Ultralight Backpacking Stove Guide

There are lots of options when choosing a lightweight backpacking stove: alcohol stoves, canister stoves, wood stoves, solid fuel stoves and cooking on a campfire. Here are some of the pros and cons of each.

Alcohol Backpacking Stove

Evernew Titanium Alcohol stove

Alcohol stoves are a popular backpacking stove among thru-hikers and long distance backpackers because they are lightweight, inexpensive and burn liquid fuel that is easy to find in most small towns.

An entire cottage industry has sprung up around designing and building different variations of alcohol stove. There are dozens of stove designs which you can build yourself in less than an hour from ordinary items like soda cans. If you are not very handy and don’t want to build one yourself you can also purchase one online.

The two types of fuel used by most alcohol stoves is denatured alcohol (available from hardware stores) and Yellow HEET (gas line antifreeze available from auto parts stores and most gas stations).

An alcohol backpacking stove typically has three parts: the burner, a pot stand and a windscreen. Fuel is poured into the burner and lit, the pot stand goes above the burner and the windscreen around everything (wind is the enemy of alcohol stoves).

Most alcohol stoves can bring two cups of water to a boil within 7-10 minutes using less than an ounce of alcohol fuel. There is no way to adjust the heat with any precision on this type of backpacking stove so most hikers use them to boil water which is added to dried food (such as rice, noodles, dehydrated or freeze dried meals, etc.) Some alcohol stoves include a “simmer ring” attachment, which can be used to reduce heat and extend burn time.

In my experience alcohol stoves are not good for much more than boiling water. Which is fine, because boiling water is the extent of what most ultralight backpackers do for cooking.

What I don’t like about alcohol stoves is when you add up the weight of the fuel plus all of the accessories (pot stands and windscreens and such) the total weight usually dwarfs the weight of the stove, and the whole system sometimes ends up being heavier than you might expect.

This, combined with the lack of heat adjustment and poor performance in wind, is why I stopped using alcohol stoves a few years ago and switched to a canister stove.

Some Popular Alcohol Stoves:

Canister Backpacking Stove

MSR Pocket Rocket Canister Stove

Gas canister  stoves are (in my opinion) the best option for an ultralight backpacking stove as long as you can find the fuel you need where you are going. Canister stoves are simple, sturdy and efficient and work well in wind and weather. Unlike alcohol stoves, canister stoves also allow for precise heat regulation.

A canister stove consists of two parts: The stove (which doubles as a pot stand) and a disposable isobutane fuel canister (which the stove screws on top of). Once the stove is attached to the canister you simply turn the adjustable valve and light the gas to start cooking.

An external windscreen is not needed except in very gusty conditions because the flame is small, hot and shielded from the wind by small wings built into the burner. Canister stoves work well in cold weather too.

The biggest disadvantage of this type of backpacking stove is that the fuel is not as widely available as alcohol fuel. Sometimes it may be necessary to carry larger canisters for some stretches of trail or maildrop canisters (which is a hassle due to postal regulations).

The canisters are made by several different companies (MSR, Snowpeak, Brunton, Jetboil being a few) and they are all interchangeable. You can find them in most sporting goods stores and resupply outposts near trails like the Appalachian Trail, Colorado Trail and Pacific Crest Trail which cater to hikers, but not many other places.

The canisters come in several different sizes to accommodate different trip lengths and group sizes. The 4 ounce and 8 ounce canisters are the most popular among ultralight backpackers. This weight refers to the amount of fuel in the canister, not the total weight (which includes the weight of the canister).

I have been using a canister stove for a few years and I’ve found that a 4 ounce canister (which weighs about 7 ounces full) gives me enough fuel to cook for 4-6 days. If I know there is fuel available in the next town I’ll pack a small canister. If not, I will bring a larger 8 ounce canister, which usually lasts for 10-14 days.

Some Popular Canister Stoves:

Solid Fuel Backpacking Stove

BPL Firelite Esbit Wing Stove

Solid fuel tablets were originally invented for the military to provide soldiers with a portable fuel source to heat their rations. Minimalist ultralight backpackers have adopted them as a convenient lightweight cooking option for simple meals (emphasis on simple).

Solid fuel tablets are made from flammable chemical compounds that when lit produce a small flame that burns for about 10 minutes. A solid fuel “stove” is usually just a platform on which the tablet can sit combined with some some of pot support.

As with alcohol stoves an external windscreen is needed with solid fuel stoves because the flame is small and can be blown out or significantly reduced by wind.

