How to Choose the Best Backpacking Stove

Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance for your support! Disclosure.

There are many different backpacking stoves on the market, and choosing the best one can be challenging if you don’t know what to look for. The best way to sort through the information is to look at your backpacking style and needs and then find the best backpacking stove in your budget.

Different fuel types are used with stoves, so you need to look at each one and understand the similarities, differences, benefits, and drawbacks. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about how to choose the best backpacking stove.

We'll delve into this with these topics:

  • What is Your Cooking Style
  • Types of Fuel for Backpacking Stoves
  • Alternative Fuel Backpacking Stoves
  • Features to Consider When Choosing a Backpacking Stove

What Is Your Cooking Style?

Before you can decide on the best backpacking stove, you need to determine your cooking style. It is helpful to look at what types of meals you plan to cook while you are backpacking and choose a stove that is ideal for those types of meals.

Discussed below are some of the most common types of cooking people enjoy when they are backpacking.

Dehydrated Food

People often choose to bring dehydrated food with them when they backpack. It can be less expensive than prepackaged food, and it helps save space.

Most food can be dehydrated at home, except for dairy products and some high-fat foods. Meat and vegetables are usually cooked before they are dehydrated. When you dehydrate food, it shrinks, which is one of the benefits of backpacking with dehydrated food.

Much of the nutritional value is retained when you dehydrate food, and you get food that is lightweight but calorie-dense. It is easy to prepare rations for each meal when you dehydrate the food. When you are ready to prepare the food, you add water and cook it until it is moist again.

Dehydrated food is a popular choice because you know what you are eating, it has higher nutritional value than prepackaged meals, and it is lightweight and easy to pack. You can prepare it yourself or purchase dehydrated food to take with you.

If you plan to have mostly dehydrated foods on your backpacking trip, you need a backpacking stove that can boil water. Canister stoves are useful when you are solo or have a small group of people, and they are best suited for boiling water. Although you can use other types of stoves, this type is ideal if you stick with dehydrated foods.

eggs frying in small wood stove

Simple Meals

Some people prefer simple meals when they are backpacking. These meals are quick and easy, and they provide the necessary nutrition without a big mess. You might consider instant hot cereal or oatmeal for breakfast or ramen for dinner. Most canister stoves can accommodate one-pot meals such as those listed here.

When you plan your menu, you can decide whether you want to have simple one-pot meals or whether you would like a more elaborate option. This will help you determine what backpacking stove is best for your cooking style.

Full Meals

Some people prefer a full meal for breakfast and dinner. They might cook eggs, pancakes, coffee, and more for breakfast, while they have dinners that include tacos, a pasta and meat dish, and more. When you pack your meals, you should pack all of the items you need for one meal together. This will make it easier for you to prepare.

If you plan to have full meals, you will need a backpacking stove, such as a liquid fuel stove designed to prepare full meals with various ingredients.

Simmering Capability

Some foods are better prepared by simmering, such as chili or other kinds of stew. If you plan to have this kind of meal, you will want a backpacking stove with excellent simmering capability. Some canister stoves can simmer, and there are backpacking stove systems that will include this option.

If your meal requires that you simmer your food, you will want to make sure that the stove you choose can simmer.

Types of Fuel for Backpacking Stoves

Canister Versus Liquid Fuel Backpacking Stove

When choosing a backpacking stove, you have the option of gas or liquid fuel. Generally speaking, gas stoves are more convenient, while liquid fuel stoves offer greater versatility.

Canister Fuel Backpacking Stoves

Canister backpacking stoves are very easy to use and are low maintenance. They are popular because of their portability and do the job of many people.

canister backpacking stove with pot
What Is a Canister Stove?

A canister stove is made up of a small canister that contains liquid gases and a stove where you can cook your food. This type of stove is small and versatile and works well for one or two people. The stove functions by turning the knob to open the canister and lighting your fire. You can turn the knob again when you are finished.

You can’t refill these canisters, so you might need to bring an extra if you run out of fuel. They work well in three seasons, but they do not function as well when the temperatures fall below freezing.

The fuel is easy to purchase, and these stoves are easy to use for simple meals and to boil water. They are affordable, and they won’t weigh you down when you are backpacking as they are small and lightweight.

If you are a backpacker who only needs simple meals for a few people, this could be a very good choice.

How Does it Work?

The canister in a canister stove is full of pressurized gasses. When you open the canister, the gases come out, and this fuels your fire. Canisters usually contain a combination of butane and propane or isobutane and propane. They are straightforward to use, as you attach your stove to the canister, turn the knob, and light it.

