Few earthly pleasures can match a hearty hot meal after a long day of bikepacking. But when you consider all the constraints of a bikepacking trip — lightweight and compact gear, finding fuel in remote places, your preferred menu and method of cooking — choosing a bikepacking stove can seem like quite the conundrum. The best stove for you specifically depends on where you ride, what you like to eat, how much gear you’re willing to carry, your budget, and more.
In this post I’ll walk you through each type of bikepacking stove to consider, its pros and cons, what style of bikepacking it’s best for, and the most popular models on the market. I’ve used several of these stoves during nearly 20,000 miles of bike travel on six continents, and I’ve included a few additional options based on reputation alone to give you a full balanced picture. Let’s get cooking!
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Types of Bikepacking Stoves
If you bikepack in the United States, a simple backpacking stove — the kind that works with canisters of pressurized isobutane, butane, or propane blends — is the most obvious choice. Canister stoves are small and light, affordable, and take gas canisters readily available in outdoor gear stores and some hardware stores throughout the US. They’re a flexible approach that can pair with different cookware for different types of trips (solo or group, ultralight or gourmet, etc).
The most significant benefit of canister stoves compared to some of the others I’ll cover below: convenience. You won’t fully appreciate the dead-simple setup of a canister stove until you try a liquid fuel stove! Canister stoves are very safe, quick to light, and totally mess-free.
My first backpacking stove was a little canister stove from Amazon, and it’s still going strong ten years later. I sometimes still use it for bikepacking, particularly on solo trips with a minimalist gear list where I cook directly in my little titanium mug.
Pros of canister stoves:
- Small and light
- Very easy to use
- No mess
- Fairly efficient at cooking
- Good flame control for both boiling water and cooking fresh food
- Works with a wide range of pots and pans
- Very safe, can be used even when other types of stoves are banned due to fire risk
Cons of canister stoves:
- Fuel canisters can be hard to find in rural areas, and impossible to find in many countries around the world.
- Canisters are bulky and heavy, especially if you need to carry multiple for a long trip.
- Can be hard to know how much fuel is left in the canister.
- Poor performance in windy conditions; cannot be used with a full windscreen since a canister that overheats can explode.
- Poor performance below freezing (and complete failure below ~10 degrees F)
- Can be tippy when paired with a larger pot for a group of 3+ people.
- Canisters are hard to refill and dispose of properly, and the empties create waste.
Canister stoves are great for: bikepackers and tourers who ride mainly in the US and Europe (and a few other countries – research the specifics), prioritize lightweight and streamlined gear, don’t like to fuss around at mealtime, and/or have a small budget.
Canister stove examples:
Note for international travel: If you plan to bikepack or tour abroad, research your destination carefully. Canisters and stoves in the US use the threaded Lindal valve standard, which isn’t compatible with other international standards. As I recently learned in Morocco and Europe, some regions have their own style of canister (like the Campingaz Easy Clic Plus) that won’t be compatible with your US stove. If this is of interest to you, see Remote Canister Stoves below and read up on valve adapters.
Integrated Canister Stove Systems
Integrated stove and pot systems are a sub-type of canister stoves and use the same type of fuel. They use a combined stove + pot design with heat exchanger ring and wind screen to maximize heating efficiency. This allows them boil water faster than any other type of stove and use less fuel in the process. Some models are just for boiling water and don’t have an adjustable flame, while others offer simmer control so you can cook real food on occasion.
JetBoil is the best-known maker of integrated canister stoves, though MSR and Fire Maple offer some competition. I love my JetBoil MicroMo so much that I even bought a second one when the first was confiscated by an overeager TSA employee. I’ve used it for many thousands of miles on both solo bikepacking trips and with my partner when we travel together; the 0.8 liter pot capacity is just large enough to share.
Pros of integrated stove systems:
- Super fast and efficient at boiling water so you can prepare meals quickly and don’t need to carry as much fuel
- Easy and simple to use
- Better than standard canister stove for windy and chilly conditions thanks to integrated windscreen
Cons of integrated stove systems:
- Integrated pot is less flexible and doesn’t allow for switching up your cookware to suit different group sizes or cooking styles.
