Ultralight Backpacking Stove Guide

Lightweight and ultralight backpackers have a lot of different options available when it comes to picking an ultralight backpacking and camping stove. Here are the pros and cons of using alcohol stoves, canister stoves, solid fuel stoves, and wood stoves.

Ultralight backpacking Stove GuideAlcohol Stoves

Alcohol stoves are popular with ultralight backpackers and thru-hikers because they burn denatured alcohol (called meths in the UK), which is inexpensive and widely available in most drug or hardware stores. For cooking, alcohol stoves are best used for boiling water which is added to dehydrated freezer bag meals or Mountain House style camping meals, although some alcohol stoves are available with simmer rings. The downside of using an alcohol stove is that it is very sensitive to wind and must be used with a windscreen which can be awkward to pack. Alcohol fuel is also less efficient than most other types of fuel and it takes a relatively long time to boil two cups of water (7-10 minutes).

The Bottom Line: The fuel for an alcohol stove is inexpensive and easy to find in small towns.

Recommended Alcohol Stoves

Soto Windmaster Canister Stove
Soto Windmaster Canister Stove

Canister Stoves

Canister stoves have two main components, a stove head and a pre-filled pressurized fuel canister that you can buy at many outdoor stores. Some models, like those from Jetboil, also have an integrated pot that is easily packable and burns very efficiently, letting you stretch your fuel on longer hikes. Unlike denatured alcohol, canister stove fuel burns very hot and can quickly bring two cups of water to a boil in 4-5 minutes. Canister stoves also have the ability to simmer a meal by regulating how much fuel is fed to the burner.

Canister stoves are also much less susceptible to wind than alcohol stoves and can often be used without a windscreen because the gas inside them is released under pressure. The downside of using a canister stove is that they can be hard to resupply on long hikes because you can only buy them at outdoor stores that carry fuel canisters like an REI or EMS. The total burn time for a small canister is also about an hour or less, making it a more appropriate cook system for shorter hikes that are 5-6 days in duration or less.

The Bottom Line: Canister stoves cook food quickly, many can simmer meals, and are an excellent option for shorter trips where you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel. 

Recommended Canister Stoves

Esbit Stove and Windscreen
Esbit Solid Fuel Stove and Windscreen

Solid Fuel Tablets and Stoves

Solid fuel tablets were developed in the 1930’s to provide soldiers with a smokeless, high energy fuel for heating food rations. The most popular type of solid fuel, called ESBIT, is packaged in 0.5 ounce tablets which burn for 12 minutes and provide enough fuel to boil 16 ounces of water. Solid fuel tablets require a very simple stove to use, often with a built-in windscreen to improve fuel efficiency.

Like alcohol, solid fuel is best used for boiling water to rehydrate dried foods, although some stoves provide you with the ability to simmer or even bake with Esbit tablets. The downside of solid fuel tablets is that they can be difficult to resupply in small trail towns and they can leave an oily residue on the bottom of your cook pot.

The Bottom Line: Solid Fuel/Esbit Tablets are best for short trips where you don’t need to resupply or as a rainy day fuel alternative for cooking when you bring a wood stove.

Recommended Solid Fuel Stoves

Solo Woodstove
Solo Wood Stove

Wood Stoves

Wood stoves are great camping stove option if you are camping and hiking in areas that permit wood fires, downed wood is readily available, and the weather is fairly dry. Wood stoves consist of a square or can-like firebox with vents to pull in oxygen. You fill them up with small sticks the thickness of your finger, light them from the bottom or top, and stack a pot on top to boil water or cook a meal. Simmering is made possible by bringing water to a boil and then feeding the flame with just enough wood to keep the water in your pot boiling slightly.

The advantage of using a wood stove is that you don’t need to carry fuel because you can find it all around you. The disadvantage of wood stoves is that it can rain and you need to carry an alternative fuel like Esbit to cook with or eat stoveless meals.

The Bottom Line: Wood stoves are great if you want to minimize the fuel you carry and enjoy having a fire at night, but don’t want the overhead of starting a campfire.

Recommended Wood Stoves

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.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He also volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.

Most Popular Searches

  • Ultralight Backpacking Stove
  • best backpacking stove
  • ultralight stove

9 comments

  1. I submit for your consideration: Trail Designs SIDEWINDER or TRI-TI titanium multi-fuel cone stoves

    They burn:_
    1. Alcohol (KOVEA burner)
    2. ESBIT tablets (Modified GramCrakerW/residue tray)
    3. INFERNO insert (makes cone into gassier ty[e wood burning stove)

    These are THE most efficient stoves for these three types of fuel. PERIOD

  2. Great ideas on stoves. I am still planning for my long walk (Blanco TX to Terlingua Ranch, abt 450 miles). Fuel and food is what I am working on now, have to check prices but the solid fuel looks good. Usually 2 o 3 days between towns, then 7 days (each): between next two and then 5 days. Water in have under control. Abt 26 days total. Thanks for article

  3. I am completely blown away by the PocketRocket Deluxe. It’s only 0.3oz heavier than the PocketRocket 2, but for those 8 or so grams, you get a burner twice the diameter of the PR2, a RELIABLE piezo igniter, and it is by far the quietest canister stove I have ever used. And still, it fits inside a Snow Peak 600 mug.

  4. Alcohol stoves are like potato chips. You can’t stop at just one. I’ve made dozens for no real reason, and often take two or more on trips just to play with.

    • Hi Drew.

      I too make alcohol stoves for fun. I’ve achieved a complete kitchen set up, with a 24 oz pot and pot stand/windscreen, that weighs about 4 oz. I can bring 24 oz of cold water to a boil between 5 and 6 minutes, burning about 1 oz of fuel. Something few people talk about in stove design is the distance of the bottom of the pot above the flame. Remember in highschool, when you could light a fire and not get sent to the Principal’s office, the top of the blue in a clean flame is the hottest part. Hold the pot over the flame till the water boils. Then raise and lower the pot a bit and watch where you find the fastest boil. It’s that height that the pot stand/windscreen should be made to hold the pot at. Lots of airflow is required. Aside from the windward side of the pot stand/windscreen, there should be no small amount of airflow into the flame and up and around and out past the pot.

      • I too have developed a light weight cook system of only 5 oz. I cut my alcohol stove from an aluminum dredge. Just curious as to what your alcohol stove is. Thanks

  5. Alcohol, Solid Fuel, … get the best of both worlds. The Vargo Triad is tough lightweight titanium and works great with alcohol but turn it over and it works with Esbit type solid fuel. No pot stand needed for either application. Take it from John who has purchased and used 5 different alcohol stoves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *