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Every cycle tourer and bikepacker loves to eat. In fact, one of the pleasures of bicycle travel is being able to eat whatever you want, and as much as you like. Ride a bike for a living and your body becomes a calorie-burning machine – one that needs regular feeding!
While a camping stove and cookset isn’t an essential part of a cycle touring or bikepacking kit list, many adventurous cyclists find it convenient and morale-boosting to cook hot meals at camp at the end of a long day, or at least to boil water for hot drinks.
That’s why I’ve always carried a camping stove on my own bike trips, from multi-fuel expedition stoves in Outer Mongolia, to simple canister gas stoves in Europe, and alcohol camp-stoves in the Middle East and former Soviet Union – even a wood-burning kettle on some occasions.
In this detailed article, I’ll help you figure out how to choose between the many different types, makes and models of camping stove for your next cycle tour or bikepacking trip.
To achieve that, we’ll break down the subject into the three main categories of camping stove preferred by cycle tourists and bikepackers, discuss which is most appropriate for you, and look at the most tried-and-tested camping stoves from each category, as attested to by other riders over many years of road-testing.
I’ll include buying links to retailers in the UK & Europe, North America, and Australia (affiliate links are marked with an asterisk; full policy here). Many of the stoves mentioned in this article are available globally from other suppliers.
Ready? Cup of tea to hand? OK – let’s begin.
3 Critical Questions To Answer Before You Choose A Camping Stove For A Bike Trip
As with all equipment choices, clarifying a few simple facts about your cycle tour or bikepacking trip will make your buying decisions easier.
So I want to start by asking three basic questions that will help you identify which type of camping stove will suit you best on your cycle tour or bikepacking adventure.
1. Where Are You Going, And For How Long?
The single biggest variable when choosing a camping stove for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip is fuel availability.
For this reason, knowing where you’ll be riding is critical.
This is partly about continent, country and region, but it’s also about how far from the beaten track you’re planning to ride.
It’s important because you’ll buy a camping stove once, but you’ll buy fuel for it over and over again – every few days if you use the stove regularly.
If you are riding through parts of the world with a strong camping culture and therefore plenty of outdoor shops and campsites – eg: Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand – you’ll easily be able to find butane/propane gas canisters for camping stoves.
If you’re heading further afield and/or off the tourist trail for longer periods of time, denatured alcohol (eg: methylated spirit or surgical spirit) and/or liquid fuel (eg: white gas, kerosene, petrol/benzine and diesel) are likely to be easier to find.
So take a moment to think about where you’re going, and how easily and frequently available these different types of fuel are likely to be.
Remember also that you cannot bring compressed gas canisters with you when flying, either in checked baggage or in the cabin. You’ll need to buy them on arrival.
2. What Do You Mean By ‘Cooking’?
When you say ‘cooking’, do you really mean ‘boiling water for coffee or instant noodles’?
I ask because simply boiling water can be accomplished with minimal extra equipment or an all-in-one integrated stove like the Jetboil (on which more later).
But if you do want to do proper cookery (see Tara Alan’s excellent Bike. Camp. Cook* to see what I mean by this), you’ll need a versatile and adjustable stove; lots more pots, pans and utensils; and perhaps even a folding sink!
So think about what’s going to be important to you on your cycle tour or bikepacking trip: quick and simple fuel; or tasty and varied meals.
3. How Many Mouths Are You Feeding?
It might sound obvious, but cooking more food means bigger pots and a appropriately larger and more powerful stove.
Just as domestic stoves have burners of different sizes, camping stoves are available with a range of pot supports, flame spreaders and heat output ratings, suitable for everyone from soloists boiling a mug of water to couples and groups spending hours preparing gourmet three-course meals with frying pans and steamers.
It’s crucial to match your cookset to your stove, too. A big pot on a minimal top-mounted canister burner will not just be precarious – with tents or dry tinder around, it could be dangerous.
So consider how much food you’ll be cooking on an average night, and how much flexibility you need when it comes to using pots and pans of different shapes and sizes.
All done with the three questions above?
Great! Let’s look in detail at the different types of camping stove for cycle tourers and bikepackers.
