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.

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 $130 - $150
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $112 - $140
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $72 - $100
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $80 - $100
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $32 - $40
Compare at 8 sellers
Overall Score
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76
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71
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71
100
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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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80% recommend it (4/5)
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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 17, 2010Oct 12, 2010Oct 17, 2010Oct 29, 2010Oct 17, 2010
Weighted Scores Optimus Nova MSR Dragonfly MSR Whisperlite MSR Whisperlite International MSR Pocket Rocket
Packed Size - 5%
10
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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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5
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6
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6
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10
Speed - 15%
10
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6
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7
10
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8
10
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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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8
Versatility - 5%
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9
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9
10
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6
Set Up Time - 10%
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4
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5
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5
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9
Stability - 15%
10
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9
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7
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7
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2
Durability - 10%  
10
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9
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9
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7
Wind Resistance - 15%
10
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8
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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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71
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Jetboil Flash
$100
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78
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MSR Dragonfly
$130
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80
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Soto OD-1R
$70
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66
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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
100
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76
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Jetboil Group Cooking System
$120
100
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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
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
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.

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Buying Advice
How we Test
Helpful Buying Tips
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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