When gases are stored in a pressurized canister, they remain in a liquid form. However, what is released when you turn the knob is the vapor form, which ignites your fire. This is why the canister must always be in the upright position: the gases will rise to the top to be released.

As you cook your food, the liquid gases are turned into vapors to continue fueling your fire. When you are finished, you can turn the knob, and the pressure in the canister will ensure that the gases remain in liquid form.

small compact backpacking stove with butane propane gas canister
Main Types of Canister Stoves

Within the canister stove category, there are several different types of canister stoves. You can choose between integrated and nonintegrated canisters, depending on your needs.

An integrated canister stove is a set that includes a burner, a heat exchanger, and a pot. The nonintegrated system has a heating system that is separate from your cooking tools.

The integrated system is great if you want to boil water or bring dehydrated food. The nonintegrated stove gives you more versatility because you can use different pots and make a gourmet meal.

Ultralight Canister Stove

If you are trying to keep your backpack light, you will want an ultralight canister stove. You can get one that weighs as little as 3.9 ounces, and it will not take up a lot of room or weigh you down when you are hiking.

Integrated

Integrated canister stoves are ideal for boiling water and cooking dehydrated food. It comes with a burner, a heat source, and a pot, and this kind of canister stove is efficient in its design.

They make them so that they can transfer heat and keep the wind out. They also boil faster than other types of stoves. You won’t have to purchase additional parts or items when you get an integrated stove, but they can be a little bit bulkier and heavier, and they are more expensive. However, you will not need to buy other items.

The drawback to integrated canister stoves is that you often cannot use different pots and pans, and often, they do not have the simmering capability. They are ideal for boiling water and preparing dehydrated food.

remote canister with compact backpacking stove
Remote canister

A remote canister stove is a unique stove because it is low profile, and it has a burner that is free-standing. The burner is connected to the fuel canister by a hose or a pipe. Another name for these stoves is spider stoves because of a famous stove called the Kovea Spider Stove.

Because they are lower to the ground, they offer more stability. You can use different sizes of pots and pans without worrying that they will fall over. This type of canister tends to work better in cold weather.

Remote canister stoves are often collapsible and easy to pack as they don’t take up a lot of space. However, they can be heavy because you need a fuel hose.

Even though hey often cost more, they are a great choice if you want more versatility and stability.

Pros:
  • They are small and can often fit inside of the pot when you pack
  • They are very lightweight
  • They are simple to use
  • The flame is easy to adjust
  • It boils and simmers
  • They only have two components
  • They require very little maintenance
  • They are more energy efficient than a fuel stove
Cons
  • They are less effective when the temperature drops below freezing
  • They can be top heavy when you use a larger pot
  • You might need additional canisters in case you run out of fuel

Liquid Fuel Backpacking Stoves

Liquid fuel backpacking stoves are especially useful for people who do a lot of camping in the winter. These stoves burn petroleum products such as white gas or kerosene, which means they can function down to 40 degrees below zero.

In addition, you can find liquid fuel for these stoves in many different countries. It is easier to find if you travel the world, so you might consider this type of stove if you are a world backpacker.

camping stove with fuel bottle and pan

What Is a Liquid Fuel Stove?

Liquid fuel stoves are small and lightweight, and they can run on different kinds of fuel, including gasoline, white gas, and kerosene. They work well in cold weather, so they are ideal if you backpack up in the mountains or even in polar areas. They have a few other names, including liquid multi-fuel stoves, dual fuel stoves, and petrol stoves.

The fuel bottle typically has a dial or a valve that can be adjusted to change the stove from full heat to low heat. They have an additional valve on the bottom of the container that can be used specifically for simmering.

An important thing to note is that you will use a nozzle with this type of stove, and it has to be changed when you change fuels. The nozzle has a few other names, including valves, nipples, or jets.  

How Does it Work?

When you choose a liquid fuel stove, you  get a stove with a tank that holds the fuel, a pump that makes pressure in the tank so that fuel can travel through the fuel line, a valve to maintain control of the fuel flow, and the burner, which is where the fuel will mix with the air and burn.

Most burn white gas, which is pure gasoline without any additives. You can also get liquid fuel stoves that burn other types of less pure fuels, but you will need to spend more time cleaning the fuel lines.

When you open the valve, the fuel will travel to the burner and mix with air to maintain a flame while you cook. You can adjust the amount of fuel to have high heat or low heat, and you can adjust a separate valve for simmering.

They are easy to use, but do require some cleaning and maintenance. They are especially useful if you backpack in areas where the temperature drops below freezing.

