A portable stove is both lightweight and compact. We’re talking light enough to transport from place to place with ease. The critical word here being; “ease.” Sure, “technically” you can move your kitchen stove, but not with ease. Portable stoves are the kind you can pick up, pack, and store in a vehicle or backpack without hassle.
For it to be genuinely ”portable,” it must be extremely small and lightweight.
At least small enough for a petite human to carry by themselves (without throwing out their back).
Yet, just because they’re small and light doesn’t mean they’re not fantastic at cooking food.
The best ones function as well as your standard kitchen stove.
So today we’re going to be covering the following topics:
- Portable Stoves vs Grills vs Skillets
- Types Of Portable Stoves
- Reasons To Invest In A Portable Stove
- Key Features Of A Quality Portable Stove
- Best Portable Stoves (With Review Videos)
- Portable Stove Safety Tips
Portable Stoves vs Grills vs Skillets
Before we can get into all the different types of portable stoves there are on the market. It’s wise to sort out all the confusion between stoves, grills, and skillets.
Here’s the simplest way to think about the differences:
- Stoves = Cooking food in pots, pans, or special cups over a controlled flame
- Grills = Cooking food directly over grates (without pots or pans)
- Skillet = Cooking food directly over a flat heated surface (again, without pots or pans)
See, that wasn’t so hard. Now you can impress all your camping and survival buddies with this new found knowledge!
And more importantly, you have a better sense of whether you’re truly in the market for a portable stove, a portable grill or a portable skillet.
If you’re still in the market for a portable stove, keeping reading…
Types Of Portable Stove
There are several categories of portable stoves and each has its pro and cons depending on your goals and your usage plans.
Here are the major categories:
1 – Fuel Source Categories
- Portable Electric Stoves
- Portable Gas Stoves
- Propane Stoves
- Butane Stoves
- Wood Burning Backpacking Stoves
So let’s go through each of these categories in detail.
Portable Electric Stoves
As far as plug and play, electric stoves are the easiest and most convenient to use. You don’t have to worry about buying and storing a sperate fuel source such as propane or butane.
However, that convenience is a double-edged sword.
Electric stoves only make sense at locations with a reliable (and abundant) source of electrical power.
For a modern campsite (with electrical hookups) this is a decent setup. However, if the power goes out due to a major storm or out of control wildfires, etc. – your portable electric stove becomes a large, expensive paperweight!
So for certain locations, a portable electric stove is the way to go, but it’s not very versatile.
If you want a portable stove that will work at any location (no matter the circumstances), DO NOT get an electric one.
Portable Gas Stoves
Today, one of the most popular portable stove options is the ones that burn liquid gas. Here’s a list of the possible liquid gas stove choices:
- White gas
Now, some stoves can burn multiple fuels types without any modification – which is a nice feature!
Other stoves need specific jet nozzles for each type of fuel used – which can be a pain to deal with.
Some portable gas stoves are designed to only work with one gas only.
Many liquid stoves require some type of pressurization or priming before they start. Some even need pressurization control during the operation.
Nowadays most gas-fueled stoves burn either propane or butane.
Propane is easier to find and performs better in the cold. However, the containers are often heavier than butane – which is a concern mainly for backpackers.
Butane stoves have a very high heat output per weight. This makes them fuel efficient but prone to scorching rather than simmering.
Butane containers are smaller and not easily refilled.
Both options are about turn-key simple as it gets. Just attaching the fuel canister, turning a valve and lighting the burner – that’s it.
However, with a gas stove, you can cook a meal anywhere – as long as you don’t forget to pack (or run out of) fuel canisters.
So just double check all your essential camping gear before you head out and you’ll be just fine.
Wood Burning Backpacking Stoves
Finally, there’s the new kid on the block – wood burning backpacking stoves. These units are becoming more popular with campers, backpackers and even for backyard bonfires.
With a wood-burning backpacking stove, you haul the stove around but use natural fuel in the form of downed wood. The smaller versions take a few sticks, while the bigger versions need larger branches.
Not worrying about transporting gas or depending on electricity is a very attractive feature for those interested in self-reliance.
These units don’t care if the power is out or if you ran out of propane. You eliminate these headaches completely with a wood burning portable stove.
Reasons To Invest In A Portable Stove
Nowadays modern portable stoves are designed with camping and recreation in mind.
From backpacking stoves only weighing a few ounces. To “suitcase stoves” with several high-output burners.
But in order to make a wise purchase, you must understand what, where and how you want to use a new portable stove.
Portable stoves make an excellent addition to a campsite.
I enjoy cooking my camp meals over a nice campfire. However, sometimes it makes more sense to cook over a portable stove instead.
One reason is to manage the high cost of firewood. Instead of using costly firewood for your meals, save your firewood for sitting around after the sun goes down!
Not to mention the increase in widespread summertime campfire bans across the arid US.
Because there’s nothing quite as disappointing as showing up to a campsite with no way to cook your food.
