It’s frustrating to choose between all the camping fuels out there. After all, there’re so many camping stoves fuel that most campers would know about.
Most campers are familiar with propane & white gas. But there’s gasoline, alcohol, butane, isobutane, and kerosene.
The best camping stove fuel/gas depends on your camping location, situation, and climate. Each camping fuel performs distinctively in different camping situations.
Therefore, I find that opinions of camping stove superiority to be highly subjective because there’re some instances certain camp fuels are no longer the best.
To sum up, one camp stove fuel type may work better in certain camping situations than others.
I did some in-depth research on the different kinds of camp stove fuels to determine the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Hopefully, my guide will make your camping stove fuel selection much easier.
2 Main Categories of Camp Stove Fuels
Camp fuels generally fall into two broad categories;
1) Liquid Fuel Stove
2) Gas Fuel/Canister stoves
A short answer is liquid fuel is all about versatility, while gas fuel is about convenience.
In the section below, we’ll dig deeper into each gas category.
Typical liquid fuel for camping include:
- White gas
- Jet fuel
The stove attaches to refillable fuel bottles in a liquid fuel stove setup.
The liquid fuel containers are refillable and actually need pressurization to work.
Most liquid fuel tanks contain manual pressurization ability, which allows the fuel to go from the fuel tank into the liquid fuel stoves.
Liquid fuel stoves tend to have application versatility.
There’re multi-fuel stoves that support different liquid fuels. It saves you from the need to buy multiple stoves for different fuels.
Stable with Larger Pots
The biggest reason I prefer the liquid fuel is that on most camping trips, I usually make food that involves cooking than just simmering or rehydrating.
It means larger, heavier cookware and more stable fuel.
The liquid fuel ticks all the boxes.
Though my gas Soto Windmaster would handle “real” cooking, it’s in a pinch and would be real pain.
If anything, I recommend the gas stoves for solo cooking or two people at most.
Conversely, the liquid fuel stoves cook more completely and taste better.
Aligns with LNT Principles
Unlike gas fuel, there’re no fuel canisters to dispose of with liquid gas, which means less trash.
I hate to have a bunch of empty or partly filled gas fuel canisters lying around.
And while I can always refill a gas canister, it just seems like an unnecessary risk for something worth a couple of dollars.
I’ve been using a Whisperlite Gas canister stove for a couple of years, but the freedom of fuel I can take with stops me from switching to a gas stove full time.
It’s easier to buy the liquid fuel in larger quantities, which is great when preparing a meal for a group of people.
You’re not limited to the 1lb propane tanks. You can also choose whichever size bottle is most appropriate for you.
Also, you always know how much fuel is left in your fuel tank because you can always refill them at the beginning of your camping trip.
It’s especially important given that I’m usually with my family and don’t want to run out of fuel.
For the time I used the gas canisters, I felt like I always ended up with half-used fuel canisters around my house because I was paranoid about them running dry in the wood. I’d buy a new one.
The other benefit of liquid fuel is that it’s widely available in most locations, including remote areas.
Liquid fuel is available in most parts of Europe and South America. You might have to look harder in some countries, but you’ll still find it at the end of the day.
I had no problem refilling my kerosene stove, even traveling the remote Nicaragua forest.
Liquid Stove Needs Priming
Using a liquid stove is a bit of a hassle, partly because it needs priming. You also need to be careful with priming because it can result in uncontrolled fire.
They’re fiddly to use, and you can’t just start cooking with them immediately.
The additional step is pumping the bottle and priming to preheat the stove before cooking. Depending on the wind condition and temperatures, it can take an extra 1-5 minutes.
Liquid camping gases are more volatile, which makes them generally harder to carry and store.
You’ll have difficulty with the TSA, even when carrying empty fuel canisters for liquid fuel stoves.
Two of the popular camp gas fuels are butane and propane.
Canister fuel stoves are much safer than liquid fuels.
If you tip the liquid fuel, you’ll have fire to tend with. What’s worse is the liquid fuel burns in a clear flame and can get shitty in windy situations, especially if you don’t have a windscreen.
Easy to Use
Fuel canister stoves are easy to use and not as fiddly as liquid stoves.