Canister Gas Camping Stoves For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Natural gas is the ideal fuel for cooking, which is why most professional kitchens use it. It burns (relatively) cleanly and efficiently, the flame is adjustable, and the pressurised canisters that deliver the fuel make stove design simple.
Light and compact canister gas camping stoves suitable for bike trips can be found in the backpacking and hiking departments of outdoor stores and online retailers, rather than the car-camping or caravanning sections.
They can be subdivided into top-mounted burners, in which the burner is threaded directly onto the canister and placed on a flat surface; remote burners (aka: ‘spider’ stoves) with a flexible hose connecting a gas canister to an external, self-supported burner; and all-in-one integrated stove systems with canister, burner and cookset in a single assembly. We’ll look at each subcategory separately in the listings below.
There are two main types of disposable (ie: non-refillable) canister for camping stove gas – and a third type you should know about if you’re doing a lot of riding in the developing world.
The most common type of stove canister worldwide is the UTC (Universal Threaded Canister, which has an EN417 standard 7/16-inch Lindal B188 self-sealing screw valve. You’ll find UTC canister gas widespread in North America and Europe, as well as in specialist outdoor stores worldwide. They have a capacity range of 110/230g/450g (4/8/16oz) and a diameter of 110mm (4.33″). Some have a narrower diameter of 90mm (3.5″); these are designed for integrated stove systems such as the Jetboil (see below) and tend not to be as widely available.
Another common type of canister, which you’ll often see in Western Europe, is the blue, unthreaded, valve-sealed CV type made by long-running camping stove brand Campingaz, onto which the burner clips, rather than screws (not to be confused with the old-fashioned pierceable cartridges that are still made for older stoves). CV canisters come in 240g (90mm diameter) and 450g (110mm diameter) sizes.
Most stoves fit only one type of canister. Which type is likely to reflect where you bought the stove and therefore what type of canister predominates. A few stoves are compatible with both UTC and CV canisters, and I’ve indicated them in the listings below.
Much noise is made by canister manufacturers about the efficiency of their particular propane/butane fuel blend. I can promise you right now that unless you are camping in deep winter conditions, timing each boil to the second and weighing your canister between uses, you will not notice the slightest difference. The best brand of canister is the one that’s available when you need it.
I sometimes get asked if you can actually refill these so-called non-refillable canisters to reduce waste. The official answer from the manufacturers is no, both for safety reasons and because they want you to continue buying their disposable canisters. The unofficial answer, as a quick YouTube search will show you, is yes. Whether you are comfortable with the risks inherent in playing with pressurised gas is something only you can know.
The third type of camping gas canister is the disposable pure-butane cartridge, about the size and shape of a cycling water bottle. These are mainly sold by hardware stores for refilling lighters or for use with compact blowtorches, as well as for certain larger models of camping stoves more often used by car-campers. The valve is a clip-on, self-sealing type, which can be converted to work with the stoves listed below with a cheap valve adapter from eBay or Amazon*. Globally, these cartridges are a lot easier to find outside of the ‘outdoor gear zone’ (and much cheaper), so if you’re planning a world-ranging trip and you want to maximise your stove’s canister compatibility, it may be worth throwing such an adapter into the bottom of a bag. Make sure you read up on how to use such a setup safely, ie: without accidentally turning your stove into a flamethrower.
Compact Canister Gas Camping Stoves For Solo Bicycle Travellers
Small, top-mounted canister gas burners are a good choice for the solo cyclist. They work best with smaller pans, mugs and coffee pots which won’t make the setup too top-heavy.
The price of the stove will change neither your cooking skills nor the boiling point of water, but if saving weight and space is key, spending a little more will get you an extremely light and minimal top-mounted burner. The peace of mind (and warranty) that comes with a big-name manufacturer may also justify spending more, especially if you see this purchase as a long-term investment.
If your tour is confined to Western Europe, you’ll easily find CV canisters for the classic 180g/1300W Campingaz Bleuet Micro Plus (£25, Amazon / eBay) or the even plainer Bleuet (£15, Decathlon), the entry-level camping stove of choice for decades, widely available on the high street in non-specialist stores. It has a relatively low power output, being mainly aimed at families on holiday and festival-goers who want something cheap, simple and timeless.
