Stove Comparison – Real World Use

This stoves article is one of my oldest articles and one of my most popular.

Canisters stoves were starting to ramp up concerning popularity, and Jet Boil stoves intrigued many people when I wrote this article back in 2004.

And the popularity of this article since then is not too much of a surprise.

If there is any piece of equipment that people love to discuss online, it is stoves. Just look at the comments below!  The engineers and scientist types who are into gear get deep into the numbers, statistics, and tests.

Nearly fifteen years later, the choices of stoves for most have not changed:  Alcohol stoves, canister stoves, and white gas stoves. 

What also has not changed? What stove is The BestTM. .   The correct answer is still  “NONE OF THEM.”

But fifteen years later, people much smarter than me can massage numbers, bandy about statistics, or parrot ad copy to prove which stove is The BestTM .

But these articles tend to lack real-world application and experience. Backyard tests or on the kitchen table, using them in specific conditions only, or otherwise used within a narrow set of parameters not reflecting real-world use for most people.

Since I wrote the original article (if revised over the years), specific backpacking stove models have come and gone. But the types have not changed overall.

The overall view vs. when I wrote this article? Sub-1oz canister stoves are available, various alcohol models with similar performance are still produced or written about, white gas stove designs are more or less static, budget canister stoves are widely available, and JetBoil has some competition.  The significant changes are the continuing open flame bans now regularly present in the North American West in the negative side, but some interesting and efficient hacks on the positive side.

So here’s my first major revision of this article since that time.

I’ll still try to write from a practical and real-world standpoint. I’ll link numbers as appropriate but try to avoid too much gear wonkery.

I have to give a plug for Adventures in Stoving by Hikin’ Jim. His website has many hard data points, but he writes in an approachable manner that applies to real-world use. I’ll be linking to his site a lot.

Invariably people will claim that they can cook a turkey dinner with all the fixings on their alcohol stove made with leftover titanium from their vocation as an aerospace engineer.  Or that by adroit swapping of the pots at precisely 4.34878 seconds into a boil their canister stove is just as efficient as an alcohol stove by weight for cooking their Chili Mac Mountain House Meal. And only an uncouth barbarian (Like you, Paul!) can’t do this task.

But that those enthusiasts are outliers with the spreadsheets to prove their points. And to contradict each other’s positions, too.

The article below will go into the pros and cons of the various stoves for use depending upon your needs. We all have our biases. Myself included. But I’ll try to keep the views from a more pragmatic standpoint. As typical of me, I’ll be looking at types rather than individual stoves.  As with all gear, the models change, the types rarely.

Updated Oct 2018.

Historic BSA photo

The “best stove” depends on what your use is for at a given time and activity. Boiling a lot of water? Backpacking as a couple? Doing “real” cooking in the backcountry? Long time without resupply? Winter camping?

These are all questions that need to be asked when considering a stove for backcountry use. Just as you would not use a screwdriver to put in a nail, certain types of stoves are suited for different kind of tasks than another stove.  Most experienced outdoor users have different stoves for different purposes. Like all gear, there is no best…just what is best for a particular person and their needs.

Here is my rough guide (and I do mean rough!) to the different stove uses.

First the baseline for my stove use:

  • A majority of my backpacking is for solo, three season use.
  • When backpacking on established trails, I tend to hike about 25-30 miles per day (MPD). Or the equivalent sunrise to sunset hiking on less established routes.
  • I enjoy winter backpacking a few times a year in the Rockies or nearby and will typically take white gas.
  • I define a meal as enough for a basic backpacking meal such as couscous with a chicken packet and with enough water for a hot drink. For me, that equated one ounce of alcohol for most of my cooking or using the equivalent with my canister stove on a low flame. I never had to use more fuel than that, overall but I’ve used my stoves enough where I make it work with a minimum amount of fuel. As many experienced stove users.
  • When I say boil, I do not mean a rolling boil. But a low boil just enough to heat the food. Consistent practice with most experienced backpackers.
  • In recent years I’ve been switching to cold food for long daylight hours, bear areas, or during hot weather.
  • I’ll often take a canister stove for social or quick trips.

