optimus Nova
$150
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Jetboil Group Cooking System
$120
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47
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Selecting the Right Product
The stoves tested here fall into three categories: (1) small canister stoves, (2) integrated canister stoves, and (3) liquid fuel stoves. Our individual reviews compare stoves within each category as well as across categories.

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, are generally more wind resistant and lighter than small canister stoves, making them better for high wind environments but less versatile for cooking. Finally, 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.

Click to enlarge
Backpacking stove display.
Credit: Max Neale
Types of Backpacking Stoves
Liquid Fuel Stoves:
  • MSR Whisperlite
  • MSR Dragonfly
  • Optimus Nova

Integrated Canister:
  • Jetboil Flash
  • Jetboil Group Cooking System
  • MSR Reactor

Small Canister:
  • MSR Pocket Rocket
  • Optimus Crux
  • Soto OD-1R

Click to enlarge
MSR Pocket Rocket
Credit: Max Neale
Criteria For Evaluation
Packed Size
All small canister stoves have miniscule burners and pack smaller than palm size. Integrated canister stoves pack the burner and fuel bottle inside of the pot, occupying between one and two liters. Liquid fuel stoves, which include a burner pump, windscreens, and repair tools, take up between 1.5 and 1.8 liters.

Weight
Stoves reviewed here weighed between 2.6 and 19 ounces. While this large range exists across categories, a much smaller range is found within each category. Small canister stoves weighed between 2.6 and 3 ounces, liquid fuel stoves between 11.5 and 15.3 ounces, and integrated canister stoves between 15 and 19 ounces. The lightest stove was the Soto OD-1R and the heaviest was the MSR Reactor (which includes a 1.7L pot).

Durability
Ranging from least to most durable we have: small canisters, integrated canisters, and liquid fuel stoves. The Soto OD-1R was the least durable and the Optimus Crux was the most durable.

Speed
Most stoves boiled a liter of water within three to four minutes. The exception was the Jetboil Group Cooking System, which took an average of five minutes.

Click to enlarge
Cooking with the MSR Dragonfly backpacking stove.
Credit: Max Neale

Control
Here we assessed how easy it was to control the stove while it was operating.
We found canister stoves to be easier to use than liquid fuel stoves, which require priming. The best handling stoves were the Optimus Nova and MSR Dragonfly. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the MSR Reactor, which is only intended to boil water.

Setup
Setup times for the stoves we reviewed ranged from a few seconds to a few minutes. Fastest was the two-piece MSR Reactor and slowest was the highly complex Optimus Crux.

Stability
No one likes spilling boiling water, let alone a whole meal. Stability matters. Of the nine stoves we reviewed the MSR Dragonfly was the steadiest and the MSR Pocket Rocket the tippiest.

Versatility
A versatile camp stove is one that allows you too boil water, flip pancakes, and even do some occasional baking. Integrated canister stoves are the least versatile – requiring specific and limited cookware options – and generally only boil water. Most versatile are liquid fuel stoves, which accept any pot or pan and can also be used for baking. Provided it's not too large, small canister stoves can be used with any pot or pan.

Wind Resistance
The MSR Reactor is the first and only windproof stove. Following somewhat closely in its footsteps are liquid fuel stoves (all of which can be used with windscreens). Lagging a bit behind them is the Jetboil Flash, and finally, small canister stoves.

Key Accessories
Pots-With the exception of the intergraded stoves, you will need a good cookware set to go with your stove. The MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set is a very durable and lightweight set that is perfect for two people. If you are looking for a cookware set that includes dishes as well, we recommend that MSR Quick 2 System.

Windscreen- Windscreens can greatly improve the performance of any stove. Check out this Windscreen from MSR.

Lighter-For an all-weather igniter for any stove, check out the Strike Igniter.

Utensils-A versatile eating utensil is important in the backcountry. For a more detailed look at sporks check out The Best Sporks Review.

Editors' Choice Award: MSR Reactor
MSR Reactor
MSR Reactor
Credit: www.msrcorp.com
Our Editors' Choice award goes to the fast and furious MSR Reactor. While this was the most impressive stove, it's a one trick pony and can only boil water.