For example, my Solo Windmaster has a better simmer & temperature control and is quite the opposite of the liquid stoves that require badass fireball to preheat.
My canister stoves also don’t require periodic pumping to keep the pressure up.
I’ve also realized that most liquid stoves are noisier than gas stoves when operating.
When you look at the weight saving s of a liquid stove vs. gas stove, you’ll see most backpackers prefer to go the gas fuel.
Of course, you can always “get away with” heavier gear, but who wants to lug extra weight if you don’t have to?
As I get older, I’m looking forward to more solo camping trips, or at least with my partner. Weight is definitely a bigger concern, but our meals are simpler, just need to boil for my rehydrated meals.
A gas fuel stove makes much more sense.
A gas stove is a perfect solution for solo camping or cooking for 1-2 people.
It’s a handy solution, especially when you’ve a campfire for hot dogs and marshmallows, and it’s just preparing coffee and soup.
I use the gas stove to burn water in the morning when I don’t need to set up the liquid stove for demanding tasks.
The biggest cons of gas fuel is dealing with empty canisters, especially if you don’t know how to refill them.
Other Fuel Options
Canister and liquid fuel are by far the most popular fuel variants but not the only ones.
Here’re a couple of other options:
- Twigs: Twigs are simply wooden twigs that you gather in the backcountry. Some popular brands specializing in wood-burning stoves are Vargo, Biotite, and Solo.
- Solid Fuel: Esbit has been at the forefront of creating light, inexpensive stoves that run on solid fuel tablets. They’re convenient but also have a noticeable odor and leave a sticky residue on pots.
- Alcohol: Some stoves run on denatured alcohol. The alcohol stoves are inexpensive and ultra-light but a bit fiddly to use and don’t provide the best heating efficiency.
My Recommendation? (Liquid Vs. Gas Fuel)
It’s balancing the pros and cons. None is superior to the other.
The canister gas stoves are dead simple, cleaner, and fool-proof. Unfortunately, you can never know how much fuel you’ve left available, and you’ll have a problem lighting them up in colder temperatures.
On the other hand, the liquid fuel stoves are fiddly, complex to use, need priming, and have more to go wrong.
Yet, they work like a clock in most conditions, ideal for large pots, and will let you know how much fuel you’ve left.
*I’ve had both fuel types, and I’m not clumsy. I’ve been very careful, and even then, I’ve had a flare-up incident on every one of these camping stoves. A couple was spectacular. So, always exercise caution when using the camp stoves.
Now that we’ve looked at the broad classification of camping stove fuel let’s dig deeper and get to know what individual camp fuel offers.
Gasoline, also known as petrol, is one of the most popular fuel types.
It has board utilization, and because of this, it’s easily available in most locations. It’s by far the easiest gas to find.
You’re likely to find it anywhere where you find cars.
Propane, also known as camping gas or LPG, is widely popular in the US.
It’s very easy to use. You simply light it and cook.
I’m a big fan of gas because of its affordability, availability, and ease of use. It requires little proprietary hookups or special canisters.
I usually buy the standard 20lbs propane tank, and I can refill a couple of 1lbs green tanks, especially when I need to go on the shorter weekend-style trips.
However, I usually take the bigger propane tank when I need to go for week-long trips.
Plus, when you choose propane, you’ll also have fuel for cooking, heating, cooling, etc. Most camp stoves support propane, so it’s much easier to find one that suits your camping cooking needs.
3) White Gas
White gas is also known as common fuel or naphtha fuel. The most common white gas is marketed and sold as camp fuel.
Remember that the white gas name is deceiving because it’s not a gas but a liquid fuel.
It has a close resemblance to gasoline, but it’s a bit more refined, which makes it more expensive.
One thing to note is most white gas camping stoves, unlike regular liquid stoves, are rated to burn white gas only.
And that is because it’s a much cleaner fuel than the regular liquid gas option.
The white gas has been my go-to for ages, and I’ve used it below zero degrees, above 12,000 feet, and in high winds.
However, it’s also among the energy-dense camping stove fuel, so it requires some skill to start the stove and takes time to get going.
It’s fiddly, and you’ll have to fool with it when filling and pumping.
