Whether you’re a casual camper or a die-hard backpacker, a camp stove can make or break a trip. Picking the right one starts with considering the types of camping you do and when. If you’re into car camping during the warmer months, you’ll enjoy a large 2-burner propane stove. Long-distance backpackers will focus on getting their bag weight as low as possible with ultralight options.
For others, it might be a compromise between the two. Let’s look at the variety of fuels and types of camp stoves available before getting to my choices in each category.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Camping Stove
Before you go shopping for a camp stove, you’ll need a quick primer on the fuels you can choose from because each has significant pros and cons.
- Liquid fuel can be “white gas,” gasoline straight from a fuel pump, or kerosene.
- White gas is essentially the same stuff you put in your car without all the additives. You can buy it in one-gallon cans at most outdoor retailers.
- Better for the environment because you’re not buying and throwing out as many disposable canisters.
- The fuel is inexpensive.
- Offers the most flexibility when choosing how much fuel to take with you on camping trips in terms of volume and weight.
- White gas stoves are the best for cold weather (more on that later).
- Harder to get started because it takes them a while to warm up properly after lighting (and they often put out an alarming amount of flames until they do).
- Require more maintenance as they can get clogged up and need to be cleaned.
- Straight propane is what you use with your backyard grill, but most camp stoves run on smaller disposable steel camping canisters available at outdoor and hardware retailers.
- Propane is easy to use and very reliable, but the high-pressure steel canisters required are unrealistically heavy for backpacking unless you have legs like the Incredible Hulk.
- Most recycling programs won’t let you put propane tanks in with your regular curbside recyclables. You’ll need to take them to a recycling center that accepts them.
- Less weight than propane because isobutane can safely be stored in lower-pressure lightweight containers.
- Not as good as white gas in very cold temperatures because isobutane stops vaporizing at 11 degrees Fahrenheit and your stove dies.
- Isobutane canisters are easily recycled. Jetboil sells an inexpensive tool called the CrunchIt to punch holes in them, so they’re completely empty.
Jetboil Crunchit Fuel Canister Recycling Tool (Orange)
Much like a Church Key or punch-top can opener, Jetboil's CrunchIt is screwed onto the top of an isobutane canister and then pushed down to make a hole. It's the best way to make sure the can is completely empty before putting it in with your curbside recycling.
Some long-distance backpackers like alcohol, solid fuel, or even wood stoves because they’re lightweight and cheap. They’re very slow for boiling water or cooking, and that’s a bit too die-hard for me, so for this article, I’m sticking to liquid fuel and gas stoves.
I’m going to look at three categories in camp stoves: large suitcase camp stoves, backpacking stoves, and integrated backpacking stoves.
- Suitcase camp stoves: These are large stoves intended for car camping and picnicking and usually run on propane or white gas. They do make single-burner car camping stoves, but I feel like if you already have the luxury of ignoring weight, you might as well have the luxury of two burners, too.
- Backpacking stoves: These stoves are lightweight and pack down small. You can choose from white gas or isobutane models. They have a single burner and put out fewer BTUs than car camping stoves. Some have the burner sitting on top of the fuel tank, and others put it off to the side and connect it with a hose for more stability.
- Integrated backpacking stoves: Integrated stoves feature a coiled metal heat exchanger that’s welded to the bottom of the boil pot. This does two things: Protects from the wind and creates maximum energy transfer. Some will like the flexibility of a standard backpacking stove, but there’s a lot to be said for the speed and convenience of integrated stoves that boil water in under two minutes for dehydrated backpacking meals.
Best Camping Stoves
Best Suitcase Camping Stove: Camp Chef Everest
The first time you fire up the Camp Chef Everest suitcase camping stove, you’ll understand the phrase, “Now we’re cooking with gas.” Each burner puts out 20,000 BTUs for a combined 40,000 that’ll boil a liter of water in about two minutes. It also has fine simmer control and features a matchless ignition system that lights up the burners with the click of a button.
Cleanup is easy thanks to the stainless-steel drip tray, and the strongly-built nickel-coated steel cooking grate can easily handle heavy pots, griddles, and skillets. The three-panel screen system keeps the wind at bay. The stove comes with coupling for 16 oz propane tanks, but there’s another adapter for larger tanks, which is sold separately. It has a one-year warranty.
