How to choose the right lightweight camping stove – which one is right for you?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the large number of lightweight camp stoves there are to choose from? 

Do you find yourself asking “why are there so many types? Surely there must be one stove that I can use for everything? 

Sadly, there is not a ‘one stove fits all’ option. 

In recent years the advances in technology and design of camp stoves mean they boil faster, are more fuel-efficient, less bulky and lighter. The downside to these advances is the number of choices that are now available, which makes it incredibly hard to know how to choose the right one.

But don’t worry, I’m here to help. Let me talk you through what stove is best for what use, and then we can work out which one will be best for your upcoming adventure.

Lightweight Stove

What to consider when selecting your lightweight camp stove?

Whether your hiking, bike packing, mountaineering or any other adventurous activity, If you are going to be camping for more than a couple of nights then I would say a lightweight stove, so you can have something warm, is going to be a necessity in most cases. Not only can a hot meal at the end of a long day boost morale and give you something to look forward to, but it can also be critical to warm you up if you’re freezing cold or soaked through.

In order to choose the right camp stove, we need to know what functions it needs to serve and what conditions it will be put under. So firstly ask yourself the following questions:

Do you want to cook food or boil water? – These days, with fantastic dehydrated and freeze-dried meal options on the market (I recommend Firepot), it’s very easy to make yourself high-calorie breakfasts, dinners and hot drinks whilst only requiring to boil water. For this reason, a lot of the modern lightweight camp stoves are designed to boil water rapidly and efficiently, but not necessarily designed to ‘cook’ with. However, if you want the option to be able to cook more complex meals, you will definitely want a stove with good simmer control. Some canister stoves and liquified gas stoves have this feature, but not all of them.

What will the fuel availability be like? – Are you going to be carrying all the fuel you need for your entire journey, or is the trip too long and you will need to purchase more fuel along the way? What kind of fuel is available in the part of the world you will be travelling through?

What will the weather conditions be like? – Lightweight camp stoves don’t like the wind, but some stoves have been designed to perform much better in windy conditions than others, such as an integrated canister stove system. Similarly only certain fuel sources will burn in extremely low temperatures, so for winter use, you may consider using a liquid fuel stove. Winter stoves are designed to melt snow to create drinking water and usually lack the ability to simmer to cook meals well. 

Is it simple to use? – Some canister stoves are available with integrated sparking units, so you don’t need a lighter or matches to ignite your stove. While they are incredibly convenient, they have a tendency to wear out or could just break while on your trip so bear that in mind if you are heading somewhere very remote. Some stoves require ‘priming’ to work properly. Priming is essentially preheating. You light a small amount of fuel in the stove and give it time to warm up. When the stove gets hot enough it will work as designed. Most liquid fuel stoves require priming with every use. Liquid stoves typically require you to take some spare parts and tools with you as they will need some maintenance on longer trips.

Of course, price and weight are also a factor, but I wouldn’t start with either of these. There is no point just buying an expensive stove if it’s not going to do the job you need it to, likewise don’t buy the lightest stove if you’re heading off to a harsh cold environment! It’s super important you firstly work out the TYPE of stove you need, based on function and conditions using the questions above, and only THEN narrow down your options with price and weight, depending on what is or isn’t important to you. 

What Type Of Stove Is Right For You?

There are 6 main types of stove:

Integrated Canister Stove System – combines a stove with a heat exchanger cooking pot. These boil water very fast, are often more wind resistant and fuel-efficient than small canister stoves, but less versatile for cooking, and are sometimes heavier.

Canister Stove – fantastic for multi-day adventures backpacking, where space and weight are concerns. They also simmer well and are simple to use.

Liquid Fuel Stove – These separate the stove from the fuel bottle, allowing for a more stable and versatile cooking platform as well as for the use of a windscreen. Liquid fuel stoves perform under the harshest and coldest of conditions and allow for the use of multiple fuels found during international travel, but are probably too large and too heavy for most adventures.

Alcohol Stove – Alcohol stoves are very simple and very cheap, but you can’t control the flame, they are very slow to boil water and are not great in the wind.

Wood Stove – These can be convenient if natural ‘dry’ fuel is easily available, but won’t work on trips above the tree line or in desert environments. Also, fire bans can often prohibit the use of this type of stove.

Solid Fuel Stove – They burn prepackaged fuel cubes which are cheap and very lightweight, but the fuel can be hard to resupply, plus they are slow and the flame can’t be controlled.

I personally only use the first three types, and between these I have something to suit the needs of every one of my adventures. 

I have an MSR Reactor integrated canister stove system which I use for mountain trips where I will be melting snow or trips where I want to boil water for two people using as little fuel as possible. This is probably the fastest most fuel-efficient stove you can buy, it’s a powerhouse but is probably overkill for many trips. I would recommend the MSR Windburner (best in the wind) or the Jetboil Minimo (has a simmer feature) if you don’t need something as powerful as the Reactor.

I have an MSR Pocket Rocket 2 canister stove, which is a tiny super lightweight stove that I use more than any of the others. I can vary what pots I take with me to suit different trip needs. This is a great 3 season stove, fantastic value for money, but not great in the wind.

Finally, I have two different types of liquid fuel stove, an MSR Whisperlite for winter use and remote international travel. Then I have an MSR XGK for polar expeditions.

You may have noticed that all my stoves are by the manufacturer MSR, I’m not sponsored by them, I just like their products. They have never let me down, so I have stuck with what I trust. There are of course a number of other brands that make fantastic stoves and I have included a few of these below.

So let’s look at my three types of stove systems in a little more detail.

