This video compares different styles of backpacking stoves, including canister fuel, liquid fuel and solid fuel designs.
When it comes to backpacking stoves for cooking and boiling water, you have a lot of different options. To begin to assess those options, it’s easiest to break them down into a couple of different categories. Liquid fuel stoves run off a remote bottle, for which you control the pressure. Canister fuel stoves sit on top of, or are connected to, a pre-pressurized canister. There are also other fuel-burning options, such as alcohol stoves and stoves that burn a compressed fuel product.
Liquid fuel stoves are some of the most versatile when it comes to cooking, mainly because they run on a variety of fuels and they are not affected by temperature or altitude. These stoves can typically pack down into a pretty small bundle. A lot of them come with a stuff sack or storage case to carry them in. They are a little bit heavier than canister fuel stoves, but for their size, you gain versatility. A lot of liquid fuel stoves employ a collapsible design like the one seen in the video above. All in all, liquid fuel stoves come in a variety of different designs; everything from what is basically a blow torch on its side for just melting snow all the way up to models with a fully controllable flame that you can use for backcountry gourmet cooking. A lot of models are going to settle somewhere in the middle of that range of options. You’ll typically have a bit of flame control for more delicate cooking, as well as a high output capability for boiling water and melting snow.
Canister fuel stoves, on the other hand, are really popular because they fold down nice and tiny and they give you all the functions that you need from a stove for quick and fast, lightweight backpacking trips. They often come in a small case. And the overall design, like the model in the video above, features a couple of wires that fold out for stability from what was a compact little bundle. Assembly is as simple as attaching the stove to the threaded top of a pre-pressurized canister, such as an isobutane canister. (Once you're done using the canister, it will need to be recycled; you can get various amounts of burn time out of a canister depending on the stove and how efficient it is).
The down side to canister fuel stoves is that they are susceptible to pressure loss from temperature and from altitude. Keeping your canister warm as you’re backpacking in cold temperatures can be a challenge. You may have to carry the canister in your jacket pocket as you hike, and possibly tuck it into the bottom of your sleeping bag at night to try to keep that pressure up. Once that pressure is down within the canister, it becomes very difficult to cook because the fuel can’t release as fast into the stove to make a flame.
Other stove options are alcohol, solid tablet or solid fuel stoves. These types of stoves are great because they can weigh next to nothing and fold up extremely small. If you are counting every ounce, these stoves are ideal. You can even make your own alcohol stove, as well. There are guides widely available online and in books to lead you through that process. These stoves run on a denatured alcohol, and they will have a little bit of a slower boiling time in some cases because they are typically less thermally efficient. This problem can be somewhat solved by using a heat reflector, however. As seen in the video above, tablet-style stoves utilize a fuel tablet that you light. The featured model has an integrated cup to make a hot beverage or boil water for a solo meal.