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How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

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The types of meals you plan to prepare and the fuel type are two considerations when deciding how to choose a backpacking stove.

Since there are different fuel types available, we'll look at those and discuss their benefits and drawbacks and other features of backpacking stoves.

What Is Your Cooking Style?

Before you can choose a backpacking stove, it's best to determine your cooking style. Are you planning to simmer foods such as chili, prepare meals, or boil water to rehydrate dehydrated meals?

It is helpful to look at what types of meals you plan to cook while backpacking and choose an ideal stove for those types of meals. The number of people you will be cooking for is another factor to consider when picking a stove for your backpacking trips.

Below we discuss some of the most common ways to prepare food when they are backpacking.

Dehydrated Food

People often choose to bring dehydrated food with them when they backpack. It can be less expensive than prepackaged food, and it helps save space.

Most food can be dehydrated at home, except for dairy products and some high-fat foods. Meat and vegetables are usually cooked before they are dehydrated. When you dehydrate food, it shrinks, which is one of the benefits of backpacking with dehydrated food.

Much of the nutritional value is retained when you dehydrate food. It is easy to prepare rations for each meal when you dehydrate the food.

Here is an example of how easy it is to prepare dehydrated food. Of course, the times and heat depends on the product.

Add water to the food, let it soak for five minutes, and bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat a bit and simmer for the recommended time. When the food is cooked, turn the heat off and cover the pot. After 10 minutes or so the food should be ready to eat. 

Dehydrated food is a popular choice because you know what you are eating, it has higher nutritional value than prepackaged meals, and it is lightweight and easy to pack. You can prepare it yourself or purchase dehydrated food to take with you.

If you plan to have primarily dehydrated foods on your backpacking trip, you need a backpacking stove that can boil water. Canister stoves are helpful when you are solo or have a small group of people, and they are best suited for boiling water. Although you can use other stoves, this type is ideal if you stick with dehydrated foods.

 eggs frying in pan on small backpacking stove

Simple Meals

Some people prefer simple meals when they are backpacking. These meals are quick and easy, and they provide the necessary nutrition without a big mess. You might consider instant hot cereal or oatmeal for breakfast or ramen for dinner. Most canister stoves can accommodate one-pot meals such as those listed here.

When you plan your menu, you can decide whether you want to have simple one-pot meals or whether you would like a more elaborate option. This will help you determine what backpacking stove is best for your cooking style.

Full Meals

Some people prefer a full meal for breakfast and dinner. They might cook eggs, pancakes, coffee, and more for breakfast, while they have dinners that include tacos, a pasta and meat dish, and more. When you pack your meals, you should pack all of the items you need for one meal together. This will make it easier for you to prepare.

If you plan to have full meals, you will need a backpacking stove, such as a liquid fuel stove designed to prepare full meals with various ingredients.

Simmering Capability

Some foods are better prepared by simmering, such as chili or other kinds of stew. If you plan to have this kind of meal, you will want to choose a backpacking stove with excellent simmering capability. Some canister stoves can simmer, and there are backpacking stove systems that will include this option.

If your meal requires that you simmer your food, you will want to make sure the stove you choose has the simmering capability.

Types of Fuel for Backpacking Stoves

When choosing the best backpacking stove, you have the option of gas or liquid fuel. Generally speaking, gas stoves are more convenient, while liquid fuel stoves offer greater versatility.

Canister Fuel Backpacking Stoves

Canister backpacking stoves are very easy to use and are low maintenance. They are popular because of their portability and do the job of many people.

canister backpacking stove with pot

What Is a Canister Stove?

A canister stove is made up of a small canister that contains liquid gases and a stove where you can cook your food. This type of stove is small and versatile and works well for one or two people. To operate it turn the knob to open the canister and light your fire. You can turn the knob again when you are finished.

You can’t refill these canisters, so you might need to bring an extra if you run out of fuel. They work well in three seasons, but they do not function well when the temperatures fall below freezing.

The fuel is easy to purchase, and these stoves are easy to use for simple meals and boiling water. They are affordable and won’t weigh you down when you are backpacking as they are small and lightweight.

If you are a backpacker who only needs simple meals for a few people, this could be a very good choice.

How Do Canister Stoves Work?

The canister in a canister stove is full of pressurized gasses. When you open the canister, the gases come out, and this fuels your fire. Canisters usually contain a combination of butane and propane or isobutane and propane. They are straightforward to use - attach the stove to the canister, turn the knob, and light it.

When gases are stored in a pressurized canister, they remain in a liquid form. However, what is released when you turn the knob is the vapor form, which ignites your fire. This is why the canister must always be upright: the gases will rise to the top to be released.

