We started this series of articles with the WHY - what motivations get us outside touring…
If you’re headed to your favorite mountains for an adventure, you’ll likely need a way to boil water, or perhaps even COOK food to keep you fueled and at your backcountry best. Picking a new backpacking stove can be a daunting task with as many opinions as there are models to choose from in the arena of backcountry burners.
Let’s demystify it just a bit.
For most stoves used in the backcountry, their primary function is to boil water. In spite of their almost singular function, there are several things to consider that might steer you one way or another.
- How many folks will you be cooking for?
- Will you boil water for prepared meals only, or will you require the stove to
simmer at low heats for more elaborate cooking sessions?
- Where will you travel, domestically or internationally? And what fuel will be available to you?
- Are you counting grams to keep your base pack weight down?
SMALL CANISTER STOVES
SMALL CANISTER STOVES couldn’t be any easier to use and require little-to-no maintenance. Their simple, effective designs cater perfectly to our backpacking world. By combining a blend of propane and butane (iso-butane) into a small, universally threaded canister, you enjoy the convenience of a system that is compact, lightweight, multi-seasonal and effortless to ignite. This great ease of operation makes these canister stoves the go-to choice for most lightweight-minded users, but they do have some benefits and limitations to consider.
- Incredible ease of use. Turn it on and light it. No priming is required due to the pressurized canister.
Re-sealing canister makes for versatile packability when you separate the canister from the stove.
Great simmer control on most models, especially those with a temperature regulator.
- Their small size can prove challenging. Small pot supports won’t handle the big pots needed for group cooking.
- Fuel cost is higher than with liquid fuel counterparts.
Fuel can freeze at higher altitudes/lower temperatures, unless the stove has a built-in pressure regulator.
- Canisters are NOT refillable, and MUST be punctured and carried out of the backcountry. This is more hassle for the eco-minded traveller unless specific recycle protocol is followed.
INTEGRATED CANISTER STOVES
INTEGRATED CANISTER STOVES hold a large part of the market due to their incredibly intuitive operation and efficient fuel consumption. In integrated canister stoves, dedicated pots snap to the burner, like a camera lens. By adding a heat exchanger (which traps air that would otherwise escape up the side of the cook pot), these stoves excel for users that move fast and resist taking lengthy breaks. Integrated canister stoves share most of the same benefits and limitations as small canister stoves, but with a few additional things to consider.
- Incredibly quick to deploy. Just snap the pot to the burner and light it.
- Improved fuel efficiency due to the heat maintenance gained by the heat exchanger.
- Very limited number of accessory pots. These stoves don’t have traditional pot supports, so any additional cook pots needed must share the same proprietary bayonet system for attachment.
- Can be very top heavy and unstable. The very design that makes these stoves excel in efficiency can be the reason for their instability on some terrain. Most offer an accessory canister support that stabilizes the stove in dodgy environs.
LIQUID STOVES have been the go-to choice for outdoor education programs and expedition guide services for years due to their incredible versatility. Using a refillable fuel bottle, they are able to morph to the fuel available wherever you find yourself. If you’re flying into the Alaskan bush you won’t be able to fly with a pressurized canister. You’ll need to source the fuel needed at your destination, and you’ll want to maximize your options. Some of these liquid fuel stoves will burn anything from the typical white gas to Aqua Velva (not true), so being able to fire it up with diesel fuel, kerosene, or aviation fuel is an important benefit in remote locations.
In addition to their incredible fuel versatility, most offer a keen ability to cook at a lot of different temperatures. Coupled with their wide pot supports and an ability to disassemble and assemble them in the field, you have the best backcountry cooking tool for larger groups, especially those traveling internationally. Although they are not light, or compact, they serve purposes that no canister stove can serve as reliably, or efficiently.
- Incredible fuel versatility for remote or international travel.
- Totally field maintainable with some knowledge and experience (and a repair kit).
- Very stable platform for cooking with larger groups.
- Can be used with any type of cookware. Steamer, pressure cooker, Wok. You name it!
- Refillable fuel bottles of different sizes increase usage options and reduce environmental impact.
- Bulkier and heavier than canister stoves.
- Requires a bit more knowledge to operate properly.
- Messier than canister stoves
- White degrades over time
ALTERNATIVE FUEL STOVES
ALTERNATIVE FUEL STOVES are another category of backpacking burner used by some folks looking to shave ounces from their stove kit by using simple devices, or stands, to burn denatured alcohol or solid fuel tablets. Effective – eventually – at heating your water, they are likely not the right choice for those travelers looking to eat quickly and efficiently in the woods. Although most are primitive in their concept and their operation, they can be the perfect tool for someone looking to sacrifice control and immediacy for a svelte cooking system. Thru-hikers and ultralight enthusiasts prefer them due to their super light weight, ease of operation, and the absence of any required maintenance. The most commonly used burners in this category use fuel that is simple, but sometimes difficult to acquire outside the continental US.
- Ease of operation
- Readily available (in the US)
- Burns silently
- Slow boil times
- Lack of flame control
- Often require a windscreen
As you can see, there are a number of paths that lead to the same destination when selecting a stove for backpacking. Like a backpack or hiking boots, you could justify having several different systems that support all the different ways you choose to travel in the woods.
On one day you might stop for a hot drink at dawn before you step into a steep couloir you’re hoping to climb and/or ski. An integrated canister stove is designed to snap together to fill that need in the most efficient manner available to us. Or, you might be leading a group of friends on a multi-day float of the Green River. A liquid fuel stove that will hold your favorite 4-quart stew pot will make your life that much easier.
No matter what your adventure, picking the proper cooking system can allow you to experience the land you’re standing in, not the gear you’re struggling with.
Mountain Chalet is fired up to help you evaluate your options and make your decision.