In the same way as having a kitchen is not essential for being able to eat, packing a stove when cycle touring or bikepacking is not essential for feeding yourself. There are other ways to refuel your body than by cooking your own hot food every day.
Having said that, many adventurous cyclists find it comforting and convenient to cook for themselves, or at least to have a means of boiling water for hot drinks and instant meals. I’ve always carried a stove for these reasons, from multi-fuel expedition stoves in Outer Mongolia to cheap and cheerful canister burners in Europe.
(The only exception was in Thailand in 2018, when I knew in advance that delicious food would be cheap and abundant everywhere.)
In this excruciatingly detailed article (as in 7,000+ words detailed), I’ll help you figure out how to choose between the many different types, makes and models of stove on offer.
To do that, we’ll look at the main categories of camping stove preferred by cycle tourists and bikepackers, and look at tried-and-tested examples from each category.
Since my readership is mainly UK-based, I’ll include buying links to UK retailers, but many of the stoves mentioned in this article are available globally. (For the sake of USA-based readers, I’ve also included buying links to REI where I can.)
Ready? Cup of tea to hand? OK – let’s begin.
First Things First – What Do You Actually Need From Your Camping Stove?
As with all equipment choices, clarifying a few things about the cycle tour or bikepacking trip you’re going on will make things easier. So I want to start by asking three questions that will help identify which type of stove will best serve your needs, and continue from there.
Question 1: Where Are You Going (And For How Long)?
This question is partly about continent, country and region, but it’s also about how far from the beaten track you’re planning to ride.
The reason it’s important for stove choice is that you’ll buy a stove once, but you’ll buy fuel for it over and over again – every few days if you use the stove regularly. Fuel availability will therefore be one of the biggest factors in deciding what type of stove to buy.
If you are riding where campsites, camping shops and campers are a frequent find, it is highly likely you’ll be able to find gas canisters for camping stoves – Western Europe and North America in particular, If you’re heading further afield and/or off the tourist trail for longer than the capacity of a gas canister or two, alcohol or liquid fuel are likely to be more reliably found.
(We’ll come back to fuel types later on, as they also happen to define the three main categories of camping stove for cycle touring and bikepacking.)
Where you’re going will also affect how often you actually need cook. You might find that good, fresh food is so cheap and abundant on the roadside in some regions (South-East Asia being a good example) that cooking your own food makes little sense.
Question 2: What Do You Mean By ‘Cooking’?
When you say ‘cooking’, do you really mean ‘boiling water for coffee and noodles’?
Simply boiling water is far less demanding than actual cookery and can be accomplished with minimal gear or with an integrated system like the Jetboil. If you do want to do any proper cookery (see Tara Alan’s excellent Bike. Camp. Cook* ebook to see what I mean by this), you’ll need a versatile, adjustable stove – maybe more than one – and lots more pots, pans and utensils; perhaps even a kitchen sink.
We’ll cover the full spectrum of cooking ambitions, so think about what’s going to be important to you: quick, simple and monotonous; or slow, tasty and varied.
It follows, of course, that the gear (and ingredients) required for proper cookery will impact on your luggage requirements; fully-loaded riders with several panniers and rack space will have more flexibility in this respect than ultralight bikepackers.
Question 3: How Many Mouths Are You Feeding?
It might sound elementary, but more food requires a bigger pot and more energy to heat it.
That’s why – just as most regular kitchens have burners of different sizes – camping stoves are available with pot supports, flame spreaders and heat output ratings for a variety of requirements, from soloists boiling a mug of water to gourmet couples and groups spending hours preparing three-course meals.
It’s important to get this right, because it’s likely hard to change things later down the road. An oversized pot or pan placed over a tiny top-mounted canister burner resting on uneven ground will not just be precarious: with lightweight tents or dry tinder around, it could be downright dangerous.
So consider how much food you’ll want to be cooking on an average night, and how much flexibility you’d like when it comes to pot shape and size, and choose the right tools for the job from the start.
What Types Of Camping Stove Are Best For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking?
I’ve mentioned fuel types a couple of times already, and that they largely define the categories of stove available. In fact, there are three main types of camping stove of the kind suited to cycle touring and bikepacking, depending on what type of fuel they are designed to burn.
Each has its particular strengths and weaknesses, so let’s look at each category in turn.
