One of the first things that you will need to decide on when choosing a backcountry stove is the type of fuel that you will use. After you decide on the fuel that best fits your needs, you will then be able to decide on which stoves to research.
Canister fuels use blended, compressed gases such as butane, propane or isobutane. Note that butane does not work below 32*F, but performs very well in cold when mixed with propane. Isobutane works to about 25*F. Propane works to about 0*F.
I will compare the pros and cons of the most common fuels used for camping.
Pro – Wood is readily available, below the “tree line”. Fuel Cubes pack easily, don’t spill and no smoke. Alcohol is a renewable source and burns quietly.
Con – Performance is not up to par with today’s traditional fuels
Pro – Easily accessible fuel in the U.S.
Con – Some gasoline additives lead to clogging and corrosion of stove parts. Sometimes you need to prime the stove. Very flammable!
**Caution – Do not use oxygenated gas!
Pro – Easiest to use, no priming, instant maximum heat output, burns clean, no-spill container and is adjustable for simmering.
Con – Higher costs, canisters are not recyclable, needs to be kept above freezing, most efficient. Due to being gravity-fed or liquid-fed the heat output decreases as canister is used.
**You can extend the use of this fuel type in colder temperatures by putting the canister in the sleeping bag with you while you’re in it or you can attach a Hot Hands to the bottom of the canister.
Pro – Spilled fuel will not ignite easily, available globally and high heat output
Con – Priming is required, the spilled fuel does not evaporate easily and has a strong odor.
Pro – Evaporates quickly when spilled. Best fuel for cold weather use. Available in the US.
Con – Sometimes you need to prime the stove. Very flammable!