My first camping trip was to Mt. Whitney. Of course, I didn’t make it, but on that trip, I carried a pan (yes it added a ton of weight) and a propane stove and tried to make pancakes at 10,500. Let’s just say, none of that worked out and I carried pancake mush back to the car.
That was 5 years ago, and since then I’ve learned a lot about backcountry cooking, meals, and kitchen/stove systems.
I’ve been a fan of MSR’s Pocket Rocket for a few years. It’s light, small and easy to bring on a backpacking trip. This summer I’ve also had the chance to sample a few of their other stoves and cooking sets.
Choosing a cooking stove system that works for you is as personal as choosing what you want to eat every day and which sleeping bag you need. There are so many options out there and it comes down to what you feel comfortable using.
So, let’s dive in?
This is the stove I’ve been using the longest. I love that it’s light, packs up small, and comes with a hard small red case. It’s great for backpacking! For all you ultralight folks, it only weighs 2.6 ounces without the case, with the case it’s 3.7 ounces.
I’ve also used it at over 11,000 feet with no problems getting it to light. It’s not self-lighting to bring matches or a lighter. Or both just to be safe. It also has a WindClip™ which protects the flame from windy conditions. The focused burner pushes a persistent, solid flame.
The PocketRocket® boils 1 liter of water in just 3.5 minutes. So while you’re changing into PJs for the night and putting on your camp shoes, your water will be done boiling and you can have your freeze-dried pad thai or ramen that much faster.
I’m starving by the time I get to camp. It doesn’t help that I have to wait 20 minutes after pouring in the water for the freeze-dried meal to be ready. So usually I start making dinner before I even set up camp. So as the water is boiling, I’m pitching my tent. Then as my meal is hydrating, I’m getting everything else together in camp so hopefully, it’s ready when camp is set up and I have my fuzzy socks and sandals on. Who can resist camp shoes!
I learned about this on the High Sierra Trail from one of the badass gals that joined me. On longer backpacking trips, I repackage all of my meals into ziplock bags to save space in my bear canister and to reduce weight. It only reduces a little, but hey, on a thru-hike every ounce counts.
On the High Sierra Trail, the badass woman I was with, cooked all her meals right in her pot after boiling water, then washed it with water and dumped the dirty water into a cathole (follow Leave No Trace). So when I did the John Muir Trail, this is what I did. It’s so much easier and more sanitary than reusing one of the freeze-dried bags for all of your food. It gets gross quickly.
This specific pot is 1.3 liters and it’s an aluminum pot with a ceramic nonstick surface. This makes cleaning so much easier and it makes not burning your food that much easier too. You can lock the lid to the pot with the handle that folds out, and the lid has little holes so you can drain water.
It’s scratch-resistant so you can use sand to scrub the inside of your pot to clean it. Another trick I learned on the High Sierra Trail. I use not filtered water to clean. I figure I’m boiling the water in the pot anyway. It weighs 7.5 ounces and the PocketRocket® fits inside with the case!
If you’re looking for a great 2 for 1 deal with stoves and pots, this is a great option. In total with the stove and the pot, it’s 13.1 ounces.
The Deluxe Stove is bigger than the first stove in size, in weight, it’s not that much bigger. The minimum trail weight is 2.9 ounces and it comes with a small black baggie as a carry case.
This stove is better designed to handle harsher conditions. It has a pressure regulator which helps boil water even in cold conditions and with low fuel. It also boils a liter of water in just 3.3 minutes. Just a smidge faster than the other stove. But when you’re hungry, that can make a huge difference!
This one also has a push-start Piezo Igniter so you don’t need a lighter, and it has a broad burner head for better heat distribution and is better for wind resistance. I have a bad tendency to forget lighters so that this stove is self-lighting is very handy! Especially in windy conditions and at high altitude.
Now about the pot, this kit comes with. It’s big enough for two people, but you can also use it solo. It’s 1.2 liters. I like having the option to share. My tent is an ultralight two-person tent, and so it my pot. Usually, I use these things solo, but I like the option to share. Also a bonus, the stove fits inside the pot!
This pot is not scratch-resistant, so you can still cook in it and clean it in the backcountry, but don’t clean it with sand and pebbles. You’ll scratch it and ruin the pot.
This kit also comes with a bowl. So if you’re sharing, one of you can eat from the pot and the other from the bowl. You can also use the bowl as a cup. After dinner, I like to make tea to warm up before going to bed, and the bowl makes a nice cup. And saves weight when backpacking!
The last bonus in this kit comes with a Mini LiteLifter™ pot handle. So you can pick up the pot from the stove without burning your hands! Since it’s small it packs up inside the pot and it’s not a hassle to have on the pot.
This kit comes with the PocketRocket® Deluxe Stove, a with a stuff sack for the stove, a 1.2 L hard-anodized aluminum pot with insulated grip, a hot and cold 28 oz bowl, a strainer lid, a Mini LiteLifter™ pot handle, and a kit stuff sack.
The WindBurner® is the perfect stove for windy and cold conditions. It’s inclosed burner system protects the fire from the wind and keeps it going.
The boil time for 1 liter is 4.5 minutes. The size is also great for solo hikers. It works for long thru-hikes, weekend-long adventures and day trips. After you’re done, everything including a 4-oz fuel canister fits inside the pot! This is a heavier system than the other two, but it’s so handy when it comes to harsher conditions. It weighs 15.3 ounces.
It’s not self-lighting, so you will need a lighter. Don’t light from the bottom, light from the top. So not the spot with the valve that turns on the iso propane, but at the metal mesh part where you put the pot part on.
To use it, attached the iso propane fuel canister. Turn the valve until you hear a hissing noise and light it through the top of the stove as mentioned above. You won’t see flames, but it does produce heat once it’s lit. Put the pot on and turn it a few degrees to lock it in place. If you can, fill the pot before putting it on the stove to prevent the metal from overheating.
The WindBurner® comes with a bowl that fits on the outside of the main pot and a lid that you can use as a strainer or to drink out of it.
For cooking, you can either boil water and pour it into a separate bag or bowl to rehydrate meals. Or you can pour it inside the pot. It comes with a simmering feature, but it won’t give you the same range that you can get at home. Lower the valve too low and the fire goes out, and it’s hard to see how much is burning since the flame is pretty much completely covered. If it goes out, give your pot a chance to cool before relighting. If you simmer with food inside the pot, stir frequently so you don’t burn the bottom of the pot.
For all you coffee drinkers out there, you can get a coffee press kit add on. Full disclosure, I’m not a coffee drinker, I just don’t like the taste. Shocker, I know. I prefer tea. So I’ve never actually made coffee, another shocker, I know. But that aside, you can make coffee with the WindBurner®! It’s light, easily disassembled and assembled, and lays flat so you can pack it inside of the pot with everything else.
Make sure your fuel canister is iso propane. I almost made that mistake once on one of my first backpacking trips. Thankfully when I was posting my packing stories on Instagram, someone mentioned that I got the wrong fuel. I ran to REI and got the right one in the morning before heading out.
If you’re on a longer camping or backpacking trip, put your fuel canister inside your sleeping bag at your feet. Keeping your canister warm(er) at night helps prevent it from emptying out faster.