The cooking stove you select for a backpacking expedition is a critical decision, determining how well (or how poorly) you’re going to eat and drink during your time in the outdoors. There are different factors to consider based on the location, season, elevation, and length of your journey, but we can help you make the right decision wherever the trail may lead.
Whether you want the lightest stove for covering long distances, an alternative fuel source for higher elevations, or the capacity to serve a gourmet meal to a group of friends, we can recommend the best product for you. With that said, here are our picks for the best backpacking stoves.
Why should you buy this: The MSR Windburner is efficient, packable, functional, and great in windy weather.
Who’s it for: Any backpacker, alpinist, mountaineer, or car camper
How much will it cost: $140
Why we picked the MSR Windburner:
The MSR Windburner is an all-in-one integrated cook stove system that serves as any backpacker’s dream. MSR incorporated Reactor technology into its radiant burner and an enclosed, windproof design. A fuel-efficient system quickly brings water to a boil and a secure lid with a small spout ensures confidence while pouring.
The pot locks onto the stove, ensuring unsurpassed stability. Its highlight feature is phenomenal wind resistance even in the most brutal alpine conditions. It features the highest quality integrated canister design on the market, engineered to be used anywhere. One-liter and 1.8-liter capacity pots provide options for both solo or group travel. Everything packs up into the pot itself, making for a space-saving accessory in any backpack.
Want to heat more than just water? The WindBurner Skillet is a perfect accessory that’s purchased separately and integrated into the burner. While it’s $140 price tag might seem a bit steep, bear in mind it is an all-in-one system and a cooking pot is included.
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Snow Peak Lite Max
Why should you buy this: The Snow Peak Lite Max is extremely lightweight and durable, made from high-end materials
Who’s it for: The Snow Peak Lite Max is designed for the ultralight backpacker.
How much will it cost: $60
Why we picked the Snow Peak Lite Max:
The Snow Peak Lite Max was designed with the ultralight backpacker in mind, without sacrificing durability or efficiency. The simple, compact stove easily screws on to a fuel canister and has water boiling within minutes. Titanium and aluminum reduce weight and are designed to ensure the stove’s stability.
Folding arms reduce space but are large enough when extended to provide a stable cooking surface for a variety of cookware. A flame control valve ensures the easy transition between simmering and boiling states. This tiny product packs a powerful, burning punch and quickly brings water to a boil.
When folded up, this stove fits into the palm of your hand which makes it an deal option for ultralight backpackers with distance to cover. It tucks away into the nook or cranny of any backpack and is so light, it’s hard to notice it’s even there.
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The biggest capacity
Why should you buy this: The MSR Dragonfly ensures control and stability while handling larger cookware.
Who’s it for: The MSR Dragonfly is for international travelers, gourmet chefs, and any group of backpackers seeking to cook comfort food out on the trail.
How much will it cost: $105
Why we picked the MSR Dragonfly:
The MSR Dragonfly is an all-around backpacking stove perfect for groups, both domestic or overseas. The stove boasts an extremely stable base and durable frame that makes it ideal for larger pots up to 10 inches in diameter, attributing to its capacity to cook a lot of food in a short period of time.
The stove burns many different kinds of liquid fuel including white gas, kerosene, auto fuel, and diesel, making for exceptional adaptability in any backcountry situation. A suspended burner cup ensures efficiency, allowing for the stove to burn hot while reducing heat lost to the ground.
The MSR Dragonfly is a camp chef’s stove of choice, boasting a highly sensitive simmer capacity allocated by a dual-valve design. Its only downsides are a heavy weight at 14 ounces and the loud noise it makes while cooking — a small price to pay for a gourmet meal at the end of a long day on the trail.
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The best multi-fuel source
MSR Whisperlite Universal
Why should you buy this: The MSR Whisperlite Universal burns any fuel source and is extremely easy to maintain.
Who’s it for: Domestic and international backpackers who want the ability to use both liquid and canister fuel sources.
How much will it cost: $65
Why we picked the MSR Whisperlite Universal:
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is the only stove on the market capable of utilizing both liquid and canister fuel sources. It’s also the lightest stove compared to others in its class and is extremely easy to maintain.
This hybrid-fuel stove system is ideal for domestic backpacking ventures and will be coveted on overseas expeditions. At 11 ounces, it’s not terribly heavy for the adaptability it offers. AirControl technology ensures exceptional performance no matter what fuel type is selected. MSR designed it to provide consistent output from canisters and is efficient in cold weather conditions. The MSR Whisperlite Universal’s solid, stainless steel frame ensures stability and is designed to keep weight minimal.