The most popular brand of fuel tablet is made by Esbit. Other manufacturers also produce solid fuel tablets from other materials (Hexamine, Trioxane, etc.) A tablet typically weighs only about half an ounce. If all you need to do is boil 2 cups of water a day you would only need 2.5 ounces of fuel for five days. That’s pretty light!

However, solid fuel has it’s downsides too. If you want to do anything more than boil water you will need to use more than one tablet, which quickly eats into the weight savings. Tablets are more expensive and harder to find than alcohol or canister fuel and they are subject to the same inconvenient postal regulations as other flammable materials. They also emit toxic fumes as they burn and leave a sticky black residue on the bottom of your pot.

I like solid fuel stoves because of their simplicity and light weight. But for long distance hiking the availability of fuel (or lack thereof) is a problem. If you do shorter hikes where you don’t have to resupply on fuel mid-trip, or don’t mind relying on maildrops, you could make it work.

Some Popular Solid Fuel Stoves:

Wood Burning Backpacking Stove

Bush Buddy Wood Burning Stove

Wood burning stoves typically weigh more than other types of ultralight backpacking stove, but they make up for it because you don’t have any fuel weight.

These range in design from an old coffee can with a few holes cut in it (hobo stove) to fancy wood gasification stoves with complex chambers and ventilation systems, battery operated fans, etc.

The benefit of a wood burning backpacking stove is that you don’t have to carry or buy any fuel. They only require small sticks for fuel, unlike a campfire which needs larger wood, so it’s easy to find free fuel just laying around on the ground.

One problem with wood stoves is when you camp in places where there is no wood to burn, like above treeline or in the many wilderness areas where fires are prohibited for various reasons. Also, having to build a fire every night before you can eat dinner can get tiresome quickly, especially on a long hike.

I love the idea of wood burning stoves, especially the ability to use natural fuel and not relying on stores and maildrops as much. I’ve entertained the idea of trading in my canister stove for a wood stove, but the only thing that has stopped me is my own laziness. When I get into camp I want to do as little work as possible for my food because I’m tired and hungry.

But if you are more ambitious than me (or if you hike fewer miles per day and spend more time in camp) a wood burning stove may be the perfect ultralight backpacking stove for you. Unlike other lightweight stoves where you have to constantly ration your fuel consumption, with a wood stove you can cook till your heart’s content (as long as there is wood to burn).

Some Popular Wood Burning Stoves:

Cooking On A Campfire

Campfire cooking tripod

Sometimes newer isn’t always better. People have been cooking on campfires for thousands of years. A few decades back there was a bit of a backlash against campfires and hikers started using gas stoves because it was thought to be better for the environment.

Now it’s becoming apparent that everything that goes into manufacturing and using petroleum based fuels and stoves may have a greater negative impact on the environment than burning wood ever did.

Go figure. Kind of funny how things go back and forth like that. Reminds me of the egg debate (nobody can agree on whether they are good or bad for you).

Regardless of what you think about that, a campfire is still an effective way to cook your food. Although it may be a bit overkill in some cases. If you are already building a fire to stay warm or socialize around, then by all means cook on it too. But it seems a bit wasteful (both of wood and labor) to build a campfire for the sole reason of heating up some macaroni and cheese.

There are a couple methods I know of for cooking on a campfire. One is to create a tripod from three sticks and dangle the pot above the flames. Most ultralight cookpots do not come with a handle, so you will need to make one from bailing wire and screw two holes in the side of the pot to attach it. Parachute cord can be used to tie the handle to the tripod (as long as you don’t lower the pot too close to the flames and melt the cord).

A simpler option, which works well if you are just boiling water or cooking something that doesn’t need even heat distribution, is just to set the pot in the flames or at the edge of the fire where it can absorb the heat. Then fetch it out with a pot grabber or gloved hand.

56 Responses to “Ultralight Backpacking Stove Guide”

  1. Nkaye Reply

    Thanks for a great article! I’m not a serious backpack and am happy with my little canister stove… but still wanted to thank you for this well written article explaining the differences of each stove. I shared this with my son who is in scouts and one of his requirements was knowing about the different stoves available… this truly helped him understand the pros and cons of each! Appreciate it!

  2. A lot of helpful information here. Thanks you guys. I got an idea to pick a new stove for my next trip. Great post

  3. Great infor here, like steve I want to go abroad and bring my stove and fuel with me, alcohol stove is the best in case

  4. Nice article to capsulize the options out there. I direct a lot of “new packers” to you because I like the way you explain things.

    I use the Vargo Titanium Wood Stove, 4 oz. and bring a few Esbit Fuel cubes, .05 oz. with me for if it’s damp. 1 cube (and a few twiggs) will boil yer water and 95% of the time there’s unlimited fuel that I don’t carry.
    What’s also nice is there is a sense of that old “staring at the fire” magic while you use it. It’s like a little tiny campfire.

