The Best Backpacking Stoves of 2021: Staff Picks

Our experts are fired up about their inferno contraptions.

8 reviews with an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars
Two backpackers start cooking dinner with a backpacking stove

Editor’s note: Inventory can be unpredictable with COVID-19, so some of the items in this list might be temporarily out of stock when you read this guide. We’ll do our best to update it accordingly.


Few things fuel the appetite better than a grueling day on the trail. And in order to sate the savage hiker beast, you need a stellar cooking appliance—one that can reliably whip up a hot meal in a hurry. If you also find one that isn’t overly heavy, bulky or gluttonous with its own fuel reserves, so much the better. Luckily, backpacking stoves these days tend to fit the bill, but which is best for you?

When evaluating stoves, make sure it’s an apples-to-apples comparison—or, in this case, a canister-stove-to-cannister-stove or an alcohol-stove-to-alcohol-stove comparison. At the bottom of this article, we detail why you should decide your preferred fuel source first, then compare and contrast models. Isobutane/propane canister stoves rule the market these days, largely because they are so convenient. But other types of stoves can also be worthy cooking companions (say, if you’re at altitude or going ultralight). That’s why we divided our picks into canister stoves and non-canister stoves, and broke down non-canister stoves into liquid-fuel stoves, alcohol stoves and wood stoves. There are options to fit multiple budgets and gear preferences.

So read on for our staffers’ favorite cookers and find the backpacking stove that’s best for you, or jump ahead.

 

Canister Stoves

 

Jetboil MiniMo System

Best Canister Stove System Overall

Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System

  • Stove type: Canister
  • Fuel burned: Isobutane/propane
  • Average boil time (1 liter): 4 min. 30 sec.
  • Burn time (maximum flame): 120 min. (8 oz. canister)
  • Dimensions: 5 x 6 in.
  • Weight: 14 oz.
  • Price: $149.95

Not all backcountry cuisine is the result of pouring boiling water into a pouch. That’s why our pick for the best stove system for backcountry cooks brings a little more finesse to the table. Whether you need a rapid boil or a slow simmer, the Jetboil MiniMo delivers. The secret is what Jetboil calls its “proprietary regulator technology,” which accomplishes a few patented tricks, including giving you the ability to make incremental heat adjustments. Of course, you don’t need to be a James Beard-winning chef to appreciate a flame that you can truly fine tune. REI staffer Tim Bird of REI Co-op’s Framingham, Utah, store sums it up this way: “When I cook pasta with the MiniMo, I never end up with a burnt hockey puck in the bottom of my pot.”

That same pressure regulator is also to praise for the MiniMo’s better-than-expected performance in subfreezing temps. (Because lowering temperature leads to a corresponding lowering of fuel pressure, canister stoves can falter in cold conditions. Read more below.) The MiniMo’s pressure regulator compensates by increasing the amount of pressure outflow to the burner. This all lets the MiniMo deliver consistent heat at low temps or when the fuel canister’s pressure runs low near the bottom of the tank, points out Ingrid Johnson, who has worked at both the REI Seattle store and now with the co-op’s online sales team.

Additional perk: The heat exchanger built into the included 1-liter pot gives you better fuel efficiency than more compact canister stoves because it efficiently captures and retains burner heat that would otherwise dissipate into the surrounding air. “That means less fuel to carry on longer trips or with bigger groups, and ultimately less waste,” Johnson says. “I used my MiniMo for two meals a day, and sometimes a coffee break, on a two-week trip in New Zealand in January 2020. I was astonished by how little fuel I went through compared to my old canister stove.” True story: The MiniMo boasts the longest burn time in this line-up.

Rounding out the MiniMo’s virtues are a convenient piezo igniter (just push a button to ignite it) and the insulated 1-liter pot/mug that’s big enough to stow the burner inside, saving space and keeping things tidy inside your pack. Buy here.