For UTC canisters, Coleman’s 77g/3600W FyreLite (£25, Amazon/AU / Go Outdoors / Millets / Mountain Warehouse / eBay) is a slim, powerful burner that does the same thing as stoves twice the price. It’s most widely found in the UK and Europe at mainstream outdoor retailers.
UK-based bikepackers looking to minimise weight might favour the titanium Alpkit Kraku (£28, direct), which at 45g is the lightest stove at the lower end of the budget scale, though less powerful than the competition at 2600W.
Originating from North America, a classic among premium top-mounted gas burners for cycle touring and bikepacking is the 73g MSR PocketRocket 2 (£35/$45, Amazon / Alpine Trek / REI / MEC / eBay). Fitting UTC canisters only, the burner is best suited to fast boils in narrow-diameter mugs and small pots. An evolution of the original Pocket Rocket, this remains among the most respected top-mounted canister burners ever made, favoured by users who need a dependable stove for intensive, long-term daily use. Combo kits including mugs, pots and pans also exist, and it’s widely available in the UK and Europe too.
Another favourite top-mounted premium burner in the USA, the 75g Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0 ($50, Amazon / eBay / REI) is similarly recommended for its build quality and durability. Like the Pocket Rocket 2, it’s on the minimal end of things, with a narrower flame diameter suiting smaller pots and mugs; again on UTC canisters only.
Large & Powerful Canister Gas Camping Stoves For Couples/Groups On Bikes
Bigger pots are best paired with stoves that have broader supports, wider flame spreaders, and a higher heat output.
Top-mounted canister gas camping stoves of this type do exist, and a couple are listed below, but if size and weight are not critical I would suggest a remote burner which attaches to the canister with a hose and rests directly on the ground for stability.
Aside from price, what differentiates premium stoves from the basic models listed below is typically durability, power output, cold-weather performance, and of course brand assurance and warranty.
A good choice in the top-mounted burner category for cooking bigger portions is the 146g Coleman FyrePower (£39, Amazon/AU / Go Outdoors / Millets / eBay), with a broad burner and pot stand and a massive 7000W of heat output for rapid boiling or bigger volumes. It takes UTC threaded canisters only and is primarily aimed at the UK/European market.
Another tried-and-tested stove in this category is the 195g Primus Mimer, known in North America as the Classic Trail (£25/€28/$23, Amazon / Alpine Trek / Cotswold Outdoor / Ellis Brigham / Snow + Rock / REI / MEC / eBay). It’s big and stable, cheaper than the Coleman, and has a very long heritage.
Among budget remote gas burners in the UK and Europe, the 200g/2600W Vango Folding stove (£28, Amazon UK / All Outdoor / Cotswold Outdoor / Go Outdoors / Millets / OutdoorGear UK / Snow + Rock / eBay) is a simple, solid option, and comes officially recommended for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions; a sure mark of reliability. It’s available with and without piezo auto-ignition.
For something more powerful but still budget-friendly, you might also try the relatively new but favourably reviewed 3800W/314g Coleman FyrePower Alpine (£50, Amazon/AU / Go Outdoors / Mountain Warehouse / OutdoorGear UK / eBay).
Among affordable ultralight remote burners, the 124g/2800W titanium Alpkit Koro (£48, direct) is incredibly compact and light for its price, but also much smaller than other stoves in this list – perhaps a good choice for two bikepackers sharing minimal gear. I use it solo with a MyTiMug and windshield, as pictured above.
At the top end of the premium remote gas burner scale, the 3000W/346g Easy Fuel from Primus (£90/€100, Amazon / Alpine Trek / eBay) is a popular option in Europe, designed for cooking for up to four people (ie: two hungry cyclists). Like many other premium remote burners, it features a pre-heated fuel line for better performance in the cold.
For a little extra cost and weight, the 385g Easy Fuel Duo (£100/€100, Amazon / All Outdoor / Alpine Trek / eBay) has a multi-purpose valve attachment for both UTC and CV canisters, and has a piezo ignition option.
