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Blaze your trail: A crash course in backpacking stoves for off-duty adventures

Pack your gear, fire up that stove, and get ready to chow down like a king under the stars


Hello to all my fellow emergency responders who are burning to cook outside! When you’re out conquering the wilderness, one thing you cannot do without is a trusty backpacking stove. But with so many options on the market, picking the right one can feel like navigating a maze blindfolded. Fear not, I’m here to break it down for you.

Canister stoves: Easy peasy

Imagine this: You’ve just hiked 10 miles, and your stomach is growling louder than a grizzly bear. That’s where canister stoves swoop in to save the day! These babies are as simple as pie to use. Screw on a fuel canister, twist the knob, and boom – instant flame! They’re perfect for boiling water or whipping up a quick meal. Plus, they’re lightweight and compact, so you won’t break your back lugging them around. And they range in price from around $20 to over $150, so you do not have to break the bank buying them either.

I have cooked dozens of backcountry meals on these stoves, and it is about as easy as it gets. There are two main drawbacks, though: They are not great for simmering, as they are designed to boil water as fast as possible, and they are sensitive to extreme cold, so keeping the canister in your jacket or sleeping bag on a cold morning can help performance. If you only want one stove for all your needs, start here.

  • Boils water in under 3 minutes
  • Bottom cover doubles as measuring cup and bowl
  • Comes with 15 accessories, including silverware and 2 pots
  • Space-saving and easy-to-carry design

Liquid fuel stoves: Tougher than a timberwolf

For those of you who like to venture off the beaten path, liquid fuel stoves are your go-to companions. These bad boys can take a beating and keep on heating. They’ll burn just about anything – white gas, unleaded gasoline, you name it. Sure, they require a bit more TLC, but when you’re in the middle of nowhere, reliability is key.

Additionally, these stoves allow more variable flame control, so simmering is a real option. They allow for more “gourmet” trail cooking above and beyond freeze-dried trail meals. These stoves can get pricey, but when properly maintained, they can last a lifetime. I still use my father’s Whisperlite stove occasionally, which has provided decades of service. Heavier and more durable, these are solid stoves.

  • Dual-valve design
  • Extra wide pot idea for cooking for groups

Alcohol stoves: MacGyver’s choice

Are you the MacGyver type who loves to make or customize your gear? Then alcohol stoves are right up your alley. You can whip one up from a soda can or buy a fancy one online. They run on denatured alcohol or rubbing alcohol, which won’t break the bank. Sure, they’re not the fastest stoves in the shed, but they’re perfect for minimalist backpackers who want to shave ounces off their load. These stoves are great for solo trips as they excel at boiling enough water for a single meal in a reasonable amount of time – but be aware they are sensitive to extreme altitude and cold temps.

  • Lightweight and portable at 5 oz.
  • Designed for efficiency: fire lasts up to 50 minutes

Do-it-yourself option

Wood-burning stoves: Nature’s best buddy

If you’re all about that eco-friendly life, then look no further than wood-burning stoves. Say goodbye to lugging around fuel; just gather some twigs and get your fire started! These stoves let you cook your meals using Mother Nature’s bounty, making them a green choice for outdoor enthusiasts who never have to worry about running out of fuel. Plus, there’s something downright magical about cooking over an open flame. These stoves typically break down flat and can be stored in a small bag or envelope.

I have loved my Emberlit stove for years, and now there are many inexpensive options. These stoves are easy to use and allow for flexible cooking but can create soot on the stove and pot that are a little harder to clean in the backcountry. Also, be advised that timber-driven stoves are typically not allowed during a burn ban in the backcountry.

  • Can be folded flat when not in use
  • Can be fueled with organic items, such as leaves or twigs

There you have it, folks – the lowdown on the hottest backpacking stoves around. Whether you’re a speed demon on the trail or prefer to take things slow, there’s a stove out there with your name on it. So pack your gear, fire up that stove, and get ready to chow down like a king under the stars! Happy trails, my friends!

Matt Knollman is the Unit 3 battalion chief for Liberty Township Fire in Butler County, Ohio, and a content developer for Lexipol. He is the operations rescue team manager for the Butler County Technical Rescue Team. Knollman also works as an instructor for a local trade school, teaching multiple disciplines including fire, EMS, instructor, command and officer training. He enjoys teaching wilderness first aid and high-angle rope techniques to youth as part of the Boy Scouts of America. Knollman received his associate degree from Cincinnati State.