Canister Stove

These are great stoves for couples or solo hikers who want minimal weight and easy cooking, and as I mentioned before the type of cooker I use most. 

These stoves typically screw directly onto a fuel canister, filled with isobutane-propane. With a canister stove, there’s no priming, pumping, or maintenance of any kind. Simply screw in your stove and light it up for a quick meal. You will need to add the pot to this stove to cook anything, but you have the flexibility to use different pots depending on what you want to cook. These stoves also have adjustable simmer control allowing you to cook up some pasta make some porridge or even fry up some bacon, in addition to the standard function of boiling up some water. While manufactures will usually recommend you use their brand of gas, the canisters are interchangeable between brands.

The main downside with canister stoves is that the gas canisters can’t be refilled, you’ll need to purchase another compatible isobutane fuel canister. These fuel canisters are very easy to find in outdoor stores and online, but if you’re adventuring internationally or in remote locations, you might struggle to find them regularly.  Also, fuel for canister stoves is slightly more expensive and they don’t work well in extreme cold.

PROS

  • Light & compact
  • Fast boil times
  • Very easy to use
  • Adjustable heating temperature so you can cook real food as well as boil water

CONS

  • Slightly more expensive fuel
  • Can be harder to find fuel internationally
  • Not as good as liquid fuel stoves in extreme cold
  • Hard to gauge how much gas is left in the cylinders
  • Don’t work well in the wind so you will need to find a sheltered spot

Best for: Lightweight hiking and bike packing

Best Features: Lightweight and small.

Worst Features: Don’t like the wind much.

Integrated Canister Stove System

These are great for shorter trips where weight is not an issue, and when all you need it to do is boil water fast and be fuel-efficient. 

An integrated stove system includes everything you need to boil water, including a stove, a cooking pot, wind protection, the canister will fit inside the pot and sometimes a stove stand. Although you can buy slightly larger versions of these systems the majority of them on the market are designed for the solo user. Their design allows them to be used in the wind without reducing their fuel efficiency or boil time too much, this does make the unit a little heavy. With their main goal to boil water FAST, it means that they are not very good for cooking real food in them. There are a few exceptions like the Jetboil Minimo, as they have added a simmer function to this, however, it’s still only really designed to boil up some pasta, I’m not sure you could be too creative with your cooking plans. Plus these integrated cooking pots are never that easy to clean up well.

Some models have built-in ignition units, so you don’t need a lighter or matches, making them very convenient. However, it’s also an extra part/feature that could stop working leaving you without a stove, so some people prefer to go for a model without this feature.

Pros

  • Fuel is readily available worldwide
  • Wind resistant compared to other stove types
  • Very fast and as such, they use very little fuel
  • Nothing more you need to buy
  • The newer models have built-in ignition units

Cons

  • Expensive upfront purchase
  • Not easy to do field repairs on
  • Carry matches, cigarette lighter or fire steel,  just in case it’s really cold or the ignition mechanism doesn’t work
  • Not great for cooking real food, designed for boiling water
  • Heavy for a solo user but when shared between two, the weight is not so much of a problem

Best for: Shorter trips

Best Features: Boiling water fast

Worst Features: Not great at other type of cooking

Liquid Fuel Stove

These make fantastic winter stoves, as they are the only stoves that perform well in very cold temperatures. They are also great for when you aren’t sure what fuel will be available, as they can be used with different fuel types.

They can be heavier and bulkier than other types of stove, so are often used by two or more people, and they also require priming every time you use them as well as much more maintenance over time than canister stoves, which can make them a little more complicated if you are new to stoves. On a plus point, this means you can actually maintain them and fix them in the field if they go wrong, unlike canister options. For certain adventures, these stoves are 100% the perfect choice, whether that’s a winter mountaineering expedition or an international multi-country adventure. 

PROS

  • Fuel is less expensive
  • Fuel bottles are refillable and it’s easier to see how much fuel you have left
  • Good for melting snow on winter treks in extremely low temperatures
  • Can be better for international travel where you don’t know what fuel you will be able to purchase

CONS

  • Heavy & bulky
  • More expensive to purchase
  • More complicated to use as you need to prime them
  • Can be dangerous – fuel can spill when priming
  • More maintenance necessary
  • They are loud

Best for: Winter or International travel.

Best Features: Multiple fuel options, fixable.

Worst Features: Bulky.

I hope this has helped you narrow down the options to what is going to suit you best? If you’re still unsure or have a question, then please send me a message as I am more than happy to help where I can.

Once you have chosen your new stove, here a few tips for using it:

Never cook inside your tent. As well as being a fire hazard, it can cause carbon monoxide poising and death. I know first hand, as it has nearly killed me. On the Southern Patagonian Icecap expedition, during a monster storm, we were forced to cook inside the tent. Within minutes I had a full seizure before I stopped breathing altogether. I was thankfully resuscitated by my expedition partner. Although you should NEVER cook in your tent, if you HAVE to due to a storm like I did, then make sure you keep the door open and ventilate the tent well.

Always bring some waterproof matches in your spares and repairs bag, even if your stove has a built-in ignitor button (as it can break).

Knocking your dinner onto the ground is heartbreaking after a long tiring day. So set up on the flattest spot possible. If you plan to cook large meals in big pots, get a stove with a wide base that will rest securely on the ground. Tall integrated canister stove systems can be a little unstable due to their shape, so cook with care.

Don’t wrap a windscreen all the way around a canister stove like you might a liquid fuel stove. This is because they can cause the canister to overheat and explode.

Feel free to ask me any questions, happy to help where I can. 

You will mostly find me over on Instagram @katiejaneendurance but you can also follow along over on Facebook and Pinterest.

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