1. Canister Gas Stoves
Gas is the ideal fuel for cooking, which is why all industrial kitchens use it. It burns cleanly and efficiently, and pressurised canisters mean that the stoves can be simple in design, needing no pressurisation mechanisms or other work-arounds.
Stoves of the type we’re interested in can be further subdivided into top-mounted burners, such as MSR’s classic Pocket Rocket; remote burners with short hoses to connect to an external canister, such as Alpkit’s Koro; and all-in-one integrated stove systems such as the Jetboil series.
There are two main types of canister. The most common type worldwide is the Universal Threaded Canister (UTC) type, with a 7/16-inch Lindal B188 screw valve (EN417 standard) onto which you screw the burner or hose and which automatically seals when you disconnect it. You’ll find these widespread in the USA in particular.
Another common type of canister you’ll often see in Western Europe, available at outdoor stores, hardware stores, campsites and the like, is the unthreaded valve-sealed CV system by long-running camping stove brand Campingaz, requiring a different, clip-on type of burner attachment (not to be confused with the old-fashioned pierceable cartridges that are still made for older stoves).
Most stoves fit only one type of canister, and which type is quite likely to reflect where you bought it.
There are, however, a few stoves that are compatible with both, which we’ll look at later.
Regardless of type, it’s the smallest sized canisters you’ll be interested in, which are designed for backpackers rather than caravan- or car-campers.
UTC canisters are made by lots of manufacturers including Coleman, MSR and Primus and typically have a capacity of 110/230g/450g (4/8/16oz) and a diameter of 110mm (4.33″). Some have a narrower diameter of 90mm/3.5″ and are specifically designed for integrated stove systems such as the Jetboil (see below). These smaller canisters tend not to be as widely available as the larger-diameter ones.
CV cartridges made by Campingaz come in 240g (90mm diameter) and 450g (110mm diameter) sizes.
Much hoo-hah is made by gas canister manufacturers over the specific blend of propane and butane and thus how efficient their fuel is. I can promise you right now that unless you are camping in winter conditions, timing each boil to the second and weighing your canister between uses, you will not notice the slightest difference. The best brand to choose is the one that’s available when you need it.
Importantly for riders flying to their starting points, pressurised gas canisters cannot be transported by air, either in the hold or in cabin baggage, so you’ll need to make sure suitable canisters can be bought on arrival.
2. Alcohol Stoves
Alcohol stoves are designed to burn high-strength liquid alcohol, of which methylated spirit and surgical spirit (aka: medical alcohol or rubbing alcohol) are probably the most common, though it’s also available in other forms.
The key is a very high alcohol content – at least 90%, preferably 95% or higher. Homemade vodka will not work. Because of the many uses of alcohol besides stove fuel (or drinking it), 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 fuels at Zenstoves.net.)
Alcohol is much 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 simple and lightweight, making alcohol stoves a favourite with ultralight bikepackers. They don’t do well in very cold temperatures, however, and the flame can be vulnerable to wind without adequate protection.
The classic example of this type of stove is the Swedish-made Trangia, which is often referred to simply by the brand name. It’s also possible to quickly and easily make your own alcohol stove from an empty drinks can. We’ll look at other models later on.
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.
Some people are put off by the thought of having to find fuel in remote areas, and/or figure out what it’s called in the local language. But this is largely a hangover from when Google Translate didn’t exist and information on locally-available fuels wasn’t as easily available. In reality, alcohol stoves have happily taken people round the world and into the back of beyond, and will no doubt continue to do so.
3. Multi-Fuel (Liquid Fuel) Stoves
These are the most complicated and expensive type of stove, designed to pressurise and vaporise many types of liquid hydrocarbon including paraffin (or kerosene), jet fuel (kerosene with additives), diesel, unleaded petrol (aka: benzine), and white gas (aka: Coleman fuel, which is a highly refined kind of petrol).
Two of these fuels are, of course, 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 ranging far from the tourist trail.
The liquid fuels are ‘hacked’ into a cooking flame by a process of vapourisation, requiring a pressurised fuel bottle and pump, a remote burner with a hose, and a relatively complicated delivery system that vaporises the fuel by pre-heating it within the fuel line. This has the side effect of making multi-fuel stoves the best choice for extreme cold, which is why high-altitude mountaineering expeditions always use them – but also means the learning curve for priming and lighting them is a little steeper.
