How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

 


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Choosing a Backpacking Stove

 

There is a huge market for backpacking, expedition and camping stoves these days, resulting in the availability of many products targeted at different consumers.  You can find many stove options suitable of various purposes, fuels, and pocketbooks.  These stoves range from classic designs modeled after ones our grandparents used to newer stoves genre incorporating cutting edge space age vaporization technology and special materials to make them lighter, perform better or just look more modern.  Each stove design has its own special features (e.g. white gas stoves work at subfreezing temperatures, butane stoves are as easy to use as a home gas range, alcohol stoves burn clean, hexamine stoves and fuel are ultra-light, wood stoves don't require packing in fuel, water activated cookers are relatively safe to use and solar stoves are pollution free).  And each stove design has its unique drawbacks (e.g. petrol stoves use caustic fuel, gas stoves must use prefilled canisters, alcohol stoves have a poor heat to fuel weight ratio, hexamine gets very expensive, wood blackens pots, water activated cookers are heavy, solar stoves are generally extremely slow to cook with).  This can make stove selection exciting and potentially a difficult endeavor since no one stove has it all, making stove selection an exercise in compromise rather than a hunt for the ultimate stove.

 

Faced with all of the stove choices out there these days, you may need to do a little research to narrow down which stove, or stoves, will best suit your particular needs.  Some of the factors to consider when selecting a backpacking stove include:

 

Some backpackers may even find that they need to plan for different types of cooking systems for separate treks or multiple platforms on extended treks, should the main/preferred fuel type not be available on a leg of their journey.  Visit our Stove Systems Page for more on the system concept, as you will need more than just a stove to cook.

 

 


Backpacking Stove Types

 

A good place to start at is covering the basic stove categories.  There are a just a few broad categories of fuels generally used in backpacking stoves, each with its own set of unique characteristics for storage and optimal use.  The characteristics of the fuels used in stoves impacts the overall design of stoves and as a result, stoves can generally be differentiated into a handful of broad categories based on the fuel they are designed for.

 


Petroleum Stoves (White Gas, Kerosene)

These are the standard for camp stoves but are generally considered too heavy and bulky for ultra-light hikers.  Commercial stoves are generally durable, heavy and work well at high altitudes and low temperatures.   The advantage of petrol fuels are they have good heat/weight ratio, are easily found and cheap.  The downside of petroleum fuels is that they can be very messy and dangerous. See Petrol Stoves for more information.  Homemade versions or modifications are not recommended due to the inherent catastrophic dangers associated with burning petroleum fuels.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Don't choose this stove if:

 

 

MSR Liquid Fuel Petrol Stove

 

Petrol Stoves

Mountain Safety Research - Seattle Company

Primus - Swedish Company

Hjemmelaget primus - homemade version of pressure jet stove

Burning Kerosene in Pea Soup Can - homemade version of wick type stove

 

 


Liquefied Gas Stoves (Butane, Isobutane, Propane)

These stoves tend to burn clean but use expensive fuel stored in non-refillable metal canisters.  They are easy to adjust from a light simmer to a roaring fire.  High altitudes aren't an issue with liquefied gas stoves, but they may not work below freezing temperatures.  See Canister Stoves for more information.  Homemade versions or modifications are not recommended due to the inherent dangers associated with pressurized and explosive canister fuels.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

Snow Peak GigaPower Canister Stove

 

Canister Stoves

Mountain Safety Research - Seattle Company

Snow Peak GigaPower - Japanese Company that currently makes  the lightest canister stove and possibly the best cold weather fuel (for canister stoves).

 

 


Alcohol Stoves (Alky, Meth, Spirit)

They come in many forms and are commonly homemade.  They tend to be slow to cook with and use up more fuel than other stoves.  Generally made of aluminum or tin cans, many weigh less than an ounce.  These may work poorly in the cold without an insulating platform and/or preheating.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

Alcohol Stove

 

Zen Alcohol Stoves - Many do it yourself stove types.

Cat Can Stove - Not too difficult to build.  Burns hot.

Brasslite - High quality.  Durable brass.  Heavier than other alchy stoves.  Expensive.  Built in pot stand.  Adjustable heat output.

Trangia stoves - Durable brass.  Stores fuel in stove.  Inefficient.  Heavy for a meth burner.  Inexpensive.

Pepsi Can Stove - Good for small pots.  Many simmer options.  A classic ultralight stove.

Tin Man's Pepsi Can Stove - Doesn't need a pot stand.  Can be purchased online.

Photon Stove - Burns hot.  Less wasted fuel.  Difficult to build.  Difficult to light (need primer pan).  Very difficult to simmer.

Penny Stove - An elegant setup that's easy to build.

Minibull Design - Well made commercial versions of DIY stoves.

 

 


Chemical Solid Fuel Stoves (Hexy, Hexamine, Esbit, Triox, Fuel Tab)

These are simple, light and worth considering.  Many alcohol stove setups double as solid fuel burners and some hexamine (Esbit) setups may even burn better in comparison to other stoves when considering water boiled per ounce of fuel.  One drawback of hexamine is that it produces a noticeable odor and leaves sticky residue on pots.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

DIY Esbit Stove

 

Solid Fuel Burners - Simple to build burners.  Light.  Need pot stand.

2oz Esbit - Ultralightweight cook set for boiling water.  Efficient.  Fragile.

Howard's 1 oz. Esbit Stove - Simple.  Ultralight.

 

 


Wood Stoves

These cook systems tend to be on the heavy and bulky side, but may make up for weight in that no fuel needs to be packed or purchased.  Just about any wood stove design should be far more efficient than using an open fire.  Expect to turn pots black with soot.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

DIY Turbo Wood Stove

 

Wood Stoves - Simple to build burners.  Heavy and Bulky (compared to alcohol stoves).

Risk's Coffee Stove - A very simple design that works.

Sierra Zip Stoves - High quality but heavy battery operated enviro-friendly wood burner.

