The Best Backpacking Stoves of 2018

Jessica and Andrea anxiously awaiting dinner. When it is on any kind of uneven surface or there is any kind of breeze  the Micro Rocket requires constant monitoring or you risk loosing your dinner!
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On the hunt for a new backpacking stove? You've come to the right place! First, we researched over 40 different models and then tested the 10 best to help you narrow down your options. We tested these models side-by-side over many months and through a variety of terrain and elevation changes because checking something out in your backyard and having it perform well at 10,000 feet are two very different things. We compared the boil times and fuel efficiency of each model, and also their ability to simmer without sputtering out and needing to be re-lit! Backpacking trips can range from a casual one or two-night excursion close to home to months-long thru-hikes across the continent. We've got some great recommendations for you, whether you're looking for overall performance, need something that'll fit your budget, or want the best of the "fancy" canister options.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Ian McEleney and Jessica Haist

Last Updated:
Monday
April 9, 2018

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April 2018 Update
We've updated our backpacking stove review to make sure that it is current as you are getting geared up for the spring and summer trail season. Our Editors' Choice winner, the MSR Pocket Rocket 2, still dominates the field. We recently tested it at high elevation, and can confirm that it performs well above 10,000 ft with wind and cold temps - sounds like a fun trip eh? We've also got a great budget recommendation, the Etekcity Ultralight. Keep reading below to see our award winners, and even further for a breakdown of how we evaluated each model and how they compared to each other in our specific testing criteria.

Best Overall


MSR Pocket Rocket 2


MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Editors' Choice Award


Trail Weight: 2.6 oz | Boil Time: 4:41 min:sec

Very light
Compact
Great at simmering
Inexpensive
Average fuel efficiency
Smallish pot supports
No piezo ignition
When the original Pocket Rocket first came out over 15 years ago, it was a game changer, and backpackers were happy to ditch their white gas canisters and bulkier stoves for this lightweight option. The second generation is now out, and we love it as much, if not more. The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 is even lighter and slimmer than its predecessor, making it an ideal choice for backpackers. Its simmering capabilities are also superior, allowing you to cook and enjoy more authentic meals (and less Ramen) in the backcountry. Even better is its price; at $45 it is a fraction of the cost of many other models in this review but performed the best overall.

The only thing we missed on this model was an auto-ignition lighter, which is a handy feature on many other stoves, such as the GigaPower 2.0 and Jetboil Flash. Its fuel efficiency is only average as well, so if you need to maximize your consumption, look to the MSR Windburner instead. But for top performance at a reasonable price, the Pocket Rocket 2 dominated the field and earned our Editors' Choice award.

Read review: MSR Pocket Rocket 2

Best Bang For The Buck


Primus Classic Trail


Primus Classic Trail Best Buy Award

$18.26
at Amazon
See It

Trail Weight: 6.7 oz | Boil Time: 4:56 min:sec

Powerful!
Big burner head
Big pot supports
Cheap!
Relatively heavy and bulky
Tiny control knob
The Primus Classic Trail looks like an old-school small canister stove. However, its performance exceeded our expectations. Cranking it wide open creates a nice large flame, and it can be turned down to simmer almost as well as the Pocket Rocket 2. The significant pot supports and burner head work well with pots that are three liters or larger in volume or large frying pans, making this stove an excellent choice for backpackers who want the convenience of a canister stove for group cooking.

This backpacking stove is heavier than the other small canister models, but it's lighter than a liquid fuel stove and slightly less bulky than an integrated canister stove burner head. It scored last for fuel efficiency, and the control knob is tiny and hard to operate. But it has a fast boil time, and, did we mention the price? Only $20! 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 right for you. Need to go even lighter for less? See the Etekcity below.

Read review: Primus Classic Trail

Top Pick For Expeditions


MSR Whisperlite


MSR Whisperlite Top Pick Award

$89.95
at Backcountry
See It

Trail Weight: 11.5 oz | Boil Time: 6:54 min:sec

Relatively simple
Durable
Inexpensive
Versatile
Field repairable
Heavy
Difficult to simmer
The Whisperlite is the original gangster of the liquid fuel stove world. This workhorse is near and dear to many adventurers' hearts. This same model has been on the market for more than 25 years with few modifications because it works so well. We love that it is simple, reliable, and easy to repair in the field. It is also much quieter than other liquid fuel stoves — hence its name — so conversations in the kitchen are still possible.

