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What style of backcountry stove is right for you?

If you're anything like me, you appreciate a nice hot meal at the end of the day. It's just incredibly nice to come back to camp after a long day of hunting and have a hot filling meal to cap everything off. It's equally nice to be able to sit high up on a glassing knob with a hot cup of coffee while scanning the surrounding hills for deer. Backcountry hunting is hard enough as it is so having little luxuries like these go a long way for me. They give me a sense of comfort much like home. In order to achieve these little wins on the mountain, though, you are going to need a good stove to get you there. From ultralight, all in one system, and even customizing your own, there are plenty of options out there for the backcountry hunter. Which is right for you? It is the battle of the stoves! Who will win?

Ultralight stoves

What style of backcountry stove is right for you

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

The name says it all. These are going to be the lightest of the light, oftentimes tipping the scales by just mere ounces. Some great options are the MSR PocketRocket 2, Soto WindMaster and the Optimus Crux Lite, On top of that, they also tend to be the most packable. Space is precious in our backpacks and these bomber little stoves lend to that. Even though they are small, they sure do pack a punch. Boil times sit right around two to three minutes with most models. However, this, as well as fuel efficiency, is going to be a direct reflection on wind. We'll get into that later. So, how do these little guys work? Pretty simple. The small stove screws directly onto your fuel canister, you turn a valve to release the fuel, then you light the stove with either an igniter or lighter. Set your cup on top with the desired amount of water and wait. Done and done. An ultralight stove isn't going to break the bank either, which is always nice.

Warming up near a lightweight stove

So, now the downfalls. Many of them don't have a wind blocker, which can be a problem. If there is a good wind, your boil times might skyrocket up into the area of eight minutes as opposed to the original two to three. Of course, you can jimmy rig a wind blocker out of your gear or the surrounding area. I've used my pack, boulders and even built small rock walls to block the wind. I guess it just depends on how much you are willing to "deal with" in order to have less weight and more room in your pack. Another potential problem is the chance of actually knocking your cup of boiling water off of the stove. I've never done this myself, but have almost done it and have heard of it happening to others. In that regard, I'd caution you to be mindful.

Pros

  • Very lightweight
  • Extremely packable
  • Easy to use
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Boil time suffers in the wind.
  • Less fuel efficient with wind.
  • So small you might actually lose it.
  • More chance of knocking the cup off of the burner.

All-in-one stoves

JetBoil stove for backcountry cooking

I am going to go ahead and say that this is probably going to be the most common route that most folks go. The all-in-one systems out there are so convenient in terms of functionality, ease of use, and efficiency. It's basically a one-stop shop in the name of backcountry stoves. These stoves usually come in the form of a large cup that holds everything that you need inside: Fuel canister, stove, igniter, spoon, etc. The cup connects to the stove, which then screws onto the fuel canister. This eliminates the chance of you knocking the cup off of the burner accidentally. Many of these models are also wind resistant. For this reason, they are very fuel efficient and your boil times are not going to suffer in the wind. Those boil times sit around two to three minutes. Some great options are the Jetboi Flash, MSR Reactor and the MSR WindBurner and you can even include the Optimus Elektra FE stove in this category.

Cooking up Ramen noodles in JetBoil stoves

As opposed to their ultralight cousins, this is where the all-in-one systems fall short. They are bigger, bulkier, and are going to weigh more. Most sit around 1 to 1.5 lbs and are about the size of a Nalgene bottle when all packed up. That might sound small, but when you compare that to the likes of the ultralight version, it is not. Another downfall is going to come in the form of price. It is an all-in-one system and you are paying for the convenience of it all. For that reason, they are going to be quite a bit more expensive than what was mentioned above. I guess the question is, what price are you willing to pay—both financially and weight/packability—for convenience?

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Pros

  • One stop shop for a stove
  • Efficient
  • Great functionality
  • Many are wind resistant

Cons

  • More weight
  • Bulky
  • Higher price tag
  • While they are easy to use, they tend to have more parts than other options.

Build your own

A build your own backcountry cook kit

The all-in-one stoves win in the convenience category, but even the ultralight stove options have certain kits that you can buy for them. These will come with cups, spoons, igniters, cleaning devices, etc. These will give you all that you need for a trip. With that being said, you can also build your own. You might find that there are certain things within the kits that you might not like. For instance, if you are a coffee drinker, I'd stay away from cups that don't have some type of cover that they sit in to shield your lips from the hot cup. If you don't have that, you'll be burning your lips in the name of drinking coffee. Not cool. This is one of the beauties of backpack hunting gear. You can mold things however you want. This is the route that I go personally. I pair an ultralight stove with that of a cup system that I really like. This option does lend more to the side of the ultralight stoves out there, but it is definitely something to think about.

In closing

Cooking up a meal in the mountains

So in the end, who wins? That is largely going to depend on the person using the stove. No matter the route you decide to go, it's all the same in the end, right? We are all looking for a quality stove that we can depend on to deliver us what we need. Beyond these stove styles, there are still several more options. Fortunately, with all of the brands and options available, there is a stove out there for everyone. Each one comes with its own pros and cons, but that is the case with all gear items. One's cons might be nonexistent to another. The same can be said about the pros. The point is: get out there and try this stuff out. Pick something that works for you and your system—not someone else's. With a little time and effort, you'll find out what the best stove is for you.

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