Which Stove to Choose?

Peruse blogs, gear reviews and outdoor retail sites and you will find that there is no shortage of types and brands of stoves. As one looks you are bombarded with choosing between esbit, wood bring, alcohol canisters, pressurized gas and the list goes on.

How do you choose?  Let’s start off with the basic types of stoves and some pros and cons.

Solid Fuel (Chemical) 

There are commonly two types of fuel that are used: Esbit and Hexamine. These stoves have been around since the mid 1930’s and have been useful for many a camper. The
esbit-stovetablets are made of a chemical compound called hexamethylenetetramine. The  flame is nearly invisible (faint blue) and easily ignites with just the touch of a match.


Chemical solid fuel stoves are light weight, inexpensive and breakdown into a compact unit.   Most fuels are easy to ignite, although I have seen people have trouble igniting Esbit tablets. These stoves are a very simple stove to use and most models have built-in wind screen designed to improve fuel efficiency.


The primary disadvantage is finding solid fuel tablets in small trail towns. Generally you can only find these tablets at specialty stores or you may need to order over the internet.  Solid fuels are relatively expensive compared to other fuels. Heat control is also challenging and you may need to raise or lower the cook pot if you are doing more than boiling water. Like your cool pot looking nice?  Make note that some of the fuels will leave a sticky brown residue on the bottom and sides of your cooking pot.


If you are trying to cut down those burdensome ounces then an alcohol stove might be right for you. Like solid fuel stoves, alcohol stoves are simple and easy to use.  Measure out your desired amount of alcohol and away you go!


The stove can be one of the cheapest investments that you make!  If you are a DIY kind of person you can make your own!!! Denatured alcohol is cheap and easy to find in almost every town. You will be impressed with the weight as they only weigh in at a few ounces. Maintenance?  You won’t find yourself having to clean the stove, adjusting the stove or maintaining it at all. It’s as simple as measuring out the fuel and striking a match.  The fuel burns clean and, therefore, won’t leave a black or sticky residue on your cook pot. An added benefit is that there is no odor to your fuel, so if your alcohol were to spill in your pack it won’t leave your gear smelling like a refinery. Transporting fuel does notAlsohol Stove necessitate using a metal fuel bottle so there is a few more ounces saved because you can use a plastic bottle.


But there is always a trade off! Alcohol stoves don’t burn as hot as other stoves. You can expect to get about half the heat value per ounce of alcohol as compared to fuels such as white gas. What this means is that you will need to carry more fuel to compensate for this loss of heat value. You don’t have control over raising or lowering the flame. Just like an esbit style stove the only way to control the heat is by raising and lowering the height of your pan above the flame. Winter? Not a good choice as the alcohol does not vaporize very well in conditions below zero. Check out PMags reasons to reconsider this type of stove.


Perhaps the most popular style of stove these days uses canisters that contain compressed gases. Now allow me to get my geek on  

about this type of fuel.  The three types of fuel that you will find in the canisters are a mix of Isobutane/n-Butane or propane. The fuel inside will come out as a gas, but because the gases are under pressure it causes them to condense into liquids inside the canister. So what is the difference? Isobutane is a structural polymer of butane made up of three carbons and has a branching structure. n-Butane is unbranched and has four carbons. The n preceding Butane simple means that it is a straight chain hydro carbon. n-Butane and Isobutane have a higher energy coefficient than propane and are also lighter than propane. The difference in each type is important to know especially if you are going to be camping in cold weather. Look for a blend that has more propane than n-butane for winter.  n-Butane/Isobutane has lower vaporization pressures and doesn’t perform as well below zero. The mix that you use will have an impact on the efficiency of your stove.

There are also canister stoves that have a pot that is specifically designed for that stove. They are safe, efficient, and make good used of the heat source like a regular canister stove.


The fuel used in canister stoves burns clean and won’t leave soot on your cookware like other types of backpack stoves. Since canister stoves are equipped with valves, you have better control over the flame and heat intensity. Generally, the stoves are small, lightweight units that are very safe. There are never any concerns about spilling your fuel. Some models are equipped with an igniter, but it is definitely worth carrying matches in the event that the igniter doesn’t work. Most canisters that you can purchase will feature a Lindal valve that has standardized threading for your stove.


Canister stoves can be problematic during cold weather trips. The canister will lose pressure below 32°F. To counteract this pressure loss you can keep the canister in your jacket before use or place it in your sleeping bag overnight. As you use your stove the canister will lose pressure and begin to cook slower. Additionally, you may have a difficult time determining how much fuel is left. You will pay more to purchase these canisters than other fuels.  The fuel bottles must be packed out of the woods. For anyone hiking outside of the U.S., canisters are hard to find. You can’t use a wind shield on a canister stove that sits on top of the fuel bottle. If there’s a fuel line to the stove, the wind shield must be positioned between the stove and the canister.

*Unsure of how much fuel is left? Try floating the canister in water to assess the fuel level. 


Liquid Fuels

Back when I started my hiking career, finding a stove that used liquid fuels was as common as the stink on a thru-hiker. If it is petrol based liquid, chances are that your stove will burn it. Liquid fuel stoves will operated on white gas (naptha), unleaded gasoline, kerosene, and even diesel. The fuel is poured into a tank that must be pressurized by using a hand pump. Lighting the stove requires priming, which entails lighting a few drops of the fuel in a cup below the generator.  As the fuel  

 burns off, it heats the generator causing the liquid to change into gas.


A multi-fuel stove is useful for world travels because of the variety of fuels that can be used. All run on so-called white gas and many stoves will run on a variety of petrol products. White gas is the go to fuel because it is highly refined which leaves very few or no impurities in the fuel. White gas burns hot and clean and will perform well in below freezing temperatures. Compared to other fuel types, the price is much less expensive and you can control the pressure and heat intensity.


You will pay more for a multi-fuel stove that burns multiple types of fuel. The fuel can be easily spilled, it is highly flammable, and will leave your gear with a residual smell. The stove has to be primed before you can start to cook with it. The weight of the stove as compared to other types of stoves is on the heavy end of the spectrum.

Wood Stove

 Perhaps it can’t get any simpler than using wood to cook your dinner. These stove feature a combustion chamber for the wood to burn. Usually you will find a small area at the bottom designed to place a fire starter like leaves or grass. Light the starter and in minutes you are ready to cook.


Nomads DIY Stove

Nomads DIY Stove

Nothing like free fuel! All you need to do is scavenge some small pieces of dry wood. Since you aren’t carrying the weight of your fuel you are saving weight right from the start.  There are many models out there that are a pound or less in weight. These stoves produce a good amount of heat and are quite nice to warm your hands on a cold evening.


Finding dry wood can be an issue in some localities, climates, and seasons. Winter and spring can be trying and when it is pouring outside for days on end. Once your fire is burning, the only heat control you have is to raise or lower your cooking pot. Burning wood coats your backpacking cookware with black soot.


Solar backpacking stoves have been getting some attention for a few years. If you want to use one then you are at the mercy of the sun.   For the stove to work effectively you will need a bright sun during the heart of the day, which is Solar cookerprobably during the time that you were planning on hiking.  As you probably already figured, they cool very slowly. Because of bulk and weight these are not ideal for you next backcountry trip. But if you are interested in a cool project, make one at home and give it a try!  You can find  find quite a bit of information on the internet.


2 thoughts on “Which Stove to Choose?

  1. Great write up! I am in the market for a personal hiking stove and this is the perfect amount of information to set me on the right track for making my first purchase.


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