A similar stove from the USA is the 290g MSR WindPro II (£100/$100, Amazon / Alpine Trek / REI / MEC / eBay), which loses CV compatibility but gains a canister inverter stand, a pre-heated fuel line and a heat reflector – three useful features in winter conditions. As usual with MSR, it can be found cheaper and more readily in its native USA than elsewhere.
My final suggestion for premium remote burning canister gas camping stoves is the 3700W/178g Optimus Vega (£80/$95, Amazon/AU / All Outdoor / Alpine Trek / REI / eBay), the most powerful of the remote burners in this list. Like the MSR, it has a built-in canister inverter and windshield, as well as a pre-heated fuel line, pointing again to suitability for cold conditions. It has a smaller flame spreader than the alternatives, however, and for more than two people a broader burner might be a better choice.
Integrated (All-In-One) Canister Gas Stove Systems
Integrated stove systems, aka: all-in-one stoves, have been popularised in recent years by Jetboil, whose Flash (see below) is the classic example.
These systems combine canister, burner, windshield and pot, maximising efficiency and convenience of use at the expense of versatility: you can often only use the supplied pot or mug, and a limited range of canister sizes.
As the name suggests, they are mainly designed for boiling rather than cooking, prioritising the needs of hikers in the mountainous backcountry. Just pour in the water, press the ignition button and you’ve got a hot, insulated mug of tea or coffee (or a dehydrated meal) within a couple of minutes. These systems deconstruct and pack into their own pots/mugs, so they’re relatively compact and simple to store, too.
If that appeals to you and you’ll be able to find canisters – go for it. Remember, however, that many riders grow to appreciate the versatility of a traditional cooking setup in the long run. If you’re bikepacking with frame luggage, shape and size also need careful consideration.
At the budget end is Alpkit’s 1500W BruKit (£45, direct), which is heavier and bigger than the competition when packed, but then it does cost half the price of even the cheapest ‘premium’ integrated stove system – plus you can use the bigger 110mm-diameter UTC canisters. It comes with a pot stand for use with other cooksets, as well as a canister support for stability.
The 2600W/371g Jetboil Flash (£110/$110 / Amazon* / GoOutdoors* / Cotswold Outdoor* / Snow + Rock* / REI* / MEC / eBay*) has a mug capacity of 1 litre, no flame regulator (it’s either on or off), and claims to boil 500ml of water in 100 seconds. The packed diameter of 104mm is just framebag-friendly, and as with many of these systems it’s designed for 100g/90mm-diameter UTC canisters, which fit in the mug for packing. These are good on short solo trips on which you just want to boil water and be done with it.
Also from Jetboil, the 1750W/415g MiniMo (£145/$150 / Amazon* / Cotswold Outdoor* / REI* / MEC / eBay*) has a shorter, wider pot and a flame regulator for simmering – good, perhaps, for cyclists who want a little more versatility, but to me it seems overpriced considering the competition. Its packed shape likely won’t suit bikepackers with frame bags.
MSR’s 1l-capacity, 430g WindBurner (£135/$150 / Amazon* / GoOutdoors* / Alpine Trek* / REI* / MEC / eBay*) has a flame adjuster, can be used with the larger sizes of UTC canister, and is slightly cheaper than the equivalent Jetboil (the MicroMo). Beyond the basic model, you can choose from a variety of upgrade kits* with different sizes and shapes of cooking pot and pan.
Finally, the 1500W Primus Lite+ (€130 / Amazon* / Alpine Trek* / eBay*) is the minimalist’s option, with the smallest packed size and weight but only 500ml of capacity in the supplied mug, although supports are provided for other pots and pans.
You can spend a long time ploughing through the specifications to find that these integrated stoves all do more or less the same thing. The differences to watch out for are capacity, canister compatibility, and, for bikepackers, packed shape and size.
Alcohol-Burning Camping Stoves For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Alcohol stoves are designed to burn high-strength liquid alcohol. Methylated spirit and surgical spirit (aka: medical alcohol or rubbing alcohol) are the most commonly available, though it’s also found in other forms.
The key is a very high alcohol content – at least 90%, preferably 95% or higher. Because of the many and varied uses of alcohol, some form will be available pretty much anywhere you find civilisation – even in ‘dry’ countries such as Iran. (There’s a very detailed list of stove-compatible alcohol-based fuels at Zenstoves.net.)