 

 


Candle Stoves

Simple to make but can be sooty.  Wax has a lot of heat potential but is difficult to cook with, especially in windy areas.  Like other solid fuels, you don't have to worry about it leaking in your pack.  The advantage is that you might get a long burning night light with your stove.  Included in this group are stoves fueled by liquid candles, various oils, and lamp fuels.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

 

Candle Stoves - Simple to make and use.

G-Micro PSL - Commercial Wax Gasifier Stove

Nuwick - Commercial candle stove.  Comes in tin can.

 

 


Solar Stoves

Depending on where you live in the world, you may be able to harness energy from the sun to cook your meal or heat up a brew.  These tend to be bulky and very slow at cooking.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

CookSack Solar Stove

 

Solar Stoves

CookSack 11.5oz inflatable stove

Backpack Cooker 14oz funnel stove

Solar Cooker Manufacturers

 

 


Flameless Stoves (MRE Heater)

These tend to be bulky and/or slow.  They are generally safe to use and may be ideal for backpackers that shouldn't be near fire.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

Mountain House Flameless Chemical Stove

 

 

Flameless Stoves

Mountain House - Mountain Oven

Zestotherm - Military Flameless Ration Heaters

 

 


Electric Stoves and Immersion Coils (Heating Coils, Heating Elements, Beverage Heater, Heating Rod, Coffee/Drink Heater)

If you are backpacking across the world and plan to spend some time in hotels, hostels and other places with electricity, and immersion coil is a must.  These little gadgets (around 3-4oz) allow you to boil water for tea, soup, and noodles and give you the option of self purifying water (the only kind you might be able to trust) and warm washes for you and your clothes.  Hot plates, electric kettles, etc are other options, but quickly add up in weight and bulk.

 

Most commercial immersion coils are made for 12, 24, 110 or 220 volts and in wattages from 120W to 2000W.  The greater the wattage, the faster the coil should heat up water or blow a fuse.  Coils made for 220V will work work with 110V, but may take up to four times as long to heat up water.  Coils with 12V car adapters are useful for travelers based out of their autos.

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

Immersion Heater

 

Lewis and Clark Travel Solutions - available at REI

Hobotraveler (Packing List page  2 and 3)

Chun Tai Electric Co., Ltd - Taiwan

 

 


Calcium Carbide Stoves and Lanterns (Acetylene Stove/Lamp)

A chemical reaction between calcium carbide and water produces acetylene, calcium oxide and heat.  The acetylene is then burned for light and/or heat.  This very old technology is still a favorite among many cavers and newer head mounted lanterns are still produced today.  These setups may not be ideal for backpacking as the hard to find fuel must be kept dry to avoid igniting while in your pack and its byproducts include caustic calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) and calcium oxide (CaO aka Lime), chemicals you don't want in your pack.  This stove type is only mentioned for those seeking superfluous trivia, tinkers looking for a unique project and in the interest of being complete (at the expense of practicality).

 

Choose this stove if:

 

Avoid this stove if:

 

CaC2 + H2O →  C2H2 + CaO + heat

2C2H2 + 5O2 →  4CO2 + 2H2O + heat

 

Cacium Carbide Lantern

The Carbide Caver from National Speleological Society (with Inner Mountain Outfitters)

The Carbide Lamp FAQ - Australia

Caving Supplies - UK

Petzl -  Search for Aceto (lamp), Ariane (acetylene generator) and Explorer (helmet)

J K Dey & Sons

Lehman's

 

 


Stove Fuels

 


Petroleum Fuels

Great heat to weight ratio.  Caustic fuel.  Generally burns hot and is unhindered by cold temperatures.  See Petrol Stove Fuels for more information. 

 

FYI - These fuels can't be safely used in an alcohol stove (it's already been tried).

 


Liquefied Gas (Butane, Isobutane, Propane)

Liquefied gas boils/vaporizes at above freezing temperatures and makes stove operation simple and generally has the best heat to weight output.  Unfortunately, their boiling point ranges limit backpacking stove use in the subfreezing temperatures.  These tend to be expensive fuels that come packaged in a disposable metal canister.  See Canister Stove Fuels for more fuel information, as well as tricks on stove operation in subfreezing temperatures.

 


Alcohol

These are very clean burning fuels that don't create a major health concern or hazard if spilled.  They have about half the heat potential per ounce of most petrol fuels and the weight of alcohol fuel will quickly add up if you are cooking many large meals or going on long trips without resupply.  See Alcohol Fuel Options for more information.

 


Chemical Solid Fuels (Esbit, Hexamine, Triox)

These are simple and safe fuels to use and have low toxicity compared to petroleum fuels.  They burn slow and don't need a special stove to operate.  Often, these are only available through mail order or specialty shops, so can be hard to find if you plan to "shop as you go" thruhiking.  There are several solid fuels other than hexamine and trioxane that can be used to heat meals, but many carry along extra hazards such as severe toxicity and explosive potential (e.g. plastic explosive).  See Solid Fuels for more information.

 


Wood

Wood varies in burnability, toxicity and availability.  It also provides a special ambiance to being in the outdoors.  See Wood Stove Fuels for more information.

 


Paraffin and other Candle Waxes and Oils (not to be confused with Kerosene) Not recommended

Some waxes are worse for your lungs than others and they can vary a small amount in regards to burn time and heat output.  This is generally a slow fuel to cook with and can be very sooty.  Paraffin and other waxes and oils have a lot of heat potential per gram, but it is difficult to make a practical lightweight stove system with them.  See the Candle Stove Fuels for more information.

 


Sun

The sun has a lot of heat potential, it is a giant nuclear explosion, and some of that heat can be directly used for cooking by concentrating and trapping it.  Solar radiation levels differ depending on where you are and when you are there.

 


Water activated fuels

These do work, but can be hard to find.  They are simple and safe to use, if you are using foods packaged for their use.  Compared to all other stove fuels, these are heavy to start with, and produce a lot of waste that needs to be carried out.

