Backpacking Stoves – Which works best for you?

When it comes to packable stoves, there are lots of options. Most of them have their place, each with their own pros and cons. Depending on what you intend to use your stove for will make a big difference in what stove might work best for you.

MSR Whisperlight

When I am putting together my own meals and getting down to some quality wilderness cookery, this is the one that I prefer. This stove typically runs on Coleman fuel or white gas, but some models can run on other fuels if necessary. Really survivalist oriented to some extent. Mine comes with nozzles that even allow for kerosene.  These also run on canisters of a blend of isobutane and propane. They are a bit of a process to set up and put away. Typically you are screwing a pump on the fuel canister, then pumping it to pressure. You need to prime the stove by allowing a bit of fuel out then lighting before lighting it up and turning it to full strength. After use, they do require a bit of maintenance. If they are not cleaned or lubricated, they can be a bit fussy. The overall weight of these can be a bit too much for some folks. This is my preference for canoe camping or weekend backpack trips where I’m cooking up some real food.

Jetboil

I have a couple of these stashed away, and if your only boiling water, these things are amazing. I have an original model and one that is a bit newer. They have kept making improvements as well. These run on canisters of a blend of isobutane and propane only. It is put together in its own self-contained unit, which also makes it convenient. Cooking in them is a bit of a challenge. It seems no matter what setup you have; they are a bit tippy. The stand that they have for them helps, but with full water and whatever else you put in there, it will wobble precariously, and if you don’t watch it, they are prone to boiling over. The temp control has gotten considerably better than original models, though. Also, if you plan on cooking with your own array of pots and pans, that’s a no-go. Its systems are meant to be used by Jet boil name brand equipment only, but they lock on, which I appreciate. Pretty much maintenance free. The strong point of these is in boiling water, as the name would suggest. If you are planning on heating water for freeze-dried pre-packed meals and instant coffee, these are an awesome choice

Pocket Rocket

This is another MSR product name, but all the other stoves like this I end up calling a pocket rocket anyway. It’s a small unit that screws directly onto canisters of a blend of isobutane and propane only. The control on the heat is reasonable for such a small stove. Because it is just an open flame, you can use any of your own cookware. This system is also tippy, though. I find that I have a difficult time trusting any pot that I put on it, though. The can stabilizers help this, but they still a bit sketchy, and unlike Jetboil, the pot is not locked in. If you accidentally bend one of the arms, you will be in a bind if you don’t have a way to bend it back into place or support your pot another way (I always have a multi-tool with me). Pretty much maintenance free as well. It’s a super lightweight, size savvy way to cook but have a plan for managing the pot on top.

Cooking Over Fire

Cooking Over Fire BWCA Ester Lake
Cooking Over Fire BWCA Ester Lake

I do this a lot when I’m camping. Particularly if I’m doing a weekender and I sucked it up to bring cast iron. It would help if you had a stove back up, though, sometimes firewood is scarce, having a fire may be banned depending on the time of year and place, it is safer to have a stove in case it rains profusely, and it is challenging to get a fire going. I am not saying that you can’t build a fire in the rail; you can consider the scenario. If you are with a bunch of folks who are wet and starting to get hypothermic, you don’t want to have to scout for wood, get a fire going, then warm up water or food.  It’s great to plan to use wood, but having fuel as backup is a safe choice.

Final Thoughts

I drop name brands here, but honestly, these are the three main types of stoves that I see when it comes to wilderness travel. I also have direct experience with these; however, if you apply these critiques to stoves similar to those listed, it should give you an idea of what might work best for you.

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