Outdoor gearheads seem to relish talking about the pieces of gear that are visible, tactile, performance-oriented and, of course, offer a bit of glamour. In the mountain-bike world, the latest pie-plate cassettes, wider carbon rims, new takes on knobby tires and higher tech suspension are the talk of the town. Many of us overanalyze these items and question whether what we've been using is still up to snuff. In the bikepacking realm, flashy and innovative bags and sleep kits that pack down smaller than ever elicit that same response. Meanwhile, some of the most basic pieces of gear don't rouse particular excitement but can help deliver some of the most satisfying moments on a long bikepacking trip. I'm talking about cooksets that provide a warm, energizing breakfast on a chilly morning and the savory, nourishing, rejuvenating dinner after a full day of chasing singletrack ribbons across the countryside. Last year, we offered a variety of wholesome and easy recipes for real-food camp meals. Here I share recommendations about stoves, fuel types and some versatile cookpots that pack particularly well in bikepacking bags.
Recommended Stove Options
With dozens upon dozens of stove styles from which to choose, picking one out can be a shot in the dark. These are my recommendations for alcohol and gas stove options. Alcohol stoves have been around for more than a century, but it hasn't been until the last decade that they've rapidly gained popularity among the American bikepacking and backpacking crowds. The advantages of alcohol stoves are that they're inexpensive, lightweight, have zero moving parts to break or wear out and fuel is readily available all across the globe. The disadvantages are that boiling water or cooking with these stoves requires more patience as the flame is not nearly as hot as that of a petroleum-based fuel and alcohol stoves are very inefficient in temperatures near or below freezing.
For fuel, these stoves obviously run on alcohol, and as we all know, alcohol is widely available, but not all alcohol is created equal. Your typical drug-store-bought rubbing alcohol (sometimes called isopropyl) is usually only 70 percent alcohol--the rest is water, and water rarely helps anything burn. Denatured alcohol, also known as methylated spirit, is usually around 90 percent alcohol and is routinely sold in hardware stores. This form of alcohol burns quite well in alcohol stoves, and generally 4 ounces or so is enough to boil water and cook a quick meal for two hungry bikepackers. In many countries, other types of denatured alcohol can be found in stores that sell cleaning supplies or in pharmacies, where the liquid may even be a festive pink or purple color. HEET, available in gas stations in some parts of the world, and Everclear will also burn in these stoves, although the latter will leave behind a sticky residue.
Two great alcohol stove options are offered by Trangia and Vargo. The Trangia Spirit Burner ($20; 100 grams) is a bombproof brass workhorse designed for use by the Swedish military nearly a century ago. The stove features a robust body, a screw-on cap with a rubber o-ring to seal in unused fuel and a simmer lid that can be used to decrease the size of the flame (and to put out the flame entirely. A three-piece aluminum stand ($30; 90 grams) holds the stove and pot, and some sort of aluminum or home-made foil windscreen is required to protect the flame. I've made everything from rice to scrambled eggs to thin Argentine steaks with this stove, and it has never once let me down over the hundreds of days of travel on which it has joined me.
The Vargo Triad ($35; 30 grams) is an elegant and ultralight titanium creation with three fold-up feet and three fold-up pot supports. After two to three minutes of priming time, the ring of small holes light up with blue jets and the pot above begins to warm up. This stove works best with a narrower diameter pot due to the flame shape and the narrow stance of the pot supports. Paired with Vargo's ultralight and compact hinged Aluminum Windscreen ($15; 38 grams), this is perhaps the lightest sturdy alcohol stove available. A concerning aspect of this stove, however, is that there is no particularly safe way to snuff out the flame aside from either using up the fuel or blowing abruptly on the flame and hoping for the best. Along these lines, it's also important to note that when fire restrictions are in effect on public lands, the use of alcohol stoves is not permitted.
If the patience of alcohol stoves isn't for you, or if you're just heading out for a handful of nights and can easily carry an isobutane/isopropane fuel canister, a stove like the Primus Express ($45; 96 grams) or Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0 ($50; 90 grams) are convenient and powerful options. The Primus Express is a reliable design with relatively broad pot support for wider pots. My preference for bikepacking is the GigaPower 2.0--it folds down to just 1.5x2x3.5 inches, making it among the most compact gas stoves available. These stoves will boil water in a fraction the time of an alcohol stove, have simple on/off valves and are nearly brainless to use. They also perform moderately well at sub-freezing temperatures with a ‘four-season’ fuel mixture. However, fuel canisters can be challenging to find in places without outdoor gear stores, and abroad canisters can be entirely impossible to replace.
Cookpots--Endless Shapes and Sizes
When space for gear on your bike is at a premium, rather bulky items like cookpots can be challenging to pack, particularly if you're opting to travel sans backpack. For this reason, smaller and narrower pots are the ideal choice for many bikepackers. For a solo trip, a pot volume between 0.7 and 1 liter works well for most people. If dinner for two is on order, a 1.5-liter pot is ideal, although if all you're doing is boiling water for a freeze-dried meal-in-a-bag, smaller pots can be manageable.
For solo trips, my go-to pot has been the 0.8-liter MSR Titan Kettle ($60; 98 grams). It’s titanium with a lid and handles that get warmer over the stove than I'd prefer. It also holds a 230-gram fuel canister perfectly. For duo trips, a 1- or 1.5-liter MSR Titanum Pot ($150 for a 2-pot set; 270 grams with lid and pot grips) works great, with the bigger size ideal for cooking a pot of gourmet camp food or pasta rather than simply heating up water. However, these wider pots can be a bit more awkward to pack. An inexpensive and versatile option is the Primus LiTech Trek Kettle ($30; 285 grams), a 1-liter aluminum pot with lid and non-stick coating. The lid also serves as a tiny frying pan, and at 4.5 inches in diameter, this moderately-sized pot still packs away quite easily and holds a 230-gram gas canister.
The Vargo BOT is a unique design, made of stainless steel or titanium and comes in 0.7- and 1-L sizes that include a thread-on lid with gasket to provide a water-tight seal ($40-100; 138-238 grams). The beauty of this "bottle pot" design is that you can use the pot for additional water storage, something that can be particularly helpful for desert bikepacking enthusiasts. The pot can also conveniently carry leftovers or be used to pre-soak meal ingredients, and the lid can even act as a small cup. Bedrock Bags makes a bag called the Honaker BOT Bag to carry this specific pot on the underside of a frame's downtube. The 1-liter size BOT is tall and narrow, making it a little challenging for cooking up more complicated meals without burning the bottom, but it packs away quite easily.
Finally, if your morning coffee routine demands a dedicated cup, try the collapsible Sea to Summit X-Cup ($11, 45 grams). It's robust, adds vibrant color to your morning and, most importantly, holds your coffee.