 

There are several metals similar to magnesium that release larges amounts of heat when exposed to water.  These metals must be protected from moisture for obvious reasons and shouldn't be handled with bare hands.

 


Calcium Carbide

This can be hard to find and you'll have to fabricate your own stove if you want to cook with it.  This fuel must be kept dry to avoid converting it to acetylene gas and/or turning your pack into a fireball.  You'll also need to pack out the byproducts of combustion, which can be quite caustic and heavy.  Waste products (CaO and Ca(OH)2 ) will total between 87.5 and 115.6% (not including any water weight) of the start weight of your calcium carbide.

 

Make sure that when you purchase your calcium carbide, it is gray in color and hasn't turned into white dust.

 

 


Fuel Comparisons

 

The following data is intended to provide general figures for various fuels.  Many of these figures are debatable, but the range of differences are insignificant for backpacking stove performance purposes.  For information on international names fuels check out Mike Buckler's and MSR's list of international fuel names.

 

Fuel

Mol Structure

BP C

VP 25C kPa

kcal/gram

Btu/pound

CHRIS

MSDS

 

Petrol Liquids:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Naphtha

C5-9

130-155

20

10.1

18,200

NSV

Coleman

Crown

Fuelite

MSR SuperFuel

     Gasoline

C3-12

14-135

48-103

10.4

18,720

GSR

Unleaded

     Kerosene

C10-18

200-260

<1

10.3

18,540

KRS

Klean Strip K1

Crown K1

Klean Heat

Jet Fuel

     Diesel

C9-20

288-338

<1

10.2

18,400

ODS

Diesel

     Lamp Oil

C10-24

254-283

<1

10.2*

18,400*

 

Lamplight Ultra-Pure

 

Pressurized  Gas:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Propane

CH3CH2CH3

-42.1

9391

11.0

19,782

PRP

Coleman

     Butane

CH3CH2CH2CH3

-0.48

2421

10.8

19,512

BUT

PowerMax 20/40

     Isobutane

CH3C(CH3)2

-11.8

3481

10.8

19,458

IBT

Pure

 

Alcohols:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Ethanol 

CH3CH2OH

78.3

7.85 1

6.4

11,570

EAL

Pure

SLX

Crown Denatured

Denatured

70% Rubbing

     Methanol

CH3OH

64.5

16.901

4.7

8419

MAL

Pure

HEET

     Isopropanol (100%)

     2-Propanol

CH3CHOHCH3

82.3

6.021

7.2

12,960

IPA

Pure

Iso-HEET

70% Rubbing

     Diethyl Glycol

(HOCH2CH2)2O

245

0.0011

5.3

9617

DEG

Pure

 

Solid fuels:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Hexamethylenetetramine

(CH2)6N4

281

n/a

7.4

13,300

HMT

Pure

Esbit

Coghlans

     1,3,5-Trioxane

(CH2)3O3

115

n/a

4.27*

7,674.7*

TRO

Pure

Fuel

 

Waxes and natural oils:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Paraffin Wax

C19-36

350-4302

n/a

10.0

18,000

WPF

Pure

     Stearic Acid

CH3(CH2)16CO2H

383

n/a

9.6

17,310

SRA

Pure

     Beeswax

C24-44

n/a

n/a

11*

19,000*

 

Pure White

     Olive Oil

C18+18+16

299

n/a

8.9

16,000

OOL

Olive Oil

 

Wood/Biomass/EcoFuels:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Wet Wood

C51%H6%O42%N1%

n/a

n/a

2.22*

4000*

 

 

     Dry Wood

C51%H6%O42%N1%

n/a

n/a

3.89*

7,000*

 

 

     Charcoal

CLots

n/a

n/a

7.83

14,100

CHC

 

     Biodiesel

C18-20H33-40O2

182-338*

<1

8.9*

16,000*

 

Envirodiesel

     Dung (varies)

Animal Poop

n/a

n/a

3.6*

6,500*

 

 

 

Solar Fusion:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Sun

H92.1% He7.8%

15x106

n/a

9x1013

2x1017

 

 

 

Flameless:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Ration Heater

MgFe

n/a

n/a

10.0*

18,000*

 

ZestoTherm

 

Calcium Carbide:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Calcium Carbide

CaC2

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

CCB

90%

     Acetylene

C2H2

-84.0

4378

11.5

20,747

ACE

Pure

     CaC2 C2H2 Heat

C2H2 = 40.6% mass CaC2

n/a

4.7

8,427

 

 

     Calcium Oxide

CaO - waste

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

CAO

Pure

     Calcium Hydroxide

C2(OH)2 - waste

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

CAH

Pure

 

Most information derived from the Chemical Hazards Response Information System (CHRIS) or respective MSDS.

* derived from educated speculation or other sources

1 CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics 77th ed

2 North American Combustion Handbook, 2nd ed., North American Mfg. Co., Cleveland, OH

 

 


Fuel Availability

 

This can be a major determining factor in stove selection, depending on your location and needs.  A stove that you can't find fuel for is worthless for backpacking purposes and fuels that require mail order or long drives to a specialty store may not be practical for most outdoors people.  A heavier multifuel stove may be worth the extra weight since you have more fuel options to choose from and might be lighter and less of a hassle than carrying two different stove systems on a trip.

 


Petrol

Kerosene is available in most parts of the world as are many other petrol fuels, making petrol multi fuel stoves a plus for international travelers or those in remote areas.

 

Petrol for autos isn't a recommended fuel, as it releases very deadly fumes when burned (especially fuels outside of the US and Europe), but like diesel, can be found almost world wide.

 


Pressurized Petroleum Gas

Canister stoves - there are a couple of different canister designs and most stoves are made to use one particular type (see Canister Stoves for more info).  If you are traveling through Europe, you may need one or more adapter(s) to allow you to use fuels that might be available.  Availability varies - you can get fuel canisters in grocery stores in some countries, but not at all in many small towns in the US.

