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How to Choose a Backpacking Stove Backpacking stoves have long since replaced cooking over an open flame in most wilderness areas, and for good reason. These stoves are light and reliable, and the scorched earth and fire rings left by backcountry campfires do not fit the Leave No Trace et
Backpacking stoves have long since replaced cooking over an open flame in most wilderness areas, and for good reason. These stoves are light and reliable, and the scorched earth and fire rings left by backcountry campfires do not fit the Leave No Trace ethic. In many areas, fires are strictly prohibited due to forest-fire danger or the scarcity of available firewood, so a stove is your only option.
For most backpackers, your main decision will be between the 2 broad stove categories: canister fuel vs. liquid fuel. Ultralight backpackers may also want to consider one of the alternative-fuel options now available.
Here are some quick suggestions based on the type of trip you are taking:
|Activity||Recommended Stove Type|
|Summer backpacking||Canister or integrated stove system|
|Winter or high-elevation use||Liquid-fuel stove|
|To boil water only||Integrated stove system (canister)|
|Ultralight backpacking||Canister or alternative-fuel stove|
|Large groups||Liquid-fuel stove|
|"Gourmet" camp cooking||Any model with flame control and a stable base|
|International travel||Multifuel stove|
Canister stoves are the easiest to use. They run on pre-pressurized gas canisters (usually isobutane or butane/propane). You simply attach the stove to the threaded fuel canister, turn the gas knob and light it with a match or, on many models, the push of the Piezo igniter button. The canister self-seals when the stove is detached, eliminating the possibility of fuel spills.
The biggest drawback is that canisters depressurize in the cold (between 20° and 32°F) leading to weak or no flame. Normal pressure resumes when the canister temperature is increased.
Tip: In cold weather, keep the canister warm by putting it in your sleeping bag at night or hiking with it in your jacket pocket.
A popular canister-stove variation is an Integrated Stove System, discussed below.
Canister stove pros:
Canister stove cons:
Tip: Stormproof matches should always be carried in case the Piezo igniter fails.
One popular option for the canister-stove shopper is an integrated stove system such as the Jetboil series. With this approach, the stove is paired with a cooking pot (and optional accessories) designed to work specifically with that stove.
Here's how these compare with traditional canister stoves:
Integrated-stove system pros:
Integrated-stove system cons:
Liquid-fuel stoves are the most economical long-term choice and perform best in cold temperatures. They most commonly run (in the U.S.) on white gas using a refillable fuel bottle that is manually pressurized with a fuel pump. These stoves need to be primed, a process that preheats the fuel line enabling the stove to convert the liquid fuel into a vapor.
A popular liquid-fuel stove variation for world travelers is a multifuel stove, discussed below.
Liquid-fuel stove pros:
Liquid-fuel stove cons:
Multifuel Stoves (Liquid Fuel)
These are liquid-fuel stoves that can accommodate various fuels including some or all of the following: white gas, unleaded auto gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel and diesel. These stoves can cost a bit more and require more maintenance but the added fuel versatility makes them a great choice for international travelers.
A comparison of the most common liquid fuels:
|White gas|| || |
|Kerosene|| || |
|Unleaded auto gas|| || |
These stoves have few or no moving parts to worry about, weigh very little and burn silently. They do not burn as hot so it takes longer to boil water and requires more fuel. Fuel can be hard to find outside the U.S. These stoves are good for someone that enjoys peace and quiet and a slow pace to their backpacking trips.
Once you've narrowed your search to a particular stove category, compare models using the following performance attributes:
Does the stove offer a stable enough platform to accommodate your cookware? Is it small enough to pack in your cooking pot? If you're a winter backpacker, make sure the stove is easily operable when wearing gloves.
Learn how to clean and maintain your stove properly. This is mostly a concern with liquid-fuel stoves. Bring along a field maintenance kit if you're going out for more than a couple days.
Q: Are the various brands of fuel canisters interchangeable? For example, can I use my Gigapower fuel on a Jetboil stove?
A: Most canisters feature a Lindal valve with standardized threading. This allows fuel canisters to be interchangeable between brands, though manufacturers generally like to recommend using their own brand of fuel with their stoves.
Q: How difficult is priming? What are the steps?
A: Priming is required for liquid-fuel stoves only. Its purpose is to preheat (and vaporize) a small quantity of fuel to ensure proper stove ignition. While priming is not difficult, you should refer to your owner's manual for step-by-step instructions, or ask for an in-store demonstration at your nearest REI location.
Q: What is a Piezo igniter?
A: Pronounced pee-A-zo, this is a push-button spark producer (generated by a crystal) found on some canister-fuel stoves. It's a handy feature, especially if your matches are lost or wet.
Tip: Always carry stormproof matches as a backup.