On a serious backpacking trip, every ounce of weight counts. A large, multi-burner camping stove may be nice for a family trip, but it's a luxury best left behind on a backwoods excursion. Fortunately, outdoor outfitters have responded to the demands of campers for lightweight reliable gear. Today, you can find lightweight stoves that burn nearly any fuel.
For a simple, reliable and lightweight camping stove, it's hard to beat the alcohol stove. At its simplest, an alcohol stove is nothing more than a small metal cup holding burning alcohol. Even more complex models are generally quite light and extremely dependable. Alcohol stoves release far less soot and noxious vapors than other sorts of stoves, making them safer in confined spaces. On the downside, it is easy to knock an alcohol stove over and spill burning alcohol. Another disadvantage of the fuel is that it burns cooler than propane and other compressed fuel types, which means that you have to bring more fuel and your food cooks more slowly.
Wood and Solid Fuel Stoves
Although wood-burning stoves tend to be a bit bulky, they can be quite light and will save the backpacker a lot of additional weight, since fuel doesn't need to be carried along. A wood stove is essentially a cylindrical chimney with vents in the bottom for airflow. DIY campers can build a quite good one with nothing but a coffee can and some tin snips. Wood stoves can also burn solid fuel pellets in areas where wood is scarce. They have the obvious drawback that the camper has to build a fire and fiddle with it to get the temperature set. They also spread soot and make everything that touches them smell like a campfire.
White Gas and Canister Stoves
White gas stoves use a cartridge of pressurized white gas attached to a burner. The white gas produces a very hot and relatively clean burning flame. Simple white gas stoves can weight under 1 pound, not including the weight of the fuel tank. White gas stoves do require priming and pumping, and can be a bit fiddly and tempermental.
Canister stoves are a bit easier to operate than white gas stoves. In a canister stove, the burner sits directly on top of a canister containing liquid butane or propane. The pressure from the canister drives the fuel out of the burner directly without the need for priming. The downside is that canister stoves can lose power as the canister empties and the pressure drops.