 

Propane can be found in some remote parts of the world, but you may need to bring your own refilling adapter and canister, is you want something that will fit in a backpack.

 


Alcohol

Alcohol comes in many forms and can be found at gas stations and small towns in North America.  This, and the fact that many alcohol stoves weigh less than half an ounce, makes it the preferred fuel for thruhikers in the US.

 


Hexamine

Hexamine is a great fuel, but it can be difficult to find and you may need to mail order it.

 


Wood

The availability of burnable wood varies greatly from hike location to hike location.  Burning wood may also be illegal in some locations.  But where wood shortages are not a concern, you have the added bonus of unlimited hot tea and sterilized water without worrying about carrying extra fuel.  Melting unlimited amounts of snow may also be possible, but in areas where melting snow is important, all the usable wood might be buried deep beneath that snow.

 

In some parts of the world, wood or other bio mass may be the only available fuel.  Dung stoves aren't that uncommon in the 3rd world.

 


Solar

Solar energy varies greatly not only by geographical location, but also by time of year and often on a daily or even hourly basis.  You can't cook in the dark with a solar stove, unless you burn it as fuel.

 

In remote desert locations, the sun may be the only available fuel.

 

 


Weight and Fuel Efficiency

 

Stove weight is a major consideration in selecting a stove, and there is a wide range of what is considered acceptable for backpacking and camping.  And just because a stove is marketed as a camp stove or portable, doesn't mean that it's made or acceptable for backpacking use.  A lot of "camping" involves driving to a campsite, unloading your SUV and hooking your stove to a large propane tank.  Here are some popular stoves and weights.

 

Stove Weights

Stove

Fuel

oz

gm

MSR SimmerLite

Petrol

8.5

240

Brunton Optimus Nova

Petrol

11

310

MSR WhisperLite Internationale

Petrol

14

400

MSR DragonFly

Petrol

15.66

446

Snow Peak Titanium Giga Power

Gas

2.5

85

Coleman Exponent F1 Ultralight

Gas

2.6

74

MSR Pocket Rocket

Gas

3.2

 91

MSR SuperFly Stove with Piezo

Gas

5

140

Homemade Alcohol Stove

Alcohol

0.5-1

10-30

Brasslite

Alcohol

1.5

42

Trangia Mini

Alcohol

5.75

164

Homemade Esbit Stove

Hexamine

1

28

Esbit Pocket Stove

Hexamine

3.25

93

Sierra TT Titanium

Wood

10

280

Trailstove

Wood

14.8

420

Homemade Wood Stove

Wood

3-12

90-300

CookSack

Solar

4.3

120

Mountain Oven

Flameless

14

400

 

Petrol and wood stoves tend to be on the heavy side for backpacking stoves, while gas and alcohol stoves tend to be on the light side.  There are other very important factors to consider, such as weight of fuel container, repair kit, windscreen, pot stand, additional base or platform, protective container, etc.

 

Fuel Containers

Stove

Fuel

oz

gm

MSR 11oz Bottle

Petrol

2.8

79

MSR 22oz Bottle

Petrol

5.25

139

MSR 33oz Bottle

Petrol

7.3

207

MSR 0.4 Liter Ti Bottle

Petrol

3.0

85

MSR 0.8 Liter Ti Bottle

Petrol

4.1

117

MSR 4oz Canister, Empty

Gas

4.05

115

MSR 8oz Canister, Empty

Gas

4.65

132

PET 20oz Water Bottle

Alcohol

1

30

Ziploc bag

Hexamine

0

0

Film Canister for tinder

Wood

0.5

10

 

Another very important factor in weight determination, which is often overlooked, is stove efficiency (defined here as heat output per oz of fuel).  A light weight but poorly efficient stove may loose its weight advantage over a heavier but more efficient stove on extended or large group trips.  A good example of this is a featherweight alcohol stove compared to heavy petrol stove.  By weight (as well as volume), the heat potential of the alcohols used for stoves is around half that of petrol fuels.  Factor in that some homemade alcohol stoves are poor performers and you end up with alcohol systems being heavier than petrol systems on longer treks.

 

To determining fuel efficiency, you will need to determine what type of cooking you are planning on doing, environmental factors, stove performance and length of your trip in order to calculate how much fuel you will use and how much you need to carry. 

 

The calculations below represent a rough comparison of stove performance and should only be used as a guide to determining what will work for your particular needs.  Do not use this chart for planning purposes for an extended alpine journey and return with a story of how the survivors stayed alive.  All figures used in these calculations are given below.  Feel free to download the Spreadsheet used for these calculations, scrutinize and plug in your own numbers.

 

Data plotted out to 160 meals to demonstrate general trends

 

The initial load of stove and fuel is one of the most used set of numbers used for calculation purposes.  This is your maximum load of your cook system and it should decrease after you start your journey as you use fuel and other expendables.  Initial load is important for planning purposes and bragging rights, whether it be extremely high or extremely low, but can be misleading as it may not reflect what you are carrying for the entire trip.

 

Note: For calculations purposes, fuel needed for one meal is equivalent to what is required to boil 16oz (US Pint or about 500ml) of water. 

 

The steps shown in the chart above (as well as the one below) reflect the addition of an additional fuel container or moving up to a larger sized one (petrol stove).

 

For petrol stove weight calculation, the lightest appropriate aluminum MSR bottle or bottle combination is used (i.e. 11oz for up to 11oz, then 22oz, then 33oz, then 33oz + 11oz, etc).  Bottle capacities are based on advertised fluid capacity with Coleman fuel (specific gravity 0.69).