A quick note on Chemistry 101: In case you forgot your 10th-grade chemistry class  (and remembering the cute student who you had a crush on when you were sixteen does not count!), here is a quick reminder: Fuel volume and fuel weight are not a one for one ratio. One ounce of fuel by volume does not weigh one ounce. One ounce of alcohol (by volume) weighs approx. .8 oz. A 10 oz of a bottle of fuel weighs about 8oz (not counting the weight of the container). White Gas weighs slightly less per ounce; 10oz of fuel weighs about 7.5 oz. And so on…

On to the stove comparison!

Canister Stoves

Making some coffee in Canyonlands National Park in November.

Canister stoves are a good alternative for those whose needs are more than three season solo backpacking with an emphasis on saving weight. A canister stove is easy to use, more fuel-efficient in the long-term than an alcohol stove, and is better for couples and partners. “Real cooking” is also done easier on a canister stove. These stoves are the most popular overall. The isobutane canisters branded differently can be used among the popular canister stoves as they are standard despite manufacturer claims

Canister stoves are the most popular stoves to use for general backpacking. Easy to use, fuel located in many places, the stoves are affordable, and it makes a good Jack-of-All-Trades stove if you have to have a quiver of one.

Some disadvantages with the canister stove?

  • Not as light as an alcohol stove setup for basic and short-term use
  • You have to pack out the empty canister.
  • Amount of fuel is not readily known. But you can mitigate that issue.
  • Not as efficient in cold weather for a standard upright canister stove

On established long trails, fuel canisters are readily available.  On longer treks on lesser known trails, you may have to mail yourself canisters. Ken and Marcia have a good article on mailing canisters. For general use outside of longer treks, isobutane canisters are readily available and are even sold in Walmart.

As with alcohol stoves,  winter backpacking is not an ideal time to use canister stoves. The canisters are rated to ~15F by the manufacturers. They perform slightly better in cooler temps than alcohol, but not by much. In other words, for real world, three-season backpacking, the temps are not a factor for white gas vs. alcohol vs. canisters.

Among the canister stoves, there are a few different major variations.

Upright Canister Stoves

Coleman F1

In 2018, I consider the upright canister stove the standard for stove use. The stoves are easy to use, ubiquitous, not very expensive, fuel is readily available, and the most widely used stove overall.

The stoves generally weigh  ~3oz with some budget options weighing about 4 oz.  Call it about 12 oz  for a typical weekend set up of a canister stove, 110g (4 oz canister) for a fuel canister and a cook pot.

The standard upright canisters stoves aren’t as light as an alcohol stove, do not work well in cold weather, and the wind resistance is terrible.

  • Standard canister stoves overall: The standard canister stove versatility, simplicity, and efficiency make the conventional upright canister stove an attractive choice for many people. I’ll often take one for quick overnight trips or during the Fall when I want hot drinks in more quantity.
Sub-2oz canister stoves.  An alcohol stove alternative

Essentially a smaller and lighter version of the canister stoves above, various sub-2oz canisters stoves are available.  Perfect for a solo backpacker doing boil-and-cook type meals during three-season backpacking conditions.  The small head of the stove means the heat is concentrated on the stove, so a true simmer (versus merely lower heat to conserve fuel) is not easy.  Naturally, a larger cookpot is difficult, if not impossible to use on these stoves. Limited use for beyond one-person use. Not as efficient as the standard canister stove.

The BRS 3000t is a budget-friendly and very light sub-1oz stove that I’ve had good luck with since 2015 of steady use. Others have had inconsistent results. Some praise it. Others do not.

For a .5 oz weight penalty and more money, but with less inconsistent results, the Fire Maple 300t is well-regarded stove of this type.

  • Sub 2-oz canister stoves overall: For a solo backpacker who wants some of the advantages of an alcohol stove (lightweight) and canister (quicker boils, more efficiency vs. alcohol, allowed during open flame bans), this stove could be a good choice.  
Remote Canister Stoves

MSR Windpro

A remote canister stove is simply a canister stove where the fuel bottle is connected via a hose to the stove base.

These stoves are about twice as heavy compared to a standard upright stove but feature a more stable base overall vs. the upright canister stoves. A standard windscreen can be used with these stoves, too. Better for group use vs. standard canister stoves.

