How It’s Tested: Camp Stoves

How It’s Tested: Camp Stoves


(Photo courtesy of MSR)

Like all reviews on Gear Institute, the goal in stove testing is to provide gear shoppers with as realistic a case study for product performance as possible.

In my chapter of the GI textbook, I spend a lot of time proving that a watched pot does indeed boil.

I combine field-testing and controlled, front-country scenarios to help you determine if your next backcountry cooker should matriculate from store shelf to gear closet.

In this example, let’s use an upright canister stove fueled by 100 grams of a common isobutane/propane mix.

Boil Time
No mystery here. I time how long it takes to boil two cups of tap water. I dump the water, wait five minutes to prevent a rapidly cooling canister from hindering gas flow (physics), fill the pot, and repeat the process until the canister empties.

Each cycle uses the same pot, water from the same tap, and temperature is measured every three or four cycles. I also make a note of weather conditions.

I then use this calculator to get the average boil time.


(Photo courtesy of MSR)

I use a digital postage meter to weigh a stove as it comes out of the package.

Stuff sacks and accessories are rarely required for actual backcountry use so I make clear what the weight is with and without them.

The total number of two-cup pots boiled per canister during the boil time test is the stove’s expected efficiency under those conditions, using that brand and volume of gas.

If I get 15 boils on 100 grams of gas, it averages .15 grams of gas/boil.

Keep in mind that altitude, air temperature, wind speed, and cooking habits all have an impact on this this figure.

Wind Performance
If I can’t leverage a breezy day, I use a small fan placed 10 inches from the stove. I then average five boils using the same operating procedures as the boil time test.

As pointed out by a reader in this review, sometimes average boil times under wind will outperform the overall boil time average. This is because of its smaller dataset.

The takeaway for stove shoppers is that this test provides a performance baseline for the stove when the wind kicks up.


(Photo courtesy of JetBoil)

I assess how a stove handles common backcountry meals.

Group cookers should be able to handle pastas, oatmeal, stir fries and baking. I believe stoves in this category should not limit your culinary creativity.

Compact uprights should be able to tackle ramen, soups and some basic frying without forever fusing ingredients with the pan.

For all stoves outside of the rapid boil category, I want to know if it scorches. Can it simmer? How consistent is the heat? That sort of thing.

Stoves like the MSR Windburner and Jetboil MiniMo are now designed to not only boil fast, but cook well too.

Throughout all tests and field use, I look for stability while supporting a full pot. I examine the durability of any moving parts, and consider how well it handles transport in the heavy abyss of a multi-day pack. If debris makes into the burner, can it be cleaned? Will it still perform? What can be improved upon?

Speaking of improving, are there any specific metrics or more practical parameters I can apply to help you better understand backcountry stoves? How do you determine which stove to bring on a trip?

Let us know.


(Photo courtesy of MSR)