A guide to the best ultralight backpacking stoves for canister, liquid, and wood fuel.
Updated: May 5th, 2020
So you wanna cook in the backcountry, eh? Backpacking stoves have come a loooong way in recent years. No more lugging around huge bottles of propane and heavy stove tops. These babies have gotten super lightweight - some only weigh a few ounces and can fit in your pocket. Here are our favorites...
|Snow Peak Gigapower Auto||Canister||3.75 oz||$44.95|
|Jetboil Flash||Canister||14 oz||$99.95|
|MSR Pocket Rocket 2||Canister||2.6 oz||$44.95|
|Soto Amicus||Canister||2.7 oz||$40.00|
|Jetboil MiniMo||Canister||14.6 oz||$149.95|
|MSR WindBurner||Canister||15.5 oz||$149.95|
|Snow Peak Litemax||Canister||1.9 oz||$59.95|
|Etekcity Orange||Canister||4 oz||$15.00|
|MSR Whisperlite||Liquid fuel||15.2 oz||$89.95|
|Solo Stove Lite||Wood stove||9 oz||$69.99|
|Vargo Hexagon||Wood stove||4.1 oz||$54.99|
|Esbit Pocket Stove||Tablets||3.25 oz||$12.95|
In a hurry? Skip straight to the reviews.
Before you start looking at actual stove models, it is critical to consider what type of fuel you want to use. Your stove's ability to heat up food and water will be limited by the type of fuel you are using. In other words, your stove is only as good as it's fuel source. Let's go over some other main considerations.
Compact canister stove folded up (Soto Amicus)
How much extra weight are you really willing to carry for that hot meal? Stoves can range anywhere from 2 to 20 oz, and additional parts and fuel can add on to that. Canister and liquid stoves systems tend to be the heaviest.
Backpacking stoves and their fuel containers pack down to all shapes and sizes, and like with weight, you need to consider how much room you want to give up in your pack. Some systems come in sets that pack nicely into a single, compact unit, while others have larger accessories and do not.
Stoves with adjustable heat settings let you alter the heat for different cooking styles. Need to boil water faster? Crank that sucker up. Have a meal that requires simmering? Crank that puppy down. This will be a big consideration if you want to do more than just boil water in the backcountry.
A cool feature you’ll find on many canister stoves is a Piezo ignition lighter. This is an attachment that replaces matches and lighters and ignites your stove by a simple push.
Auto "Piezo ignition" button on canister stove (Snow Peak Gigapower)
Ease of Use
Certain stoves require more maintenance and longer set-up times, and the pre-heating time on stoves can vary greatly—like anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Consider how much time you’ll really want to spend fussing with a stove after a long day of hiking.
Stability and cooking surface
Having a stove with a wider base will give you more stability. Also, if you’re making a meal for a bigger group, then choosing a stove with a larger cooking surface or adjustable arms for holding bigger pots should be a consideration.
Where you’ll be hiking will largely impact a stove’s fuel consumption and efficiency. Colder climates will slow boil times down significantly, so having a stove that’s already slow at boiling in mild temps will take even longer—and burn more fuel.
Solid fuel tablet stove (Esbit)
Integrated vs. non-integrated Systems
Integrated stove systems are an all-in-one unit where the stove and pot connect to work as a unit (like a Jetboil). The stove system sits vertically up-right, boils water fast, and works better in windy conditions since its burner is protected. This is a favored style among minimalist hikers since the design is compact, packable and easy-to-use.
Non-integrated stoves have the stove and fuel source as 2 separate units. They don’t block the wind as well and are less stable, but they’re a better option for more elaborate cooking. You can simmer meals and easily switch between different-sized cookware. They also give you the option to use white gas, which is good for higher elevations or cold temps.
Reliability on conditions
If your stove isn’t an all-in-one unit or doesn’t have built-in wind protection, building or buying a windscreen is something you’ll want to consider. Temperature range will also impact a stoves performance, so make sure you’re choosing the right stove and fuel option for your climate.
Weight: 3.75 oz
The Snow Peak Giga Power Auto is what I used on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I loved it and still give it the green light for the best backpacking stove on the market. The built in 'auto' ignition makes lighting as easy as the click of a button. The four prongs provide a stable cooking space. See Snow Peak’s LiteMax for an ultralight 1.9 oz model or Snow Peak’s Giga Power Manual.