Alcohol is slower to cook over than gas or liquid fuel, but its wide availability and relative cleanliness is what makes it viable. Because the fuel does not need to be pressurised, these stoves tend to be even simpler and lightweight, making alcohol stoves a favourite with ultralight bikepackers. They don’t do well in very cold temperatures, however, and the unpressurised flame can be vulnerable to wind – hence why many alcohol stoves have integrated windshields.
The classic example of this type of stove is the Swedish-made Trangia, which is often referred to simply by the brand name. Consisting of little more than a fuel pot with a few holes in it, alcohol stoves burn simply, cleanly and efficiently, needing no complicated mechanisms for pressurising the less volatile fuel. The fact that there are no moving parts to worry about makes them the most simple and durable stove you can get for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip – not to mention the lightest.
The D.I.Y. Beer Can Alcohol-Burning Stove
One of the best gifts I ever received on the road was a stove made from a single empty Gin & Tonic can. More than ten years later I am still using the same stove, having taken it on bike tours, overnight trips closer to home, festivals, and even used it in city parks while waiting for trains in order to save money on hot beverages.
In 2013 I tracked down the creator of the stove and filmed a short ‘how-to’ video in which he demonstrated in detail how to make it, far better than I’m able to do in words here. It’s had an amazing 3.5 million views, and will probably be the most successful film I’ll ever make.
Making the stove will take you about 10 minutes and requires nothing more than a pocket knife and one empty drinks can. You also get that priceless smug feeling that comes with having a) pulled off a really cool DIY project and b) saved yourself a hundred quid on a WhisperLite.
More than one of you? Get a bigger pot, then make three burners and arrange them in a triangle. Windy? Use your cheap foam roll-mat or a couple of panniers as a windbreak.
Compact Alcohol Camping Stoves For Solo Ultralight Bikepacking & Cycle Touring
Alpkit have recently entered the alcohol stove market with the 150g Bruler (£30, direct). As with all Alpkit’s gear, it’s simple, lightweight and very good value, and pairs up nicely with (and fits inside) their 120g MyTiPot 900, resulting in a frame bag-friendly packed diameter of 123mm and a total weight of 270g. The main advantage over the DIY option is the addition of a windshield and a flame regulator. This is a great option for a solo rider looking to save weight and pack size.
Almost as light and slightly cheaper is the 350g Mini Trangia (£30/€35 / Amazon* / Go Outdoors* Alpine Trek* / eBay*), in which a 0.8l pot and a small nonstick frying pan are included. Designed for mountain marathon competitions, it also prioritises light weight and small pack size, occupying just 67mm of width in your frame bag.
Full-Featured Alcohol Camping Stove Systems For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Groups/Couples
Trangia have made their name from alcohol-burning stove sets, supplying them for military as well as civilian use – a sure mark of durability. The brand is now synonymous with this type of stove, and there are few alternatives worth mentioning in this category.
Trangia stoves are modular systems, in which you choose the most appropriate size and combination of pots and pans, plus a choice of bare aluminium, hard-anodised or non-stick finishes, to suit your budget and cookery ambitions (you can also buy all the components separately and assemble your own system). They’re far from the smallest and lightest cooking systems, making them a better bet for fully loaded cycle touring than ultralight bikepacking, but they are extremely reliable and time-tested.
Each system includes the burner itself, a windshield and pot stand, and the cookware, and it all fits together for packing in a rather pleasing fashion. Basic systems include two 1‑litre aluminium pots and a frying pan. The most comprehensive packages include 2 hard-anodised pans, a non-stick frying pan and a kettle.
The Trangia 27 series sets (from £60 / Amazon* / Go Outdoors* / Alpine Trek* / eBay*) are advertised for solo or couple travellers in terms of capacity. Given the size of the cyclist’s appetite, however, I’d recommend this series for solo travellers only.
The Trangia 25 series sets (from £70 / Amazon* / Go Outdoors* Alpine Trek* / eBay*) are more or less the same except that everything is upsized for more people. This is a better bet for couples; you could also feed three in a pinch.
A final point about the Trangia systems is that you can swap out the alcohol burner for an optional gas, gel or multi-fuel burner – perfect for those looking to cover all fuel types with a single stove kit.
