I work for the Canadian Armed Forces, and as such, rucking is something that is an almost mandatory part of fitness for me. It doesn’t have to be I suppose – there are other ways to maintain operational fitness, but it dovetails quite nicely with my backpacking hobby.
Back when I joined in 2015, one of the first exercises we went on overnight, I loaded up my beastly 82 pattern ruck with all my issued kit and headed out. And once things got dark that night I began to see all the other troops come out with their “gucci” kit – aftermarket items that make everything easier in the field. I saw headlamps instead of the antiquated torch, overboots instead of mukluks, and I saw personal stoves, instead of trying to fight with the gigantic, stone-age white gas Colemans that I had first seen at my grandfather’s house, purchased some time in the 60’s I am sure.
It was then that I met the Jetboil. And what a sweet experience that was. Compact, simple, and just works. Like it was meant to be used by the army or something. I immediately saw that it would not only be useful when we go on EX and I want a hot drink, but it would also be a feature player in my overnight hiking kit (and winter dayhiking for that matter! Though I learned a lesson about that too… but that’s a blog post for another day.)
However, time marches on and I began to question. Was the Jetboil the best option for my ever-lightening pack? Many people love the MSR Pocketrocket, and I also ran across the Biolite, which not only runs on sticks but also doubles as a power source and light. And then in the spring of this year, Jetboil upped their game and released the Stash. So, I asked myself, which would be the best for me, the average Joe backpacker/UL wannabe who isn’t quite ready to cold soak everything?
Jetboil Stash vs Biolite Campstove 2+ vs MSR Pocketrocket vs BRS Ultralight Burner
TL;DR: The BRS UL Stove that can be found on Amazon for $25 CAD or thereabouts, when combined with a Toaks Titanium cookpot and an 8oz MSR gas can is the cheapest and lightest cook system of the four analyzed, but it has limitations that should be considered before rushing out to buy one.
I’ll first say this: this will not be an assessment of performance. The only products I own of these four are the Stash (which I just purchased and haven’t even unboxed) and my old Jetboil. This is going to be an assessment of usability and weigh savings, with some theoretical discussion of pros and cons of usability. Use it as you wish. All prices as of the date of the article, and in CAD.
Jetboil just released this a few months ago in the early spring of 2021, after attempting to analyze the ultralight marketplace and whether they could compete in that space. The answer seems to be yes. The kit itself includes an 800ml cookpot (which incorporates a windproof element), the burner, and a stand to place under one of their proprietary tanks of special mix. You do need to buy fuel separately, and the fuel comes in a variety of sizes depending on the length of trip you are going on, but if you buy their 100g canister, it will nestle into the pot for storage simplicity. The small size gets you up to 15 boils, if you are being careful. The bright side is their system is very efficient, and boils 2 cups of water in 2.5 minutes, saving gas and time.
Weight of cookpot, burner, and stand ($160): 200g
Weight of 100g gas canister ($10): 199g
Total weight: 399g
Biolite Campstove 2+
Biolite released this upgraded version of their original campstove fairly recently. It looks like the main upgrade was a larger battery in their built-in charger – 3200 mAH. The big appeal to this system is twofold: first, it runs on biofuel – sticks, bark, wood chips. Really anything that burns. It’s designed to burn this fuel fast and efficiently (4.5 minute boil on 1L), and hot with minimal smoke. So you pretty much always have fuel and don’t have to carry it with you. Sounds environmentally friendly. Additionally, because of the built in charger/light you have the convenience of a little light while cooking if you happen to get to camp late, or you’re a very early riser. The charger on it presumably would give you the ability to charge a phone or other electronic, should you need to and this is a critical concept – I don’t know anyone who does not bring electronics to the bush for either entertainment or safety. GPS devices are ubiquitous in this day and age, and with devices like the Spot or Inreach providing safety in the backcountry, there will always be a use for a little charger at least.
The one downside to this system is I can’t seem to find data on how long it takes to charge a device while using it, or how long of a burn it takes in the stove to charge the battery on it. So I don’t actually know how useful those are yet, but I’ll assume charitably, that it charges fast, and will mostly charge a celphone in one go at least, per meal. (UPDATE: a helpful commenter verified that yes, you get about one charge for your cell out of a 10 minute boil. Nice to know that is true. But they also mention a downside of poorer performance in wet environments. So if you’re doing the AT or northern portions of the PCT, or hiking the Way Coast Trail YMMV.)
