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Top 20 Backpacker Recommended Backpacking Stoves – 2017

Top 20 Backpacker recommended Backpacking Stoves

What are the most popular backpacking stoves that backpackers *really* use? What backpacking stove fuel types are most common? How many stoves do backpackers typically own?

We feel that the best way to answer questions like these is to poll large numbers of backpackers, 700 in this case, about their *actual* stove usage and preferences (think of these as 700 backpacker product reviews), so you get to see the proven stoves that backpackers keep using because they work. While different environmental conditions require different stove types, knowing which backpacking stoves people trust will help you select a top backpacking stove.

Backpacking Stove Types

Backpacking stoves can be grouped into different categories by the type of fuel they burn. We found that Isobutane canister style stoves were far the most popular stove type, over twice as popular as alcohol stoves. When combined, nearly 80% of all backpackers prefer stoves that burn isobutane canister gas or alcohol, while the remaining 20% prefer liquid fuel (white gas), ESBIT fuel cubes, or wood stoves. Only 6% of backpackers prefer backpacking without a stove.

Backpacking Stove Fuel Preference

The most common reason to choose an isobutane canister stoves over an alcohol one is boiling speed, since most canister stoves will boil water twice as fast an alcohol stove. Backpackers tend to choose alcohol stoves if cost is an issue or fuel availability is scarce, since denatured alcohol (meths) and ethanol are available more widely on long distance hiking trails, although canister availability has improved considerably in recent years.

Backpacker Recommended Stoves (ranked by popularity)

The top 20 recommended backpacking stoves accounted for over 73% of all stove use, while the top 10 backpacking stoves account for over 60%.  These results tells us that most backpackers use a very small set of popular backpacking stoves, despite the vast selection of backpacking stoves available today.

RankStoveAlcoholIsobutaneLiquid FuelEsbitWood
1MSR Pocket Rocket131
2MYOG Alcohol83
3Jetboil Flash56
4MSR Whisperlite32
5Trail Designs 12-10 Stove24
6Jetboil Minimo23
7Snowpeak Gigapower21
8Etekcity "Orange" Stove20
9Trangia Spirit Burner20
10Esbit Pocket Stove14
11Kovea Spider Stove12
12Zelph Fancee Feest11
13MSR Windburner10
14Solo Stove Lite9
15Soto Windmaster9
16MSR microRocket9
17Jetboil Sol Ti8
18Jetboil Zip7
19MSR Pocket Rocket 27
20MSR Dragonfly7
13831339149

The numbers in the table above are broken out by fuel type and correspond to the number of backpackers who used each stove listed in our survey of 700 backpackers. Note: this table only lists the top 20 stoves. 

The MSR Pocket Rocket is far and away the most popular backpacking stove in use today, which is kind of ironic because MSR decided to stop manufacturing it this year. They’ve replaced it with the Pocket Rocket 2, which is arguably a better stove, in terms of pot stability and compactness when folded up. The original Pocket Rocket is still widely available if you want to pick one up. I was quite surprised that it dwarfed Jetboil use, but that’s what makes these surveys so revealing about actual product preferences. Additionally:

  • I’ve included a line item for Make-Your-Own-Gear (MYOG) alcohol stoves an entry in the table, because as a class they tend to be quite similar in design and function. We found that there are just as many people making their own alcohol stoves as there are buying them from alcohol stove manufacturers.
  • The Trangia Spirit Screw-top stove is a classic alcohol stove design that lets you save your unused fuel when you’re finished cooking. It’s been copied by many manufacturers.
  • The Etekcity “Orange” Stove is sold by many companies you’ve never heard of on Amazon and eBay. It’s also called the “JOGR” stove because it was sold by that company at one time. It’s a generic canister stove that costs about $12.
  • The Jetboil Sol Ti was discontinued about 2 years ago and is not manufactured or sold anymore. Made with titanium, it was lightweight but suffered from manufacturing defects. I used one for a while, mainly for car camping because it boiled water so fast.
  • The Trail Designs 12-10 stove is the standard alcohol stove included with most Trail Designs stove systems.

