I have had some requests for stove comparison charts. So here it is, but it’s a work in progress, with lots to fill in yet. One chart for hard data and two charts with highly subjective “opinions”.
NOTE: Google sheets doc doesn’t show well in WordPress mobile app (no horizontal scroll)
The subjective ratings are based on all camping stoves I own across all stove types, not just stoves within a given category (For example, heat efficiency will score low for all wood stoves compared to all LPG stoves). Still, it is just my highly subjective opinion, and easily argued against.
(EXCEPTIONS: I don’t own the Biolite or MSR Reactor, though I have used them a fair bit, as those are owned by other authors, pending review. Also, I don’t own and have zero experience with the Multi-Muka, Coleman Sportster, Coleman Fyrestorm SS & Ti, but they are on my “to buy eventually” list as soon as I can get them)
NOTE: Subjective Rating definitions at bottom.
SUBJECTIVE CHART DEFINITIONS:
High Heat Fast Boil: This is really all about BTUs. Well…mostly. Some low BTU stoves do boil water very fast. I add this because many people judge a stove by how fast it boils water, and how high the BTUs are. For me personally, I don’t care about this as much, and am much more concerned with how much fuel is used over time, but for those who care about super high heat or super fast water boils, this shows my subjective experiences.
Simmer/Slow Clooking: Anything that can make the flame simmer will score a 5 or higher. But the score is more than the basics.
- The ability to simmer (throttle down the heat) is the big part of the score.
- The ability for precision control when dialing down that throttle. The more precisely you can set the preferred heat output, the better.
- Consistency of simmer over long periods. Some stoves don’t have a consistent simmer. Some do.
- How long the fuel lasts: Related to volume of fuel and whether it’s a fuel sipper or gulper.
For this reason, the largest fuel tank stoves will have an edge in scoring. For instance, the Liberty has a 2L tank, and can go for several hours non-stop and stays consistent over time. For the same reasons, no LPG stove can ever score a 10 or even a 9. LPG stoves aren’t designed to be on for very long periods of time.
Heat Transfer Efficiency: When transferring heat from the flame to the pot, it’s not all about the BTUs. Some stoves have very high BTUs but are not efficient at transferring that heat to the pot. For instance, an Optimus Omnifuel can kick out 10,500 BTUs of heat, but takes about the same amount of time to boil water as a JetBoil Sol, which kicks out only 4,500 BTUs. The ability to transfer heat to the pot is linked to both getting the most out of limited fuel, which is useful for the number of times you can boil 16 oz of water, and also linked to the ability to simmer.
Fuel Wt to Lasts Long: considers three things.
- Part of it is the fuel itself. White gas burns much more efficiently than alcohol and lasts longer, but burns less efficiently than LPG. Kerosene lasts longer than White gas in most cases. Unleaded burns super hot, but super fast. You’d think the rule of thumb is: the more efficient, the longer it lasts. But this isn’t necessarily true. Diesel burns very inefficiently, but you’d be hard pressed to find a fuel that lasts longer.
- Next up: Perceptively. how long does a stove last with its fuel container for its intended purpose. So a stove designed for boiling water is scored by it’s ability to boil more times on a standard fuel container than other stoves with the same design purpose. And stoves designed for simmering are scored by their ability to make fuel last longer than other simmering stoves.
- The other is tied to the engineering behind each stove. For instance, the MSR Whisperlite lasts significantly longer with kerosene than it does white gas, but the MSR XGK lasts a little less on kerosene than it does white gas. And the Soto Muka, kicking out 15,800 BTUs, can drain a white gas fuel tank almost twice as fast as an Omnilite on the same fuel.
While this section seems similar to heat transfer efficiency, it’s different. Heat transfer efficiency is all about how much heat from the stove gets to the pot. “Fuel Wt to Lasts Long” is about how much fuel gets used up for its intended purpose, in other words, how much fuel do you need to do what you want.
There is math that SHOULD be used here, but this column is about my actual experiences. When I use a stove regularly in its intended usage scenario (e.g. boiling water or simmering long) and the fuel lasts and lasts, it scores high. If it doesn’t….it scores low.
Fast Setup – Boil – Pack: This is really a simple measure that goes end to end: I’m at a camp site or on the trail, and I want to use the stove (for boiling water, heating food, cooking). From the moment I pull out the stove, to the moment I can put it away, how much time do I typically need. Stoves designed for boiling water score high here. Nothing is faster than the JetBoil Titanium Sol. Titanium cools down very fast, and JetBoils overall are designed for fast setup, fast boils, and fast cool downs to pack away quickly. Other compact stoves can be even faster to setup and put away, but they take longer to boil water, or take a long time to cool down. So, really, I’m looking perceptively at the total end to end time here.
Fuel Flexibility is really the only one that is purely data driven: Only 1 type of fuel? The stove scores a 3. Add another type of fuel and the number goes up one. The only stove to get a perfect 10 is the FireBox G2. It burns any bio fuel, hexamine, alcohol, and any liquid fuel (with the advent of a Trangia X2). While I included Jet fuels in the hard data chart, I’m not really counting it when scoring on fuel flexibility since it’s pretty uncommon for most folks to come across it. [Sidebar: Technically, even though the Trangia X2 never mentions it, you CAN use jet fuel in the Trangia X2, as jet fuels are variants of Diesel/Kerosene that burns cleaner and has a lower flash point, not an excessively volatile fuel]. This is why the FireBox G2 scores a perfect 10, even though the Trangia X2 technically doesn’t include jet fuels. Of course, carrying all the options would make it very heavy.
