If you’re planning a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike and you’ve told anyone about your crazy plan to cross the United States with the power of your own two feet, then chances are they’ve asked you some crazy questions.
One of the questions commonly asked: “What are you going to do about food?”
You may have already asked yourself this question (albeit a more refined version) and you may be wondering how you are going to cook for yourself out on the trail – if you’re going to cook at all, that is.
Readers will know that I went stoveless and haven’t looked back, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
Here’s a look at the best stoves available for cooking on the PCT (and beyond).
The Mini Trangia is what I used before going stoveless, and I was very happy with it. I ditched all the accessories (lid, screw-on cap, pot, and tongs) and kept just the stove and the small windscreen/stand (although I made an additional windscreen out of something like this). Although using an alcohol stove can be a bit scary at first, once you get the hang of the Mini Trangia, it’s great. As a bonus, if you hold onto the cap you can save and travel with your leftover alcohol (unlike the homemade alcohol stoves).
PROS: Small, lightweight, rugged, no moving parts, can transport unused alcohol, efficient for an alcohol stove, fuel not difficult to find
CONS: Have to carry liquid fuel (heavy and takes up space), illegal in some places, need to contend with the wind
- Weight: 4.0 oz oz / 112 g
- Available at: Amazon
Because you need your water boiled really quickly.
The Jetboil Flash Lite is (as of writing this) the lightest Jetboil cooking system available (saving 3 oz / 85 g over the Jetboil Flash). Jetboils (whether the Flash Lite or other variety) are popular among hikers because they are compact, easy to use, and incredibly quick to boil water. The system consists of the stove, a fuel canister, and a cup/pot that attaches to the stove for heating water. If I was going to begin using a stove again, this would probably be my first choice (although I do enjoy having a larger pot for making macaroni and cheese).
PROS: Easy to use, good flame control, efficient fuel use, boils water quickly
CONS: Fuel is more expensive, difficult to gauge remaining fuel, can be more difficult to find/purchase fuel canisters
- Weight: 11 oz / 312 g (+ 0.9 oz / 27 g with stabilizer)
- Capacity: 27 oz (.8 L)
- Available at: Amazon | REI
Check out the entire lineup of Jetboil stoves here.
Because you’re into burning multiple fuels.
The MSR Whisperlite Universal is the front-runner in a large lineup of backpacking stoves from Cascade Designs (the Windburner is also popular and more reminiscent of a Jetboil, but it’s a bit on the heavier side at 15.25 oz / 432 g). This is the more traditional “backpacking stove” listed here (the Trangia being hardly a stove at all and the JetBoil being a bit gimmicky – but still great), and you can find fuel for it relatively easily.
PROS: Compatible with multiple fuels, easy to repair, capable of simmering (with canister), good cold weather performance
CONS: Heavy, expensive
Check out the entire lineup of MSR stoves here.
Another option is the build your own stove!
This is commonly accomplished via the use of a cat food can (yum!) or an Altoids tin. Despite being the super-ultra-mega-light (and cheap) these stoves are inefficient and can be easily crushed in your pack if you’re not paying attention.
Comment below and let me know your thoughts, questions, or your own recommendation!