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How We Tested Backpacking Stoves

Thursday May 30, 2019

We tested these backpacking stoves over several years in all types of terrain and environments from the High Sierra to the Colorado Plateau. We threw them in our packs for fast and light alpine missions, brought them on day trips ice climbing and bouldering, and lugged them around on multi-night backpacking trips. These stoves have been used on Denali in Alaska, Mount Whitney and the John Muir Trail in California, in Zion Canyon and the Grand Canyon, and in the North Cascades.

Fuel Efficiency


We are not scientists, but we conducted our semi-scientific tests to see if the manufacturers are walking their talk. In our laboratory (aka our garage) at 7980 feet, we had an air temperature of 46 degrees Fahrenheit, a water temp of 43F, and zero wind speed.

We tested all the stoves for two boil times both times the stove had to bring 1 liter of water to a full 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). The second boil time was taken in front of a 20" box fan blowing 8 - 10 mph, as measured with a pocket anemometer. This second time the same fuel can (or bottle) was used.

After each boil we weighed each fuel can or bottle and noted how much fuel had been burned. A full MSR ISOPro 4 oz fuel canister weighs 7.4 oz. A full 11 oz MSR fuel bottle with a Whisperlite pump weighs 14.1 oz, a full 11 oz MSR fuel bottle with a Dragonfly pump weighs 13.8 oz, a full 11oz MSR fuel bottle with a Universal pump weighs 13.6 oz, and a full 11 oz Primus fuel bottle with an Omnilite Ti pump weighs 14.6 oz.

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.

Readers should note that manufacturers' specifications can differ significantly from ours. This is could be because their lab is at a different altitude, has a different ambient air temperature, the starting water temperature is different, the cookware used is a different size/shape/material or many other reasons.

It's also worth noting that a steady 8 - 10 mph wind is not pleasant to be out cooking in. We suspect most backpackers, regardless of their stove system, would rather move camp or perhaps cook in a well-ventilated vestibule than stay out and cook dinner in such wind speeds.

Weight


For a scale, we use our trusty WeighMax W-2822 and calibrate it before each weighing session.

We measured two weights. The first we referred to as the "packed weight" and that included pots, burners, lids, pumps, stuff sacks, cups, tools, and any other accessory that comes with the stove. The second, more practical measurement, we called the "trail weight" this included only the items necessary to operate the stove. For the small canister stoves, this was only the burner unit. For the integrated canister stoves, this was the burner unit, pot, and pot lid. For the liquid fuel stoves, it was the burner and pump.

All of the integrated canister stoves (Reactor, Jetboil, etc) come with a pot. They're all one-liter aluminum pots, except for the pots on the Lite+ and Stryker which only come in 0.75 oz and 1.5 L volumes, respectively. All of the sit-on-top canister stoves and liquid fuel stoves don't come with pots. To compensate, we found five common one-liter aluminum pots online, averaged their weights, and added that number (8.5 oz) to the trail weight of each stove that does not come with a pot. That final number does not appear on our test results chart, but it's what we used to score for weight.

Simmering


Here we paid careful attention to how low each stove could go without blowing out. Valve control sensitivity played a big role, as it let us slowly turn the flames down until they were just flickering. With the liquid fuel stoves, we pressurized the fuel bottle as per the manufacturers' instructions and did not try to game the system by depressurizing the bottle.

Boil Time


We tested boil time and fuel efficiency simultaneously. See "Fuel Efficiency" above.

Ease Of Use


This is the hands-on testing that OutdoorGearLab specializes in. We asked questions and then sought out the answers by using the stoves in the real world. Our questions included but were not limited to:
  • Are the controls easy to access, any tiny knobs?
  • How easy is the assembly (especially white gas stoves)?
  • Is it easy or hard to burn our hands?
  • If the stove is boiling over, can I turn it off while avoiding scalded fingers?
  • For integrated canister stoves: how securely do the pot and stove mate?
  • What small parts or accessories are there to keep track of?
  • How fast can a stove transition from packed in a backpack to serving up a hot cup of joe?