Stoves, like bikes and skis and shoes tents demand a quiver.
Here’s the quiver for stoves:
(1) A canister “Son-of-Rocket” style stove – a canister stove that boils water with little fuel and time and weight.
(2) A light, sturdy white gas stove – for gold weather and trips to places where canisters don’t grow on trees.
(3) A car camping stove.
There’s an unending discussion on stoves, but clearly the perfect stove is dictated by what you use it for. Here are some of the more important considerations:
Cold: The isobutane mixes in fuel canisters don’t do well under 35-40 degrees, though Jetboil has some very innovative solutions you’ve got to pay for them. Melting snow takes a lot of fuel, and white gas is a lot cheaper than canisters.
Simmering: I’m not much of a through hiker, my longest trips have been in the five day range, and I probably walk with all my kit for 5 24hr stretches per year. I read about through hikers who seem to care about simmering. That makes some sense to me for two reasons, first they probably want some variety in what they eat. Second one million mountain house meals can’t be tasty. I only care about this for car camping… mostly because the Girl cares about this.
Simple: For backpacking I carry the jetboil cup, stove, and fuel can (one small can = 2 people for 5 days @ 3 meals and one morning brew = boils 7 times per day) a long handled ti spoon and freeze dried food packages. And a lighter, and a back up lighter. No dishes to wash.
Fuel Availability: White gas and propane are available everywhere. Canisters are not. WG and Propane are cheap, canisters are less cheap.
Something like a review: Quiver gear is a bit tricky to review, because so much of the stove’s performance depends on the use case. Stoves don’t compromise well so I recommend that you find folks who are doing what you want to be doing and find out what they are using.
I’ve got two cannister stoves that I’m quite happy with, but for different uses.
The Jet Boil Personal Cooking System: It’s light, simple, efficient. I love it for anything where I have to carry the stove. I don’t do anything but boil water in the pot so I don’t have to wash it on the trail. I simply add water to the backpacking meal in its original packaging and eat from the package, then all I need to wash is my spoon. On multi day trips I fold each empty package so that they all fit inside one another for very tidy waste management. I’ve got the most simple version of the Flash stove – no auto lighting mechanism – I’m hard on my gear so this stuff tends to break. I’ve got two aluminum cups, one with the flash insulator and one with the lighter Sol insulator. Since I got my stove JB has made some improvements, but I’ve got no complaints about mine. The redesign involved some weight savings, a easier to use valve adjuster and a more functional lid. Again I didn’t notice these as problems on the Flash cup (the Sol lid and base were a bit too light and don’t fit (lid) and broke (base/cup)).
The Flash/Sol line isn’t great for “cooking” other than boiling, though Jet Boil makes a really amazing stove for that (Check out the Jet Boil Helios on Backcountry.com), and by not great I mean that the system is not designed for that sort of use. The stove doesn’t simmer at all. That said the Jet Boil system is perfect. It’s light, boils fast, packs well (about the size of a Nalgene for the whole system), wears well, and is easy to use. We take one stove packed in the Sol Cup with a can of fuel between the two of us on all of our backpacking adventures. I’ll often bring a back-up can, just in case valves get fouled or someone runs out. Also, if you expect temps to get much below freezing I’d suggest something that uses white gas.
For the girl and I this setup is perfect, for larger groups – 3/4 you could use the Sumo cup and only carry one stove – though I do like having a second stove for backup.
Disclaimer here is that I’m a huge Jet Boil fanboy – doesn’t hurt that one of my climbing partners worked for them (I’ll call him GeoBoil, because his parents are geologists and he worked for Jetboil – getting outside with him is like taking a geology course AND an engineering course… sorry ladies he’s married and his wife’s something of a badass) and has EVERYTHING they’ve ever made as well as an unending supply of great stories about the design process behind each product. Additionally, my experiance with the Helios is GeoBoil busting out an amazing chorizo bean and egg burito breakfast up in the Uintas.
