The fresh air feels nice today. The birds sing with the anticipation sensation of the coming Spring. Life is good. You sit down on the log by your tent and fire up the stove. It is a good thing you brought the best one along with you or you would have sure been cooked. In this article, I help you learn How to Choose the Best Ultralight Backpacking Stove for You. It might seem daunting, but you should be able to choose the right one in no time flat.
Let’s get started.
What Kind of Backpacking Are You Doing?
There is a big difference between a three-day trip and a week-long excursion. You might be going with a lot of people or just by yourself. Each stove is meant for different conditions, circumstances, and numbers of people. Think of what you will encounter where you are going. Will it be chilly most of the time? Are you high up above the ground? How many people will you need to feed?
If you envision the scenery and the conditions beforehand, then you can make you decision much more easily. Not all backpacking stoves work the same. Some will work excellent in particular conditions, but completely bomb in others.
What are the most common type of conditions you will be heading into? That will be your most important consideration.
Important Factors to Consider Before Making Your Decision
If you are backpacking, there are going to be three important factors to consider. As you pick up a stove and judge it in your hands, you need to keep an eye out for these three factors.
Weight – Because Heavy Things Take a Toll on You.
When backpacking, weight is an essential consideration. Not all fuel weighs the same. Some fuels are heavier than others. If you are carrying a wood stove, then you can pick up all the fuel you need on the trail. If you are only backpacking for a few days or a couple of nights, weight does not matter as much, but it matters a lot more when you are backpacking for a week. Your fuel needs to last you a while in that instance.
Efficiency – You are Less Stressed When Your Stove Works.
If your stove uses less fuel to produce the same amount of heat in a shorter amount of time, then you save weight. You can carry less knowing your stove needs to operate on less fuel compared to a lower quality stove. This factor matters the most above. Everything else hinges on efficiency.
Functionality at High Elevation and Cold Temperatures.
If you are mountaineering, then you are going to need a different type of stove from someone backpacking through Yosemite. In the former case, you are high up above the ground and you need a stove that responds to the lower air pressure and lower oxygen levels. Some stoves can adjust better to those conditions than others can.
The Three Main Types
The three main types of backpacking stoves are canister stoves, liquid fuel stoves, and a broad category called alternatives. Each type performs better in particular conditions as opposed to another. The efficiency varies as a result.
Canister Stoves are the Most Common Type.
These types of stoves are easy to use and low maintenance. There are two types: integrated canister systems and remote canister systems.
What’s the Difference Between Integrated Canister Systems and Remote Canister Systems?
Integrated canister systems are designed to boil water fast. If you just want your food fast and now, then this is the way to go. It is a bit lighter than the remote canister system. Unfortunately, integrated canister systems do not offer much in the way of being a chef. You cannot do much except go full blast with an integrated canister system. These types of systems boil water best, making them fuel efficient.
Because of the separation between canister and flame in a remote canister system, you do pack on a few more ounces as opposed to the integrated system. The first image is a remote canister system and the second image is an integrated canister system.
Pros of Canister Systems
- Best for lightweight backpacking and short trips.
- They are quick to light.
- If you are chef and like to cook, rest easy knowing the flame easily adjusts.
- The canister self seals, preventing leakages.
- Each canister comes with an in built pressure regulator for consistent heat output, perfect for cold weather and high elevation conditions.
Cons of Canister Systems
- The arms aren’t long enough for big pots.
- You do not know how much fuel you have left, so it is best to carry an extra canister. You can, though, ‘guesstimate’ the weight by hand weighing it.
- Cold weather can depressurize canisters, causing a weak flame.
- There is a higher cost of fuel as opposed to liquid fuel.
- You have to properly dispose of empty canisters.
- Do not work well in wind (not integrated canister systems though).
Liquid Fuel Stoves Work Best for Base Camp Cooking and Groups.
These all run on kinds of fuels. These kinds of stoves do take a bit of knowledge to operate since they are more complex than their canister counterparts. With these types of stoves, you need to do regular maintenance, cleaning the O rings, sorting out the tubes, and taking care of all the little parts.
To start your flame and get the fire going, you need to pump your fuel bottle. These stoves are also versatile. They can handle a wide array of conditions.