The result is sometimes a bit smelly and messy, but this is the most reliable way of producing a flame to stick your pot over on a round-the-world expedition in all temperatures and conditions.
The classic example of a multi-fuel camping stove for cycle touring is the MSR WhisperLite International, which has a whopping 35-year heritage.
Now we’ve looked at the three main types of camping stove for cycle touring and bikepacking, let’s look at specific examples in each category, and see how they can be further subdivided by budget, size & weight, and type of use. For each example I’ll tell you what kind of use it’s best suited to (and why).
By the way, this is a very comprehensive list. It includes more or less every stove I’ve come across in 12 years of riding and writing about riding, minus those that have been discontinued.
In other words, it is practically impossible that the stove you need for your trip is not in the list below.
Canister Gas Stoves For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
This section highlights a range of tried-and-tested canister gas camping stoves throughout the price spectrum. All of the stoves in this section work on extremely simplistic principles: take in pressurised gas via one hole, and then blast it out of another hole, on fire.
Many of these stoves come in two versions – with or without ‘auto-ignition‘, which is basically a built-in spark generator button that eliminates the need for matches or a lighter. Neat idea, but they do have a reputation for being somewhat unreliable, so for long and/or remote trips in the wilderness my advice is to avoid these ‘upgrades’ and pack matches, several lighters and perhaps even a fire steel* instead, so in the worst case scenario you can always light a fire. (If you’re purifying drinking water by boiling, as I once was in Mongolia, being able to do this could be critical.)
Cheap Canister Stoves For Solo Travellers
Small and simple top-mounted burners are the order of the day for the solo cyclist in the market for a budget canister stove. They’re good for smaller pans, stability issues tending to prohibit anything bigger.
If your tour is confined to Western Europe, you’re unlikely to have problems finding suitable cylinders for the Campingaz Twister Plus (Amazon UK* / GoOutdoors*), which is probably the cheapest camping stove you’ll find in this category. At 263g it’s a fair bit heavier than the competition, but will hold slightly larger pots. For comparison with the stoves below, it has an output of 2900W.
For UTC canisters, Coleman’s 77g/3600W FyreLite (GoOutdoors*) is a basic and relatively powerful burner that does the same thing as stoves three times the price. It’ll last just as long if properly looked-after. Similar is the 3000W Vango Compact, which I occasionally throw into my frame bag for short, solo trips.
Of interest to bikepackers looking to lose weight is the very affordable titanium Alpkit Kraku (order direct from Alpkit), which at 45g is the lightest stove listed here, though less powerful at 2600W.
Cheap Canister Gas Stoves For Couples/Groups
Bigger pots for couples are best paired with stoves that have broader supports and, ideally, a higher heat output. It’s advisable to find or make a stand to stabilise the base of the canister as well. Top-mounted examples exist, but if size and weight are not hyper-important, consider a remote burner model, which attaches to the canister by a hose, for maximum stability.
Another good option here is the Primus Mimer (AlpineTrek.co.uk* / Ellis Brigham*), big and stable but with a significantly lower heat output at 2800W. The Duo version burns both UTC and CV canisters and is a versatile option for tours involving Western Europe.
Among remote burners in the budget category, the 2600W/200g Vango Folding gas stove (Amazon UK* / Blacks* / Millets*) is a solid option and comes officially recommended for DofE expeditions, though it’s not particularly powerful.
At the ultralight end of things is the 124g/2800W titanium Alpkit Koro, which features a remote burner design and a very compact folded size – a good choice, perhaps, for two bikepackers sharing gear.
Premium Canister Gas Stoves For Solo Riders
An expensive stove will not improve your cooking skills, nor decrease the boiling point of water. But the peace of mind that comes with the manufacturer’s reputation (and warranty) may perhaps justify the additional expense, especially if you see this purchase as a long-term investment.
A classic among premium top-mounted gas burners for cycle touring is the 130g MSR SuperFly* (Amazon UK*). As well as UTC canisters, it’s also natively compatible with CV canisters – fantastic if Western Europe is on your route. The relatively large pot support and flame spreader, plus high maximum heat output, suits a range of pot sizes, and I’d recommend it for a solo cycle tourer wanting maximum versatility and durability from a simple, high quality canister stove.