If you’re only cooking method is via campfire and their’s a bane on campfires – you’re going to be one unhappy camper 🙁
Backpacking and portable go together like macaroni and cheese – which is to say they are inseparable.
If a piece of gear is not portable, then it’s not for backpacking.
That’s why so many backpackers add a lightweight portable stove for there backcountry meals.
Sure, you can pack meals that don’t require a stove, and many backpackers choose this option. However, for me, a nice warm filling meal while on the trail is hard to pass up.
With the minimalist lightweight stoves designs on the market today, it’s not a much of a burden to add a portable stove to a backpack.
Bugging out and backpacking are technically very similar.
With both activities, you’re carrying gear in a backpack in order to survive a long distance trek. However, with backpacking, you doing this to enjoy nature and explore the wilderness.
With bugging out you’re preparing for a dire emergency when you’re forced to leave your home.
But regardless, portable stoves are an ideal solution for both situations.
Power Outage Emergencies
What’s your survival cooking strategy? How do you plan to cook food if electricity is out for several weeks, a month, or a year?
Extreme? Maybe, but we like to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
So having a portable stove (and a means to fuel it) not only provides you with warm meals just about anywhere. It also provides a warm meal at any time – no matter if the power is out indefinitely.
Investing in some piece of mind is always a good thing.
In a wilderness outdoor adventures, every member of your family (or group) should have a lightweight, portable stove.
If you get split up, a single stove isn’t going to cut it. Someones going to be without an emergency stove – a dangerous situation for survival.
They don’t all have to be able to cook a 4-course meal.
But everyone should carry a stove capable of heating up a freeze-dried meal or boiling water to make it safe for drinking.
Tailgating and grilling go hand in hand, so many people may prefer to go with a portable grill. And while that works just fine, maybe you’d prefer no to buy both a portable stove and a portable grill.
Instead, maybe it makes more sense to get a portable stove for all the other reasons above, and then use that same portable stove for tailgates.
You can pan sear just about any tailgate foods you can think of – plus you can keep your cheesy salsa deep warm on a low burner!
Key Features Of The Best Portable Stoves
The best portable stoves share several key features you’ll want.
The “portable” part of “portable stove” means the stove is designed to be lightweight, but that can mean different things to different users.
A backpacker may consider anything over a couple ounces to be too heavy. While someone who’s traveling by car, boat or horse may be happy with a camp stove weighing several pounds.
So pay close attention to what your “lightweight” needs are, but in general, the lighter the better.
Anything designed to be portable is bound to get banged around every once in a while. If you are lucky enough to be staying in one place, that can be pretty minimal after initial set up.
However, if you’re always on the move, that means extra wear and tear on valves, fuel lines, and moving parts.
Besides, dropping your heavy pack down to rest has been the cause of many portable stove malfunctions.
This abuse makes a durable proven design a must.
Something as crucial as a stove should be reliable if it’s worth adding to your camping gear or survival gear.
This means it has to light under just about any conditions – wind, rain, high altitude, freezing cold.
Many stoves have a piezoelectric starter. But I still keep some windproof matches and a survival lighter with most stove kit in case that spark fails.
A repair kit for crucial parts and the knowledge of how to use it can be a lifesaver as well.
Easy To Use
Another critical factor in choosing a portable stove is the ease of operating it.
You want one with fine-tune controls over your heat adjustments. The simplicity of design and setup and availability of fuel all play into this factor.
Making heat control one of the most important variables.
Some stoves are hard to put together but work almost like a standard kitchen stove once setup. Others are simple to set up but need tedious adjustments and fuel management.
At the end of the day, choose a portable stove that matches your ability to use it properly.
Best Portable Stoves
Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to test a lot of different stove models across a wide range of designs.
Each different type has its great features, but no stove can be the single best one for all situations.
Here are a few of our favorites for some of the most common stoves on the market today.
The Coleman “Suitcase” Stove
The quintessential camp stove that nearly everyone grew up with. The Coleman white gas stove has been a mainstay of the campground for decades.
Set on a flat surface like a picnic table, they opened like a suitcase. With the lid and side screens providing a wind block.
They were easy to use and relatively indestructible – and you can find many from decades past still in use today.
Over the years, many other manufacturers have copied the design. There are now dozens of options.
Some based on simpler propane burner designs that don’t need priming the fuel tank.
You can find models with 3 burners and over 20,000BTU of heating power.
Others feature a single burner on one side and a griddle on the other for pancakes or eggs.
Adapters allow you to use the large BBQ-style propane tanks.
Often fueling multiple stoves and even lanterns at the same time. Which is GREAT if you’re in a large camp and cooking for more than a couple people at a time.
If you’re traveling by car, inflatable boat or horse, this is the camp stove you need!
GAS ONE GS-800P MINI Portable Gas Stove
This classic butane stove is smaller than the Coleman because it only has a single burner.
However, that can be a major plus since portability is high on your priority list.
