Skip to content

Choosing the Right Backpacking Stove

Choosing the Right Backpacking Stove

Vargo Hexagon Wood Stove

Backpacking Stoves

This post is a general overview of the various kinds of stoves used for backpacking. There is not a definitive right or wrong type of stove to use, rather, it is better to consider the situation in which you intend to hike so that you can choose the most appropriate type of stove for you. Weight is always of the utmost importance but in a situation where you are using one stove to cook for multiple hikers, sharing gear can help justify your choice.
Fuel Tab Stoves
Falling in the category of ultralight stoves are fuel tab stoves. Fuel tabs are very convenient and are individually packed for just enough fuel to cook a single meal entree. Heat output is limited and can be affected by wind, but their ease of use makes up for these shortcomings. The biggest disadvantages of a fuel tab stove are the dirty residue that is left after burning and the foul odor that the tabs produce. The casing of these stoves generally consist of a minimalistic stand and pot support. They are generally good for four season backpacking and not significantly affected by the cold.
Canister Stoves
Iso-butane stoves and propane stoves main advantage is their ease of use, weight and heat output. They are appropriate for three season backpacking but can be difficult to light and maintain a proper flame in cold temperatures.   Many use a Piezo igniter system which is safe and effective.  Most canister stoves screw into a fuel container below the stove which raises the center of gravity and can often lead to tipping and the unfortunate spilling of food. Recently, several manufactures have moved to canister stoves that attach via a hose to the fuel canister. These stoves keep a low center of gravity and receive less wind exposure for better cooking. The major disadvantages of the canister stove is that they are not environmentally friendly (i.e. the fuel canisters can not be reused or re-filled.) Also, canisters are not as accessible as other fuels and. Depending on how remote and long your hike is, could leave you with a perfectly functional stove but no fuel to cook. Lastly, be careful about using a windscreen with a canister stove as this could lead to excessive heat build-up around the canister possible explosion.
White Gas and Multi-fuel Stoves
This type of stove is probably the heaviest category of stove available but they also have the strongest heat output. Again, if you are backpacking with a partner or group then you can share gear and minimize the weight that each person needs to carry. The downside is that I generally recommend each hiker be self-sufficient in the event that they get separated from the group and need to prepare their own meal. Please be very aware that sharing gear requires that everyone is responsible enough to stay with the group for safety.
Multi-fuel stoves offer the greatest likelihood that you will not get stranded without being able to find appropriate fuel. Gas stations are ubiquitous and convenient. They burn well in colder temperatures and are not as affected by wind as other stoves. Using a wind-screen is safe and will increase the stoves efficiency. The disadvantage of white gas stoves is that they can be dangerous due to the volatility of white gas, kerosene, or unleaded fuel. Also, they are relatively complex with many parts and often the more you have, the more you have to go wrong.

Backpacking Wood Stoves
The obvious disadvantage of wood stoves is that you need to burn some sort of biofuel that is dry enough to burn.  On a rainy day it could be a challenge to find proper fuel.  The up-side is that they offer a sort of freedom and independence to hike in the outdoors and rely on mother nature to provide your fuel.  Most of the time, a wood burning backpacking stove will work just fine but comparatively, they require more time to build your fire and of course you need to have basic fire building skills.
Alcohol Stoves
Read our page about alcohol stoves here:
Whatever type of backpacking stove you choose to use, be sure that you understand how to use it safely and properly while knowing how to fix and maintain it in and out of the field.  Doing so will ensure many long, safe years of use.