lighting a backpacking stove

Types of Backpacking Stoves

From making coffee to melting snow to cooking gourmet meals in the backcountry, a stove plays a considerable role in the ease and enjoyment of mealtime on any backpacking trip. One of the simplest ways to narrow down what type of backpacking stove you need is by how they’re powered—primarily liquid fuel and canister fuel—as there are positives and negatives to each fuel type. 

Liquid Fuel Backpacking Stoves 

As tried-and-true performers, backpackers have relied on liquid fuel stoves for decades. Liquid fuel stoves use special refillable bottles that allow operators to control their pressure and how much fuel to carry. Most liquid fuel stoves burn best when used with white gas, but many can also operate on kerosene, diesel, or unleaded automotive gas, along with other fuels. 

PROS:

  • Ability to burn multiple fuel types—great for international travel, especially in less developed countries, where camp fuel isn’t easily found 
  • Easy to tell how much fuel is left
  • Allow you to pack only the amount of fuel you need
  • Perform well in all conditions, including in cold weather and at high altitude 
  • Easier to cook a wide variety of foods and works well with most cookware 
  • Field maintainable 

CONS:

  • Less user friendly than other stove types—they require priming to light, refueling, and regular maintenance 
  • In general, they’re heavier, less packable, and cost more than canister stoves 
  • There is a risk of fuel spills/leaks
  • Using fuels other than white gas can cause issues like clogged fuel lines and jets 

Canister Fuel Backpacking Stoves 

Stoves powered by canister fuel include a diverse collection of stoves—including traditional canister stoves, along with both integrated and remote stoves—that are designed to address some of the shortcomings of traditional offerings. 

In general, the strengths and weaknesses of canister stoves are: 

PROS:

  • Easy to operate—no priming necessary
  • Efficient burning
  • Require minimal maintenance 
  • Lightweight and packable compared to liquid gas stoves 
  • Sealed fuel canisters prevent leaks and spills

CONS:

  • Cold weather and high altitude can cause canisters to freeze and depressurize 
  • Difficult to tell how much fuel is left in a canister—particularly in the field 
  • Canister fuel is not as readily available as other fuel sources, which is especially true when traveling internationally 
  • Prepackaged fuel is more expensive than liquid fuel 
  • Environmentalists among us have mixed feelings about single-use canisters (remember to recycle!)

INTEGRATED STOVES: Designed so the stove and pot work together, integrated stove systems are extremely efficient at transferring heat, burning fuel, and boiling water quickly. Because of this, they’re particularly popular with backpackers who primarily eat freeze-dried and dehydrated meals. The notable drawback of integrated stove systems is that they require specific cookware and are generally heavier than their traditional counterparts. 

REMOTE STOVES: One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional canister stoves is that you cannot use a windscreen with them—it can cause the canister to heat up and potentially explode. Remote stoves connect to fuel canisters via a hose which allows you to use a screen safely. An added benefit of remote stoves is the ability to invert fuel canisters, which improves their cold-weather performance. The negative is that the addition of more parts adds up to weight. One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional canister stoves is that you cannot use a windscreen with them—it can cause the canister to heat up and potentially explode. Remote stoves connect to fuel canisters via a hose which allows you to use a screen safely. An added benefit of remote stoves is the ability to invert fuel canisters, which improves their cold-weather performance. The negative is that the addition of more parts adds up to weight. 

It’s worth noting that most stove manufacturers recommend powering their stoves with their brand of fuel. However, most canister stoves and fuel canisters use the same Lindal valve, which means that the majority of screw-threaded gas canisters should pair with most screw-threaded stoves. 

Other Types of Backpacking Stove Fuels

Liquid and canister fuel stoves make up the overwhelming majority of stoves you’ll see in the backcountry; however, there are some alternatively powered stoves you might see in camp and on the trail. 

ALCOHOL STOVES: Burning cheap and readily available denatured alcohol has made alcohol stoves popular with thru-hikers and the ultralight backpacking crowd. Other reasons why backpackers choose alcohol stoves are their lightweight and inexpensive cost—in fact, many choose to make their own out of aluminum soda cans or cat food containers. Despite the benefits of alcohol stoves, they burn considerably slower than both liquid and canister stoves and are notoriously tricky to cook with.

SOLID FUEL STOVES: Another favorite among thru-hikers and weight-watching backpackers are stoves powered by solid fuels such as ESBIT. Similar to alcohol stoves, solid fuel is inexpensive, lightweight, and extremely portable. Disadvantages of solid fuel include its lack of availability, a propensity for leaving a residue on cookware, the chemical odor it emits when burning, and longer cook times. 

Whether you’re looking for a liquid fuel workhorse to feed a big group at basecamp or an ultralight canister stove to keep your energy up on a fast-and-light, multi-day blitz of your favorite backpacking route, Enwild has a stove to meet your needs.

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