Multi-Fuel (aka: Liquid Fuel) Camping Stoves For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Multi-fuel or liquid fuel stoves are designed to pressurise and vaporise many types of liquid hydrocarbons. Two of these are extremely common on the roadside – petrol and diesel – and it’s this that makes the multi-fuel stove a common choice for long-haul expeditions across many countries or continents.
These liquid fuels are ‘hacked’ into a cooking flame using a fuel bottle with a presurrising hand pump, coupled with a delivery system that vaporises the fuel using the stove’s own heat. Unlike any other type of stove, this is why they need to be primed before use.
Multi-fuel stoves are made by companies who usually specialise in mountaineering and expedition gear. They are expensive but extremely durable and versatile, and the best can be considered once-in-a-lifetime purchases.
Like anything with moving parts, multi-fuel stoves need occasional maintenance to keep them performing well. This could mean anything from unblocking the fuel jet to cleaning soot from the burner, lubricating the pump cup, or replacing seals and O‑rings. All come with a basic maintenance kit included; spare parts and more extensive kits are available separately.
Although they are simple to disassemble, it is worth practising at home before embarking upon a trip of any length.
Fuel bottles are not included as standard with multi-fuel stoves, the idea being that you’ll choose the size(s) that meets your needs. You’ll need one special fuel bottle designed to be fitted with the fuel pump and pressurised. It’s recommended to buy one from the same manufacturer as the stove, or buy a ‘combo’ kit in which stove and bottle are included.
As a rough guide to real-world fuel consumption, one 600ml bottle will give a solo rider about a week’s worth of simple evening meals and morning brews. For a pair, the same bottle might last 3–4 days.
Many riders stow fuel bottles outside their luggage for safety and in case of spillage, often in a frame-mounted cage. The BikeBuddy used to be ubiquitous, but the proliferation of bikepacking means many other solutions are now available.
Most of the stoves in the list below can burn petrol, diesel, kerosene (liquid paraffin), jet fuel, white gas (aka: Coleman fuel), and perhaps more, but not alcohol. As a cyclist, you will probably come across roadside filling stations more often than camping equipment suppliers, so your two most accessible fuels will likely be unleaded petrol (aka: benzine) and diesel. Of these, petrol is the cleaner-burning and easier to prime, but more volatile. Diesel produces more particulates and achieving a simmer is more difficult, but it might be your only option in places where agricultural vehicles dominate.
Dig around and you’ll find complaints from people who claim that the flame is tiny or spluttering, that they singed their eyebrows in a massive fireball, or that their stove cakes everything in black soot. Around 90% of the time this will be user error; the other 10% will be poor quality fuel. Watch a few Youtube tutorials to save yourself from future embarrassment, fuel leaks, singed eyebrows, and obnoxious rants on internet forums.
Simple Multi-Fuel Camping Stoves For Boiling Water On Bike Trips
The following stoves have limited or no flame adjustment features, though you can ‘hack’ them in all sorts of clever ways. (My favourite is to bend the windshield around the pot supports and place the pot on top, as pictured above.)
The simplest in design of all multi-fuel stoves, they are highly versatile, designed to burn almost any liquid fuel, and will boil water in the most demanding conditions.
MSR WhisperLite International (£105/$100)
The 320g MSR WhisperLite International (Amazon / All Outdoor / Alpine Trek / Ellis Brigham / REI / MEC / eBay*) is the flagship model in MSR’s multi-fuel stove range, with a track record of nearly 40 years, and can be found on the kit-list of many a world cyclist. Why is it called the WhisperLite? Because, unlike most other multi-fuel stoves, it burns really quietly.
The design is easy to take apart and clean, and while basic tools and spares are included, MSR make an expedition service kit for the stove, which if you’re likely to be on the road for more than a few months is a worthwhile investment.
The flame spreader of the WhisperLite International is large in comparison to some of the other stoves in this list. This makes it better for wider-diameter cooking pots. For the smallest solo cooking pots and mugs it’ll spill heat around the edges, burning fingers and melting handles in the process.