How to Choose which Backpacking Stove to Buy

There’s no such thing as the BEST backpacking stove, despite what you read on the internet and various gear guides. In truth, the backpacking stove you carry most often is often just a matter of personal preference although there are a number of variables worth considering:

  1. Isobutane canister stoves, like the MSR Pocket Rocket or Jetboil Flash, boil water very quickly, they’re easy to ignite, pack, and the canister acts as a stove stand. They work well down to about 15 degrees fahrenheit, unless you get an inverted canister stove like the Kovea Spider which can burn canister gas in its liquid form, down to about 0 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. Liquid fuel stoves (white gas) like the MSR Whisperlite are good for group cooking because they burn the hottest. They’re also good for winter backpacking down to 40 degrees below zero. They are the heaviest option available because they require a separate fuel bottle and fuel pump. International versions can also burn kerosene, gasoline and even jet fuel.
  3. Alcohol stoves are popular because they’re ultralight,  inexpensive to buy, you can make your own, and they burn readily available denatured alcohol, ethanol, or HEET, a gasoline additive. They are about twice as slow as isobutane canister stoves and can be difficult to ignite in colder weather. They’re also very sensitive to wind and the flame is nearly invisible in daylight, which is a potential safety issue.
  4. The ESBIT Pocket Stove and Wood Stoves are among the lightest weight stove options available, inexpensive to make yourself or purchase, but less frequently used because they are slow and generate soot that will coat the outside of your cook pot. ESBIT fuel tab availability can also be limited.

It’s best to experiment with the different options to understand which works best for you in different conditions. That’s probably why so many backpackers own multiple stoves…..

How Many Backpacking Stoves do Backpackers Own?

Most backpackers own 2-3 stoves, which will be good news to people who manufacture and sell backpacking stoves. Here’s a breakdown of what we found across 700 backpackers.

# of StovesBackpackers
016
1130
2196
3110
477
534
>571

As you can see, it’s not uncommon for many backpackers to own multiple stoves and about 10% in our survey own more than 5, including many backpackers who owned over a dozen.

About This Survey

This survey was conducted on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 300,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear.

While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=700 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.

There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpacker who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.

The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the very strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers who are interested in learning about the popularity of different backpacking stoves and fuel types.

Support SectionHiker.com. If you make a purchase after clicking on the links above, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you.

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30 comments

  1. Fantastic information, Philip. The stats generally reflect my own experience although I tend to find some regional differences. Alcohol and wood stoves are more restricted in the west and are less used there.

    Taken as a class, Jetboils did very well, nearly as well as the PR if all Jetboils are taken together; 94 by my count. The PR though is clearly the stand out. Even the new PR 2, while only available for a few months, already made the top 20 list.

    Interesting also is the presence of the Kovea Spider but no other members of the class of stoves, remote canister stoves.

    In terms of statistical correlations, have you analyzed the coincidence of insanity with stovelessness? Clearly related I say. ;)

    HJ

    • The Forest Service has banned any flame source that does not have an on/off switch on it in the West for several years running during prime summer months. That forced me and many others from an alcohol burner to a canister stove. Otherwise, I’d probably be using alcohol still.

      I like the speed of the canister but I don’t care for how the partially full canisters are stacking up at home. You either pack a full one and don’t use it all or you end up packing multiple partial canisters and hope you have enough fuel.

  2. P.S. If I’m doing my math right, about 63% of those who use canister stoves are using upright type canister stoves (Pocket Rocket, GigaPower, etc.), 33% are using integrated type (Jetboil, Windburner, etc.), and 4% are using Remote type (Kovea Spider).

    That sounds about right in my experience and (well, at least to me) is interesting in its own right.

    HJ

  3. I think I participated in this survey, I dont recall. But its funny to me that I have four of the top ten used stoves, plus a Solo wood burning stove. I use canister soves most often because its easier. I have a Whisperlight Universal that I use inverted canisters for Winter. I made a few of my own alcohol stoves, but was never really happy with the fuel efficiency. I have a Caldera cone, it came with the 12-10 stove, that fits my 1400 snowpeak pot, but cooking for two, I have to refill the stove to boil water. I finally bought a pocket rocket clone off amazon, a BRS-3000 and that seems to work well for me.

    I’m going to guess that my evolution in stoving is fairly typical.

  4. Like Earl, I suspect my “stove journey” is not all that uncommon…

    Started with an upright canister because everyone I was camping with was using one :) When I began lightening my load in earnest, I moved to alcohol and found it very interesting and yes, UL. But time to boil, (occasional) leaky fuel containers and the fiddle factor encouraged me to move on. Next stop Esbit where the soot quickly drove me away (I do however continue to pack a few of the 4g tabs in my kit as emergency fire starters). Which leads me back to canister. Futzing with a stove, dealing with spilled or leaking fuel and cleaning the outside of my pot is not how I want to spend my time outdoors. Canisters are simple, easy, clean and FAST. Those characteristics make it the winner for me.

    PS: My Soto Windmaster + wide 900ml Toaks pot boils 16 oz of water with 4g of fuel. I think that’s pretty darned efficient.