 

MSR WindBurner System

Best Canister Stove System in Windy Conditions

MSR WindBurner System

  • Stove type: Canister
  • Fuel burned: Isobutane/propane
  • Average boil time (1 liter): 4 min. 30 sec.
  • Burn time (maximum flame): 95 min. (8 oz. canister)
  • Dimensions: 8.3 x 8.3 x 4.5 in.
  • Weight: 15.5 oz.
  • Price: $149.95

Stove specs are scrutinized in a controlled test environment, which is too bad because most of us will never prepare our freeze-dried entrées in a laboratory. And, unfortunately, a lot of speed burners in the lab don’t fare so well on windswept mountain passes and gusty shorelines. Backpacking expert Jenny Askey of REI Co-op’s Boulder, Colo., store, puts it this way: “Even a wind of 5 to 10 mph can really affect the efficiency of your stove if it’s not screened properly.”

Enter the MSR WindBurner, which is engineered to retain its cooking mojo in blustery conditions. MSR started by integrating the burner and cookpot in a stove system (like the Jetboil MiniMo and Jetboil Zip), then took it further by encircling the radiant burner inside a windshield ring to block breezes from all directions. A heat exchanger (which retains heat that would otherwise dissipate) and a pressure regulator (which maintains a consistent fuel pressure in the burner) further enhance cooking efficiency, even when outside temperatures drop and the canister’s fuel level gets low. So just how wind-hardy is the WindBurner? Askey offers up this tale from a recent trip in the Rockies where gusts reached 50 mph: “We had a guy on that trip who used his WindBurner, and he had zero problems.”

The WindBurner’s 1-liter pot features many of the same touches you find with other stove systems: an insulating cozy and a lid that lets you sip out of one side or strain fluids out of the other. MSR also makes a wide range of additional cookpot sizes and styles that can integrate with the WindBurner. Buy here.

 

Jetboil Zip System

Best Canister Stove System for Backpackers on a Budget

Jetboil Zip System

  • Stove type: Canister
  • Fuel burned: Isobutane/propane
  • Average boil time (1 liter): 5 min.
  • Burn time (maximum flame): 60 min. (8 oz. canister)
  • Dimensions: 4.1 x 6.5 in.
  • Weight: 11.75 oz.
  • Price: $84.95

System stoves (like the Jetboil MiniMo and MSR WindBurner), which include a pot that integrates with the stove, have many virtues, starting with the fact that you don’t have to buy separate cookware for it. Considering that even a small, inexpensive cookpot can cost upwards of $30, the Jetboil Zip’s two-digit price tag is a bargain for backpackers looking to upgrade to a system. The included pot—more like a super-size mug—is high quality, too. It has an insulated cozy around it to keep fluids inside warm and fingers outside cool, plus an innovative lid that allows you to sip your morning brew on one side or strain out your pasta water on the filtered opposite side (preferably at different times).

Geoff Irons, a camping expert in REI Co-op’s Colorado Springs, Colo., store, agrees: “The Zip is our best economy system stove for sure. I’d prefer it had a piezo igniter, but you can’t beat it for the price.” At the price, Jetboil skips out on the push-button piezo igniter, so you’ll have to pack a lighter or matches, but such a sacrifice doesn’t affect the Zip’s usability.

System stoves like the Zip do a serviceable job of blocking wind, thanks to a snug, stable connection between stove and pot. Irons, who teaches wilderness first-aid courses, points out that, “According to NOLS statistics, after sunburn, stove accidents are the second leading cause of burns in the wilderness.” And so he praises the Zip for its stability. Like all Jetboil canister stove systems, this one also includes a tripod that anchors the fuel canister at the base of the system for even more security.

It’s worth noting that the Zip differs from Jetboil’s MiniMo in other key respects, too: It doesn’t have a pressure regulator to enhance cold-weather performance, its cookpot is smaller, and it has a slightly less powerful, less precisely controlled burner. But going with this solid performer will also save 2.25 oz. in your pack and $65 in your gear budget over the MiniMo, which is why you see so many Zips in the wild. Buy here.

