The Best Liquid Fuel Backpacking Stoves

Liquid fuel backpacking stoves are the workhorses of backcountry cooking. These are the stoves built and used by commercial guides in a multitude of adventures, including mountaineering, winter ski touring, extended outdoor education courses and long-term remote expeditions.

This category of stove includes all-time greats like the MSR Whisperlite and Optimus Nova. They are highly efficient, burn consistently, and many of them can now burn multiple types of fuel beyond the ubiquitous white gas without having to take anything apart.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
MSR Whisperlite Universal
84
Best in Class
2017
Weight 7
Ease of Use 5
Wind Performance 8
Boil Time 7
Versatility 7

Lightweight: 1 lb. 3 oz. with all components and stuff sack

Fast & efficient in all conditions

Consistent performance across all fuel types

Stainless steel pot supports maintain stability of group-sized cookware

Improved disassembly method

Priming control: 30+ liquid fuel ignitions, not one re-start

Risk of losing shaker needle, other parts during fuel swaps

Changing fuel jets challenging with cold-weather gloves

Short, rigid fuel line de-stabilizes stove during priming

MSRP
$139.00
BEST DEAL
Primus OmniFuel
83
Boil Time 5
Fuel Efficiency 8
Ease of Use 7
Durability 7
Weight 6

Fuel pump

Versatility

Flame control

White gas efficiency

Jet swaps

Price

Noise

Flame spreader

Priming

MSRP
$157.00
BEST DEAL
MSR XGK EX
81
Boil Time 6
Efficiency 6
Wind Performance 7
Cooking 7
Weight 6
Reliability 9

Bombproof

Fuel versatility

Low, stable stance

Easy field maintenance

Heaviest in category

Expensive

Inflexible fuel line

Loud

MSRP
$159.99
BEST DEAL
Optimus Nova+
81
Boil Time 5
Efficiency 7
Wind Performance 7
Cooking 7
Weight 7
Reliability 8

Lightweight

Fuel versatility

Low, stable stance

Magnetic jet cleaning needle

Powerline™ control valve

Stiff fuel line

Expensive

Doesn’t pack well

MSRP
$149.99
BEST DEAL
MSR Whisperlite Universal

The MSR Whisperlite Universal is a fast and highly practical stove that is effective in wind, cold and at altitude using canister-based or liquid fuels. It should be at the top of any mountaineer or backpacker’s gear list.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at Amazon.com

MSR XGK EX

The XGK EX’s longevity in the market is a direct result of its durability and maintenance simplicity. Having to adjust for alternative fuel types is not as easy as it is with the Kovea Booster +1, which requires no mechanical replacement of the jet. The XKG’s stability and no-hassle set-up make it ideal for larger pots on varied terrain. Its short, rigid fuel line can make fuel bottle placement a challenge. It is heavier than others in its category but it’s meant to serve in a kitchen for an extended basecamp, not packed up every morning. This stove doesn’t have wow with bells & whistles nor does it boil water in under two minutes. What it does do is work every time you need it to. 

Read the Full Review Shop Now at CampSaver.com

Optimus Nova+

The Optimus Nova+ stands out amongst similar expedition stoves. It’s easy field maintenance, fuel versatility and low stance make it easy to use. It falls short however in trying to be too innovative with the Powerline control and the included storage bag doesn’t securely hold the stove.

Read the Full Review Shop Now at CampSaver.com

See All Liquid Fuel Backpacking Stoves Reviews

What is a liquid fuel backpacking stove?

by: Last Updated:

The primary advantage to liquid fuel stoves is their ability to function in adverse conditions. Despite advancements in inverted gas canisters and four-season canister gas mixes, the worry-free reputation and fuel efficiency of this category tend to win out when it comes to choosing a stove for hardcore adventures.

What to Consider

Shoppers needing a liquid fuel backpacking stove will want to consider characteristics like weight, maintenance, fuel types, flame control and durability. Boil times aren’t necessarily a consideration with these stoves given their purpose as snow-melting, stew simmering backcountry stove-tops.

Ease of use is critical with these stoves, even though they function similarly across the category. Unlike gas canister backpacking stoves that use pre-pressurized canisters that release liquid fuel as gas, liquid fuel stoves require priming to produce enough heat to vaporize the fuel.

How it Works

Lighting a small amount of fuel under the burner creates a flame around the generator tube through which the fuel passes. After about a minute of priming, the tube becomes hot enough to convert from liquid to gas and sustain an even bloom. Stoves in this category don’t prime with equal efficiency. Some are more “finicky” than others, and a failed attempt at priming leads to waiting a few minutes before you can start again.

Some in this category can burn multiple fuel types beyond white gas, including, kerosene, unleaded, diesel, and even jet fuel. Keep in mind those fuel types range in how clean and efficient they burn.

Pros and Cons

Liquid fuel stoves are generally heavier as they require carrying an aluminum fuel bottle, a stove pump and often a windscreen. The heft and bulk of these stoves varies quite a bit in this category. Fuel lines also vary in rigidity, which becomes important in packing and setup.

Pump design and quality are important factors for liquid fuel backpacking stoves. Is it brass and aluminum, or primarily plastic? Some products have more precise systems for fuel flow control, varying pot support designs and fuel bottle attachment methods.

Testing

Tests in this category discuss priming, efficiency, ease-of-use, durability and other factors that make a liquid fuel stove worth having. Like our canister gas backpacking stove test, we took these products into the field and tested them in the office under circumstances designed to be as authentically “wilderness” as possible.

We should add that some liquid fuel backpacking stoves have been around a very long time and proof of their performance and reliability is widespread. As much as we aim to be your authority, we’re far from the first group of gearheads to put some of these products through the wringer. Thus, we shoot to offer value through comparison, industry insight and unbiased results reporting.

Stay tuned to new stoves being regularly added to this test category.