What kind of stove do YOU use for lightweight backpacking?

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable What kind of stove do YOU use for lightweight backpacking?

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    Roy Stanley


    All this discussion about propane and butane and vapor pressure is interesting but its making my head swim! So I decided to just try it and see what happens. We’ve been having a “cold snap” down here with the temperature in the 40s.
    I took my Primus stove and one of my partly filled canisters (about 1/2 full) on my enclosed patio (no wind). All of my canisters were used when its in the 50s or higher, so this was a good test to see if the propane comes out first only below freezing or if it happens when its warmer, too. The thermometer said 47 when I lit the stove. The flame was weak and would have blown out with even a little breeze. I put a pint of water in my quart pot and set it on the stove. After 11 minutes, it was about as warm as a hot bath and the water never came to a boil. This matches what I’ve seen with this stove in the field.
    I think this is actually better than what you’d get in the field for a couple reasons. The stove was in an eclosed area that completely blocked the wind. The Primus has a built in windscreen/heat reflector like the gigapower one someone mentioned. The canister never got colder than mid 40s – not like you were camping and it sat out overnight when it got down into the 20s and then you wanted to fix breakfast once it had warmed up a little. Finally, the canisters had always been used in warm weather. So if I understand Will’s point about propane and butane coming out together above freezing that should have happened with this canister – but it obviously didn’t.
    People are throwing out all kinds of numbers when they’ve used their stoves – 15, 20, 25 whatever. These seem to miss the point cause I don’t think anyone says they never work when its that cold. When I’m camping its not a matter of what my gear can do once or twice best case, it’s what I can rely on it to do.
    Don’t flame me for being honest, guys. I just call them like I see them.
    BTW, you added wrong on the cost of the canisters. $5 for an 8 ounce canister comes to $80 for a gallon of fuel, not $40.

    Jason Smith
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northeast

    I just wanted to add in my results when using canister stoves this past weekend at the presidentials. The temperature was about 15 degrees and I had kept the canister warm with body heat throughout the night. The canister, using a brunton crux, was able to quickly boil about .75 liters of water for food, after this point I was able to melt snow and boil about another .5 liters to add back to my nalgene before performance dramatically dropped and all I had were the little blue flames.

    Later on that day, about 20 degrees, for a late lunch I did the same placing the canister in my jacket to heat up then boiled another liter of water.

    If anyone is interested I should be using it again in temps around 15 degrees this weekend. I will be cooking for two so I will probably try switching canisters between meals for the first time.

    I have one question for those with more experience than myself. I have been thinking of building a copper wire heat exchanger for when it gets cold. With the addition of a temperature gauge, has any one ever had a problem?

    Lori Houston


    The lighter the better. I go with an alcohol stove, and a small bottle of alcohol. You can’t beat that!

    There are many versions listed on and it can be as simple a opening and washing out a tuna can.

    Cheap is good too.

    David Neumann
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern Oregon Coast

    Alcohol stoves are not always lighter. It depends on the length of the trip and/or number of days between resupply points. Utilizing readily available data on fuel consumption, often the alcohol and stove weigh more than a canister stove and canister. See for a great discussion on this specific topic.

    Michael Martin
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Idaho

    As an engineering geek, I spend a lot of time considering just this sort of tradeoff. (Too much time if you ask my wife…) It’s true that for longer trips, canister stoves become more weight efficient than most alcohol stoves. But, it is the stove’s fault, not the fuel. Most alcohol stoves waste a lot of heat due to poor flame control. An efficient alcohol stove can be more weight efficient than a canister setup for any length trip. Of course, convenience, reliability, pot type, windscreens, phase-of-the-moon, etc. come into play in the real world. But from a strictly theoretical/thermodynamic point of view:

    Unless I botched the math, a 110g Butane Canister provides approx. 4900 btu and weighs about 7.0 oz full/3.2oz empty; it takes approx. 6.8oz of Ethanol to provide the same heat energy. (Methanol is less efficient.)

    So, assuming a 1oz alcohol bottle, a .5oz alcohol stove, and a 3oz canister stove:

    Alcohol: 9.3oz full/2.5oz empty/5.9oz average
    Canister: 10.0oz full/6.2oz empty/8.1oz average

    Note that this comparision is worst case for the Alcohol setup and best case for the canister. For shorter trips, you still lug around the empty canister weight (and unused butane, unless you start with a partially empty canister), but you can take only as much Alcohol as you need.



    PS — responding to questions below, “ounces” in this post are avoirdupois ounces (weight), not fluid ounces (volume).

    David Neumann
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern Oregon Coast

    I can boil 26+ cups of water using one small canister (, but I doubt I could boil that much water with seven ounces of alcohol and my Pepsi can stove — adding a windscreen and probably a measuring device for the alcohol. I use denatured alcohol which is probably less efficient than ethanol. Wind affects both stoves, but I like being able to bring a small quantity of water to boil quickly.

