October 2017 Update
We just got back from a week of backpacking in the High Sierra. We discovered two things: 1) The Editors' Choice MSR Pocket Rocket 2 performs exceptionally, even in cold temps and winds above 10,000 feet. 2) We brought the Etekcity Ultralight, our new Best Stove for Tight Budgets. It did not perform as well as the MSR, but it got the job done at a quarter the cost. And it comes with an igniter. Serious backpackers should stick with the MSR. But if you don't backpack much, or are usually at elevations under 6000 feet, the Etekcity is a great value and usually adequate.
MSR Pocket Rocket 2
2.6 oz | Boil Time:
Great at simmering
Average fuel efficiency
Smallish pot supports
No piezo ignition
Most of us are familiar with the original Pocket Rocket. The lightweight and supremely packable canister stove was all but legendary and spotted at nearly any campsite across America. The second generation is now out, and we love it. The MSR Pocket Rocket 2
is even lighter and slimmer than its predecessor, making it an ideal choice for backpackers. Its simmering capabilities are also superior, allowing you to cook and enjoy more authentic meals (and less Ramen) in the backcountry. Nothing against Ramen, of course. The only thing we missed on this model was an auto-ignition lighter, which is a handy feature on many other stoves, such as the GigaPower 2.0
and Jetboil Flash
. For top performance at a reasonable price, the Pocket Rocket 2
dominates the field for backpackers and earns our Editors' Choice award.
Read review: MSR Pocket Rocket 2
Best Bang For The Buck
Primus Classic Trail
6.7 oz | Boil Time:
Big burner head
Big pot supports
Relatively heavy and bulky
Tiny control knob
The Primus Classic Trail
looks like an old-school small canister stove. However, its performance exceeded our expectations. Cranking it wide open creates a nice large flame, and it can be turned down to simmer almost as well as the Editor's Choice Pocket Rocket 2
. The significant pot supports and burner head work well with pots that are three liters or larger in volume or large frying pans, making this stove an excellent choice for backpackers who want the convenience of a canister stove for group cooking. Though it's no match in weight to other small canister stoves, it's lighter than a liquid fuel stove and slightly less bulky than an integrated canister stove burner head. If you are an occasional backpacker, backcountry fisherman who wants to saute your catch on the spot, car camper who wants a backup stove, or prepper putting together an emergency kit, the Classic Trail
could be just right. Need to go lighter for less? See the Etekcity
Read review: Primus Classic Trail
Top Pick For Expeditions
11.5 oz | Boil Time:
is the original gangster of the liquid fuel stove world. This workhorse is near and dear to many adventurers' hearts. This same model has been on the market for more than 25 years with few modifications because it works so well. We love that it is simple, reliable, and easy to repair in the field. While it's not as light or small as a canister stove, we still reach for the Whisperlite
for any multi-day adventure that involves melting snow for a group and feel confident that it will work in harsh conditions. It requires savviness to simmer – more than other liquid fuel stoves, like the MSR Dragonfly
and Primus Omnilite Ti
, but cooking delicate meals is still do-able. It is much quieter than other liquid fuel stoves, hence its name – so conversations in the kitchen are possible. For international, check out the MSR Whisperlite International
for superior compatibility.
Read review: MSR Whisperlite
Top Pick Integrated Canister Stove
12.2 oz | Boil Time:
Good boil time
Pot and burner mate well
Lighter than similar stoves
Diminished wind performance
is an improved integrated canister stove from the company that invented the category. Like its predecessors, the burner head and pot mate solidly, allowing backpackers to pick up or pour with no concerns about the hot burner falling off unexpectedly. Early Jetboil piezoelectric lighters were notorious for failing, so our testers made a point of using it a lot and had no problems. The other significant improvement over early Jetboils is the burner head. The MiniMo's
burner was a top performer in fuel efficiency and boil time. It also simmers better than other integrated canister stoves. This, combined with the short and wide cup shape, open up new possibilities for actual cooking. As with other Jetboil brand stoves, the wind is the Achilles heel of the MiniMo
. Though it stayed lit in our 9mph wind test we know that higher gusts will extinguish the flame. The MSR Reactor
, once on, stay lit in any winds a human being can handle. For backpackers who also want to take their stove on an alpine climb or big wall (and can protect it from the wind), we think the MiniMo
is an excellent choice.
