There are a lot of backpacking stoves, each designed to meet the specific wants/needs of just about anyone. Micro-stoves, the smallest type of all, are specifically designed for SOLO backpackers (or light/ultralight hikers) trying to keep pack weight/bulk down. For them, micro-stoves are specifically designed to be minimalist in nature, with only the barest essential features, to keep size/weight down, and those buyers are fine with that!
Be it cars, computers, or camping stoves, performance (be it fuel consumption, wind resistance, or even safety) depends primarily on the PERSON and whether they adhere to basic best practices!! For example, if you buy an ultralight, three-point, sitting stool, rated for one person, you can presume it's safe to be used as a sitting stool for one person. So if you sit on it, and it breaks, you have a valid complaint. If you use it as a ladder, or lean back-and-forth vigorously (like a rocking chair), or you try to support two people with it, and it breaks, you screwed yourself because you were not using it as intended! In any case, the "failure" is in the PERSON, NOT the product. In litigation, we call this legal concept, "The Warranty of Merchantability."
However, that only addresses the durability of the product, performance and even safety (and possible lawsuits) can be effected by improper use. Therefore, durability, performance, and yes, safety requires intelligent and careful use of portable stoves (particularly micro-stoves). To do this, it helps to know what the "best practices" are.
Experienced outdoor enthusiasts (like myself) have the background to inherently know what those best practices are, those with little or no experience tend to guess which can cause anything from assumptions to accidents, which is why makers and marketers SHOULD include a list of best practices with their stoves in the form of a User's Manual. Sadly, that's not always the case.
I've constantly and consistently used the same micro-stove for about SIX Years now (not a single problem yet!!), so these practice points were written with my micro-stove in mind. However, many of these recommendations will likely relate to most, if not all, other backpacking stoves. What follows then, is my list of best practices, based on my OWN experience and common sense (no GUESSES, here!). If all you do is follow these simple suggestions, not only will you be happier with your stove, you'll likely be safer.
BASIC BEST PRACTICES
HEED WILDFIRE WARNINGS!
Canister/gas stoves, are MUCH preferred over other types of stoves (and even camp fires) by the Forestry Department for one simple reason, these stoves have an "off switch"! Even during extreme fire conditions, canister stoves may still be allowed while other forms of fire are banned. This makes a backpacking stove an important piece of gear (especially in certain areas).
IMPROPER USE WARNING
Most serious incidents with stoves involve novices, beginners, tourists, and the like, using big, cumbersome camping stoves that use wood, charcoal or multi-gallon LPG tanks as space heaters in sealed tents. Obviously, using ANY stove as a heater, moreover in a sealed tent, is a bad idea! Yet many experienced outdoor enthusiasts, like Jimmy Chin (renowned mountain climber), can occasionally be seen heating a meal inside their tent or portaledge (essentially a hanging tent).
The difference is EXPERIENCE! Nobody needs to tell an experienced outdoorsman the likes of Jimmy Chin about carbon monoxide, they know!! Which is why they make sure there's good air flow and they only use the stove as long as needed for cooking, and NEVER for heating!
CANISTER OVER-FILL WARNING
One way people extend their canister use is by overfilling the canister with a gas transfer valve. Obviously, this is NOT generally recommended for safety reasons, however if you nevertheless insist on doing this; do this in cold conditions and use any overfilled canisters at least once at your earliest opportunity (to relieve the stress overload as soon as possible).
Be EXTRA careful if the weather is warm or if there will be significant changes in altitude (NOTE: Heat or changes in altitude may not be necessary for overfill failure to occur). Keep overfilled canisters inside your mess kit and pack well inside your backpack to insulate it from sun/heat and damage. Inspect overfilled canisters at every opportunity until after first use.
The first sign of overfill failure is likely a bump/bulge on the convex underside (the canister may still be usable if careful, but should NOT be refilled, do NOT try to push/tap the bump back into place). If this continues, the canister will eventually become almost as round as a ball. To salvage the gas, you need to transfer the gas to an undamaged canister. As with all gas canisters you don't intend to use again, burn off any unspent fuel, then puncture the bottom with a can opener once or twice before discarding properly (this is necessary if you intend to recycle (as "mixed metal")).