For winter use, remote and inverted canister stoves are popular and superseding the traditional white gas stoves popular for many years. These stoves work well in winter.  Most, not all, of the canister stoves can be inverted,  Though the remote canister stoves work better in winter vs. standard upright canister stoves, even the inverted stoves start to balk in weather below ~0F.  The MSR Windpro is a benchmark stove in this class.

If you do take a canister in colder weather regardless of the canister stove type, you may want to have the canister in your sleeping bag at night.

  • Remote canister stoves overall: If you want to winter backpack with lots of snow melting or need a stove for group use and still have the convenience of a canister stove, this is the stove to use.
Canister Cooking Systems – Jetboil and MSR 

From Jetboil

A prevalent canister stove system is the all-in-one cooking systems.  They are popular because it is a “system.” Small pot, fuel-efficient stove, easy to use. Boils water very fast. These stoves do save about 5g per day over a conventional canister stove per online statistics. Over a long four day weekend, that means roughly a quarter less of fuel use for a standard 110g fuel canister.

These stoves are expensive and heavy though compared to other choices. The integrated cup is meant just for boiling water and not cooking in, so it is of less use for partners and not as versatile as other canister stove types. The small cookpots standard on the solo version of this type could be a limiting factor for larger appetites.

Still, the convenience and quick boil times make it an attractive stove for many. Jetboil and MSR make the most well-known versions of the stoves.

The Jetboil Zip is the standard and popular version of this type of stove. Weighing 12 oz for the cookpot and stove with fast boils and a compact package. Excellent wind resistance, too.  This stove is a favorite for backpackers not as concerned about weight but value efficiency and ease of use.   Jetboil makes other stoves that vary in effectiveness, price, features and practically for more than solo use.

The MSR Windburner Stove Systems are the director competitor for Jet Boil.  The  Personal solo system weighs 16 oz with a larger version available suitable for two people or a more massive appetite.

Finally, aimed more at the alpine and winter use crowds, the MSR Reactor puts out a lot of heat, fast boil times, and more wind resistance with weight penalty and even more significant price penalty.

Other systems companies such as Fire Maple are made by different companies but are less well known. Google the reviews for more details.

  • Stove Systems Overall: For the most convenient stove with ease of use and fast boil times the canister stove systems are desirable. But with a weight and price penalty.  Limited versatility as well.
Other canister stove considerations

From The Trek

Alcohol Stove
 For solo, three-season use, this stove works very well. A homemade alcohol stove is light (less than half an ounce), easy to use, inexpensive and most towns stock the fuel in the U.S.

As a base, here is a typical alcohol stove setup:

Besides the initial lightweight, another advantage of the alcohol stove vs. other stoves is that as you use more fuel, your weight becomes less and less than that of a canister stove.

A typical empty metal container weighs about three ounces by itself! If I go out for a weekend, two ounces of fuel weighs 1 oz a the most. So, my setup would be about 7oz for a weekend vs. 21oz for some canister stoves setups.

The primary disadvantage of an alcohol stove is that after about ten meals (10 oz of fuel), you lose the major advantage of the weight savings.

The alcohol stove setup above weighs ~14 oz with ten days of fuel. If I were to go longer, a typical canister stove would be more efficient for extended use. For cold weather temps (below 15F, the raw edge of three-season hiking IMO), a white gas stove would be much more efficient.

Alcohol and unmodified upright canister stoves (rated to 15F by manufacturers) perform poorly for winter use. Alcohol can be used in cold weather, of course, it just takes more fuel vs. other systems and is not very efficient for group use in cold weather large amounts of snow melting.

For more numerically inclined people, various people have done more in-depth studies versus my rule of thumb inclinations.

From Mechanical Engineering Magazine, August 2004 issue:

Once a trip extends beyond a certain duration, the advantage of the homebuilt’s near weightlessness bogs down in alcohol’s low heat content,compared to white gas or isopropane (11,500 vs. 20,000 Btu/lb.). Hikers relying on alcohol end up paying a fuel-weight penalty if they can’t resupply every four to five days.

(The above figure is for two meals a day)

Alcohol stoves also have the disadvantage that they may not be allowed during open flame bans in the North American West with its hotter and drier summers of recent years.