Best Budget Suitcase Camping Stove: Coleman Classic
I’ve had a Coleman Classics for decades, and while it doesn’t feature the heat output of more expensive stoves or a built-in ignition system, this is plenty of stove for the price—especially if you don’t camp enough to justify spending more. The foldout side panels do a good job of keeping the wind out, and the stove will run for one hour off a 16 oz propane canister with both burners set to high. They put out a maximum combined 20,000 BTUs.
This is a very simple stove that cleans up easily and is roomy enough to accommodate 12-inch and 10-inch pans side-by-side. It also comes with a three-year warranty.
Coleman Gas Camping Stove | Classic Propane Stove, 2 Burner, 4.1 x 21.9 x 13.7 Inches
The Coleman Classic doesn't have some of the features (like built-in ignition) of more expensive stoves, but this is a dependable and hard-working stove for the money. The burners put out a combined 20,000 BTUs.
Best All-Purpose Backpacking Stove: MSR Whisperlite Universal
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is another stove that’s faithfully served me for decades. The standard white gas Whisperlite is an iconic stove in backpacking circles, but the “Universal” is a hybrid model that’ll run on just about any fuel type including kerosene, gasoline, and isobutane. Using different fuels does require changing out some hardware, but the wrench is included.
Weighing in at a little over 11 oz, it’s not super-light, but this is a great cold-weather stove. I personally like having the fuel tank off to the side because it makes for a lower, wider, and more stable cooking surface. It even comes with a cradle to hold Isobutane canisters upside down, which makes them work better in cooler temperatures.
While the fuel pump and a foldable metal windscreen are included, a white gas fuel bottle is not, so you’ll need to buy that. Depending on the fuel type, the claimed boil time for a liter of water ranges between 2.5 and 4.5 minutes, but that can vary widely depending on the outside temperature and wind speed. If you backpack a lot in winter, or you’re traveling somewhere that you’re not sure what fuel will be available locally, this is the stove for you.
MSR WhisperLite Universal Canister and Liquid Fuel Stove
Can't decide between white gas or isobutane? You don't have to with the MSR Whisperlite Universal, which works with both. It gives you the option of isobutane in mild weather months and white gas for the really cold winter trips.
Best Ultralight Backpacking Stove: Snow Peak LiteMax Titanium
It’s amazing how just a day or two into a long backpacking trip, you start obsessing about every ounce you might possibly be able to drop from your bag. There are currently more options to choose from in ultralight canister camp stoves than any other category—and just as many opinions about which is best—but I like the Snow Peak LiteMax for a few reasons.
If you’re trying to get as small and lightweight as you can, the LiteMax is great—it weighs only two ounces and folds down to roughly three by three inches. And despite its minuscule size, the foldout arms are sturdy. It also has good valve control and puts out a little over 11,000 BTUs.
Keep in mind that stoves like this are intended to be minimalist and need to be kept sheltered from the wind for best performance. Sit-on-top canister stoves are also easy to tip over, so you might also consider adding some lightweight folding legs for extra stability.
Snow Peak - LiteMax Titanium Stove, GST-120R, Ultralight, Compact for Backpacking, Designed in Japan
At only two ounces, the Snow Peak LiteMax Titanium is exactly what you want in an ultralight backpacking stove. It puts out 11,200 BTUs and will boil a liter of water in about four-and-a-half minutes with no wind.
Best Integrated Backpacking Stove: Jetboil Flash
I’m relatively new to integrated backpacking stoves, but it’s been love at first use. You’ll agree if you’ve ever waited forever for water to boil on a cold, windy winter day while fussing with ineffective windscreens.
The Jetboil Flash will boil a liter of water in a little over a minute and a half even in windy conditions.
If you’re on a trip where you just want boiling water to rehydrate food and for hot drinks, this is the stove for you. You can also use the Jetboil Flash with frying pans and other pots, but it requires an adapter that’s sold separately.
It’s worth noting that integrated stoves do take up more room in your backpack than other ultralight options, but at just 13 ounces, the Jetboil Flash isn’t too heavy for long-distance hikers. It has nice little conveniences like a built-in pushbutton lighter and a bottom cup that doubles as a measuring cup and bowl. I recommend adding a coffee press for great camp java too.
Jetboil Flash Camping Stove Cooking System, Carbon
If you want super-fast boiled water for rehydrating food or making coffee on backpacking trips, then the Jetboil flash integrated backpacking stove will make you one happy camper. It'll boil a liter of water in about a minute-and-a-half.