 

MSR PocketRocket 2

Best Standalone Canister Stove

MSR PocketRocket 2

  • Stove type: Canister
  • Fuel burned: Isobutane/propane
  • Average boil time (1 liter): 3 min. 30 sec.
  • Burn time (maximum flame): 60 min. (8 oz. canister)
  • Dimensions: 3.1 x 1.7 in.
  • Weight: 2.6 oz.
  • Price: $44.95

For folks who just want to boil some water in the backcountry, this is your rig. “It’s almost everyone’s first backpacking stove,” says Tim Bird in REI Co-op’s Framingham, Utah, store, who still has his original MSR PocketRocket, along with a few updated versions he’s gotten over the years. The venerable stove is simple, reliable, lightweight and affordable—what’s not to love?

The PocketRocket 2 is also a triumph of minimalist design: just a burner with a flip-out wire control key and fold-out pot supports. The time from popping open its micro case to full-throated burner roar is quick, as is the cooking speed: It has the fastest boil time of any stove on this list. One reviewer says: “I actually think it’s far and away the best of its kind. Packs small and light, takes less than a minute to set up and turn on and boils a few cups of water within two to three minutes.”

At just 2.6 ounces, the PocketRocket 2 is a shade lighter than its predecessor. It’s also slightly more compact. Even the cookware support is improved. A few users of past PocketRockets had complained that its pot supports were a little rickety, but the ones on this model are more secure thanks to an updated support bolt that provides better tension. Serrated pot-support edges also contribute to creating a secure cookware perch atop the stove. Buy here.

Related MSR models: The MSR PocketRocket Deluxe ($69.95) gives you a push-button piezo igniter and a pressure regulator that maintains a consistent cooking performance in cold temperatures and when the canister is getting low on fuel. With those upgrades, the Deluxe costs $20 more and weighs 0.3 ounces more (2.9 oz.) than the PocketRocket 2.

 

Non-canister Stoves

 

MSR WhisperLite International

Best Liquid-Fuel Stove

MSR Whisperlite International

  • Stove type: Liquid fuel
  • Fuels burned: White gas, auto gas, kerosene
  • Average boil time (1 liter): 3 min. 30 sec.
  • Burn time (maximum flame): 110 min. (20 fl. oz. of white gas)
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 5 x 4 in.
  • Weight: 10.9 oz.
  • Price: $99.95

Talk to any guide or longtime REI employee and chances are they have at least one WhisperLite stove in their gear closet. Staffer Ingrid Johnson’s white-gas version of the MSR icon is still going strong: “Classic. It was my first stove; I got it after high school graduation in ’97. I’ve replaced one part and cleaned it out once since then. It’s still cruising. It was my only stove for nearly 20 years and I still bring it anytime it’s going to be sub-freezing.” Since you pressurize the fuel bottle with a pump, colder temps won’t make it sputter or fail like a canister stove that loses fuel pressure as the temperature of its fuel drops.

Another benefit of a stove like the MSR WhisperLite that relies on white gas is in the economics. White gas, which you can buy at most sporting goods stores, tends to cost less per ounce than isobutane/propane. That makes it a great option for both group trips and winter trips where you may be burning through a ton of fuel every day, Johnson points out. (Downsides: Liquid-fuel stoves tend to be heavier than isobutane/propane canister stoves, and can also be sooty—especially if you burn kerosene.)

Those are the primary hallmarks of the regular WhisperLite, and the International improves upon the winning design by adding multifuel capability. Being able to run on white gas, auto gas or kerosene makes this iteration versatile enough for major trips abroad where fuel options can differ from those in the U.S. And if you saved “buying fuel” for the drive to the trailhead, you’re much likelier to find a suitable option at a gas station or grocery store along the way. Staffer Geoff Irons, from REI Co-op’s Colorado Springs, Colo., store, remembers a time when having that multifuel capability saved a trip that took him merely across the country. “We’d driven from the East Coast to Colorado and planned to get fuel at the mountain shop in the town near our trailhead. The store was closed, though, so we walked across the street and filled up at the town gas station.” Buy here.

