To Stove, or Not to Stove? That Is the Question.

There is a long-debated conversation between thru-hikers: Do you carry a stove? On one side, you get warm food, more food choices… on the other is added weight, and the more complex dinners/extra coordination needed. Is there a right answer? No, just like there isn’t a correct way to hike you own hike. Having started with a stove (and since sending it home) here are my thoughts on the topic.

Pro Stove

–There are lots of yummy options you can make when carrying a stove. You’re able to carry a larger variety of food and rehydrate food more easily than just with cold water.

–A warm meal on a cool evening just feels nice. It feels nice in your tummy. It feels nice in your hands as you’re holding the bowl you’re eating out of. It feels nice to be envied by the stove-less hikers who just want to be eating your dinner.

–You’re getting more water in your system without having to drink it. (Sounds silly, but if you’re trying to drink four liters a day, and three liters of that tastes like water and one liter  is tasting like whatever drink mix you get it’s a nice break up to get a half liter from your dinner.)

–Stoves don’t have to be heavy. I’ve learned that convenience is heavy. There are many different setups you can use–some can weigh as little as just a few ounces. Others can add up to pounds. Just depends what you’re interested in.

–Mac ‘n cheese. Enough said.

Read next: The Best Stoves for Backpacking

Pro Stoveless

–Ultralight backpacking. A stove is just one more thing that’s unnecessary to carry.

–You can eat dinner anywhere you want. No need to find a flat spot that isn’t too windy to effectively cook.

–You can eat dinner in one-fourth of the time if you’re not cooking. Those stove-carrying hikers are still cooking as a stove-ess hiker is crawling into their sleeping bag.

–At least for the AT, the proximity to towns makes it easy to carry perishable goods. (Cheese, meat, etc.) You can get a few days supply, which realistically isn’t going to spoil and by the time you run out you’re knocking on the next town’s door. So much diversity at your fingertips. 

–There is no cleanup of the pot. This is most hiker’s most dreaded mealtime activity. Cleaning up. It’s hard to get burned food off the bottom of your cook pot and then have to carry it out as LNT. It’s a hassle to deal with after dinner time–especially if the sun isn’t out anymore. Now you’re breaking out the headlamps and hearing scary could-be bear noises while you think about the other hikers already asleep in their bags..

Our Experience

We started with a stove and that was great. Dinner was an exciting meal because it was warm and so easy to get a good amount of calories and protein. Alex and I both had our respective chores for mealtime and it was familiar to how we lived pre-AT. Our initial stove removal was actually just bouncing it through the Whites to avoid carrying the weight. We were fully intent on picking it up at the other side when we first shipped it. After going eight days through the Whites and having a good experience stoveless, we decided to just send it home. As of now, we’re thinking about bringing it back when the weather cools down. Besides, with meals like the picture below from the huts, who would really miss their stove? 

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Comments 8

  • Nate - Day Hiker : Sep 20th

    I finished my AT thruhike July 27th and carried my stove the entire way. I should have sent it home because I used it very infrequently. So infrequently that one of the 8 ounce fuel canisters lasted me from Fontana Dam to Rangeley, about 1,800 miles. To make matters worse, I thought my canister was nearly empty in Pennsylvania so I grabbed a 4 oz canister which I then carried from northern PA through southern Maine for no reason.

    I also carried enough dinners to each every night but rarely ate them adding even more extra weight to what I was carrying. I had the intention of eating them, but usually didn’t feel like making dinner so I just ate my snacks. Dinner ended up being reserved for the last night or two before a town stop when I had eaten too much of my snacks already and had to force myself cook dinner unless I had StoveTop stuffing. That I would eat first day out on the trail after town pretty much every time. Love that stuff.

    Thankfully, the extra weight didn’t bother me much and I had enough fat reserves that I could get away without eating dinner most nights (lost 90-100 pounds on trail). Going forward, I will definitely be re-evaluating my food to optimize my carried weight.

    • Mallthus : Sep 21st

      Nate, you nailed the one thing nobody ever talks about. The very best way to carry your food for a big hike is right on your body.

      You get the benefit of having meal flexibility (eat or don’t…whatever) and you’ll end your hike proud of serious weight loss. I did a week long segment trip this summer on the CDT with friends and according to my tracker, I ran a 2000 calorie deficit every day. Lost 11 lbs on top of 70 I’d lost before the hike. Felt great, plus I didn’t feel compelled to eat meals that weren’t very good. Also got me thinking about doing the CT without a stove.

    • Allison DiVerde : Oct 3rd

      That is hilarious! I always try and shakedown when I’m on a zero to avoid things like carrying a stove when I don’t need one, or extra parts for my sawyer filter, etc.

      Wow, that’s alot of extra to lose! That is one tactic people take though. That much less food you have to buy + carry!

  • Mallthus : Sep 21st

    I’ve always carried a stove on trips of a week or less, but I’m getting ready for the Colorado Trail next year and I’m pretty sure I’m going to go stoveless. The weight just doesn’t make sense for the speed I’m planning, there are a decent number of town stops for perishable resupply, and temps tend to be low enough, thanks to altitude, to make whole veg/fruits, cured meats, and cheeses viable.

    Longer term, I’m considering the PCT and I think I may want a stove for some segments and skip it for others. The idea of carrying and using a stove in the desert segments in California seems ridiculous, but I think I’ll definitely want one by the time I get to Washington.

  • Smokebeard : Sep 23rd

    I went stoveless for the first 700 miles of the PCT, then picked up the Pocket Rocket for the Sierra. Mostly in case of a hypothermia condition after a stream ford. Bounced it ahead after that. I could go either way on the food factor, and not having the extra weight was a nice perk. I got it back for Washington, though, since again we were in hypothermia-ville.

    • Allison DiVerde : Oct 3rd

      Yes – that makes total sense with that concern! I’d rather have hot food + less chance of hypothermia for the weight trade off.

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  • Anthony Peterson : Aug 28th

    I’ve only hiked in Australia so I don’t know if you are allowed to light campfires in the USA? The lightest way to have the best of both worlds is to take a titanium billy, something you can put on an open fire, and used oven bags to cook and serve your meal. No washing up, No gas cylinders, just a natural wood fire – which is probably illegal? I’ve only hiked in Australia so I don’t know if you are allowed to light campfires in the USA?


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