MSR Backpack Stoves: Liquid Fuel vs Canister Fuel


Today we’re going to talk about backpacking stoves. Probably the biggest decision that a potential buyer has to make in selecting a backpacking stove is to decide which type of fuel they are interested in using. Second issue that we look at is the versatility of the stove. Versatility, in my mind, is when you can use it and what you can burn in it, and what can you use it for. Canister fuel and liquid fuel stoves alike run based on pressure. You have a pre-pressurized canister with a canister fuel stove. This comes from the factory at about 60psi. so it is a very high pressure system, but temperature and volume of fuel, as this becomes empty, are going to affect the performance of the product. As it gets colder, the pressure is going to drop and as the actual volume of fuel lowers, the pressure is also going to drop. This is going to affect the performance of the stove. Volume and temperature also affect liquid fuel stoves but liquid fuel stoves come with a pump so that you can actually change the pressure. It doesn’t matter how cold it is outside or how much fuel you have in this canister, just pump it a little bit more to increase the pressure and get that stable driving force and you will be able to see that stove operate at a consistent level across many different weather conditions. Another part of versatility is fuel availability and fuel types that you can use. With a canister fuel stove you are pretty much in need of this type of a canister from a number of different vendors. You need to make sure that the thread count is the same so that the stove accurately and precisely screws on so that there is no leakage of fuel. You need to make sure that the fuel that you are getting will work with the stove that you have, but basicly once you do that you can only burn that type of fuel. With a liquid fuel stove, this canister is empty and refillable. If you are traveling in the United States somewhere and you can come across an extra gallon of white gas you can go ahead and fill it and begin to use your stove again. Allot of the different liquid fuel stove types like the WhisperLite International, the DragonFly, the XGK, these will all burn multiple fuels. If you come across kerosene or diesel fuel you can actually use those in this stove without any performance degradation and that is a nice feature or benefit to have if you are travelling those parts of the world. Efficiency is the next thing that you want to consider. Efficiency is really how much fuel are you going to use to boil water or to do the cooking that you are doing. So when we look at efficiency we can look at canister fuel stoves first and recognize that while they are very easy to light, most of them, 2 out of the 3 that I have here, are top mount stoves. What that means is that they sit on top of the fuel canister and as a result if I were going to put a pot on top of this stove, the actual burner assembly would still be exposed to the wind and weather. The downside to that is that even a 5mph. breeze moving calmly across the top of that burner head is going to carry heat away with it. While it carries that heat away it is not being used to boil you water of cook you food. It is a very inefficient use of heat and it effects canister fuel stove significantly more that liquid fuel stoves. As you can see, all of the liquid fuel stoves that we have are all using a detached fuel bottle. The burner is over here and the fuel bottle is over here. What that enables us to do is to bring into play two accessories that really aide significantly in the efficiency of this stove. The first is called a heat reflector. That is going to go on the bottom and it is basically a lightweight foldable piece of foil that is going to go underneath the stove. Then because the canister is remote and separated we can put a windscreen around the stove. Now I can very easily place a pot on top of this stove and have no wind moving across the burner head and therefore very little heat will be lost to the surrounding environment. All of it is going to be jammed right into whatever I am cooking, making the fuel consumption and boil times be a little bit more efficient. You cannot use a wind screen and a heat reflector with a canister fuel stove. If I were to put this around that and put a pot on top, I would be trapping the heat around the fuel canister which could very quickly and easily case that to explode. So absolutely, under no circumstances do you want to put a windscreen around a top mount canister fuel stove and in the end that means that these tend to run much less efficiently than a detaced burner in a liquid fuel. In summary we have liquid fuel and canister fuels that are available for backpacking stoves. Canister fuels tend to be less expensive and much easier to use than their liquid fuel counterparts. However they don’t function well in varieties of weather conditions or as the canister gets empty and they don’t give the ability to use multiple fuels. They are also less efficient because they don’t in most cases allow for the use of a windscreen or heat reflector to make a more efficient system. Conversely, liquid fuel stoves are a little more expensive to start off and they are also a little bit more difficult to use because they require priming and periodic maintenance. However, in all weather conditions they are going to be stabilized and their performance is going to be very similar and they are going to allow for multiple types of fuel usage in many cases.


MSR, backpacking stove, camping stove, canister, liquid fuel