Weight: 14 oz
Let’s call the Jetboil Flash a “system” because they come with a stove AND a pot as an all-in-one system. Quite convenient. These are still canister fueled stoves though. The main advantage is that a Jetboil boils water FAST - a liter in about 2.5 minutes. Jetboils, compared to the traditional fork pronged tops, are much heavier though. Even if you were to carry your own 5 oz pot with the other canister stove options, you would still save several ounces. See the Jetboil MiniMo for a more compact setup or the MSR Windburner.
Weight: 2.6 oz
MSR somewhat defined the genre with their iconic Pocket Rocket stove. The new Pocket Rocket 2 is even better - more compact and an entire ounce lighter than it’s predecessor. It also boils a liter of water in 3.5 minutes (a whole minute less than the Snow Peak Giga Power).
Weight: 2.7 oz
Affordable, lightweight and high performance, the Soto Amicus is a cleverly designed backpacking stove. It has pot-support legs that spring open and lock into place and a burner with a raised ledge for extra wind protection. The stove has an easily adjustable flame and it can boil water in under 4 minutes. It packs down compact, has an awesome “stealth” ignitor, and has a pairable cook-set available separately for purchase.
Weight: 14.6 oz
The Jetboil MiniMo stove will boil water in under 2 minutes while using ½ the fuel as comparable stoves. It features a push-button ignition, a simmer option, and it has good fuel regulation for controlling heat output when cooking/simmering meals. The systems on the heavier side, but it’s reliable, fast and functional. Another convenient feature is that the cup has a wider build for easy serving. One canister of fuel averages about 6 days.
Weight: 15.5 oz
The MSR WindBurner gets rave reviews from the hiking community. Besides its awesome functionality, a couple of cool perks set this all-in-one stove system apart. It's super easy to set up, it lights in wind or rain like a champ, and all the pieces pack down together nice and compact. The personal-sized mug also has an insulator, a handle, and a lid with a drink or strain feature. The stove’s geared more towards boiling water over cooking, but all in all, it’s an awesome option for solo backpackers.
Weight: 1.9 oz
The Litemax stove has a nice-sized base for supporting larger pots, and the arms of this stove fold down for ideal packability. It’s fuel-efficient, super small and lightweight without giving up many features. It has simmer capabilities, boils quickly, and the burner is wind-resistant (however, not windproof.) In colder evenings it's recommended you keep the fuel canisters someplace warm (sleeping bag, a jacket, etc.)
Weight: 4 oz
If you’re looking for a low-cost, straightforward stove to get you started, then this aluminum alloy model from Etekcity is a solid choice. It’s easy to set-up and use and comes in a packable hard plastic carrying case. It has a push-button ignition, adjustable heat control valve, and even a simmer option. The stove works well for boiling water rather than full-out cooking, and you can buy it on Amazon in a 2-pack.
Fuel: Liquid fuel
Weight: 15.2 oz
The MSR WhisperLite is the most popular and best-selling liquid fuel stove model. The WhisperLite opens up into a huge and stable cooking surface. It also has a lot of flame control for more advanced backcountry cooking. Since the WhisperLite only uses white gas, see the International WhisperLite or the popular Dragonfly for more flexible versatile fuel options.
Weight: 9 oz
The Solo Stove Lite is a compact furnace. Unlike other wood stoves that are essentially just metal walls, the Solo Stove is a high-tech cooking machine. Complete with double walls, internal ventilation chambers and a screen shelf, this is certain to provide the most quality cooking experience for wood stoves. It also won’t burn the floor it rests on, which is an exclusive Solo Stove claim to fame.
Weight: 4.1 oz
Titanium and one of the simplest wood burning stoves on the market. All pieces of the Vargo Hexagon are connected which makes setup a breeze. My favorite things about the Vargo Hexagon though is the big open “doorway” which makes access to the fire chamber very easy. The chamber itself is big too - a nice plus compared to most other tiny wood burning camp stove.
