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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!
Wednesday May 2, 2018
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After looking at 50 of the best backpacking stoves on the market, we selected 15 for side-by-side testing. We then went over 40 days in the backcountry to evaluate which stoves perform the best and under which conditions. We took these to a variety of elevations ranging from sea level to 10,000. Each model gets a boil time and fuel-efficiency score. 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.


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Updated May 2018
We just added in five new models to our review. Did any of the new offerings displace old award winners? Actually, no. The best backpacking stoves from last year still dominate. However, we have new information and tests on all the stoves to help you find the perfect one for your needs and budget.

Best Overall


MSR Pocket Rocket 2


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 the liquid fuel and bulkier stoves for this lightweight option. The second generation is now out, and we love it just 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 backpacking stoves, such as the GigaPower 2.0 and Primus ETA Lite+. Its fuel efficiency is only average as well, so if you need to maximize your consumption, look to the Camp Chef Stryker 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 On A Tight Budget


Etekcity Ultralight


Etekcity Ultralight
Best Buy Award

$19.99
(33% off)
at Amazon
See It

Trail Weight: 3.4 oz | Boil Time: 6:08 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 for $12 (or two for $20) and expected junk. Instead, we found the Etekcity to be very capable, convenient, and light. It's 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 bargain and perfect for those on a tight budget or who only backpack infrequently.

Read review: Etekcity Ultralight

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 30 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.

Its 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 Universal compatibility with various liquid fuels and canister gas.

Read review: MSR Whisperlite

Top Pick Integrated Canister Stove


JetBoil MiniMo


Jetboil MiniMo
Top Pick Award

$134.35
at Amazon
See It

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 its 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 8 - 10 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 survive. 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



Analysis and Test Results


We tested all of the products in this review with a combination of field use and in the "lab". 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 Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0. 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, and we also have an in-depth Buying Advice article that explains in detail the difference between them. What you'll need depends on your adventure; there is a stove out there for everyone's needs, but you should decide what your priorities are first: weight and bulk, fuel efficiency, 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 Etekcity Ultralight gave us a middle-of-the-pack score and performed well enough for many backpackers needs, but is shockingly less expensive than most stoves in the review. The Camp Chef Stryker Multi-Fuel is an excellent value for an integrated canister stove. The MSR Whisperlite is the best value for backpackers who need a liquid fuel stove. 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.



Fuel Efficiency


Fuel efficiency is a tricky category to evaluate and includes many variables. However, it's crucial for backpackers both in pre-trip planning and when out on the trail; running out of fuel at the wrong time could be dangerous! 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 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 models). For the second boil time, we placed the stove with the same fuel can or bottle 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 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 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 canister at home, or bring a smaller canister and save some weight. 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. 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 bit - 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.
  • Don't light the stove until there is something in the pot and it's on top of the burner.
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 overall most fuel-efficient stove we tested was the Camp Chef Stryker because of its wind-resistant construction, large integrated heat exchange system, and insulated pot. The MSR Windburner and Primus ETA Lite+ were close seconds. The Jetboil Flash was the most fuel efficient in our no-wind test but performed less well in the wind, and this dropped its overall fuel efficiency score. The least efficient stoves were the Primus Classic Trail and MSR Windpro 2. Like cars built for fast and furious street racing, they have impressive power outputs but gulp down the gas.

All of the small canister stoves had severe problems in the wind, and this affected their fuel efficiency. Do not use 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 ok.

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.

Liquid fuel stoves are relatively more fuel efficient because they come with wind screens to shield breezes and focus the heat on the pot. Flexible aluminum windscreens are also sold separately. The weight (a few ounces) and cost ($10) are well worth it. We don't recommend the rigid hinged windscreen models except for car camping situations as they are heavy and don't pack well.

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, at a featherweight 2.6 oz. Chances are that your phone is twice as heavy. The Stryker had the heaviest trail weight, 18.5 oz. It was followed by the Reactor and the Windburner.


Consider 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.

Most of the integrated canister stoves have multiple compatible pots available for purchase. That is not the case with the ETA Lite+ and the Stryker. The Lite+ is only available with a 0.75 L pot, and the Stryker only with a 1.5 L pot. This skews their weights and should be noted by readers comparing these models. Jetboil makes pots for its stove systems in both of those sizes, MSR only makes them larger than 1 L.

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. 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 of the pot and a cold mess around the edges. 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 three 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 Stryker performed better than the others. 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.

Boil Time


Our testing team thinks that comparing boil times is like comparing times in an Olympic ski race. 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, but we made our tests as scientific and 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. 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, and are often testing them in a lab at sea level with an ambient air temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 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, and are practically tied at 3 minutes 56 seconds and 4 minutes 6 seconds respectively. The slowest stove in our test (but not by much) is the Omnilite TI, which clocked in at a leisurely 7 minutes and 3 seconds.

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. 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 6-7 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. Small 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 obvious exception to this is the MSR Windpro. Because its design separates the burner from the can, using a windscreen that fully encloses the flames poses no risk. It saw a boil time increase of only about 20% in front of the fan.

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 about a minute. The MiniMo, ETA Lite+ and Stryker surprised us by also doing well in this moderate breeze, and even the Flash was able to boil water after a while.

Backpacking Stoves Are Faster At Boiling Water Than Camping Stoves
Most stoves we tested are much faster at boiling water than the models in our camping stove review. For that reason, we usually bring a backpacking stove along for coffee and tea when car camping. The upside is you boil water much faster and free up valuable burner space. The downside is that camping stove fuel is usually much less expensive. Either way, it's nice to have a fast boil option at the ready. Below is our setup for a lightweight breakfast. We take this to the beach and on picnics to be able to make coffee quickly. Donuts sold separately. We also bring stainless steel cups and a small and sturdy plastic box.
Morning coffee set up.
Morning coffee set up.

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, or are they tiny knobs?
  • Is the stove easy to assemble (especially white gas stoves)?
  • Is it easy or hard to burn our fingertips or singe our eyebrows?
  • If the stove is boiling over can we turn it off without scalding our 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 we go from stove in our 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. 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 2.0, really shined here. We were disappointed by the tiny knobs on the Primus Classic and ETA Lite+.

Piezoelectric lighters have become quite reliable and we think they should be a standard feature. 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 stoves, the GigaPower the Stryker also did well in this category. With these, 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.

Generally, lower and wider designs give more stability and allow for a wider variety of cookware, and therefore meals, to be used. 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.

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 did 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 had smallish pot supports. One exception to this is the Windpro. It's design looks more like a liquid fuel stove, and consequently it's about as stable as those stoves.

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

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


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