If you want to cook simple meals anywhere in the world, to invest in a good-value stove that’ll last a lifetime, and if ultra-minimalism is not your goal, look no further than the WhisperLite International.
Note: Do not confuse this with the regular WhisperLite (ie: non-International), which looks the same but burns only white gas, a highly refined type of petrol. It’s designed primarily for backpackers in North America, where this fuel is most readily available.
MSR WhisperLite Universal (£160/$140)
The 320g MSR WhisperLite Universal (Amazon / Alpine Trek / Cotswold Outdoor / REI / MEC / eBay*) is a WhisperLite International (see above) that burns canister gas – albeit with a messy change of both fuel jet and hose attachment – and doesn’t burn diesel.
All other physical characteristics are the same as the International. In canister mode, the Universal allows more flame adjustment than when running on liquid fuel, and in this mode could be categorised as a proper ‘cookery’ stove, rather than just a stove for water-boiling.
If you’ll be travelling where UTC gas canisters are available, and you don’t mind the extra cost, the only reason to stick with the plain International is if you’ll be going where diesel is the only available fuel.
(I reviewed this stove in detail when it was launched back in 2012 after a two-month ride down the US West Coast.)
MSR XGK-EX (£160/$160)
The MSR XGK-EX (Amazon / REI / Moosejaw / MEC / eBay*) takes the functionality of the WhisperLite International, focuses the heat into a smaller area, and turns up the power to eleven. The result is what for almost 40 years has been the undisputed king of mountaineering stoves, boiling water rapidly in any conceivable weather and circumstances.
While MSR describe it as “the number one choice on expeditions worldwide”, let’s not forget that you’re riding a bicycle, not climbing K2. It’s a blunt tool, leaving room for little else than noisy, rapid boiling, but it’s included it here in case you’re planning a minimalist bike trip in remote, mountainous, high-altitude backcountry where only low-grade diesel is available. (Which does occasionally happen.)
Full-Featured Multi-Fuel Camping Stoves For Proper Cookery (ie: Simmering) On The Road
The longer your ride, the more you’ll crave variety in your diet. The following stoves all feature flame adjustment, allowing you to cook an omelette, simmer some vegetables or rice, reheat a takeaway, or do something far more clever*.
Similar in packed weight and size, multi-fuel camping stoves designed for simmering are slightly more expensive than the stoves above, and they tend to have slightly longer boiling times, though this is unlikely to bother most bicycle travellers.
It is worth noting that liquid fuel (in particular diesel) is not well suited to delicate cookery, so there is a physical limit to how low a flame you can achieve. Below a certain temperature, the vapourising mechanism will stop working and the fuel will be emitted as liquid, resulting in yellow flames which will cover your gear in soot and make your clothes stink of exhaust fumes even more than they already do.
MSR DragonFly (£140/$140)
The MSR DragonFly (Amazon / Go Outdoors / Alpine Trek / REI / Outdoorplay / eBay*) is a noisier, slightly more expensive stove than the WhisperLite International above, with the same fuel compatibility plus the all-important ability to simmer via an additional flame adjuster control between the fuel hose and the burner.
It functions identically to the Optimus Nova below, and it’s a tiny bit cheaper and significantly more popular worldwide. It’s similar in packed size and weight to all the stoves in this list.
Although it has a slightly narrower flame spreader and a slightly longer boil time than the WhisperLite, it’s built to support a bigger range of pots (up to 10″/25cm diameter, according to MSR). In other words, the DragonFly gives you options.
Among world cyclists in it for the long haul, the MSR DragonFly is one of the most popular stoves of all. I started out with a DragonFly myself back in 2007, and if I was touring alone and out of range of gas canisters, I’d still pack it in my kitchen pannier today.
Optimus Nova (£145/$150)
The Optimus Nova (Amazon UK / Alpine Trek / Moosejaw / eBay*) does the same thing as the MSR DragonFly, except that it looks slightly cooler, is slightly more expensive, and some people will make a lot of noise on the internet about how much better it is (it isn’t).
Optimus bill their flagship multi-fuel stove as ‘legendary’, which I personally think is more about what its users have achieved than anything about the stove itself, but – like the DragonFly – it does come with the peace of mind of a long-standing reputation.
