Best Backpacking Stove for a Bug Out Bag
Finding the best backpacking stove to put in your bug out bag is no small challenge as the range of options is large and models can vary greatly in size, price, and function. Over the years I have tested several popular models of backpacking stoves, so I thought I'd write a review on my experience and thoughts of the various models I have used.
One thing you quickly learn about using backpacking stoves is that the wind is not your friend, and the Sterno Stove's sidewalls provide a nice wide break for your fuel source. Speaking of fuel as the name implies this stove is designed for use with Sterno cooking fuel, but can be used with most other fuel sources with a little creativity; and can even be used with wood should other fuels run out. The Sterno stove also has a large and stable cooking surface that is suitable for small cups up to large pans, and is the only stove I tested that could be used for grilling larger chunks of meat. Finally, at under $10 for the stove itself it is one of the more affordable options on the market. While the Sterno Stove is a little larger and heavier than the other stoves I tested, it does fold into a relatively flat package. I currently carry this stove as my primary bug out bag stove.
Those of you that are familiar with the M71 stove will recognize the similarities with this custom version, a Blue Hill UL II. These stoves are incredibly light weight and will nest on the bottom of a water bottle or metal cup; they add virtually no weight and take up almost no space in a bug out bag. While this stove stand is designed to sit on top of a Sterno can style fuel source, it can also be used effectively with fuel tabs, coals from a fire, and what ever other fuel sources that you can get the stove stand above. While the sides of the rings do provide somewhat of a windscreen it is nice to have a tinfoil screen to help block the wind. The model I have has fairly large metal tabs extending inward making it suitable for heating containers of most sizes from small metal bottles up to large pots and pans. When setting this stove on a fuel can, things can get a little tipsy if your not careful; however, this is the case with most backpacking style stoves. Since I consider a good stove a bug out bag essential, I like to pack a backup stove as well and the Blue Hill UL II fits that role very well and could easily work as my primary stove if needed.
These are one of the most popular stoves found in bug out bags and rightfully so. The folding pocket stove is about the size of a deck of playing cards and can hold a couple of fuels tabs inside when closed. The metal edges have a couple of bumps that match up to the base of the stove allowing you to lock the walls up for maximum sturdiness with larger heaver pots or at an angle to accommodate smaller metal cups. When the side walls are up in the cooking position you can face one of the walls into the wind to act as a partial windscreen. There are a couple different manufacturers of these stoves, mine is a Bleuet; but the stoves themselves seem pretty much the same arcoss brands. However, the white Esbit fuel tabs are superior in that they burn cleaner than the colored fuel tabs and have less odor; so if you are interested in this type of stove I would go with an Esbit stove if only because of the initial supply of fuel tabs shipped with the stove. While designed for fuel tabs, in theory you could burn small sticks, twigs, leafs, etc. for fuel if you ran out of tabs as the open side would allow you to feed fuel as it burned. The pocket stove isn't a bad stove for bug out bag use but I found the fuel tabs both smelly and somewhat messy; furthermore the stove itself isn't as multi fuel friendly as the above stoves.
Lightweight Canister Stove
If you have looked at bug out bag stoves you have probably come across this inexpensive little canister stove in the orange container. Despite its modest cost this canister stove is pretty impressive in ability. It screws onto the top of a propane/butane canister and features an adjustable gas flow and push button ignition both of which work well. Next, the stand where the cookware rests has foldable legs which can be folded in for small containers or out for larger cooking vessels. While this stove doesn't feature a windscreen the powerful propane/butane flame can withstand some wind and heats water to a boil very quickly. However, while its efficient fuel source is one of this stove types greatest assets, it is also this stove's greatest drawback, at least as far as bug out bag use goes. Once the fuel source is gone, the stove is out of commission. Furthermore, I had to buy the smallest Jetboil propane canister available to get it to fit into my GSI Minimalist cookset with the stove. Apparently not all small fuel canisters will fit into the GSI Minimalist and the small Jetboil canister held a limited amount of fuel and was expensive. I realize this is a little specific to my particular setup but mentioned it as a factor to consider when thinking about buying this type of stove as people often want to next their stove and fuel source in their cookset. While this would make an excellent stove for a weekend camping trip it is not the one I want if things start dragging on more than a few days do to its limited fuel sources.
This compact alcohol stove is one of the most popular small alcohol stoves available. What sets the Trangia stove apart from most other alcohol stoves is its ability to store fuel inside itself. Despite its popularity I was never really able to get on board with this stove as it didn't really fill the roll I wanted it to very well. First, while not mandatory, using some kind of windscreen and stove stand combo is recommended for blocking wind and stability reasons; and there are plenty of nice screens/stand combos available for this stove, but at an additional cost. Second, the Trianga was designed to be used with alcohol so like the above propane/butane stove once your initial fuel supply is out your stove is done. Because drinkable alcohol is expensive I went with HEET, which admittedly worked well, however; I wasn't comfortable storing alcohol, HEET or really any fluids inside my pack's main compartment. Finally, while not having a windscreen/stand and its relative higher cost definitely weren't deal breakers; it didn't do anything to improve my opinion of this stove. While I do have a few more alcohol stoves they mainly suffer from the same problems as this one. If I were going to put an alcohol stove in my bug out bag it would probably be one of the DIY style models.
DIY Alcohol Stove
I like to tinker around and there is no shortage of DIY plans for alcohol stoves to be found on the internet. However, the DIY cat food can stove is by far the simplest, and best that I have found so far. I bought a 69 cent cat food can and 97 cent 1/4" hole punch, then I just followed these instructions by Andrew Skurka, and had a pretty darn good little stove. While having under $2 dollars in materials and having some pride in building it myself, both of which no doubt played some part in my overall opinion; this little stove is probably my favorite of my alcohol stoves. Despite being a cheap and fun project; the little stove works as well as most of my alcohol stoves at least for what I want it to do; although it suffers from instability issues as well and needs a windscreen just like the others. Packing this stove as a backup might make sense because of its low cost, and lightweight. Furthermore, alcohol does make for a pretty good fuel for cooking outdoors as long as you don't run out. If I were to pack a bottle of alcohol (Everclear) for medicinal and other uses, then throwing this little stove in as a secondary stove might make a lot of sense.
There are of course other stoves such as hobo, rocket, and multi-fuel stoves to name a few; but I was primarily interested in compact, lightweight, and affordable models commonly found in bug out bags. While fuels for backpack stoves could be an article of its own; for now I will say that the primary fuel source for both my Sterno stove, and custom M71 style stove is a 7oz Sterno can. While not an intuitive choice because Sterno isn't the best outdoor cooking fuel; keep in mind its 2 hour plus burn time and relative safety for indoor and vehicle use, combined with the fact both stoves can easily be used with other fuel sources, all played a roll in my decision to pack these two stoves and Sterno fuel. Everyone's situation and style of prepping is different so what stove or stoves are right for your bug out bag might be entirely different. However, I thought I would share my experience and thoughts on the various backpack style stoves I've tested in hopes of helping you on your search for the right stove for your bag.