  5. bob jeffers-schroder Reply

    My ultralite solution is simple – no stove.
    My food for 1 week consists of the following mix:
    5 lbs whole wheat flour
    5 lbs refined flour
    1 lb sugar
    1 lb peanut butter
    8 oz cooking oil e.g. olive or canola

    On the trail I mix water with a cup of it to make peanut butter cookie dough for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For trail food I also mix it with more water in a water bottle. This makes a great tasting high energy drink and helps motivate me to keep hydrated. I also carry dried spinach that I make at home and dried fruit and nuts.
    Everything except the dried spinach is available at most camp stores. Since dried spinach is extremely light I can carry enough to last a few weeks avoid mailing food packages for most stops.
    Minute rice would be a good alternative for variety but so far I have enjoyed my “cookie” mix.
    I used to carry a wood burning stove but got cured of that by a trip with 2 weeks of rain!

  6. Thomas Reply

    When doing a thru hike of the PCT how do you dispose of the empty canisters along the way? Do the retailers where you buy new ones take them?

    • @Thomas: Just throw the canisters away when you go into town.

      • Thomas Reply

        Thanks Erik – I wasn’t sure if these canisters had special disposal requirements. That makes it easier.

  7. steve Reply

    Which is best for my needs?
    Currently, I use a jetboil, and its been great for mac and cheese, mountain house, etc. But, as a solo touring cyclist, I want to go abroad. Finding canister fuel seems like a very difficult thing for a canister stove. So, Im thinking of either a alcohol stove, or a multifuel stove like the msr dragonfly. The msr dragonfly is heavy, uses plastic parts that might break, but is supposed to burn nice. Alcohol stoves are reliable but are know to take awhile to burn. Which would anyone suggest is the best for a single hungry male cyclist traveling international?

    • @Steve: I’m not sure what the availability of denatured alcohol is in different parts of the world, but if you know you can find it where you are going then you will probably be able to make an alcohol stove work fine. Alcohol stoves are a little slow to cook but as long as you have a good wind-screen and enough fuel they are simple and reliable. Easy to use an no moving parts to malfunction, and if something does break you can make a new one out of a soda can. I’ve never used the multi-fuel stoves myself because they are so heavy, but if the weight is not as big of a deal on a bike it might be worth it for the fuel versatility. I think you can even burn gasoline and you can find that anywhere.

  8. We just found this string! What about the 180 Stove? Our customers are telling us that we have solved the problems they had with other natural fueled stoves. We certainly agree. Elegant simplicity is the key. Our stoves are very light, built for years of use, and great for the long trek. Check us out! Thanks!

  9. Jake Rose Reply

    One thing about canister stoves is that they don’t work well in cold weather. Unless cold weather is about 40 degrees. But I’m assuming that for a typical summer thru hike that is considered cold weather and the stove will work well. But if it is I’d say 30 degrees or lower the stove can become extremely extremely slow or may not work at all.

    • @Jake Rose: Thanks for the note about canister stoves. I have heard that before (and also that they don’t work well at high altitude). Personally I’ve never had a problem with my canister stove (MSR Pocket Rocket) and I’ve used it quite a bit in temperatures down to around 15 degrees and many nights above 12,000 feet without any problems. I don’t know if this is because of the stove or the fuel (I use the little 100g Snowpeak Canisters) or maybe I just got lucky.

      • KCinNH Reply

        The butane in the canister mix stops turning into a gas 31*, at which point it starts to struggle and will eventually go out, even though you can feel the liquid sloshing around in it if you shake it. A Bic lighter does the same thing.

        An alcohol stove doesnt have this problem. It’s issue with cold is the failure of “heat feedback” to vaporize the fuel. This is overcome with a primer pan.

        I use a coleman propane screw on stove in low temps, it goes on a green propane canister. Adjustable, fast…3.5 min for 2 cups to full boil. Good to -44*, hence it’s use as a home heating fuel. This is a heavy setup, like 2 lbs with a full canister, but oh so reliable when out in cold weather.

  10. Don Bacon Reply

    We get along fine w/o a stove. Spices work, and no fuel required.