Pros 
  • They work well in any temperature, including below freezing
  • They can use different fuel types, including gasoline, kerosene, and diesel
  • They are generally stable with a wider base
  • They use less fuel than canisters
  • They produce less waste because the container can be refilled
Cons
  • They are large and bulky
  • They are heavy
  • They require maintenance
  • They have a more involved setup

Alternative Fuel Backpacking Stoves

There are a few other kinds of backpacking stoves that some people like to use. They can make good choices for different reasons and are available in a variety of sizes and weights. Take a look at the following.

Folding wood stove designed for cooking outdoors using small firewood

Wood Burning Stoves

One alternate type of stove is the wood burning stove. You can use this stove to burn twigs and dead leaves. They are easy to use, and you do not have to travel and hike with fuel canisters. Woodburning stoves use natural fuel, which is the wood you find. You may not be able to use this type of stove if you backpack in a no-burn area.

Pros 
  • Simple and lightweight backpacking stove
  • Can come with an optional grill
  • Some can be used as a source of electricity to charge mobile devices
Cons
  • If it is wet out, you might have trouble finding twigs
  • You can’t use it in no-burn or dry areas

Denatured Alcohol Stoves

This kind of stove is lightweight and usually weighs around an ounce or two. It is very small, and you will have a small bottle of alcohol to make it work.

Pros 
  • It doesn’t require maintenance
  • It is very small and lightweight
  • Denatured alcohol is very inexpensive
  • It is silent
  • Denatured alcohol is easy to find
Cons
  • It doesn’t get as hot as other types of stoves
  • It usually needs a windscreen

Solid Fuel Tablet Stoves

Another type of stove that is super lightweight is the solid-fuel tablet stove. These stoves can be very tiny, and they are easy to bring along. They are inexpensive and easy to light and extinguish.

Pros 
  • They are very compact
  • They are lightweight
  • The tablets are easy to light and extinguish
  • They are inexpensive
Cons
  • They heat slowly
  • The tablets may emit an odor
  • The tablets can leave residue on your pot
compact lightweight backpacking stove

Features to Consider When Choosing a Backpacking Stove

There are many different features to look at when you are choosing a stove. Some factors to consider when buying a backpacking stove are as follows:

Efficiency: It is important to consider the efficiency of a backpacking stove. If you are backpacking for a long time, you will want a more efficient stove because you won’t want to bring many canisters with you.

Weight: The weight can make a big difference as well. One consideration is whether you will camp out overnight with relatively little hiking or if you are going on a long hiking trip.

The weight of different stoves can vary widely depending on the other features you select. If weight is an issue, you might consider a small canister stove and dehydrated food, but if you plan to spend less time hiking and more time at a campsite, you might enjoy a larger setup where you can cook gourmet meals.

Size: Size will also play a role in your choice; the stove will take up precious space in your backpack. Another consideration is the number of people who will be using the stove. 

Portability: You need a stove that is easy for you to carry with you while you are backpacking. Its portability will be determined by its size, shape, and weight.

Temperature and Altitude: Another factor is the temperatures you expect when you camp, as well as the altitudes. The temperature is cooler at higher altitudes, and canister stoves aren’t very functional when it is below freezing. It would be disappointing to have a canister stove that isn’t usable because it can’t light and hold a flame in colder weather.

The liquid fuel stoves work down to 40 degrees below zero, so if you are a cold weather or altitude backpacker, this type will be better for you.

Wind Protection: Another factor is how windy it is where you backpack. Some backpacking stoves don’t do well in windy conditions, but others have built-in windscreens. If it will be windy, be sure to choose a backpacking stove with this feature.

Conclusion

Backpacking is different from the old days because there are so many more items that you can bring along to make the trip more convenient. Having a backpacking stove provides food options and versatility when you are out in the wilderness.

Many areas don’t allow campfires because they are too dry, and a campfire would risk starting a fire. Backpacking stoves can make a huge difference in these cases.

You have several different choices when you are choosing what type of backpacking stove is best for you. There are different types of fuel and other features available. You need to consider what kind of meals you plan to have and how many people will be using the stove. Some stoves are smaller and more straightforward and provide you with what you need to boil water, while others are more elaborate and allow you to experiment with gourmet cooking.

Once you know what food you want to bring and how many people are coming, consider how much space you have and how much weight you can handle. You can find a backpacking stove to fit just about any circumstance, so you will be able to choose one that is perfect for your needs. As long as it can cook the food you bring with you, it will make your trip more pleasurable.