Despite some concerns of some for high elevation travel, altitude has not been a factor for me with alcohol stove use. I have used an alcohol stove as high as 13k feet in October during a light snow squall. I feel that is a good representation of what I consider the raw edge for three-season hiking.

Different alcohol stoves have various efficiencies but don’t vary that much overall in my opinion. However, if you use a Caldera Cone, you can increase the stove efficiency quite a bit and extend the fuel use as much as 50% vs a standard alcohol stove set up.  If with slightly more weight (and money) depending on your application.

  • Alcohol Stove Overall:  The alcohol stove is suited best for three-season, solo use. The lightweight, ease of use and easy resupply makes it a solo thru-hiker favorite. If you need to do “real” cooking, long-term resupply (more than ten meals worth) or share a stove, then you may be better off with a canister stove. Two people can use alcohol stoves efficiently, but more planning, expertise, and patience are needed than a casual backpacker may want. Though alcohol stoves are not hard to use, they are not as convenient as canister stoves. That may or not be a factor in your decision. If you do take an alcohol stove in colder weather, you may want to have the fuel in your sleeping bag at night. Alcohol stoves are also increasingly limited where they are allowed during peak backpacking season.
    • Caldera Cone system alternative is more efficient and can be used easier with two people if with a slight weight disadvantage and more money spent.
    • More info on alcohol stoves
White Gas and Multi-fuel  (Liquid Fuel) Stoves
Heavy, complicated to use, noisy, expensive. For most three-season backpacking, there is no real reason to use this stove. A winter camping and group use standard.

MSR Whisperlite

Though it is more fuel-efficient than the other stoves, the heavyweight outstrips the weight savings for overall fuel efficiency versus other stoves. If you are cooking for more three or more people, a white gas stove makes more sense because they have a more stable base (in general) and can boil lots of water quickly. Winter camping and high altitude mountaineering are where these stoves shine. It was the original use of these stoves after all!

These stoves work much better in cold weather than the other stoves and can melt snow quickly; an important chore in winter camping. The white gas stoves do have a bit of learning curve and can be finicky to use. Most of the white gas stoves also have two settings: Blast furnace and off!  The MSR Whisperlite is the current baseline for this type of stove.

Some more expensive stoves, such as the classic MSR XGK,  are multi-fuel and will run on auto fuel or even kerosene. Handy for international travel.

Liquid fuel stove summary: For true winter camping and high altitude mountaineering, esp below ~0F,  and large group use, it is the stove of choice. Otherwise, it is too heavy for three-season backpacking use.

Want both a canister stove and a liquid fuel stove? The MSR Whisperlite Universal is the ultimate in fuel versatility if with more weight and cost versus other stoves.

Quick tip: For winter backpacking with an inverted canister stove or liquid fuel stove, use a heat reflector and stove platform. Here’s a quick and dirty one to use with foam and foil!

Solid Fuel Stoves
Solid fuel stoves use tablets that are lit to boil water. They are lighter than even alcohol stoves (because of the fuel themselves), are more fuel efficient and make the overall lightest setup for all lengths of hauls. The disadvantage depends upon which solid fuel you use Esbit (hexamine) or Trioxane tabs.


Esbit (Hexamine):

First, let’s discuss Esbit. Though you can buy a special stove for them, there is no reason. A home-made alcohol stove turned over works well. Some people even use tent stakes as pot support with the tab in the middle. Though this method can work, in inclement weather you are S.O.L. Probably worth it to bring a cut offa soda can bottom as your “stove” and a lightweight pot support.

The significant advantages of the Esbit tabs are similar to alcohol stoves; even more so. Lighter than alcohol and more fuel-efficient. If an alcohol stove is less efficient after about 10 + meals, doing some rough math, the Esbit stove is not as efficient as the canister stove at about the 21 meal mark. That’s a long time between resupplies! If you are out for a long or short-haul and want something light, Esbit is a great option!

The major disadvantages? Price and resupply!

An Esbit tab is about .35 each.  It does not sound expensive, but that’s about $3.50 for ten meals. It adds up over the long haul.

