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The Best Camp Stoves

June 30, 2021

  • by
  • Drew Zieff

While some record-seeking ultralight fast packers will never choose to sacrifice ounces for the convenience of a backpacking stove, Active Junky is a big fan of including a stove in our gear. Whether you need to purify water, prepare meals or wake up with a morning cup of coffee, there are plenty of reasons to pack along a stove.


Richard Forbes

Active Junky has pulled together some of the best car camping and backpacking stoves to review and help lead you to your perfect camp stove. If you’re looking for the smallest backpacking canister stove or a basecamp stove to serve a whole troupe, we’ve got you covered. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.

Where Will You Be Using Your Stove?

The first major consideration when choosing a stove depends on its primary use scenario: are you packing it into the backcountry where every inch and ounce count, or will you be lugging it a short distance from your vehicle to basecamp while car camping?

Backpacking Stoves

The best backing stoves minimize space and maximize fuel output. Manufacturers know that you’re not likely gourmet cooking off the grid, and what you need is quick, efficient heat. Backpacking stoves are primed to boil water, some also have simmer settings, and warm food. Most are simple stoves that sit on top or to the side of canister fuel.


Richard Forbes

Car Camping Stoves

When you’re car camping and weight is less of an issue, you can go all out making meals: pancakes, eggs and bacon for breakfast and hotdogs and hamburgers for dinner is not a problem with most car camping stoves’ dual burners and built-in windscreens. With a focus on cooking real estate and cuisine variety, these stoves are less efficient than backpacking stoves, and you certainly wouldn’t want to haul one around on your back for too long.

Which Fuel Type Is Best?

Camp stoves require a specific fuel source, though some may utilize more than one fuel type. Canister fuel is some of the frequently used in backpacking stoves, and propane is commonly used for car camping stoves. All fuels have pros and cons, and sometimes it’s simply personal preference. 

Canister Fuel

Canister fuel stoves are some of the most common options for backpackers and come in several designs: upright, low-profile and integrated. The fuel is typically isobutene or propane, and most canisters are single use, but recyclable. 


Richard Forbes

Liquid Fuel

When referring to liquid fuel, we primarily mean white gas. This fuel is more efficient and therefore preferred on cold-weather adventures. Some stoves are indicated as “multi-fuel” or “international,” which means its compatible with other liquid fuels as well. Diesel, kerosene and even gasoline will do, but they are typically less efficient and put out noxious fumes.


Richard Forbes

Most car camping stoves use propane because it’s cheap and widely available. As such, the car camping stoves in our reviews all utilize propane.

Biofuel 

Biofuel stoves burn with open flame and rely on foraging sticks, twigs, pine cones, or other dry fuel source is readily available. These are also called solid-fuel stoves, and solid-fuel tablets are an option if you choose to pack in fuel, which is a good backup plan should wood be scarce or damp.

Universal Attributes

Each camp stove we reviewed against six attributes, and each stove stood out with one particular attribute listed below as the key attribute:

Performance: How does the stove complete the task for which it was designed? How quickly does it boil water? Does it include a simmer function?

Weight: With backpacking stoves, weight is crucial and can be a deciding purchasing factor. For car camping stoves, weight is inconsequential. 

Durability: How did the stove stand up during use? Did parts bend or break? Are there components that are concerning or fragile?

Versatility: Do the stove use a variety of fuels? Will it function in all four seasons? Can you control simmer, or is it a full-blast beast?

Intuitive (Ease of Use): Can you use the stove without the manual? Would a first-time user or child understand the setup? Or is it overly complicated?

Innovation: New doesn’t always mean better, but certain innovations and technologies mean a lighter setup, increased efficiency, or additional convenience.

Our Favorite Stoves 

Before we dive into full reviews of camping and backpacking stoves, we’ll clue you in on a couple of our favorites.

Best Backpacking Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe

The Deluxe version of MSR’s critically acclaimed Pocket Rocket now sports a Piezo igniter, increasing utility in the field. Combine that new feature with the compact, lightweight cooking essentials that MSR includes in their Pocket Rocket Deluxe Kit (namely pot, lid, and grip), and this is our new favorite backpacking stove. While we love using integrated canister stoves like the MSR Windburner in windy conditions, the Pocket Rocket does a much better job of simmering and is also extremely lightweight. 

Best Car Camping Stove: Camp Chef Everest

A reliable two-burner stove that’s capable of both boiling water quickly and simmering sauces on low, Camp Chef’s Everest earns top marks from Active Junky testers due to its versatility and durability.

MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Kit

MSR PocketRocket Deluxe Stove Kit Starting at: $101.16

Pros: MSR’s Pocket Rocket is damn near famous amongst backpackers, as the compact canister stove has been a go-to amongst the fast-and-light crowd for years.  However, one of the main complaints about the Pocket Rocket is that it required a lighter or matches. That all changed with the introduction of the Pocket Rocket Deluxe. 

