Camp Stove Buyer’s Guide

August 26, 2016

  • by
  • Peter Reese
  • Drew Zieff

No matter the adventure, your stove is a contender for the lauded MVPOG award (Most Valuable Piece of Gear, of course). Whether you’re whipping up a pot of coffee before dawn or heating water for a dehydrated meal after an exhausting slog on the trail, your stove is an integral backcountry companion. From ultralight adventures to mellow car camping road trips, a stove goes a long way toward keeping your spirits – and your chances of survival – on the up and up.


Richard Forbes

Over the past six months, Active Junky’s been on a mission to test backpacking and camping stoves. During multiple trips, from winter camping adventures in remote mountains to backpacking trips in the desert, we’ve pulled together 10 of the best backpacking and camp stoves in existence. If you’re searching for a tiny backpacking canister stove, a burly white gas four-season sizzler or a dual-burner propane beast, we’ve got you covered.

Stove Brands Reviewed

  • Camp Chef
  • Coleman Company
  • GSI Outdoors
  • Jetboil
  • MSR
  • Optimus
  • Primus

What type of stove is best for you?

There are a few types of stoves that we’ll be talking about in this Active Junky Buyer’s Guide. The first major difference occurs based upon the intended use situation: will you be packing your stove on backpacking adventures, or walking short distances on car camping trips?

Backpacking Stoves

Backpacking stoves focus on minimizing space and maximizing fuel output. Stove manufacturers assume that if you’re heading into the backcountry, you’re not bringing a spice rack and a spatula—you want heat, and you want it fast. Backpacking stoves are primed to boil water and, while some have decent simmering functions, most simply aim to heat as hot and as quickly as possible. Here, you’ll see the tiniest, most efficient designs.

Car Camping Stoves

If you’re car camping, why not bring the kitchen sink? Recipes that sound ludicrous backpacking are luxurious possibilities in the front country. Pancakes, eggs and bacon for breakfast? With two burners, a built-in windscreen and a top-notch simmering dial, sure! Car camping stoves focus less on compactness and efficiency and more on cooking real estate and cuisine versatility. A solid chef can craft truly restaurant-quality grub with a decent dual-burner camping stove. Throwing one of these in your bag for a backpacking trip, however, is an endeavor that only a ethically-questionable chiropractor would recommend.

Backpacking Stove Fuel Types

Canister Fuel


Richard Forbes

Canister stoves are among the most common for backpackers, thanks in part to their compact size, but also due to the range of stoves available that utilize this fuel type. There are upright stoves (like the world famous MSR Pocket Rocket), low-profile stoves that rely on a connection hose (like the tester favorite GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 4-Season Canister Stove), and integrated stove systems (like Jetboil models and the top-performing MSR WindBurner).

Unlike their liquid fuel counterparts, canisters are pre-pressurized and require no priming. They generally employ isobutane or propane. And are non-refillable unless used with an adapter hose connected to a large, heavier propane tank more suitable for car camping.

Pros

  • Small, compact size lends itself to backpacking
  • No spilled fuel, unlike when priming a liquid gas camping stove
  • Clean- and fast-burning fuel that puts out efficient heat

Cons

  • Nearly useless when temperatures drop below freezing
  • Expensive
  • Lose efficiency as fuel is used; can’t top off a canister before your next trip
  • Cookware stability can be a concern, depending on the stove model
  • Not widely available internationally

Liquid Fuel

When we talk about liquid fuel, we’re primary discussing white gas. This is the fuel of choice for cold-weather camping missions, and it’s used in stoves like the MSR Whisperlight, XGK, and the Primus Omni-Fuel.


Richard Forbes

Some manufacturers indicate stoves are “multifuel” or “international,” which means that fuel is not limited to white gas. Diesel, kerosene and even gasoline will work in a pinch although many alternative fuels are less efficient and produce copious amounts of stove-clogging soot. When compared to canister fuel stoves, multifuel liquid stoves are more versatile and necessary for international trips.

Pros

  • Some models work with multiple fuel types
  • Fuel is less expensive and more options are readily available
  • Fuel bottles are easy to refilled and to confirm remaining amount
  • Infinitely better performance in varied and cold-weather
  • More stable
  • Decent simmering controls

Cons

  • Compatible stoves are heavier and more expensive than canister stoves
  • The stove must be primed and fuel spillage is likely
  • In-field repairs are not unheard of—there’s a reason why most come with a spare parts kit and an instruction manual
  • More maintenance required because of dirty-burning fuels

Car Camping with Propane

Most car camping stoves rely on propane. Why? Because it’s cheap, widely available and gives off a ton of heat. As such, we focused on propane as the fuel type of choice for car camping stoves.