Why you’d buy the Nova instead the DragonFly comes down to availability, whim, and whether or not you can find a good discount.
(If you’re craving some specification sheets to look at and compare, you’re wasting valuable time you could be using to brush up on omelette-cooking skills or to teach yourself to tell the difference between diesel and petrol by fragrance alone.)
Optimus Polaris Optifuel (£150/$180)
The Optimus Polaris Optifuel (Amazon / Alpine Trek / Cotswold Outdoor / Moosejaw / eBay*), on the other hand, does manage to squeeze in a meaningful extra feature: the ability to simmer both on liquid fuel and on UTC gas canisters with the same fuel jet – like a more intelligent and better-looking mashup of the MSR WhisperLite Universal and the Dragonfly.
Of course, you’ll pay handsomely for these features, and it doesn’t have MSR’s 35-year reputation for faultless long-term reliability (or that of the original Optimus Nova).
I’d choose this over the time-proven alternatives only if you really need to burn both diesel and canister gas with the same stove and you’re comfortable with having a relatively new piece of gear at the centre of your cooking setup.
Primus OmniFuel (£190/€215/$170) / OmniLite Ti (€240/$200)
The 375g Primus OmniFuel (Amazon / All Outdoor / Alpine Trek / Cotswold Outdoor / Primus USA / MEC / eBay*) does exactly the same thing as the Optimus Polaris Optifuel: it simmers on both liquid fuel (including diesel) and UTC canister gas. It costs a bit more, weighs a bit less, puts out a bit less heat, and is slightly more widely available than the Optimus, especially in North America.
The OmniFuel is of sufficient renown to have become the staple expedition stove for British Exploring (formerly B.S.E.S.) excursions, winning the OmniFuel a plus point for proven reliability.
If you want the simmering functionality and assured reliability of the DragonFly plus the ability to burn canister fuel and money is no object, the OmniFuel is probably your stove.
If money is no object and you want the lightest multi-fuel stove on the market, take a look at the titanium-bodied, 230g Primus OmniLite Ti (Amazon / Alpine Trek / Cotswold Outdoor / OutdoorGear UK / Backcountry.com / Primus USA), which is the same stove made out of a more expensive metal.
Otherwise, you can save loads of money on the ability to burn both gas and liquid fuel by buying a DragonFly and a cheap top-mounted canister burner to go with it.
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Bonus #1: How To Get An Expensive Multi-Fuel Camping Stove For Cheap
Multi-fuel camping stoves are a great example of expensive pieces of equipment that people convince themselves they need when they actually don’t.
It doesn’t take long for some buyers to realise that canister gas is much more pleasant to cook with, and that they’re not really going on a massive round-the-world expedition anyway.
The result is that barely-used multi-fuel stoves turn up pretty regularly on eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist, climbing and outdoor forums, Facebook gear exchange groups, etc.
If you do actually need one of these beasts, and you want to save as much money as possible, you’ve little to lose by buying second hand. Even a relatively well-used stove, if it’s been looked after, will keep going for years.
Bonus #2: How To Go Cycle Touring Or Bikepacking Without A Stove
This seems like a good opportunity to remind you that the simplest way to feed yourself on tour is to buy food from supermarkets and bakeries, eat street food and restaurant meals, and skip cookery altogether, losing about half a pannier’s worth of gear in the process.
It’s often a more expensive way to feed yourself – but just for good measure, here are a few simple ways of keeping costs down in the no-stove scenario:
- Subsist entirely on cold picnic food. It’s all calories at the end of the day.
- Make extensive use of Couchsurfing or Warmshowers: your host(s) will almost certainly let you use their kitchen, and may well even feed you (though you shouldn’t take this for granted).
- Most budget hostels have cooking facilities, as do many campsites. Rustic campgrounds in the USA provide fire braziers and might sell firewood.
- Take a single pan or mug and get good at lighting cooking fires. If this immediately makes you concerned about your environmental impact, know that it’s possible to leave no trace if you know how.
- As a compromise, consider a Kelly Kettle or similar wood-burning camp stove.
So here you are, 7,480 words later, at the end of my guide to buying a stove for a bike trip. Well done. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Now grab whatever stove is closest to hand and go cycling already!