Resupply on a long haul can be problematic as not many places stock Esbit. Careful planning can mitigate this problem.  Similar regulations for mailing canisters applies to Esbit. Since Esbit can eat through plastic, a foil-lined Ziploc is suggested to carry the fuel. The ziplock also helps prevent the smell from permeating through your pack. The scent has been described as “rotting fish.” Mmm…rotting fish!

Esbit has been reported to be hard to light. In my limited use, found the Esbit hard to light as well.

As with alcohol and canisters stoves, Esbit does not work well for true winter camping. Esbit is also for “boil only” meals as well and is a bit slower than the other stoves. This stove is best for solo use.  Esbit will generally not be allowed during open flame bans.


As with Esbit, does not need a particular stove. Trioxane can usually be found at Army surplus stores (online and local). The fumes are toxic, but not usually a problem unless you use in a poorly ventilated space (you should not use ANY stove in a poorly ventilated area!). About the same weight as Esbit for a quarter the full retail price. Because it is surplus, quality can differ. Trioxane burns hot, but not very efficiently. Not suggested for general use. May not be bad as a backup to another stove.

Solid Fuel Summary: For the lightest system, you can’t beat Esbit. With careful planning, you can avoid the resupply issue. The major disadvantage of Esbit is the price per tab. Trioxane? Last resort only!

Esbit reviews

Trioxane (really, I would not use it personally!)

Going stoveless
Going stoveless works well for specific scenarios. There is no futz factor, resupply is a breeze, and the weight is zero!


I don’t know how much weight is saved overall (Some backpacking staples such as Knorr side dishes must be cookedbut others such as couscous do rehydrate fine), but not having to worry about cooking and needing water (for most meals) does make life simpler.  Naturally, fuel resupply is not an issue.  Going stoveless works best for warmer hiking and people who like to go very minimally.

I went stoveless on the Great Divide Trail with success.

As I wrote :

I did not use a stove on the GDT and went with cold food insteadWhy? Because flying with a stove can be a pain many times. And with the long daylight hours, easier to eat small meals throughout the day and hike to 9 or even 10 PM.  Due to grizzly activity, eating where I slept did not make sense and, for me, cold food is simple when “on the go.”

Camp Fires 
And let’s not forget the first “stove” humans’ used: A campfire!

Camp Fire

A steep learning curve, can be hard to light in wet weather or snow, can’t always be used when there are fire bans in addition to alpine or desert environments. For the absolute lightest way to go, a campfire is still the best..with significant disadvantages. But how many people tell ghost stories around an alcohol stove? In all seriousness, a campfire is best when you can use one, don’t mind waiting a bit, and want ambiance.

Naturally, backcountry campfire use is becoming less and less frequent. Campfires are more of a front country, non-dispersed camping, activity in 2018.

Other Stoves

Other stoves, such as some woods stoves, are more of a niche use. Especially with open flame bans, these stoves are of limited use. The wood stoves work best in wetter areas with a lot of downed wood, for example.


Other Stove Concepts
  • Daily Average Haul

“Daily Average Haul” is a concept Two Speed (a White Blaze user and a civil engineer), and myself came up with via e-mail exchanges. Sgt. Rock, one of the main admins at Whiteblaze at the time has also done much research on this concept. I shamelessly used some of his data for this section. 🙂

Volga Boatmen

What this concept essentially means is that a stove system (stove, fuel and cooking system) has an initial starting weight, but also a weight that decreases over time due to fuel use. The weight of a stove system has a differing average depending over the time a stove system is being used. Hence the term “Daily Average Haul”.

For example, the initial weight of an alcohol stove is very light. But, if many meals are cooked without a fuel resupply (about ten), the weight savings of an alcohol stove is mitigated. More fuel means the “daily average haul” weight increases.

Conversely, a canister stove system’s weight does not differ much over time. A 4 oz canister is good for about eight to ten meals or so. After the fuel is used, you are still left with a canister that weighs 3oz and can no longer be used. On a weekend outing, 4 oz of alcohol weighs about 2.5 oz. The empty 12 oz Sprite bottle weighs .625 oz. Taking the first example, the “daily average haul” for the alcohol stove is noticeably less than a canister stove for a shorter period.

If you are a canister stove user who packs another canister “just in case,” the weight penalty for “daily average haul” is even more pronounced.