Weight: 3.25 oz
The Esbit Pocket stove folds down to a size that’ll fit in your pocket. It takes about 6 minutes and 2 cubes to get 2 cups of water boiling, and you can burn either tablets or wood in the stove. The tablets are environmentally friendly, although users have reported a slight “fishy” smell to them. The stoves not recommended for gourmet cooking, but it’ll do the job boiling water. The stove comes with 6 tablets that each burn around 12 minutes. You’ll need to bring along matches or a lighter, and a windscreen’s suggested.
© Duk (CC BY-SA 3.0)
There are a TON of different ways to make a beer or soda or tin can stove - aka 'hobo stove'. It will take time to perfect, but can be a fun project. Again, these can stoves are extremely lightweight... often very unstable though. Here are 5 ideas and a how-to video to get you started.
This is kind of an extension of the “Wood Stove”. However, wood stoves require bringing the actual metal stove frame. Roasting some meat or boiling water on an open fire is as rustic as it gets. Of course, it does come with disadvantages - long setup, fuel is susceptible to rain and bad weather, hot and messy cooking, etc.
There are four main types of fuel sources: canister fuel, alcohol fuel, liquid fuel and wood fuel. Let's break down the pros and cons of each fuel type.
*Note the vast majority of backpackers use canister stoves.
✔️ Stable surface to cook on. Selecting a fuel tank with a wider bottom will distribute the weight of the stove evenly and make it more stable. With canister stoves, you can also purchase a “stabilizer” which adds support by attaching around the bottom of the fuel tank.
✔️ Adjustable flame for a simmer or full-on boil. Having a stove with an adjustable flame helps to regulate and prolong fuel supply. This feature is especially handy when you need to adjust heat levels to either quickly boil water or slowly simmer foods (i.e. eggs, bacon.)
✔️ Readily available to resupply. Fuel canisters are common and easy to purchase on popular U.S. thru-hiking trails. However, they’re far less common in foreign countries.
✔️ Strong flame to fight against heavy wind. Canister stoves often have integrated designs. They heat by gas being released inside enclosed areas, which helps with wind resistance.
✔️ Easiest to set up and fastest to light. All you need to do is secure the fuel to the stove piece, turn on the valve and light it to get things going. Super easy, and there’s usually no priming required.
✔️ (Sometimes) No lighter needed. Some have a built-in lighter spark that is as easy as clicking a button called a ‘Piezo Ignition.’ This can be a great feature to have because you can forgo packing extra lighting supplies. With a Piezo Ignition, the lighter connects to the fuel system and can be started with a simple push.
❌ Slightly heavier than some other stove options. Solid fuel, wood burning, and alcohol stoves are smaller and lighter. The amount of fuel you carry and how compactible your system is can also greatly influence weight.
❌ Slow flame in extremely cold conditions. Although a good option for 3-season hiking, temperatures below freezing can affect heating capabilities because canister stoves lose pressure, causing the flame output to become weak (or non-existent).
✔️ Ultralight. Weighs almost nothing. Weighing in under 2 oz, alcohol stoves are just about as minimal as you can get. Sure, they lack some bells and whistles, but they're cheap, lightweight and compact design make them a go-to for ultralight thru-hikers.
✔️ Use any type of flammable liquid, even denatured alcohol. Fuel for alcohol stoves is sold just about anywhere—grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, etc. This makes them an excellent option for hikes all over the world.
✔️ Cheap and accessible stove to make/buy. You can easily create this stove out of things you have lying around. For example, an old beer can or empty can of cat food can work.
❌ Messy. Alcohol can get all over stuff. When finished cooking, your can is often left with alcohol to wipe out as well. This can turn you’re after meal clean up routine into a bit of a drag. If you use an alcohol stove, it's beneficial to have sealed ways for carrying your stove and fuel in your pack.
❌ Unstable (and potentially dangerous) and can spill when lit. A rather flimsy and precarious surface to cook on. Because the stove is so light it’s easy to knock over. Accidents in the past have even caused certain major parks (Rocky Mountain National Park, for example) to change their rules and now allow only stoves with on/off switches.
❌ Weak and inflexible flame. These have one setting... low. Not ideal for windy conditions or a fast boil. Alcohol doesn’t burn as hot as other fuel, and in freezing conditions, these stoves might not even be able to get water boiling. They work best in warm conditions for minimal cooking.