As you cook your food, the liquid gases are turned into vapors to continue fueling your fire. When you are finished, you can turn the knob, and the pressure in the canister will ensure that the gases remain in liquid form.

Main Types of Canister Stoves

Within the canister stove category, there are several different types of canister stoves. You can choose between integrated and nonintegrated canisters, depending on your needs.

An integrated canister stove is a set that includes a burner, a heat exchanger, and a pot. The nonintegrated system has a heating system that is separate from your cooking tools.

The integrated system is great if you want to boil water or bring dehydrated food. The nonintegrated stove gives you more versatility because you can use different pots and make a gourmet meal.

Ultralight Canister Stove

If you are trying to keep your backpack light, you will want an ultralight canister stove. You can get one that weighs as little as 3.9 ounces, and it will not take up a lot of room or weigh you down when you are hiking.

Integrated Canister Stove

Integrated canister stoves are ideal for boiling water and cooking dehydrated food. It comes with a burner, a heat source, and a pot, and this kind of canister stove is efficient in its design.

They make them so that they can transfer heat and keep the wind out. They also boil faster than other types of stoves. You won’t have to purchase additional parts or items when you get an integrated stove, but they can be a little bit bulkier and heavier, and they are more expensive. However, you will not need to buy other items.

The drawback to integrated canister stoves is that you often cannot use different pots and pans and often do not have the simmering capability. They are ideal for boiling water and preparing dehydrated food.

remote canister with compact backpacking stove
Remote Canister Stove

A remote canister stove is a unique stove because it is low profile; and has a free-standing burner. The burner is connected to the fuel canister by a hose or a pipe. Another name for these stoves is spider stoves because of a famous stove called the Kovea Spider Stove.

Because they are lower to the ground, they offer more stability. You can use different sizes of pots and pans without worrying that they will fall over. This type of canister tends to work better in cold weather.

Remote canister stoves are often collapsible and easy to pack as they don’t take up a lot of space. However, they can be heavy because you need a fuel hose.

Even though they often cost more, they are a great choice for more versatility and stability.


  • They are small and can often fit inside of the pot when you pack
  • They are very lightweight
  • They are simple to use
  • The flame is easy to adjust
  • It boils and simmers
  • They only have two components
  • They require very little maintenance
  • They are more energy-efficient than a fuel stove


  • They are less effective when the temperature drops below freezing
  • They can be top-heavy when you use a larger pot
  • You might need additional canisters in case you run out of fuel

Liquid Fuel Backpacking Stoves

Liquid fuel backpacking stoves are especially useful for people who do a lot of camping in the winter. These stoves burn petroleum products such as white gas or kerosene, which means they can function down to 40 degrees below zero.

In addition, you can find liquid fuel for these stoves in many different countries. It is easier to find if you travel the world, so you might consider this type of stove if you are a world backpacker.

backpacking stove with fuel bottle and pan

What Is a Liquid Fuel Stove?

Liquid fuel stoves are small and lightweight, and they can run on different kinds of fuel, including gasoline, white gas, and kerosene. They work well in cold weather, so they are ideal if you backpack up in the mountains or polar areas. They have a few other names, including liquid multi-fuel stoves, dual-fuel stoves, and petrol stoves.

The fuel bottle typically has a dial or a valve that can change the stove from full heat to low heat. They have an additional valve on the bottom of the container that can be used specifically for simmering.

An important thing to note is that you will use a nozzle with this type of stove, and it has to be changed when you change fuels. The nozzle has a few other names, including valves, nipples, or jets.  

How Do Liquid Fuel Stoves Work?

When you choose a liquid fuel stove, you  get a stove with a tank that holds the fuel, a pump that makes pressure in the tank so that fuel can travel through the fuel line, a valve to maintain control of the fuel flow, and the burner, which is where the fuel will mix with the air and burn.

Most burn white gas, which is pure gasoline without any additives. You can also get liquid fuel stoves that burn other types of less pure fuels, but you will need to spend more time cleaning the fuel lines.

When you open the valve, the fuel will travel to the burner and mix with air to maintain a flame while you cook. You can adjust the amount of fuel to have high heat or low heat, and you can adjust a separate valve for simmering.

They are easy to use but require some cleaning and maintenance. They are beneficial if you backpack in areas where the temperature drops below freezing.


  • They work well in any temperature, including below freezing
  • They can use different fuel types, including gasoline, kerosene, and diesel
  • They are generally stable with a broader base
  • They use less fuel than canisters
  • They produce less waste because the container can be refilled


  • They are large and bulky
  • They are heavy
  • They require maintenance
  • They have a more involved setup
Folding wood camping or backpacking stove

Alternative Fuel Backpacking Stoves

There are a few other kinds of backpacking stoves that some people like to use. They can make good choices for different reasons and are available in a variety of sizes and weights. Take a look at the following.