CHECK STOVE PERIODICALLY
At least once a year, you should do a load-out inspection of all your gear so you can determine if anything should be replaced or upgraded. Where the stove is concerned, there are plenty of chances to inspect it; when you pack it, set it up, use it, break it down, etc. Pay particular attention to the burner plate and gas connection, they should be clean, unobstructed and undamaged, and make sure the pot supports are even and unbent.
CHECK GAS CANISTER WHEN BUYING
Gas canisters are well made, quality controlled, and regulated, so it's highly unlikely it will be defective, but the check is quick and easy. Pick up a few canisters and shake them, you should get the sense they are about equally full, if one has a slow leak, it will be significantly lighter. Look at the bottom, it should be perfectly convex. Check the connection point, it should be free of damage and defects. If there is anything abnormal, take it to a salesperson.
I keep my gas canisters (I usually bring two) in my mess kit's pot, and the cap to the gas canisters on until I start using them. I keep my stove in a plastic container, then I put those, and other related items, into a stuff sack which I pack so it's protected from heat and impact, and I often hang the sack and its contents with my food when I'm not cooking or eating.
USE ONLY TITANIUM/ALUMINUM COOK SETS
Backpacking stoves (particularly micro-stoves) are NOT designed for cooking massive meals for groups of people with cast-iron cookwear! They are made for use by just one or two people, making simple meals, using backpacking cookware, for a reasonable time, at a reasonable temperature!!! Using the proper type of cookwear not only helps keep baseweight down, and weight on the supports light, it also ensures efficient heat transfer from flame to food
PLACE ON LEVEL, STABLE, PROTECTED AREA
Treat your stove like your campfire; select a shaded, level, stable location, protected from easily burnable debris and overhangs, and from rain and/or wind (more on this later). Level, stable placement is important so it won't tip over and waste food or fuel or cause injury. ALWAYS have one hand on the pot handle when you stir, or scoop from, the pot. Of course, keep children and pets away, and keep it well enough away from yourself while cooking. NEVER leave it unattended while in use!
BE SURE THE STOVE IS OFF
When you're ready to assemble the stove, be sure there are no open flames near you, and be sure the stove is not in the on position before connecting to the gas canister to prevent wasted gas. This might seem obvious, but in packing the stove, you may move the valve.
ASSEMBLE GAS CONNECTION QUICKLY
To minimize wasted fuel, especially if you know attaching the stove will allow a little gas to escape, attach the stove quickly.
DO NOT USE COLD WATER
Typically, whether you're using freeze-dried or instant food, "cooking" actually means hydrating your food, so all you need is hot water, NOT boiling. Whenever possible, save fuel by warming the water in other ways, however slightly. If there's time and sun, I leave a water bottle or two in the sun. At night, I put a water bottle in my sleeping bag.
USE FAST COOKING FOOD
Freeze-dried and "instant" food obviously cooks faster and so will help conserve fuel. If you want to cook fresh vegetables, regular rice, etc., let the food soak/soften by itself in hot water. Frying is of course possible, but you may need to consider fuel consumption if you want to use the stove, but I try to use a very small camp fire for all meals especially frying and baking.
NEVER TURN THE FLAME UP TO 'HI'!
This is THE most obvious 'no-no' for fuel consumption and (for micro-stove haters) safety reasons! Not only is it the most unnecessary and wasteful thing you can do with your fuel, if left on hi, it could unnecessarily overheat the pot supports - it's a BACKPACKING stove, not your kitchen stove!
ALWAYS USE THE LID
You loose a lot of heat by not using the lid! That leads to longer cook times and more wasted fuel (besides, it keeps things from falling/flying into your food!) As always, there's a right way and a wrong way: after you put your food and water in the pot, put the lid on securely (this will bring the heat up inside quickly). As the water heats, the lid will begin to rise and release steam and water, reset the lid so excess steam can escape and lower the flame in slight increments (conserving fuel). Just before the food is sufficiently cooked...
LET THE FOOD'S OWN HEAT FINISH COOKING
Most camp cooking is really about hydrating food. You can do this by "cold soaking" (placing the food in a container, adding water, then closing it and waiting for the food to hydrate), which has the benefit of not needing ANY fuel, or turn the stove off when the water is hot (but before the food is fully cooked), then place the lid on securely. You might also want to wrap the container in a scarf, cozy, or you can make an insulated sleeve (those into "freezer-bag-cooking" will know what I'm talking about).
LEAVING THE STOVE AND CANISTER CONNECTED (?)