If you are out for an incredibly long time without a fuel resupply, some stoves (e.g. an MSR Simmerlite or a Zip Stove in the appropriate environment) will have a daily average haul” weight that is lighter than other stoves.

When thinking about which stove is lighter, “daily average haul” is a useful concept to keep in mind. Depending upon your time out without a fuel resupply, one stove system may be more efficient than another.

Naturally, there are other reasons to use one stove system over another besides weight (convenience, time of year, availability of fuel, etc). But “daily haul average” is still a useful concept to keep in mind when determining what type of stove system best suits your needs.

  • International Travel

International travel has its own set of variables. With the Post 9/11 airport security, getting a stove and fuel canister on a plane can be…interesting.  Availability of fuel such as canisters is hard outside of a few well-stocked areas. And while alcohol may be available in certain areas, it is not always easy to get (a well-stocked pharmacy may have it for example).

In general…

  • Liquid fuel stoves (white gas, auto fuel, kerosene, etc.) will be the easiest to find fuel for BUT may be hard to get on a plane.
  • Alcohol stoves are easy to get on a plane but are somewhat hard to get fuel for. I do have a friend who bike toured in France and found denatured alcohol reasonably easily. On the other hand, alcohol stove fuel is not easily found in rural gas stations in Canada as their US counterparts – as I found on my GDT hike. Larger towns with hardware stores are another story, of course. Please see this Canadian outdoor site for more info.
  • Canister stoves are hard to get on a plane and are usually hard to find resupplies for except in areas blessed with a good outfitter.

Whichever stove you go with, this link may help you find the fuel in the area by name:

  • Burn Ban Considerations

A fire caused by alcohol stove use outside of Ft. Collins, CO

Burn Ban Considerations

In recent years, there have been bans on open fires in the backcountry during times of extreme fire dangers.

Okanogan-Wenatchee bulletin. Oct 2015. Emphasis mine.

 With more wildfires happening esp here out West, the rules are getting stricter on what types of stoves to use. In many parts of Colorado in the summer of 2012, open flames were banned.  These bans meant no campfires, wood-burning stoves, solid fuel stoves, and alcohol stoves. It did not help that a fire was caused by a negligent alcohol stove user.  These stoves also do not generally have Underwriters Lab designation and have no shut-off valve.  These reasons are partially the cause for the restrictions, too. 

To quote the linked document’s text:

“Mechanical stoves and appliances fueled by bottled or liquid gas which allow the operator to control and extinguish the flame with a valve are permitted provided that such devices are approved by Underwriters Laboratory Inc”

Also, note that many places ban backcountry campfires outright and have restrictions  (again, esp with extreme fire danger). Wood burning stoves may fall under this ban depending on what the local National Park unit or USFS/BLM or State Park office decides.

To quote the letter above:

The only difference in legalities between a liquid/gas fuel stove or the wood burning stove is  that during certain fire restrictions, the wood burning stove would not be allowed when regular campfires aren’t allowed. Just check the conditions/restrictions with the FS you before you go  on your trip to make sure you have a stove you can use. This question comes up often during fire restrictions, and again, the wood burning stove is considered the same as a campfire during these  dry times.

(emphasis mine)

Though there have been arguments over the logic of these bans, this arguing is academic.   One thing to argue on a backpacking forum; another thing to argue with a ranger who can fine you! 🙂

What do these bans mean in the real world? The options for backpacking stove use during bans are white gas stoves and canister stoves. Or you can go stoveless.

Overall Summary

There are many stoves to choose from and available. Which one is the best depends upon your intended use. Note these recommendations are given assuming there is no open flame ban or similar.

  • If you are resupplying for less than ten meals, solo, and three-season backpacking: Alcohol Stove
  • If you are a couple, or going a longer time between resupplies, want something quick and convenient, or need to do real cooking:
    Canister Stove other than a Canister Stove System.
  • Want the above (minus real cooking), but going solo? Sub-2oz canister stove.
  • If you want a convenient all in one solution and swift boil times: Canister stove system.
  • If you are winter camping/high altitude mountaineering or below 0F or doing 3+ person meals: White Gas Stove 
  • If you are winter camping/high altitude mountaineering and want absolute convenience, above ~0F, and perhaps in a group: Inverted and remote canister stove
  • Doing lots of “real cooking” in a forest environment and not hiking far: Wood Stove
  • Want the absolute lightest stove and price and resupply (and don’t mind slower boil times) is not an issue: Esbit
  • Prefer to go the ultra-minimalist route and want very little to no futzing: No stove.