Related MSR models: The MSR WhisperLite Universal ($139.95) gives you even more fuel versatility because it burns the same range of liquid fuels as the WhisperLite International while also working with isobutane/propane fuel canisters. It costs an extra $40.

 

TOAKS Titanium Siphon

Best Alcohol Stove

TOAKS Titanium Siphon

  • Stove type: Liquid fuel
  • Fuel burned: Alcohol
  • Average boil time (1 liter): 11 min.
  • Dimensions: 2.13 x 1.5 in.
  • Weight: 0.7 oz.
  • Price: $34.95

Alcohol stoves have a niche following, primarily among ultralighters and thru hikers who are drawn to the miniature contraptions like moths to a flame. Our pick in this category, the TOAKS Titanium Siphon, is just a wee dram more than half an ounce. (Imbiber’s note: The stove will not run very long on scotch or whisky.)

The other allure of an alcohol stove is that it’s a relatively inexpensive setup. (A classic gear hack is to make your own alcohol stove from a soda can.) The denatured alcohol fuel required is also one of the cheaper fuels you can buy. Thus, it might be said that paying $35 for an alcohol stove, even a featherweight titanium one, is violating the spirit of the thing. But staffer Tim Bird makes the case this way: “This TOAKS stove is precision-machined to burn as efficiently as possible.” Cooking efficiency is one thing all alcohol stoves lack, so there’s definite value in having one that’s more fully engineered. The Siphon features double-wall construction, which channels vaporized steam up through those double walls to boost cooking performance. Its cooking speed—11 minutes to boil a liter of water—is still slowest in our roundup.

Another caveat is that alcohol stoves lack burner control—to turn it on, you light it, to turn it off, you blow it out. Having an open flame also means that alcohol stoves might be banned in some areas at certain times of the year because of wildfire regulations.

Customer reviewers are big fans of the TOAKS Titanium Siphon. One sums it up this way: “This is by far my favorite alcohol stove. It is so simple, with no extra parts; it couldn’t be easier to use. It boils water efficiently, and it’s even easy to pour any excess alcohol back into a storage bottle without spilling it.” Buy here.

 

Solo Stove Lite

Best Wood-Fuel Stove

Solo Stove Lite

  • Stove type: Wood
  • Fuel burned: Wood
  • Average boil time (1 liter): 8 min.–10 min.
  • Dimensions: 3.8 x 4.25 in.
  • Weight: 9 oz.
  • Price: $70

If we were to hand out a People’s Choice Award, the Lite from Solo Stove would be the clear winner. At publication time, it has garnered an average score of 4.9 (out of 5 stars) from more than 400 customer reviewers. One says: “Takes anything you throw at it, packs small, easy to use, best gear purchase in recent memory.” Another: “It is the greatest little stove that I have had the pleasure of using.”

Wood-burning backcountry stoves, like alcohol burners (above), have a niche—and passionate—following, but for different reasons. Because they can literally burn pinecones, dry leaves and twigs, wood burners offer freedom from having to pack fuel and fuel canisters. Not having to dispose of spent fuel canisters is another plus. No other type of stove offers these distinct advantages.

That’s not to say that packing along a stove that runs off of scavenged fuel doesn’t present issues. Finding fuel sources that are right-sized and appropriately dry is sometimes a challenge. Backcountry regulations in certain places might forbid their use in areas where wood sources are scare or because of wildfire dangers. Wood stoves’ open flame and lack of burner control makes them more of a fire hazard, as well—and limits their use to meals that require only boiled water.

