The Outdoor World

Camping Stove Fuel

Liquid versus Canister Fuel

Advantages of Liquid Gas

  • Liquid gas (white gas) can be stored in refillable fuel tanks. The two most popular types of liquid gas are kerosene and gasoline, which are less expensive and readily available throughout Northern America.
  • Liquid fueled tanks may weigh more, however, they allow the user to gage the amount of fuel he or she needs and/or has left in their tank. This allows for less overall storage and weight, as well as longer burning time and more precise fuel costs.
  • Though some extra priming is needed in cold weather, liquid gas burns more efficiently than its gas-filled canister counterpart in colder climates.
  • Adjusting the output on a liquid gas stove takes some practice, though there is more control in setting pressure overall.

Disadvantages of Liquid Gas

  • Liquid burning stoves require priming even in warm weather. In other words, lighting requires a little more practice to avoid flaring and takes longer to ignite. This is due to the gas liquid, which must be vaporized (converted to gaseous fumes) in order for the gas to burn properly. In some camping stoves priming is produced by a small hand pump that forces air into the fuel container, other camping stoves without a built in pump may require the operator to open the fuel line containing the liquid fuel without lighting it, so that a small amount flows into a pan, where it will be lit and allowed to burn down. When the fuel valve is opened again the heat from the pan converts the liquid fuel to vapor.
  • Liquid gas does not burn as clean as pre-filled pressurized canisters. No, liquid gases won’t make your hamburger taste like the tailpipe of your car, but it will leave soot on your pans that will eventually build up.
  • There is some potential for contaminated or clogged jets due to improper filling (dirty or low grade fuel). Therefore more maintenance may be required to keep these stoves running properly.
  • Note that due to the potential for flare up in the priming process, as well as the gaseous fumes that a liquid gas stove may produce, using a liquid filled stove inside a tent is never recommended.
  • Also note that sealed canister fuel and non-canister gas is considered hazardous flammable material and requires special handling. For more information see phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat

Advantages of Canister Gas

  • Non-refillable canister fuels, usually containing butane or propane, or a mixture of hydrocarbons, are meant to be used and discarded. With this type gas the fuel is pressurized within the canister and vaporizes immediately as it leaves the canister to arrive at the burner, making lighting a camping stove as easy as screwing the gas filled canister to the stove, adjusting the fuel flow, and lighting.
  • Propane and butane canister fuel burns cleaner and fumes dissipate quickly which means less potential for fire hazards.
  • Easy adjustment of heat output.
  • No spill risks associated with refilling or accidentally knocking a stove over during use.
  • Larger refillable gas canisters, or cylinders, which use propane, come in 2, 5, and 10 gallon canisters, or more. Refillable propane cylinders can be refilled at many gasoline service stations and can operate several propane appliances at the same time when hoses and adaptors are purchased, allowing operation of a lantern, camping stove, and heater from one fuel source. Though the cost of a refillable propane fuel tank may set you back initially, the long term cost of fuel will be less of that of a non-refillable propane canister.

Disadvantages of Canister Gas

  • Using non-refillable canisters (because estimating fuel consumption means having to weigh the canister) might mean packing multiple canisters on long camping trips, which add up to extra storage and weight.
  • Gas canisters are less efficient than liquid gas (more fuel volume is required for the same heat output). Additionally, though they may be fine for high altitudes, they aren’t ideal (and may not work) in below freezing temperatures.
  • Canisters tend to deteriorate and leak if stored for several years, and undetected leaks in gas canisters can be a safety hazard.
  • A used canister is considered hazardous waste and should be disposed of properly. Note that manufactures are currently making great strides in the recycling of these canisters which please many environmentalists. Patents are currently pending on a new industry-changing development called the Green Key® tool that will allow consumers to durably mark the propane cylinder as empty for steel recyclers. Unfortunately, residential recycling programs for propane cylinders are not yet available in many areas.
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