Best Buy Award: MSR Whisperlite
Our Best Buy award goes to the time-tested, versatile, durable, relatively lightweight, compact, and more affordable MSR Whisperlite.

Top Pick for Camping: MSR Dragonfly
Our favorite stove for cooking was the heavy and bulky, but stable and easy to control, MSR Dragonfly.

Top Pick for Lightweight Backpacking: Jetboil Flash
For light exploits where weight and space matter most, we endorse the fully featured and stylish Jetboil Flash.

Click to enlarge
Jetboil Flash along the Pacific Crest Trail
Credit: Max Neale
Check out our Dream Backpacking Gear List as well.

Ask An Expert: Anthony Culpepper
We decided to ask prolific backpacker and thru-hiker Anthony Culpepper some questions about backpacking stoves. Anthony has thru-hiked the triple crown, having completed the Appalachian Trail in 2002, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2003, and the Continental Divide Trail in 2004. He has also hiked the Great Divide Trail in Canada, the PCT a second time, the Pacific Northwest Trail, the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Arizona Trail, and in 2011 completed a self-designed 6,000-mile loop around the western U.S. starting and ending at the Grand Canyon. As you can tell, he's been around. His trail name is Trippin' Ant.

Can you give yourself a trail name?
People do, but ideally someone has to bestow it upon you. I hiked the AT right when The Lord of the Rings came out, so there were a lot of Gandalfs and Frodos and whatnot… New York Frodo, Cali Frodo…

What is your favorite type of stove for long thru-hikes and why?
There are two stoves I like. Any of the canister stoves because they're simple, easy, and light. The MSR Pocket Rocket I have used a lot. I also like alcohol stoves like the homemade Pepsi can. Those work really well for long hikes to heat water.

Would you choose a different type of stove for short backpacking trips or when you are traveling with multiple people to help distribute the weight, than if you were going alone?
If I was on an expedition I would use an MSR Whisper-lite, for mountaineering type trips. They are beefy stoves that are easy to repair in the field and are bomber. They can also be used with non-white gas fuels like kerosene, which makes them more versatile. For shorter trips I like using my MSR Reactor now, it's like their version of the Jetboil, but I think it's much better.

What was your worst backcountry stove malfunction and how badly did you suffer?
I have run out of fuel before, which is about the worst malfunction you can have. That's happened plenty of times on my long hikes. As far as a breakdown, I've had some experiences with sand in the fuel line of Whisper-lites, which is a pain in the ass to clean out. I had a Pocket Rocket that had the threads wear off so I couldn't screw it into the canister while on the PCT. So I was without a stove for a while. I just had to eat snacks and stuff, it was a while before I could replace it. I ended up buying snacks at a convenience store.

Did those experiences lead to any changes in your thoughts regarding which backpacking stove to carry?
No. No matter which stove you have it might break or it might run out of fuel. I had my alcohol stove roll off a cliff where I couldn't retrieve it once, but luckily I had another one, cause they're so light. The point is, you shouldn't ever totally rely on a stove on a long distance hike. It's always good to have a non-cooking option backup. The reality is that most of the food I eat in the backcountry, it's nice if it's warm, but it doesn't have to be cooked–like instant mashed potatoes.

Do you find that your menu planning when backpacking is limited by your choice of stove? Or do you eat what you want and go for the stove that will cook it?
It can depend. If I was out fishing for instance, you can't fry up a trout easily on a Jetboil, whereas if you have a Whisper-lite it's a little more functional for that circumstance. That's not a consideration when long distance hiking though, you just make do. I have cooked a fish on a Jetboil by cutting it into small pieces.

Have you ever decided to rely solely on natures stove – a fire – during a backpacking trip?
No. I've cooked on a fire before, but I think it's a pain in the ass and its not always practical. There might be a burn ban or you could end up somewhere where you can't have a fire.

History
A timeline of cooking outdoors provides insight to the history and evolution of backpacking stoves. Humans have been surviving and thriving in the wilderness for tens of thousands of years; we have been cooking outdoors since we learned to build fire. First, we roasted our meat over an open fire and placed eggs in a hot coal bed to cook inside their shell. Then came the cooking pot, or the cast iron pan, which allowed us to raise our food off the ground and control the temperature. As humans began to explore the far reaches of our planet, we needed to adapt our methods for cooking. Open flame remained the primary method for cooking for thousands of years. Fur trappers, American colonists, and pioneers of the western frontier all cooked on open fires.