- Some models don’t have flame control for simmering, so they’re only good for boiling water
- May be slightly heavier than traditional canister stove, but when you take into account the integrated pot it’s a small difference.
- Not ideal for cooking more complex meals due to integrated pot (can’t use with a frying pan for example)
- All the other cons of canister stoves in general (see above)
Integrated stoves are great for: bikepackers who mostly ride in the US, usually cook by simply boiling water, want to stretch their fuel canister supply as far as possible, and want dinner ready as quickly as possible
Integrated stove examples:
- JetBoil MicroMo ($148, 12 oz): Flexible system that boils water super fast and also has flame control for light cooking
- MSR WindBurner ($190, 15.5 oz): MSR’s answer to JetBoil, more expensive and heavier
- Fire-Maple Fixed Star 1 ($57, 18 oz): Budget alternative, on the heavy side but reviewers seem to like it
Remote Burner Canister Stoves
Yet another sub-type of canister stove, a remote-burner canister stove attaches to the canister via a flexible fuel hose instead of screwing directly onto the top. This offers some benefits of a multi-fuel stove (see next section) without the hassle. It’s almost like a liquid multi-fuel stove that only runs on canisters. Crucially though, with an adapter it can be used with several types of canisters instead of being limited to the US-style Lindal valve.
This type of stove has several important advantages over a regular canister stove for certain types of bikepacking:
- When paired with an adapter, can be used with other types of fuel canisters such as butane and propane, improving your odds of a hot meal in rural areas and other countries. Read more about canister types here and adapters here.
- Can be safely used with larger pots, important when cooking for a group of 3+ people where a standard canister stove would be too tippy.
- Some models (MSR WindPro) are designed for use with an inverted canister, improving cold weather and low fuel performance.
- All remote canister stoves can be used with a windscreen for better performance in windy conditions, unlike standard canister stoves where a windscreen is dangerous (can overheat the canister and cause it to explode)
Though these benefits mitigate many of the standard canister stove cons, a few drawbacks remain:
- Heavier than typical canister stoves
- Generally lower efficiency than typical canister stoves
- Still requires some type of canister, which may be impossible to find in some developing countries
- Canisters are bulky, it’s hard to see how much fuel is left, and empties are hard to dispose of and create waste
I haven’t used a remote canister stove for bikepacking, but after a recent trip in Morocco and Europe I wish I had. We bought two different local canister stoves there after failed adventures in finding suitable fuel. In hindsight a remote burner stove and valve adapter would have solved all our problems.
Remote canister stoves are great for: people who bikepack in the US as well as abroad, especially in more developed areas like Europe; people who bikepack in cold and windy conditions; people who want a little more flexibility than a regular canister stove without the hassle of a liquid fuel stove.
Examples of remote canister stoves:
- GSI Outdoors Pinnacle ($82, 7.1 oz)
- MSR WindPro II ($135, 6.6 oz)
- Soto Fusion Trek ($95, 6.4 oz)
- Camping Moon Winter Stove ($40, 14 oz)
- Cheap Amazon Stove w/ Adapters ($26, 14.4 oz)
Tip: Look for a pre-heat tube (a loop of metal tubing between the fuel line and the burner) to indicate that a remote burner stove is designed for winter conditions and intended to be used with an inverted canister. The MSR, GSI, and Camping Moon stoves above have this feature.
Liquid Multifuel Stoves
The most hardcore international bike travelers generally choose multifuel stoves for their ability to burn a variety of liquid fuels including white gas, kerosene, diesel, and unleaded gasoline (but NOT alcohol). This is critical in places where gas canisters are nowhere to be found, like much of the developing world, or in sub-freezing conditions where canisters don’t work.
To use a liquid fuel stove you connect a fuel bottle, which you pressurize with a pump, to the stove burner via a fuel line. The stove needs to be primed before cooking, which adds a minute or two of prep time. Periodic maintenance is needed to prevent clogging, especially when burning dirty fuels. Perhaps the biggest challenge compared to canister stoves is dealing directly with a bottle of flammable liquid. Extra care is needed to avoid spills and to keep everything clean and safe.