 

The horizontal steps along the line plotted for gas stoves demonstrates how fuel determination is incremental, dependent on number of and/or canister size.  It is possible to use different canister sizes and partially used/emptied canisters to get a little bit closer to your needs, decreasing excess weight or days without hot meals.  For gas stove weight calculations a 110gm SnowPeak canister is used up to 16 meals, then 220gm canisters are used from that point on.  Two separate graphs are shown.  The first show the average weight is you carry your empty canisters with your.  The second graph shows average weights when the weight of a canister is dropped when fuel runs out, simulating a hiker meeting a Buddhist monk who wants to use the empty canister for a small gong and the hiker giving it in trade for a bowl of lentils or perhaps some nice soup which isn't counted as a meal for graphing purposes but tastes better than the rehydrated freezer bag meals he packed.

 

For alcohol stoves, a plastic bottle is added for every 44 meals.  Weight of bottles are not dropped, and it is assumed that hikers who carry alcohol stoves don't litter and will pack empty bottles for the entire trek.

 

An extra container of tinder is added for every 28 days of wood burning.  For ease of calculations purposes, the weight of tinder remains constant.

 

Data plotted out to 160 meals to demonstrate general trends

Simulates Empty Gas Canisters Packed throughout trip

 

Data plotted out to 160 meals to demonstrate general trends

Simulated Empty Canisters Dumped after use

 

Starting weight is only the beginning of determining how stove/fuel systems compare.  At the beginning of a trip, you have lots of fuel and if you plan well, you shouldn't have any extra fuel at the end of your trip (except what you may have added for emergencies).  A more accurate representation of trip load may be a daily average of what you are carrying.  Those starting on a heavy foot may finish a trip floating in the clouds, especially if they also ran out of of food and water early.

 

The plotted gas stove line can cause some confusion and may need some explaining.  Fuel packing is incremental, dependant of the number of canisters you decide to pack.  The large positive jumps represent the point at which you must add another canister, making the total average weight increase at that point.  The decreasing slope shows that the average daily weight actually decreases as you use more fuel.  Example - if a canister is good for 16 days, the average weight for a two day trip would be higher (you return with an almost full canister and stove) than with a 16 day trip (you come back with just the stove), and a 17 day trip would have a much higher daily average than either, as you would need a second or larger canister.


Note - fuel efficiencies are given as rough estimates and they can very significantly between various homemade systems and personal use and experience with these stoves.

 

Interpretation -

Based to the information presented here, there are a few trends that one should consider when determining what is "light weight." 

 

Since wood and solar stoves don't require packing in fuel, they are the lightest systems for treks with more than about a dozen meals. 

 

Hexamine systems remain lightweight even on extended trips. 

 

Alcohol stove systems are lighter than petrol and gas stove for treks with less than about 53 meals. 

 

The incremental nature of canister fuel for gas stoves makes weight determination difficult and you are likely to carry excess fuel.  Despite the heavy metal canisters required to transport these fuels, the fuel efficiency of these stoves make them lighter than alcohol systems on longer trips.  You would have to do a lot of cooking with large canisters (less percentage of dead weight than smaller canisters) to make this system lighter than hexamine.  

 

Petrol stove systems can be quite heavy.  The efficiency of petrol burning stoves enables them to be lighter weight than alcohol systems on treks requiring more than around 50 meals.  The weight savings from using MSR titanium bottles over the aluminum ones hardly alters the petrol stove slope and is rather disappointing considering the cost of these gimmicks.

 


Weight Data

 

Fuel

Stove

Fuel container

Stove Weight
oz

Stove Weight
~gm

Fuel Container Weight
oz

Fuel Container Weight

~gm

Fuel per US Pint Boiled
oz

oz Fuel per US Pint Boiled
~gm

Petrol

MSR SimmerLite

11oz/22oz/33oz MSR bottle1

8.52

241

2.8/4.9/7.31

80

0.243

6.9

Gas

Snow Peak Titanium Giga Power

110gm/220gm
SnowPeak

2.54

71

3/5 empty5
7/13 full
5

~85/141.7 empty

~198.4/368.5 full

0.226

6.1

Alcohol

Mini Sideburner

20oz PET Water Bottle

0.57

14

15

28.3

0.78

19.8

Hexamine

Esbit

Ziploc Bag

15

28

0

0

0.55

 14.2

Wood

Titanium Nimblewill Nomad

Film Canister with Petroleum Jelly and Cottonballs

3.35

94

0.5

 14.2

(not carried)

 (not carried)

Sun

CookSack

Sun (not carried)

4.39

122

0

0 0

0

 

1  MSR listed weights and fluid capacities - fuel capacity based on Coleman Fuel (specific gravity 0.69)

2  MSR listed "minimum weight"

3  MSR lists 15.3 liter water boiled per 11oz fuel ~ 0.34oz fl fuel or 0.24 oz (wt) per US Pint

4  SnowPeak listed weight

5  In house data - rounded off a bit

6  REI Data - 7.7 liters water boiled per 100g fuel ~ 16.278 US Pints per 3.5274oz ~ 0.22oz fuel per US Pint

7  Actual weight - 0.2oz - rounded up to 0.5oz an acceptable weight for an alcohol stove

8  Rounded up a bit - 0.5-1.0oz fuel per US Pint boiled is a realistic range for alcohol stove efficiency

9  Stove system weight minus integral pot.

 

Stoves were selected on the basis of being amongst the lightest in their class.  Fuel usages are estimates.  Figures do not include weight of windscreen, lighter, ground reflector or pot.  All weights are in US ounces and as you can surmise from the "clean" figures, most are rough estimates.

 


7 Meals

The following chart estimates total start weight and average weight of stove, fuel container and fuel needed to boil 7 pints.  This is enough water for one person on a seven day trek consuming one hot meal per day.

 

Stove

Fuel Used
oz

Fuel Used
gm

Total Start Weight
oz

Total Start Weight
gm

Daily Average
oz

Daily Average
gm

MSR SimmerLite

1.7

49

13.0

369

12.2

345

Snow Peak Titanium Giga Power

with 110gm Canister

1.5

44

9.5

269

8.7

248
Mini Sideburner

4.9

139

6.4

181

4.0

112
Esbit

3.5

99

4.5

128

2.8

78
Titanium Nimblewill Nomad

0

0

3.8

108

3.8

108
CookSack

0

0

4.3

122

4.3

122

 

A full 110gm SnowPeak canister was used for canister stove calculations above.  All weights are in ounces.