The Pocket Rocket Deluxe sports a built-in Piezo spark igniter, which means that it’s no big deal if the matches or lighter don’t make it in your pack (granted, we always like to have a backup plan, just in case). Sometimes igniters are prone to failure, but after weeks of heavy use and ruthless treatment, the Piezo igniter on our Pocket Rocket Deluxe tester is still in working condition. Our testers loved this addition, and determined that they’d never want to go back to the older generation of the stove. Once lit, the Pocket Rocket Deluxe offers excellent simmer control for a lightweight canister stove, and still boils one liter of water in three minutes and twenty seconds.

The Deluxe is available solo, or in a stove kit, which includes the following: hard-anondized aluminum pot with insulated grip, 28 oz bowl, strainer lid, pot handle, and a stuff sack for both the stove itself and the entire kit. Having tested the kit, we recommend going that route, but it’s not necessary if you already have a lightweight pot for backpacking. However, the added extras, namely the strainer lid and nesting bowl, are nifty and appreciated on long treks.

Cons: The three arms of the stove are fairly stable, although it’s not as stable as integrated models like MSR’s tester-favorite Windburner. Also, compared to integrated canister stoves, it isn’t as effective in high winds, and it’s definitely not going to be a top pick for winter use. 

Bottom Line: MSR has improved upon a tried-and-true backpacker favorite with the Pocket Rocket Deluxe, thanks to the integrated Piezo igniter. As such, it’s become the favorite lightweight backpacking stove of our test team, and it’s our top recommendation to you if you’re on the hunt for a compact canister stove.\

Best For: Backpacking, bikepacking, and fast-and-light adventures.

MSR WindBurner

MSR WindBurner $87.96 - $102.87

Even after months of use, Active Junky testers continued to be impressed by the MSR WindBurner. In a world primarily dominated by Jetboil, MSR applied their expertise and experience to create this integrated canister stove system. 

Pros: Aptly named, the WindBurner setup boils water regardless of surrounding gusts as the pot nestles snuggly into the heating element. The nesting design makes for compact transportation without taking up too much space in your bag. The pot speedily heats up (4.5 minute 1-liter boil time), but the coozy protects from burned hands.

Cons: While WindBurner stood up to wind, it was less effective in cold weather, with flames killed when temps dropped below freezing. The stove setup also weighs more than a simple stove, and an integrated systems means you can’t simply leave out parts to cut weight.

Bottom Line: This integrated stove system is prefect for adventurers preparing solo meals, or upgrade to the 1.8-liter model if cooking for two or more.

Best for: 3-season backpacking, multi-sport scenarios 

Key Attribute: Performance

MSR XGK EX

MSR XGK EX $105.57 - $117.57

MSR XGK has been synonymous with expedition kitchens for decades, and the newest EX offers improvements on its classic features that made the original a hit.

Pros: The International burns white gas, kerosene, diesel and even gasoline to get things cooking. The burly yet retractable arm offers incredible stability even with varying pots and volumes. Boiling times were impressive, and a heat reflector and windscreen aid in the cooking process. It’s also relatively easy to adjust and maintain in the field.

Cons: Being as burly and versatility as this backpacking stove may be, it comes at the cost of ounces. Weighing in at just over a pound, the XGK EX is bulkier than most other backpacking stoves we reviewed.

Bottom Line: An update to an expedition-proven model, the XGK EX has a long future ahead of it. 

Best for: Picking a reliable 4-season, multi-fuel camp stove that lasts at least as long as you do 

Key Attribute: Versatility

Jetboil Genesis

Jetboil Genesis Camp Stove $220.76 - $230.36

No camp stove was as clear a winner as the Jetboil Genesis. It made us reconsider our preconceived notions about what a car camping stove should be or how it can operate. Forget bulky with this Jetboil stove’s foldable design.

Pros: It’s quick and simple to set up, and dual burners are paired with easy-to-use controls that foster fast ignition and intuitive simmering. An attachment allows you to add a third smaller burner that’s compatible with your Jetboil pot, and the complete Genesis Base Camp system comes with a quality pot and pan.

Cons: The only con here is price. While the Jetboil beats out cheaper competitors in nearly every category imaginable, it may be out of many camper’s budgets.

Bottom Line: If you can justify the steep price tag, this basecamp stove will definitely change the game. Whether you plan on hauling it into the backcountry on a sled or setting it up in the trunk of your van, this beast is a winner for a reason.

Best for: Car camping, fast gourmet cooking for groups of 2-8

Key Feature: Performance

MSR Reactor

MSR Reactor Stove System 1.7L Starting at: $220.76

Pros: Most of the time, when we’re winter camping, we’re using the stove for one thing and one thing only: boiling water. Whether you’re melting snow, heating up water for tea, or preparing a dehydrated meal, you want a workhorse of a stove that reliably gets the job done despite low temperatures and wind. Between the Reactor’s pressure regulator and the wind-blocking radiant burner design, this integrated canister stove ticks those boxes. 

MSR claims that the Reactor boils .5 liters of water in 1.5 minutes in a lab setting, and while it won’t melt snow nearly that fast in a real winter camping scenario, this stove is surprisingly effective in cold weather. There are three pot sizes available: 2.5L, 1.7L, and 1L. We’re fans of the 1.7L pot size, which is sufficient for smaller groups. You can always purchase additional pots separately to customize your kit.

