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How to Choose a Backpacking Stove: A Comparison Between the Top Stoves

Backpacking stoves are a must-have piece of gear for hiking and exploring. But, there’s a wealth of options on the market today, all of which promise full capabilities at a range of environments and conditions. So, we decided to put them to the test. We took three of our most popular backpacking stoves and tested their capabilities at both 11,300 ft and 5,800 ft of elevation.

The Stoves

  • Jetboil Flash Cooking System - This versatile cooking system optimizes efficiency, speed, and precision. It claims to boil water in just 100 seconds.
  • Optimus Crux With HE Weekend Cook System - This compact, versatile stove and cookware combo includes a saucepan, frypan, mesh storage bag, and a neoprene sleeve.
  • MSR WindBurner® Duo - This modular stove system offers ultra-efficient performance in a lightweight, minimal package.

The Test

For each stove, we used the fuel canister that was produced and suggested by the respective stove’s manufacturer. Before using the stove, we measured each canister’s fuel level with the Jetboil fuel gauge. We then turned on the stoves and timed how long it took to boil 800 ml of water. Once the water was boiled, we turned off the stoves and used the Jetboil fuel gauge to re-measure the amount of fuel left in each canister.

11,300 ft

At this altitude, the MSR lit fairly quickly, but it was difficult to get the Optimus and the Jetboil to light. This meant that the Jetboil started about a minute behind the MSR. Once lit, the race began.

At 2m:38s, the MSR was at a full boil. At the 3m:43s, the Jetboil was at a boil, but it was lit about a minute after the MSR. This means both of these took about the same amount of time to boil 800 ml of water. Meanwhile, the Optimus did not reach a boil after ten minutes, so we allowed it to gracefully bow out of the race.

After testing, we re-weighed each canister to check how much fuel had been used. The Jetboil still had 93% of its fuel, the Optimus had 95%, and the MSR was surprisingly still reading at 100%.

All-in-all, the MSR WindBurner® Duo seemed to perform the best in this extreme environment. It’s worth noting, though, that most users are unlikely to utilize the burners at this altitude.

5,800 ft

At 5,800 ft, we found that the fuel capacity readings had changed. This was likely due to the difference in pressure at the two altitudes. The Jetboil and MSR both read 100%, while the Optimus now showed 98%.

At this decreased altitude, it was much easier to get all of these stoves lit. This was due to decreased wind and increased oxygen levels.

In these conditions, all of the stoves were much more effective. The Jetboil came to a rolling boil at 2m13s. The MSR boiled at 3m19s, and the Optimus was boiling at 4m15s.

After our testing the Optimus was at 87% fuel, the Jetboil was at 90% fuel, and the MSR was surprisingly still at 100% capacity. By far, the MSR proved to be the most efficient option.

So Who Wins?

Well, despite the results, it’s hard to pick just one ‘winner’ outright. While one may have boiled more quickly or used less fuel, each stove comes with its own unique set of features and capabilities. Depending on the individual user’s needs, any of these three models might be seen as the ‘best’.

MSR WindBurner® Duo

This two-person stove features a 2-quart pot and a radiant-heat 7000 BTU burner. It comes with a pot sleeve, which ensures that users don’t burn their hands during use. It also has a freestanding base, so users aren’t required to stand the fuel directly underneath the stove’s flame. The pot also features standard and metric unit measuring marks on its interior.

Because of the radiant burner, it is susceptible to rust. If water regularly boils over and leaks onto the burner, it will cause rust over the life of the burner. The burner also lacks a windscreen, and it can only be used with MSR cookware. However, MSR cookware is available in a wide variety of different pots and cups.

Jetboil Flash

The Jetboil Flash is a compact camp stove which has a 2-cup capacity, intended only for use by one person. Despite its powerful 9000 BTU burner, the Jetboil Flash is lightweight and portable. It also features a self-lighting burner, although this feature did not work in our 11,000ft elevation test. The robust pot sleeve features a visual heat indicator that changes color when the Jetboil Flash is up to temperature.

The pot did not seat easily on the burner -- it required that users properly align a set of divets, and then rotate to ‘lock’ the pot into place. The Jetboil Flash also only works with a Jetboil brand pot, although pot adapters are available.

Optimus Crux With HE Weekend Cook System

This backpacking stove features a 1-quart capacity with a powerful 12000 BTU burner, making it the most powerful stove we tested. It comes with two pots - one large and one small - which gives the Optimus Crux slightly more versatility right out of the box. It can also be used with other pans and pots without the need for adapters. The stove itself collapses to be a portable, compact solution that fits in a small neoprene bag. The pot also features clear measuring marks.

The Optimus does not feature a built-in igniter, and there is no pot sleeve included. It also does not come with any type of strainer or top for the pot, making it a little less user-friendly.

All in All

In fairness, all three of these stoves struggled at 11,000 ft. That type of elevation is extremely demanding, and so each stove really excelled in its own way at the more modest 5,800 ft altitude test. Each stove is purpose-built for its own unique applications, and we suggest that buyers consider what their needs are before making a purchase decision. They are all extremely high-quality pieces of equipment that will satisfy the needs of many different outdoor enthusiasts.