Fuel Comparisons


Butane and propane fuels come in pressurized steel containers. The canisters simply push in or are screwed into the stove. Their primary advantages are that refueling is simple, the gas ignites quickly with no priming, burns more cleanly than oother fuels, and allows very easy control of the flame. Another plus is that butane fuel containers may be found easily while traveling in other countries. These fuels are good for easy camping.

The main disadvantages of butane are its inability to operate well at low temperatures and the lower heat output as the amount of fuel in the cartridge decreases. A quart of water that boi~s in 6 minutes with a full canister will stretch out to 12 minutes when the canister is half full, caused by the decrease in the temperature of the gas as it is used up.

The primary difference between butane and propane is the temperature at which the two gases vaporize. At sea level butane will not vaporize below the freezing point (32 degrees Fahrenheit) while propane is good at minus 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, propane is the better of the two for low temperatures. Since propane vaporizes at lower temperatures, it also must be stored at higher pressures, enabling it to work better than butane at high altitudes.
The downside is that since propane must be kept at higher pressures, the canister must be stronger and much heavier, typically 2 pounds, where a butane canister might weigh 9.5 ounces.


White gas is less expensive than butane or propane, cold weather affects it less; and the most efficient heating stoves (MSR, Optimus, and Phoebus) use it. "White gas" is a pure petroleum product containing no stove clogging additives, such as lead. The liquid when spilled evaporates quickly with little odor. White gas stoves, generally, have high output. It burns hotter than butane or kerosene and is excellent for melting snow and for fast cooking.

Minor inconveniences, not serious disadvantages for the thoughtful and careful camper, are pouring white gas into the container for refueling and the need' for priming the stove to get it started, causing a flare up until the stove is heated.

Though they are indispensable for cold weather and high altitudes, all of the high output stoves produce high levels of carbon monoxide and consume a lot of oxygen. Good ventilation is essential. NEVER use inside of any kind of tent or igloo.


Kerosene is cheap, can be found anywhere in the world. The stoves are simpler and less likely to develop problems.
However, kerosene is smokey, smelly, and difficult to start. If spilled, the gas does not readily ignite, but it also does not evaporate quickly and it leaves a bad smell.


Solid fuels are safe and impervious to cold. For most uses, though, the heating power is low and stoves provide little control of the flame.
There is at least one stove that burns charcoal or available materials (twigs, wood chips, pine cones, etc.).


Alcohol is a very safe, though expensive, fuel. and is not a petroleum product. It has low volatility However, alcohol costs a lot and burns rather coolly. For the same weight of gas or kerosene, alcohol produces half the heat .

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