In the last 10 years we've tested 34 different models in an effort to find the best backpacking stove. In our latest review we examine 17 stoves. We've surveyed the stove market, bought the best models, and tested them side-by-side and in our lab. Our testing took place in a variety of settings, everything from sea level to 14,000 foot summits. From windy weekend backpacking trips to frigid expeditions on glaciers, we have the info to guide you toward the best fit, whether you're on a tight budget or money is no object.Related: Best Camping Stove of 2020
Best Backpacking Stove of 2020
Best Overall Backpacking Stove
We had a few small quibbles with this stove. It wasn't as fast to boil as some of the competition. More importantly, it is not as fuel-efficient by a small margin. We were also challenged to pack the burner and the pot supports into our smaller cookware with a fuel can in there. That being said, we found that a small price to pay for the pot supports. For most backpackers most of the time, we think this is the best stove out there.
Read review: Soto Windmaster
Best On A Tight Budget
A number of consumer reviews mention problems with those supports melting. We have yet to experience those issues, but quality control sometimes falls by the wayside when a product is remarkably inexpensive. Despite the good flame control when turned down, the burner head of the BRS is tiny, making it easy to scorch some foods if you get lazy with the stirring. This stove also lacks a piezo igniter. For ultralight solo weekend (or long weekend) backpacking trips, this little stove saves weight and cash.
Read review: BRS-3000T
Best Integrated Canister Stove
The JetBoil MiniMo is the top performing integrated canister stove from the company that invented the category. JetBoil stoves have always had a confidence-inspiring burner head and pot attachment, and that's true here. In the past, piezoelectric lighters on the stoves were a known failure point; our testers used this igniter hundreds of times with no issues. The big advancement over previous models is the burner head. The MiniMo scored well in boil times and fuel efficiency. Amongst integrated canister stoves, it's the best at simmering. Add this to the unique short and squat pot shape and voile - you can consider cooking real food.
The MiniMo stays lit and boils water at wind speeds that would have most backpackers hiding in their tents. However, our testers know from experience that gustier winds will blow the stove out. After they're on, the MSR Reactor and Windburner stay on regardless of wind speed. The latest version of the Jetboil Flash with its color changing heat indicator and less messy pour is giving the MiniMo a run for its money. Nevertheless, for backpackers dreaming about alpine or big wall ascents (and have practice keeping the stove out of the wind), we think the MiniMo is an excellent choice.
Read review: JetBoil MiniMo
Best for Liquid Fuel
MSR Whisperlite Universal
The MSR Whisperlite Universal takes the original gangster of the liquid fuel stove world and updates it for modern wilderness travelers. It is everything we expected from its predecessors: relatively simple (for this kind of stove), durable, and field repairable. Most users can expect this thing to last forever. It will also burn most any type of fuel, including canisters. With most North American backpackers moving away from liquid fuel stoves, with think multi-fuel versatility is becoming more important in this category.
Scores for fuel efficiency are unexceptional for the Universal. Simmering is also a challenge, but preparing tricky meals with liquid fuel is still possible with patience, savvy, and an understanding of how the stove works. While canister stoves are rightfully the go-to for most backpacking trips, the Whisperlite Universal is our top pick on any multi-day adventure that involves melting snow for a group or crossing international borders.
Read review: MSR Whisperlite Universal
Why You Should Trust Us
Jessica Haist and Ian McEleney are our two primary backcountry experts. Jessica has dedicated her life to adventure education. She is a staff trainer for Outward Bound California, where cooking for groups in the backcountry happens every day. Ian is an AMGA certified Alpine Guide. He and his clients climb routes and peaks throughout the country. Together these two cook meals outdoors more than 150 nights per year.
We tested these stoves in the field and the "lab." For months in the mountains, the woods, and the desert, we used them daily for all of our cooking needs. We also ran tests to compare boil times, fuel efficiency, and performance under consistent wind speeds. We scored them in five categories: fuel efficiency, weight, simmering ability, time to boil, and ease of use.
Related: How We Tested Backpacking Stoves
Analysis and Test Results
We tested small canister stoves, integrated canister stoves, and liquid fuel stoves. What's best for you will depend on your needs. There is a stove for everyone, but first, you should decide on your priorities: weight and bulk, fuel efficiency, cooking ability, or all of the above? Read on to learn which stoves excelled in each of these areas.
Related: Buying Advice for Backpacking Stoves
A common fallacy is to assume that spending more gets you a better stove, but that's not always the case. The cheapest stove in our test, The BRS-3000T, gave us a middle-of-the-pack score and performed well enough to meet the needs of the occasional backpacker. The Jeboil Flash is an excellent value for an integrated canister stove, and the MSR Whisperlite is the best value for backpackers who need a liquid fuel stove.
Fuel efficiency is a tricky category to evaluate and includes many variables. Our testers know from experience that running out of fuel at the wrong time can suck the fun right out of a trip. Backpackers should take any fuel efficiency numbers as mere suggestions both in pre-trip planning and when out on the trail. 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.