  11. Allan Wells Reply

    Like most of your correspondents I’ve owned and used Trangias, Whisperlites, Kovea canister stoves and home made drink can stoves but still prefer cooking over a fire (more sociable on club walks!)
    Like you Eric I was interested in the Bush Buddy but not at $145 !!!. A friend told me about Marc Jurey’s home made woodgas stove (on the internet) using a tin can and shield made from an aluminium baking tray or drink can walls stapled together. From memory it took me about 15 minutes to make and worked a treat; I couldn’t believe how efficent it burned a few handfuls of twigs. After boiling 500ml of water it continued to simmer for ages and I gave up waiting for it to burn out. I checked the stove out the next morning to find just a small amount of grey ash and no fire scar. Amazing. Cost? An empty fruit tin, 24 inches of coat-hanger wire (cut into 4X6inch stakes for the pot stand) and the walls of two empty drink cans stapled together to form the heat shield/chamber. Construction details can be found on Marc Jurey’s Penny Alcohol Stove site. When you’ve finished cooking your meal you have a nice little glowing “campfire” to converse around.

  12. For those looking for a less expensive alternative to the bushbuddy, check out http://www.solostove.com. It’s well built and actually affordable. It also burns exactly the same way. It’s a bit heavier but for the cost savings, it’s worth it.

    • The Solo Stove has thicker metal in it and only 20 welds while and will leave some cash in your pocket.
      The Bush Buddy has thinner metal( both have the same type of metal ) and 200 welds.
      Plus if you want to play it safe add a alcohol burner to your pack as a spare fire source to use where the wood would be in the stove. This way all you need to have along is a couple of ounces of alcohol , i take about 6 oz , which can also be used to start the wood fire.Just dip a stick in it , light it and place it on the wood.
      I like the Trangia or the Evernew Titanium which is lighter.
      Either of those works quite well is you get lazy or if the woods are really wet and you want a hot meal or beverage. Mine is used mostly for a quick hot cup of a beverage.

  13. Excellent article. I was thinking about writing an article for my blog about this subject, but now I will just provide a link to yours. One would be hard pressed to put more detail and useful tips into an article on cooking out in the wild.

    I am a hybrid lightweight (often UL and sometimes SUL) backpacker and bushcrafter, and I am lucky to live in Sweden where (unless conditions are dry due to lack of rain, which is rare) it is legal to have campfires out in the woods. So 9 times out of 10 I simply cook over a campfire. But when it is raining or when I am too lazy to bother with a campfire (usually when I am going solo), then I take an alcohol stove with me because it is cheap and easy to find.

    A friend of mine recently turned me on to gas stoves, however, and I am thinking about making the switch. Your article is also pushing me over the edge to gas, but I still have some reservations. Thing is, I don’t do any big trips like you (at most 3 days, I have two young kids at home).

    If you were in my situation, would you still use gas?

    • @Cesar I would give the gas stove a shot. You will probably like it. The main setback for gas stoves is finding fuel canisters on a long hike. But that won’t be a problem on a three day trip. A small 110gram fuel canister will provide plenty enough juice. They require less preparation (no measuring fuel, setting up pot stands and windscreens and priming like with alcohol stove), burn hotter, cook faster, require less protection from the wind and you can adjust the heat any time you want.

  14. Jonathan Reply

    I don’t have much to add to the aforelisted comments, since I’m enjoying the reading and learning phase. But I can add to RJ Lewis’s comments regarding the MSR Whisperlite International.

    Since I am currently south of the US border, this seems to be a pefect stove based on the lack of availability of fuel canisters. the Multi-fuel use option is convenient. Depending on which fuel you use, this stove does tend to burn dirtier based on the impurities in the fuel types, but again, the convenience. We’ve used this stove at over 14,000ft without issues (for Bill’s altitude question).

    I did have to include a learning curve on how to properly prep and light the Whisperlite prior to actual use in the field. This stove must be first be primed, then once heated, works like a champ.

    Thanks for the previous comments and information for my knowledge as I continue to improve my outdoor skills.


  15. Bill Reply


    Do you have any troubles at altitude. I am doing a hike through on the Colorado trail and I a deciding between the JetBoil or the MSR pocket rocket

    Thank you


  16. James Reply

    I was wondering if there is any information as to where canister fuel is available for purchase along the PCT (trail towns).

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi James, You’re in luck. I have compiled a list of places where fuel canisters can typically be found on the Pacific Crest Trail here:

      • Mike H. Reply

        Hi Erik, thanks for all the information. I’m also interested in canister stove fuel supply points. Is it the atlas that needs to be purchased? If so, do you have a list ready for Oregon and Northern California? If those aren’t available yet, would the wall map have that information?

        The link took me to the PCT Atlas purchase page. Thanks again.

        • @Mike H: I no longer keep track of the availability of fuel canisters on the Pacific Crest Trail because it can change too frequently to stay on top of. But, you can typically find canisters in sporting goods stores, outfitters and little shops along the way which cater to hikers. Partially full canisters can often be found in hiker boxes. And you can ship fuel canisters to yourself by USPS as long as the package is sent by ground and marked with the ORM-D designation.

