When fires aren’t an option for heating water or cooking food, it’s important to have a camp stove or backpacking stove handy. Even when fires are permitted, a stove should always be packed as backup. Choosing the right model of stove for your purposes can be the tricky part. Follow some simple guidelines and you’ll be able to find a stove that meets your needs.

Backpacking vs. camping stove

If you only have the budget to purchase one stove, and you plan to do any backpacking, a lightweight backpacking stove is the best option. However, choosing the right model of backpacking stove requires considering some simple guidelines. Backpacking stoves are lightweight, fuel-efficient, and often quite small. Some are tiny enough to fit into a pocket. Some backpacking stoves are designed to only boil water, such as a Jetboil; whereas others can accommodate smaller pots and pans.

If you plan to camp in camper vans, the benefit of a camp stove is it can handle larger pots and pans, and it’s more stable. Backpacking stoves tend to be top-heavy and can tip over easily.

Types of backpacking stoves

Integrated canister systems: While a standard canister stove typically features a burner device that screws onto the top of a fuel canister, an integrated canister system comes with a built-in windscreen and insulated cooking pot with a lid. Designed to boil quickly, an integrated canister system is not ideal for cooking food or simmering water. However, certain models come with an alternative vessel that can be used as a pot for cooking food or as a bowl for eating food. And some models are made with a built-in pressure regulator that is handy for maintaining a consistent outflow of fuel, even at higher elevations or lower temperatures. Tall in stature, integrated canister stoves should be placed on a level surface when in use to prevent them from tipping over.

Remote canister systems: Unlike top-heavy integrated canister systems, remote canister stoves feature a burner device that sits directly on the ground rather than atop a canister. A fuel hose connects the burner device to a canister. The benefits of this setup include being able to use a windscreen around the stove and to support a larger pot on the wider stove base.

Wood-burning stoves: A lightweight option for longer treks into the backcountry, wood-burning backpacking stoves allow you to leave fuel canisters behind. The stove produces a flame by burning collected leaves and twigs. Certain models come with an optional grill attachment or even produce enough electricity while burning to charge electronic devices like a GPS unit or mobile phone. The only downside to wood-burning stoves is encountering a situation where a burn ban prevents burning wood or wet weather prevents collecting dry fuel.

Denatured alcohol stoves: An ultralight option for minimalist or thru-hikers, denatured alcohol stoves only weigh an ounce or two and require minimal maintenance. The only fuel required is a bottle filled with enough denatured alcohol (inexpensive and easily sourced within the US) to last the duration of your trip. Another desirable feature is that the fuel burns silently. The only downsides are that denatured alcohol can be difficult to source outside the US, a windscreen is often necessary, and it can take longer to boil water than other types of stoves.

Solid-fuel tablet stoves: An inexpensive option for ultralight campers, these stoves are so compact they can fit into a pocket. Like denatured alcohol stoves, solid-fuel tablet stoves can take a while to bring water to a boil, and the tablets used to keep the stove burning can leave a greasy residue on the bottom of a pot.