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What exactly is a backpacking stove?

What exactly is a backpacking stove? Why is one stove a backpacking stove and one not?

There are lots out there of all different kinds. A quick search on Google and you can find all these different types of backpacking stoves:

  • Canister
  • Liquid Fuel
  • Alcohol
  • Solid Fuel
  • Wood

Or not even bring a stove and just light a fire to cook your food and boil your water. Or you could just bring food that doesn’t require a stove at all. Then you don’t have to bring any kind of fuel.

But a few questions come up when trying to pin down what makes a true backpacking stove.

  • Does it have to be small?
  • Does it have to be packable?
  • Does it have to use a certain fuel?
  • Do you have to buy them or can you make them?
  • Do you even have to cook your food?

Does it have to be small?

You could say that all backpacking stoves are just small stoves. That is true.

Smaller stoves are lighter. They are lighter than bringing a 10 pound car camping stove. But what if someone really likes to cook and decides to pack a larger stove because they want more space. Is it a backpacking stove then? Where is the line to say one is and one isn’t?

Smaller usually means lighter and if you have to carry the stove with you on your backpacking trip, you probably want something smaller.

Even the larger MSR Dragonfly stove is considerably smaller than the 15 pound Camp Chef Everest.

Does it have to be packable?

Often stoves pack down into parts or fold up smaller. Does this make it a backpacking stove?

Large car camping stoves do the same thing. Some alcohol stoves don’t pack up at all, they are just small to begin with. Some stoves have to be put together before you can use them.

There’s limited space on a backpacking trip so you probably want it to be small and packable.

Does it have to use a certain fuel?

Stoves have one thing in common: a fuel that burns. They have to burn something, that’s how they cook. Until we get portable power that can run a portable hotplate, we’ll be burning some kind of fuel to get the heat we need.

Stoves these days are burning anything that can burn from combustible chemicals in a solid block to gas line antifreeze to propane to jet fuel to plain old wood. If it burns we can use it as fuel.

The stove does need to be set up to burn that kind of fuel. You can’t just light a bucket of kerosene and cook your food on it.

Do you have to buy them or just make them?

Most of the stoves out these days are purchased from a store but more and more folks are making their stoves. Wood and alcohol stoves can be made fairly easily. Most people don’t have the metal machinery required to make a liquid fuel or gas canister stove though. In the end though, it doesn’t seem to matter if you build it or buy it, you can get a backpacking stove either way.

Do you even have to cook your food?

Does it have to cook your food? I’m going to say yes! That is the one requirement of a backpacking stove to heat your food to cook it or boil your water.

Of course, you don’t need to heat your food to eat it. You could just pack food that doesn’t require cooking. Or you could just eat rehydrated cold pasta salad for dinner every day.

Whether you need to bring a stove on a backpacking trip isn’t the question of this article though.


So what’s the only requirement of a backpacking stove?A backpacking stove has to cook your food.Is that it? Is that the only requirement for a backpacking stove? It doesn’t seem to matter how that’s accomplished as long as it’s going to cook your food.

What do you think? What makes a backpacking stove a backpacking stove?

Updated August 27, 2022. Original article posted September 24, 2015.


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