When deciding how to choose the best backpacking stove for you, the following decision points will help you choose as there are many options:
Stove type: Backpacking stoves are loosely categorized by the type of fuel they use and how the fuel is stored.
Stove specs and features: Burn time, average boil time, weight and convenience features may help you narrow your choices.
Stove usage tips: Understanding some of the nuances of how a stove works will ensure that you’re making an informed decision and also getting the best out of your purchase when you’re out on the trail. And consider what type of food and how you will cook it.
My choice is the canister stove, which is lightweight and pretty inexpensive and is my go to when backpacking or hiking. I carry a titanium mug and no cooking pot as all my food is pre-made meals and only requires water to prepare.
Canister stoves are easy to use and very low-maintenance. They screw onto the threaded tops of closed fuel canisters that contain two pre-pressurized gases: isobutane and propane. Some of these stoves are incredibly small, fold up compactly and weigh only a few ounces. This makes them ideal for backpacking and are used by Lightweight and Ultralightweight backpackers.
The stove top screws into a fuel canister and unfolds (somewhat like a flower blossom) into a flat-pronged surface. The fuel canister itself has a wide circular base able to support your cooking pot. Once you are done cooking, the stove top folds back up into the palm of your hand for convenient storage.
- They're small and lightweight.
- Strong flame to fight against heavy wind.
- They’re quick and easy to light. No priming is necessary before lighting a canister stove. Simply turn the valve and light with a match, lighter or piezo-igniter which is a built in lighter spark, using the click of a button.
- The flame adjusts easily for a fast boil and simmers well (most models).
- Stable surface to cook on.
- The canister self-seals when you unscrew the stove, so there’s no worry about spills and leaks.
- Their arms may not be long enough to hold large pots securely.
- It’s tough to tell how much gas is left inside the closed canister, so you may want to carry an extra to be sure you don’t run out. (A small 4-ounce canister makes a good backup.)
- A windscreen should not be used with an on-canister stove because it can trap excessive heat and lead to fuel exploding.
- In cold weather, canisters can depressurize and produce a weak flame (unless the stove has a pressure regulator)
- Compared to liquid-fuel stoves, the cost of fuel is greater.
- Canister waste: Empty canisters need to be disposed of properly; you’ll want to research recycling options near you.
CANISTER STOVE TIPS
How to Measure Remaining Fuel
Shaking and estimating is not the most accurate. The best way to see how much fuel is left in the canister is to let it float in water. The part sticking above water will be the ‘air’ in the canister and therefore, indicate how much has been consumed. If the whole thing floats, you are outta luck (or fuel)!
Get a Windscreen
I thought a windscreen would add unnecessary weight. On the contrary, I came to learn how important they are to increase fuel efficiency… especially in the winter and in windy conditions. I’m always amazed at how slowly boiling water takes in winter time. Your canister fuel flows much slower in cold weather. Your stove is also fighting an uphill battle against heating colder water and a colder pot. The combination can drain your fuel while your water slooowly heats up. Help out your stove! But use with caution!
You don't need an expensive gismo for this, a double folded piece of aluminum foil will act as a windscreen - effectively blocking the wind and channeling the flame to heat your pot much more efficiently. Use caution as you do not want it too close to your heat source, allow air to move around the canister stove or you could cause your fuel to explode.
Only Bring What You Need
Canisters have a fixed amount of fuel. They generally come in 4, 8 and 16 oz. single-use containers. 16 oz. is too heavy to pack. The 4 and 8 oz. are a reasonable volume to carry. I found that a 4 oz. canister would last about a week. At that weekly rate, I use just enough to bring 500 ml or 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil once a day. On a cold night bring your fuel canister in your tent or sleeping bag to keep it warm to help it run optimally on those cold mornings.
Always test your gear ahead of time so you are comfortable using it and know that it works properly before you get out on the trail.
Canister stoves are a good option when backpacking in my opinion. I used them when hiking the PCT and on numerous other backpacking trips. They are perfect for boiling water for coffee or hot chocolate and rehydrating your meals. They boil water quickly (around 2 mins. 58 sec. but will vary by product) are easy to set-up and are maintenance free. The fuel is readily available (REI, Walmart, etc.) and are carried in most resupply stores.
I hope you found this article useful and look forward to seeing you on the trail,