Packable two burner camp stove

How to choose a camping stove

From s’mores to pasta, food tastes better when you’re camping. There are lots of camping stove options to choose from, including ones from brands like MSR, Primus and Jetboil. But how do you know which camping stove is best for you? Read on for more info or skip right to our stove finder quiz.

The type of stove you pick will depend on what kind of camping you’re planning on doing. There are two main types of stoves:

  • Car camping stoves: Designed for people driving to a campground. If you’re looking for this type of stove, what type of chef are you? Do you just want to make basic meals or do you also want to cook on a grill or fire pit?
  • Backpacking stoves: Great for hikers carrying everything in their pack. Also good for bike trips and kayak touring. Do you need an easy to use do-it-all stove, or do you need something more specialized for harsh conditions or ultralight thru-hiking?

Canoe trippers have extra room to pack gourmet food and large car camping stoves, but may sometimes choose to bring backpacking stoves to save weight and space on trips with portages.

Car camping stoves

Car camping stoves aim to replicate the experience of cooking in a kitchen… except outside. Their large size and heavy weight makes them easy to carry from the car to the picnic table, but not much further.

Two-burner stoves are the best choice for most car campers. They accommodate standard kitchen pots and are great for making meals for groups. More elaborate camp chefs might want to bring along a propane grill or a fire pit.

Two-burner stoves

Primus two-burner stove

Two-burner stoves are the most common stove for car camping. Most two-burner stoves run on small green 465g propane canisters. If you camp a lot, you may want to buy an adapter hose so you can use a large refillable barbecue-style propane tank.

Extra features to look for:

  • Folding windscreen: Increases efficiency by blocking the wind.
  • Heat reflector: Reflects heat back up to the pot to save fuel and speed up cooking time.
  • Piezo ignition: A simple push-button clicker that creates a spark to light the stove. No matches required!
  • Drip tray: For easy clean up.
  • Adjustable legs: Lets you raise up the cooking surface or create stability on uneven ground.
  • BTUs (British Thermal Units): Measures the heat output. The higher the number, the faster the stove will heat up and boil water. You can find the BTU rating in the specs section for each stove on mec.ca.

Camping grills

If your camping meals lean more towards barbecue dinners, a camping grill might be the right choice. Some two-burner stoves come with grill plates or you can buy one separately. There are also lots of choices for table-top portable propane barbeque grills that are perfect for campsites or picnics.

Fire pits

Cooking hotdogs or roasting marshmallows over the fire is a quintessential camping experience. If a campsite doesn’t have a firepit, you can bring your own. Fire pits avoid scorching the ground and keep your fire safely contained. Most are designed to use with your own firewood, but propane models are also available and may be permitted during some fire bans. (Be sure to check local regulations first.)

Backpacking stoves

Designed to be lightweight and compact, backpacking stoves don’t take up too much room. Their small size means that they’re less stable than car camping stoves and you’ll need to use smaller pots.

Stoves for backpacking also are very fuel efficient. Most backpacking stoves are best for boiling water for dehydrated meals but some models can also simmer – great for those who want to cook real meals. The best choice for most backpackers is a canister stove or an integrated canister stove system, but a white gas stove, wood-burning stove, alcohol stove or solid-fuel stove might also be right for your style of backcountry camping.

Canister stoves

Canister stoves are small folding stoves that screw on to the top of a pre-pressurized fuel canister.  Cooking is as simple as attaching the canister, turning on the stove and lighting it. The canisters contain a mix of isobute and propane, a type of liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

Integrated canister stove systems

Climber sitting next to a small tent and sipping a hot drink from a coffee mug

The Jetboil is an integrated canister stove that boils water fast. Photo: Taylor Maavara on a climbing expedition in Pakistan (supported by MEC).

Some canister stoves come as part of an integrated canister stove system, such as stoves from Jetboil or the MSR Windburner and Reactor models. In these systems, the burner screws on to a canister and mates with a cooking pot that also acts as a windscreen. Integrated canister stoves boil water quickly but they aren’t great at simmering. These stoves outperform standard canisters stoves at elevation and in cold, windy environments.