Repeatedly connecting and disconnecting the stove may allow a small amounts of fuel escape. If you plan to stay put for days, consider leaving the stove connected (just be sure it's out of the way and protected from the sun, of course).
Distill everything in your home down to its essence, and that's your backpack. Distill everything in your backpack down to its essence, and that's your survival kit. The same can be said about backing stoves; distill them down to their essence and that is a MICRO-stove. And THAT is precisely what light and ultralight backpackers want! As stated above, micro-stoves occupy this very particular niche of people who are typically more EXPERIENCED! Those who are unhappy with micro-stoves are likely neither a light/ultralight backpacker nor do they adhere to any best practices!!
As to safety and durability, again, I've used the SAME micro stove for six years, in all terrains (mountains, canyons, deserts, beaches/Islands), and weather, for days or weeks, even months at a stretch (I sometimes even take it to the local park!) and it has NEVER failed or faltered even once! THAT should speak volumes about the design's safety and durability!! Of course, as I've said, ALL stoves with an open flame design are vulnerable to wind.
The wind issue was ALWAYS obvious, even when I was still shopping my micro-stove. I considered a foldable windscreen, but I prefer multi-use items/gear, and it would have been just one more thing to pack. I found a windscreen in the form of a strip of Titanium, which I cut in half and wrapped around the canister and the stove, but there was heat transfer via conduction, so that set up never even made it to the street. Then I saw someone created a kind of cone that covered the flame only. It was a good idea, and I wanted to go in that direction, but again, it was still a 'one trick pony.'
HOBO STOVE SOLUTION
Before I bought a stove, I had always used various forms of the hobo stove. Hobo stoves have become almost a rite of assention among the more experienced survivalists and outdoor enthusiasts, so for years, that's what I used. Then I started using a chemical stove, similar to Esbit, for its convenience, but I still had a soft spot for my old hobo stove. So, I started using it with the chemical fuel.
By the time I decided to get a canister stove, I realized I still needed a hobo stove in case I ran out of fuel (or if I just wanted to extend my fuel!) So, the task was simple: keep the micro-stove set-up, keep the hobo stove, AND address the wind issue WITHOUT adding much weight OR bulk OR adding too many little things to the set up. And in a perfect world, it should all nest together! After a few iterations, SUCCESS!!!
Now, I have the option of using the windscreen as PART of my hobo stove, or I can use my micro-stove WITH a windscreen. I even made a slight mod' to my pot so I can hang it over a campfire. I can even adjust the height of the windscreen, if I need to. And the whole thing nests together like HAND-IN-GLOVE with very few added bits, BRILLIANT!!!
Most importantly, there is NO heat transfer to the canister! There is ample room between the windscreen and the canister, in fact during normal use, I can even keep touching the bottom of the windscreen. The top of the windscreen, near the pot, is a different matter, but there's ample room there to allow heat flow, the pot cooks just fine!
REVIEWS: CAVEAT LECTOR! (let the Reader Beware!)
Product reviews on personal websites, blogs and forums are always written by average people with NO background in science, engineering, product design or product testing (much less a PhD). If the reviewers limited their comments to their OWN personal experience with the product (similar to the comments on REI product pages), and did not make unqualified statements or inferences based on what they THINK are proper testing procedures, that might be fine.
HOWEVER, when reviewers present their personal opinions in the guise of "testing" or "research", they are committing a FRAUD upon the reader. First, by trying to convince the reader they are qualified to conduct product testing (never listing their qualifications), then by trying to convince the reader their testing adheres to established testing standards. What invariably happens is other average people, also without the proper background (or a PhD) read and/or pass-on those questionable opinions.
REAL product/consumer/comparative testing (a process of measuring the properties or performance of products) is conducted by PhD researchers, in reputable testing organizations (like Underwriters Laboratories), under controlled conditions, are meticulously recorded, and the results ALWAYS written-up in a "paper", and may be published in reputable professional/science journals. The specific objective depends on why the testing is done, but is ultimately to protect the public from junk-science and junk-scientists!!
At the other end of the spectrum is extensive, first-hand, EXPERIENCE with the product. This is real-world "testing" in the field under real-world conditions. THIS is when it's important to remain true to the "intended use" and "best practices" AND this type of testing has to be done over a significant amount of time such that a fair and reasonable (if not accurate) opinion can be rendered. Otherwise, it's just more GUESSING.