On the ultralight bikepacking end of things from MSR is the (also classic) 73g Pocket Rocket 2 (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / GoOutdoors.co.uk* / REI*). It packs smaller than the SuperFly, but only takes UTC canisters and the burner is best suited to fast boils in narrow diameter mugs and small pots. The classic Pocket Rocket is among the most dependable and trusted minimal top-mounted canister burners ever made, particularly among backpackers and hikers – and thus it’s oft favoured by bikepackers.
Finally, the 75g GigaPower 2.0 (REI*) from Snow Peak is also widely recommended for its build quality and durability. Like the Pocket Rocket 2, it’s on the minimal end of things, suiting smaller pots with a narrower flame diameter; again on UTC canisters only. It’s not so easy to find in the UK, though if you’re in the USA it’s a good bet.
Premium Canister Stoves For Couples/Groups
Stoves for significantly bigger pots tend to be of the remote burning variety, which are more stable and can crank out more heat without risking overheating the canister. These are ideal for feeding more people (or rustling up more complicated meals). What differentiates them from the basic remote-burning stoves listed above is typically power output, weight, cold-weather performance, and brand assurance.
From Primus, the remote-burning 3000W/346g Easy Fuel (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk*) with auto-ignition is good value for money, designed for cooking for up to 4 people (or 2-3 hungry cyclists). For a little extra money, the 385g Easy Fuel Duo (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk*) has a multi-purpose valve for both UTC and CV varieties of canister, which you’ll want if you’re riding in Western Europe.
A similar stove from the USA is the MSR WindPro II* (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / Trekitt*), which loses CV compatibility but gains a canister inverter stand and a windshield – two useful features in winter conditions. It’s also a fair bit lighter than the Easy Fuel. As usual with MSR, it can be found cheaper in its native USA than elsewhere.
My third and final suggestion is the 3700W/178g Optimus Vega (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / Trekitt* / REI*) pictured above, which is the most powerful of the stoves in this list, and also has a clever built-in canister inverter and windshield, as well as a pre-heated fuel line, pointing again to suitability for winter conditions. It’s smaller than the alternatives, however, and for more than two people a bigger stove might be a better choice.
Consider that several multi-fuel stoves can also burn canister fuel, don’t cost that much more, and may prove more versatile in the long term.
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 (pictured above) is perhaps the classic example.
Such systems generally combine canister, burner, windshield and pot in order to maximise efficiency and convenience of use at the possible expense of versatility – you can only use the supplied pot or mug, and only specific sizes of canister will work (which are not always easily available). As Jetboil’s name suggests, they are usually designed for rapid boiling as opposed to cooking, prioritising the needs of hikers in the mountainous backcountry over those of slow, meandering bicycle travellers.
Proponents of these systems – who tend to be ultralight thru-hikers in the USA – love the speed and ease: 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, usually including the 100g/90mm-diameter canister (ie: the smallest available).
If all of that appeals to you and you’re absolutely sure 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, their shape and size when stowed also needs careful consideration.
The original Jetboil Flash (Amazon UK* / GoOutdoors* / Cotswold Outdoor* / Snow + Rock* / REI*) has a mug capacity of 1l, 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 about framebag-friendly, and as with most of these systems it takes 90mm-diameter UTC canisters, the 100g size of which fits in the mug for packing. Assuming you can get the fuel, it’d be good for a short solo trip in which you just want to boil water and be done with it.
Also from Jetboil, the smaller, lighter and much more expensive MicroMo (Amazon UK* / REI*) has a regulator for simmering and a 0.8l capacity – good, perhaps, for soloists who want a little more versatility and have loads of money to spend, but to me it seems overpriced, considering the competition (see below).
The Sumo scales up the capacity to 1.8l for couples and small groups – however, I tend to think it’s better to share out the components of a traditional stove setup among a group and have more variety in your cooking options.
Other manufacturers have, of course, launched competing integrated stove systems.
MSR‘s 1l-capacity WindBurner* (Amazon UK* / GoOutdoors* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / REI*) is roughly the equivalent to the Jetboil MicroMo but – perhaps usefully – can be used with the larger sizes of UTC canister, and it’s considerably cheaper (though still not cheap). You can also upgrade to a 1.8l pot. (The very expensive Reactor series is oriented towards mountaineering groups and I can see little logic to considering this for a bike trip.)