          • Mike H.

            Thanks so much, Erik. I agree, lots of useful information from everyone here.

            I spent an hour with a post office employee today (my gracious thanks to the Louisville, CO post office staff for their patience). As many have experienced, there was an initial response at the front counter of something akin to “can’t you read the sign?”. But they were polite, and I simply explained my confusion, putting the error on my part, that after pouring over USPS regs on-line, I wasn’t sure what classification the canisters came under. One of the employees took time to try and research THEIR rules (not mine, the USPS has its rules based upon designations handed down from the DOT).

            After an hour, two employees, and three manuals later, they admitted that if I were to approach them with a sealed package, declaring what it was, describing how I had packed it (seal the port and bubble wrap the canister), and requesting ORM-D and Ground Transport Only, they would kindly ship it with the rest of my mail pickup. I didn’t ask, but I’m assuming that while one or two canisters wouldn’t be a problem, I’ll bet they draw the line at, say, a dozen. I can only recommend be kind, don’t push the limit, follow the rules, and I’m fairly confident it’ll work. I plan on “test driving” the solution by mailing myself a package or two with a canister from the likely post offices my packages will leave from.

            On a similar note, the southbounders on the PCT I hope to meet up with in Oregon made a point that since they will be using liquid multi-fuel stoves, it would help, from a group effort point of view, if I also went that way so that splitting a gallon of white gas would be easier. I pointed out that, were I to consider that heavy option, I would just use high octane automotive gas. I’ve been using that for years with my MSR International when I’ve needed it, and it burns clean with no problems. I’ve also found it a really easy way to travel internationally in some areas because I could buy exactly the amount of fuel I needed pretty much when I needed it.

          • Sspoonless

            Erik’s comment on ORM-D is correct, in small quantities. The same material may ship as ‘ORM-D’ in smaller quantities via USPS or Fedex ‘Express’ that in larger quantities would have to ship as ‘Dangerous Goods’ via Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) ‘Freight’. The point being that there is indeed a limit how much camping fuel you can ship at once via USPS or Fedex ‘Express’, and it may also have to stay on the ground (no airplanes). For quick feedback in specific cases, you can use the wizard on the Fedex web site to see how a specific quantity of a specific material may be shipped legally.

  17. JoeDz Reply

    Nice article. My son and I are planning a thru-hike of the JMT in July. Our thought is to use our pocket rocket, fueling up at Red’s meadow and Muir Trail Ranch. After reading this, I think this is the way to go. We can each carry a small canister and should be okay for the long stretch from MTR to the Whitney Portal. I also bought Erik’s JMT atlas – It’s been an excellent help in planning our itinerary while here on the east coast.It’s also small enough to bring along on the hike. The wall poster of the trail is an good reminder of our upcoming trek. Thanks for the help!

  18. RJ Lewis Reply

    Interesting, but in all this stove talk, no one brought up stoves useful for couples out backpacking together. While I use the lightweight SnowPeak Giga cannister stove for solo treks, we use a Whisperlight International when out as a couple, since we are cooking for 2. The Whisperlight International has the advantage of being able to use multiple fuels, although it is indeed a heavier stove. It also works great in cold weather. Stove does require a learning period- definitely not the stove to take out without making sure you can use it correctly first.

    Thanks for letting me chime in on this topic!

  19. I always enjoy reading comments about the experts in hiking/backpacking. Nothing beats getting out there and trying things. What is good for you is not necessarily good for me. For example It may depend on what time of year you go backpacking. It is my experience that the cannister tends to freeze up in very cold weather and for higher altitudes I carry some esbit to augment my woodburning stove. Choosing the right equipment depends on your physical condition, age, how far you plan to hike in a day and how comfortable you want to be during the hike. I can hike sub 10 pounds but I will not be as comfortable as carrying 20 pounds. Do you want to speed hike or do you want to take it easy and do all of the side hikes that come along? Don’t be coned into buying stuff you don’t need. Check out my blog at http://www.christianhiker@blogspot.com.

  20. Brandon Reply

    Do you know what size pot is pictured with the pocket rocket? I’ve got a jet boil, but I’ve been thinking about getting just a plain canister stove and bigger/wider pot than the jetboil mug to cook some different meals. I live in an area of AR where it is hard to find backpacking gear (walmart would be considered our outdoor store!) so I would have to order everything from the Internet. Sometimes it is hard to get a feel of the size of something from just a picture, but that looks around the size (in relation to the stove) that I would like to have.

