We've 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.
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-ounce MSR ISOPro fuel canister (or 11-ounce fuel bottle for the liquid fuel stoves). The second boil time was taken in front of a 20" box fan blowing 2 - 4 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-ounce fuel canister weighs 7.4 ounces. A full 11-ounce MSR fuel bottle with a Whisperlite pump weighs 14.1 ounces, a full 11-ounce MSR fuel bottle with a Dragonfly pump weighs 13.8 ounces, and a full 11-ounce MSR fuel bottle with a Universal pump weighs 13.6 ounces.
Readers should note that manufacturers' specifications can differ significantly from ours. This 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.
If nothing else, this test reinforced that how you are operating the stove is the most important factor in fuel efficiency. If you're being attentive with the least fuel-efficient stove in our review it will probably perform as well as someone who's being inattentive with the top performer.
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 accessories that comes with the stove. The second, more practical measurement, we called the "trail weight", and 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 (MSR Reactor Jetboil models, etc.) come with a pot. They're all one-liter aluminum pots, except for the pots on the Primus Lite+ and Camp Chef Stryker. 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.
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.
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?
We tested boil time and fuel efficiency simultaneously. See "Fuel Efficiency" above.