It's boil time and fuel efficiency are average, and it's a challenge to get it to simmer — we've all done the simmer/sputter out/relight shuffle, but cooking delicate meals is still do-able with some patience. While it's not as light or small as a canister stove, we always reach for the Whisperlite for any multi-day adventure that involves melting snow for a group and feel confident that it will work in harsh conditions. If traveling internationally, check out the MSR Whisperlite International for different fuel compatibility.

Read review: MSR Whisperlite

Top Pick Integrated Canister Stove


JetBoil MiniMo


Jetboil MiniMo Top Pick Award


Trail Weight: 12.2 oz | Boil Time: 4:06 min:sec

Fuel efficient
Good boil time
Piezo ignition
Pot and burner mate well
Lighter than similar stoves
Diminished wind performance
Only so-so at simmering
The 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 significant 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.

This setup is designed to boil water as fast as possible, not simmer a pot of rice for 20 minutes. Though it can simmer better than it's predecessors, the Pocket Rocket 2 does it much better. As with other Jetboil brand stoves, the wind is the Achilles heel of the MiniMo. Though it stayed lit in our 9 mph wind test, we know from experience that higher gusts will extinguish the flame. The MSR Reactor and Windburner, once on, 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 can protect it from the wind), we think the MiniMo is an excellent choice.

Read review: Jetboil MiniMo

Best on a Tight Budget


Etekcity Ultralight


Etekcity Ultralight Best Buy Award

$14.99
at Amazon
See It

Trail Weight: 3.0 oz | Boil Time: 5:56 min:sec

Light and easy to use
Piezo igniter
Cheap!
Inconsistent performance in the cold, wind, and higher elevations
Not the most stable
We bought this stove for $12 (or two for $20) and expected junk. Instead, we found the Etekcity to be very capable, convenient, and light. It's very compact, boils water decently fast, and has good burner control. In warmer conditions at lower elevations and no wind, we didn't notice a giant performance difference from the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. However, once we went to 10,000 feet and experienced some 15-degree mornings, we saw the performance limitations of the Etekcity.

Up high in the cold, it had much more sputtery performance, boiled water slower, and it was harder to keep the flame level consistent. It worked, but it was also clear that you get what you pay for. The Pocket Rocket 2 is about $30 more and a better choice if you are a serious backpacker. As long as you recognize these limitations, the Etekcity is a great bargain and perfect for those on a tight budget or who only backpack infrequently. It's less than half the weight and cost of our other Best Buy winner, the Primus Classic Trail.

Read review: Etekcity Ultralight

Great for Fast Boiling in Foul Weather


MSR Reactor


MSR Reactor

Trail Weight: 14.6 oz | Boil Time: 3:54 min:sec

Fastest boil time in our review!
Works well even in storm conditions
Easy to operate
Expensive
Doesn't simmer
Heavy
Pot does not connect to the stove

If you're looking for the fastest boiling time possible even in the worst conditions, the MSR Reactor is hard to beat. This integrated canister stove does one thing and one thing only: it boils water fast. It had 10 seconds on the JetBoil MiniMo in our boil tests, and continues to boil water even in strong winds which extinguish most other stoves.

The list of things that we didn't like so much about the Reactor is a little long: it doesn't simmer, it isn't that versatile, and the pot doesn't latch onto the stove as the JetBoil's do, so if you're used to that setup, be careful! It malfunctioned on us during our testing (see the full review for details), but we were able to correct the problem. It's also the most expensive model that we tested ($240), and since it has limited uses, it's not the best value. But if you need consistently fast boiling at high elevations and in poor conditions, it could be the perfect stove for you.

Read review: MSR Reactor

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
80
$45
Editors' Choice Award
If we had to choose just one model for backpacking, this is it. Lightweight, intuitive, and it can even simmer.
78
$135
Top Pick Award
A great system for backpackers and alpine climbers relying on dehydrated, simple meals.
77
$50
We are impressed by this stove's ability to do everything with ease.
67
$150
Once you pass the learning curve, this stove rewards with fuel efficiency, fast boiling, and wind resistance.
62
$100
The budget option for big wall ascents (and more), this stove prepares dehydrated meals super fast.
57
$20
Best Buy Award
It looks old-school, but impresses in heat control and ability to handle large cookware at an awesome price.
57
$240
Still a great choice for boiling water in harsh conditions above the treeline, but other stoves are more versatile.
45
$90
Top Pick Award
For extended backpacking trips and expeditions, this tried and true liquid fuel model still can't be beat.
42
$140
Our favorite for cooking next level meals, not just noodles and sauce, but note its weight and loudness.
41
$200
Almost great, this fancy and pricey model has a limiting weakness.

