Let’s get one thing straight: there is no “perfect” stove. Most work just well enough to provide a meal in an unfamiliar place. The trick to buying your new (or possibly first) camp stove is to find one that meets your needs in terms of functionality, usability and maintenance. The best way to decide which stove you need is not by referring to a standard “best of” list, but instead considering where you fit in amid a wide range of stoves designed with specific types of campers and trips in mind. The best stove for brewing a cup of coffee won’t be the same one you bring on a road trip to Yellowstone to feed a family of four. The ideal, one-size-fits-all camp stove is still far off, so consider your own specific flame-based needs and parse our guide below.
Additional contribution by Michael Finn
FireFly UL Titanium Collapsible Wood Stove
For Ultralight Thru-Hikers: It doesn’t get any lighter than this. (Unless you’re using one of those makeshift tin can stoves.) When unfolded and assembled, the 2.7-ounce FireFly UL is no bigger than your palm (though it is wide enough to accomodate medium-sized pots); when folded, it goes flat as a few stacked credit cards. For a few extra grams, you can tack on additonal parts, like a mesh grille or titanium arms, which strengthen the crackling twig-fueled fire beneath. Don’t expect to make any family-style meals, though: the FireFly UL is designed for lone wolves only.
For Day Hikers: Jetboil’s compact, 14.6-ounce MiniMo is easy to store in your daypack for those spur-of-the-moment excursions you’re always almost taking. MiniMo’s distinctive feature extends beyond boiling, however (which it does in 2.25 minutes per liter, for those who are counting). Its advanced regulator technology improves overall control, granting the ability to simmer — should you crave something more than instant ramen. It’s one of the most versatile upright canister systems on the market, easy to eat out of and compatible with an array of accessories, including Jetboil’s own Coffee Press.
For Groupies and Car Campers: If you have the luxury of a vehicle, double-burner stoves are your best bet. The Tupike’s two burners kick out 7,000 BTUs each (about the same as most home gas-range stoves). There is also a drip tray underneath the burners for catching stray clumps of quinoa and sausage. In theory, you can cook just about anything on the Tupike, and in any serving size — all you need is some fuel canisters and the right cookware. Plus, the steel-and-brass shell resists years of abuse, while the oak details on the lid and handle develop a unique patina.
Main Fuel Types
Canister — Isobutane and propane fuel systems make for ideal entry-level stoves and short overnight options.
Pro: easy to use; compact.
Con: expensive; hard to gauge fuel level.
Liquid Fuel — Highly refined white gas (aka naphtha) does well in cold temperatures and high alpine environments.
Pro: works in cold-weather and high-alpine environments.
Con: most systems require priming; systems are often heavier than other options.
Alternative Fuel (Wood) — Wood is optimal for ultra-lightweight systems and long-distance hikes.
Pro: fuel is easy to source on the go.
Con: requires skill and constant attention to control flame strength.
Alternative Fuel (Alcohol) — Alcohol is widely available in remote parts of the world and usually sold in the form of denatured alcohol (look for high-ethanol content alcohol, as opposed to methanol, which is toxic).
Pro: widely available in other countries; versatile, fits a variety of systems.
Con: can produce heavy soot depending on purity of alcohol.
Solid Fuel — Made of hexamine, fuel tablets are compact, lightweight and ideal for emergency situations.
Pro: lightweight; easy to ignite.
Con: short burn time; expensive.
BioLite CampStove 2
For Environmentalists: The innovators at BioLite, who focus on clean combustion, have converted toxic emissions into opportunity. Their award-winning CampStove system, now in its second iteration, cooks over a contained fire, converting unused energy into electricity with proprietary thermoelectric technology. The result is a clean and efficient stove that stores enough of this surplus energy to charge a tablet or mobile phone via an attached USB port. The CampStove can even factor into home emergency preparation, providing hot meals and charged devices in the event of a power outage so you’re never caught unprepared.
Trangia 25-5 Non-Stick Alcohol Stove Kit
For Globe-Trotters: Reminiscent of Scandinavian military-issued mess kits, Swedish brand Trangia makes exceptional alcohol-burning stoves for backpacking and beyond. The ingenuity of Trangia systems lies in their completely self-contained designs; their stove packages include two pots, a frying pan, a windshield and a heat source. Among a range of models incorporating different pot sizes and materials, the 27-3 HA is the way to go. Its hard anodized aluminum finish makes its components less vulnerable to scratches (with no added weight); it also features a non-stick frying pan (which doubles as a lid) for morning eggs and bacon.
Esbit Ultralight Folding Pocket Stove
For Survivalists: Esbit leads the charge on small emergency fuels and stove systems. Their fuel tablets light easily with an ordinary match and burn for a sustained 12-minute span, generating up to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit even in high altitudes. The brand also offers a pocket-size flame holder, which folds down and stores easily among other essentials.