 


14 Meals

The following chart estimates total start weight and average weight of stove, fuel container and fuel needed to boil 14 pints.  This is enough water for one person on a fourteen day trek consuming one hot meal per day.

 

Stove

Fuel Used
oz

Fuel Used
gm

Total Start Weight
oz

Total Start Weight
gm

Daily Average
oz

Daily Average
gm

MSR SimmerLite

3.4 97 14.7 418 13.0 369

Snow Peak Titanium Giga Power

with 110gm Canister

3.1

87

9.5

269

8.0

226

Mini Sideburner

9.8

278

11.3

320

6.4

181

Esbit

7

198

8

227

4.5

228

Titanium Nimblewill Nomad

0

0

3.8

108

3.8

108

CookSack

0

0

4.3

122

4.3

122

 

A full 220gm SnowPeak canister was used for canister stove calculations above.  All weights are in ounces.

 


21 Meals

The following chart estimates total start weight and average weight of stove, fuel container and fuel needed to boil 21 pints.  This is enough water for one person on a twenty-one day trek consuming one hot meal per day.

 

Stove

Fuel Used
oz

Fuel Used
gm

Total Start Weight
oz

Total Start Weight
gm

Daily Average
oz

Daily Average
gm

MSR SimmerLite

5.1

146

16.4

466

13.9

393

Snow Peak Titanium Giga Power

with 220gm Canister

4.6

131

15.5

439

13.2

374
Mini Sideburner

14.7

417

16.2

459

8.9

251
Esbit

10.5

298

11.5

326

6.25

177

Titanium Nimblewill Nomad

0

0

3.8

108

3.8

108

CookSack

0

0

4.3

122

4.3

122

 

 

A full 220gm SnowPeak canister was used for canister stove calculations above.  All weights are in ounces.

 


28 Meals

The following chart estimates total start weight and average weight of stove, fuel container and fuel needed to boil 28 pints.  This is enough water for one person on a twenty-eight day trek consuming one hot meal per day.

 

Stove

Fuel Used
oz

Fuel Used
gm

Total Start Weight
oz

Total Start Weight
gm

Daily Average
oz

Daily Average
gm

MSR SimmerLite 6.9 194 20.2 574 16.8 477

Snow Peak Titanium Giga Power

with 220gm Canister

6.2

175

15.5

439

12.4

352
Mini Sideburner

19.6

556

21.1

598

11.3

320
Esbit

14

397

15

425

8

227

Titanium Nimblewill Nomad

0

0

3.8

108

3.8

108

CookSack

0

0

4.3

122

4.3

122

 

A full 220gm SnowPeak canister was used for canister stove calculations above.  All weights are in ounces.

 

 


Cooking Speed

 

Cooking speed can be important in stove selection, but this shouldn't be a major concern unless you need to melt large amounts of snow or cook for a group of hungry folks.  The exception being that solar stoves can take an extremely long time (45 minute plus) to cook with.

 

If you have a cook-off between various stoves, don't forget to consider that running a stove with a higher max output doesn't necessarily translate to good fuel economy.  You might get water to boil faster but end up using twice the fuel to do so.

 

Stove

Fuel

Boil Time

Pressurized Jet Petrol Stove

Petrol

Fast

Gas Canister Stove

Gas

Fast

Alcohol stove

Alcohol

Slow to Moderate

Esbit

Hexamine

Slow

Wood

Wood

Slow

Solar

Sun

Extremely Slow to Slow

 

 


Cookability

 

For those wanting more than just hot water, flexibility in heat output may be essential.

 


Petrol

Petrol stoves are usually good at high output and can cook food rather quickly, but many designs only allow you the option of high heat or off.  Some of the newer models have a fuel control valve set close to the stove and allow a cooking range from light heat to full blast.

 


Pressurized Petroleum Gas

These tend to be as simple to use as a gas top range at home.  You can easily adjust the heat output from just about nothing to high.

 


Alcohol

Most alcohol stoves have one output, which is usually lower than with the more traditional camp stoves.  Some allow for great simmering.  You can cook with these if you adjust your cooking style.

 


Hexamine

You can add extra tabs or cut big ones into smaller ones, but that's about it for heat control.  A stove can be made with adjustable ventilation, but less air input means more of an incomplete burn and more soot and toxin on you cookware and in your lungs.  Best limit use to slowing bringing water to a boil.

 


Wood

Heat output can be controlled to some degree with more complex stove designs, but they may be slow to respond at best.  Some wood burns hot and fast, others burn slow and cool, and others are unpredictable.

 


Solar

You get what you get - an extremely slow heat up.  You can cook rice, and dried beans, but you may need to presoak and wait a long time.

 

 


Stove Costs

 

Cost is always a major factor in stove purchasing decisions and includes initial, maintenance and operating costs (namely fuel consumption).

 

The actual complete stove costs vary a great deal.  Many stove designs can be made from recycled scrap and are relatively cost free to construct, while some of the more complex petrol stoves can cost in excess of US$200.  When calculating stove costs, take into consideration the cost of stove, as well as the cost of separate fuel containers.

 

Stove Type

US$

Petrol

60-140

Gas Canister

25-80

Alcohol

0-30

Esbit

0-10

Wood

0-70

Solar

0-70

 

Fuels costs add up over time and the cheapest stoves don't always have the most cost effective systems.

 

Fuel

Cost

US$ per oz

oz Fuel per Pint Boiled

US$ per 100 Pints

Petrol

US$4/Quart

0.13

0.34

4.42

Gas Canister

US$5/8.5oz

0.58

0.22

12.76

Alcohol

US$6/Quart

0.19

0.5

9

Esbit

US$6/6oz

1

0.5

50

Wood

Free

0

0.6

Free

Solar

Free

0

0

Free

 

 


Cold Weather Operations

 

Cold weather stove operation can be challenging, especially if you are cooking on snow or ice.  An insulated stove platform (e.g. wood board, wood raft, aluminum wrapped foam, etc) and prewarming of fuel may be necessary.  Butane lighters may not work too well at subfreezing temperatures, making fire starting impossible if this is your only firestarter.  The the cold, which is often also wet, you may need some waterproof matches, regardless of which stove you have - except solar and flameless stoves...unless you decide to burn them.

