When you are going camping, hiking, or hunting, what are your must-have carry items?

A lantern or flashlight, knives, binoculars are all important items but a stove is could easily be the most important among them.

Now, you may be faced with the decision of selecting which kind of stove you should carry; An alcohol stove or a canister stove?

Many of the light backpackers are absolutely critical of all their backpack essentials and will selectively choose what goes in and has to be carried.

For minimalists, they are always on the lookout for what would be absolutely necessary for their survival and will not add in extra weight.

In order to decide which stove to pick, there are several factors that may influence your choice. How you will use it? Will you be cooking for one or for a group? For how long will you be needing it? and When or which season will you be hiking?

This article will help give you the information you need to help you decide on how to choose the best backpacking stove for you.


DIY Alcohol StoveDIY Alcohol Stove

As its name suggests, An alcohol stove is a stove that uses alcohol as its source of fuel.

There are several alcohol stoves that are available on the market as well as many DIY versions.

These can be made from simple recyclable items such as beer cans, soda cans or even cat food containers.

Alcohol stoves are preferred for their light weight construction, and ability to work well even in very cold weather.

Some people will even use them indoors since they do not produce harmful exhausts, though, this is generally not recommended.

While using them outdoors, however, you may require a windscreen to protect them from strong winds that might affect their efficiency.

It is important to observe safety precautions when using the alcohol stove since it is highly likely to start unexpected fires.

A simple step like putting aluminum foil under the stove will help reflect heat back to your stove and minimize spreading heat to the surrounding areas.

After several fire accidents by hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, many states in the western USA have banned open flames in outside camping areas.

Advantages of using an Alcohol Stove

  • Alcohol stoves are generally cheaper than other types of stoves. This makes them a great option for campers on a tight budget.
  • A common problem with backpacking is the weight of the stove. These alcohol stoves are very light and compact, making them a great choice for long backpacking adventures.
  • Finding fuel will not be a problem in case it runs out as you’re able to stock up on fuel at any shops or store nearby.
  • Unlike gas canisters, it is easy to determine what you have left in terms of fuel and you could pre-measure the amount you would use for your trip only.

Disadvantages of using an Alcohol Stove

An alcohol stove has some downsides which may limit use, especially for someone who has not practised using it.

  • For alcohol to burn, it needs to be at a warm enough temperature, and so it gets hard to start a flame and burn when it’s cold, this makes them hard to recommend for use in cold or winter conditions. Some hikers and campers store their alcohol in warm enough places to deal with this.
  • Since they are small in size, they might be easily knocked off, stepped on or even dropped along the way.
  • Alcohol stoves also don’t perform well in windy conditions given the fact they burn with an open flame. This, however, can be solved by using a windscreen which only adds to your backpacking load.


Propane Stove

Canister stoves are resealable gas canisters that have valves threaded onto them. They generally contain two pressurized gases: isobutene and propane, though, some manufacturers would blend the gas contents so as to accommodate different users.

In fact, It is now very common to find winter blend canisters that are designed to be used in extremely cold weather.

Canisters are standard among different stoves. They are available in different sizes, including 4oz, 8oz, and 16oz sizes.

According to Paul Mags, an average use of a 4oz canister can last about 8-10 uses. Most of the canisters are easily refilled too.

There are several differences but mostly based on manufacturer designs. Some of these have windbreakers in their designs, while others will have built-in pressure regulators to provide consistent heat output.

Advantages of using Canister Stove

  • They are easy to use, low maintenance and quick to light.
  • They can be used for all types of cooking and will heat water to a boil in less than 3 minutes.
  • They are compact and lightweight and will often provide good heat control.
  • When you unscrew the stovetop, the canister self-seals so there is no need to worry about leaks and spills.
  • There is little to no maintenance required when using the canister stoves.
  • As compared to the alcohol stoves, they are more fuel-efficient especially when used for a longer trip and when cooking for more than one person.

Disadvantages of using Canister Stoves

  • It can be difficult to gauge how much fuel you have left especially when you are cooking for more than one person.
  • Carry an extra canister for backup to be sure you don’t run out.
  • During cold weather, the canisters may not perform well and can produce a weak flame. Many manufacturers will indicate usage up-to approximately 15F. Some may have pressurized regulators to counter this problem.
  • Some models are not stable and may not hold large pots securely.
  • When the canisters run out, you will need to carry the empties with you to dispose of properly or send for recycling.
  • Canister stoves are a bit heavier than Alcohol stoves which makes them a bad option if you’re conscious of the weight of your backpack.


SUMMARY: Alcohol stove vs Canister Stove

In a hurry? Below is a summary of the pros and cons of either stove type.


Alcohol Stove Canister Stove

How does it work?

Alcohol stoves burn different kinds of alcohol to produce a flame that is then used to cook food or boil water.

Most alcohol stoves use denatured alcohol, Isopropyl alcohol or ethanol.

How does it work?

Canisters loaded with pressurized gasses. When you turn on the valve, the fuel shoots out and fuels your flame.

The majority of canisters use a mix of butane and propane or isobutane and propane.


  • Lighter than Canister Stoves
  • Cheaper than Canister Stove
  • Fuel is easy to find
  • Easy to determine how much fuel is left


  • Easy to use
  • Good Heat control
  • Self-seals prevent spills
  • More fuel-efficient than alcohol stoves
  • Good for lots of cooking


  • Prone to spills and leaks due to their open nature
  • Inefficient in cold and windy conditions
  • Not as efficient as canister stoves


  • Heavier than most alcohol stoves
  • A bit more expensive
  • Difficult to gauge how much fuel is left
  • Fuel is not as available as that of alcohol stoves



In conclusion, there are several decision points that will factor into your choice between an alcohol stove vs canister stove.

If burn time is a priority factor over stove weight, then you might want to consider using a canister stove as it excels on these.

If you just need to boil water or cook a few things though, then carrying a canister stove might be a big burden you don’t have to bear as an alcohol stove could suit you best.

If we had to choose one for you, however, we’d recommend the Cannister Stove given the fact that it is more efficient, safer, and generally easier to use than the alcohol stove.

You’d have to carry an extra canister if you expect to do a lot of cooking or stay out in the wild for a while as canister fuel isn’t as readily available as alcohol.

If you’d rather use a propane stove instead, you can read our comparison between alcohol stoves and propane stoves here