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What's the Best Portable / Backpacking Camp Stove? 4 Picks & Reviews

Updated on April 2, 2014
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Reviews of a Few Portable / Folding Camp Stoves | Plus Tips

Nothing beats getting out into the wilderness! When I know I have a camping trip coming up, I have a jump in my step. For me, planning and preparation are part of the fun, and a successful trip hinges on how much prep work you put in. If you'll be out there for a few days, I highly recommend investing in a good single burner backpacking camp stove for preparing your meals.

A good, folding camp stove will fit easily in a backpack, and it beats the heck out of trying to balance a tippy pot over an open fire. They are easy to set up and tear down, and they'll get water boiling in just a couple of minutes. If you enjoy a steaming cup of coffee right away in the morning, or if you prefer not to wait for an hour for your beans to be ready, a portable camping stove is the only way to go.

You're going to be presented with a bunch of different options, and I want to offer some advice and a few suggestions and reviews. A backpacking camp stove is a simple device, but that doesn't mean they're all the same. Different makes and models have different pros and cons, and I'd caution you to do at least a few minutes worth of research before diving in. It could mean the difference between a hot meal or going hungry. Let's get started.

Camping Stove Considerations: Size, Usage, Fuel

There are a few things you should take into consideration when you're making your choice here. There are many different configurations and styles to choose between, and your best bet is to analyze how you camp, and choose based on that.

Fuel Types:

There are a lot of different fuels you can use with a single burner camp stove or backpacking setup. Some have to be pressurized in canisters, others do not. Options include propane / butane, kerosene, gasoline, alcohol spirits or even wood! So what one should you choose? For me, it depends on how long the trip will be and which fuel I have easiest access to.

I will say this: stoves that use complex fuels tend to require some maintenance (like occasional soaking in carburator cleaner).

Size:

You definitely have some choice when it comes to size. It ranges from small alcohol stoves good for boiling coffee or heating up beans, all the way to full kerosene single burner ranges that can handle a frying pan or griddle. Most of the time, size equates to cooking capability, and a larger burner will produce more heat. Keep that in mind.

Ultra tiny camp stove (single burner), reviews well

If you're looking for something that's truly portable, it's hard to find a small option than the MSR PocketRocket. It literally fits in your palm.

Don't let that small size fool you, however, because the PocketRocket produces a good amount of heat. It's designed to fit on the top of the fuel canister, with the canister providing the stability. You have control over the flame by using the adjustor dial, and you can go from simmer to full on flame with just a twist.

This tiny backpacking camp stove is intended to run on a specific type of fuel, isobutane, otherwise referred to as IsoPro. They come in several canister sizes, and they're either available online or at your local hardware store. However, the stove will attach to mini propane / butane tanks too, and it seems to work well with those options as well.

So what can it cook? The flame will provide 'spot heat' at a high intensity. It's not suited to a frying pan or larger cook surface. It's better for boiling water, making coffee, or cooking in a container that's not much larger than the burner surface. Works great for beans!

A quality, multi-fuel, single burner style camp stove

If you prefer something that's compatible with multiple types of fuel, you are in luck. The Coleman Exponent is a high quality camping and backpacking stove with a single burner surface that has a built-in fuel tank. It's capable of burning a variety of non-pressurized fuels, and you'll be surprised by the amount of heat it can produce.

So what fuels does it accept? The Exponent takes Coleman fuel (their in-house blend), as well as standard unleaded gasoline. It also accepts kerosene and comes with a kerosene generator. This kind of versatility lets you head out with whatever liquid fuel you have on hand.

Gasoline can gum up the system, and you may have to take it apart once a year and clean the components.

The Exponent (and its sister, the Sportster II) is a smartly designed backpacking stove because it features a recessed burner bowl. This recession keeps the flame from the wind and allows you to use it even in miserable weather.

The cook surface is fairly broad, and it's enough to cook with a small frying pan or even a 1 gallon boiling pot. It produces a staggering amount of heat, and water will boil in minutes. The built in tank takes a good amount of fuel, and you'll likely only have to fill it once per camping trip.

