Eating a warm meal in the woods requires cooking in the woods. But what camp stove is the best?
Depending on your outdoor plans, you have options in the camp stove department. Some are better for car camping, others backpacking or day use at a picnic. This article breaks down 10 common camp stove types along with their fuel requirements, some suggested models, price ranges, limitations, and best uses at the camp site and beyond.
The Classic Two-Burner Stove
The two-burner propane stove, popularized by Coleman and used by families and Scout troops alike for generations, is a perfect tool for groups of 10 or fewer in the front-country. They’re rugged enough to take a beating and simple enough to work after idle years in a garage. When something does go wrong it’s typically cheap and easy to fix, like cleaning the burner orifices with the tip of a safety pin.
Disadvantages? They are heavy and bulky, so these units are best kept within a few hundred feet of the car.
Price Range: $70-$160
Models: Coleman Triton, Camp Chef Everest, Coleman FyreKnight
Limitations: Heavy & large
Best Use: Front-country, group campouts, family events
Compact and fully self-contained, these units include a pot, burner, fuel canister, stand, and lid — all in a tidy package the size of a large water bottle. They are made to boil water fast, like less-than-two-minutes fast. This kind of stove is not made to cook in; you can do it, but most people limit them to boiling water for coffee and dehydrated meal packs. But in the backcountry do you really need anything more?
Price Range: $80-$220
Models: Jetboil Zip, MSR WindBurner, MSR Reactor
Fuel: Isobutane canister
Limitations: Usually only works with included pot; boiling water only
Best Use: Backpacking, solo travel
The Ultralight Burner
A small, single burner and a fuel canister with collapsible support arms for your pot or pan — these are simple stoves preferred by many for backcountry use.
They weigh mere ounces and can pack tiny. Design-wise, most ultralight stoves are smaller, simpler versions of the burners found in classic camp stoves and residential gas ranges. These units are common among long-distance hikers and serve as an excellent addition to an emergency kit.
Price Range: $20-$160
Models: Primus Yellowstone Classic, MSR PocketRocket, MSR EGK EX
Fuel: Varied — canister, liquid gas, propane, or multifuel
Limitations: Solo use with small/light pans only
Best Use: Solo travel, backpacking, emergency preparedness
The Charger Stove
A recent addition to the camp stove world, “charger” units translate heat energy into electrical power to enable the recharging of small devices while you cook. You set a pot or pan on top and the stove functions like a small, concentrated campfire.
They burn twigs, fuel pellets, cardboard, pretty much anything dry and flammable, in a small canister with a heat-collecting wand plugged into the chamber, which converts the warmth to usable power for your phone, camera, or GPS unit via a USB port on the side.
Price Range: $100-$300
Models: Bio-Lite BaseCamp
Fuel: Twigs, pellets, cardboard
Limitations: Heavier than other small stoves; requires fuel collection
Best Use: Instagrammers
The Chuck Wagon
Designed for the front-country camp gourmet, chuck wagon stoves are big, configurable, and comfortable to use when feeding a larger crew.
They include the old-style stock burners used by hunters and fishermen for decades, as well as some newer touches, like portable grills that can cook meat, attracting friends and bears alike.
Price Range: $150-$190
Models: Camp Chef Explorer, Coleman RoadTrip
Fuel: Large propane canisters
Limitations: Big, heavy, large fuel requirements
Best Use: Lowland boil, barbecue competitions, catering, family reunions
Cooking With Sun
Who would have thought? The sun’s rays, when concentrated, can cook food in minutes. Solar cooking in some forms has been around for a long time, but this type of portable stove is a new addition to the outdoors world. The updated designs are more efficient and easier to use; see the “wand” configuration above as one example.
If you want to cook with the sun in the backcountry, your best bet is still to make a reflector stove from a roll of aluminum foil. But for anyone interested in making a meal with no fuel consumption and minimal environmental impact, there are now some great options available from GoSun.
Models: GoSun Sport
Fuel: The Sun
Limitations: Daytime cooking on sunny days, out from under the trees
Best Use: Frontcountry, small groups/solo, car camping
The Alcohol Stove
Alcohol stoves are the ultimate in ultralight cooking. They’re tiny and can be made from a soda can. While you can order a pretty one for about twenty bucks, it’s going to be more satisfying to make your own.
Price Range: $0-$20
Models: Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Red Bull, PBR, A&W
Fuel: Denatured alcohol
Limitations: Small and slow cooking; very susceptible to wind; durable but could be crushed.
Best Use: Survival, ultralight backpacking, emergency preparedness
Jetboil, long known for its single-pot boiler stoves, made an ultimate basecamp system. It’s a complete, modular kit that packs down into a single bag and can connect to a second set (or more) to work in nearly any outdoor cooking situation. Each set comes with a 5-liter pot and a 10-inch, nonstick frying pan. Look out for the price tag, however.
Models: Jetboil Genesis Basecamp
Limitations: Big layout with large fuel canisters required; expensive
Best Use: Frontcountry, basecamp
Backpackers seeking a smaller and lighter option look to pocket stoves. They are nothing more than a folding pot stand with a small area to hold fuel tablets. Tiny, light, and collapsible, these units fit in any pack or emergency kit with negligible impact on overall weight or space usage.
Disadvantage: Heat output is weak due to limitations of the fuel tablets, which only produce a small flame. It takes a while to boil a liter of water with the pocket stoves we have tested over the years.
Price Range: $13
Models: Esbit Pocket Stove
Limitations: Small flame, weak heat
Best Use: Emergency preparedness and backpacking
Ultralight and minimalist stoves are too much for you? Get (or make) a windscreen, then head into the forest to collect twigs and bark. These “stoves” are merely folding screens to block the wind from destroying your tiny cooking fire (but they don’t keep you from destroying the forest, so pay extra attention).
Adhere to Leave No Trace principles when cooking with your fire on the ground. If used right, the result of a screen-style stove is a concentrated, efficient campfire and a place above it to set a pot and cook.
Price Range: $0-$60
Models: Reynolds Foil (leftover recycled from a hobo dinner), Vargo Titanium Hexagon
Fuel: Wood, twigs, grass
Limitations: Burn bans, rain, laziness
Best Use: Backpacking