Six stoves to heat up your campout menus

CAMP STOVES ARE a caveman’s dream: Instant fire from a portable source, controllable heat and flame, and cooked food or hot water ready in minutes. For today’s primitive adventures, namely camping or backpacking deep in the woods, a reliable camp stove can still be a dream—turn on the gas, touch a match to the burner, and a blue flame pops to life, a torrent of channeled energy ready to do your culinary deed.

Hot soup, coffee, and even warmed desserts are doable anywhere outdoors with a stove and a pot. Over the years, I’ve ignited a dozen types of stoves on picnic tables in state parks or the frozen flanks of Mount Rainier. Each fire-maker is distinguished by its size, weight, fuel type, and flame output for its intended task.

This spread of stoves represents categories and types intended for varying weight, transport, and climates; fuel sold separately unless noted. Strike a match and give life to a flame. Your inner caveman will thank you.

MSR Pocket Rocket
I’ve used this basic backpacking stove for years. Screw the inverted tripod onto the top of a butane canister and twist a control arm to flood the burner with vaporized gas. A match ignites the stove. Caveats: The little arms only balance small pots, and the stove’s unshielded design keeps its flame exposed to wind. Don’t forget: Freezing temps reduce the performance of pressurized canister fuels.

Esbit Pocket Stove
$10 (includes six fuel cubes),
Hexamethylenetetramine: It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But the chemical compound is the basis for the tiny fuel cubes that power this stove. The decades-old design includes a foldable shell of galvanized steel that hinges open to create a platform for a pot. Put a cube inside and light it up for an approximate burn time of 13 minutes. A pot goes on top, and now you’re cooking over an open flame. One cube will bring a pint of water to boil in about eight minutes.

Backcountry Boiler
Sticks, grass, and kindling you find in the woods are the fuel for the Backcountry Boiler, a stove designed for the single purpose of heating water with no fuss. Made in Pittsburgh by a former Scout, the unit combines the function of a stove and a boiling pot into one. To heat water, put the aforementioned sticks and grass inside, fill the top reservoir with water, and ignite. The Backcountry Boiler forces flames to roar out through the top, fire licking the inside metal surface area with water on the other side of a thin wall. Hot water comes quick. The boiler weighs about 8 ounces and is a bit bigger than a 1-liter Nalgene bottle.

Primus OmniLite Ti
Titanium parts keep its weight down to 8.5 ounces. A liquid-gas burner jets flames stout enough to melt snow into water on mountain climbs. Made for “the most demanding conditions,” as Primus puts it, this new expedition-ready stove will be seen at extreme altitudes and high latitudes this year. Primus says it can boil a liter of water in a speedy 2 minutes, 40 seconds.

Jetboil Zip 
Convenient. Fast. Fuel-efficient. This all-in-one unit includes an integrated pot, push-button flame ignition (via a small electric spark), and a heat-directing design that promises “one-cup-per-minute” boil time. The Zip has a 0.8-liter integrated pot that doubles as a mug with a heat-blocking neoprene wrap and a hand strap, letting you drink a hot brew right from its source.

Coleman InstaStart Table Top Grill
Fold open the lid, flick a sparker switch to ignite, and you can be grilling veggies and meat in minutes. This portable grilling unit, fueled by a propane canister, is a car-camping-only cooker—it weighs 18 pounds!—that offers “open-flame, drip-through grilling” in a fold-up case. The InstaStart includes a porcelain-coated steel grill for durability and easy cleaning. With a purported 11,000-BTU burner output and 200-square inches of on-the-grill space, this Coleman can cook enough burgers to fully feed your hungry troop, and then some.


    • David,

      Thanks for your question. Liquid stoves are not prohibited in BSA safety guidelines, but they are not recommended for use. However, in some settings — particularly cold-weather camping or high-altitude mountaineering — liquid stove use prevails out of necessity. In these scenarios, white-gas fuels are recommended; liquid alcohol gas is not recommended (yet it is not specifically prohibited). You can read these guidelines at

      The BSA does, however, prohibit homemade alcohol stoves. An article on this is available in our January-February 2012 issue on page 13 (seen here).


      • Gretchen,
        I would be interested to now why the BSA prohibits home made alcohol stoves. Our troop has just finished building home made soda can stoves that use mentholated spirits for fuel.

        PS I’m with the Australian Boy Scouts

      • I’m a Canadian Girl Guide leader with Rangers (girls aged 15-18) and we regularly use home made aluminium cat food can “super cat” alcohol stoves on our camping and backpacking trips. They are lightweight and burn clean. Yes, alcohol flames are nearly invisible in daylight, but there is risk in just about anything you do in life and we can’t shield our youth from this fact. Our girls each build their own and learn to safely operate their stoves in controlled circumstances before using them in the field. They fully understand the dangers. If we leave out all risk, we’ll never venture into the woods. I would never advocate the use of these stoves for younger members, but my Rangers have proven time and again over the years that they are well able to do so safely. Maybe it’s a girl thing? 😉

      • @emorra wrote: “there is risk in just about anything you do in life and we can’t shield our youth from this fact”

        Alas, the prevailing view amongst parents in the U.S. is that we can, and should, shield our youth from this fact.

