Lightweight stoves for cold weather backpacking


Well-Known Member
Sep 15, 2012
Mojave Desert, Nevada
Any backpacker taking a trip designed to last more than 3 days needs to think seriously not only about stove weight but fuel weight.

Stove/Fuel Options:

1. Inverted canister-> Inverted canister stoves are good to well below freezing B/C the fuel the comes down the line is liquid (yes) that gets vaporized in the fuel tube loop near the burner before going into the burner. In any case you should warm up the canister a bit before using and a neoprene "cozy" around the canister is a good idea too.
Upright canisters are not so great at 32 F. And, of course, empty canisters must be carried out. Just saying'...

2. White gas/Kerosene-> These stoves will work at any cold temps you are silly enough to brave. They are ultra reliable in the cold.
You can get BOTH of these stove in one - the MSR Whisperlite Universal. Just change the burner jet to the proper fuel. Plus this stove is very stable with a low sitting burner and the fuel supply off to one side, connected by a flexible stainless steel braided fuel line. Scandinavians make the other good liquid fuel stoves.

3. Gassifier wood stoves-> This is a particular kind of stove that has an internal perforated "sleeve" to recirculate unburned gasses given off in initial combustion. The best known are the Canadian Bush Buddy and the American Tri Ti and Sidewinder W/ Inferno sleeve insert. The Tri Ti and Sidewinder/Inferno are made of titanium sheet and can be rolled up to a small package. They are lighter and far less bulky than the Stainless Steel Bush Buddy and more efficient in transferring heat to the pot. Plus the Tri Ti and Sidewinder can also burn ESBIT tablets or alcohol if constant rain makes dry wood totally unavailable.

**The Whisperlite liquid fuel (gas or kerosene) setup is the most reliable for winter but you must carry enough fuel and have the proper jet installed for the fuel you choose. Jets come with the stove, BTW.

**The Bush Buddy, Tri ti and Sidewinder/Inferno relieve you of carrying fuel. All you need to carry is tinder such as cotton balls coated with Vaseline carried in a ZipLoc bag. Of course that's IF there is dry, dead wood available where you will camp.
->These stoves use finger-size sticks which are usually easy to find and require no axe or saw. The Tri-Ti and Sidewinder stoves can accommodate larger sticks than the Bush Buddy and you can leave them for 5 minutes to do something else. The B.B stove needs fuel about every minute unless you get lucky and find oak or other good hardwood sticks.

There are other good cold weather stoves out there of the types I've described but after years of backpacking I've boiled them down to the ones mentioned. All work well in the wind (MSR stove with the included roll-up wind screen) the wood burners are designed with "built-in" wind screens.

I'll be happy to entertain questions on this topic.

Eric B.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that in winter with any stove I use I have a 2 qt. JETBOIL pot with fins on the bottom outer 1" to absorb more heat from the burner/fire. This saves fuel, especially important if you must carry your fuel.
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Interesting subject, I've been looking for a little stove but have not been able to decide, I need light weight because the lighter the more miles my ankle will handle. I've really been leaning to some kindest of wood stove because I'm never far from timber and would likely shelter in timber and I hate packing fuel! One odd thing that I still like to do is use a flint and steel for fire starting, guess I feel like it ties me to previous generations and a dieing skill set.
How about a good recommendation for a minimal cook set?

You sound like a good candidate for either the Trail Designs Tri Ti or the smaller Sidewinder since, like me, you dislike carrying fuel.

I have the Sidewinder made to fit a 3 cup aluminum pot. This 3 cup size is perfect for solo camping. All Trail Designs Caldera Cone type stoves are made to fit ONE particular sized pot for maximum efficiency when it fits down inside the top of the cone. So when you buy the stove be sure to also get the matching pot & lid.

Yes, you can set a larger pot on top of the stove as I sometimes do to melt snow but it will be less efficient than a pot set down inside the cone.

Also you may want to carry a non-stick "one egg" aluminum skillet for making freeze-dried omelettes, pancakes and sausage (yes, in cold weather only). I've cut the handle off mine and use the aluminum pot grippers that I use for the 3 cup pot. Try to get the largest "one egg" skillet that will fit inside the top of your stove. Also buy a tiny spatula at a backpacking store.

To burn wood it really helps to buy the optional Inferno insert for either of the Trail Designs titanium cone stoves. This insert helps burn the gasses given of in the initial combustion and makes the stove much hotter. Well worth the tiny bit of extra weight, especially if you have to melt snow for water.

For cooking with ESBIT I've found the making a small foil tray that just fits inside the "Gram Cracker" tablet holder will almost double your tablet burn time, saving fuel and requiring you to carry less fuel. This little tray holds the liquid residue given off when the tablet burns and lets that liquid also burn instead of dripping down onto the metal ground sheet.

I've done a 6 day Grand Canyon backpack using only ESBIT tablets to cook, and that includes cooking spaghetti and frying omelettes. Wood fires were prohibited at the time.

BTW, the MSR Whisperlite Universal stove can use inverted iso-butane canisters, white gas or kerosene. It comes with everything you need to use those three fuels. It's an amazing stove and the only one like it. MSR stoves are bomb-proof.

Eric B.
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Alcohol Stove (bud light aluminum bottle): search YouTube for variations on making your own. I made mine out of Coors Light, time to boil water is similar to gas range. Can you say light weight? For longer trips (week or more) fuel weight can negate any weight savings on stove.

Alcohol's heavier weight after 3 days is why I use ESBIT in my Sidewinder cone stove for longer trips. Plus the Sidewinder is made of titanium sheet and I can use wood in an emergency if necessary.