Read review: Jetboil MiniMo
Best on a Tight Budget
3.0 oz | Boil Time:
Light and easy to use
Inconsistent performance in the cold, wind, and higher elevations
Not the most stable
We bought this stove for $12 (or two for $20) and expected junk. Instead, we found the Etekcity to be very capable, convenient, and light. It's very compact, boils water decently fast, and has good burner control. In warmer conditions at lower elevations and no wind, we didn't notice a giant performance different with the MSR Pocket Rocket 2
. However, once we went to 10,000 feet and experienced some 15-degree mornings, we saw the performance limitations of the Etekcity. Up high in the cold, it had much more sputtery performance, boiled water slower and was harder to keep the flame level consistent. It worked, but it was so clear what you get when you spend more money for the MSR Pocket Rocket if you are a serious backpacker. As long as you recognize these limitations, the Etekcity is an amazing bargain and great for tight budgets or infrequent backpacking outings. It's less than half the weight and cost of our other Best Buy winner, the Primus Classic Trail
Read review: Etekcity Ultralight
Analysis and Test Results
We scored our backpacking stoves based on five criteria: fuel efficiency, weight, simmering, time to boil, and ease of use. The chart shown above details the cumulative overall performance score of each stove in our review. The MSR Pocket Rocket 2
came out on top, followed by the Jetboil MiniMo
and the MSR Windburner
. The stoves we tested in this review fall into three categories: (1)
small canister stoves, (2)
integrated canister stoves, and (3)
liquid fuel stoves. Our individual reviews compare stoves within each category as well as across categories.
When buying a backpacking stove, ask yourself: How much stove do you need?
Are you going solo on a fast-and-light mission or are you out with a group cooking gourmet meals? Do you need to melt snow or are you hiking in the desert and just boiling water for a dehydrated meal? There is a stove out there for everyone's needs; you just need to decide what your priorities are: speed, weight, cooking ability, or all of the above? For more buying advice that pertains to your specific adventure, head to the types of backpacking stoves
The Jetboil Flash on a lightweight backpacking trip with the MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent.
Fuel efficiency is a tricky category to evaluate and includes many variables. We tested for fuel efficiency on our own with standardized boil time tests (including boil time in the wind), but also took the manufacturer's word for it on certain specifications like max burn times. Other factors we considered when evaluating this category were wind resistance and insulation.
We tested for two boil times to bring one liter of water to a full rolling boil. The first boil time was with no wind, and a full four oz MSR ISOPro fuel canister (or 11 oz fuel bottle for the liquid fuel stoves). The second boil time was taken in front of a 20" Lasko brand box fan blowing 8 - 10 mph, as measured with a Kestrel 1000 pocket anemometer.
Having a fuel-efficient stove is essential for many reasons, the main one being that you don't want to be left high and dry by running out of fuel when all you have left to eat are freeze-dried or dehydrated meals, and you're two days walk to the trailhead. Fuel efficiency is also an important consideration for obvious environmental reasons, as well as weight savings. If you are an ounce counter, as prudent backpackers are, sometimes having a fuel-efficient stove can cut down on the ounces of fuel that you need to carry. When calculating how much fuel your stove needs, you may be able to leave that extra canister at home or carry a smaller canister if your stove can save you a few grams. We talk in depth about this concept as well as how to calculate how much fuel you'll need for your trip and other information about canisters in our buying advice
Canister Fuel Efficiency Tips
If your canister gets too cold, performance and fuel-efficiency suffer. It's a good idea to:
- Sleep with a canister or at least put it in your jacket and warm it up before use.
- Use a windscreen. It will reflect heat back to the canister while in use and block wind from the burner.
- Let food soak. Put in your food when you turn the stove on and then let it soak when it reaches a near boil.
- Use a lower setting - it will only take a little longer for water to boil but save lots of fuel
See more fuel saving tips from MSR
- Avoid a full boil. A near boil is good enough for most cooking and drinks.
Integrated canister stoves steaming away: The MSR Reactor and Windburner, and the Jetboil MiniMo and Flash.