Analysis and Test Results


We tested all of the products in this review with a combination of field use and "lab" tests. After months on the trail, using them daily for all of our needs, along with some specific tests to determine performance under consistent wind speeds, we scored all the backpacking stoves on five criteria: fuel efficiency, weight, simmering, time to boil, and ease of use. The chart above shows the cumulative overall performance score of each model in our review. The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 came out on top, followed by the Jetboil MiniMo and the MSR Windburner. However, if you're looking for performance in a specific area, say something that simmers well or is particularly fuel efficient, you can check out the scores under each metric below.

We tested a variety of different types of stoves in this review, including small canister stoves, integrated canister stoves, and liquid fuel stoves. We have recommendations for each different type, and we also have an in-depth Buying Advice article that explains in detail the difference between them. What type you'll need will depend on your specific adventure; there is a stove out there for everyone's needs, but you should decide what your priorities are first: speed, weight, cooking ability, or all of the above?

The Jetboil Flash on a lightweight backpacking trip with the MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent.
The Jetboil Flash on a lightweight backpacking trip with the MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent.

Value


The models in our review ranged in price from $12 to $240. That's a pretty significant difference! It's easy to assume that the more you spend, the better a product you're going to get, but that's not always the case. In this instance, one of the best value picks in our review is our Editors' Choice winner, the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. The Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0 also had a great overall performance score for the price. The chart below graphs each model's price according to its total score from our testing metrics. When looking for a budget pick, check out the models that lie to the bottom right of the chart, which include the aforementioned stoves, and also the Primus Classic Trail, our Best Buy winner.


Fuel Efficiency


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.

We tested for two boil times to bring one liter of water to a rolling boil. The first boil time was with no wind, and a full 4 oz MSR ISOPro fuel canister (or 11 oz fuel bottle for the liquid fuel stoves). For the second boil time, we placed each model in front of a 20" Lasko brand box fan blowing 8 - 10 mph, as measured with a Kestrel 1000 pocket anemometer.


Having a fuel-efficient 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 when all you have left to eat are freeze-dried or dehydrated meals, and you're two days walk to the trailhead. Fuel efficiency is also an essential 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. If you can accurately calculate how much fuel your stove needs, you may be able to leave that extra fuel at home, or bring a smaller canister and save 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 article.

Canister Fuel Efficiency Tips
If your canister gets too cold, performance and fuel-efficiency suffer. It's a good idea to:
  • Sleep with a canister 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.
  • Use a lower setting - it will only take a little longer for water to boil but save lots of fuel
  • Avoid a full boil. A near boil is good enough for most cooking and drinks.
See more fuel saving tips from MSR

Integrated canister stoves steaming away: The MSR Reactor and Windburner  and the Jetboil MiniMo and Flash.
Integrated canister stoves steaming away: The MSR Reactor and Windburner, and the Jetboil MiniMo and Flash.

The most fuel-efficient stove we tested was the MSR Windburner because of its very wind resistant construction, sizeable integrated heat exchange system, and insulated pot. The Jetboil MiniMo was a close second. The Jetboil Flash was 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, it has impressive power output but guzzles the gas. All of the small canister stoves had severe 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 shield breezes and focus the heat on the pot.

Winds were gusting to 40mph this day when we tested the MSR Windburner and Reactor side by side. Both burners will blow out easily if the pots are removed in these kind of winds  but once the pots are attached they are virtually windproof.
Winds were gusting to 40mph this day when we tested the MSR Windburner and Reactor side by side. Both burners will blow out easily if the pots are removed in these kind of winds, but once the pots are attached they are virtually windproof.

Some liquid stove manufacturers offer a flexible aluminum windscreen for use with their stoves. If one is sold to work with your model stove, the weight (a few ounces) and cost ($10) are well worth it. However, do not use a windscreen with a canister stove, as it can dangerously heat the canister and cause an explosion We also don't recommend the rigid hinged windscreen except for car camping as they are heavy and don't pack well.

Do Not Use a Windscreen with Canister Stoves
As a rule, windscreens are not made for stoves that fit on top of fuel canisters because they can cause the canister to overheat and explode. We urge you, DO NOT USE A WINDSCREEN WITH A CANISTER STOVE. This is why MSR and JetBoil do not sell windscreens for stoves in which the burner sits on top of the canister.

Weight


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 excluded packaging or accessories, but simply what 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 a higher trail and packed weight. 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.

The diminutive PocketRocket 2 and its case.
The diminutive PocketRocket 2 and its case.

