Monday 10 April 2023

Stoves I've used for long-distance walking over the decades - updated April 10, 2023


In the Grand Canyon on the Arizona Trail. Stove: Optimus Nova

Having been asked recently about stoves for long-distance walks I thought I'd revise and expand this article about the ones I've used. As well as other editing I've added weights, oddly omitted from the original, and a note on pots.
Unlike other gear stoves don't change much and all the models are still available bar the 1996 cartridge one.

Choosing a stove for a long-distance walk is partly dependent on an external factor – what fuel can you buy along the way. This has changed over the years but is still an important consideration. When I began backpacking in the 1970s the fuel choices were the same as today – cartridges, meths/alcohol, solid fuel tablets, paraffin, and petrol/white gas. The big difference was that cartridges were butane only, which was less efficient, especially in the cold, than today’s butane/propane mixes. Cartridge stoves have another disadvantage, which remains today. They can’t be easily repaired in the field. I have found the latest models more reliable than past ones though.  Combined with fuel availability that’s the reason I’ve only used cartridge stoves on two long-distance walks. As it is my stove choice has gone from meths/alcohol ones through various petrol/paraffin pressure stoves with a diversion into cartridges, then back to meths/alcohol and finally a cartridge stove for a specific reason (see below).

My original Trangia
On my first long distance walks, the Pennine Way in 1976 and Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1978 I used a Trangia methylated spirits stove. I couldn’t find out if cartridges were available along the way (this was long before the Internet of course) and anyway didn’t like the cartridge stoves I’d tried. Petrol or paraffin pressure stoves were an option, but I’d never used one of these and was a little nervous of them. As it was, while heavy and bulky (880g including windscreen/pot support and two pots + lid), the Trangia worked fine in all conditions. I still have it.

With the Svea123 on the Continental Divide Trail

For the Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide walks in 1982 and 1985 I used a Svea 123 white gas stove (539g), as this was the model recommended by Colin Fletcher in his superb The Complete Walker, which I read to learn about backpacking in the Western USA.  Alcohol stoves hadn’t yet caught on in the USA – that was to come two decades later – and general advice was that white gas in various forms – gasoline, Coleman Fuel, generic white gas – was the only fuel I’d find everywhere. The Svea, an upright brass tin can in appearance, worked well, once I’d got used to priming it with liquid fuel and realised I needed a separate windshield for strong winds, though using it with leaded petrol, which I did a few times, was always a little unnerving as it flared badly. 
I still have my Svea, though I haven't used it for many years. It makes a nice shelf decoration! It's still available too, as the Optimus Svea

In the Richardson Mountains in the Yukon Territory with the MSR Whisperlite

I stayed with white gas  but changed stoves for my 1988 Canadian Rockies and Yukon walks. MSR had brought out the Whisperlite Internationale, which was lighter than the Svea at 340g and came with an encircling windshield and a separate fuel tank attached by a long hose. Again it worked really well.

In the Jotunheimen on the Scandinavian Mountains Walk with the MSR X-GK

For my Scandinavian Mountains Walk in 1992 I changed to a different MSR stove, the X-GK II (400g), because the only fuel available everywhere was paraffin in various forms and the X-GK ran well on this relatively dirty fuel and was easy to clean. Mostly I used lamp oil, a clean type of paraffin, but I did use some paraffin that smoked badly and clogged up the stove so being able to strip it down and clean it quickly was a boon.

All these stoves were quite heavy and I wanted something lighter for my next walk, the Munros and Tops, as this would involve a great deal of ascent. This was the first walk when I really tried to keep the overall weight down. I reckoned a cartridge stove would be okay in Scotland as it would be easy to replace if it failed and I’d manage for a few days on cold food if I had to. Cartridge stoves were a bit heavier than today back then but still very light compared to the stoves I had been using. I took one of the lightest then available, the Coleman Micro (156g), a simple screw-in burner. The first one of these did fail. The second was fine. I can't find a photo of this stove on the walk. Maybe I didn't take one.