We measured two different boil times; both were to bring one liter of water to a rolling boil. The first boil time was with no wind, and a full 4-ounce MSR ISOPro fuel canister (or 11-ounce fuel bottle for the liquid fuel models). For the second number, we placed the stove with the same fuel can or bottle in front of a box fan blowing about 3 mph, as measured with a pocket anemometer. We averaged these two numbers for our final score. Readers should note that, due to pot capacities, some stoves were tested with less than a full liter of water.
Having a fuel-efficient backpacking stove is essential for many reasons, the main one being that you don't want to be left high and dry by running out of fuel. 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, having a fuel-efficient stove can cut down on the ounces of fuel that you need to carry. If you can calculate how much fuel your stove needs, you may be able to leave an extra canister at home, or bring a smaller one and save some weight.
The overall most fuel-efficient stoves we tested are the Jetboil Flash and the Primus Lite+ because of their integrated heat exchange systems and insulated pots. The least efficient stoves are the Primus Classic Trail and MSR Windpro 2. Like cars built for fast and furious street racing, they have impressive power outputs but guzzle down the gas.
- If your canister gets too cold, performance and fuel-efficiency suffer. Consider sleeping with a canister in your sleeping bag or at least put it in your jacket and warm it up before use.
- Let food soak. Put in your food when you turn the stove on and then let it soak when it reaches a near boil.
- Turn the stove down a half turn - it will only take a little longer for water to boil but saves lots of fuel
- Avoid a full boil. A near boil is good enough for most cooking and drinks.
- Don't light the stove until there is something in the pot and it's on top of the burner.
- There are a lot more fuel saving tips out there if you really want to geek out.
Some of the small canister stoves had severe problems in the wind, and this affected their fuel efficiency. Notable exceptions to this are the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe and the Soto Windmaster. These two stoves feature burner heads that shield the flames.
Canister stove manufacturers advise against a windscreen that encloses the burner and fuel can, as this can heat the canister to a dangerous level and cause an explosion. The Windpro is an exception to this. Its remote canister design separates the burner from the fuel like a liquid fuel stove, so a windscreen is okay.
Liquid fuel stoves are generally more fuel-efficient because they come with windscreens to shield breezes and focus the heat on the pot. Flexible aluminum windscreens are also sold separately. The added weight (a few ounces) is well worth it.
Like a tent, each backpacking stove gets two scores in this metric. We weighed each stove with all of the things that come with it: stuff sacks or cases, accessory cups, and maintenance doodads. This was the "packed" weight. We also weighed each stove at its bare-bones "trail" weight. This excludes packaging or accessories and keeps only the minimum of what is needed to cook or boil water. The BRS 3000T owned this metric, at an unreal 0.9-ounce trail weight and a tiny packed size.
Most canister stoves we tested weigh 4 ounces or less, lighter than your phone. We found weight to be less of a factor when deciding between them than with other stove types, because they're all so close in weight. Consider also if the pot is included or not; all of the integrated canister stoves come with one and have a higher trail and packed weight. If you are comparing an integrated canister stove with a small canister stove, remember that cookware needs to be included in that comparison.
The nominal description of canister size (4, 8, or 16 ounce) describes the volume of the can, not the weight of the fuel and the can together. That number is always more. A four ounce fuel can weighs in at about 7.4 ounces when full.
Most of the integrated canister stoves have multiple compatible pots available for purchase. This skews their weights and should be noted by readers considering these models. Jetboil makes pots for its stove systems in several sizes starting with 0.5 L, MSR only makes them in 1 L and up. The Camp Chef Stryker is only available with the 1.5 L pot it comes with. The Jetboil Zip comes with a 0.75 L pot, helping to make it the lightest integrated canister model we tested.
We also took size and packability into account in this category. Packing stove, fuel, and a lighter into your pot for packing could help you go with a smaller (and thus probably lighter) pack. We looked at how little each burner got and how well it nested into a pot. Again, the BRS shined here, we could fit it and a 4 ounce fuel canister into our 500mL pot.
Our testing team felt that this was an important metric. Sometimes we're in a hurry and will eat whatever freeze-dried concoction we have leftover from our last trip, no matter how unidentifiable. However, much of the time, we want to eat actual food, and we think that doing so improves our experience in the backcountry. A stove that can simmer well can handle 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. A broad burner head, or the built-in heat exchangers on integrated canister stoves, help distribute the heat more evenly around the bottom of a pot. Narrow burner heads and focused flames lead to scorched oatmeal in the center and a cold mess around the edges. We also looked to see how low each stove could be turned down before sputtering out. The Soto WindMaster, PocketRocket Deluxe, Classic Trail, and GigaPower 2.0 are champs here. The control wires give just the right amount of resistance, which let us dial in the flame and not carbonize our oatmeal.
Our other small canister stoves also performed well. Unless you want your dinner cajun style and are prepared to stir fast and continuously, don't get a rager of an integrated canister stove like the Reactor and Flash for cooking. Interestingly, the Camp Chef Stryker performed better than the other integrated canister models in this metric.