 


Petrol

Petrol Stoves may be the best cold weather choice.

 


Pressurized Petroleum Gas

Canister fuels may not work at all at subfreezing temperatures.  There are a couple of tricks to get stove to perform better in the cold - See Cold Weather Operation of Canister Stoves for more information about cold weather performance.  Wind may also blow out gas stoves.

 


Alcohol

Alcohol doesn't work very well below freezing and may need to be preheated to get started.  Since most alcohol stoves sit directly in contact with the ground (e.g. no bottom supports), you may really need a spacer or insulating base to prevent the ground form cooling off your stove too much.

 


Hexamine

Are there problems with solid chemical fuels in the cold?

 


Wood

Wood will burn at low temperatures, but you may have problems finding it under the snow.

 


Solar

Even though it is cold outside, the sun can do a good job of cooking if you concentrate enough of it.  These can work well at high altitudes where it is cold, but where the air is also thinner, allowing for higher levels of solar radiation.

 

 


Fiddle Factor and Quirks

 

Some stoves require a lot of fiddling to get them to work they way you want them to.  For most, this is a major consideration which is why gas stoves are so popular for those who don't like fiddling.

 


Petrol

These are notoriously complicated to operate and can require a great deal of maintenance and field repairing.  This is actually fun for some tinkerers, but can be a tremendous burden for those who hike to hike and don't look forward to stove failure.  Expect getting a bit of fuel on your hands and in your pack.

 


Pressurized Petroleum Gas

Very simple to use.  It is unlikely you will have maintenance failures beyond breaking off the Piezo igniter that you don't really need anyway.

 


Alcohol

Some require special priming, while others only require filling and lighting with a match.  Most alcohol stoves don't have a sealed fuel port designed for fuel storage and require the user to add the correct amount of fuel each time the stove is used.  In order to maximize fuel use, you will need  to determine how much fuel will be needed prior to each cooking (this comes with experience) and be able to measure out precise amounts with metered fuel bottles, syringes or good approximation.  Since alcohol flames can be virtually invisible and silent, it can be difficult to assess whether a stove is running or not.

 


Hexamine

Light and cook.  They can be difficult to light.  Pots and stove will become covered with a brown sticky coating.

 


Wood

Starting can be very difficult requiring patience and skill.  Gathering wood, cutting, shaving, keeping it going and controlling heat output all play into a cooking session with wood.  Expect that your pots will end up sooty and all your gear to smell like whatever you have been burning.

 


Solar

It is important that these are focused at the sun, which can affect camp selection and be difficult in windy areas, as many lightweight designs are prone to be blow away.  These can take a long time to cook with and may not bring foods to a sufficiently safe temperature depending on your situation and/or needs.

 

 


Safety Factor

 

This can be important for those with children, or are prone to catastrophic events.  All stove have the potential for harm and all fuels have health concerns making all stoves dangerous to some degree.  Stoves should never be used in tents as all burned fuels release hazardous fumes, silently lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and can quickly set a tent and its inhabitants on fire.

 

If you are wondering what fuels can be safely carried on an airline originating from or with a destination in the the US and most other countries, then it's safe to say that no fuels can be carried on or checked.  You may be able to check purged stoves without fuel residue or odor (canister mounted stoves, pop can stoves, washed out and dry fuel bottles, etc) but expect the possibility of having a stove confiscated at the discretion of a security screener.  Contact the airline you wish to fly with and see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration Permitted and Prohibited Items List for more information.  Ferry systems also have regulations and may prohibit liquid petroleum fuels and/or propane fuels on board.

 

TSA Permitted and Prohibited Items List April 2005

Flammable Items

Carry-on

Checked

Aerosol (any except for personal care or toiletries in limited quantities)

No

No

Fuels (including cooking fuels and any flammable liquid fuel)

No

No

Gasoline

No

No

Gas Torches

No

No

Lighters *

No

No

Lighter Fluid

No

No

Strike-anywhere Matches

No

No

Turpentine and Paint Thinner

No

No

Realistic Replicas of Incendiaries

No

No

 

 

 

Beginning April 14, 2005, all lighters will be prohibited as carry-on items. Up to four (4) books of safety matches are permitted as carry-on only. Lighters and Matches are always prohibited in checked baggage.
Note There are other hazardous materials that are regulated by the FAA. This information is summarized at http://asi.faa.gov/Passenger.asp



Petrol

These fuels vary in their level of explosion hazard and all are dangerous.  A petrol fire is hard to put out and can cause severe burns.  Use of improper fuel has caused death, maiming and destruction of entire villages. 1 2 3 4 5  Integral stoves designs with burners mounted above the fuel tank have been know to overheat and spray out hot fuel or explode (even well made Western stoves can do this).  Pressurized stoves tend to burp/flare up unexpectedly, a very dangerous trait.

 

Fuel will leak, you will inhale toxic fumes and get fuel on your hands and food may even taste like fuel, which can't be healthy.

 

Gasoline for autos and solvents not intended for stove use should never be used as they release extremely toxic fumes when burned.

 

Petrol fuels can't be safely burned in a stove designed only for alcohol - it's been tried and doesn't work.  You'll end up with a huge fireball and possibly dead.

 


Pressurized Petroleum Gas

People inhale these fuels for a drug induced high, which can cause brain damage and often death.  Attempting to preheat a canister or use of a tight windscreen can lead to an explosion.

 

Storing a stove attached to a canister can lead to dangerous fuel leaks.  One time pierceable canister are the main culprit of this hazard, as stoves must remain on them until empty.