To stove or not to stove?

Some hardcore adventurers would rather gnaw on hunks of sausage and gobble down a handful of nuts than heat up grub with a stove. There are two main benefits of a “cold” approach to camping. First off, your backpack will be noticeably lighter without a stove or fuel. Secondly, you won’t consume time fiddling with a stove—which means time to crush more miles. Here, one less thing to carry is seen as removing variables.

While true, and some record-seeking hikers and ultralight fast packers will never bother with a stove (or if they do, they’ll only bring a tiny makeshift de-natured alcohol stove or a solid-fuel tablet stove), we’re big proponents of bringing one.

Stoves do more than simply bring the heat. They 1) warm the soul with hot coffee and tea, 2) expand your culinary horizons deep in the woods, 3) allow you to boil out impurities and enjoy fresh drinking water, and 4) melt snow to help you survive in remote locations.

Maybe you have a very specific reason you want a stove, maybe it’s all of the above. Either way, one thing’s for sure: the stoves that comprise this Active Junky Buyer’s Guide are some of the best in the business.


Richard Forbes

Universal Attributes

Each stove was evaluated on six attributes, and testers picked one top attribute as the “key attribute” for each. The attributes are as follows:

Performance: Does the stove perform the task for which it’s designed? How fast does it boil water? If designed to simmer, how well does it accomplish this finicky function?

Weight: For car camping stoves, this attribute is negligible. For backpacking stoves, this is crucial. Lighter is undeniably appreciated.

Durability: Did the stove bend, break or malfunction? Is there a fragile or high-maintenance component that’s worrisome?

Versatility: What fuel does the stove employ? Can it function across all four seasons? Can you simmer and boil? Or is it a full-blast beast?

Intuitive (Ease of Use): Does the stove require a user manual? Could a child set it up without much problem (with adult supervision, of course)? Or is it needlessly complicated?

Innovation: New isn’t always better – no need to reinvent the wheel. However, some stove innovations mean lighter, more efficient models.

Active Junky Test Summary

On most of our adventures, the Active Junky team is testing stoves. Winter camping trips in Colorado, splitboarding missions in the Wasatch, backpacking in the desert—this whole year has been one enormous stove evaluation. In addition, we recently took several of our favorite stove models on a two week testing trip in Utah.  Here, they were employed on backpacking trips and car camping trips. And we pitted them head-to-head, comparing everything from boil times, simmering controls and ease of use.

In summary, here are four favorite and category-specific picks for best camp stoves

Best Ultralight Canister Stove: GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 4-Season Canister Stove

Gsi pinnacle 4 season main GSI Outdoors Pinnacle 4-Season Stove: Extend your range $73.56 - $74.36

Though GSI Outdoors has a slightly smaller canister stove that borders on invisibility (the Pinnacle Top Canister Stove), this compact stove earned the honors thanks to its improved stability, simmer controls and innovative remote-canister design.

Read the Full Review

Best 1-Person Integrated Canister Stove: MSR WindBurner

Msr windburner MSR WindBurner $85.77 - $117.00

The MSR WindBurner earns the top position in the integrated canister stove market. And testers loved the nesting design, quick boil times and the must-have French Press attachment. Boost capacity from a 1-liter pot to a 1.8-liter pot to cook for two or more.

Read the Full Review

Best Liquid Fuel Camp Stove: MSR XGK International

Msr xgx main MSR XGK EX: Going hard in any season $105.57 - $143.96

While MSR has lighter models, like the world famous Whisperlight, our testers were stoked on the stability and durability of this new XGK International model, also our top pick for winter camping.

Read the Full Review

Best Car Camping Stove: Jetboil Genesis

Jetboil genesis Jetboil Genesis Camp Stove: Out in front firepower $230.36 - $307.96

Jetboil’s new Genesis stove is snagging awards from magazines and blogs left and right. Active Junky testers were similarly impressed as the Genesis is more compact, efficient, and completely badass than any other camp stove tested. Plus, an additional output nozzle allows connection of a secondary Jetboil stove to the main 2-burner camp stove body. Meaning, you can bust out bacon on one burner, eggs on the second, and boil water for coffee on the external burner.

Read the Full Review

Runner-Up Backpacking Stoves

Active Junky tested the best backpacking and car camping stoves on the market, and the other models we evaluated still get honorable mentions

GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Canister Stove

Gsi pinnacle GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Canister Stove: Small but mighty $45.96 - $47.46

More compact than the remote version, the Pinnacle canister top classic style won over testers with its smaller size that folds up into a small package. And may even win over backpackers who normally opt for cooking-free meals.

