The Best Backpacking Stoves of 2017
What is the best backpacking stove for trips in the backcountry? Out of a field of 50, we selected 10 to put through their paces 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 frontcountry adventures to figure out which ones are the lightest, most fuel efficient, and can actually cook a meal you would like to eat. 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.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
May 2017 Update
For our spring update, we take a look at some of the popular favorites, as well as new stoves that were added to our new 2017 review. While MRS wins the Editors' Choice award, we have a few new high scorers and award winners, like the Primus Classic Trail, which takes home the Best Buy award. The competition continues to grow, forcing some old favorites towards the bottom of our fleet.
Best Overall Backpacking Stove
MSR Pocket Rocket 2
The original Pocket Rocket was a legendary small canister stove. It set a high standard in its time for weight and packability. MSR managed to knock off some weight and bulk for the Pocket Rocket 2, making this stove a good choice for backpackers who seek a svelte pack. Our testers also found it superior to the original in simmering ability, making it a good choice for those who enjoy actually cooking (and eating!) a meal in the backcountry. While we missed the piezoelectric lighter built into other stoves in this review, like the Jetboil Flash, we still feel that the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 is better than anything else on the market for backpacking and deserves our Editors' Choice award!
Great at simmering
Average fuel efficiency
Smallish pot supports
No piezo ignition
Read full review: MSR Pocket Rocket 2
Best Bang For The Buck
Primus Classic Trail
The Primus Classic Trail looks like an old school small canister stove. However, our testers were pleasantly surprised with its performance. Cranking it wide open creates a nice large flame, and it can be turned down to simmer almost as well as the Editor's Choice Pocket Rocket 2. The big pot supports and burner head work well with pots that are 3 liters or larger in volume or large frying pans, making this stove a good choice for backpackers who want the convenience of a canister stove for group cooking. Though it's no match in weight to other small canister stoves, it's lighter than a liquid fuel stove and slightly less bulky than an integrated canister stove burner head. If you are an occasional backpacker, backcountry fisherman who wants to saute your catch on the spot, car camper who wants a backup stove, or prepper putting together an emergency kit the Classic Trail could be just right.
Big burner head
Big pot supports
Relatively heavy and bulky
Tiny control knob
Read full review: Primus Classic Trail
Top Pick For Expeditions
The MSR Whisperlite is the original gangster of the liquid fuel stove world. This tried and true workhorse of a stove is near and dear to many adventurer's hearts. This same model has been on the market for over 25 years with few modifications because it works so well. We love that it is simple, reliable, and easy to repair in the field. While it's not as light or small as a canister stove our testers still reach for the Whisperlite for any multi-day adventure that involves melting snow for a group and feel confident that it will work for us in the toughest conditions. It requires savviness to simmer - more than other liquid fuel stoves, like the MSR Dragonfly and Primus Omnilite Ti, but cooking delicate meals is still do-able. It is much quieter than other liquid fuel stoves, hence its name — so conversations in the kitchen are possible.
Difficult to simmer
Read full review: MSR Whisperlite
Top Pick Integrated Canister Stove
The Jetboil MiniMo is an improved integrated canister stove from the company that invented the category. Like its predecessors the burner head and pot mate solidly, allowing backpackers to pick up or pour with no concerns about the hot burner falling off unexpectedly. Early Jetboil piezoelectric lighters were notorious for failing, so our testers made a point of using it a lot and had no problems. The other big improvement over early Jetboils is the burner head. The MiniMo's burner was a top performer in fuel efficiency and boil time. It also simmers better than other integrated canister stoves. This, combined with the short and wide cup shape, open up new possibilities for actual cooking. As with other Jetboil brand stoves, wind is the Achilles heel of the MiniMo. Though it stayed lit in our 9mph wind test we know that higher gusts will extinguish the flame. The MSR Reactor and Windburner will, once lit, stay lit in any winds a human being can handle. For backpackers who also want to take their stove on an alpine climb or big wall (and are willing to find a way to protect the stove from the wind), we think the MiniMo is a great choice.
Good boil time
Pot and burner mate well
Lighter than similar stoves
Diminished wind performance
Read full review: Jetboil MiniMo
Analysis and Test Results
We scored our backpacking stoves based on 5 criteria: fuel efficiency, weight, simmering, time to boil, and ease of use, each of which are discussed under their respective headings below. The chart shown above details the cumulative overall performance score of each stove in our review. The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 came out on top, followed by the Jetboil MiniMo and the MSR Windburner. The stoves we tested in this review 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.
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? For more buying advice that pertains to your specific adventure, head to the types of backpacking stoves.
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 (including boil time in the wind), but also took the manufacturer's 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 prudent 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 buying advice.
The most fuel efficient stove we tested was the MSR Windburner because of its very wind resistant construction, large integrated heat exchange system, and insulated pot. The Jetboil MiniMo was a close second. The Jetboil Flash was actually the most fuel efficient in the still environment of our lab (cough-garage-cough) but performed less well in the wind, and this dropped its overall fuel efficiency score. The least efficient stove was the Primus Classic Trail. Like a car built for fast and furious street racing, this stove has impressive power output but guzzles the gas. All of the small canister stoves had serious problems in the wind, and this affected their fuel efficiency. Liquid fuel stoves are relatively more fuel efficient because they come with wind screens to help protect the stove from the elements and these screens also focus the heat on the pot.
