Backpacking Stoves. Which is best?
A question I'm often asked is what is the best backpacking stove.
There is no simple answer I'm afraid, as the best will depend on so many factors.These include:
- How many are you cooking for? (Numbers)
- Where you are likely to use your backpacking stove? (Environment)
- Fuel availability?
- Packed size?
- What you will be cooking? (Often forgotten about)
- How 'stealthy' you need to be?
The first point is how many will you be cooking for?
Obviously it stands to reason that the more people you're cooking for, the larger the pots and pans will need to be. However, it doesn't matter if your cooking system comes with multiple pots and frying pans as ultimately it will only come with one burner.
If cooking for more than a couple of people, it is worth considering a second burner or heat source, as this allows more menu flexibility.
Where will you be using your backpacking stove?
The environment will make a huge impact on your choice of backpacking stove. For example. In very cold weather a gas stove will not work particularly well. Though Colmans Extreme Gas does perform better due to its mix of gases.
Some locations do not allow the use of "open" fires, and depending on interpretation, could rule out wood / twig type stoves and solid fuel tablets like those used on a Hexi burner.
Wind also needs to be taken into account, as all backpacking stoves perform better if they're not being buffeted constantly by wind. Some stoves have inbuilt wind deflectors, whilst others will need a windshield of some description, be it natural or man made.
This is only really relevant if you plan travelling to other countries with your backpacking stove. As generally if you buy a stove, you should be able to obtain fuel for it in that country.
Some types of stoves are really suited to multi country use, particularly spirit type burners like those used on Trangias (more of which later). As these can burn using most liquid fuels like methylated spirits, paraffin and unleaded petrol.
Wood / twig solid fuel type stoves can obviously be used where there is a supply of wood. So probably not much use in the desert. But for temperate climates, they offer a good alternative to gas backpacking stoves.
Packed Size & Weight?
If there's one thing that really matters to a backpacker, it's how much space does a backpacking stove take up in my pack, and how heavy is it?
The fold flat solid fuel type stove is probably the lightest, smallest stove you could wish for. However, if you are not allowed to use an open flame type stove in your location, then it's not much use.
At the other end of the scale is the Trangia type of cooking system. It's relatively heavy, and in comparison to the above, is massive.
The gas type of burners can come in a very small compact size. But you will have to take into account the additional bulk and weight of the associated gas canisters.
As an added bonus, some backpacking stove systems nest. Meaning that each component stores inside another part of its system. This means that the space that the whole system uses in your backpack is reduced.
What Will You Be Cooking?
This is often forgotten about when selecting a backpacking stove. Will you be cooking boil in the bag ready meals? Dehydrated meals? Fresh food? Omelettes? Bacon? Gotta be able to cook bacon!
If all you'll be doing is cooking boil in the bag ready meals and boiling water to rehydrate dehydrated meals and making a brew. Then a simple stove will be fine. However if you're cooking fresh food, being able to control the flame, and therefore heat, is an important consideration.
Some backpacking stoves are more stable than others. Low and wide is more stable than tall and narrow. The JetBoil type of stove, without addition supporting legs is a classic example of how unstable backpacking stoves can be. Gas stoves with a burner attached above the gas bottle will also benefit from stablising legs. Where-as the type of gas burner that uses a connecting hose and sits next to the gas canister, will be more stable. That does not mean to say that any of these designs are unsafe, just that more care is required when placing them on the ground.
As for solid fuel burners, there are so many designs, that some will suit different conditions better than others.
The Trangia type is often considered to be one of the most stable.
How Stealthy Do You Need To Be?
This may not be a consideration for many, as you may only be camping in official campsites. However for those of you that like to wild camp, this is a serious consideration.
With that in mind, a basic solid fuel burner using wood, is likely to produce a lot of smoke. Though the gasifier type, once heated will produce very little smoke.
The JetBoil type, or Trangia type would probably be the stealthiest type of backpacking stove to use. As the flame is hidden and produces no smoke.
Conclusion. Whilst there is no 'which is best', there is definitely a 'which best suits me'. I accept that there are compromises to be made when making your decision. But armed with your priorities, it should be easy to narrow your choices down from many, to a couple of options.
Backpacking Stove Selection Table.
Please feel free to ask any questions or leave a comment in the comments section below. It would be great to read your views and ideas.