At the lower-budget end is Alpkit‘s BruKit, which is heavier and bigger when packed, but then it does cost half the price of even the cheapest ‘premium’ integrated stove system – plus you can use the bigger sized UTC canisters.
You’ll spend a long time ploughing through the specifications to find that they’ll all do more or less the same thing. The only meaningful differences to watch out for are capacity (ie: how many people you can feed in one go), canister size compatibility, and, if you’re using frame luggage, packed dimensions.
Alcohol Camping Stoves For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
As mentioned in more detail above, alcohol stoves (aka: spirit burners) run on methylated spirit, medical alcohol, and other forms of high-strength liquid alcohol, which are widely and cheaply available worldwide from pharmacies and hardware stores. Let’s look at some of the stoves in this category you might consider for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip.
The D.I.Y. Alcohol 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 made 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 at the time of writing. Making it will take you about 10 minutes and requires nothing more than a pocket knife, and optionally a pair of scissors. The stove runs on meths and other types of high-strength alcohol. 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.
Other home-made stove designs exist, but this one is the quickest and simplest to build in a pinch. Again, ZenStoves.net is a goldmine of stove information online.
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.
Minimal Alcohol Camping Stoves For Ultralight Bikepacking
Alpkit have recently entered the alcohol stove market with the 150g Bruler. 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 330g Mini Trangia (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk*) (more on Trangia below), 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.
Complete Alcohol Stove Systems For Cycle Touring
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, in the same way as Hoover and Xerox, and the reality is that there are very few alternatives worth mentioning in this category.
Trangia stoves are part of 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 (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk*) is advertised for solo or couple travellers in terms of capacity; however given the magnitude of the average cyclist’s appetite I’d recommend this series only for solo travellers.
The Trangia 25 series (Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk*) series is 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.
Multi-Fuel (Liquid Fuel) Stoves For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Multi-fuel stoves are usually considered expedition-grade equipment, made by companies specialising in mountaineering and polar gear. They are expensive but extremely durable and versatile, being the default choice for journeys involving extreme conditions (particularly the cold), and can be considered once-in-a-lifetime purchases. It is not uncommon to hear of multi-fuel stoves lasting decades, their owners taking the same trusty old stoves along on trip after trip after trip.
Of course, most bicycle journeys are not expeditions. Food and water is globally available on the roadside, and many tours take place in countries where canister gas is widely available. Usually, then, it’s the prospect of riding long-term on the road less travelled – where cooking food or boiling water becomes more important and fuel is mainly restricted to petrol and diesel – that makes these stoves relevant to the cyclist.
Like anything with lots of moving parts, multi-fuel stoves need care and maintenance to keep them performing well in the long term. This could mean anything from unblocking the fuel jet to cleaning soot out of the burner, lubricating the pump cup, or replacing seals and O-rings.
Although they are simple to disassemble and come with the basic tools and instructions, it is well worth practising routine maintenance before embarking upon a trip of any length (a bit like your bike).
Fuel bottles are generally not included with stove purchases, the idea being that you’ll choose the size(s) that meet your needs. As a rough guide, a 600ml bottle will give one person about a week’s worth of evening meals and morning brews. For a pair, the same bottle might last 3–4 days. If you plan on hot breakfasts, more brews, or more elaborate meals, your fuel consumption will increase.
It’s important to note that you’ll need a special fuel bottle designed to be pressurised and fitted with a fuel pump – it’s best to go with one from the same manufacturer as the stove, or to buy a ‘combo’ in which stove and bottle are included. On the other hand, plastic soda bottles work perfectly well as spare fuel bottles when you need to carry extra.
You’ll find plenty of complaints on the internet from newcomers to multi-fuel stoves – that the flame is tiny or spluttering, that they singed their eyebrows in a massive fireball, or that they cake everything in soot. 90% of the time this is user error; the other 10% is usually poor quality fuel.
This is perhaps explained by the fact that there is a steeper learning curve using them (especially priming and lighting them and purging the fuel line after use) than there is for other types of stove, so watch a few Youtube tutorials to save yourself from future embarrassment, fuel leaks, and singed eyebrows.
A Note On The Differences Between Multi-Fuel Stoves
Multi-fuel camping stoves diversify into two broad subcategories: those designed to boil water rapidly, and those designed to provide an adjustable flame for actual cookery. The latter are generally heavier, involve more components, don’t kick out quite as much heat, and take longer to get used to.