Like a tent, each stove gets two "weights" in this metric. We weighed each stove with its included stuff sacks or cases, accessory cups, and maintenance doodads for its "packed" weight. We also weighed each stove at its bare bones "trail" weight. This did not include any kind of packaging or accessories, but simply what you would need to cook or boil water. The Pocket Rocket 2 owned this metric, with a trail weight of 2.6 oz. The Windburner had the heaviest trail weight, 15 oz. It was followed closely by the Reactor and the Dragonfly.
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 have higher trail and packed weight numbers. 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. We considered this when we scored the stoves for weight, learn how in our How We Tested Backpacking Stoves Article. We also took size and packability into account in this category. It's always nice to be able to get your stove, fuel, and maybe a lighter into your pot for packing. We looked at how small each burner got and how well it nested into a pot.
Our testing team felt that this was a fairly important metric. After all, sometimes we're in a hurry and will eat whatever is fast and easy, no matter how unidentifiable. Much of the time we want to eat actual food and we think that doing so improves our experience in the backcountry. At stove that can simmer well can handle pasta, pancakes, a fresh caught golden trout, or maybe even that steak that's been thawing (double bagged) in our pack on the hike in. We looked for stoves that had good control valve sensitivity, particularly at the low end. We also looked to see how low each stove could be turned down before sputtering out.
The Pocket Rocket 2 was a champ here. The control wire gave just the right amount of resistance, which let us dial in the flame and not carbonize our oatmeal.
The Primus Classic Trail was also a high scorer, earning the same as the Pocket Rocket - a near perfect 9 out of 10.
The other two small canister stoves also performed well. Unless you want you dinner cajun style and are prepared to stir fast and continuously we can't recommend integrated canister stoves like the Reactor and Flash for cooking, though the MiniMo performed better than the others, perhaps due to its different pot shape. Liquid fuel stoves that were designed to offer better simmering, like the Primus Omnilite Ti and the Dragonfly performed passably here, though sauteing was still not as easy as with the small canister stoves.
While boil times are much vaunted by manufacturers, we feel they are generally as relevant to backpackers are 0-60mph times are to drivers commuting to work in their 2009 Toyota Camry. That being said, 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 46 degrees Fahrenheit and the water we used was approximately 43 degrees. We tested the time to a rolling boil of 1 liter of water for each of the stoves. Readers should be aware that different manufacturers use different amounts of water in their boil tests. All of the fuel bottles were full and the canisters used were all identical.
While our testing team is not usually impressed with boil times, numbers at either end of the range do catch our attention. The MSR Reactor and Jetboil MiniMo dominated this category, with times of 3 minutes 56 seconds and 4 minutes 6 seconds respectively. The GigaPower was impressive for its long boil time of 9 minutes 53 seconds, almost 2 minutes behind the next slowest stove.
Liquid fuel stoves inherently take longer to boil water because they must be primed before putting water on to boil. To keep our comparisons fair we started the clock after they were primed. We found it took anywhere from 36 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds to prime these stoves, and that boil times after priming were in the 6-7 minute range, the fastest being the MSR Dragonfly at 6 minutes 5 seconds. We think that boil times for these stoves are less important because of their other functions, including their versatility, are more important than speed.
Wind plays a big part in boil times and we also tested these stoves in an 8-10mph wind. The small canister stoves do not come with windscreens and every manufacturer specifically warns against using them in their instructions. Totally unshielded their performance was poor. All of them stayed lit, but none got water to a rolling boil after 30 minutes. The integrated canister stoves fared better. As we expected, the Reactor and Windburner were only slightly affected. The MiniMo surprised us by also doing well in this moderate breeze, and even the Flash was able to boil water after a while. Both of the Jetboil stoves will, however, be blown out in gustier winds while the Reactor and Windburner will stay lit.
Ease Of Use
Are singed hair and burned fingertips a normal part of your backcountry cooking experience? Good meals should be streamlined enhancements of our wilderness experience, not dangerous chores.
We discovered if the stoves had a lot of small parts and accessories that were easy to lose and if the stoves were easy to assemble. We examined the stove controls to see if they were easy to access and operate. The large wire knobs that are becoming the standard, like on the GigaPower really shined here. Piezoelectric lighters have become quite reliable and were a great bonus. While our testing team always goes into the backcountry with a lighter (or three) with this feature we never have to search for it when what we want to be doing is drinking coffee. The Jetboil Flash and MiniMo really shined in this category. With these stoves, our testers feel that we can go from a stove in the pack to sipping a hot drink in the shortest time and with the least amount of fuss.
Stability was also something we looked at. 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, in part due to its giant pot supports. The integrated canister stoves did well for stability because the burner and pot are designed to mate, but they are quite tall and easy to knock over when full. 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 don't change the fundamental center-of-gravity issue. Small canister stoves are also tall once screwed onto a canister, and had smallish pot supports.
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.
While there is no single backpacking stove for every application or budget, the stove selection above can take the backcountry enthusiast from a weekend for two on the Appalachian Trail, to a week on the Colorado Plateau with a group of friends, to the high peaks of The Alaska Range. 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.
— Ian McEleney and Jessica Haist
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