After a day in the great outdoors, nothing tastes better than a hot meal. But it takes a reliable stove to transform a cooler full of ingredients—or, if you’re a culinary genius, a bag of instant rice—into a restaurant-ready meal. Fuel up, flip a switch, and simmer your way to a satisfying meal.
Your stove’s fuel is a major practicality factor: Safety, convenience, expense, weight, and performance all hinge on it. While, ultimately, fuel type may not be the deciding factor in your choice, it’s worth noting a few key benefits and disadvantages of the most popular. Liquid gas works well at subfreezing temperatures and is inexpensive, but it requires priming in most stoves. Alcohol is renewable, burns clean, and has low combustibility, but it’s less efficient. Canister stoves using butane or isobutane are very easy to use, but performance drops in temperatures below 35 degrees. Besides, canisters can be expensive and weighty on long trips. Propane is consistent and inexpensive, but is too heavy to carry backpacking. Some stoves will work with several fuel types (including diesel, unleaded gasoline, or even kerosene), which may burn with more residue and require more stove maintenance, but will also make it easy to find appropriate fuel anywhere in the world.
Knocking over a pot of boiling water is a sure-fire way to ruin a post-hike meal. If you’re planning to cook for groups or use a pot larger than 2 quarts, pay extra attention to a stove’s stability. A wide cooking platform and pot supports, a stable base, and ease of accessing the operating controls under an oversized pot—with gloves on and without burning yourself—are all things to consider.
How long does it take a stove to boil a liter of 70-degree water? That lab-identified “boil time”—likely somewhere between 3 and 10 minutes—is offered by most manufacturers as a standard measure of a stove’s efficiency. But in real-life camping scenarios, wind, cold, high altitude, or otherwise imperfect conditions will make cooking take longer. Look for windscreens and heat-trapping cones to improve efficiency, but also take note of inherent differences in fuel types—butane burns hotter than alcohol, for example—that will play a role in which stove type will most effectively match your needs in terms of cooking style and weight.
Large, double burner or basecamp systems may outperform your range at home, while an ultralight setup might require a simplified, boil-only, recipe repertoire. Be realistic about your cooking style and how far you’ll be carrying your stove. Your needs will be different if you’re at an established campground vs. the backcountry, but going “lightweight” doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing flame control and giving up on a gentle simmer.
The lightest stove we tested weighs in at 2.5 ounces, and our heaviest, 12 pounds. While the weight of your base-camp stove may not matter, when you’re backpacking, saving ounces is important, especially on extended trips where the weight of the fuel you’ll be carrying may tip the balance toward efficient stoves and away from super lightweight ones. Don’t forget the added ounces of windscreens, repair kits, and other accessories.
Snowpeak GigaPower Baja Stove
An upside-down canister helps this single-burner liquid-injection stove—great for single-fuel base-camps or as a car-camping add-on—maintain consistent output at low temps, too. The super-tough stainless platform has a stable, wide base and heat control knob that makes cooking gourmet-style meals in camp easy as pie. ($160; snowpeak.com)
Primus Profile Duo Camp Stove
Grilling and sautéing at the same time? It’s a gourmand’s dream. Primus’ newest base- and car-camping unit accommodates (according to our tests) a medium-sized pot of baked beans and up to six chicken breasts at the same time: everything you need for a group of happy campers. Independent heat control for the grill and burner, simple operating dials, easy-to-clean surfaces, fold-up side-panel windscreens, a built-in igniter, and fold-away design makes this 12-pounder a chef’s top choice. ($120; primuscamping.com)
Trail Designs Caldera Tri-Ti Sidewinder Stove System
The only ultralight stove we tested, the Caldera’s cone captures and maximizes heat from three potential sources: wood, alcohol, and esbit (a solid fuel tablet). While it doesn’t allow you to dial-in simmering heat and requires a little more patience when bringing water to a boil, this versatile system requires much less fuel than petroleum-based systems so it’s more weight-efficient for backpacking. ($80; traildesigns.com)
Soto MUKA Stove OD-1NP
Until this game-changer of a stove hit stores this spring, priming was one of the biggest trade-offs in liquid fuel stoves—along with flare-ups, and carbon-covered pots. But no more. Soto’s MUKA provides all the benefits of a traditional liquid-stove system (performance in low-temperature environments, and the ability to burn several types of gas) but its vaporizing canister system eliminates the need for priming and it burns cleaner and requires much less maintenance than traditional liquid-fuel stoves. Fuel bottle sold separately. (Stove, $148; 1000 ml bottle, $21; sotooutdoors.com)
This next-generation Jetboil integrated system is meant for serious ounce-counters who crave convenience. Both options—weighing 9 ounces in titanium or 10.5 ounces in aluminum—include the complete setup from stabilizing attachments to the 0.8-liter capacity cup. A new pressure regulator standardizes the canister’s fuel flow at temps as low as 15 degrees F. Plus, the super-concentrated burner, along with the cup’s FluxRing translate to boil times below three minutes in our tests. Best suited for single-person or boil-only recipes. (Titanium, $150; Aluminum, $120; jetboil.com)