Let’s be frank here: Adventure motorcyclists are essentially divided into two species—those who ride a BMW R1150GS or R1200GS, and those who ride anything else (including other BMWs). We can argue about whether or not the big GS bikes are the best adventure motorcycles on the planet, but you can’t deny they’re the most prominent, and their fans make the most zealous Sturgis-tattooed Harley rider seem fickle.
To continue the Linnaean angle, the mega-GS riders I know generally separate into two sub-species when considering camping equipment: They either think, I’m riding a zillion-pound motorcycle. What difference does it make what my equipment weighs? Or, I’m riding a zillion-pound motorcycle. I need to save every gram I can on equipment.
If you’re a member of the former group, and you’re in the market for a stove, I can happily recommend a three-burner Partner Steel model, which will strap on your rear luggage rack with room to spare. A 20-pound propane tank should give you plenty of cooking fuel. For the latter group—or any of you who ride mere mortal motorcycles, I offer a review (the first of three, with a final winner to be chosen) of two micro stoves.
We've Come a Long Way
My first backpacking stove was a beautiful little white gas SVEA 123, considered “light” at the time despite being made from solid brass, which has a density not far this side of neutron star core material.
How times have changed. Compare the 18-ounce heft of that SVEA with the 1.9 ounces of a Snow Peak LiteMax Titanium stove. Sure, the LiteMax has no built-in fuel tank, but add a full canister of isobutane/propane mix and you’re only up to 8.5 ounces, less than half the mass of the empty SVEA.
However, as important as weight is to a motorcycle traveler, it’s not the only consideration when choosing a stove. Stability, efficiency, wind resistance, boiling time, and simmering ability all factor in as well.
Furthermore, weight can be deceptive. Canister stoves are virtually always lighter than liquid-fuel stoves even with a canister attached, since they require no pumping mechanism—but for most trips you’ll need more than one canister, and the weight (and bulk) of them adds up quickly.
Then there’s disposal: Recycling spent canisters is an on-again, off-again possibility in many communities. Sometimes they’re just trash. (JetBoil makes an excellent tool for puncturing empty canisters, required for recycling in most areas.)
First in a Series of Stove Duels
I decided to take a highly opinionated, who-made-you-the-expert? stab at pronouncing which is the best lightweight stove on the market. However, rather than review every single one of the dozens of models available, I’m cheating a bit—I’ve chosen what fairly broad experience has led me to believe are:
- Two of the best top-mounted canister stoves
- Two of the best remote-canister stoves, and
- Two of the best liquid-fuel stoves.
The winner of each duel will face off in the final.
I looked at top-mounted canister stoves first. The major advantages and disadvantages of this style can be summarized thusly:
- Extremely lightweight and compact
- Extremely simple to assemble and operate
- Quiet and clean-burning
- Excellent simmering ability
- Most affordable to purchase
- Least stable of three stove types
- Marginal cold-weather performance even with mixed fuel
- Canisters are bulky on long trips
- Susceptible to wind (and care must be used with wind deflectors to avoid overheating of the canister)
- Generally slower boil times than liquid-fuel stoves (although speed of assembly and lighting compensates)
- Difficult to quantify remaining fuel
- Fuel costs are higher
- Canisters often not available in developing countries
Of all the top-mounted canister stoves I’ve used, I like the Primus Express Stove and the Snow Peak GigaPower the best, for their light weight, simplicity, and affordability.
The Express also comes in a titanium version, but the scant .4 ounce saving (2.5 versus 2.9) isn’t worth the extra $20 to me—that’s a set of titanium utensils which would save more weight. Snow Peak has the fine newer (and slightly lighter) LiteMax, but I prefer the four-trivet stove base on the GigaPower, and it folds more compactly as well.
There are other good stoves out there. The JetBoil is absolutely fabulous at boiling water quickly, but I find the system cumbersome for general cooking duties, and even its titanium versions are fairly heavy. The MSR Pocket Rocket was a contender, only passed over because—just once—I had one of its three trivets fold up on me while I was setting a pot on top, and almost lost the whole thing. Another near miss was the Optimus Crux Lite—an excellent stove that is a champ at simmering, except I’ve occasionally had the flame die unnoticed when on its lowest setting.
So—let’s decide between these two. Both are designed to use standard Lindal-valve canisters, and each company’s proprietary canisters contain an isobutane/propane mix, which enhances low-temperature performance (pure propane would be best as its boiling point is -40ºF versus butane’s +31ºF, but pure propane requires a stout steel canister).
Weight difference is negligible: 3.25 ounces for the Snow Peak versus 3 ounces for the Primus. However, my Primus includes a piezo igniter; the equivalent GigaPower is 3.75 ounces. So a slight .75-ounce nod goes to the Primus here.
Both stoves are effortless and speedy to employ. Less than 30 seconds out of the stuff sack for either and you’re cooking.
I timed boiling for each, using 500 ml of water (note my commitment to scientific rigor by using 500 milliliters rather than a crude pint) in my favorite do-it-all solo pot/kettle/bowl, an MSR titanium Titan.
The GigaPower accomplished the task in 3 minutes, 13 seconds; the Primus was slightly quicker at 3 minutes, 7 seconds. Again, a slight nod to the Primus. (I used Snow Peak canisters for both to eliminate differences in fuel. I suppose Primus could protest, but since their stove was faster anyway . . .) Both stoves simmer extremely well, but the burner of the GigaPower spreads the flame over a wider area, so it wins there.
Stability on top-mounted canister stoves is marginal at best. You should always provide a flat, firm surface for this type of stove. (I discovered the Snow Peak Baja Table while I was sea kayaking. It’s a cunning aluminum contraption that’s just high enough to get food prep and cooking off the ground, and which doubles elegantly as a cocktail table for a Kermit Chair.)
The Primus has a wider trivet assembly then the GigaPower, but the latter has four trivets versus three, which I find adds security. More importantly, the Primus, at 14.5 centimeters tall, sits 1.8 cm higher than the Snow Peak—almost three-quarters of an inch. That might not seem like much, but with these tippy stoves every bit helps. Win to Snow Peak.
What else? The wire-loop valve on the Snow Peak sticks out farther than the plastic knob on the Primus, so you don’t have to get your hand so near to the flame to adjust it. Both stoves fold very small, but the GigaPower collapses into a symmetrical shape, while the three trivets on the Optimus protrude somewhat even when folded, creating slightly awkward storage inside a pot.
Since I already knew I liked both these stoves, choosing between them was difficult. I’d happily carry either, and do. But when the time came to pick one, my hand finally strayed to the Snow Peak GigaPower. Its balance of features and performance tipped the scales ever so slightly.
Next time we’ll look at two of the best remote canister stoves on the market.