Backpacking in Maine: Tips for Choosing a Backpacking Stove

A group of backpackers cook dinner at a campsite on the Great Circle Trail in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness. Photo by Carey Kish

After a good day on the trails, there’s nothing like settling into a comfortable campsite and enjoying a good hot meal. Cooking over an open fire is a thing of the past, so you’ll need a backpacking stove to make soup and stew in the evening, and the all-important cup of coffee and oatmeal in the morning.

There is a dizzying array of quality backpacking stoves, from canister and built-in canister stoves to liquid fuel stoves to alternative fuel stoves. Within each of these categories there are a range of specifications to consider, such as how long the fuel will last, how fast water can boil, total weight, convenience of use and ease of use. field maintenance.

Other factors will influence your choice of stove. Going on long-distance hikes or taking overnight or weekend trips? Will you simply boil water for your meals or do you prefer more elaborate cooking? Do you plan to hike in cold seasons or in winter? Is your budget a decisive issue? Are you hiking alone or in a group?


Isobutane-propane canister stoves own the bulk of today’s backpacking market, and it’s easy to see why. Just screw the canister onto the stove, turn on and start cooking. They are compact and lightweight, and the adjustable flame allows for good simmering control. Look for a model with an auto-igniter. The self-sealing canister prevents messy fuel leaks.

Without a screen, canister stoves are less efficient when used in the wind. The pot holder is often narrow so beware of the tippy pot. Ounce for ounce, canister fuel is more expensive than liquid fuels. Calculating how much fuel is left in the canister can be tricky, so it’s best to have a spare. Most outdoor stores recycle empty cans, but you can also buy a punch tool to get rid of them yourself.


These stoves are very fuel efficient with a heat exchanger and draft shield built right into the base of the pot, which securely locks onto the burner. One cartridge goes a long way, making them popular with ultralights and backpackers. These pans are great for boiling water super fast, but not so great for making anything other than freeze-dried meals and instant foods like potatoes and ramen. Some newer models have better simmer control. The coupled unit has a higher profile than most stoves, so tipping is an issue.


Most liquid fuel stoves run on white gas, although some models are multi-fuel and can use kerosene and diesel, good alternatives when backpacking abroad. A refillable fuel bottle is attached to the burner via the fuel line. The bottle must then be pumped to create pressure to move the fuel through the line. Priming is required to convert liquid gas to vapour; this involves leaving a few drops of fuel in the burner cup and lighting it to preheat the fuel line. When fired up, these stoves roar like a small jet engine.

Long the standard bearer of backpacking, liquid fuel stoves are still a solid option for larger groups, more involved cooking, and especially for use in cold weather. These stoves are discreet and therefore very stable. Regular maintenance, such as cleaning the nozzle and replacing the O-rings, is necessary for optimal performance. Liquid fuels are smelly and any spills or leaks can be unpleasant. Proper handling is therefore essential. It’s easy to determine your fuel level and there are no empty canisters to manage.


Denatured alcohol stoves are simple, light, quiet, and fuel is inexpensive. The big downside is that it takes a long time to boil a liter of water because alcohol doesn’t burn as hot as white gas. A windshield is a necessity. Wood stoves run on small twigs, so your fuel source is readily available except in wet weather. A battery-operated fan fans the flames. Solid fuel stoves are small, light and cheap, but slow to boil.

Seasoned Safety Advice: Never cook inside your tent. Besides the carbon monoxide problem, it’s a looming disaster in many ways. When cooking, give it your full attention. Burns from spilled pans and pots are all too common injuries on the trail.

Mount Desert Island’s Carey Kish is an avid hiker and freelance writer. His latest book, “Beer Hiking New England”, will be available later this year. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram @careykish

Use the form below to reset your password. After you submit your account email, we’ll send you an email with a reset code.

Comments are closed.