 

Attempting to refill canisters with higher output gases such as acetylene and can lead to spontaneous explosion.  Don't ever try this.  If you are curious or skeptical, research on gas stabilization and when you are done - don't do it.

 


Alcohol

No explosion hazard.  There is the risk of burning one's self since alcohol flames are difficult to see.  Testing to see if a stove is on fire with one's finger is a bad idea.  Alcohol fires can generally be extinguished with a little water.

 

Methanol is poisonous and can cause blindness if consumed or poured in ones eyes, neither of which is recommended.  Some may find the fumes a little irritating.

 


Hexamine

Don't eat.  More or less safe for young folks.  Blowing on a hexy fire should put it out.

 

Hexamine is considered non-toxic but some people find the fumes irritating.  The fumes from burning trioxane are notoriously toxic.  Prior to eating, one should wash their hands after handling trioxane.

 


Wood

Blazing infernos are never safe and sparks from fires can set forests or tents ablaze.

 

Long term exposure to wood burning smoke causes cancer.

 


Solar

Generally safe to use.  Well made parabolic solar cookers can cause unexpected fires and blindness.  Use eye protection with solar stoves (seriously).

 

 


Personal/Area Preference

 

This may be the biggest factor in stove selection.  Folk have their preferences and that's it!

 


Petrol

The operation, maintenance, shear power and roar of a well maintained petrol stove is reminiscent of a big block muscle car or monster truck.  Even though these stoves tend to be heavy, they are still a favorite and it will be hard to convince diehards to switch to anything less.

 


Pressurized Petroleum Gas

Canister stoves are simple to use while still having an adjustable flame.  Those wanting flame control without hassle, will never gives these babies up.

 


Alcohol

In the US, there is a cult following of ultralight hikers who use homemade alcohol stoves.  They are an unusual bunch with very odd trail names who often wear homemade gear and are mistaken for the homeless as they travel across America.  Alcohol is also a renewable fuel, an aspect that often appeals to this group.

 

This web site has an obvious preference towards alcohol stoves and other stoves are mentioned primarily for comparison purposes.

 


Hexamine

These are simple and hassle free, ideal for those with no interest in fire or gadgets and who just want some hot water.

 


Wood

Those who were mesmerized by the mystical flames and soul warming crackle and pop of a campfire at a young age often in their adult years use backpacking or camping as an excuse to gather up combustibles and set them on fire.  Cooking may not even be important for this crowd and a wood stove allows them to burn wood where availability of fuel is insufficient for a raging inferno or where open fires are banned.

 

Ah, the nostalgic aroma of a yak dung stove brewing up some tea full of herbs best left untranslated.

 


Solar

There is quite a bit of interest in making solar cookers more available to the world and it doesn't get any more environmentally friendly than this.  If you run across any solar stovers on the trail, be kind and politely nod as they tell you about solar energy and share some of your heated meal with them as they tend to be very hungry and skinny.

 

 


Eco Concerns

 

For Green diehards, there are a couple of stoves and fuels that might be better suited for your lifestyle. 

 

Solar energy is as eco friendly as it gets.  Too bad they don't work so well in certain parts of the world.

 

Wood gasification turns wood and other biomass into "clean burning" gas.  This is a renewable fuel system that's worth looking into.

 

Alcohol stoves work and they burn clean.  Both methanol and ethanol are renewable fuels.

 

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils through transesterification.  Often times, this fuel is made from fryer wastes bound for disposal.  It's renewable and you may have some success at getting it to work in a multifuel stove.  You can even make your own fuel at home.

 

Beeswax and vegetable oil wick stoves?  Too bad they don't really heat up water or food fast enough for most backpacking needs.

 

 


Do It Yourself Gearheads

 

There are several reasons that people make their own gear.  Many want purpose built equipment that fits their specific needs/criteria that may not be commercially available, namely functional gear with an emphasis on being extremely light and with less consideration of durability.  Others like the idea of saving large amounts of cash and/or recycling items headed for the landfill.  Alcohol stoves are often the stove of choice for these folks, as they are simple to construct, safe to operate, often are more efficient than commercial versions and can be made to be extremely light weight.  Esbit and wood stoves are also simple to construct.

 

Being able to construct a stove while thru-hiking can mean the difference between having hot or cold meals or even enable you to complete your intended journey.

 

 


Bottom Line

 

This website obviously has a alcohol stove bias.  Simple alcohol burners are prized little gems that most anyone can make for pennies, and really do work great if you are willing to adjust your menu accordingly and fiddle around a bit until you learn how to operate one.  Light, cheap and eco friendly.  Likewise, hexamine works great if you can find it and don't mind the brown tar residue on your cookware.  And since all of the various designs work about the same, it really doesn't matter which one you end up with.

 

If you aren't going to go with alcohol or hexy, head down to the nearest outdoors store and just get the lightest canister stove you can afford.  If you have an REI or MEC nearby, indulge yourself by spending the day lighting up stoves.  Canister stoves are a bit heavier than alcohol and hexy, but are so easy to use - they feel like a sinful luxury on the trail.  Other than the variance in weight of each stove and what type of canisters each stove uses, there is relatively little difference between any particular canister stove compared to another canister stove.

 

Liquid petrol stoves are heavy, expensive, difficult to operate, and often dangerous.  Don't be fooled by high heat output specs, as it doesn't matter how fast you can burn your fuel if it's only going up in the air.  These should only be used if you feel that petrol fuels are all you can find, or you are in extreme and dangerous subfreezing conditions (such as in the Antarctic) where cooking and melting snow for water is vital for life.

 

Other stove types are for specialty uses and for the eccentric.  Come on - unless you are living in a mud hut in the middle of Africa, who is going to want to wait 3 hours for food to cook in your zero-emissions solar cooker?  You know who you are.

 

But before you run out and purchase a stove, visit our Stove Systems Page for more on the system concept.

 

Happy Stoving!

 

 


 

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