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.
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.
|1||MSR Pocket Rocket||131|
|5||Trail Designs 12-10 Stove||24|
|8||Etekcity "Orange" Stove||20|
|9||Trangia Spirit Burner||20|
|10||Esbit Pocket Stove||14|
|11||Kovea Spider Stove||12|
|12||Zelph Fancee Feest||11|
|14||Solo Stove Lite||9|
|17||Jetboil Sol Ti||8|
|19||MSR Pocket Rocket 2||7|
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Stoves||Backpackers|
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.
Written 2017.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.