Canister and integrated canister stoves are best for: Most backpackers

Pros:

  • Very compact, lightweight, easy to use and no regular maintenance required.
  • No spills as the canisters are self-sealing, and the canisters last for years in storage.
  • Fast boil times, and the flame adjustment lets you simmer on most models.
  • Less expensive than other types of backpacking stoves.

Cons:

  • Less stable than other types of stoves since they’re tall.
  • LPG fuel provides poor performance in cold conditions and at high elevations.
  • Inefficient in the wind since it’s not safe to use a traditional windscreen.
  • It’s can be hard to judge how much fuel is left in the canister, and canisters are not refillable (so you must pack out and recycle them). It can be hard to find canisters in remote areas or internationally.

White gas and multi-fuel stoves

MSR Dragonfly stove in action near Kimberley, BC. Photo by MEC Ambassador Bruce Kirkby.

White gas and multi-fuel stoves use an external fuel bottle connected to a small folding stove by a short hose. Some models have an adjustable flame that lets you simmer. Before you cook, you need to pump up the fuel bottle to create pressure, then prime the stove by igniting a trickle of fuel in the burner.

These stoves burn white gas, a refined fuel that burns hot and clean. It is also sometimes called naptha, camp fuel, or Coleman fuel. Some white gas stoves can also burn other types of fuel, including kerosene, diesel, unleaded automobile gas or jet fuel. These multi-fuel stoves are great for international travellers who may have trouble finding white gas at their destination.

White gas/multi-fuel stoves are best for: Backcountry trips in winter and at high elevations, expedition-length trips and international travel.

Pros:

  • Wide base sits low to the ground, so they’re really stable.
  • Fast boil times, and good performance at high elevations and in cold weather.
  • Efficient in windy conditions when you use it with a windscreen.
  • Fuel bottles are refillable and reusable. White gas and alternate fuels are easy to find in remote areas and internationally.

Cons:

  • Heavier, less compact and more expensive than canister stoves.
  • May require practice to use, and need regular maintenance.
  • Fuel spills are possible, and fuel has a 1-year shelf-life.
  • Some models can be quite loud.

Wood-burning camping stoves

Biolite stove at campsite

If you don’t want to carry fuel with you, a wood-burning stove that burns twigs you gather along the trail can be a good option. Simpler models just provide a base to hold your pot over a small fire. Fancier stoves include a fan for more efficient burning or a mini-generator that lets you charge devices via USB.

Wood-burning camp stoves are best for: Ultralight backpackers, thru-hiking and survivalists.

Pros:

  • No need to carry fuel
  • Some models are exceptionally lightweight and compact

Cons:

  • Finding dry fuel can be difficult in rainy weather or wet environments.
  • Wood-burning stoves may be prohibited during fire bans.
  • Makes your pots sooty, no temperature control and can take a long time to boil.

Alcohol stoves

Operating an alcohol stove is simple: pour denatured alcohol into the burner cup, light and cook. The stoves themselves are also simple: just a burner cup with some ventilation holes.

Alcohol stoves are best for: Ultralight backpackers and thru-hiking.

Pros:

  • Lightweight, compact and inexpensive.
  • Denatured alcohol is relatively easy to find and doesn’t cost a lot.
  • Burns silently.

Cons:

  • Slow boil times, and poor performance in windy and cold conditions. (But it’s safe to add a windscreen.)
  • Flames can be hard to see so it’s easier to burn yourself.
  • You can’t “turn off” the stove or adjust the flame level – you have to wait until all the alcohol in the stove has burned off.

Solid fuel stoves

These compact stoves burn cubes of solid fuel called hexamine. The fuel tablets don’t liquify, are smokeless and don’t leave any ashes.

Solid fuel stoves are best for: Ultralight backpackers, thru-hiking and emergency kits.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive, lightweight and compact.
  • Easy to light.

Cons:

  • Slow boil times.
  • Fuel tablets have a distinct odour that many people find unpleasant.
  • Fuel tablets can leave a greasy residue on pots.