There are a lot of different options when it comes to choosing the best ultralight backpacking stove for your needs. The right stove can sure enhance your overall wilderness experience and make for a more enjoyable outing. There’s nothing like a hot meal after a long hard hike, or that cup of coffee on the first morning out. But with so many to choose from how do you narrow it down? Well, it depends on a lot of different factors and you will first have to ask yourself the following questions.
- How much weight do you want to carry?
- What size group will you be cooking for?
- Will you need to simply boil water/food or cook it?
- What type of fuel will you have access to?
How Much Weight Do You Want to Carry?
Backpacking stoves have become very lightweight over the last several years but there are definitely still a variety of weights. Liquid fuel and integrated canister stoves (like Jetboil) will be heavier than canister stoves. Are you an ultralight backpacker or do you want a little more luxury and additional weight? For the purposes of this site, I will mainly be focusing on ultralight backpacking stoves.
What Size Group Will You Be Cooking For?
If you are cooking for a large group, you will probably have a larger sized cookpot and you will want to make sure you get a stove that will be stable and not tip over. No one likes a dinner that ends up all over the ground. For larger pots, you will want to look for a stove that has a wider base and burner size. If you’re just boiling water or cooking for 1 or 2 people you can opt for a stove with a smaller base.
Will You Simply Need to Boil Water/Food or Cook It?
Most lightweight backpackers will typically just be boiling water to rehydrate food or heating up one pot meals. If you are going to be cooking more complex meals in the back country, look for a stove that has simmer control. This enables you to adjust the heat so that your pot won’t boil over or burn your food.
What Type of Fuel Will You Have Access To?
Canister stoves can be hard to resupply fuel for when you’re on longer treks because you have to buy the canisters at outdoor stores like REI which can be hard to come by in small towns. The same can be said for solid fuel tablets. Fuel for alcohol stoves can be easily found in small towns and is inexpensive.
Types of Stoves
Since my site is focused on lightweight backpacking, I will be writing about the 4 types of stoves lightweight and ultralight backpackers will typically use. These lightweight stoves are also much more affordable than some of the other options out there. Each types uses a different kind of fuel. They are canister, alcohol, solid fuel, and wood burning.
Canister Fuel Stoves
For average three season backpackers, this is a very popular option. These are easy to use, compact in size, and lightweight. They require little to no maintenance and are very affordable. Canister stoves cook food and boil water fairly quickly. They also do much better in the wind than alcohol and often do not require wind screens. Canister fuel stoves twist directly onto pre-filled isobutane fuel canisters which you can buy at many outdoor stores, like REI. After connecting the stove and fuel, you simply turn a valve to let fuel flow and then use a match or lighter to light the burner. Most have a valve which lets you control fuel flow to the burner, allowing you to simmer food and do a little more than just boil water. The downsides are that its often hard to tell how much fuel is left in the canisters and in some remote areas it may be hard to find the isobutane canisters. These stoves also do not do as well in temperatures under 20 degrees F.
These stoves are popular among the ultralight backpacking and thru hiking crowd. They are simple and inexpensive. They burn off of denatured alcohol which readily available in small towns and remote areas. (Heet is the most commonly used) this type of stove has no valves or tubes. It is simply a small stove burning alcohol so it is therefore mainly good for boiling water. Some do come with simmer rings that will allow you to cook more involved meals Many backpackers build their own alcohol stoves out of cat food cans to save money and weight. The downsides to alcohol stoves is that for most a windscreen is mandatory, and the denatured alcohol does not burn as hot as other fuels so it takes longer to boil water.
Recommended Alcohol Stoves
Product Weight Features
Trangia Mini 28 T 5.75 oz Good pot stability, simmer ring included
White Box Alcohol Stove 1 oz Made from recycled materials, ultralight
Zelph Modified Starlyte 0.6 oz Ultralight, slow burning/conserves fuel
Solid Fuel Tablet Stoves
Like alcohol stoves, solid fuel stoves are another very simple, inexpensive, and lightweight choice for backpackers. The “stove” basically just consists of a platform to place the tablet and some sort of pot support. You simply place a tablet into the stove, light it, and let it burn. These tablets usually have a burn time of around 10-12 minutes. Also like alcohol stoves, they have a slow burn time and can be affected by wind so you will need patience and a good wind screen. If you want to keep things simple and only boil water, this could be a decent choice for you. The downsides are that the tablets are more expensive and hard to find than alcohol or canister fuel, making them a tricky choice for thru hikers. These tablets are made from flammable chemical compounds and can give off toxic fumes and leave an oily residue on the bottom of you pot.
Recommended Solid Fuel Tablet Stoves
Product Weight Features
Esbit Pocket Stove 6.3 oz (including fuel) Includes 6 fuel tabs, 2 cooking positions
Trail Designs Gram Cracker 0.1 oz Use with Caldera Cone system, ultralight
Wood Burning Stoves
Wood burning stoves appeal to lightweight backpackers because they use tinder and small sticks for fuel. These stoves are a little bit heavier than the alcohol and solid fuel tab stoves but the trade off is that you will not have to lug fuel with you. If you are old-fashioned or like to have a campfire each night at camp this might be a solid option for you. Some models have a really cool feature that allows you to charge electronics with an attachable USB cord. Simmering food is possible but can be tricky because you have to bring the water/food to a boil and then continually monitor it, adding sticks as needed to keep it at a simmer. The downsides are that they can take a little practice to get the hang of, especially if conditions are wet. They would also not be allowed in burn ban areas or some high altitude areas.
Recommended Wood Burning Stoves
Product Weight Features
Bushbox Titanium Outdoor Pocket 5.6 oz Collapsible, Esbit compatible, 2 trivets for pot any size
Solo Stove Lite 9 oz Double wall for less smoke, fast boil time
BioLite ThermoElectric 33 oz Charges USB compatible devices
mkettle 13 oz Compact double walled kettle
Which Stove Type is Best for You?
Of course the last option for lightweight and ultralight backpackers is to go stoveless. If you think you might want to give that a go, check out my No Cook Meals page for some pointers on what types of food you can take. So, what’s your preferred backpacking stove type? If you have anything you’d like to add or any questions please leave a comment below!