Choosing the Right Backpacking Stove

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There are few activities in life that can work up an appetite quite like trekking over rough terrain while carrying an extra 20-50+ lbs. Backpacking is very physically taxing, and the more time you spend and distance you travel in the backcountry, the more important it is to ensure that your body is adequately nourished. A major part of getting your fuel system dialed in is selecting the right stove.

Advantages to Carrying a Stove

It is true, not all backpackers choose to carry a stove. The vast majority, however, do. Here are some of the top reasons why:

Nutrition: Having the ability to cook hot food is a major advantage in terms of getting the right nutrition. It allows you to carry dehydrated foods, which are usually much lighter than foods that do not require cooking, and which often contain a more diverse array of ingredients. Dehydrated foods can help you incorporate items that are often sorely lacking from a typical hiker diet- for instance, vegetables.

Safety: Stoves can also be especially important when traveling in cold weather. Simply having the ability to boil water can make the difference between staying safe and succumbing to hypothermia. If you or a companion start to show signs that you are becoming dangerously cold, warming up with tea, soup, hot chocolate, or just plain hot water can help mitigate the situation.

Luxury: Ask any long distance hiker and they will tell you- a hot meal never tastes quite so good as when it is enjoyed at the end of a long day on the trail. Depriving yourself of showers, automobiles, soft beds, constant internet access, and temperature controlled environments is liberating and empowering, but it is not always easy. Having a nice meal to look forward to or a morning cup of coffee can make all the difference on days when a life lacking comfort and convenience starts to feel like a grind.


Choosing the Right Stove

Backpackers have tons of options when it comes to stoves, not to mention advice from thousands of opinionated fellow backpackers to consider. To help simplify, here is a breakdown of some of the most popular backpacking stoves and their pros and cons so you can find out which option makes the most sense for YOU.

MSR PocketRocket 2

This extremely popular canister stove boils water quickly and allows you to easily adjust the flame from full strength to simmer, making it a great stove for cooking. Just make sure you use it on a flat surface and keep the pot in place.


-Boils water quickly

-Very easy to use

-Adjustable flame

-Lightweight and packable


-No priming necessary


-Relatively expensive fuel

-Short pot rest arms do not offer much support for cookpot

-Cannot be used with windscreen due to highly combustible fuel

Jetboil Flash

As the name implies, this integrated canister stove is a perennial favorite for hikers who like their water to boil at lightning speed. This works especially well if you usually opt for dehydrated meals that cook in their packaging (such as Heather’s Choice).



-Boils water super fast

-Very easy to use

-No priming necessary

-Has a built in windscreen for fuel efficiency

- Insulated cooking pot keeps contents hot and keeps you from getting burned



-Top heavy, prone to tip over

-Not great for cooking meals on stove itself as the flame cannot be adjusted

-Relatively expensive fuel

MSR WhisperLite Universal

This little wonder is capable of burning both liquid AND canister type fuels. It boils water in under four minutes and the flame is set apart from the fuel container, meaning you can safely use a windscreen regardless of the type of fuel you are using.  


-Extremely versatile fuel options, great for international travel

-Set low to ground for greater stability

-Compatible with windscreen

-Adjustable flame for cooking

-Can be used to cook for larger groups



-Relatively expensive

-Requires cleaning/maintenance

-May require priming if used with liquid fuel

Vargo Titanium Hexagon Backpacking Wood Stove

This is an ultralight backpacking stove that utilizes sticks and twigs, meaning you never need buy or carry the weight of your fuel. Just make sure that it is compatible with local fire regulations, and that you have a backup plan in case it rains.



-Lightweight and packable

-Free fuel


-Can be difficult to light, especially in wet conditions

-Takes longer to boil water

-Difficult to adjust flame, keep lit

-May not be allowed in areas with dry climate/strict fire regulations

Denatured Alcohol Stoves

These ultralight stoves can be bought or easily made at home. They are simple to use, require no maintenance, and are virtually indestructible. Keep in mind, though, that alcohol burns at a lower temperature than other fuel types, so be prepared to wait for your water to boil, especially if it is cold out or you forget your windscreen at home.


-Very affordable

-Super lightweight, < 1 oz.

-Cheap fuel

-Easy to use



-Boils water slowly

-Flame cannot be adjusted

-Fuel inefficient, especially without windscreen

-Difficult to light fuel in cold temperatures, requires priming

Remember that the most important factors in choosing a stove are the types of food you will be cooking and where you will be cooking them. For instance, you wouldn’t want to bring a canister stove to a foreign country where it is difficult to find isobutane fuel, nor would you want to bring a Jetboil to cook a dish that requires low heat. You will also want to consider how important weight, cost, efficiency, and ease of use are to you as an individual. And, as with any piece of gear, it is always best to give your stove a few trial runs in your own backyard before bringing it out into the backcountry.

Good luck and happy hiking!


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