It does not incorporate a cookpot, so I will include in this consideration a 750ml Toaks titanium cookpot – it seems to be fairly standard in the backpacking community.
Weight of stove and charger ($149 on sale, regular $199): 935g
Toaks 750ml cookpot ($50): 110g
Total weight: 1045g
MSR Pocketrocket 2 Mini Stove Kit
This kit is similar to the Jetboil in that it comes with a pot and the gas canister can fit inside when carried. Pot is 750ml, making it comparable to both the above packages. It claims a 3.5 minute boil time on 1L, but since the pot doesn’t hold 1L I don’t know how that works. Comes with a detachable handle for the pot.
Weight of stove and cookpot ($109): 278g
Weight of fuel ($7.50): 227g
Total Weight: 505g
UPDATE: I’ve seen attempts to make this more UL by foregoing the kit for just the burner, and then combine it with a Toaks pot. Here’s the numbers for it:
Burner only ($90): 80g
750ml Toaks pot ($50): 110g
Weight of fuel ($6): 227g
Total Weight: 417g
BRS UL Burner
This little cheapo is not only affordable, but light. To be had off Amazon for a pittance, it almost seems too good to be true. But you have to cobble together the rest of the components yourself so… yay? More customizable I guess? Could be good if the pots that come with MSR or Jetboil are too big for you and you know you just need less. For example, Toaks makes a 450ml cup that could save you 35g, over the 750ml pot I used above. I am going to assume the MSR fuel for comparison’s sake and the 750ml pot to line it up with the majority.
Some limitations here though: no windscreen, so you may have to buy one and add it in. Secondly, I’ve seen some reports of the arms on the burner bending when heated for too long, so it’s recommended to just boil, don’t cook with this, and turn it off right away. So a little finicky. (UPDATE: during my summer hike I met a couple who were using a BRS to heat about 1.5L water for a rice dish on a BRS. It was going great until one of the arms gave way under the weight of the pot after heating to glowing. I let them use my Jetboil Stash burner to finish the boil, and we did manage to bend back the arm to usability after it cooled. But consider that weakness verified: for short boils and light pots it is probably fine. But don’t cook with a BRS.)
Weight of burner ($23.50): 25g
Toaks 750ml cookpot ($50): 110g
Weight of fuel ($6): 227g
Total weight: 362g
Jetboil Stash ($160): 399g
Biolite Campstove 2+ w/Toaks pot ($249/199): 1045g
MSR Pocketrocket 2 Kit ($109): 505g
w/burner, Toaks and gas ($146): 417g
BRS UL Burner w/ Toaks pot and MSR fuel ($78.50): 362g WINNER
In terms of raw weight, the BRS is the best choice. As I mentioned, if you go with a smaller mug instead of a pot, you can even knock it down another 35g to 328g. That makes it a runaway weight saver, over 70g above the Jetboil.
In terms of price, the BRS is also the right choice, but the quality may not be there if some reviews are to be believed (See update 3 above: for a light solo system where all you need is a little boil, it should be fine, but don’t cook meals with it.) You get what you pay for, they say.
But for me, The Jetboil Stash is the way to go. Almost as light as the BRS combo but more pricey than all but the Biolite (though not by a huge margin), and with a built in windscreen, I’ll have peace of mind in a wider variety of conditions.
The only wildcard is the Biolite ability to generate power and charge electronics. However, I looked last year into the most efficent, light and affordable battery pack and settled on the Charmast 20k mAH. At 430g, adding that weight penalty to any of the other stove setups, even with fuel included, they still weigh less combined with the battery pack than the Biolite. The only conceivable reasons I could go with the Biolite are: 1. if I was planning a very long, unsupported hike with no opportunity to resupply with gas canisters, or 2. if I was so focused on avoiding fossil fuels for ethical or environmental reasons that I was willing to pay the weight penalty.
Thanks for reading, happy hiking!