It includes heat resistant knobs (so you don’t burn your fingers adjusting heat controls). It has the convenience of a piezo ignition switch. And can pump out an impressive 7,172 BTU’s.
So it’s a bit of a tradeoff from a two-burner setup to single burner but it that might make sense for you.
JetBoil Flash Personal Cooking System
Suitcase stoves may still dominate the campground, the backcountry belongs to JetBoil.
In the early 2000s, JetBoil released it’s “personal cooking system.” It was a combination of a small butane canister and miniature stove.
One with an insulated 1L cooking pot and integrated heat exchanger.
The whole thing snapped together. This means it was easy to keep things from tipping and making cooking time more streamlined.
Boiling 1L of water took only 2-3 minutes, lightning fast compared with other stoves of the day.
When finished, the entire system nested inside the cooking pot and slipped easily in a pack.
Now, the original JetBoil has been replaced by the JetBoil Flash. A new version of the JetBoil with an improved heat exchanger and lighter materials.
It’s an excellent option for one person, especially if you have a lot of freeze-dried meals!
SnowPeak LiteMax Titanium
When every ounce matters, even the JetBoil seemed like a brick of lead to the designers at SnowPeak.
A company dedicated to super lightweight gear for thru-hikers.
When you’re hiking 20-30 miles per day, a 2oz stove that fits inside a coffee cup is an impressive upgrade.
SnowPeak has upped the game with their LiteMax Titanium. Cutting weight while bringing the boil time down to just over 4min for 1L of water.
There are also few moving parts, making it reliable and simple to set up.
How about investing in the #1 wood-burning backpacking stove recommended by Backpacker Magazine?
If you want a wood burning backpack stove, then look no further than the Solo Stove.
These compact stoves have proven themselves to be lightweight and efficient. Plus, you don’t need to carry any fuel canisters around with you.
Just pick up the twigs and small branches on the ground, use a bit of fire-starting tinder and you’ll be cooking your meal in no time.
The solo stove has several size options including:
- Solo Stove Lite (1 person)
- Solo Stove Titan (2 – 4 person)
- Solo Stove Campfire (4+ person)
- Solo Stove Bonfire
BioLite Camp Stove 2
The BioStove is the latest in portable stove technology!
The BioStove is not only a wood burning backpacking stove, but it allows you to turn the heat you generate from twigs and sticks into usable electricity.
The unit weighs a bit more than the Solo Stove, however, that extra bit of weight comes with a very nice feature.
There just something awesome about being able to use your portable stove to cook a meal and charge your phone at the same time!
Trangia Spirit Burner
An alcohol-based portable burner stove is not for everyone but some people absolutely love it.
Why the disparity? Because it’s an alcohol burner.
It’s one of the most versatile and user-friendly alcohol burner on the market.
The Trangia’s O-ring lined screwcap allows you to store excess fuel inside the stove without leakage.
The stove could hardly be simpler to operate. Just fill it up with your preferred alcohol fuel and light it aflame with a match, lighter, or fire rod.
Simple, lightweight and user-friendly, what’s not to like.
Emergency Pocket Stove
Lastly, I want to show you the ultimate solution for lightweight portable stove emergencies – an emergency pocket stove.
They’re the perfect emergency stove option.
Stick on in your pocket for hikes, or in your car during road trips. Because having this thing available at all times, just in case, is smart.
However, they are not the best solution for regular use. They are known for creating a messy residue of burned fuel and the chemical taste.
Making these stoves great for emergencies and less desirable for everyday use.
Portable Stove Safety Tips
Of course, any article about stoves has to come with a few safety tips and warnings.
A quick glance at a manual for any portable stove and you’ll see it comes with pages of warnings.
What does it all boil down to in the end? Make sure you read all the warnings thoroughly, but here are a few highlights:
Stoves are hot. (Duh!)
Even after you turn them off, most stoves remain hot for several minutes (or longer). You can burn yourself or your gear if you don’t let them cool before packing away.
Fuels Release Toxic Fumes
Burning any fuel releases carbon dioxide and other exhaust gases into the atmosphere.
Without ventilation, operating a stove in an enclosed space can be dangerous.
If you need shelter from the weather while cooking, make sure you take care to open some kind of vent for fresh air.
Be careful with stove fuel.
You should clean all fuel spills immediately but with care. In extreme cold, spilling fuel on exposed skin can cause frostbite as the fuel evaporates.
Also, allow any fuel vapors to dissipate before starting a stove. If excess fuel vapors accumulate, a spark can create a dangerous flash explosion.
Cannot Fly With It
If you plan to fly with a stove, it’s nearly impossible to take fuel (or even used, empty fuel bottles) with you on the plane.
So consider fuel availability at your destination when selecting your portable stove.
If you’re this far into the article, you’re serious about investing in a quality portable stove.
However, in order to get the right portable stove for you – it’s important to understand how to intend to use it. You should also have the key features you want in your portable stove as well.
Once you’ve done that, you can make a purchase with confidence. An investment purchase you can be proud of and will last a lifetime.