    • Are we all clones on this journey? (Or maybe “clowns” is more appropriate. :) ) I’ve been through several styles and generations of stoves, but my current setup is a Soto Amicus (basically a variant on the Windmaster) with a 600 ml Snow Peak cup. Efficiency is quite excellent (I have not measured anything, but anecdotally I use about half the fuel that I did before the Amicus, and with far less messing around than with my white gas, Esbit or alky setups).

      I have to thank Hikin’ Jim for most of this, I’ve been following his Adventures for years and own more than my share of stoves because of his engaging and informative reviews. (Jim, I hope to see you and you daughter on the trail someday, we hike pretty much the same places…)

      • Actually I am not a human being, I’m just an AI software program developed by the stove industry to try and get everyone to buy as many stoves as I have. ?

        Interestingly, I do get recognized out on the trail once in a while. Is it because of my ruggedly handsome looks? My brilliant insight into stoves? No, invariably it’s because they recognized little Joycie and figured the schlemiel with her must be me, lol.

        HJ

  5. Thanks for sharing the detailed results of your survey. Besides the pie chart depicting the distribution of the different type of stove usage, I particularly liked see the number of responses that were received for each individual stove. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that we all really enjoy being able to compare our own gear selections to the results of the survey and, as well, the results give us reason to check out some of the other gear that we may not have taken notice of before. Look forward to the next survey and next time I’ll make sure that I participate since I missed doing that this time around.

  6. Question: Were backpackers polled on what they actually used, or what they would buy purchasing a new stove?

  7. Brendan Albano

    I really feel like we’re missing important “stove” deets for the no-stove crowd! What’s the breakdown on Gatorade tub, Talenti tub, peanut butter jar, or ziplock bag, for cold soaking? ;)

    So far, I like my Talenti container. The best part is that when you buy it it comes with a free pint of ice cream! None of these fancy fuel burning stoves can compete with that!

  8. SVEA 123R is so much fun to use

    • That’s why I love to take my old Whisperlite out with the Scouts, the inevitable fireball is awesome.

      • Hikin Jim recommends priming with alcohol to limit fuel wastage and eliminate the firebowl. Pretty goo practice, I think.

      • My brother and I were experimenting with different lightweight backpacking stoves in the early ’70s. We each bought ten dollar Svea 123s and he also bought a cheaper white gas stove that was involved in our most memorable fireball.

        Some of the details of the stove have escaped the foggy recesses of this old mind but I recall the stove had no moving parts. It had a brass tank about the size of a larger JetBoil canister and a brass tube from the top that made a couple 1″ loops before returning to the tank. There was a hole in the tube where gas vapor was to exit to be burned after the stove tank had been pressurized by igniting fuel, if I recall correctly, in a priming bowl at the base of the tubes.

        One of the first times used, rather than expelling hot vapor, the tube shot hot pressurized Coleman fuel back into the priming area and it all erupted into flame, setting up a feedback loop where the tank shot more flaming gas out of the hole onto itself, generating more pressure and even more flame, accompanied by a roar like a mini jet engine. I bailed when I saw the solder holding the tank together melt and burning fuel spill out at the base. As I was taking my leave, my brother threw some water on it and snuffed the biggest pressurized flames. It’s a good thing we were camped on a sandbar where was no forest to burn down. That stove never got used again.

    • Geez, i was getting worried i’d reach the end of the comments and be the only person lamenting the lack of love for the Svea. Adjustable flame, totally reliable, quirky start up, totally reliable…what’s not to like? Did anyone at all in the survey use one?

      Someone was talking about evolving. What means this “evolve”? 44 years with the stove; never failed. Unless you count the time i lost the flame spreader piece; but not the stove’s fault. Still looking for a good reason to try something else. Tempted a bit by the Primus Omnilite Ti, but a bit pricey for the few ounces i’d save. Could never warm up to isobutane because of the partially filled cans.

      • My first backpacking stove was the Svea. I paid ten bucks for it brand new over 45 years ago. Recently, I found it in the storage shed. I’ll have to fire it up one of these days.

  9. I have a Ti Sol and love it. I also have a Whisperlite, which is great in winter and for boiling water prior to hikes. My first was a MicroRocket. Had issues at Guyot getting a boil, but has been fine otherwise. And you get the Rocket part if it tips over.

    My best fireball was with the Whisperlite. Couldn’t get it to prime the weekend before (tip: cold temps, little fuel = cold dinner), but put a bit too much fuel in the cup and momentarily forgot to turn off the fuel. At least I can teach people what not to do.

