Ultralight Backpacking Stove guide

Ultralight and light backpackers have many options when it comes down to choosing a camping and backpacking stove. These are the pros and con’s of alcohol stoves and canister stoves as well as solid fuel stoves and wood stoves.

Alcohol Stoves

Ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers love alcohol stoves because they can burn denatured alcohol, also known as meths in the UK. It is cheap and readily available at most hardware and drug stores. Alcohol stoves can be used to boil water and add it to meals in Mountain House or freezer bags. Some alcohol stoves also have simmer rings. An alcohol stove can be very sensitive to wind, so it must be packed with a windscreen. It takes 7-10 minutes to boil 2 cups of water. Alcohol fuel is also slower than other fuels.

The bottom line: It is easy to find inexpensive fuel in small towns for an alcohol stove.

Recommendations for Alcohol Stoves

  • Trangia Spirit (Alcohol) Stove (backpacking classic!)
  • White Box Alcohol Stove
  • Evernew Titanium Alcohol Stove

Canister Stoves

Two main components make up canister stoves: a stove head, and a pre-filled fuel canister. These canister stoves can be found at most outdoor stores. Jetboil’s models have an integrated pot, which is easy to pack and allows you to use more fuel for longer hikes. Canister stove fuel is hot, and can bring 2 cups of water to boil in just 4-5 minutes. The canister stoves can also be used to slow cook a meal by controlling how much fuel is being fed to the burner.

Canister stoves are less vulnerable to wind than alcohol stoves. They can also be used without windscreens because the gas contained in them is compressed under pressure. A downside to canister stoves is the difficulty of resupply when hiking long distances. They can only be purchased at outdoor stores that sell fuel canisters such as an REI or EMS. A small canister burns for about one hour, which makes it an ideal cook system for short hikes of 5-6 days duration.

Bottom line: Canister stoves can cook fast, some can even simmer meals and are a great option for short trips when you don’t need to worry about running low on fuel.

Canister Stoves Recommended

  • MSR Pocket Rocket 2
  • BRR 3000t Titanium UL Stove
  • MSR Windburner
  • Jetboil Flash Cooking Systems
  • Kovea Spider Remote Canister Stove

Stoves and Solid Fuel Tablets

Solid fuel tablets were created in the 1930’s for soldiers to use as a high-energy, smokeless fuel for heating food. The most common type of solid fuel is ESBIT. These 0.5 ounce tablets can burn for 12 minutes, and will boil 16 ounces water. To use solid fuel tablets, you will need a simple stove. Many of these stoves have a built in windscreen to increase fuel efficiency.

Solid fuel, like alcohol, is best used to boil water to rehydrate dried food. However, some stoves allow you to cook with Esbit tablets. Solid fuel tablets can be hard to find in small towns, and can leave oily residues on your cook pot.

Bottom line: Solid Fuel/Esbit Tablets work well for short trips, where you don’t need to replenish or for cooking with a wood stove.

Recommendations for Solid Fuel Stoves

  • Esbit Titanium Solid-Fuel Stove
  • QiWiz Ultimate Esbit System
  • Gram Cracker (for use in conjunction with a Caldera Cone

Wood Stoves

Wood stoves make a great camping stove choice if you’re camping or hiking in areas where downed wood can be readily found and the weather is dry. A wood stove is a firebox that looks like a can with vents to draw in oxygen. Fill them with small sticks about the same thickness as your finger. Next, light the top or bottom of the firebox and then stack a pot to boil water or make a meal. You can simmer water by boiling water and then heating the flame with enough wood to keep it slightly boiling.

A wood stove has the advantage that you don’t have to carry fuel, as you can find it everywhere. Wood stoves can be affected by rain so you will need an alternative fuel such as Esbit in order to cook or prepare stoveless meals.

The bottom line: Wood stoves can be a great option if you don’t want to carry as much fuel and still enjoy having a fire at night.

Wood Stoves Recommended

  • Solo Stove Lite Wood Stove
  • Emberlit Titanium Wood Stove
  • QiWiz Firefly UL Stove