The most fuel-efficient stove we tested was the MSR Windburner
because of its very wind resistant construction, large integrated heat exchange system, and insulated pot. The Jetboil MiniMo
was a close second. The Jetboil Flash
was the most fuel efficient in the still environment of our lab (cough-garage-cough) but performed less well in the wind, and this dropped its overall fuel efficiency score. The least efficient stove was the Primus Classic Trail
. Like a car built for fast and furious street racing, it has impressive power output but guzzles the gas. All of the small canister stoves had severe problems in the wind, and this affected their fuel efficiency. Liquid fuel stoves are relatively more fuel efficient because they come with wind screens to shield breezes and focus the heat on the pot.
Winds were gusting to 40mph this day when we tested the MSR Windburner and Reactor side by side. Both burners will blow out easily if the pots are removed in these kind of winds, but once the pots are attached they are virtually windproof.
Some models benefit from a flexible aluminum windscreen
more than others. But they all benefit and the weight (a few ounces) and cost ($10) are well worth it. The windscreen can also help heat the canister and aid performance in cold conditions. If you don't bring one, you can still make an improved rock windscreen shown below, but they are not nearly as effective and a flexible metal windscreen. We don't recommend the rigid hinged windscreen except for car camping as they are heavy and don't pack well.
Building a rock windscreen in the High Sierra. It's about 80 percent as effective as a dedicated wind screen.
Like a tent, each stove gets two "weights" in this metric. We weighed each stove with its included stuff sacks or cases, accessory cups, and maintenance doodads for its "packed" weight. We also weighed each stove at its bare bones "trail" weight. This excluded packaging or accessories, but simply what need to cook or boil water. The Pocket Rocket 2
owned this metric, with a trail weight of 2.6 oz. The Windburner
had the heaviest trail weight, 15 oz. It was followed closely by the Reactor
and the Dragonfly
One thing to consider in this category is if the pot is included or not; all of the integrated canister stoves come with a pot and have higher trail and packed weight numbers. If you are deciding between one of these and a small canister stove, don't forget to factor in the weight of a pot as well. We considered this when we scored the stoves for weigh – learn how in our How We Tested Backpacking Stoves
Article. We also took size and packability into account in this category. It's always nice to be able to get your stove, fuel, and maybe a lighter into your pot for packing. We looked at how small each burner got and how well it nested into a pot.
The diminutive PocketRocket 2 and its case.
Our testing team felt that this was a fairly important metric. After all, sometimes we're in a hurry and will eat whatever is fast and easy, no matter how unidentifiable. Much of the time we want to eat actual food and we think that doing so improves our experience in the backcountry. A stove that can simmer well can handle pasta, pancakes, a fresh caught golden trout, or maybe even that steak that's been thawing (double bagged) in our pack on the hike in. We looked for stoves that had good control valve sensitivity, particularly at the low end. We also looked to see how low each stove could be turned down before sputtering out.
The Pocket Rocket 2
was a champ here. The control wire gave just the right amount of resistance, which let us dial in the flame and not carbonize our oatmeal.
Conducting the classic oatmeal test with the PocketRocket 2 and a titanium pot.
The Primus Classic Trail
was also a high scorer, earning the same as the Pocket Rocket
– a near perfect 9 out of 10.
While maybe not ideal for fast and light travel, the Classic Trail is our favorite small canister stove to cook with. Its simmering capabilities are supreme.
The other two small canister stoves also performed well. Unless you want your dinner cajun style and are prepared to stir fast and continuously, don't get an integrated canister stove like the Reactor
for cooking. Of note, the MiniMo
performed better than the others, perhaps due to its different pot shape. Liquid fuel stoves that were designed to offer better simmering, like the Primus Omnilite Ti
and the Dragonfly
performed passably here, though sauteing was still not as easy as with the small canister stoves.
We made this delicious and impressive pot-pie with the MSR Dragonfly, a testament to its versatility.
This is a specification we did not take the manufacturer's word for. We do not claim to be scientists, but we made our tests as scientific and objective as possible, controlling the environment and other factors to create a fair playing field. We did our testing in a garage where the ambient temperature was approximately 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water we used was approximately 43 degrees. We tested the time to a rolling boil of one liter of water for each of the stoves. Be aware that different manufacturers use different amounts of water in their boil tests. All of the fuel bottles were full and the canisters used were all identical.