Environment is also pretty simple. It takes into account toxicity in handling, toxicity if spilled, stains or other damage when spilled, toxicity to the air when burned, trash produced (e.g. LPG canisters), and leave no trace-ness (yes, I’m making up words). Alcohol stoves score an automatic 10 here as alcohol (especially denatured alcohol) evaporates quickly, leaves no stains if spilled on clothing, does not damage to food, is safe for the environment compared to other fuels, heck it’s so clean that it can be used as a disinfectant. Most biofuels (like wood) get a 9, as they send particles into the air that are bad for the lungs and are harder to be “leave no trace” but residual leftover coals and ash are not in themselves bad for the environment. They are messier, but safe.
Pot Flexibility: This is tied to both weight capacity and size, where size means the flexibility of using very small cups to very wide diameter pans and pots. The XGK has the strength to hold a 10L pot, but make the pot too wide, and it will topple over. The DragonFly can hold wide pots, but has trouble with small cup sized pots and the wire frame makes it weaker than the XGK. With the Liberty, Butterfly, or British Army Cooker, there is no size limit. The pot stand makes them capable of holding very small cups, and their strength makes them good enough for a heavy cast iron dutch oven. The Vega is designed for really wide pots and pans, so scores higher than the Omnilite. Also JetBoils score lower here. You can get the pot stand for it, but really, doing that negates everything positive about the stove, and it still can’t handle heavier and larger pots and pans.
Quiet = 10. This is also measurable, but again the scoring here is based on perception. Just going by how annoying each stove is at a backpacking camp site. Liquid fuel stoves tend to score very low here, except for the WhisperLite. By the way, though any liquid fuel stove can add a muter/damper/silencer, I’m going just off of the base product without third party add-ons, stoves like the OmniFuel and XGK score very low here. Nothing beats alcohol for silence, so alcohol stoves will score high across the board. Wood can be quiet, but it’s inconsistent.
Winter / High Altitude. This is a tricky one. Some stoves function extremely well in below freezing weather, but not at high altitude. Some stoves function very consistently across a broad range of temperatures and altitudes, but then just stop working at a certain point. And some fuels work better than others.
- The best performing fuel in cold weather and high altitude is Unleaded Gas (though it burns dirty and is toxic to the environment, stains, and is just plain bad for the skin). Kerosene and alcohol can work in the harshest backpacking environments, but also require secondary heat to maintain stove flame. In other words, at -80F, you’re going to want to ensure a secondary heating mechanism for a kerosene stove to function. LPG canisters with a low propane mixture (higher in n-butane and iso-butane) won’t work in cold weather. High propane mixtures will, though the propane means the canister will burn faster.
- Anything designed to burn unleaded fuel super hot and cleanly wins. There are really only two: The Soto Muka and the MSR XGK. Both function so well in below freezing, high altitude conditions, and function so poorly for simmering, that they seem almost custom designed for below freezing, high altitude snow melting. 8
- LPG based stoves typically work well at high altitude. But they perform poorly in cold (unless they can be put in liquid fuel mode….upside down). White Gas can get a little gooey in severe cold, as will kerosene. Alcohol also performs less well at high altitude and extreme cold, however, there is an easy trick for alcohol. Because most alcohol stoves are open flame, pressure is not a concern, so, adding a second flame to help keep the primary stove warm enough to function well is a popular method to keep alcohol going. Note that alcohol does require a significant amount of oxygen to keep going, so at very high altitudes, at Himalayan heights (like 20K feet, there might be problems (I’ve never been that high camping, so what do I know)
Carry-ability: This includes three concepts:
- How much pack space is required
- Whether it fits well in the ideal cookset for the stove’s use
JetBoils are hard to beat. The older models (Sol, Flash, Zip) score higher than newer models because they take less pack space than the JetBoil MiniMo. These are whole cooking systems in a diminutive package that pack away very easily, are incredibly lightweight, and more importantly, get a TON of water boils out of them on a single 3.5 oz gas can. One can could easily last three weekend backpacking trips, more if you only need to boil water 2 or 3 times per trip. Many alcohol systems are much lighter than JetBoils, but, the fuel is so inefficient compared to LPG gas cans that the lighter weight of many of these stoves is negated on, say, a week long trip. Most liquid fuel stoves drop a few points here, even the very light ones like the Omnilite and the Hexon are heavy when compared to a JetBoil Sol, because these liquid fuels stoves have the stove, pump, fuel bottle PLUS a cook set.
Reliability: Stoves are so reliable today, it’s almost pointless to have a listing. A 10 on this chart still means a perfect score.
But….if you really want a comparison to show reliability beyond a “perfectly reliable stove under normal use” score, this column goes up to 20. Some thoughts when considering “above and beyond” levels of reliability, include:
- Likelihood of failures in the field
- Ability to withstand my level of clumsiness, carelessness, and abuse (I’m very very good at breaking things)
- Availability of field maintenance kits
- Ease of repair
- Usability in any environment
A lot of folks would argue with me on my opinions here. For instance, most everyone I’ve spoken to who owns an XGK says it is bombproof and I’ve already received a comment or two that it should score a perfect 20. The US Marines agree, as there is a special version of the XGK that is standard issue for US Marines. That obviously doesn’t include me. I have broken two MSR pumps in the last 4 years (MSR pumps are identical across the three main MSR liquid fuel stoves). The XGK may be built like a tank, but the pump isn’t.
Other great stove comparison sites:
- My favorite stove comparison and guide pages:
- And the source for the above article: https://ujdigispace.uj.ac.za/handle/10210/2560
- Other excellent stove comparison pages
- Other stove guides
- “Best of” lists
- Fuel specific or stove genre specific pages
- Car Camping