    • @Brandon My guess is that it is a 0.9 or 1.3 liter titanium pot. These are the most popular sizes. They are made by Evernew, Snowpeak and Vargo. An inexpensive lightweight alternative you can find locally is the “Walmart Grease Pot”. Almost as light as titanium and only cost about $7.

  21. Thanks everyone for all your great comments! Lots of useful ideas and information here.

  22. Don Reply

    Erik–BPL did a great series of articles comparing cooking systems. The one about the effects of wind, running all out etc. may be of interest. It was titled:

    Performance Comparison Testing of Lightweight Canister Stoves: Controlled Data Evaluating Key Variables of Temperature, Wind, and Windscreen Use

    It is surprising but their testing showed fuel efficiency of a number of canister stoves equal to Jet Boil when operated at a moderate flame setting.

  23. lollygag Reply

    An alcohol stove will simmer nicely if water is added to the fuel after it is burning.

  24. nick waite Reply

    Good debate going on here. Everyone has their own tried and tested product. So here is mine.
    I cook on small eco friendly fires. The eucalyptus of the Australian bush is conducive to this style. The key to no wood burning stove is a good pot holder such as the clamp form,and using wood in such a way your pot balances on it before it burns down and upsets the contents! This is simply achieved with two flat straight larger branches under each side. You have to be vigilant while you cook though, and ready with the pot grips in case of unbalance.
    This worked well for me on a recent 27 day trip. When wet weather set in I was careful to scout for dry tinder during the day as I walked, in the obvious places-under logs, in tree hollows etc. There were nights however when it was too wet to cook out, and my lunch-usually jam sandwhiches-became my dinner. This could have been alleviated by carrying a small gas canister stove for these occasions.
    Like everything, I regard long distance backpacking as taking the minimal amount in order to survive these wetter days, and am prepared to put up with just a liile discomfort to get through those times. Our forefathers certainly thought nothing of it!
    When I attempt the PCT in 2012 I will be interested to discover if there is sufficient fuel to use this method on the below tree line sections of the walk. If not, I will rely on the rocket in a pocket.

  25. Bas Reply

    Not a lightweight backpacking stove
    I have just got one of these stoves http://www.occuk.co.uk/outdoor
    and I am very impressed it’s a great potboiler, I have the small one,
    also it’s give me some thing to sit around it at night.Bushmans TV short of thing

  26. Robert Perkins Reply

    Erik, Keep up the great articles. I like that you give pros and cons to various systems and don’t try to ‘brow-beat’ others into what is right and wrong. I have learned alot from some of your past articles and videos. I find myself wavering between my homemade tealight alcohol stove and my Snow Peak canister stove. I Have found that for just boiling 12 ozs of water, it’s tough to beat my alcohol stove on weight. I can put my stove, stand, windscreen and 4 days worth of fuel in my pot and put the rubberized cap on to keep it all contained. It’s nice and compact. I am like you, in that I want to get food going as soon as I roll into camp. After hiking 20-30 miles in a day, I don’t want to fuss with getting my food going!

  27. Rodney Reply

    Hey guys. I too am interested in a wood burning stove. Another option you need to check out before you make a purchase is The Four Dog Bushcooker stove. It is a regasification stove like the Bush Buddy and comes in two different sizes and weights. It is also less expensive. Here is the link:


    Good article Eric. Good hiking to all.

  28. Erik–You do need to slow down and smell the roses. I took me awhile (and some research) to learn to run my canister stove at about 1/2 throttle and paying close attention to wind shielding. I get about 16 meals out of a small canister (heating water). I could possibly get more but I never seem to be able to time things so I never run the canister completely empty. I’ve started experimenting an esbit system which is great for shorter trips. The law of diminishing returns starts to lean towards a canister systems for longer hikes.

  29. John Ladd Reply

    I was planning to write this up anyway for the JMT Group on Yahoo, so here goes:

    I think the heat exchanger on the JetBoil plus the insulation sleeve on the pot make it particularly good at converting all the potential heat of the fuel into actual hot water. REI says you can bring 11 L of water to a boil on 100 gm of fuel (net wt) in a JetBoil Flash. That’s 46% more efficient than they list for the Coleman F1 (7.5 L) and 67% better than the MSR Pocket Rocket (6.6 L) despite using identical fuel on a very similar burner head. My field experience is quite similar to REI’s 11 L. Though I am using colder water to start with than their testing and have to repeatedly re-simmer, I probably have to heat a little less than a liter per day for my 2 meals and I have 110 gm of fuel in my SnowPeak canister.

    As your question suggests, I was using a slightly stepped-down level of gas flow on the theory that it was more efficient but someone (Paul Bodner?) recently did some tests and actually found that JetBoil was most efficient at very high gas flow rates. While this is counter-intuitive and I can’t confirm his conclusion, it may be that at high flow rates there is less heat loss due to the outside air because the whole process goes faster and there is therefore less time to lose heat to the outside air.