    The Esbit stove ranks as the most weight efficient in the article I previously mentioned, but I can’t seem to come anywhere near what some claim the Esbit stove does for them.

    The bottom line for me is that I carry the alcohol stove for shorter trips, but the canister stove for longer ones. Ultimately it boils down (no pun intended) to the specifics of the trip and how much a person wants to mess with the intricacies of the stove.

    John austin


    I am wondering if everybody is counting alcohol by weight or fluid oz? My stove will boil 16oz of water on 3/4 oz denatured alcohol.It would take 9-3/4 fluid oz to boil 26 cups that would be 13 boils of 16oz of water using 3/4oz per boil. 9-3/4 fluid oz of denatured alcohol weighs only 7.6 oz so the end result is almost the same as a canister except you save the weight of the empty canister. I have always been concerned about the complications of a canister stove. O rings cross threading a canister plugged up jets. Is the canister reall as full as i think? will the canister leak?—Tinny-

    John austin


    I know that you are not supposed to use a windscreen with a canister stove because it can overheat the canister. But with the problems of cold weather i would think one could experiment with a passive windscreen to at least keep the canister warm on a cold day? This seems much less complicated than heat exchangers and other high tech ideas and can be made from heavy weight aluminum foil 4 layers thick and vented with a paper punch. –Tinny–


    I have found a very small alcohol stove called the stealth that is a real power house and will fit anywhere in your pack. This would make an excellent backup stove that could be used everyday if needed and uses very little fuel. go to http://WWW.MINIBULLDESIGN.COM and click on the store icon. And while you are there watch the stove videos!

    Dan Hunter


    Some Alcohol setups are pretty light, even though they use more fuel than butane stoves.

    Look at the following site:

    It talks about average weights. So, even if you start out with more weight because of extra fuel, it averages out since the last day of your trip, you just have a soda can stove which weighs nothing.

    Tim Cheek
    BPL Member


    Does 12,000-13,500′ in altitude impair an alcohol stove, or is it just wind and cold?

    Dondo .
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado Rockies

    I’ve used alcohol stoves at about 11,500′ and have not noticed any problems. Cold, however, does make a big difference.


    Alcohol stoves seem to work in the mountains but not on snow or ice. The need to be warm to vaporize and the cold just kills them. There are some tricks like using something to insulate the bottoms with or preheating the stoves.

    Patrick Baker


    John Chan


    I’ve experimented with alot of variations of the Pepsi can stove concept. The one that I’ve settled on is based on Red Bull cans with an aluminum flashing windscreen and aluminum foil reflector. I use 2 titanium stakes through the windscreen to support an MSR Titan kettle. Total weight of the stove (minus the stakes which I consider multi-use) is 1.1 oz. I’ve tried the stove with and without added fibreglass in the double walls and actually found reduced performance with the addition of fibreglass (seems to cause “hyper-pressurization” and sputtering) so I’m saving that extra 0.02 oz or so. The jet configuration is 8/0.6mm. I’ve tried 12 and 16 but burn time is dramatically reduced while boil time isn’t.
    With this set-up (and a foil reflector below the stove) a rolling boil for 1 pint of water from 68 F takes ~4-4.25 minutes and 1 oz of methanol will last 11.5 minutes in the stove.



    As an experiment, I took my Trangia alcohol stove and a pot of water outside the house where the temp was 0 degrees F to see if it would boil the water. The water boiled within minutes. Water, alcohol and the hardwear started at about 65F. Not a true field test at all, but if you were camping in such conditions with propane fuel, you would have to keep the fuel and water warm inside (your sleeping bag to prevent freezing) also.


    I use my Pepsi stove in all 4 seasons. The trick is to store the Alcohol in a small 2oz flat oval bottle. Keep this in an inner pocket of your shirt & the fuel will always be warm & easy to light. Bottle can be refilled from a ‘bulk storage container’–Platypus with BMW spout.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Anonymous wrote:
    > Simmering? Sure – if you stand next to it to keep adjusting the flame, relight it when it blows out, and constantly stir your food to keep it from scorching.
    Dear me – I wonder whether you have ever used a windscreen? You should try it some day. They are quite effective, and quite safe.

    > Blended fuels actually have less heat than pure butane.
    The difference may be a couple of percent, if you measure by weight (which is the only measure I care about). You wouldn’t notice it.

    > When you first use a new canister, you are burning pure propane. Since propane boils at about -40F, it works great no matter how cold it is. But by the time you’re on your third meal (and two days out from the trailhead), all the propane is gone.
    Actually, what you have written is technically wrong. Both the butane and the propane evaporate together, although at 0 F the butane does get rather minor. IF you are trying to use an upright gas stove at 0F, then you can expect some real problems. It can be done, but those stoves are NOT designed for that use. Use one with liquid feed and all will be well.