But if that’s your jam, look no further. In the wood-stove genre, Solo Stove has a reputation for meticulous attention to combustion detail. The Lite Stove has a double-wall chamber that channels air down to fan the fire and pulls heated air upward, where a cooking ring directs it to the center of your cookpot. An internal grate holds the fuel while allowing the ashes fall below. There’s no fuel efficiency spec for wood stoves, but the Lite Stove supposedly requires less fuel to keep the flame alive than other wood-fired cookers. Buy here.

Related Solo Stove models: The Solo Stove Titan ($90) heats up a bit faster: It boils water in 4 to 6 minutes compared to 8 to 10 minutes for the Lite Stove. The tradeoff is that the Titan Stove costs $20 more and weighs a few more ounces: 1 lb. 0.5 oz. compared to Lite Stove’s 9 oz.

 

Buying Advice

Backpacking stove choice begins with fuel choice because a stove’s design revolves around the characteristics of its fuel source. We cover a few considerations relating to a stove’s fuel type in the reviews above. For a more thorough primer on the subject, read How to Choose the Right Backpacking Stove Fuel.

 

Stove Choice Based on Fuel Source

Below are pros and cons to help you decide which fuel (and related stove options) you might prefer.

 

Canister-fuel stove: This cooker attaches to a prefilled/sealed fuel canister containing a pressurized blend of isobutane and propane. The stoves like this in our roundup are the Jetboil MiniMo System, MSR WindBurner System, Jetboil Zip System and MSR PocketRocket 2.

Pros

  • Easy to ignite (no priming required)
  • Excellent flame control
  • The most popular type of stove, so you have more options

Cons

  • Harder to ignite in cold temps and at high altitude
  • When fuel gets low, performance lags. (Note: Canister stoves with pressure regulators like the Jetboil MiniMo System and MSR WindBurner System overcome this issue.)
  • You often have to take one extra canister to ensure you don’t run out of fuel.
  • Canisters cannot be reused; recycling them is possible, but not universal.

 

Liquid-fuel stove: This cooker attaches to a refillable fuel bottle. Most of these run on white gas, though a few also run on kerosene, unleaded auto gas or other options. The liquid-fuel stove in our list is the MSR WhisperLite International.

Pros

  • Maintains full performance in cold weather and at high altitude.
  • Fuel is widely available; multi-fuel models make finding fuel abroad easier.
  • Can take exactly as much fuel as you want
  • No canister waste (larger fuel cans are still an issue)

Cons

  • Priming is required each time you fire up.
  • Heavier than canister stoves
  • More expensive than canister stoves

 

Alcohol-fuel stove: This cooker runs on denatured alcohol that you pour directly into the stove and ignite. The alcohol-fuel stove we recommend is the TOAKS Titanium Siphon.

Pros

  • The most ultralight stove type
  • The most affordable stove option
  • Can take exactly as much fuel as you want
  • No canister waste (larger fuel cans are still an issue)

Cons

  • Boiling times are far slower than with canister stoves and other liquid-fuel stoves.
  • Not suited to below-freezing temperatures
  • No flame control, so you can’t prepare items that need to simmer
  • At certain times, some areas prohibit open-flame stoves for fire-safety reasons.

 

Wood-fuel stove: This cooker runs on gathered leaves, twigs and pinecones. The wood-fuel stove in our guide is the Solo Stove Lite.

Pros

  • No added fuel required, reducing operating cost and pack weight
  • No canister waste, nor fuel container disposal issues

Cons

  • Finding good fuel sources can be a challenge, and adds to cooking chores.
  • A few backcountry areas prohibit wood-stove use to prevent impacts of fuel gathering.
  • Relatively slow boiling times
  • No flame control, so you can’t prepare items that need to simmer
  • At certain times, some areas prohibit open-flame stoves for fire-safety reasons.

