A HIKER MARCHES ON THEIR STOMACH.
Alcohol stoves, small burners screwed into fuel canisters, JetBoils, and even open fires. There are quite a few choices when it comes to heating and cooking food outdoors. Each one’s success can depend on the skill of the user, the location, and the type of food you want to eat, as well as other factors like the number of people in your party or the availability of the fuel required for their operation. Since a hiker marches on their stomach, it’s important to carefully consider the options.
MIKE ST. PIERRE
HYPERLITE MOUNTAIN GEAR // CO-FOUNDER + CEO
You have several options for stoves depending on the trip.
The lightest option would be an alcohol stove, purchased, or homemade. This would be a good option for hiking the Appalachian Trail or potentially the Pacific Crest Trail. Alcohol stoves are light and compact, and fuel is easy to find in any grocery or convenience store. Also, the fuel can be stored in a plastic water bottle – no need for a metal one. Just be sure to label a plastic fuel bottle, so you or a friend don’t accidentally drink it! Unless of course, it’s grain alcohol, another fuel that works well. There are some considerable drawbacks, however – the inability to heat at a simmer, difficulty seeing the blue flame in daylight, fuel consumption is hard to calculate, it doesn’t work well at altitude, and it’s not efficient in windy situations. In places where it’s very windy, you may also need to bring a windscreen.
“When I’m on a longer trip, like a thru hike, I fire up the stove immediately after waking. Before I’m even out of my sleeping bag I am sipping on a hot cup of coffee and have breakfast re-hydrating in my cozy. This provides me an ample amount of time to eat my breakfast, pack my pack, and embark on my first segment of the day, typically a two-hour push.” – Matt Jenkins
Your second option would be an MSR PocketRocket® 2 or any other small burner that screws onto a canister stove. I’d avoid the Chinese knock-offs on Amazon. You do get what you pay for. These are great stoves for quick boils, simmering, and they work at altitude. One drawback is that these stoves are not efficient in windy situations and may require a windscreen. It’s also a little harder to calculate fuel.
A third option is a Jetboil or MSR Reactor®. Although they’re a little heavier, these are great, reliable stoves. I usually only use them for boiling water which I can add to a dehydrated meal. They are very efficient and have a built-in windscreen. I’ve calculated that you can get as many as forty-five 8 oz. boils out of the midsized 13 oz. fuel canister, and upwards of twenty-five 8 oz. boils out of the smallest fuel canister. I hesitate to rely on the igniter that comes with it. It will usually work for a while, but they tend to fail. The stove will still work fine if it’s manually lit. Just keep a small Bic lighter in your cooking set up.
On expeditions where you’re carrying everything yourself, a Jetboil would be the lightest option considering how much fuel you’ll be using. The heavier weight of the Jetboil is canceled out when you look at the weight and consumption of the fuel.
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OUT IN THE FIELD
EDDIE "OILCAN" BOYD
THRU HIKER // TRIPLE CROWNER // @OC_BOYD
I use a regular canister stove because it’s powered by fuel that’s most widely available out in the middle of nowhere. My favorite is the $14 Etekcity stove. Not only is it inexpensive, but it has lasted me over 3,000 miles of hiking and provided me a hot dinner every night.
ALASKAN EXPLORER // ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST // WWW.MJOLNIROFBJORN.COM
Over the last decade I have been relying on liquid fuel stoves less and less. Instead, I try to use the fuel that nature and my routes provide, and adhere to the ethos that nothing is lighter than nothing. However, there are many environments and bioregions where either there is no wood to burn or wood burning is not appropriate.
One of the goals, as I see it, to spending time in nature is to learn from her rhythms and to reconnect – to find your place in this chaotic cosmic soup we call existence. Personally, this leads me straight to a position of conservationism. I want future generations to have access to nature and I advocate for conservative use of resources. For these reasons, I abhor canister stoves and their single-use disposability.
If my route does not have enough wood or it is not advisable to burn wood, I use two different sorts of liquid fuel stoves for trips: an MSR Whisperlite or an alcohol burning Solo Stove.
The MSR Whisperlite™ has the ability to be fitted with a universal jet. This jet allows you to push most liquid fuels through the stove. The cleanest burning fuel is white gas but this can often be hard to find in remote corners of the world. However, diesel, kerosene and unleaded gas are abundant and each of those will work in a pinch. The dirtier the fuel, the more soot there will be, which means you’ll have to clean the stove more frequently.
There are several things that make the Whisperlite a great stove: it kicks out serious BTUs, it is field serviceable, and, with the universal jet installed, it burns a myriad of easy to come across fuels. The main drawback to this stove is that it is relatively heavy and bulky. But, for winter trips, when you need to make all your water from snow, or if you are at altitude and flames burn dimmer, very few stoves can compare.