    > People claim that canister stoves work fine at 10F or even colder.
    They do, IF you use them properly. You have to go liquid feed at thse temps.

    > It is also totally irresponsible to recommend using a windscreen or any other “trick” to heat up a canister. These things are dangerous and will explode!!
    I don’t know how much experience you have with gas stoves, but I suspect not very much. All cartridges are rated to take up to 50 C (122 F). If you can put your hand on the cartridge without pain, it is within the safety limits. If you are concerned, put a small radiation shield between the burner and the cartridge – a bit of an alfoil cooking dish is enough.

    I have been using upright gas stoves below the snow line and liquid feed cartridge stoves above the snow line for many years, with windscreens. IN COMPLETE SAFETY. And with nice dinners too :-) I am just back from a week of ski touring, with a Coleman Xtreme stove. Went just fine.
    But you can also use any other ‘remote cartridge’ stove with a standard screw-thread cartridge upside down as long as the stove has a preheat tube. Then it functions EXACTLY like a petrol or kero stove. EXACTLY the same.

    But everyone is free to follow his own strange ideas. ymmv.

    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest

    Enjoyed very much the BPL online catalog download article you authored, viz. “Got Gas? Stove Theory and How They Work by Roger Caffin”. Very informative. Thanks for taking the time to write it and make it available.

    David Plantenga


    Hey Kids,

    I’ve spent a bunch of $$$ finding what works for me and have landed with a “cat food” can that I can burn solid fuel or alcohol in.

    Cat Food can because it’s WAY stronger than a pop can. Plus you don’t have to cut and glue/tape. Wider for WAY better stability.

    For the flame breather pot rest between the stove and pots, cut two alumnium stock 1/8″ x 1/2″ pieces to the width of your largest pot/cup. I drill holes in mine mostly for appearence. In the center of these two pieces cut a slot 1/2 way thru each piece. This allows you to create a stable “x” on top of your stove and under your pot.

    Also in the Cat Food can, I punch breather holes completely around, high enough to allow a 1/2 ounce fill of alcohol.

    This stove design weighs about 40 grams.

    Presto, dual fuel capabilites, light weight, and one fine design.

    I use a foil windsreen and SnowPeak Spork,600, and 700 cups.

    Dat’s my, little over a 1/2 pound, kitchen …

    doug rawlings


    i’ve had good luck with the canister type stoves…as to the non-use of a windscreen issue, i think all that’s needed there is a little common sense…you can’t tight-wrap the thing…also, it’s smart to not run the stove wide-open just to get your water hot faster…a little patience will get you far…

    i own 2 or 3 primus screw-ons, and couple of coleman peak ones that are very light and reliable…i have a coleman single burner white gas stove that’s allegedly designed for backpacking, but it’s heavy, and it has two settings: all the way on, or off…no simmering on this thing…i have an msr whisperlight that’s ok, but it’s high maintenance…i have about half a dozen optimus/gaz stoves of various types, and one in particular that i’m quite fond of…i think it’s called a twister…it’s nothing like the old ones, and performs flawlessly…the trouble is getting gaz canisters is next to impossible these days…importation from europe has dried up….we used to be able to get them at galyan’s sports here in Indiana, but they got bought out by dick’s and dick’s has nothing…coleman has a limited quantity available for direct order, but you have to buy a case at a time….with the hazmat shipping, a case of 12 CV470’s will run you around $100…still, if you investigate online sources, this isn’t really bad price, working out to about $8.40 per 470 grams of fuel…this is only a little higher than the base price at other sources i’ve seen….

    i also make homemade pepsi can stoves and burn heet gas line antifreeze in them….this is the ultimate in simplicity and light weight, but it takes practice…also, the alcohol at times will not work well, especially at higher altitudes or extreme cold…it’s a good idea to carry some fuel tabs as well…you absolutely must use a windscreen with these….same goes for tab stoves…

    my fave has to be the canister, for a balance between weight, relibility, performance, and fuel consumption…i dislike having to pack around empty canisters, but if you carry a big one, chances are good you’ll have enough for this trip and the next as well….

    doug rawlings


    when using a canister in cold weather, i give it a good shake-up before screwing the burner onto it….i have much better results that way…

    Duane Hall
    BPL Member


    Locale: Nova Scotia

    Actually, I use a Kelly Kettle. I know, I know – it’s not light weight, as such. But I don’t carry a separate pot, and of course I don’t have to carry fuel. I find it evens out nicely in the end, and by God, the thing is efficient. It just plain works.


    paul johnson


    Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest


    what’t the best way to obtain a Kelly Kettle? anyone in the States or Canada sell them?

    D G


    Locale: Pacific Northwet,40733,40996

    (sorry, forgot how to post url).

    I got mine from the above company a few months back. I think they currently may be the only place in the US that carries them. They ship out of New York I think so East Coasters should be able to get one pretty quick.

    By the way, the kettle really is fun and works amazingly well.

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