    I mostly cook things that say they take 5 to 10 minutes of simmering to cook (e.g., home-made recipes based on quick polenta, quick farina, TJ Harvest Grains mix, etc.). My usual practice is to mix the carbohydrate ingredients and 8-14 oz of cold water in the JetBoil canister, bring it to a bare simmer (not a full boil). Immediately extinguish the stove and let water-and-carbs mixture steep in the JetBoil for 5 minutes. Relight the JetBoil with the piezo and return to a simmer (takes almost no time/fuel to re-simmer in the insulated JetBoil pot), extinguish and let sit 5 minutes again and then bring to a third simmer. Immediately – while still hot from the final re-simmer – pour into a 16-oz specimen jar which fits snugly in a commercial cozy (the Outdoor Products Insulated water bottle holder – http://www.rei.com/product/770794) and let steep there for another 5 minutes. (Some things require 2 or 4 re-simmers rather than 3 – you learn from experience with your own recipes) Sometimes multiple steeps happen in the cozy rather than just the last one. Varies with the food choice. I usually add the recipe’s fat component (e.g., ghee or bacon fat or almond meal or olive oil) or protein component (meat, protein powder, almond meal again) AFTER all the cooking and steeping rather than have it included in what needs to be heated up – on the theory that it is the water that cooks the carbohydrate and therefore no need to keep reheating the fat or protein portion – and that there is enough residual heat in the specimen jar to melt the ghee or bacon fat, etc. without having the final product too cold to taste good.

    Other things that probably help: I never heat anything other than what I need to cook. No tea or coffee. Clean things with cold water, not warmed water, etc. Watch the pot carefully so it is always turned off immediately on coming to a simmer. Leave the lid on the JetBoil whenever possible. I take a little water bottle (8-oz recycled bottle of a dishwasher spot preventer called JetDry) into my sleeping bag at night so that breakfast starts with warmed water. The bottle has black tape wrapped around it so I can leave it out on a rock in the sun while setting up camp and get that 8 oz. pre-warmed some before dinner. I try to protect the piezo and replace it when it cracks so that relighting doesn’t waste fuel. I usually carry a replacement piezo on longer trips.

    Plastic specimen jars (used by bio-scientists for experiments) are nice because they are designed not to react with organic material so they are super-easy to clean – put a little water in it after eating, give it a shake, and dump the water. But a 14 oz. peanut butter jar would work about equally well if it fits the cozy.

    Most people probably don’t have the confidence to attempt a 10+ day trip with just a small isobutene canister, for fear of running out of fuel on day 8 or so. I developed confidence gradually by measuring the weight of the canister before and after shorter trips (on a scale at my post office) where I learned that with all these fuel-conserving steps, my 2 meals per day were consuming only about 10 gm of fuel per day.

  30. John Burnley Reply

    I’d like you point you to the significantly more cheaper and compact Vargo Hexagon Wood Stove. I see that you have a SP700 mug. The Bushbuddy wouldn’t fit inside there (Neither would the Vargo). I have an Evernew .9L Pot which it dissappears in. It burns pretty good. Basically just a titanium windscreen with a fire in it.

  31. rambler Reply

    Canister Stove: I think they are best for those who would have to prime and alcohol stove twice a day (either for breakfast or a cup of coffee/hot choc after dinner). Erik’s usages are a little conservative, but I find internet usages of both alcohol and canisters to be bragging a little compared to the average.
    Fires: “Leave no Trace” is more than a defuct trend. You cannot use a fire for breakfast and will have to be carefull every night.
    None: No stove or pot is becoming more popular. It is used most by fast UL hikers who have a larger fraction of “first day out of town” where they can eat fresh, tasty cold food.

  32. Agree with you both on the practicality of canister stoves and the interesting possibilities of trying a trip someday dependent on wood only. BUT I think that one can get a lot more meals out of a 110 gram (net) 7 oz (gross) canister than you suggest in your post. I regularly cook foods that need to simmer or steep about 5-10 minutes each (like quick polenta for breakfast and Israeli couscous at night) and still get 22-24 meals out of one of the small canisters. I use a JetBoil, paired with steeping in a nice cozy, which are particularly efficient at fuel use (at a cost of 15-19 oz. system) but you could come close to that (maybe 14 meals) with something like a titanium pot and a MSR pocket rocket or a Coleman T1 (which would be lighter than my JetBoil). I understand the problems with resupply, but once you solve those problems, canister stoves really work well. And you can do so much with them – turn butter into ghee, cook a lb of bacon down to a nice mix of bacon fat and bacon bits. I even tried to make felafels once (not a success, but next time I think I can make it work)

    • @John: Wow, that is really great fuel economy!