In Japan during the 17th century, people used lightweight charcoal stoves called shichirin, or better known as habachi in North America. These were relatively heavy, made of ceramic and were semi-portable.

In 1849 French chef Alexis Soyer began marketing his new development in portable cooking. The 'magic stove' allowed people to cook anywhere. Soyer's stove was constructed of metal and featured a burner and fuel tank. The design of Soyer's model used a wick to draw fuel from a tank to the burner. The system was about the size of a medium pot and was used by the British military during the Crimean war.

In the 1850's mountaineer Francis Fox Tuckett invented a stove specifically for camping and mountaineering. This new design used alcohol for fuel and was known as the "Russian furnace" or the "Rob Roy", after John MacGregor, a renowned canoeist in the second half of the nineteenth century, whose was nicknamed Rob Roy. Tuckett's stove featured an integral cook kit and was designed to hang from a cord on the interior of a tent.

In the 1880's Fridtjof Nansen developed an alcohol-burning stove that improved on earlier designs. Using alcohol as a fuel source was a great advantage because priming fuel was no longer needed. With all of the innovations happening in stove manufacturing, it wasn't long before Carl Richard Nyberg began manufacturing Primus stoves in 1892. Nyberg is also credited with developing the blowtorch a decade earlier; This technology was utilized during his design of a pressurized fuel system.

Alcohol burning stoves became the preferred stove type for campers and mountaineers until the advent of Naptha (white gas) midway through the twentieth century; the convenience was in only having to carry a single fuel type. Thus far, kerosene stoves had required (and continue to require) a secondary fuel for priming and lighting purposes.

In 1969, Larry Penberthy started a newsletter focusing on mountaineering safety. This was the beginning for Mountain Safety Research, or MSR as most of us know it. In 1973 in response to research linking dehydration to Acute Mountain Sickness, MSR developed its first stove. The Model 9, the first remote burner stove, separated the fuel bottle from the stove base. It was efficient enough for melting snow for water at altitude, and quickly became standard equipment for expeditions worldwide. The current XGK model has been in production for over 35 years and is based on the original Model 9 design. As the popularity of wilderness adventure continued to increase into the 1980's, MSR developed the Whisperlite; it was designed to burn quietly, hence the name. Developed in 1984, the Whisperlite became a new standard for lightweight backpackers, increasing the quality of the natural experience everywhere. The Whisperlite has been and continues to be the standard for institutional programs all over the world due to its ease of maintenance, lightweight, quiet nature, and reliability.

As the turn of the 21st century came and went, there was a growing interest for fast and light travel and in 2001 Jetboil was founded. Though it would still be three years before their first Personal Cook System was released on the consumer market, research and testing had begun. In an effort to increase efficiency, the Jetboil PCS was developed to include an integrated double wall pot, heat exchanger, and locking base. This new stove design was released in 2004 and quickly became a favorite among fast and light backpackers, as well as mountaineers. The stove packs into its own pot and also has room for a fuel canister; the packed size is slightly larger than a 1 liter Nalgene water bottle. Over the last ten years, Jetboil has developed a proprietary fuel mixture for 4 season use, as well as thermo pressure regulation valves for their stove systems to increase efficiency at altitude and in cold weather. One of their more recent models, the Joule cook system, incorporates an inverted fuel canister design to improve performance and efficiency.

In the past, the line between canister and liquid fuel stove has been clearly defined, but in 2012, MSR broke barriers with the introduction of their Whisperlite Universal. This update of the Whisperlite classic design boasts an interchangeable fuel line with separate hoses for liquid or canister fuel use.

With designs like this we are getting closer to a stove design that is truly as versatile as possible. As stove design evolves, they are becoming lighter and more efficient. Materials, fuel systems and functional design, all contribute to continuing innovations in backcountry cooking.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Buying Advice
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How to Choose the Best Backpacking Stove - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Backpacking Stove

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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