What is your backcountry meal of choice? What gets your stomach grumbling just thinking about it as you near camp? Is it quick and easy dehydrated mesquite BBQ Chicken? Maybe some tried and true ramen noodles? Or maybe you like to test the limits of gourmet backcountry cooking with some pizza made from scratch. Whatever it is, you’ll likely need a stove. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the current options when it comes to backpacking stoves.
These stoves consist of small, light and collapsable burners that thread onto the top of fuel canisters that contain a mix of pressurized isobutane and propane. To light the stove, no priming is needed. Simply open the valve and ignite. The pot supports allow you to use a variety of cookware, and the heat can be adjusted as needed, thanks to simmer capability. As the fuel canister nears the end of it’s life, a built in pressure regulator maintains a constant flame. When the canister has been depleted, the canister should be punctured and properly recycled.
Pros: Light and compact, easy to use, low maintenance, self-sealing canisters
Cons: Poor performance in wind (can’t use a windscreen), small pot supports
Best for: small groups, quick trips, lightweight backpacking
Under the umbrella of canister stoves, there are a few more specific options:
Integrated Canister Stoves
These canister stoves are adapted so that the insulated cook pot (with a heat exchanger on the bottom) connects directly to the burner. These systems allow you to cook, eat and drink from the single unit. Due to the integration, the stoves burn efficiently and quickly.
Remote Canister Stoves
One negative aspect of canister stoves is the inability to use a windscreen due to the danger of heating the fuel canister. The remote canister stoves solve this problem by separating the canister from the burner with a hose.
Liquid Fuel Stoves
These stoves are the workhorses of all backpacking stoves. While they are more difficult to use and require some know how, they are versatile and can be used in a wide range of conditions.
These stoves burn white gas, a hot and clean burning fuel. Some stoves are capable of burning other fuels as well, such as kerosene, gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. Stoves that burn a wide range of fuels are good candidates for international travel.
These stoves are more difficult to use as they must be primed before use and should be regularly maintained. These stoves can be completely dismantled to allow for cleaning and field maintenance.
As for cooking, the larger pot supports and lower centre of gravity ensure stable cooking platforms. The simmer capabilities allows more complicated meals.
Pros: Perform in cold weather and at altitude, high output, simmer control, versatility, stable platform
Cons: bulky and heavy, more difficult to use, require maintenance
Best for: Cooking for groups, long trips, winter/high elevation use and international trekking
Looking for a stove that is not fossil fuel dependent? Alcohol stoves offer a simple and lightweight option for backpackers. These stoves have been popular with thru-hikers. Many types of alcohol can be used and each is relatively easy to find at hardware stores, gas stations etc. Alcohol does burn at a lower temperature than canister fuel or white gas, so it takes longer to boil water, resulting in a greater consumption of fuel.
Pros: Lightweight, fuel is inexpensive and easy to find, quiet, low maintenance
Cons: slower cook times, no temperature control, bad performance in wind, less efficient fuel, flame is hard to see
Best for: Ultralight backpacking