Backpacking Wood Stoves: Your Comprehensive Guide

Burning backpacking wood stove on a rock in a forest camp

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Cooking outside can be exciting, but carrying those big fuel canisters is a real pain. That’s where backpacking wood stoves come in handy. These cool things let you cook without needing fuel, perfect for folks who love venturing far into the mountains and forests.

Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or new to the trail, this post has all you need to know about backpacking wood stoves. Let’s get started.

Types of Backpacking Wood Stoves

We all understand the importance of having a dependable stove for outdoor adventures. Wood stoves are attractive to those who value self-reliance, and of course, you want to find the best option for you. So, let’s take a closer look.

Backpacking wood stoves come in two main types: can-style for efficiency and folding-style for portability. Now, let’s take a closer look at each:

1. Can-Style Backpacking Wood Stoves

Backpacking Wood Stove: Can-styled Toaks Titanium Backpacking Wood Burning Stove

These stoves are like mini wood-burning powerhouses. Some can-style stoves are known as wood gasifier stoves because they use a two-stage burn process, making them highly efficient. They turn wood into hot, clean-burning gas, providing more energy from a single wood load.

When comparing can-style and folding-styled wood stoves, the can-style stoves are more efficient, requiring less fuel and heating up your cooking about 30% faster.

However, it’s important to consider that can-style stoves are significantly less packable and have the tendency to get pretty sooty, which can be a drawback for a stove that can’t be easily packed away.

Just so you know, you don’t necessarily need a specialized can-style stove; even a simple can with holes can get the job done.

2. Folding-Style Backpacking Wood Stoves

Backpacking Wood Stoves: Foldable Vargo Hexagon Wood Stove

These stoves are all about convenience. They collapse flat, saving precious space in your backpack. Assembling them is a breeze, usually involving fitting sidewalls and a burn pan.

Although not as efficient as gasifier stoves, folding wood stoves can still boil water in about 10 minutes, making them a solid choice when you factor in the weight savings from not carrying fuel. Plus, it’s simpler to manage the soot on their exterior because you can easily slip them into a separate bag for transport.

How to Choose a Backpacking Wood Stove

So how do you choose the perfect backpacking wood stove for you? We think it’s crucial to consider four things:

  1. Material: Most good wood-burning camp stoves are made of either stainless steel or titanium. Titanium is lighter but pricier, while stainless steel is heavier but retains heat better. Not all grades of stainless steel are equal; cheaper ones may be more prone to rust. As ultralight enthusiasts, we recommend going for titanium.
  2. Weight: Is not just about material; design matters too. Besides titanium, a smart design can help you save a lot of weight. The lightest stoves weigh around 3.5 to 7 ounces, so aim for that range.
  3. Packability: Is crucial, especially if you prefer smaller (30-40L) backpacks. In this case, a foldable option is your best bet. If you have more space and prioritize cooking times, go for the can-style option.
  4. Refueling port: A handy feature that lets you add wood without stopping cooking. Look for a stove with this feature—it makes life easier and adds convenience to your outdoor experience.

You can find the lightest backpacking wood stoves at Toaks or Vargo.

How to Use a Wood Burning Stove

Fuel Sources (Gathering Wood)

When using wood-burning stoves, your primary fuel sources are what you can find in the wilderness.

Alongside a reliable butane lighter, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Kindling: Start with dry grass, small twigs, or pine cones. These materials make excellent tinder to get your fire going.
  • Wood: As your fire grows, start using slightly thicker pieces of wood. Search for dry branches and sticks. Remember, you don’t have to carry fuel; you’ll find it along the trail. We recommend bringing a small pocket knife with a saw blade to assist you on this mission.

Think of the saying, “If it doesn’t crack, throw it back.” When gathering fuel, consider the difference between hardwood and softwood. It’s okay to use a bit of softwoods like twigs, but keep in mind they tend to leave more soot than hardwoods.

Even wet wood can burn with enough heat. However, with a small wood-burning stove, you have to make the most of the limited burn chamber and minimize the moisture in the wood for the best performance. When using small rounds of wood split into quarters, it’s a good idea to remove the bark because it holds more moisture compared to the dense wood inside.

In really wet conditions with wet wood, it’s a good idea to have some solid fuel cubes (e.g., ESBIT cubes) as a backup. They only weigh half an ounce, and just one is sufficient to boil water for a meal. Simply place the cube inside the wood stove and use it like wood.

How to Cook on a Wood Stove

Backpacking wood stove burning at a campsite

Now that you have your wood-burning stove and fuel, it’s time to fire it up and start cooking. Using these stoves is relatively simple, but there are some key points to keep in mind to make the most of them.

Cooking Efficiency

One of the benefits of gas-canister or liquid-fuel stoves is their precise flame control. With wood-burning stoves, you control the flame by monitoring the amount of fuel being burned. Here’s how to maximize your cooking efficiency:

  • Adding Fuel: Once your fire is burning well, add small sticks and twigs to keep your cooking pots hot. For boiling water or quick cooking, having a decent gap or feeding hole between the pot and the fire pit is important.

Boil Times: Unlike gas or liquid fuel stoves, traditional boil times don’t apply to wood-burning camping stoves. With efficient wood-burning stoves, you start the fire, add the fuel, and boiling water is just a 7-10 minutes away.

Caution: Remember, wood-burning stoves can get very hot, so be cautious. Metal tongs and leather gloves are handy tools to have in your cooking kit.

Responsible Use

Campers worldwide adhere to the “Leave No Trace” principles, which apply to using wood-burning stoves as well. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Respect Fire Bans: Some areas might have fire bans, prohibiting the use of wood-burning stoves. It’s crucial to respect these bans to protect the environment and prevent accidents. For example, Yosemite prohibits their use above 9,600 feet.

After Use:

  • Ash Disposal: Small fires in wood-fueled stoves burn down to ash, which can be cleaned up easily. However, be cautious when disposing of hot ashes. Ideally, wait until they’ve cooled completely, or bury them safely in the ground away from anything that could catch fire.
  • Cleaning: Wipe down wood-burning stoves with a clean cloth to remove dirt and ash. They require minimal maintenance, and you can typically store them in the stuff sacks that come with the purchase.


Backpacking wood stoves are the perfect companions for outdoor cooking adventures. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or new to the wilderness, this post equips you with the knowledge to make the most of these ingenious devices.

We’ve delved into two types of wood stoves: the efficient can-style and the portable folding-style, each offering unique benefits. Gain insights into fuel sources, usage efficiency, safety, and responsible camping practices for wood-burning stoves, and give these amazing tools a try!

Are you on the hunt for the lightest stove option available? Check out our TOP 5 guide for the lightest stoves on the planet.


What type of wood stove is best for backpacking?

Choosing the ideal wood stove for backpacking depends on your specific needs and preferences. Compact canister wood stoves offer lightweight and portable solutions, ideal for ultralight backpacking. Alternatively, portable folding wood stoves provide versatility and efficient combustion. When deciding, consider factors like weight, cooking style, and fuel availability in your chosen backpacking destination to make the best choice for your adventures.

How do you use a wood stove for backpacking?

Using a wood stove for backpacking is straightforward. First, find a suitable location where you can safely set up your stove, ensuring it’s clear of any flammable materials. Gather dry twigs, leaves, or small branches as fuel. Then, assemble and ignite your wood stove following the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the collected fuel gradually to maintain a consistent flame. Once your fire is burning steadily, place your cookware on the stove’s designated cooking surface and prepare your meal. Always monitor the fire and exercise caution to prevent accidents. Remember to follow Leave No Trace principles by properly extinguishing the fire and cleaning up after use to minimize your impact on the environment.

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