        This has infected BSA, or at least certain councils. As an example, our Council properties disallow throwing objects unless they are soft-edged. This explicitly disallows dads throwing baseballs, footballs, or frisbees with their boys unless nerf or similar versions are used. I question how well we are supporting development of our youth when we emplace these sorts of limitations on our program.


      • The BSA prohibits home made stoves because there is no guaranty as to the craftsmanship of the product. Even with my own high standards, I have created a number of soda can stoves that dribble a little down the side. I always make sure to fill the stove on a flat fire proof surface where I will light it to prevent alcohol from getting on my hand and arm and setting me ablaze. I do not let the scouts use these stoves but have shown and demonstrated them. There is a very good and inexpensive alcohol backpacking stove made by Trangia for around $14.

  1. Two notes on the white gas stoves: There are a lot of them available for $40.00-$100.00, I prefer MSR’s Dragon Fly that has a full flame control saving on fuel use. Secondly white gas stoves are by far cheaper to run than butain fuel canisters. A 10 oz bottle lasted our patrol 5 days in the BWCA minimizing room and weight compared to carrying several butain canisters to get the same amount of burn time.

  2. I have a couple of excellent modern hiking stoves. But I was wondering however, if paraffin was okay. In my young Scouting says we took paraffin and poured it melted over a rolled up piece of cardboard in a can. That was our “hiking stove”. I warmed up a lot of beany-weenies on such things.

  3. The easiest, cheapest stove Scout ever?= pop can pot + tomato paste can burner + windscreen

    Faced with the task of getting 34 young Scouts backpacking stoves + pots (to only boil water), a couple hours to do it, $ones per boy not $$hundreds, BSA’s alcohol fuel ban, and knowing how boys simply can’t maintain or tune stuff, I combined lots of postings to create a very simple, quickly built stove consisting of:

    Soda can (emptied by Scouts) as pot for boiling 1 cup water (it fits 1.5 cups but these are boys so you want less spilling and they eat smaller amounts.
    6 oz tomato paste can (emptied for pizza) as the burner & ‘pot’ stand
    10″ tall aluminum flashing as windscreen
    Hexamine fuel tablet (~1 Coghlans tablet boils 1 cup water)
    Handkerchief, cloth, glove, pliers, etc as pot holder

    Burner & Stand. Using a church key opener, punch 4 triangles on bottom of tomato paste can, plus 4-6 on top. This focuses flame upward to & around pop can and offer a bit of a standoff from the ground. The can’s bottom holds the solid –> liquified fuel well. Use a long needlenose pliers to hold the can next to where you punch the hole (else can bends too much). Later, you’ll burn the plastic liner outta it.

    Windscreen can be many things, but aluminum flashing seems best cuz its lightweight, easily cut with scissors, leaves few sharp edges, holes punched with cheap paper hole punch, and comes in right size from Lowes, Home Depot. Foil works but tedious to maintain. Galvanized steel (HVAC duct) stronger & cheaper but edges sharp, need tin snips, and hole punched w/ a hammer & punch. Big beer cans then cut apart work, but metal is thin and not quite big enough.

    On bottom of windscreen put many small holes. Roll flashing tight to fit around the pop can — if tighter than can, then cut a 1/8″ notch on top & bottom to keep it open. 10″ is a bit taller than burner & can stacked, but it really keeps the heat in, protects everything when jammed into the pack, and its one less cut to make building it. (Get 10″ tall flashing from Lowes, Home Depot).

    Pot. No changes to pop can (pot, boiling kettle). It fits ok atop stand. Easily replaced if crushed.

    Big Pot Option: A 24 Foster beer can also works fine atop the burner/stand. Leave as is to boil 2-3 cups water (with many tablets) or for more of a pot look, cut the top’s inner ring (inside the lip) by scoring a knife or razor blade inside the little trough around the top ~80 times. After the top separates, press backside of knife around edge to remove sharp stuff. Wash well to remove aluminum shavings.

    Light it! Put water in pop can, put fuel tab in burner, tip burner to ignite tablet with lighter, put pop can atop burner, wrap with windscreen (critical, not too tight, want flames up sides of pop can but not windscreen), watch water boil in few minutes, pour hot water into Ziploc and Cozy Cook (use a cloth or gripper to grab), blow out tab, cool, place all in plastic grocery bag for travel.

    Cautions & Caveats. Despite telling boys many times, several will grab a hot can & git a bit burned. Expect to find aluminum dots from punching holes for years. Its not optimized (like many do here to eke out a few seconds less boil time or drop a gram). This is meant to be a Webelos or Boy Scout stove, simple, cheap, tough, no worries if lost, easily replaced/made by boys.

  4. I would recommend the MSR MicroRocket over the MSR PocketRocket. Its design is much sturdier, it comes with a built in windscreen (good for light breezes), is only 2 oz, and it fits neatly in my .7L pot along with the fuel. And its piezo lighter is very reliable (always carry at least one spare form of ignition). I am a PCT hiker.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Enter daily to win a JetBoil ZIP (and more!) « Bryan on Scouting
  2. Enter daily to win a Coleman InstaStart grill (and more!) « Bryan on Scouting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.