Read the Full Review

MSR WindPro II

Msr windpro ii MSR WindPro II: Stable BTUs $75.17 - $95.96

This MSR model is slightly bigger and bulkier than other models Active Junky evaluated, but was among the most stable. Throw in the included canister stand for maximum fuel use, and you have a durable, stable and efficient backpacking stove.

Read the Full Review

Optimus Elektra Fe Cook System

Optimus electra main Optimus Elektra Fe Cook System: The total package $83.56 - $93.53

A good choice for less intense conditions, Optimus Elecktra’s cooking system handles the majority of cooking needs on the trail and at camp without adding significant weight to your bag. The burner heats fast and efficiently, provided there is no wind to scatter its flame output.

Read the Full Review

Camp Chef Stryker

Camp chef stryker Camp Chef Stryker: Affordable flames

This integrated camp stove system quickly and consistently boils water and heats food, and the matchless ignition system is extremely handy. While integrated systems are limited by incompatibility with other pots and pans, the system is the complete package in and of itself.

Read the Full Review

Runner Up Car Camping Stoves

Primus Onja 2-Burner Stove

Primus onja 2 Primus Onja 2 Burner Stove: Origami elegance Starting at: $132.96

An innovative design from a progressive company, the Primus Onja won over testers by being powerful enough for the outdoor gourmet cook. Those desiring more than out-of-pouch camp food appreciate what the refined Onja offers including an x-wing design and hardwood cutting board top.

Read the Full Review

Returning to the Market: Coleman FyreCaptain

Coleman fry main Coleman FyreCaptain: Let the dicing begin Starting at: $98.59

Much more than the Coleman you or your parents had in previous decades, the FyreCaptain joins the HyperFlame line of Coleman propane stoves. Dual burners easily accommodate larger camp groups by divvying up cooking portions. A great choice for camp kitchens, especially with telescoping legs that save table space.

Read the Full Review


Previously Reviewed in this Category

Primus OmniFuel

Ideal for international travelers, as this multi-fuel stove burns canister, white gas, kerosene, auto and diesel fuels. Each metal jet is clearly marked and is easily swapped out for simple and quick changes in fuel type.

MSR Whisperlite International

Also a multi-fuel stove, this model is a solid choice for international travel, particularly with simplified maintenance of its self-cleaning jets, lightweight stainless steel legs and aluminum mixer tube.

Jetboil MiniMo

An easy-to-use stove with fast boil times for which Jetboil is famous, the MiniMo’s valve design allows unmatched simmering as well. The integrated system performs well in the backcountry even in cold weather.

Esbit Solid Fuel Stove and Cookset

This lightweight little Esbit stove is simple to use, reliable and low maintenance. Simply ignite a fuel tablet to get cooking. It’s not made for speedy boils and can’t only be adjusted for simmering by moving the pot or pan away from the nearly-invisible flame.

MSR MicroRocket Stove

Both lightweight and compactable, the MicroRocket performs better than many heavier and more expensive stoves. With its hard storage case and included piezo lighter, this little MSR is a top choice for backpacking stoves.

Snow Peak GigaPower Auto Stove

Weighing only 3.75oz, with push-button ignition and fold-out arms, the GigaPower saves weight and space in your bag while being a powerful backpacking stove that can confidently boil, cook and simmer.

Primus Eta Express Stove

Simple and easy to use, the Eta Express’s lower 1L pot with heat exchanger makes for fast boil times. With its magnetic windscreen, superb stability and integrated lid colander, this Primus stove got Active Junky’s approval. 

BioLite CampStove

Testers found this solid-fuel stove performed best with finger-sized branches, roaring into action in under a minute. A great choice for international travel, as you can forage fuel on the go given the spotty availability of clean liquid fuels and canisters.

MSR WindBoiler Stove System

This MSR integrated cookware with built-in heat exchanger provides exceptional boil times even in adverse conditions. To reduce the system’s space requirements, the stove nests inside the compatible pot.

Camp Chef Everest 2-Burner

With 20,000 BTU burners, Everest offers some of the highest outputs of stoves we’ve reviewed. The precision control, matchless piezo igniter, locking lid and slim design allow you to take this powerful camp stove on all your adventures at altitudes up to 15,000ft or more.

Gladiator HyperFlame 2-Burner Propane Stove

This HyperFlame camp stove fits two 12-inch pots so you can cook larger quantities as you prepare meals quickly for your group. The Windblock pan guards the flames, and shock-absorbing bumpers and a heavy-duty lid protect the stove for years of reliable use.

BioLite BaseCamp Grill Stove

Another wood-fueled BioLite stove, this BaseCamp model burns gathered wood of all sizes. With 138 square inches of cooking space, you can grill burger and hot dogs for a whole group and celebrate everyone’s fuel-foraging skills

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