What stove should I buy? This is a hard question to answer as it really has to do with what kind of backpacking you are doing. There are three main categories of stoves for backpacking. White gas, canister and alcohol. Here are my general recommendations:
Ultralight Summer Use: Alcohol
Easy, Light Summer Use: Canister
Winter/High altitude use: White Gas
I have written a stove type comparison chart. I picked 12 different categories and gave the advantages and disadvantages for each stove type.
Comparison of Stove TypesA detailed comparison of white gas, canister and alcohol fuel stoves.
|Best used for||Really shines at snowy/high altitude conditions. Still works great for summer.||Because of it's weight and ease of use it really shines for any trip other then snow camping.||The lightest summer backpacking stove ever. Works okay in the spring and fall.|
|Cold weather usage||The best option.||Depends, remote canisters can be great, otherwise not very good.||Not for melting snow, but fine for cooking.|
|General Ease of use||Hardest of all types to set up and get working.||Easiest of all||Hardest - you generally have to put in the exact amount of fuel needed, and you may need to refill during cooking.|
|Startup||Must prime and it can seem as if you are lighting a flamethrower.||Easy as it gets||Must prime, but it is not a big deal.|
|Simmering||On most models, it is very hard to do.||Easy as it gets||Not really an option, but the heat output is already lower then with white gas.|
|Boil Times||Boils water fast||Boils water fast||Slow boil time (this can be an advantage when rehydrating food)|
|Maintenance||Highest maintenance, but is fully field maintainable.||Lowest Maintenance, but cannot be repaired in the field||Lowest Maintenance, There is no fixing the stove because there is nothing to go wrong, except if the stove get crushed.|
|Fuel||Cheap, easy to find||Expensive, requires specific canister for your stove||Cheap, easy to find|
|Environment||Medium - Reusable canister. Uses petroleum fuel.||Lowest - Non-reusable canister, uses petroleum fuel.||Highest - Uses a renewable fuel and has a refillable fuel bottle. The stove can also be made from a used cat food can.|
|Durability||Very Durable||Medium Durability||Lowest Durability, if you step on a cat food can, it will crush! Commercial models are more durable.|
|Initial Cost||$90-160||$20-80 (It can get higher if you get the pot with it as a kit like Jetboil)||Free - $40|
White Gas stoves really shine at high altitudes and in cold, snowy conditions. The fuel is easy to find and is relatively cheap. The fuel puts out very high btu’s and has a high oz/btu ratio. There is, however a learning curve to using them. They have to “prime” before you can use them and while they are priming they are basically on fire. This can be a little disconcerting especially as they heat up the fire gets larger! You have to pump the canister with air manually. They are fully field maintainable (as long as you know how to do it). Most white gas stoves struggle to simmer, though there has been progress on this front with some of them. You can measure out the exact amount of fuel you need for that length of trip. One night, or 30 nights.
Note: Do you have a jet engine for a stove? Check out QuietStove. It makes a huge difference, though it is pretty spend at $60.
Canister Stoves are by far the easiest stoves to use. You turn on the gas, click the starter (most stoves these days have a push button igniter) and your stove is ready to use. Setup is usually very easy as well. You screw on the canister and light the stove, done. The canisters are WAY more expensive then liquid fuel stoves. Also, there is no measure on the side of the canisters, so you don’t know how much you have left. If you have a half full canister, you often have to bring two canisters for a weekend trip, so you can finish up the old canister, but also have enough fuel for the whole trip. If you are going on a single night trip, you still may need to bring a full canister, even if you won’t need much of it. Canister stoves do not work well in the snow/high altitude. There are some tricks, but generally, then will never work as well as a white gas stove.
The first alcohol stove I ever used
The alcohol stove that got me started down the ultralight path: The Beer Can Stove.
This is my current alcohol stove of choice. I am very impressed with the build quality and durability of this stove. It is not the cheap choice as it costs about as much as a canister stove set up. But you don’t have to have any special tools or know how. It has a simmer ring that will allow me to bake or simmer for 30 minutes with only 1 oz of fuel. Easy to light and no priming. Jon, the owner, is a really nice guy who is willing to answer all your questions and get you the set up that will work for you. He has done extensive research on dry baking, and has a lot of information on his site to share.
More information then you could ever want…I have used the simmer cat version of this stove on more then 30 trips. It is a great stove that will cost you about $5. It is the lightest stove I have ever owned or used.
This looks very promising for the homemade alcohol stove. It has a ton of features: simmer ring and snuffer cap in addition to what looks like a great all around stove. I will be building and testing this stove soon and will report back with what I find.
I have not yet built or used one of these, but I have plans to do so soon. It seems like a very cool idea.