(I would suggest emptying the canister once you get back home, it's best not to let fuel sit in it.)

Alcohol fuelled camp stove with cooking set, by Esbit

This is a handy and practical backpacking stove set by Esbit that features an alcohol spirit fuelled burner and portable pot set. The whole thing fits together into one neat canister that fits nicely inside a pack.

Let's talk for a minute about alcohol based cook stoves. Alcohol is actually a very practical fuel. It's clean and energy efficient, and there are multiple systems you can use. Liquid alcohol burns very nicely (not the drinking kind!), but you can also get it in a solid form. This stove is compatible with both those methods.

The alcohol burner is a small brass canister that you can fill with whichever alcohol fuel you want to use. The one included in this kit comes with a flame regulator which controls the amount of oxygen and thereby controls the size of the flame. The kit comes with a special stand for solid fuel applications.

Back to the kit. It comes with a stand that fits around the alcohol burner to give you something to rest the pots on top of. You can use the pots individually, or you can use the smaller one as a lid for the larger. The big pot holds about 1 litre, and the smaller one holds a half litre. The pots are nicely designed with flush folding handles.

The flame is large and hot, and it will boil water in minutes with no problem. It's ideal for boiling water, making coffee, cooking stew or ramen noodles, you name it. Denatured alcohol is a very inexpensive fuel, and it goes a long way. A quarter-filled burner will burn for at least 15 minutes.

You can buy alcohol burners on their own, and they make great portable backpack camping stoves when combined with a grill and a windshield. This set is definitely a great one to consider though!

A wood burning camp stove by Vargo

If you're not so into hauling canisters along with you, there is an option, and it often beats trying to fry bacon over a campfire. There are a few great wood burning camp stoves that are foldable, durable and do a great job protecting the flame from wind.

Yes, wind is often your enemy when trying to cook a meal with a wood burning flame. It's easy and fun when it's a bright, sunny day, but if it's super windy, rainy or worse, you'll be cursing, cold and miserable trying to get your campfire to light.

This folding, wood burning camp stove, portable and perfect for the backpack, is a great solution. It fits easily in your camp gear without taking up much space, it is light and simple to set up, and it protects your new flame from wind. It works by enclosing the fire on 6 sides with a hexagon shape. The bottom is a perforated grill, which is raised up from the ground by an inch or so. This allows air to enter to feed the flame without blowing it out.

The conical shape of the wood fired camp stove is part of its success. Unlike a campfire, where the heat can dissipate out in all directions, this design forces the flame upward, focusing most of the thermal energy on your cooking surface.

It is made out of titanium panels, which resist corrosion and heat wear much better than steel. This is definitely a single burner camp stove, as it's made for one pot or pan at a time. It is great because you can fuel it with whatever is on hand. It does take longer to heat up than a canister style stove, but not by much.

*This shield works really well with a small alcohol style burner too, in case there's no wood at hand.

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Other Things to Ponder:

"I need a bigger cooking surface"

If you need a larger flame, then a single burner portable backpack stove isn't probably the right option for you. You'll want one with at least a dual burner setup, if not three. These systems are great, but they're far less portable. Double burner camp stoves are best suited for someone who is camping with a vehicle, because they'll take up a lot more space in your pack.

"Which one is most stable?"

Stability is a major factor here. You don't really want to have to sit there with one hand on the handle waiting for water to boil. They're all relatively stable, but most single burner camp stoves are designed with portability in mind, not stability.

The ones that attach to a canister are quite easy to stabilize, since the majority of the weight is at the bottom. The folding wood backpack stove is pretty easy to keep stable as well. On the whole, however, I'd never leave one unattended. A tip could start a fire.

"How many people can each stove feed?"

That depends on the setup, but in general I'd plan for one stove per person, unless you're OK taking turns. Even the largest folding backpacking stoves can usually only handle a small pot. It's a factor of where the flame is concentrated, and with one burner heating a small surface area, it just takes too long to cook large meals.

My recommendation? Get really good at cooking stews. A tall, narrow pot can cook a tasty stew for multiple people really nicely!

Poll Time:

What are you buying a backpacking camp stove for?

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