MSR Wind Pro II Stove: My stove is a few years old so it may not be this exact model, but it looks and functions identical. I don’t have the little stand for the fuel so I just flip it over and prop it on rocks if it’s cold out. I don’t use this stove as my primary backpacking stove since it doesn’t stand up to the Jet Boil for weight, efficiency, and packability (depends somewhat on the pots you use I’ve got the MSR Blacklite set). You also need to be careful with the surface you put this on. In snow I use one of the blacklite pots as a stand, otherwise a piece of wood or cardboard keeps it in line. If you want to improve the eficiency of this stove, get a heat exchanger for your pot – though this this puts this system farther behind the JetBoil in weight and packability.
So, this stove is better than the JetBoil in the cold – but still not as good as white gas, why do I keep it around?
(1) Durability – this is the cockroach of stoves. There’s not a lot to it, but what there is is steel. You hold it in your hand and you know it’s built to last.
(2) Simmer. Yep – this won’t boil your water first but you can cook eggs with it! To be fair with a good wind screen and heat exchanger system it does boil quite well, but I’m always amazed at how well it does at real cooking. For car camping I’ll use my JetBoil for hot water, since that’s what it does well, and hot chocolate, tea, coffee, oatmeal, grits etc are all breakfast staples, and then I’ll do bacon and eggs in the MSR blacklite pot. It’s a pretty slick arrangement, but for car camping I’m definately in the market for a Primus Firehole 100 or something in that genre.
What’s missing from my quiver:
(1) A big fat car camping stove like the Primus Firehole 100 I figure if your setting up a base camp this is the way to go – you’ll save a lot of money on fuel, though propane doesn’t like the cold too much.
(2) A fast boiling white gas stove – if I’m melting snow then canisters aren’t the best choice, also if I’m doing anything exciting internationally I want a multifuel stove so here’s what I’m after (and not just because Andrew McLean thinks its… well I can’t hear him over the roar): The MSR XGK EX Multi-Fuel Stove . If I need to be melting snow then it’s all about fuel efficiency, fuel cost, and speed but not about simmering, I think my Wind Pro will do fine for that in liquid feed mode, also the Wind Pro has a whitegas doppleganger called the Simmerlite that may be discontinued but you could find.
A little note about use cases:
I do car camping for climbing trips and canyoneering trips, these range from really too hot in Zion national park to almost too cold in Saint George, Moab, Maple, the Uintas.. but not so cold that propane wouldn’t get me through. I do at least one but up to 7 nights of backpacking per year, most often in the desert or longer canyons, and some winter camping/hut trips. So my stove priorities reflect that, folks who spend months on a trail with lots of water may have very different preferences and needs (I’ll link to some stuff from them below)
A little tidbit for the DOJ – Hey, I paid for this stuff with my own coin. Though I try to find sales when I can I also do my best to support local shops, REI, Backcountry, and great companies by not being too much of a jerk about getting the lowest price possible. I just find a price I can afford for a product I want and I pay it… or I don’t if I can’t find a price I can afford. But I NEVER EVER go into a shop and try to haggle about the price! SO I guess I strayed from the DOJ bit there… anyway here are some resources:
Section Hiker (for the long, long walk types):
Helios: a fair but not ecstatic review I figured I’d put this here since my opinion on all things Jet Boil is rather ecstatic.
JetBoil – Oh, Conrad Anker took one of these systems up The Meru Shark’s Fin.
Stoves page – not all comment sections are created equal. Backcountry.com’s comments and reviews are perfect in my mind. The mix marketing copy, sponsored athlete reviews (important because they have broad experience with the product line) and consumer questions and reviews. It’s all here, good bad and ugly. Some places, like the REI.com comment sections, tend to get over run by people who may be dissatisfied with a product because they don’t know how to use the product or were useing it for something it wasn’t designed for (touring skis always get bad reviews from folks who try them in resorts). On backcountry.com there’s a good conversation about products that allows you to really understand it’s strengths and weaknesses beyond the marketing copy.