If you haven’t done a lot of backpacking, you may not be aware of how incredible backpacking stove technology has become. The best backpacking stove these days weighs under two pounds (sometimes WAY under), is quick to light, packs small, and, in most cases, is even reasonably priced. Most backpacking stoves—including the popular “instant boil” types—are essentially a one-burner system, like a Bunsen burner only without your lab partner peering over your shoulder.
When it comes to picking the best backpacking stove for your needs, we recommend evaluating the following features in comparing your wide variety of options:
1. Lightweight (goal: under 16 ounces)
If you’re backpacking or, especially, thru-hiking, every ounce counts. The best backpacking stove should not add an extra three pounds to your pack. Good brands are extremely lightweight, because new materials and clever designs have trimmed down stoves from the 20-pound Coleman to several brands less than two pounds on the market today. Not convinced? Primus’ award-winning backpacking stove line are all under 16-ounces, and go as low as 8-ounces with the Classic Trail.
2. Packs small (about the size of a Magic Eight Ball)
A camp stove should be about the size of a cube measuring no more than 3 inches on each side, but since most of us aren’t geometricians: smaller than a men’s shoe, or about the size of a softball. It may sound unbelievable, but the best backpacking stove is always going to pack small, with foldable cooking prongs engineered for strength and packability. Most stoves, including Primus’ line, come in handy carrying cases (nylon bags or plastic sleeves), so be on the lookout for any stove that needs to be packed in a box, which will add extra weight.
3. Limited number of parts (one, ideally)
In the woods or on the beach or in the middle of that critical summit run, the last thing you want is multiple parts. Any extra part can get lost, making even the best backpacking stove instantly useless. Go for a stove that folds up and can be unfolded easily without any additional hassle. High quality stoves occasionally will include a windscreen (typically foldable aluminum), but stoves like Primus’ Omnilite are designed to burn as efficiently as possible without the need of a full guard.
4. Burns a non-messy, easily purchased fuel source (screw canisters rule!)
The best backpacking stoves on the market all use gas, so while a battery-operated stove might be a novelty item to show off to your camping buddies, we always recommend using gas. Gas stoves are the smallest and the fuel is easy to locate (online, or retail). Most camp stoves are built to use screw-in gas canisters for easy set-up, and are designed to burn fuel efficiently for extended periods of time. If you’re unsure on what type of gas your stove utilizes (propane, butane, isobutane), be sure to consult your user’s manual or an outdoor professional prior to purchasing fuel. That said, the vast majority of backpacking stoves use a mix of fuels (usually propane, butane, and/or isobutane).
5. Doesn’t cost an arm and a leg ($99 or less)
Surprisingly, even the best backpacking stove won’t break the bank. Top brands usually sell for around $50 (the Classic Trail retails for $22.95!) and, after purchasing fuel and a couple of freeze-dried meals, it’s possible to be out of the store with the tools you need to eat while on the trail for less than $100. For the high-end expeditioners there are stoves like the Omnilite, which retails for $199.95, but for the average backpacker (or even the hardcore ones) the rest of Primus’ top of the line stoves can be bought for $99.95 or less.
Also, while we appreciate the drive to recycle quality outdoors equipment, we do not recommend buying backpacking stoves on the used market. A stove is a unique piece of gear, and the price, quality, and variety on the market makes it easy to snag a new one with little to no hassle, financially or otherwise.