 

Solid-fuel stove: One niche category we don’t review in this article is stoves that run on separately purchased fuel tablets. Not a lot of solid-fuel stoves are available, but options like the Esbit Pocket Stove ($12.95) can be an ultralight and affordable option if you only need to boil water.

 

Understanding Stove Specs

Stove specs can easily mislead you, so it’s important to understand some ways that can happen. For starters, manufacturers don’t always report specs consistently. Tests are also done in a windless lab environment and all stoves, even wind-resistant models, perform more poorly in real-world (i.e., breezy) conditions. Below, we’ll talk about a few specs and considerations when you use them for comparison.

Average boil time: One brand might state the time it takes to bring 0.5 liter of water to a boil, while another might state it for a full liter of water. REI.com converts times to standard 1.0 liter of water. (If you source specs from different websites, make sure you convert to the same units.) Note, too, that a wood stove’s field boiling time will vary on each trip because the fuel source you gather will vary.

Burn time (max. flame): When comparing this spec, be sure the fuel type and amount are the same. To get an idea of a stove’s efficiency, consider this spec together with the average boil times. If, for example, two stoves burn for 60 minutes on the same size canister, but one boils water more rapidly, the faster boiler will be the more efficient consumer of fuel.

Note: Comparative burn time specs are only useful if you burn a relatively uniform amount of fuel. Because a wood stove will burn as long as you keep feeding it, wood stoves omit the spec. Alcohol-stove makers could probably work out a way to calculate the spec, but none do.

Weight: On most stoves, this spec does not include the weight of the fuel canister nor liquid fuel and the bottle that holds that fuel. The smallest canister sizes add about 8 ounces, while the smallest filled liquid-fuel bottle will add about 11 ounces to your pack. On canister stove systems, the weight of the cookpot is typically included in the spec, which skews comparisons between system and standalone canister stoves.

Calculating fuel needs: Because the weight and bulk of your stove’s fuel supply are also important considerations, you might also want to read How Much Stove Fuel Do I Need for a Backpacking Trip?.

 

Worthy Stove Features

Canister stove systems: These include a tall cookpot that connects directly to the stove and creates a solid, somewhat wind-protected unit. The cookpot often has a lid for drinking or straining, an insulated cozy and a built-in handle. Typically, all system components, plus a small fuel canister, will fit inside the pot for packing. System stoves are efficient and convenient, though you will be limited to cooking with the cookpot in that system, or to that brand’s cookware that’s compatible with your system.

Piezo igniter: This push-button system sends a spark into the burner to light the stove—no matches required. Piezo igniters are incredibly convenient, but detractors claim that they will inevitably wear out. So you should always pack a lighter or matches as a backup (or plan to raid—and later replenish—the matches or lighter in your Ten Essentials stash).

Pressure regulator: The knock on canister stoves has always been they don’t perform well in below-freezing temps, and that their performance degrades as fuel in the canister gets low. Both of those circumstances lower the fuel pressure a canister can deliver to the burner, which impairs heat output.

Canister stoves that have pressure regulators (not all do) negate those issues. This precisely engineered component monitors pressure coming from the fuel canister and adjusts its outflow to ensure a consistent pressure gets delivered to the stove’s burner. The result is that pressure-regulated canister stove will be on more equal footing with a liquid-fuel stove in most conditions, though there are limits to the magic: When temps drop into the teens, a liquid-fuel stove is the way to go.

 

How to Choose a Backpacking Stove 

 

Methodology

We relied heavily on our most seasoned frontline store staff for this group of staff picks. These folks have seen a lot of innovation in stoves over the years and are good at discerning gimmicky contenders from solid performers. Because we’re a co-op, we also turned to our customer contributors (reviewers), who also had a substantial say in these picks.


Article by Ken Knapp. Ken has been an REI Co-op writer for a quarter-century and a member longer than that. He’s a father of daughters (thriving) and monitor of marmots (threatened). Ken is a big fan of sustainability and sharing the ball.


How helpful was this article? Click a star to rate.