A chilly camp on the Arizona Trail with the Optimus Nova

I really liked the light weight and ease of use of a cartridge stove but the failure had confirmed my views that relying on one on a remote walk wasn’t a good idea so for the Arizona Trail in 2000 I went back to a pressure stove, the Optimus Nova (505g). Although heavier this was easier to light and to simmer with than the MSR models, so I used it again on my 500-mile circular walk through the High Sierra two years later.

The Caldera Ti-Tri at a wet camp on the Pacific Northwest Trail

During the 2000s the ultralight backpacking movement took off in the USA and with it came a wealth of alcohol stoves made from drinks cans. People also realised that various forms of alcohol suitable for stove use could be found in hardware stores and gas stations and that this availability made it an excellent fuel for long-distance walks. I tried a few of these little stoves and really liked the Trail Designs Caldera Ti-Tri (156g), which was like an ultralight version of the Trangia but could also be run on solid fuel tablets or wood.  

In the NW Highlands on the Scottish Watershed with the Ti-Tri
In 2010 I took the Ti-Tri on the Pacific Northwest Trail and was so delighted with it that I used it on my next three long-distance walks, the Scottish Watershed, Yosemite Valley to Death Valley, and the GR5 Through the Alps. I’ve finally found the ideal stove for long-distance walks. 

Ti-Tri at a desert camp on the Yosemite Valley to Death Valley walk

 However I didn't use it on my next long walk.

The Ti-Tri on the GR5

The summer I walked the GR5 in the Alps I had planned on hiking the Continental Divide Trail in the Southern Colorado Rockies, following the high route I'd been forced to abandon for a lower one due to snow on my CDT thru-hike in 1985. But wildfires meant much of the route was closed early in the summer so I changed plans and went to the Alps instead. Those wildfires also meant that stoves without on/off controls were banned. The Ti-Tri doesn't have an on/off control.

The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 in use in the Colorado Rockies

The next year late snow meant the Colorado Rockies were wet and wildfires were not a threat. However knowing regulations might ban stoves like the Ti-Tri if conditions changed I decided to take a gas canister stove, the little MSR Pocket Rocket 2 (75g). Since the only other time I'd used such a stove on a long walk, the Coleman Micro on the Munros and Tops walk in 1996, fuel efficiency had been improved enormously. In the Rockies I got eleven days out of a 250 gram canister. In 1996 it was around four days. The Pocket Rocket was just under half the weight of the Micro too though I did take the tiny 45g Alpkit Kraku as well in case the Pocket Rocket failed. It didn't. It worked really well.


For my fairly simple camp cooking I like two pots with capacities around 600 and 900ml. 

On my first long walks available materials were plain aluminium or stainless steel. The first dented and pitted quickly, the second was tough but heavy. Hard anodised aluminium and titanium were a long way in the future.

The Trangia came with its own aluminium pots. When I changed to white gas/paraffin stoves I used lighter aluminium pots (312g including lid) and went through a set three times before moving to heavier (455 grams) but much longer lasting stainless steel ones. 

Those pots are long gone. In the early 1990s titanium arrived. I was seduced by the light weight and bought a 900ml Evernew one for what seemed the enormous sum of $40. It weighed just 147g. The cost was well worth it as it's been on every long-distance walk since (and many shorter ones) and is still in good condition. At first I paired it with a 475ml 113g stainless steel Cascade Cup that doubled as a second pan and a mug but soon swapped that for a 600ml 82g titanium MSR pot. 

I wrote a general piece about pots for backpacking here.



  1. when I introduced the TRANGIA to the UK in 72/73 the major problem was that meths was not stocked by outdoor retailers and only available in chemists. In Scotland you had to sign the poisons list, the blue colour was there to prevent alcoholics from drinking it. So in making TRANGIA successful I had first to deal with these fuel supply issues.

    1. I remember having to sign the poisons list and only being allowed 500ml at a time. One chemist in Fort William refused to sell me any until I produced my Trangia and explained how it worked.

  2. Great story verifying my account, thanks Chris