One other concern that might be relevant to you is the availability of spare parts on ultra-long-term, round-the-world rides. If this is you, MSR is undoubtedly your best bet, and your choice is simply between the WhisperLite International (boil) and the DragonFly (simmer).
The Best Fuels For Multi-Fuel (Liquid Fuel) Camping Stoves
The best fuel for your multi-fuel stove is, of course, the one you’ll most easily be able to find on the road.
Being a cyclist, as opposed to a hiker, you will come across far more petrol stations than camping suppliers. And so, globally speaking, the two fuels most easily available to you are going to be unleaded petrol (aka: benzine) and diesel.
Of these, petrol is the cleaner-burning and easier to light. It’ll feel odd the first time you cycle up to a fuel pump, especially if you have aspirations towards zero-carbon travel, but you’ll soon get over it. Diesel and kerosene should be considered your slightly dirtier fall-backs. In remote places where agricultural vehicles and machinery predominate, diesel might be your only option.
Fuel will vary in quality and fragrance the world over, but the only difference it’ll make will be how often your stove needs cleaning.
Bonus Tip: How To Get An Expensive Multi-Fuel Stove For Cheap
Here’s the truth: multi-fuel stoves are a great example of a flashy, expensive piece of equipment that many people convince themselves they need when actually they don’t. It doesn’t take very long for some of these people to realise that canister gas is much more pleasant and practical 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 and Facebook pages, 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 on end.
To help you out with this, I’ve included a link to the live eBay UK search results for each of the stoves below.
The Best Multi-Fuel Stoves For Boiling Water
The following stoves have limited or no flame adjustment features, though you can ‘hack’ them in all sorts of clever ways (my favourites include using the lid of a food can as a flame-spreader, and bending the windshield around the pot supports and placing the pot on top, as pictured above).
The simplest in design of all multi-fuel stoves, they are still relatively versatile, designed to burn almost any liquid fuel, and boil water in the most demanding conditions.
MSR WhisperLite International
The WhisperLite International (eBay* / Amazon UK* / GoOutdoors.co.uk* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / EMS / REI*) is the flagship model in MSR’s multi-fuel stove range, with an incredible track record of more than 35 years. It can be found on the kit-list of many a world cyclist who’s more interested in a quick meal than a gourmet one. 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 also make an expedition service kit for the stove, which if you’re likely to be remote for more than a few months is a worthwhile investment. In areas where MSR gear is distributed (eg: Western Europe and North America), spares and service kits will be available too.
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 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, you want to invest in a stove that’ll last for donkeys’ years, and ultra-minimalism is not your goal, look no further than the WhisperLite International. If you want to cook anything elaborate, keep reading…
Important note: Do not confuse this stove with the regular WhisperLite (ie: non-International), which looks the same but is designed primarily for backpackers in North America and burns only white gas, a highly refined type of petrol with a different name in every country and which nobody has ever heard of outside of camping stores.
MSR WhisperLite Universal
The WhisperLite Universal (eBay* / Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / Cotswold Outdoor* / EMS / REI*), also from MSR, is a WhisperLite International (see above) that burns UTC canister gas (with a simple change of fuel jet and hose valve attachment) and doesn’t burn diesel. When it’s in canister mode, it also allows for a lot more flame adjustment than when running on liquid fuel, and could happily be categorised as a ‘cooking’ stove.
If you’ll be travelling where canisters are available (see above), and you don’t mind the extra running costs for simpler, cleaner and more pleasant cooking, the only reason not to get this over the International is if there’s any chance you’ll be going where diesel is the only available fuel. It’s a few grams heavier, but hey, you’re buying a multi-fuel stove, which means you probably have panniers, so it probably doesn’t matter.
I reviewed this stove in 2012 after a two-month ride down the West Coast of the USA, during which time it served our fluctuating group of 2–4 riders extremely well – and I’m still using it today for group trips.
The XGK-EX (eBay* / Amazon UK* / EMS / REI*) takes the functionality of the WhisperLite International, focuses the heat into a smaller area, and cranks the power up to eleven. The result is what for 35 years has been the undisputed mountaineers’ favourite among multi-fuel stoves.