Cons: The Reactor isn’t the lightest stove or the most versatile. It’s not our go-to for true year-round use—we’d rather rely on the simmering abilities of the ultra-compact Pocket Rocket Deluxe come spring, summer, and fall. Additionally, while the Reactor is our preferred canister stove for use in cold weather, canister stoves simply aren’t as reliable as liquid fuel stoves in extremely cold conditions. (Essentially, cold weather decreases canister pressure, while liquid fuel bottles allow you to increase pressure on the fly. Liquid fuel stoves are also easier to maintain in the field. Learn more about the benefits of liquid fuel stoves on MSR's website.) When temperatures drop well below freezing, we’re fans of MSR’s XGK EX (LINK), which we reviewed in 2017 and have since had nothing but positive experiences with. 

Tester Comments: “When melting snow for a large group, we used two of these side by side. Coffee and tea were ready in a matter of minutes!”

Best For: Boiling water and melting snow in cold weather.

Camp Chef Stryker

Camp Chef Stryker $57.60 - $75.40

After running with this little integrated Camp Chef system for several months, Active Junky testers continued to be impressed with its consistent performance. All over Colorado, from late fall to early spring, the Stryker has been a welcome addition to our backpacking testers’ gear arsenal.

Pros: The boil time is solid (half a liter in approximately two minutes), and the insulated sleeve works well to permit easy handling of boiling heat. While testers picked the MSR WindBurner over the Camp Chef Stryker, this integrated stove has one major bonus going for it: the matchless ignition system, especially useful in wet or windy weather.

Cons: This Camp Chef stove doesn’t seem to be as durable as the WindBurner, and while the ignition system is handy, it could cause issues if it ever were to fail. Bottom Line: A cheap integrated stove system that has a lower price tag than both MSR and Jetboil. This is our pick for the stove with the best value.

Best for: Backpacking, upgrading on a budget, your first backpacking stove

Key Attribute: Intuitive

BioLite CampStove 2

BioLite CampStove 2 $119.56 - $123.46

Pros: The Biolite CampStove 2 is a solid-fuel burning stove, the main benefit of which is that you will never run out of fuel, so long as you have dry-ish twigs, leaves, pellets, etc.  What sets Biolite’s CampStove2 apart from run-of-the-mill solid-fuel stoves is that it can simultaneously cook your food and charge your electronic devices. 

The electronic attachment converts the heat of the flames into electricity and includes an integrated 2600 mAh battery, which stores power. The gadget also houses a built-in, four-speed fan which helps the flames burn hotter and, in turn, your water boil faster.

The CampStove 2 Bundle comes with a large Kettlepot (and lid), which slots into the top of the stove and is perfect for boiling water or heating soup. For storage, the stove and battery slip into the Kettlepot like Russian nesting dolls. The bundle also comes with a portable grill, which slots into the top of the stove and can cook up to four burgers at once.

Testers appreciated the endless fuel options, and judged the CampStove 2 best for survivalists, preppers, and any camper who hates relying on canister or propane stoves.

Cons: The size and weight (over 2-lbs. just for the stove alone) made testers quite certain that they would rarely, if ever, want to rely on this stove while backpacking. You certainly would never bring the portable grill, although you could make the case for the KettlePot if heading on an extended trip and re-supplying stove fuel wasn’t an option. Still, while the endless fuel is advantageous, there are much smaller solid-fuel stoves options that we’d pick ahead of the CampStove 2 on any true backpacking trip.

Furthermore, while the stove does charge your devices, be warned: it’s a sluggish and slow charge. Testers noted that instead of tending to the Biolite in hopes of squeezing out a few more percentages of battery life, they’d rather use a solar panel during the day or just bring along a spare battery. Additionally, testers found the grill finicky, and judged it difficult to evenly cook meat and easy to smoke out veggies.

Bottom Line: Camping testers weren’t ready to trade in their traditional camp stoves for BioLite’s futuristic alternative, but understood why it would be attractive for preppers or survivalists who want an off-the-grid cooking solution.

Best For: Boiling water and camp cooking using gathered fuel. Emergency phone charging

Camp Chef Everest

  Camp Chef Everest 2-Burner Camp $114.40 - $114.40

Pros: The Camp Chef Everest is a simple, effective, and well-made 2-burner stove, and it’s our go-to for car camping. It’s incredibly powerful, with two high-pressure 20,000 BTU burners. Not only is the Everest ultra-quick at boiling water, but it also has excellent simmer control—whether you’re cooking quinoa on low heat or trying not to burn your banana pancakes, the Everest is up to the challenge. Lastly, wind is the Kryptonite of camp stoves, but with a three-sided windscreen and mighty inset burners, the Everest cooks up a storm no matter the weather. 

Cons: The main negative of the Everest is the price. There are certainly cheaper camp stoves available, but you get what you pay for. 

Bottom Line: Our favorite car camping stove, the Everest is a high-quality, versatile, and reliable 2-burner powerhouse that any outdoor enthusiast will appreciate. 

Best for: Car camping, road trips, and cooking feasts far from civilization.

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