Pros of Liquid Fuel Stoves
- The low profile offers greater stability on uneven ground.
- You can tell how much fuel you have left by looking into the bottle.
- You do not need to discard the canister after each use. It is reusable.
- These perform best at high elevations and in cold temperatures.
- They can use a wide array of fuels: white gas, diesel fuel, kerosene, and canister fuel
Cons of Liquid Fuel Stoves
- You have to prime before each use.
- Regular maintenance is mandatory.
- Fuel spills are a thing (another reason not to cook in your tent).
- They weigh more than canister stoves.
- Multi fuel stoves can be pricey.
- Non white gas fuels have impurities which can clog the tubes and equipment over time.
Alternative Stoves Do Not Work for Most, But Work Best for a Specific Type of Outdoor Adventurer.
There are two types you are bound to encounter: wood burning and alcohol burning. Because they burn different types of fuels, alternative stoves offer the lightest weight cook systems. For the vast majority of people, these types of stoves have more drawbacks than benefits. If you are the average backpacker, then I would skip these types of stoves and stick to canister and liquid fuel stoves.
Pros of Wood Burning Stoves
- If you are a wilderness survivalist and know your way around nature, then you can be sure this will do a splendid job.
- They are simple and lightweight.
- Some models can generate electricity from the fuel burning.
- Many include a grill.
Cons of Wood Burning Stoves
- Rain makes finding dry fuel difficult.
- During burn bans or high elevation conditions, you will be prohibited from using a wood burning stove.
- They are gimmicky and hard to control.
- Water takes a while to boil.
Pros of Alcohol Burning Stoves
- Few parts means this is easy to maintain.
- Denatured alcohol is wide spread and easy to find in the US.
- The fuel burns silently.
- They work best at boiling water.
Cons of Alcohol Burning Stoves
- These have an easy susceptibility to wind, so a wind screen is a must.
- Denatured alcohol is hard to find outside the states, so you cannot really use this.
- It takes longer to boil fuel, cutting down on efficiency.
- They take skill to operate.
- They do not work well in large groups.
- You will need to clean your pots more often.
My Top 5 Usage Tips for Any Stove
A stove is only as good as the use it goes through. If you abuse and misuse a stove, then you are bound to run into trouble. If you use it properly and take good care of it, then you are bound to have it last for years to come.
1. Do Not Cook Inside Enclosed Spaces.
The only time you should have smoke and fuel inside an enclosed space is if you’re smoking pot (but not too much, everything is bad in overindulgence :)). Otherwise, the gas fumes and fuels can get to you. It is fine and dandy to have a windscreen, but the gases need to escape or else you risk carbon monoxide poisoning. You also risk the danger of a fire.
2. Stoves Operate Best on Level Ground.
A stove is only as good as the ground it operates on. I know sometimes the conditions will prevent the most level ground possible like when it comes to mountaineering for example, but you can still find relatively stable ground even in those situations. Try your best. If you find level ground, you get more fuel efficiency.
3. Always Check the Fuel Lines and Connections Before Use.
You do not want your fuel canister or bottle to explode in your face. Take the bit of extra time, only a minute or so, to carefully examine your stove and its fuel source. It could save you a trip to the hospital. If you do encounter any problems, be sure to bring a multi tool to do in field repairs.
4. Protect the Flame from the Elements.
Wind happens. You are going to encounter it. There is no way around the wind. It hits you in the face like a typhoon. On that note, your tent does not count. You need something separate from your tent which can allow the fumes to escape and keep the flame going.
5. Save Fuel by Cooking with a Tight Fitting Lid.
With increased efficiency, you save weight and stress. A lid reduces cooking time and the amount of fuel you use by extension.
If You Enjoyed This Piece, Please Check Out Another
Well, you should now be all set to go. You know the factors you need to consider and the pros and cons of all the options you have available to you. No two stoves are the same, so be sure to choose wisely. If you enjoyed this article, then you are bound to like another article, The Best Backpacking Backpacks of 2019. (I do update these types of articles on a yearly basis, so do not fret if it’s 2025 and the ‘2019’ part doesn’t look correct here :)). Check it out and you will do a lot to support this site.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!