✔️ Stable surface to cook on. These are the heaviest and most stable backpacking stove option. Their design makes them practical for year-round weather and various conditions, including snow and ice.
✔️ Cheap and flexible fuel. White gas, kerosene, unleaded gasoline. Liquid fuel stoves can run on numerous types of fuel, so it’s usually no problem finding it when it’s time to refill. White gas is the cleanest, hottest, and considered one of the most widely used options.
✔️ Large flame. Great for hiking partners and group cooking. Where choices like the Jetboil are best for one or two people, liquid fuel stoves have cheaper fuel and more stable bases for holding larger cooking pots. This makes them an excellent, cost-effective choice if cooking for larger crowds.
✔️ Best option for sub-zero conditions. Liquid stoves hold up in tough climates, working especially well in extreme cold or high altitudes. They have a big advantage over canister stoves here, as they come with a pump that can be used to re-build pressure in the fuel bottle.
✔️ Refillable bottle and flexible fuel quantity. To cut some ounces, you can fill a fuel bottle only with what you think you’ll need for a trip. Unlike with canisters, the screw-top also lets you check and see how much fuel you have left. When refilling a bottle, be sure to leave a little space since gas expands.
❌ Heaviest stove option, by far. This stove system involves multiple pieces, so the whole set-up can get tedious and heavy. You also may have to prime your stove before using it, which can be a pain.
❌ Most expensive option. Basic models are about 3 oz.’s and can range anywhere from $30-60, while larger Hybrid models can cost as high as $200. That being said, the fuel, however, costs about ½ that of canister fuel.
❌ Requires manual pumping for fuel pressure. I have seen several of these on the trail and always pity the user pumping fuel into them. Not that pumping is particularly hard - just a fiddle. The pump applies pressure to the bottle, holding the fuel, so it flows up into the stove when turned on. It usually takes about 15-30 pumps. Each stove’s prep routine differs, so check the manufacturer’s instructions and test it out at home first.
❌ A lot of moving parts and maintenance. Liquid stoves require more maintenance in both setup and use. They have three parts for assembly: the stove, the pump and the fuel bottle with an attached fuel line. Before lighting them, it’s always important to check for spilled fuel on any of the pieces. Also, never detach the fuel line from the pump when the stoves lit.
✔️ Cheap fuel source - free firewood. With wood stoves, you don’t have to buy or carry fuel. You’ll just need to find some finger-sized twigs around camp to get things going.
✔️ Durable and simple. Using a wood stove is very similar to cooking over an open fire, except your flame is more contained and controlled. The stoves themselves are lightweight, easy to use, cheap, and can last a lifetime if properly cared for.
✔️ The walls act as a built-in windscreen. Wood stoves burn from the bottom down, pulling air from holes punched in the base which help in protecting the flame. Before deciding on a wood stove, be sure to check park rules of where you’ll be hiking. Many places have restrictions for using them during fire bans. (Side note: Fire bans typically only apply to “open flames.”)
❌ Needs a lot of time to set the flame. Wood stoves aren’t quick and easy. They can be a bit of a hassle to get started and they require constant attention to keep things going.
❌ Finding quality dry wood is a constant struggle. Relying on wood for fuel leaves you at mother nature’s mercy. Dry, burnable wood isn’t always a guarantee depending on the environment and terrain of your hike.
❌ Poor cooking experience. Maintaining a steady flame with a miniature fire is a delicate art… and that tiny fire does not boil anything quickly. This can make it a lot more difficult to cook food that requires more than just boiling water. You’ll have to do extra finessing to get the right flame output.
❌ Dirty. You’re bound to get soot on your cookware when using wood stoves. It’s beneficial to bring a separate carrying case for storing it and something to wipe down your supplies with.
✔️ Both the stove and tablets are super lightweight. Even if you don’t use this as your main stove choice, the tablets are small and packable and can be good in wet conditions or to use as fire-starters. A 14g tab emits around 12 minutes of burn time.
✔️ Easy to ignite and a breeze to set-up. All you need to do is find a clear area, put up the frame, place the fuel block (or tablet) in place and light it up.
✔️ Solid fuel stoves don’t require bulky canisters. The stove system itself is also compact, often being no bigger than a deck of cards.