It’s not as volatile as other liquid fuels but sticks on your hands easily when connecting and disconnecting.
Alcohol camping fuel stoves are super simple, but they’re not for me.
They’re super slow, and their power output isn’t excellent. Wind will also mess you up big time.
However, their modest setup, no-maintenance, and ultra-lightweight design make them a great option for backpackers.
Kerosene is also known as fuel oil, kerosene, paraffin, lamp oil, or coal oil.
It’s one of the less volatile camp fuels but requires more priming.
Butane is a by-product fuel and relatively inexpensive.
It’s popular with backpackers because it’s easy to use. You simply attach your stove to the butane canister, adjust the amount of gas going through and light it up.
No priming or anything.
The butane gas canisters are also safer to store than most liquid fuels.
My concern is you can’t really know the amount of fuel left, which makes it difficult to plan for, especially when you don’t want to take a half-filled butane canister on a backpacking trip.
The butane stove is ideal for simmering, boiling, and rehydrating your meals. Not the large pot cooking.
How to Choose the Right Camping Stove Fuel
Now that we’ve briefly highlighted the six common camp fuels, let’s choose the right camping fuel for your needs.
Now, there’re a couple of factors determining the suitability of a camping stoves fuel, and they include:
- Availability of the fuel
- Cold tolerance/ Cold weather performance
- Cleanliness of the flame
In this section, we’ll look at how easy it’s to get camp fuel. The availability element is particularly important when you’re on the road and away from civility.
Gasoline is hands-down the winner in this section.
It’s by far the most available camp fuel.
When camping with a gasoline stove, I care less where my adventures will take me because I know I can never miss finding a gas station.
I’ve camped in the most remote sections of the world with a gasoline stove, and even then, I didn’t have a problem finding fuel.
Gasoline is an awesome option if you need to boondock or take your camping further away from civility.
Next in line after gasoline, in terms of availability, is propane fuel.
You can find propane everywhere from U-Haul locations, grocery stores, Walmart, and gas stations.
Home Depot even has automated outside kiosks for swapping out propane canisters.
It makes a great fuel for camping because you don’t know where your adventures will take you and how close you’ll be to a refill station.
White gas is a bit more expensive than gasoline, but the greatest drawback is that it’s not to be found everywhere.
You can find it in bigger camping stores like Walmart, REI, and other outdoor recreation and sporting goods stores.
But good luck finding it in any location, and certainly not at many gas stations.
So, if you’re away from civility in the countryside, you might be hard-pressed to find white gas, especially if camping isn’t popular in that area.
Alcohol is relatively easy to find and a backpacker’s favorite fuel because of its availability in most locations.
You can always find alcohol at REI/MEC, your hardware store, or a local gas station.
And what I like with alcohol is you don’t necessarily have to buy t as camping fuel to work.
For example, when push comes to shove, you can get Yellow-Bottle Heat, a gas-line antifreeze, and water remover that you use on your car.
The Yellow-bottle heat also doubles as a camp stove fuel.
Alternatively, get the denatured alcohol, also known as meths. You can get this in any drugstore or hardware store, so it’s easy to resupply during a hike.
It also makes the fuel a great option for international travel in countries lacking outdoor stores selling specialized fuels.
Kerosene is also not any different from gasoline or propane.
It’s fairly easy to get it in most local gas stations, hardware stores, and sporting goods stores.
And its availability is because it has so many other broad applications that are a coming fuel.
Generally, getting butane is complicated, especially if you’re in a rural setting.
There’re two reasons for this.
One, butane is highly volatile, so butane is stored in well-engineered and special butane containers to avoid an explosion or anything.
Some manufacturers have gone to the extent of making proprietary containers that can only work with a particular brand of stove. Therefore, even if you find butane, it may not be compatible with the stove.
The other reason is isobutane is made using a special blend of components. I consider the lack of standardization a con because it makes it challenging to find the exact kind of fuel you need.
In short, the availability of butane is a hard call, especially if you’re in a remote setting.
2) Cold Tolerance
The last thing you want to happen when winter camping is for your camping stove fails to light because of the cold, freezing conditions.
Understand that not all fuel tolerates cold conditions, meaning you might have a hard time trying to light one or are completely unable to.