I was excited to recently acquire my very own multifuel stove, an MSR WhisperLite International, for a bikepacking trip in Morocco and other theoretical future trips. I quickly learned that liquid fuel stoves are fussier and less convenient than canister stoves, some liquid fuels work better than others, and finding the fuel you want in an unfamiliar country with a language barrier can be quite the challenge. White gas is preferred for its clean burn and easy priming, but if you get stuck with diesel you may prefer to just cold soak your food!
Pros of liquid multifuel stoves:
- Can burn a variety of fuels, including the only ones you might find in remote developing places (like kerosene, gasoline, and diesel)
- Stable with larger pots and pans, good for groups or complex meals
- Reusable fuel bottle reduces waste compared to canister stoves
- Good flame adjustment for simmering and elaborate cooking
- Can be used with a windscreen for better performance in blustery weather
- Perform well in below-freezing temperatures and at very high altitude
Cons of liquid multifuel stoves:
- Heavier and bulkier than other options
- Messier than canister stoves; you’ll be dealing with a bottle of smelly flammable liquid
- Take a bit more time to set up and prime, and there’s a learning curve to operate.
- Some pot stands are too big for small ultralight pots
- Clean-burning fuels aren’t available everywhere, so you may be stuck burning dirty fuels that clog the stove and coat cookware with soot.
- Fuels have different names in different countries, and finding what you want isn’t always straightforward.
- Not as stealthy as a quiet canister stove; larger flame and louder noise.
- Prone to clogging, need periodic cleaning and sometimes repair with a spare parts kit.
Liquid multifuel stoves are great for: long-term international bike travel through many countries, especially developing areas like rural parts of Africa and Asia; sub-freezing winter conditions; more elaborate cooking and larger group sizes
Liquid multifuel stove examples:
Alcohol stoves are a favorite of the fast-and-light backpacking crowd, but they can work well for bikepacking too. Despite the term “liquid fuel stoves,” multifuel stoves like the MSR International can’t actually burn alcohol, and alcohol stoves can’t burn the types of liquid fuel that multifuel stoves can. An alcohol stove can burn fuels like HEET / methanol, denatured alcohol, Everclear, grain alcohol, and even rubbing alcohol / isopropyl alcohol in a pinch.
An alcohol stove is a simple creation, basically a vessel to hold the fuel (which you fill from your reusable fuel bottle), a pot stand, and ideally a wind screen. You can even make your own simple alcohol stove from a cat food or soda can, but some fancier versions offer features like a wick and flame control.
While traveling, finding fuel for an alcohol stove poses a similar challenge to multifuel stoves. You need to know what kinds of alcohol you can burn and what they’re called in the local vernacular. Try shopping around at hardware stores, home goods stores, auto parts stores, and pharmacies.
Pros of alcohol stoves:
- Small and light
- Simple and reliable; few parts to maintain or fix
- Affordable, especially if you make it yourself
- Nearly silent
- Reusable fuel bottle reduces waste compared to canister stoves
Cons of alcohol stoves:
- Not the most efficient or quick to boil water; best for solo use
- May be disallowed by fire bans if they don’t have a shutoff valve
- There’s a learning curve to operate safely
- A bit messy as you’re dealing with liquid (but better than white gas, diesel, etc. in case of a spill)
- A fire hazard if spilled or tipped over, which is more or less of a risk depending on the model
- Can be tricky to find the right kind of fuel in unfamiliar countries
Alcohol stoves are great for: ultralight solo bikepackers, minimalist international tourers who need fuel flexibility without the added weight and complexity of a multi-fuel stove
Alcohol stove examples:
- Trangia Spirit Burner ($28, 3.8 oz) – requires separate pot stand
- Redcamp Mini Alcohol Stove ($20, 5 oz)
- DIY from cat food or soda can
Solid Fuel (Esbit) Stoves
Solid fuel stoves, of which Esbit is the best-known brand, are only suited to a few specialized use cases. They’re not very efficient and the fuel is hard to resupply, so they’re best for a short trip or as an emergency backup. If you’re riding solo and only expect to use your stove once or twice, you can’t beat the weight savings of a tiny Esbit stove and a couple fuel tablets.