There are other stoves as well that can be best called “specialty” stoves. These stoves are less used but can prove a viable option for some people. Zen Stoves has an excellent summary of these different types of stoves.

Remember…it is just a stove at the end of the day. Gear is the least important part of backpacking.

Frankly, it is just a stove and probably a wash overall for how most people actually use canisters, alcohol, or Esbit in the field when backpacking. I’m too dumb to crunch numbers and the people who are smart enough to crunch numbers all seem to disagree with each other. But their numbers always seem to favor the stove they use. 😀

No matter stove you use, the mountain ranges are awesome, the sunsets are grand, and those wildflower blooms will be gorgeous. Take what works and enjoy!

Other Resources
View this post on Instagram

3 day #winter #backpacking trip in #colorado? Make sure the stove works first!

A post shared by Paul Mags (@pmagsco) on

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bob Shaver
13 years ago

Interesting comparison of stoves, Mags. I found your blog via, and I’ll to spend more time reviewing it. Some observations: I’ve used alcohol stoves at 7 degrees F, and the Caldera stove works fine. For melting snow it wouldn’t be so good, but its fine for cooking. You can’t just light up with a cigarette lighter though. As often as not, those don’t work at around 0 F, anyway. Wood or paper matches work however. But the alcohol does not volitalize, so match to alcohol doesn’t work. However, match to paper works, so you put a little bit of… Read more »

California Hiker
California Hiker
10 years ago

I used Snow Peak’s little 3.5oz butane stove on the JMT in 2010. It worked fantastic.

I’m considering going again in 2014. If I can pull that off, I’ll bring the same old GS-100 I used last time. Only diff. will be that I’ll skip the surplus aluminum mess tin, and go with a titanium pot, instead.

It bears mentioning, that stove users can get a hot shave any time they want. I shaved aboot once every three days. California has been having summer long fire bans lately, so stoves are even more important than previously.

Matt Inman
Matt Inman
8 years ago

What an insane amount of great info on one site. I’ll be back for sure. Thanks.

Andie Wedelle
Andie Wedelle
8 years ago

We got around a burn ban with one of these

It’s considered a contained fire.

8 years ago

I have a jetboil stove, but want to buy a new one, your post help me a lot, thanks for sharing Paul

8 years ago

What are your thoughts on RTW backpacking and bike touring stoves with regards to fuel availability as well as cost in the long term, say over 700 two person meals? I’m guessing multifuel would be the way to go, but has anyone done a cost comparison over many meals?

Great article by the way. Very useful!


8 years ago

What about the Trangia
cooking set for versatility

Tetsu noguchi
8 years ago

Great writeup on stoves. I’ve been working on my own litle stove comparison blog for a while, and some of this information is helpful.

7 years ago

This is a good overview, and some of the basic principles still apply, but is begging for an update. The MSR Simmerlite hasn’t been available for at least 4 or 5 years, and there have been a lot of improvements in system stoves, including size and fuel efficiency. I would think 12 solo meals out of a 4oz canister requires having boil-only meals and relatively warm water (e.g., not fresh snowmelt). My son and I did some testing for a science fair project. Using Ramen (boil 2 cups + 3 minutes cooking + boil 1 cup for drink) as our… Read more »

Tim Taylor
Tim Taylor
7 years ago

Note: I’m not the expert that most of you folks are! But … for what it’s worth … My backpacking has mostly been in the Superstitiion Mountain Wilderness with my geriatric friends. Water is scarce. But lots of boiling water is an incredible luxury for coffee, tea, meal prep, even a hot wet washcloth! With 3, 4 or 5 of us, the white gas stove has become our go-to. This past October, all of our water-filtering pumps got clogged with silt and we had to go to water boiling. (Water holes in the Supers can get pretty nasty, but still… Read more »

Bob Dimesky, orvis pro flyfishing guide
Bob Dimesky, orvis pro flyfishing guide
7 years ago

what’s the poop on propane stoves using 1lb cylindered gas. we do basecamp cooking and find it useful for the genesis jetboil with a luna satelite burner…we get a lot out of run time out of a single cylinder as well as cooking for 6 made easy with fine control of flame….

