Choosing the Right Backcountry Stove

posted in: ADVICE & TIPS, GEAR | 1

When gearing up for your next backcountry adventure deciding what stove is best for you may feel like a daunting task. To help break it down for you we have included the pros and cons of the different styles we carry in store.

Deciding on what stove meets your needs the best will be dependent on multiple factors: How light do you want? How gourmet are your meals you are preparing? Is the main goal to boil water quickly? These questions will all guide you into making the right selection for you needs.

To help answer those questions, one will evaluate the following

Stove Type- fuel type

Stove Specs/ Features– burn time, average boil time and weight

Stove Usage– understanding how stoves work will ensure your next adventure is epic

Stove Type

When looking at backpacking stoves there are two main fuel type with a growing trend in a third category.

  1. Canister Stoves: These are easy to use, low maintenance stoves which typically screw directly onto a canister containing isobutane. These stoves are compact and lightweight and require no priming to light. The canister of fuel self seals when the stove is detached to eliminate any risk of fuel spills. Canister stoves can be found as individual stoves or as an integrated cook system . The integrated cook systems include a dedicated pot that attaches directly to the stove base. The other added convince to these systems is the way they fit together for storage, the pot can fit the stove base and fuel (sold seperately) inside and usually having enough space to include a french press and fuel support. Through construction they have a built in windscreen which increases the efficiency of these stoves. This style of stove boils water really well, however are not as versatile as other offerings.
Easy to UseFuel, per ounce is more expensive
No Priming RequiredPoor Cold- Weather Performance*
No Fuel Spill RiskEfficiency drops as canister empties
Compact and LightweightDifficult to gauge amount of fuel remaining
Fast Maximum Heat OutputDifficult to find fuel in some countries
Burns CleanlyHard to Recycle Canister
  • *Canister Stoves are limited when it comes to cold weather performance due to the pressure needed inside the fuel canister. Many new stoves have a pressure regulator built in to help increase the performance in cold temperatures. If you do plan to use a canister fuel stove in cold temperatures, ensure you keep the fuel warm, tuck it in your jacket or at the base of your sleeping bag to keep the fuel in a gas state inside the canister.
  1. Liquid Fuel Stoves: The most versatile in fuel options, liquid fuel stoves connect to a refillable fuel bottle. The preferred fuel for these stoves is white gas however many can burn an assortment of other fuels including, kerosene, auto fuel or diesel. However it is important to note, burning fuel besides white gas will require added cleaning and maintenance to ensure your stove continues to work properly. Since these can burn multiple fuels these stoves are the preferred option for international travel*. To burn different fuels, stoves will come with an assortment of jets which would need to be switched to allow for the fuel to properly go through the stove. Many liquid fuel stoves offer a greater range in terms of control, they offer better simmer control which allows more cooking options. They also accommodate a wide range of cookware, which may make it easier to cook up those backcountry pancakes. *Make sure when you do travel you use a brand new fuel bottle, remove the lid and store the stove and fuel bottle separately. The stove should also be cleaned with all residue removed from the stove. There is always a risk involved when flying with a stove, however following these tips hopefully will prevent any complications.
Excellent Cold Weather PerformancePriming Required
Fuel is InexpensiveMore Maintence
Easy to Gauge Fuel LevelsFuel Spills are Possible
Environmentally Friendly- no canisterStove is Heavier than a Canister Stove
Better Simmer ControlRequires Purchase of Fuel Bottle
  1. Alternative fuel stoves– These stoves can be good choices for long-distance backpacking and also for home emergency kits. Some are ultralight as others are a bit heavier. At Outter Limits, we carry the BioLite Stoves which burn organic biomass. There are other Alternative fuel stoves, which use denatured alcohol, or solid fuel tablets however at this time, our only alternative fuel source is wood burning. Wood burning stoves are nice as they require you to carry no additional fuel on your trip. You collect organic biomass at your desired location, eliminately the need to carry fuel.
Require No Liquid FuelNeed to source Biomass to Burn
Simple to useMaybe tricky to use in bad weather
Some can generate electricity Fires Bans may prohibit it’s use
Few mechanical parts to functionRestrictions may occur at certain elevation

Stove Specs/ Features

Evaluating the following points below will help ensure you pick the best backpacking stove for you