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The most efficient use of fuel
Why should you buy this: The MSR Reactor offers a highly efficient use of fuel and bigger pot capacity options.
Who’s it for: Any backpacker, alpinist, day hiker, or car camper.
How much will it cost: $150
Why we picked the MSR Reactor:
The MSR Reactor is by far the most fuel-efficient option on the market and gets water boiling faster than any other comparable product. The protective housing allocated by the all-in-one design makes for the ultimate performance in windy conditions. This high-efficiency stove ensures minimal fuel waste.
The included pot packs together with the stove into a small, compact size ideal for alpine expeditions and long treks. Unfortunately, the pot doesn’t attach to the stove, attributing to a lack of stability while cooking, and it doesn’t allow for simmering. This means the product may not be ideal for much more than boiling water for coffee and freeze-dried meals.
The MSR Reactor comes in a variety of capacity sizes including 1-liter, 1.7-liter, and 2.5-liter, making it great for those traveling solo or in larger groups.
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The best for the budget-conscious
Etekcity Ultralight Portable Stove
Why should you buy this: The Etekcity Ultralight is everything you need in a backpacking stove at an extremely affordable price.
Who’s it for: Any backpacker or alpinist looking to travel light on a budget.
How much will it cost: $12
Why we picked the Etekcity Ultralight:
The Etekcity Ultralight is everything you could ask for in a backpacking camp stove, at a price that’s difficult to believe. A combination of aluminum alloy and stainless steel provides for lightweight as well as durability. It’s an ultra-compact and portable screw-on model, tipping the scales at just under five ounces.
This product is compatible with most single butane and butane/propane mixed fuel canisters and is designed with a piezo ignition, meaning you won’t even have to carry a lighter. A sensitive adjustable control valve allows you to monitor your heat output and transitions efficiently from a boil to a simmer.
Whether you just need to boil water or cook a gourmet meal — and budget is your main priority — it doesn’t get more affordable than Etekcity’s Ultralight. This clean-burning stove accommodates up to 7-inch diameter pots and comes with its own carrying case.
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How We Test
When possible, our cooking stoves have been tested on multiple-length expeditions during different seasons and at varying altitudes. We try to test each stove to its capacity, evaluating especially how well each one performs in cold and windy conditions. When testing a stove is not possible, we draw on extensive research of the features and compare it to similar products or older models. We analyze changes and improvements and draw on insight provided by the manufacturer and other retailers.
Things to Consider
The ideal cooking stove for backpacking depends entirely on personal preferences and the type of expedition. You wouldn’t necessarily bring the same stove to hike the Appalachian Trail as you would on a venture into the Himalayas. Time spent researching your options is time well spent. Buying a cooking stove comes down to four things: The type of fuel you want to use, the size of stove you want to carry, the level of performance you seek, and the kind of meals you wish to eat during your travels.
Canister vs. Liquid Fuel
Backpacking stoves utilize either isobutane or propane fuel canisters or traditional liquid fuel. Canister fuel is the best choice for domestic backpackers in that it burns clean, is very compact, remains easy to find in the United States, and is easy to transport. Also, universal threading exists between brands. The only drawback to canister fuel is its lack of performance in extremely cold weather and at higher elevations. Also, canisters aren’t often available internationally.
Liquid fuel sources are primarily comprised of white gas which utilizes refillable containers. The advantage of a multi-fuel stove system means you can run on either canister or liquid fuel, but that adaptability is not necessary for every person. For backpackers who frequently travel overseas, having a stove with the capacity to utilize liquid fuel is a necessity. The downside to liquid fuel is its bulk, typically higher price, and a slower set up.
All-in-one Models vs. Screw-on Canister Models
All-in-one models are great in terms of easy setup and especially when boiling water. These models include the burner, the heat exchanger, and the pot. Different sized pots make for equal use when traveling solo or in a group. Most products include an insulated handle that allows for eating directly out of the cookware. They’re also likely to be more stable than screw-on canister models. However, they do tend to be a touch heavier and boast limited flame control.
Screw-on canister models are better for ultralight backpacking. Most models fold up into the palm of your hand and can be squeezed into any size backpack. The bigger models boast better flame control and are made for serving gourmet meals to larger groups of travelers. Proper selection of a backpacking cooking stove is ideally based on how — and what — you want to eat on your adventures.