The other stove I really like and often use is an alcohol burning Solo Stove. This stove is so light that it hardly counts as weight. Mine weighs a mere 3.5 ounces. This stove does not burn as hot as a Whisperlite but it absolutely gets the job done. Although it is best to use denatured alcohol with this sort of stove, there are other options like: methanol, ethanol (Everclear) and fuel line antifreeze (HEET). When burning anything other than denatured alcohol, be sure to have good ventilation and never breathe the fumes.
Beyond the fact that canister stoves are grotesquely wasteful, it can be difficult and often impossible to find replacement canisters in small, rural communities, even in First World nations. The two stoves I have recommended here both require that you get to know them and thoroughly experiment with them before you embark on your next adventure into the hinterlands. Once you understand and learn how to service them, they rarely let you down.
BETHANY "FIDGIT" HUGHES
THRU HIKER // WORLD TRAVELER // HER-ODYSSEY.ORG
I use a cat food can stove. I love its simplicity, durability, and adaptability. Walking across South America, fuel sources were unpredictable, but I could always find something to burn in my gritty little guy.
PACKRAFTER // EXPLORER // ALASKAN // THINGSTOLUCAT.COM
For stove selection I choose between the MSR PocketRocket® 2, Reactor, and Whisperlite™ or XGK™ stoves. I love the simplicity of the canister stoves, and the Reactor is worth the extra weight at colder temps (more efficient fuel use, much faster boil time). Depending on your expected fuel consumption, the weight savings of the canister stoves cancels out after four or five days, so, unless I have a resupply, I carry a liquid gas stove on longer trips. The Whisperlite is lighter and quieter, but more finicky. The XGK is bombproof, but a conversation killer. “You are welcome to come in the tent, but the XGK has to stay outside.”
We stretch fuel consumption by carrying copper insulators and a Backpacker’s Pantry Pot Parka on long winter trips. I think running white gas instead of unleaded makes a big difference in stove durability.
BIKEPACKER // PACKRAFTER // @JESSI_GOES
I use a Jetboil Flash with isopro fuel. Even though I know there are a lot of advantages to white gas stoves, I have a strange fear of spilling white gas everywhere…
And the Jetboil worked in Alaska in sub-zero temps (with a little insulation). So, I’m sold! It heats water super quickly, it’s relatively lightweight, there isn’t much to break or malfunction, and it’s pretty mess-free.
I love a hot meal at the end of the day. Currently, the Olicamp Kinetic Ti + XTS Pot combo is my go to set-up for backpacking adventures. The stove itself is 1.7 oz and packs a lot of heat for its size. The XTS pot is specially made with heat-absorbing fins which help transfer more of the stoves heat to be more efficient with fuel.
NICK "CLICK" REICHARD
THRU HIKER // PHOTOGRAPHER // @NICHOLASREICHARD
I go by the phrase, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” I was gifted an MSR PocketRocket stove from my father before I started my AT thru hike in 2015, and since then, I’ve used it along the AT, PCT, and CDT. The stove worked perfectly for what I was doing as a solo traveler, and I would use it every single night. I think one of the most significant drawbacks for using a stove is keeping it clean, and the more I backpacked, the less I cooked my food inside the pot. Even though it may not be the best to cook and eat out of a ZipLock Freezer bag, it worked for me. The container I always use is the MSR Titan Tea Kettle which is a perfect companion for the PocketRocket. If you decide to cook your meal in the pot, I recommend the GSI Outdoors Compact Scraper which will help keep your pot clean after your belly is full. As for fuel, I tend to use a medium size 8 oz can which lasts a lot longer than the small version you can get away with if you’re using a stove like the JetBoil.
On many fast and light bikepacking trips, there are frequent enough opportunities for provisions that I don’t bother bringing a stove or pot. We’ll time things so that in the evening we’ll pass through a town, grab some prepared food, and then ride for another hour to set up camp. Or if there’s no resupply for a couple of days, it’s easy enough to get by with meals that don’t need to be cooked.
Obviously, that won’t always work, as sometimes I’m far enough off the grid for enough days that carrying dehydrated food (along with some fresh vegetables) is mandatory. In that case, a light and simple stove setup is an aluminum can alcohol burner. There are many designs. I like this one because making it is simple, not tool-intensive, and easy to commit to memory. It’s acceptably efficient when used with a wind-screen, also improvised by, e.g, cutting out a strip from the bottom of an oven pan.
The essential contingency of this kind of stove is a big part of its appeal for me. I might not have a stove at all for a part of an expedition where I don’t need to cook, but I’m able to make one in under ten minutes when I'm about to enter the backcountry. On a long trip, I might go through cycles of several stoves, discarding or giving away the earlier ones to travel without for a span and making new ones as needed. A natural thought is, why not just carry the stove you made, it weighs nothing? Reply: it’s true that it weighs nothing, but with bikepacking bags, volume is absolutely precious and one can carry an avocado where a stove might otherwise be.
Denatured alcohol is available world-wide, which emphatically can’t be said for cartridges. And the alcohol, both in its stored state and during the stove burn is comparatively benign. I had a petrol stove on a yearlong circuit in Asia and dealing with the smell and general yuckiness of gasoline was no fun.