  • Stove Weight– Stove Weight will play a significant part when comparing options as some will be more geared towards the solo long distance hiker who is counting ounces compared to the a group on short weekend trips. A lightweight stove will come with a trade off with features.
  • Burn Time– This will give an idea of how much fuel is required for estimated cook time. If you can pre plan your cooking needs you will be able to reduce excess fuel. Stoves with higher burn time will require less fuel.
  • Boil Time– Will give you an idea of the efficiency of stoves
    • Canister Stoves– boil water quickly, some models offer simmer control and have pressure regulation for a more consistent boil time
    • Integrated Canister Stoves– Boil water very quickly with minimal fuel usuage
    • Liquid Fuel Stoves– Boils water quickly, even in cold weather some models offer very precise simmer control
    • Alternative Fuel Stoves– Intended to mainly boil as the heat would not be able to be controlled
  • Piezo Igniter- this feature is found on some canister stoves. It is a built in push button that sparks the stove base. It is convent when lightning a stove, however should not replace the need to pack matches or a lighter
  • Pressure Regulator– This is an important feature offered on some canister stoves as it allows for higher performance for a wider range of temperatures. It also allows for the stove to burn more efficiently throughout the entire canister. This feature comes at a cost, so if you plan on using your stove mainly for summer camping you may not justify the extra investment.

Stove Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure you use your stove in a well ventilated area, DO NOT use your stove inside your tent as they may lead to carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Before every trip make sure your stove is working, check all fuel lines, valves and connections
  • Clean your stove before storing
  • Make sure all fuel is burnt out of the fuel lines
  • Always operate your stove on a level surface, avoid setting up your stove system where the risk of tippy over is high

Canister Fuel Stove Tips

The Jetboil Flash Stove has a colour change heat indicator to let you know when the liquids inside are hot.
  • When the temperatures begin to drop keep your canister inside your sleeping bag or coat to ensure the inside fuel remains a gas
  • Stoves that come with a pressure regulator will burn more efficiently at higher elevations and will burn at a more similar rate the duration of the fuel canister
  • If using on snow put something underneath the canister to insulated it to prevent ice build up under the canister
  • To recycle your fuel canister, make sure they are empty then puncture the canister to release any excess gas. Then you can recycle them at the hazardous waste drop off
  • Never use a wind screen around the fuel canister, many of these stoves have a built in wind screen around the burner for this reason

Liquid Fuel Stove Tips

  • Never fill the fuel bottle completely full, you need to make sure you have room to pressurize the fuel
  • Fuel will expand in warmer temperatures, ensure you have adequate space for the changing of pressure
  • Always empty fuel out of bottles if storing for several months (at the end of each season)
  • White gas has a shelf life and begins to degrade over time. If your fuel has sediment in it, it has the potential to clog your fuel line.
  • Stove maintenance should be completed before every trip.
  • Fuel evaporates at a very quick rate, if spilled on bare skin in cold temperatures frost bite can occur
  • Use a wind screen, make sure the fuel bottle remains on the outside of the screen
  • Never lean over the stove when priming/ lighting as it can create a large flame if too much fuel is introduced.
  • Once you finish priming, and begin to introduce fuel you want to see a blue flame, if the flame is burning orange and uneven reduce the output of fuel and slowly begin to open the valves to add more fuel. The reason this occurs is the fuel line is not hot enough causing liquid fuel to come out instead of gas. Once the fuel line is hot enough, you will be able to have full output of fuel to have a hot flame.
Stove NameTotal WeightMin weightFuel TypeBoil TimeBurn Time
Biolite Cookstove1 lb 6 ozN/ARenewable Biomass4.5min/ L46 grams to burn 1 litre
Biolite Campstove2lbs 6 ozN/ARenewable biomass4.5min/ L46 grams to burn 1 litre
Jetboil Flash Cooking System13.1 oz13.1 ozIsopro Fuel3.3min/L10L/ 100g
Jetboil Sumo Cooking System16.0 oz16.0ozIsopro Fuel4min 15 secs/ L10L/ 100 g
Pocket Rocket 24.2 oz2.6 ozIsopro Fuel3.5min/ L7L/ 100 g
Pocket Rocket Deluxe4.5 oz2.90zIsopro Fuel3.3min/ L7.5L/ 100 g
Whisperlite14.5 oz11 ozWhite Gas3.9min /L5.1L/ 100ml
Dragonfly1lb 2oz14 ozWhite Gas*3.5 min/L
5.3L/ 100 ml

** The Dragonfly stove can use kerosene or diesel instead of white gas by changing the jets in the stove.