I’ve experimented with my solid fuel stove on short, solo, lightweight bikepacking trips with daily resupply opportunities. The goal was to eat mostly pre-cooked food from town but still have hot coffee at camp in the morning, and perhaps a lukewarm ramen dinner if nothing better could be found. They work well for this purpose, but I would never suggest choosing a solid fuel stove as your first and only bikepacking stove.
Pros of solid fuel stoves:
- Extremely small and light; mine weighs 0.4 oz!
Cons of solid fuel stoves:
- Fuel is bulky, especially for a longer trip
- Fuel is very hard to find
- Like alcohol stoves, can be banned in high fire risk areas for lack of shutoff valve
- Doesn’t produce much heat, bad for groups or complex cooking
- Leaves residue on cookware
Solid fuel stoves are great for: solo ultralight bikepackers on 1-3 night trips with frequent resupply; eating a mostly no-cook menu (see below) but still enjoying hot coffee in the morning
Solid fuel stove examples:
Wood burning stoves like this one from Toaks are a related concept with similar pros and cons. Instead of carrying solid fuel tablets, the idea is that you find natural fuel as you go. It’s an appealingly simple idea but I don’t recommend it for a first bikepacking stove. Finding natural fuel isn’t always possible or compatible with Leave No Trace, and the cooking process can be fiddly.
Random Local Stove
Though not the option I’d recommend to most bikepackers, if you have a specific destination in mind you might consider buying whatever type of stove is common there (if any). In Europe, for example, you can easily find gas canisters but they’re not compatible with US-style Lindal valve stoves. For a trip in Europe you could buy an Easy Clic stove like picture #1 below when you arrive, well worth the cost for the convenience of a canister stove.
In other places around the world you can only find a bulkier type of canister stove that works with pierceable canisters (see picture #2 below). As I recently learned in Morocco, this style of stove is actually feasible to bikepack with since the canister is protected and held securely in place. It’s cheap, easier to use than a liquid fuel stove, and only slightly bulkier (fits in a fork cage and dry bag).
If you’re touring in populated areas or bikepacking long daily mileages, you might choose to go without a stove entirely. You’ll save weight and space by ditching the stove and fuel, but you’ll have to eat something and fresh food is heavier than dehydrated meals, so often it’s a wash.
I sometimes leave the stove at home on short minimalist trips in the US, especially in warm weather. Bikepacking races are always stove-free affairs for me. I carry sandwiches and microwave burritos out of town for my dinners, or potentially a can of cold chili or ravioli. In a pinch it’s easy to cold-soak ramen noodles in under 30 minutes. Breakfasts can be protein bars or pastries, and lunch is a standard tortilla + cheese + avocado or salami. Hot coffee is the indulgence I miss most, but instant coffee dissolves in cold water too.
Questions to Ask Yourself
When choosing a stove for bikepacking, think through your answers to these questions.
Where might you want to use it and what fuel is available there? Since you can’t fly with fuel you’ll need to get it wherever you ride and resupply as you go. Research what types are available in the places you dream of riding (and what the locals call them).
Do you “cook” by adding hot water to dried ingredients or do you want to fry up some eggs, cook burger patties, etc? For the latter you’ll want a really good flame control so you can simmer and not burn your food, and a non-integrated system so you can swap out cookware.
How many people will you be cooking for? Canister (especially remote burner) and multifuel stoves work best for larger meals, while alcohol and solid fuel stoves work best for solo bikepackers.
How much do you care about weight and bulk? If you don’t mind trading the convenience of canisters for a lighter and smaller setup, for example, an alcohol stove might be right for you.
Do you plan to ride in areas with high fire risk? If so, avoid alcohol and solid fuel stoves without shutoff valves as they may be banned.
Do you need your stove to work well in cold weather, like down into the 20’s F and below? A liquid multi-fuel stove, though heavy and fussy, is your best option.
My fellow bikepackers, what’s your favorite kind of stove? What’s worked well and what hasn’t? Leave your stove stories below in the comments!
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