The best stoves for camping and backpacking in 2017 – A comparative study

As you can see from our articles on canister stoves, liquid-fuel stoves, and alcohol stoves, we have spent a considerable time in last few months on evaluating the best stoves for camping and backpacking. Our focus on identifying the best cooking stoves in each category has led us to evaluate the types of stoves for different situations and needs.

On popular demand, in this article, we present a compiled view of different types of stoves and offer our suggestions on the situations and outdoor trips in which such stoves can be useful. We would focus primarily on single-burner wood-burning, canister, liquid-fuel and alcohol stoves, present benefits and limitations of each type and also list the top picks for each category. To know about a specific type you can then choose to go the detailed articles on each category of stoves.

Canister Stoves

Canister stoves are small, lightweight and compact single burner stoves that rely on pre-filled Isobutane canisters (a mixture of butane, propane and some other liquefied gases) as fuel to create a steady flame to cook food or boil water. Most canisters are mount type with the canister at the bottom and stove at the top. There are some side-type stoves with a fuel line for the canister and a separate stove also available in the market. Some canister stoves even offer full flame control, which makes it possible to use them to cook more complex meal items.

You can check the full article on canister stoves here.

Benefits and limitations of canister stoves

The major advantages and disadvantages of these types of stoves are listed below:

Pros
  • Lightweight and very compact to carry around; suitable for ultralight backpacking.
  • Easy to setup and operate. Do not require priming like liquid fuel stoves.
  • Virtually maintenance free operation.
  • Rely on standard Isobutane canisters which are readily available and safe and easy to transport.
  • High thermal output, with stable flame even in windy weather.
  • Isobutane is a clean fuel with no smell or residue.
Cons
  • Isobutane fuel is costlier than traditional liquid fuel.
  • Most suitable for use in the US and Canada only because of fuel availability; International availability may be challenging.
  • May not perform well in extremely cold conditions, where liquid fuel stoves perform better.
  • Disposal of used canisters may be a hassle.

Canister stoves are useful for:

  • Short solo or two-person backpacking or hiking trip.
  • Camping or traveling within the US and Canada.
  • Three-season camping and backpacking in moderate weather conditions.

Our top picks for canister stoves:

Jetboil MiniMo Personal Cooking System - the best Integrated canister stove
MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove - the best standard canister stove
BRS Ubens 3000T Titanium Alloy Stove - The best ultralight canister stove
Etekcity Ultralight Portable Stove - Best Value pick canister stove

Liquid Multi-fuel Stoves

Liquid fuel stoves are relatively small, lightweight single burner stove that can use a variety of liquid fuels – White gas, unleaded gasoline, kerosene (jet fuel) or even diesel to create a steady flame to cook food or boil water. Some liquid fuel stoves even support Isobutane canisters as fuel. Liquid fuel stoves are generally the most versatile in terms of flame control and have a higher thermal output – more than 9,000 BTU/h. They are the heaviest and costliest ones too.

You can check the full article on liquid fuel stoves here.

Benefits and limitations of liquid multi-fuel stoves

The major advantages and disadvantages of these types of stoves are listed below:

Pros
  • Extremely versatile. Can support multiple fuels – white gas, kerosene, diesel, unleaded gasoline etc., which are readily available worldwide.
  • Offer superior flame control and support multiple pots and pans.
  • More fuel efficient than the canister stoves; average consumption of 1.5 oz. per day per person as opposed to 2.0 oz. for canister stoves.
  • Higher thermal output – in excess of 9,000 BTU/h, and better performance in cold weather.
  • Weight saving for long trips or large groups as you can use the same refillable fuel bottle.
  • The liquid fuel used in such stoves is cheaper than the Isobutane canisters. So economical over time.
Cons
  • Require priming for a couple of minutes and some prior training/experience before using comfortably.
  • Require regular maintenance.
  • Not all fuel types burn clean. Also, fuel bottles need to be handled carefully to avoid hazardous situations.
  • Higher initial investment because of costlier stoves.

Liquid multi-fuel stoves are useful for:

  • Longer backpacking or thru-hiking trips.
  • Large group trips or family camping with 4 or more people.
  • International travel.
  • High altitude or extremely cold weather hiking or backpacking.

Our top picks for liquid multi-fuel stoves:

Optimus Polaris Optifuel Stove - Best Liquid Fuel stove
MSR WhisperLite Universal - Best value pick liquid multi-fuel stove

Alcohol/spirit fuel stoves

Alcohol stoves are simple can-based stoves which use different varieties of alcohol – denatured, Isopropanol, ethanol or methanol as fuel. Alcohol stoves generally have a very simple construction – there are no fuel lines, valves or fancy burners. This also means that the alcohol stoves are less efficient and have very little simmer/flame control.
You can check the full article on alcohol stoves here.

Benefits and limitations of Alcohol/spirit fuel stoves

The major advantages and disadvantages of these types of stoves are listed below:

Pros
  • Simple, lightweight and compact design.
  • The fuel used is inexpensive, easily available and relatively safe to carry around.
  • Unlike some other types of stoves, provide a quiet, clear blue flame.
  • Relatively inexpensive to purchase and use.
Cons
  • Not as efficient as the canister or liquid-fuel stoves.
  • Not suitable for inclement weather conditions such as cold weather and wind.
  • Minimal flame control, so suitable only for basic cooking.
  • May be banned/restricted in some places because of fire hazards.