    What I have found concerning is how many think they can use their JetBoils in the winter. There are hacks, but I would rather make sure I have a functional stove. Not to mention JetBoil says that their stoves are not for melting snow. And I emphasize NO WINDSCREEN. Sadly, my friends have lost a Jetboil or two. I have heard of issues with the simmer stoves though.

  10. My experience with alcohol is a work in progress. I use a Trail Designs Caldera Cone and the trapped heat seems to “feedback” to an alcohol burner, causing an over-enthusiastic fast burn at the end.
    Even the Trail designed 10-12 has this tendency (although less than some others).
    1/2 oz Esbit tab give me a reliable 2 cup boil because the solid fuel gives a steady burn.
    But the low cost and cleaner pot with alcohol are attractive.
    I am currently trying the zelph Stoveworks Starlyte-modified in hopes of a more even burn and getting close to the 1/2 oz esbit efficiency. Time will tell.

  11. The “Orange Stove”…….

    Generic, (sold under many names), very inexpensive and very effective!!

    Thanks for the great information, Philip. :)

  12. Very interesting! I like to see what types of stove people use, but I’d also like to know the frequency of use.

    In this survey, an occasional weekend camper using one type of stove would, I guess, count the same as someone using a stove every day for five months on the PCT. But to me the latter seems more significant.

    Any chance of some stats on frequency of use? That might be a better indicator of popularity and reliability than the number of individual choices.

    I hope I’ve made sense!

    • Different survey. We wanted to measure how many stoves backpackers own. If you want to read about thruhikers, yawn, go find a credible thruhiker survey. We tend to focus on the other 99.99999% of backpackers including beginners who aren’t so-called experts.

    • I was visiting with some thru hikers on the AT a few years ago. One had some sort alcohol stove but he’d run out of fuel long before. I was amazed at how quickly he built a wood fire in that thing with a few twigs and some dried grass. He ignited it with a fire steel and was cooking his supper in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. I thought, “This is a man with experience!” I had some methanol in the car I could have shared but he had no need for it whatsoever.

      The point of this misguided missal is that you could poll thru hikers on their stove choices but that might not be indicative of the fuel they use. They become a very resourceful group.

  13. While on Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 10/1-4/2016, my MSR Superfly canister stove failed miserably in the 30 degree mornings. Yes, I should have slept with the canister, but did not expect my weather report expectations of 40+ degree mornings, from the Weather channel, to be so far off! I will not plan to bring a canister stove that should work to 20 degrees without a backup ever again, or will just plan to bring my primary stove, the MSR Whisperlite gas stove & suffer the weight difference. Canister stoves are great & efficient, yet do have some limitations that may not be convenient for me.

  14. Interesting poll and thank you for putting this type of information out there. As a participant it was easy to see some of the additional questions that could be asked, but I know the work that goes into analysis just to get this level of results. As a multiple stove owner, while I indicated a preference, the most substantial factors in any choice on the day are weather, group size and distance/time. If I am relaxing with friends on a short 1-2 night walk in a place we can burn wood and the weather is fine, will take a heavier stove and maybe even cook a real meal or at least something more interesting. However, in Australia, fire restrictions are becoming increasingly common. Longer walks or trying to accomplish a lot of kilometres in the day also call for a different approach. I should also add a thank you to Hiking Jim and Roger Caffin for their articles over the years which generally have helped with reducing new purchase choices (it is entirely my own fault that I spend too much on new gear). While I have gone lightweight for most of my gear, as I am not currently doing any multi week thru hikes, the Jetboil Minimo was my primary choice as I am usually carrying the stove for my son or other friends, and we tend to cook an interesting meal on at least the first night.

    • Careful of that Hikin Jim character; he’ll have you buying a different stove for each day of the week.

      HJ

  15. What an interesting thread!

    1 – Svea 123 rocks! I need to rebuild mine for the second time – still have the Sigg aluminum pots and wind shield. Bought it 45 years ago.
    2 – Real men (and women) burn gas – better in the cold and allows for adjusting fuel needs to length of trip – I understand that through hikers like alcohol to boil water for Ramen, but I usually am willing to carry more for a good meal on short trips
    3 – never used butane, but it seems to be for lazy people who just want an easy stove in mild weather

  16. Interesting survey! I run two extremes, a Trangia with a Click Stand, and my 40+ year old svea. I found a pot made by Optimus the weekender HE that the Svea fits into perfectly. It has a heat exchanger that really increases the boiling speed. Not ultralight but I really don’t care I just like listening to this stove chug away just before dinner time.

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