❌ Wind can be a big problem, so having a windscreen is highly recommended. The flame can be weak and difficult to control too, so you’ll have some trouble if wanting to adjust it higher or lower. More fuel tablets can add more heat, and a trick for speeding up burn time is to cut the fuel tablet in half.
❌ The tablets can have a bit of a weird smell. Some people say they smell musty, other’s say they smell like fish. Either way—not a fun scent to have crammed with your gear.
❌ Boiling time averages right around 10 minutes. Also, the tablets are expensive and can be harder to find in rural areas and small towns, making them less reliable compared to other fuel sources.
You can find stove systems sold separately or as all-in-one sets. Here are the main elements that make a good cooking system:
Pot: Stoves systems usually come with a pot big enough for one or two people. If you plan on cooking for a larger group, you’ll have to upgrade. Some brands are more versatile on what pot’s work with them, while others design specific cookware lines that only “fit” with their models. Pot lids can be a great addition to speeding up boiling time.
(Optional) Windscreen: Winds a real nuisance to a stove’s performance. Windscreens can help with this, or you can block wind with your pack, your tent, or just set-up near another flat surface. But picking a stove system that’s designed specifically to be wind-resistant can save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. If purchasing a windscreen, keep in mind they shouldn’t be used with canister systems as they can overheat the canisters and become dangerous. You can also use a double-folded piece of aluminum foil.
Fuel: Consider where you’ll be hiking and how available your fuel is when picking a stove. Internationally, liquid fuel is much more common and would be a lot easier for refueling. Temperature range should also affect the stove system and fuel you decide on, so plan accordingly here.
(Optional) Stove stand: Stability and packability are where it’s at with stove stands. Look for one that collapses down easily and packs up small. To help with stability, make sure your stand has multiple arms for support and that it balances well on uneven ground. A good test is to see if a full pot of water can rest in the center of your stand without wobbling.
Complete stove system (Pot, stove, fuel)
No stove, no dishes, no cleanup. This is the ultimate way of packing light and moving fast. The problem can be the monotony of your foot options.
With proper planning and a few test meals ahead of time, non-cook backpacking is definitely doable. Heck, it can even be downright enjoyable.
Cold-Soaking is one key to mastering the art of non-cook backpacking. This involves “cooking” food by letting it soak instead of using boiling water. All you have to do is place the food in a sealed container for about 20-30 minutes and it’ll break right down. Works like a charm.
Want to learn more? Check out our full guide to stoveless backpacking, complete with a 5-day non-cook meal plan.
1. Warm up your canister first. In cold conditions, tucking the fuel canister in your jacket for a few minutes before using it or insulating it overnight can help its efficiency.
2. Use your flame gauge. Once your flame gets going, turn your flame gauge (if you have one) down below max output to help reserve fuel.
3. Add a layer of insulation. Putting insulation between your stove and the ground, like a bandana or piece of cardboard can help its performance.
4. Cold soak your food. Cold-soaking your foods before boiling them will help them cook significantly faster and use less fuel.
5. Use ALL the heat to cook. For meals that require longer boiling times, or for foods like pasta and rice, you can place these in the water while it’s heating. Once the water boils, let the contents boil for a few minutes and then turn off your stove and let the contents soak. Adding insulation and a lid to your pot while your meals soaking will help it cook even faster.
6. How to measure remaining fuel. The best way to see how much fuel is left in the canister is to let it float in water. The part sticking above water will be the ‘air’ in the canister and therefore, indicate how much has been consumed. If the whole thing floats, you are outta luck (or fuel)!
7. Only bring the fuel you need. Adjustable fuel sources (alcohol, liquid, etc.) will vary depending on how much you chose to pack out. Canisters have a fixed amount of fuel. They generally come in 4, 8 and 16 oz. single-use containers. 16 oz. is too heavy to pack. The 4 and 8 oz. are a reasonably volume to carry. I found that a 4 oz. canister would last about a week. At that weekly rate, I use just enough to bring 500 ml of water to a boil once a day.
8. Consider a kettle. Tea kettles are much more stable than a cup and, therefore, extremely convenient to just toss in the fire and wait to boil. It can save on fuel big time. The catch of course is the whole fire thing… and the fact that you will need an additional cup to drink or cook in.
Here are a few last questions to help narrow which one stove and fuel is right for you:
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
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