That Sidewinder ti stove, ESBIT tablets and a DIY tablet tray in the factory holder make it THE most efficient ESBIT stove made. And yes, ESBIT really burns a bit hotter than alcohol. Messier on the pot bottom but that's the trade-off for lighter fuel.

Eric B.
It was my understanding that the esbit tablet is slower, sootier , generates wrapper trash and the fuel tabs are not everywhere. Also, cost about a buck for just one tablet.

My coors can stove boils a liter of water almost as fast as my MSR wind burner. You can find alcohol at any liquor, pharmacy, home improvement or auto parts store. Fuel is cheaper. As you can see by the soot on my pot, I can always burn wood even without a stove. All that said, the stove does have flaws. You can't turn it off and wind takes a little creativity. Also, you can tip it over and spill flames.

I have had many stoves over the years and have cooked at fairly high altitudes. One of my old favorites is an old MSR XGK multi fuel. I could always find gasoline no matter what country I was in. That thing would boil at any elevation or temperature also. I still have one of these and it works after 30 years and hundreds of uses.

My new favorite is the MSR windburner. When you get to 4-5 days duration or more, this stove is more efficient than the alcohol stove. The convenience of being able to turn it off and no fuss use in wind is a huge plus. In the morning when you are in a hurry and it's cold, you can literally make a cup of coffee in two minutes no matter the weather.

Attached some photos of the best alcohol stove I have ever used. On the pot is some home made dehydrated lentil/turkey stew my cousin made from a 4-day backpack hunt we did in 2016.


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Your alcohol burner would work far better in a Caldera Cone. Get the Sidewinder or larger Tri-Ti titanium cones if you also want to use them for wood. Wind is no problem with these cones which protect the burner.

It's well proven that Caldera Cones from Trail Designs are the most efficient alky, ESBIT and wood stoves going.

For maximum heat with wood get the optional Inferno insert to make it a true "gassifier"
wood stove that burns the initial gasses given off.

I understand that most alcohol stove users like the yellow bottle version of HEET alcohol which is usually found at gas stations and auto supply stores.

Eric B.
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I'll put in a vote for Omni-fuel.. very light, and can use all types of fuel from kerosine to gasoline to white gas to isobutane. Personally like the isobutane which works excellent, then colder weather you should switch to white gas/coleman (takes a bit of prep but still good).

Who makes Omni-Fuel?

Mt MSR is also "omni" for canister, white gas or kerosene, depending on the jet used.

And my Trail Designs titanium Sidewinder Caldera Cone roll-up stove is kinda "omni" too B/C it can use alcohol, ESBIT fuel tablets or wood.

Eric B.
Eric - Primus makes the omni-fuel, a little pricey but worth it if youre serious, imho! Its titanium with brass fittings. The isobutane canisters work best by Primus also. If I do winter camping where it gets down to 25 or lower I switch to white gas. It burns loud but it will get your water boiling inside 2-3 minutes. --Cheers!
The MSR Whisperlite Universal stove can use inverted iso-butane canisters, white gas or kerosene. It comes with everything you need to use those three fuels. It's an amazing stove and the only one like it. MSR stoves are bomb-proof.

I second that. I've spent many years running many types of fuels through the Whisperlite series in a variety of environments. Their history of running trouble-free through any temperature goes a long way. As does their ability to run on anything from white gas to siphoned Humvee diesel to CH-53 fuel samples is also a plus!
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MSR stoves are rock solid, I carried a MSR Multi Fuel through Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom and it truly burned every fuel I used and never let me down. Currently I've switched over to using a JetBoil for the convenience of carrying less weight in fuel. I also believe the JetBoil is more fuel efficient based on fuel weight needed to boil time. If I'm doing a 4 to 7 day hunt or if I'm hunting alone I also carry my solo stove mini with their pot. Solo Stove makes another great stove system which of course uses sticks wood chips and pinecones as its fuel. Add a petroleum soaked cotton ball into the stove and even wet fuel sources will burn for cooking or for melting snow and ice for drinking water. Another benefit in caring my solo is keeping an open fire source at night. It can take the edge off of a cold night, help dry clothing and even be used as a signal source if you get into trouble.
Best cold weather stove I've used is the MSR Reactor.

Amazing boil times and extremely fuel efficient. It's like a Jetboil on steroids and is much less affected by wind than the Jetboil.
In really really cold temps, where butane canisters start to become less efficient, I put the gas canister in my coat to warm it up a bit, then I warm up an inch of water in a (1.4 ounce) titanium bowl (not hot, just warm.) Set the canister in the bowl of warm water, and it works very well. Have used this in temps well below zero.

When hunting, I don't generally like to use wood burning stoves. I try to keep my scent signature at a minimum and figure that wood smoke is a sign of humans. (I tend to hunt where I camp.) So, butane stoves are my preference.

However, when backpacking, I do like to use wood burning stoves. Have tried the Bush Buddy (hated it) and the Ti-Tri Sidewinder (really like it) but my current favorite wood/alcohol burning stove is the Backcountry Boiler. It's easily the most efficient wood burning stove I've used, and it serves double duty as a water container/canteen. Not good for more than a couple of people, but I'm usually solo anyway, so it's perfect for my needs.

There's a review of it here: Stove Reviews | Mediocre Mountaineering
I bought an Optimus Vega and like it. It is a bit bulkier than some, but it is set up so the isobutane can be inverted in cold weather and it will support larger pots as well. It came with a wind screen that works well as long as your fry pan doesn't cover the whole top (in which case it burns more O2 than the windscreen lets in and kills itself...). I pair it with a Halulite Microdualist kit and if I think I might be catching fish I have an 8" MSR frypan. The system works well for me, even during the Idaho winter.
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