While our testing team is not usually impressed with boil times, numbers at either end of the range do catch our attention. The MSR Reactor
and Jetboil MiniMo
dominated this category, with times of 3 minutes 56 seconds and 4 minutes 6 seconds respectively. The GigaPower
was impressive for its long boil time of 9 minutes 53 seconds, almost 2 minutes behind the next slowest stove.
The MSR Reactor is great for fast and light alpine missions and boils water fast.
Liquid fuel stoves inherently take longer to boil water because they must be primed before putting water on to boil. To keep our comparisons fair we started the clock after they were primed. We found it took anywhere from 36 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds to prime these stoves, and that boil times after priming were in the 6-7 minute range, the fastest being the MSR Dragonfly at 6 minutes 5 seconds. We think that boil times for these stoves are less important because of their other functions, including their versatility, are more important than speed.
The Jetboil Flash and MiniMo in the 8 - 10 mph wind boil time test.
Wind plays a big part in boil times and we also tested these stoves in an 8-10mph wind. The small canister stoves do not come with windscreens and every manufacturer explicitly warns against using them in their instructions. Unshielded, their performance suffered. All of them stayed lit, but none got water to a rolling boil after 30 minutes. The integrated canister stoves fared better. As we expected, the Reactor
were only slightly affected. The MiniMo
surprised us by also doing well in this moderate breeze, and even the Flash
was able to boil water after a while. Both of the Jetboil stoves blew out in gustier winds while the Reactor
Ease Of Use
Are singed hair and burned fingertips a normal part of your backcountry cooking experience? Good meals are streamlined enhancements of our wilderness experience, not dangerous chores.
Our questions included but were not limited to:
- Are the controls easy to access, any tiny knobs?
- Is the stove easy to assemble (especially white gas stoves)?
- Is it easy or hard to burn our hands?
- If the stove is boiling over can I turn it off without scalding my fingers?
- For integrated canister stoves: do the stove and pot mate easily and securely?
- Are there lots of small parts or accessories to keep track of?
- How quickly can I go from stove in my pack to a hot cup of coffee?
We discovered if the stoves had a lot of small parts and accessories that were easy to lose and if the stoves were easy to assemble. We examined the stove controls to see if they were easy to access and operate. The large wire knobs that are becoming the standard, like on the GigaPower
really shined here. Piezoelectric lighters have become quite reliable and were a great bonus. While our testing team always goes into the backcountry with a lighter (or three) with this feature we never have to search for it when what we want to be doing is drinking coffee. The Jetboil Flash
really shined in this category. With these stoves, our testers feel that we can go from a stove in the pack to sipping a hot drink in the shortest time and with the least amount of fuss.
The Jetboil Flash system all packs inside the pot for easy packing. And the whole pot can fit inside your hand. It is the least bulky of the integrated canister stoves we tested.
Generally, lower and wider designs give more stability. Liquid fuel models are the most stable because they are low to the ground and have wide stove legs that act as stable platforms. The MSR Dragonfly
was the most stable, in part due to its giant pot supports. The integrated canister stoves did well for stability because the burner and pot are designed to mate, but they are quite tall and easy to knock over when full. All of the manufacturers try to address this problem by including canister stands, but we did not bring these along most times because they add weight and don't change the fundamental center-of-gravity issue. Small canister stoves are also tall once screwed onto a canister, and had smallish pot supports.
We like taking the MiniMo on fast and light backpacking trips, especially when using the stove for more than one person. Seen here with the Tarptent Double Rainbow.
The integrated canister stoves we tested were also relatively unstable because they became quite tall once the canisters were attached – the Windburner
was the tallest. All of the manufacturers try to address this problem by including canister stands, but we did not bring these along most times because they add weight and we find them unnecessary.
We tested all the backpacking stoves head-to-head in our garage for a timed boil test. Here the integrated and small canister stoves are lined up for testing.
While there is no single backpacking stove for every application or budget, the stove selection above can take the backcountry enthusiast from a weekend for two on the Appalachian Trail, to a week on the Colorado Plateau with a group of friends, to the high peaks of The Alaska Range. Looking to expand your backcountry menu? Check out The Best Backpacking Food Article
for meal planning ideas. If you're more into cooking on your tailgate and car camping, check out our Best Camping Stoves Review
for more deluxe outdoor cooking options.