Canister stoves run on pressurized gases; isobutane and propane. Isobutane burns hot and clean and in colder conditions it can outperform conventional butane. The canister self-seals when the stove is detached eliminating the possibility of fuel leaks. The fuel canisters connect to the stove in two ways:
- Upright: Stove screws onto the top of the fuel canister. This is the smallest and lightest option but with a tall profile this configuration is prone to tip-overs
- Low profile: The burner sits on its own base and a fuel hose connects it to the canister. Canisters can be inverted to improve cold-weather performance and it provides a steadier platform with less tip-overs. It is a bit heavier and bulkier.
The biggest drawback to upright canisters is that they de-pressurize in the cold (32 degrees or lower) leading to weak or no flame. Normal pressure resumes when the canisters temperature is increased.
Liquid-fuel stoves run on white-gas, or naphtha. It is a highly refined fuel processed to leave few or no impurities in the final product. It burns hot and clean performing well in below-freezing temperatures and is less expensive than canister fuel. These stoves periodically require maintenance, such as cleaning the fuel hose or replacing O-rings on the stove and fuel bottles. Most require priming which involves igniting a few drops of fuel in a cup below the burner, creating a flame that pre-heats the fuel line.
Alternative-fuel stoves burn twigs and leaves you gather in the backcountry, so you carry no fuel. These stoves are generally a larger and heavier option, and finding fuel during wet weather can pose a challenge. Denatured alcohol stoves have few parts to worry about and weigh very little. Alcohol does not burn as hot as canister fuel or white gas, so it takes longer to boil water requiring more fuel. Solid-fuel tablet stoves are another popular choice with ultra light backpackers thanks to their compact size and are also good for emergency kits. Downside: they are slow to bring water to a boil.