5 years ago

A very interesting comparison, thank you. I have used alcohol, gas, white spirits and fuel tabs, and I consider gas to be best when hiking with my partner. During our Te Araroa through-hike, we could comfortably go for a week with a Pocket Rocket and a 225g (8 oz) canister. This would boil a litre twice a day, for a total of 12 litres (usually we wouldn’t have to use the stove the first morning and the last evening). To boil 12 litres with my most fuel-efficient alcohol stove would require 680g of alcohol. Sure the weight of the canister… Read more »

john howerton
john howerton
5 years ago

You mention bringing back-up canisters. The weight of the bottom and top of a canister is where most of the weight is so it would be more efficient to bring an 8 oz. canister than 2 – 4 oz. Also I use an Olicamp XTS pot which I have found to reduce boiling times by 25%

5 years ago
Reply to  john howerton

I also use the Olicamp heat exchanger pots with many different stoves, including Alcohol stoves. The increased heat transfer efficiency is noticeable with Alcohol stoves. After using Trangia, Esbit (they do make a Trangia style stove), SuperCat and Starlyte stoves, I have come to favor the Toaks Titanium alcohol stove. It’s a tiny, lightweight package with superior performance. A pot support is necessary, but easy to make. I use Jim Wood’s Firebucket design made from aluminum flashing with a couple of 1/16″ stainless steel welding rod pot supports.

Douche Packer
5 years ago

For any readers interested in Esbit:
I’d like to suggest using Coghlands fuel tabs which are way cheaper, even though you have to use two to equal one name brand Esbit tablet. Each tab comes out to 13 cents. Its my go-to for fair weather solo trips 🙂

5 years ago

I have several stoves that I use regularly, including white gas, alcohol and canister stoves. Among the canister stoves, I use Jetboil, MSR Windburner and a Soto Amicus. I got the Amicus on Hikin’ Jim’s recommendation and I like it because of its wind resistance and light weight. With a small canister, it packs into a 600mL pot and makes a nice kit for overnighters or daypacks, where, oftentimes, the most important use is hot drinks.

5 years ago

Regarding problems getting alcohol stove fuels in other countries, HEET (gas line line antifreeze) is available at almost all gas stations in North America and it’s 100% Methanol according to it’s Material Safety Data Sheet.
As well Trangia has a list of Alcohol fuel names according to country:
In Canada you’re looking for Methyl Hydrate in the paint section of hardware stores (they list Heet as well).

5 years ago

I love the Esbit stove. Its so small it fits inside my mess kit. It’s light and the fuel sure beats carrying around liquid fuel for weight. The thing is when I do cook when backpacking I only boil. Boil water for dried foods, for coffee, or boil the foods directly like stew or soup. As with any set up I always boil water with the lid on to speed up the boiling and that goes with my kit on the esbit. With a lid on the kit a cup of water will boil in a couple minutes. Also I… Read more »


[…] Here is a good article comparing the real world performance of the different stove systems. […]

Laura Slade
Laura Slade
4 years ago

You mention alcohol stove fuel being difficult to gt in Canada and while it’s true we have different options and names for things, it’s not necessarily true that fuel is harder to get. For my tuna can alcohol stove I use fondue fuel. I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I buy it at any grocery store (supermarket in the US). It’s $3 for 500ml (16 oz).


[…] a stove without an on/off valve is often not allowed.  No alcohol, no Esbit or campfires basically. Please see this doc I wrote earlier for more information.  Please pay attention to the stove bans. […]


[…] stoves. They are available in different sizes, including 4oz, 8oz and 16oz sizes. According to Paul Mags, an average use of a 4oz canister can last about 8-10 uses. Most of the canisters are easily refilled […]

2 years ago

In our high tech world there should be no campers cooking outside their tent in the wind. A chimney as small as 2” diameter and serving as a centre pole keeps air inside the tent safe.
Use of a spark arrester is ancient technology, they get plugged with soot. A baffle in the stove takes care of all sparks and never plug.