Alcohol/spirit fuel stoves are useful for:

  • Ultralight cycling, backpacking or thru-hiking trips.
  • International survivalist travel.
  • As a backup/secondary stove for large groups.

Our top picks for Alcohol/spirit fuel stoves:

Trangia Spirit Burner with Screwcap - the best alcohol stove
Evernew Titanium Alcohol Stove - best ultralight alcohol stove
FreeFisher Professional Alcohol Stove - Best value pick alcohol stove

Wood-burning stoves

Wood-burning stoves are thermal stoves capable of burning wood fuel and wood-derived biomass fuel, such as wood pellets or charcoal to cook food or boil water. Generally, a wood burning stove consists of a solid metal (usually cast iron or steel) closed fire chamber, a base, and an adjustable air control. A typical wood burning camping stove is quite compact and does not weigh any more than 2 pounds. There are three popular designs for wood burning camping stoves, though there may be some alterations in specific brands – cylindrical with circular base, rectangular and pyramid.

You can check the full article on wood-burning camping stoves here.

Benefits and limitations of wood-burning stoves

The major advantages and disadvantages of these types of stoves are listed below:

Pros
  • There is virtually no fuel cost because you can use twigs, branches, wood etc as fuel
  • No fuel to carry, so saving on some weight.
  • Support multiple burning fuels – wood, tablets, alcohol cans etc.
  • The fuel source is renewable. So overall less impact on the environment.
  • Cooking over fire is the most vintage way of cooking. Some may even prefer the taste of wood-cooked meals.
Cons
  • Not as efficient as canister or liquid-fuel stoves. So slower cooking times.
  • Not very suitable to use in inclement weather conditions – wind, rain, snow etc.
  • Such stoves are generally heavier.
  • Some parks and campgrounds ban the use of wood-burning stove because of fire hazards.

Wood-burning stoves are useful for:

  • For survivalist or bushcrafting trips (if permitted).
  • Lightweight backpackers and foodies who like the taste of slow, wood-cooked meals.
  • As a backup stove during dry seasons.

Our top picks for wood-burning stoves:

BioLite Wood Burning Campstove - the best wood-burning stove
Solo Stove Lite - Best Value pick wood-burning stove

The following table summarizes the key comparison factors for different types of camping and backpacking stoves:

FactorRemarks
Stove Weight
  • Alcohol and Canister stoves are the lightest.
  • Wood burning and multi-fuel stoves are the heaviest.
Fuel Weight
  • Wood burning stoves do not require carrying fuel.
  • Alcohol and multi-fuel stoves have lighter fuel weight for multi-day trips when compared to canister stoves.
Fuel Types
  • Liquid fuel stoves are most versatile, while alcohol fuel use easy to find fuel such as antifreeze.
  • Wood burning can use charcoal and fuel tablets as well.
  • Canister stoves only support gas canisters, which may not be internationally available.
Thermal Efficiency
  • Canister and liquid fuel stoves have higher thermal efficiency.
  • Alcohol stoves have lower thermal efficiency.
  • Wood burning stoves have probably the lowest thermal efficiency when used with twigs and branches.
Flame Control
  • Most canister and liquid fuel stoves provide reasonable flame control.
  • Alcohol and wood burning stoves provide minimal flame control.
Ease Of Use
  • Wood and alcohol stoves need time to heat up.
  • Liquid fuel stoves need priming and valve changes.
  • Canister stoves are fastest and easiest to use and do not require priming.
Weather Support
  • Liquid fuel stoves work best for best for elevation, extremely cold weather and windy situations.
  • Canister stoves work well with wind but not so much with extreme cold.
  • Alcohol and wood burning stoves difficult to use in inclement weather conditions.
Cost Of Ownership
  • Alcohol stove are the cheapest
  • Wood burning stoves most cost effective as fuel is free.
  • Liquid fuel are costliest but fuel costs are lower than canister stoves.
Leave No Trace
  • Wood burning stove produce biodegradable waste, but need to be disposed responsibly to avoid fires.
  • Alcohol and liquid fuel use reusable bottles.
  • Canister stove use canisters which are difficult to dispose.
Suggested Uses
  • Liquid multi- fuel stove for long trips and large groups and international travel.
  • Canister stoves for one or two person trip for a couple of days.
  • Alcohol stoves for ultralight backpacking and as a backup.
  • Wood burning stoves for bushcraft, survival camping or as a backup.

A Note for Ultralight Backpackers/Thru-Hikers

If you are a thru-hiker or an ultralight backpacker who is planning for a longish trip – 4 days or more, you can check out the weight calculator available here to determine the best type of stove that you should carry for your trip. Simply enter the basic input such as the number of days, people sharing the weight etc. and see the calculations for each type of stove.

Final thoughts on the best stoves for camping and backpacking

In this article, we looked at all the four major categories of hiking, camping, backpacking and survival stoves – liquid-fuel, canister, alcohol, and wood-burning stoves. We summarized the major benefits and limitations of each type, the situations and conditions in which each stove can be useful and our top picks for each category. You can use the links provided to get more information on each type of stove and more options available in the market. It is generally a good idea to have a main canister or liquid fuel cooking stove and have a cheap alcohol or wood burning stove as a backup.

We hope this short article would help you decide the best stove for your needs. Do let us know how you found this article and if you would want us to consider anything else by providing your valuable comment below. Until next time, have a great outdoor cookout!!

Image credits:Amazon.com

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