Wood Burning Stoves

One alternate type of stove is the wood burning stove. You can use this stove to burn twigs and dead leaves. They are easy to use, and you do not have to travel and hike with fuel canisters. Woodburning stoves use natural fuel, which is the wood you find. You may not be able to use this type of stove if you backpack in a no-burn area.

  • Simple and lightweight backpacking stove
  • It can come with an optional grill
  • Some can be used as a source of electricity to charge mobile devices
  • If it is wet out, you might have trouble finding twigs
  • You can’t use it in no-burn or dry areas

Denatured Alcohol Stoves

This kind of stove is lightweight and usually weighs around an ounce or two. It is very small, and you will have a small bottle of alcohol to make it work.

  • It doesn’t require maintenance
  • It is very small and lightweight
  • Denatured alcohol is very inexpensive
  • It is silent
  • Denatured alcohol is easy to find
  • It doesn’t get as hot as other types of stoves
  • It usually needs a windscreen

Solid Fuel Tablet Stoves

Another type of stove that is super lightweight is the solid-fuel tablet stove. These stoves can be very tiny, and they are easy to bring along. They are inexpensive and easy to light and extinguish.

  • They are very compact
  • They are lightweight
  • The tablets are easy to light and extinguish
  • They are inexpensive
  • They heat slowly
  • The tablets may emit an odor
  • The tablets can leave residue on your pot
compact lightweight backpacking stove

Features to Consider When Choosing a Backpacking Stove

There are many different features to look at when you are choosing a stove. Some factors to consider when buying a backpacking stove are as follows:

Efficiency: It is important to consider the efficiency of a backpacking stove. If you are backpacking for a long time, you will want a more efficient stove because you won’t want to bring many canisters with you.

How fast can the stove boil water? Is the stove designed to work better in cold and windy conditions or at a high altitude?

Weight: The weight can make a big difference as well. One consideration is whether you will camp out overnight with relatively little hiking or go on a long hiking trip.

The weight of different stoves can vary widely depending on the other features you select. If weight is an issue, you might consider a small canister stove and dehydrated food, but if you plan to spend less time hiking and more time at a campsite, you might enjoy a larger setup where you can cook gourmet meals.

Ignition: Do you want a stove that has a built-in ignition lighter (piezo) so you can press a button to create a spark? If you buy a stove without a piezo, you don't have to worry about it failing.  

Price: The amount of money you spend on a backpacking stove is typically based on how often you will use it and staying within the budget you've set for your stove.

Size: Size will also play a role in your choice; the stove will take up precious space in your backpack. Another consideration is the number of people who will be using the stove. 

Portability: You need a stove that is easy for you to carry with you while you are backpacking. Its portability will be determined by its size, shape, and weight.

Cooking utensils: Will you need to buy pots and pans for your stove?

Ease of Use: Is the stove easy to assemble and clean?

Cooking capability: Can the stove hold a pot or pan so you can simmer or cook meals? Or are you going to use the stove only to boil water?  

Temperature and Altitude: Another factor is the temperatures you expect when you camp, as well as the altitudes. The temperature is cooler at higher altitudes, and canister stoves aren’t very functional below freezing. It would be disappointing to have a canister stove that isn’t usable because it can’t light and hold a flame in colder weather.

The liquid fuel stoves work down to 40 degrees below zero, so if you are a cold weather or altitude backpacker, this type will be better for you.

Wind Protection: Another factor is how windy it is where you backpack. Some backpacking stoves don’t do well in windy conditions, but others have built-in windscreens. If it is windy, be sure to choose a backpacking stove with this feature.

Stability: A stable backpacking stove is important for your safety (prevents a stove from falling and the water burning you) and keeps from causing a wildfire.   

Final Thoughts

You have several different choices when you are choosing a backpacking stove that is best for you. There are different types of fuel and other features available.

It is helpful to consider what kind of meals you plan to have and how many people will be using the stove. Some stoves are smaller and more straightforward and provide you with what you need to boil water, while others are more elaborate and allow you to experiment with gourmet cooking.

Once you know what food you want to bring and how many people are coming, consider how much space you have and how much weight you can handle. You can find a backpacking stove to fit just about any circumstance, including car camping, so you will be able to choose one that is perfect for your needs. As long as it can cook the food you bring with you, it will make your trip more pleasurable.

Many areas don’t allow campfires because they are too dry, and a campfire would risk starting a fire. Backpacking stoves can make a huge difference in these cases. 

If there is a power outage and you want to use your backpacking stove, this article discusses the risks and precautions when using a camping stove indoors.

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