You think politics in America are divisive? Try asking a group of backpackers to pick their favorite stove. The conversation quickly gets heated as people divide into brand-loyal camps. I think of myself as nonpartisan on the issue, so I tested six popular backpacking stove systems this fall that have everything you need to cook a meal in the middle of nowhere (except fuel and water). There’s no clear winner in this bunch. The good news is that every entry on this list is a solid choice—it just depends on your priorities.
MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit ($99)
MSR has fancier stoves, but I refuse to get rid of my PocketRocket, because this featherweight beauty (2.9 ounces) works every time, even after years of use. Thanks to its simple, universal design, I can use the PocketRocket with any cookware, unlike some stoves that require brand-specific add-ons. There’s no autoignition, so bring a lighter or matches. If you’re a solo backpacker looking to shave weight, MSR sells the PocketRocket 2 in a Mini Stove Kit, which is basically just a stove with a pot and a grabber handle (9.9 ounces total). I prefer the PocketRocket kit, which is built for two and features a large pot with a fixed handle, bowls, mugs, and sporks. One thing to watch out for: since this stove doesn’t have a built-in wind guard, a strong breeze can inhibit the flame from whooshing full bore.
Solo Stove Lite and Pot 900 ($70 and $35)
If a speedy boil time is your main priority when choosing a backcountry cooker, then skip the Solo Stove Lite, which is basically a miniature version of the company’s popular fire pit. The tiny stainless-steel can burns twigs and kindling, so it’s not as efficient as a gas stove. I found it took several minutes longer on average to boil water with the Solo Stove Lite, but the obvious benefit is that you don’t have to bring gas. It’s not the best option if you’re backpacking in a wet climate and there isn’t a dry stick in sight, but not having to worry about running out of fuel on a multi-day trip is glorious. By itself the Lite isn’t as backpack friendly as the smaller options in this list, but it nests into the stainless-steel Pot 900 for an easily packable cook system.
BioLite Camp Stove 2 and KettlePot ($130 and $50)
BioLite’s Camp Stove 2 runs on wood fuel, just like the Solo Stove Lite, but the similarities end there. This is what campfires will look like in the future: it has an integrated battery that can charge your phone and that runs its four-speed fan—a feature that lets you control the strength of the flame—which in turn charges the battery via a thermoelectric generator. It weighs two pounds, but remember, you’re carrying a power source, too, so you can snap Instagram pics on day five of your trip. BioLite also makes a slick KettlePot that works with the stove and doubles as a carrier. I dig the heat shield on the bottom of the pot, which nests over the stove to protect the flame from wind.
Snowpeak LiteMax and Trek Titanium 700 Mug ($60 and $45)
Weight watchers, pay attention: Snowpeak’s LiteMax is the lightest stove on this list, coming in at a feathery two ounces. Pair it with the Trek Titanium 700 mug and you have a solo cooking kit that weighs less than seven ounces. A simple wire handle makes it easy to adjust the stove’s output, but like the PocketRocket, there’s no autoignition on the LiteMax. It doesn’t boil water as fast as the PocketRocket, but if shaving weight is your goal, you can’t beat this system. Warning: the mug gets wicked hot, so I’d recommend wearing gloves when handling.
Jetboil MiniMo ($145)
Jetboil redefined backpacking stoves when it introduced the Flash a dozen years ago, and that unit is still the go-to option for a lot of hikers. But I don’t like the tall, skinny nature of the system’s pot, because it makes eating food difficult without long utensils. The company solved this problem with the MiniMo: a wider, shorter pot that still holds a liter of water and boils it in just a few minutes. I also like a couple of recent upgrades to the system. Jetboil ditched its plastic gas knob for a wire handle similar to what’s on the MSR and Snowpeak options, offering better simmer control, and it’s given the pot solid handles instead of the Flash’s nylon grip. Also cool: the stove and pot click together into one apparatus, and the plastic cover that protects the bottom of the system doubles as a bowl.
Primus Lite+ ($115)
You’ll notice that the Lite+ looks a lot like the Jetboil Flash. The inspiration seems undeniable, with this all-in-one system that boils water in just over two minutes, but Primus has given the Lite+ a few cool features that help it stand apart. First, the stove and pot twist together with a comforting snap, and the fit is so secure that you can actually hang this stove to cook (imagine if you’re sleeping in a bivy on the side of a cliff). You can also screw three risers into the top of the stove, allowing you to use it with any pot or kettle, which opens up a world of possibilities beyond Primus cookwear.