Simmering


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. A 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.

Conducting the classic oatmeal test with the PocketRocket 2 and a titanium pot.
Conducting the classic oatmeal test with the PocketRocket 2 and a titanium pot.

The Primus Classic Trail was also a high scorer, earning the same as the Pocket Rocket — a near perfect 9 out of 10.

While maybe not ideal for fast and light travel  the Classic Trail is our favorite small canister stove to cook with. Its simmering capabilities are supreme.
While maybe not ideal for fast and light travel, the Classic Trail is our favorite small canister stove to cook with. Its simmering capabilities are supreme.

The other two small canister stoves also performed well. Unless you want your dinner cajun style and are prepared to stir fast and continuously, don't get an integrated canister stove like the Reactor and Flash for cooking. Of note, 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.

We made this delicious and impressive pot-pie with the MSR Dragonfly  a testament to its versatility.
We made this delicious and impressive pot-pie with the MSR Dragonfly, a testament to its versatility.

Backpacking Stoves Make for the Ultimate Mobile Coffee Station
While we primarily rate these stoves for the backcountry, we also really like making them the centerpiece of our mobile coffee set up. They boil water way faster than a camping stove and are very compact. Whether you want a super fast set up for camping, or a mobile afternoon coffee station, we recommend considering the following checklist as shown in the photo below:
  • stove - MSR Windburner or JetBoil are great options
  • mugs (better for coffee) or stainless steel cups (better for a variety of drinks)
  • small box to house everything (like green box below)
  • 1 gallon water bottle
  • donuts!
Morning coffee set up.
Morning coffee set up.

Boil Time


This is a specification we did not take the manufacturer's word for. 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 one liter of water for each of the stoves. 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.

The MSR Reactor is great for fast and light alpine missions and boils water fast.
The MSR Reactor is great for fast and light alpine missions and boils water fast.

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.

The Jetboil Flash and MiniMo in the 8 - 10 mph wind boil time test.
The Jetboil Flash and MiniMo in the 8 - 10 mph wind boil time test.

Wind plays a big part in boil times, and we also tested these stoves in an 8-10mph wind (provided by a fan operating at the same speed for consistency's sake). As you can see from the chart below, some models were unable to boil water in these conditions, while others continued to perform almost as well as with no wind.


Canister stoves do not come with windscreens, and every manufacturer explicitly warns against using them in their instructions. The canister stove performance suffered in the wind. All of them stayed lit, but none got water to a rolling boil even after 30 minutes. The integrated canister stoves fared much better. As we expected, the Reactor and Windburner were only slightly affected by the wind, increasing their already fast boiling time by only about a minute. The MiniMo surprised us by also doing well in this moderate breeze, and even the Flash was able to boil water after a while. When it came to even gustier winds, both of the Jetboil stoves blew out, while the Reactor and Windburner stayed lit, and continued to boil.

Ease Of Use


Are singed hair and burned fingertips a normal part of your backcountry cooking experience? Good meals are streamlined enhancements to our wilderness experience, not dangerous chores.

Our questions included but were not limited to:
  • Are the controls easy to access, any tiny knobs?
  • Is the stove easy to assemble (especially white gas stoves)?
  • Is it easy or hard to burn our hands?
  • If boiling over, can I turn it off without scalding my fingers?
  • For integrated canister stoves: do the stove and pot mate easily and securely?
  • Are there lots of small parts or accessories to keep track of?
  • How quickly can I go from stove in my pack to a hot cup of coffee?


We discovered if the stoves had a lot of small parts and accessories that were easy to lose and if they 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 also did well in this category. With these models, 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.

The Jetboil Flash system all packs inside the pot for easy packing. And the whole pot can fit inside your hand. It is the least bulky of the integrated canister stoves we tested.
The Jetboil Flash system all packs inside the pot for easy packing. And the whole pot can fit inside your hand. It is the least bulky of the integrated canister stoves we tested.

Lower and wider designs give more stability. 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 was the most stable, 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.

We like taking the MiniMo on fast and light backpacking trips  especially when using the stove for more than one person. Seen here with the Tarptent Double Rainbow.
We like taking the MiniMo on fast and light backpacking trips, especially when using the stove for more than one person. Seen here with the Tarptent Double Rainbow.

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.

Conclusion


We tested all the backpacking stoves head-to-head in our garage for a timed boil test. Here the integrated and small canister stoves are lined up for testing.
We tested all the backpacking stoves head-to-head in our garage for a timed boil test. Here the integrated and small canister stoves are lined up for testing.

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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Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.