      My cooking setup is a MSR Pocket Rocket, Trek 700 Titanium Mug and a home-made pot cozy made from Reflectix (auto sunshade material). Stove, pot, cozy and fuel together weigh about 16 ounces.

      I’ve gotten 12-14 meals out of a small canister a few times but usually I run out of gas around 8-12 meals. My technique is to boil water and add it to food (or add boiling water to food in a baggy) and let it sit for 15 minutes in the cozy. Sometimes for tougher foods that need more rehydration (like rice) I will simmer for a few extra minutes on the stove before putting it in the cozy.

      Do you typically run your Jetboil at a low heat setting? One way I think I may be wasting fuel is by boiling water at high heat. I’m usually in a hurry to get dinner done so I’ll try to get the water boiling as quickly as possible. But I imagine it might be more fuel efficient to use a lower heat setting and wait a few extra minutes.

  33. Hey Erik,
    nice article! but you have to get rid of your laziness! I own a Bushbuddy ultra and I love it! And there isn’t hard work to cook your meal. If you get used to, you can cook nearly as fast as on an alcohol stove. You have to bring tinder like jelly soaked cotton balls which weight nearly nothing and then you could start a fire very fast. About one hour before you plan to camp you should look at the ground and grab twigs by walking, if you do so, you don’t even have to collect wood in camp. And you can “cook” on it! Fast boil, simmering water, all no problem, depends only on wood feed. After I cooked my meal I let it burn and feet it a campfire in a box is nice. After an hour or so I feed more wood to enjoy a hot cup of tea without getting started a stove again.

    Give it a chance and try it, it is worth it!


    Karsten from Germany

    • @Fax: I’m glad to hear you like the Bushbuddy Ultra. I’ve had my eye on that stove for a while and have been wanting to try it out. The only thing that has stopped me so far is the price tag ($145). But you’ve got me convinced. I think I will buy one in the spring and give it a whirl. Even if it doesn’t end up replacing my trusty Pocket Rocket on the longer hikes I think it will be a good stove to use for camping and shorter trips. And if it’s as good as you say I may end up using it all the time. Guess I better brush up on my fire building skills ;)

    • Mike Reply

      I purchased a Sierra Zip stove years ago and modified it with titanium and aluminum mugs it to make it smaller and lighter (8 oz.). It worked well, but the motor died on my last trip to CO. It worked without the fan, but not very well, so when I came home I decided to make a wood stove without batteries and motor. I read about the rocket stoves and made several from stainless steel water bottles. I tried all kinds of cans and sizes, and my best stove to date is made from a very large tomato juice can. I’m finding that bigger is better. As with alcohol stoves, the most important factor with a wood burner is the distance from the stove to the pot. The problem is that the flame varies depending on the fuel and the wind. The best solution I’ve found is to hang my pot from a tripod. We did this in the Boy Scouts years ago, but then forgot about it. It works great! The other thing I did was put a skirt (made from aluminum flashing) on my pot to channel the heat up and around my pot. I typically boil 2 cups of water for coffee, and then 2 more for oatmeal for breakfast. Once you start it, this stove will bring the water to about 165 degrees (sipping temp.) in 3 minutes (5 min. to full boil). It will burn for a long time without clogging. The stove weighs about 8 oz., the skirt about 3. That’s less than a Pocket Rocket and canister. The other issue I kept running into was that the stoves would clog with ashes after a few minutes. I solved that by making the bottom of my combustion chamber of expanded metal. I put it 2 inches up from the bottom of the can, cut out a 1-1/2 inch high opening starting 1/2″ up from the bottom of the can and make it half the circumference of the can. The ashes fall through the grate, and collect in the bottom of the can. If I want to burn more than 1/2 hour, I have to stir the ashes a little. I point the opening on the can towards the prevailing wind, and the air blows up through the can nicely and makes a very efficient burn. I adjust the tripod so the pot stays at the tip of the flame. Even when the wind is blowing, this is easy to do because the skirt catches the flame. This gives complete combustion and heats fast. I wrinkled the skirt at the pot and left some room between the skirt and the MSR Kettle pot so the heat goes up the sides of the pot. I made the pot handle out of the steel in an old windshield sun shade. I bent the ends at 90 degrees and it springs into the holes I drilled on each side of the pot, but is easy to remove. I hang the pot with a bit of aluminum wire which is light and won’t melt easily. You don’t spill your water or meal with a tripod. Look up how to make one, or ask a Boy Scout.


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