The sole purpose of the XGK-EX is to incinerate your noodles/coffee as fast as possible in any conceivable weather and circumstances. It is infamous for the roar it emits while doing so. Reports of people using the XGK-EX for 30+ years (and of Cascade Designs still taking it in for repair) are relatively common.
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 somewhat blunt tool, leaving room for little else than noisy, rapid boiling, but it’s included it here on the off-chance that you’re planning a minimalist bike trip in remote, mountainous, high-altitude backcountry where only truck fuel is available. (Which does occasionally happen.)
The Best Multi-Fuel Stoves For Actual Cookery
In general, the longer your ride, the more you’ll crave variety in your diet. You’ll notice that the following stoves all feature precision flame adjustment, allowing you to rustle up an omelette, simmer some vegetables or rice, reheat a takeaway, or do something far more clever and elaborate*. In the photo above, I believe we were cooking a chicken curry with sautéed vegetables on the side, using both a WhisperLite Universal and a DragonFly side by side.
Similar in packed weight and size, multi-fuel 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, and so there is a physical limit to how low a flame you’ll ever achieve. Below a certain temperature, the preheating/vapourising mechanism will stop working and the fuel will be emitted as liquid, resulting in yellow flames which will cake your gear in soot and make your clothes stink of exhaust fumes even more than they already do.
The MSR DragonFly (eBay* / Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / EMS / REI*) is a noisier, slightly more expensive stove than the WhisperLite International, with the same fuel compatibility plus the all-important ability to simmer, featuring an additional flame adjuster valve between the fuel hose and the burner unit.
It functions almost identically to the Optimus Nova below, except that 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, and though it has a slightly narrower flame spreader and a slightly longer boil time than the WhisperLite range, 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.
Amongst world cyclists in it for the long haul, the MSR DragonFly is one of the most popular choices of stove, along with the WhisperLite International. I started out with a DragonFly back in 2007, and if I was touring alone and out of range of gas canisters, I’d still throw it in my kitchen pannier today.
The Optimus Nova (eBay* / Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / SimplyHike.co.uk) does the same thing as the MSR DragonFly, except that it looks slightly different, is slightly more expensive, and some people will shout about how much better it is (it isn’t). Like MSR, Optimus bill their flagship multi-fuel stove as ‘legendary’, which I personally think is more about what its users have achieved while carrying it 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 online. (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
The Optimus Polaris Optifuel (eBay* / Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / EMS), 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 (cleverly, 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 Nova above, for that matter).
I’d choose this over the time-proven alternatives only if you’re comfortable with having a relatively untested piece of gear at the centre of your cook kit, and/or the stakes really aren’t high enough for it to matter. Otherwise, if you’re buying a stove-for-life, best go for a tried-and-tested one rather than something new.
The Primus OmniFuel (eBay* / Amazon UK* / AlpineTrek.co.uk* / EMS) does exactly the same thing as the Optimus Polaris Optifuel, ie: it simmers on both liquid fuel and UTC canister gas. It costs a bit more, weighs a bit less, puts out a bit less heat, and is slightly more readily available.
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 durability.
If you want the simmering functionality and assured reliability of the DragonFly plus the ability to burn canister fuel and money is no object, this is probably your stove. Otherwise, save money by getting a DragonFly plus a cheap top-mounted canister burner.
Suggestions On Camping Stove Retailers Worldwide
As with most things, camping stoves are usually found cheaper online than in stores. Whatever your opinion of their business practices, the truth is that the lowest prices are usually found at Amazon (.co.uk* / .com*), though short-term discounts can often beat this; do check the individual buying links I’ve listed alongside each stove.
Visiting a store can, however, be a good way to understand the physical differences between stove types and the options available in each category, even if you then make your purchase online.
In the UK, most of the basic stoves listed above (from Campingaz, Coleman and the like) are easily found on in mainstream high-street outdoor shops such as Blacks*, Millets*, GoOutdoors* and Decathlon*, generally being sold as backpacking/hiking/trekking stoves. For brands such as MSR, Primus and Optimus, also check the upscale chains like Cotswold Outdoor* or Ellis Brigham*.
Considered Going Stoveless?
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 also the most 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, 7,000 words later, at the end of my ‘foolproof guide’ to buying a stove for a bike trip. Well done. Give yourself a pat on the back. Now get a stove and go cycling already!