Which Stove Should I Bring?
It’s one of my favorite conversations. No seriously, it is. And I get asked it all the time. Which is my favorite MSR stove and why? Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple. Which stove I choose for each trip generally depends on where I’m going and what I’m doing. I’ll explain.
But first, a disclaimer: I’m a water boiler and snow melter. If it can’t be eaten frozen or rehydrated with water, it’s not part of my expedition diet. While pizza and fresh bread may be on your backcountry menu, I’m fairly pragmatic when it comes to my expedition meals when food and time are at an extreme premium. Despite that fact, I have a surprisingly vast quiver of stoves.
Of course, before you lambast me with my lack of culinary acumen I have (in the past) cooked all sorts of meals with all these stoves so don’t let my hard stance fool you. I’ve made more than my fair share of wilderness gourmet feasts.
Best All-Around Stove: WhisperLite™ International
The WhisperLite International Stove is easily my favorite all-around stove. I’ll take it car camping, backpacking, and most commonly, expeditions in Antarctica. It’s reliable, field-repairable and has roughly the same BTU output as the MSR XGK EX stove. It is one of the most amazing feats of modern outdoor product engineering, but ironically, it’s a stove that has been around for over 30 years with surprisingly few changes. Still, small improvements over the years—stamped steel legs, Shaker Jet for cleaning—have made it super reliable and easy to use and repair.
I like the International model because it runs on a variety of fuels which is important when traveling where white gas isn’t always available. Not only does the larger diameter generator burn a variety of fuels more efficiently but it also works better in colder conditions, which I’m in a lot. Therefore, I use the WhisperLite for longer adventures—generally more than three days—when taking canisters is more burdensome due to excess weight, or when I need to cook for a larger group of people than just two or three.
Types of trips: Expeditions, longer climbing/hiking trips, extended canoe/kayak trips
Example location: Summer in Antarctica
Best Expedition Stove: XGK™ EX Stove
I believe the XGK EX Stove is easily the best expedition stove ever made. It’s a little heavier than the WhisperLite (and burns louder), but my experience has been that it requires hardly any maintenance. In my 2014 expedition to the North Pole, I ran one stove for multiple hours a day for 53 days straight with no problem. In over 20 years of expeditions, I’ve never used a more reliable stove than the XGK. Like the WhisperLite, it uses a variety of liquid fuels. Again, liquid fuel is better for longer expeditions and (very) cold weather. The XGK-EX is a workhorse. If you need to melt a lot of snow in the worst conditions, the XGK is your stove!
Types of trips: Expeditions, extreme winter camping, base camp
Example location: Polar Training Course – Lake Winnipeg
Best Mountaineering Stove: Reactor® Stove System
I remember seeing the early Reactor stove system prototypes from MSR stove engineers and being dumbfounded by the burner and the science behind how it works. I still don’t know exactly how the Reactor works but I do know that it’s AWESOME—with an efficiency that is off the charts. I am continually amazed at how fast it melts snow and boils water.
Canisters are becoming more readily available internationally as well so the Reactor is an easy choice when traveling. Bottom line, I use the Reactor for mountaineering adventures when I need to melt snow quickly. I also prefer to use the Reactor at altitude where the simple act of lighting a stove can be exhausting and where oxygen is at a premium. The Reactor is great in summer mountaineering expeditions, but it’s good to note that in the coldest of the cold, liquid fuel is still superior.
Types of trips: Climbing and mountaineering expeditions, high altitude
Example location: Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier
Best Fast-Cooking Stove: WindBurner® Stove System
Two years ago, I was in Patagonia on a scouting mission. It rained for five days straight with wind gusts that knocked us over. They don’t call it bad weather there. It’s just weather. Huddled behind a rock for shelter, we got out the WindBurner stove system and had hot drinks in a matter of minutes. I consider the WindBurner to be a great fast-cooking, efficient canister stove that fills a more general adventure (backpacking, climbing, day trips) niche than the more utilitarian, alpine-focused Reactor. The Reactor is faster at snow melting and water boiling, but with the WindBurner, you get the luxury of the cozy drink lid and the fact that the WindBurner’s pot can double as your eat-and-drink mug. With several pot sizes and now a skillet, the WindBurner makes a great car camping option as well.
While I’ve always been more partial to white gas stoves for my types of trips, the WindBurner has made me a convert to more frequent canister stove use. Small and lightweight, this stove system is quickly becoming my go-to adventure favorite. I definitely like that it all stores as one simple ‘system’ as well.
Types of trips: Local climbing, backpacking, general adventure, car camping (it’s great for fast coffee in the a.m.)
Example location: Fruita, Colorado
Best Ultralight Stove: PocketRocket® Stove
You never forget your first canister stove and for me, it’s the PocketRocket stove. I love the PocketRocket’s balance of weight and relatively fast-boiling functionality. The stove is small enough to use for solo ultralights but I can use it with a variety of pot sizes for small groups too. It’s the ultimate fast-and-light stove with the unrivaled convenience of any top-mounted system and there is practically zero setup or priming.
Types of trips: Ultralight backpacking, general adventure, car camping
Example location: India
- MSR PocketRocket 2 vs. PocketRocket Deluxe Stove
- MSR Reactor vs. WindBurner: What’s the Difference?
- A Guide to MSR Backpacking Stoves
Polar adventurer, expedition guide, dog musher and educator, Eric Larsen has spent the past 15 years of his life traveling in some of the most remote and wild places left on earth. In 2006, Eric and Lonnie Dupre completed the first-ever summer expedition to the North Pole. In November 2009, Eric returned to Antarctica for the first leg of his world record Save the Poles expedition. This time he completed a 750-mile ski traverse to the geographic South arriving on January 2, 2010. Two short months later he was dropped off at northern Ellesmere Island for a winter-style North Pole Journey. The international team reached the North Pole 51 days later on Earth Day – April 22, 2010. He completed the Save the Poles expedition by reaching the summit of Mt. Everest on October 15th, 2010 becoming the first person in history to reach the world’s three ‘poles’ within a 365-day period.
Updated. Originally published August 4th, 2016.