Liquid fuel stoves require some know-how to get a good simmer. The Dragonfly is designed for simpler simmering. Though it simmers more easily than its brethren, sautéing is still not as simple as with the small canister stoves.
Ease Of Use
After a long day on the trail, the last thing anyone wants to do is struggle to make dinner. Backpacking stoves should be intuitive and easy to operate.
No surprise, if a backpacking stove comes with a lot of small parts and accessories, they will be easy to lose. We also examined the controls on each model to see if they were easy to access and operate. The large wire knobs that are becoming the standard, like on the GigaPower 2.0, shine here. The tiny knobs on the Primus Classic and Lite+ seem dated.
Piezoelectric lighters have become quite reliable, and we think they should be a standard feature. Our testing team always goes into the backcountry with a lighter (or three), but with this feature, you don't have to search for it when what you really want to be doing is drinking coffee. MSR has added a piezo to the PocketRocket line on the Deluxe. Our testers would love to see the Reactor and WindBurner also sprout them. Over half of the small and integrated canister stoves in our review sport a piezo, though they didn't all work with the same reliability in our tests. We were pleased that the Soto WindMaster and Jetboil MiniMo fired up consistently by clicking the auto-ignitor. The PocketRocket Deluxe didn't give us this same consistency.
The integrated canister stoves score well for stability because the burner and pot are designed to mate, but they are quite tall and can be 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 have smallish pot supports. One stand-out here is the WindMaster; its 4Flex pot supports are long and noticeably more stable than most of its competition.
Lower and broader designs give more stability and allow for a wider variety of cookware, and therefore meals. Liquid fuel models are the most stable because they are low to the ground and have wide stove legs that act as stable platforms. The MSR Dragonfly is the most stable, in part due to its giant pot supports. The Windpro 2 looks more like a liquid fuel stove, and it's about as stable as one.
Though stove manufacturers like to make a big deal out of boil times, most backpackers will not notice if their stove is a minute or two slower — only if it's 8 - 10 minutes slower. It's also a complicated specification, with many contributing variables. We do not claim to be scientists, though we have tried to make our tests as objective as possible, controlling the environment and other variables to create a fair playing field. We did our testing in a garage at about 8000 feet, where the ambient temperature was approximately 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water we used was approximately 43 degrees. The boiling point of water at 8000 feet is 197 F. We tested the time it took to reach a rolling boil of one liter of water for each of the stoves. All of the fuel bottles were full, and the canisters used were all identical.
Be aware that different manufacturers use different amounts of water in their boil tests and are often testing them in a lab at sea level with an ambient air temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. So the specs you see on a product's website may not be very applicable to the real-world situations on many backpacking trips.
Liquid fuel stoves take longer to boil water because they must be primed. To keep our comparisons fair, we started the clock after priming. We found it took anywhere from 36 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds to prime these stoves. We think user results for priming times will vary so widely that we did not bother to publish ours. Boil times after priming were in the 6-8 minute range, the fastest being the MSR Universal at 6 minutes 44 seconds. We think that boil times for these stoves are less critical because their other functions (including their versatility) are more important than speed.
While our testing team is not usually impressed with boil times, numbers at either end of the range do catch our attention. The PocketRocket Deluxe dominated this metric — when there was no wind — with a time of 3 minutes and 39 seconds. The MSR Reactor, and Jetboil MiniMo and Flash were close behind, practically tied just a hair over 4 minutes.
Wind plays a big part in boil times. Since it's not likely you'll have windless conditions on your next backpacking trip, we also tested these stoves in a 2-4 mph wind (provided by a fan operating at the same speed for consistency's sake). Some models were unable to boil water in these conditions, but most continued to perform reasonably well. Models that weren't able to cook in front of the fan are indicated as "15 min" because, after 15 minutes, we shut them off.
Canister stoves do not come with windscreens, and every manufacturer warns against using them in their instructions. The exception to this is the Windpro 2. Because its design separates the burner from the can, using a windscreen that fully encloses the flames poses no risk. Despite this, it saw a boil time increase of only about 20% in front of the fan. Several small canister stoves also worked in the wind. Both the WindMaster and the PocketRocket Deluxe were able to boil water in our fan test.
The integrated canister stoves fared much better. As we expected, the Reactor and WindBurner were only slightly affected by the wind. It should be noted that they are difficult to light in the wind, though. The MiniMo and Lite+ surprised us by also doing well in this moderate breeze (although these stoves struggle in stronger wind gusts that tend to extinguish their flames). If a speedy time to boil is essential for your backcountry experience, consider one of the higher scorers here. Our backcountry experts don't recommend making this metric the sole source of your decision-making, though stove marketing and advertisements will try to convince you otherwise.
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. Most of our testers and friends agree food tastes better in the outdoors, especially when you do it right. We hope you find the right stove for your needs that leads you to many happy, tasty meals in the backcountry.
— Ian McEleney & Jessica Haist