Gasoline can tolerate cold temperatures and, therefore a great fuel for winter or camping conditions.
We’re talking about 50-degree Fahrenheit.
It’s the main reason it’s the preferred fuel for cars.
But its low flashpoint and high volatility decrease its safety rating.
Plus, the faster ignition means that it also burns up much faster. So, it’s not ideal for sustained cooking.
Propane is equally incredible for cold-weather camping.
It has a much lower flashpoint of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and is the coldest-tolerant camping fuel.
White gas is less volatile than gasoline and can burn around zero degrees Fahrenheit.
It has a lot of joules per gram, so you need to coax it at cold temperatures.
It’s hard to light it up, but you can mitigate that by warming the canister, such as taking it to bed with you.
Alcohol is more difficult to light in cold weather.
I’m guessing it doesn’t burn as hot as other fossil fuels and hardly self-ignite.
Plus, you need to worry more about the windscreen with alcohol than other types of fuel.
However, you can do some wicking to be a self-sustaining flame.
Kerosene works incredibly well in cold temperatures, but the main concern is priming.
Butane and Isobutane are the least ideal camp fuel for cold temperatures.
At temperatures of 30 degrees Fahrenheit, Butane is hard to use, tends to get “slushy,” and the reaction of using fuel cools it down further.
Simply put, low altitude and mild temperatures make it viable, but it’ll freeze past -5C.
However, it’ll work well for summer camping
The shelf-life of a camping gas is crucial as it determines how long a fuel can be stored. It also points out the safety, convenience, and storage of a particular fuel.
Gasoline is highly volatile, and that helps with faster ignition and everything; it’s also its primary drawback.
The volatility makes it unsuitable for camping because it doesn’t have a long shelf-life and isn’t easy to store.
Some folks store gasoline in gasoline canisters in their garages for ages, but the cans absorb water and moisture, increasing gasoline’s soot output.
Generally, gasoline isn’t safe to safe and use. So, I wouldn’t recommend it for camping.
Propane is one of the easily stored gas. It doesn’t expire.
You can store propane indefinitely, essentially through the life of its containers, which can take years before disintegrating.
White gas is much cleaner and more refined than other liquid fuels, so it stores better, even with on an opened container.
It has a shelf life of 5 to 10 years, though the storage time may decrease drastically if opened.
Alcohol is a relatively stable gas, more convenient, and easier to store than gasoline.
Kerosene has a much higher ignition, so much safer to store.
It also has an incredible shelf-life, especially if stored properly in an air-tight, non-reactive metal container.
Butane also has a higher shelf-life and is easier to store.
It’s unsurprising considering that most other gas fuels, such as propane, have a higher shelf-life.
4) Clean Fuel
The fuel’s cleanliness is necessary as it determines whether it leaves soot on your cookware.
If having clean cookware is important, then having a cleaner fuel is necessary.
Gasoline is an end product of different carbon by-products. It burns dirtier and releases plenty of soot.
The additives, especially the higher octane mixes, are harmful to your stove and may clog the filter and fuel line.
It’s why gasoline is usually considered a “last resort” fuel.
Propane burns fairly clean and will keep your cookware free from soot.
White gas is a “step-up” gasoline version that burns much cleaner than gasoline.
There’re different variants of alcohol. Some variants are maintenance-free and don’t cause any soot. Most of these alcohol variants will evaporate when spilled.
On the other hand, some variants, such as the isopropyl or red heat, are terrible for camping because they create so much soot.
Therefore, ensure you find an alcohol fuel that will work well for your camping situation.
The clean strips of denatured alcohol in yellow heat work very well and don’t cause any soot.
It does burn with some soot, though. Be aware it might blacken your cookware a little.
As with most gas fuels, butane burns clean. It burns with almost zero smoke.
5) Fuel Cost Effectiveness
Because of its matched versatility and universal applicability, the gasoline demand is so much high, so it’s easier to find.
It’s the most cost-effective from price to energy output, and it makes sense because it’s used in all automobiles.
Propane is also relatively inexpensive, especially when bought in bulk.
I like getting the 20-pound tanks, which can hold plenty of propane, and I see more value than buying the 1lbs Coleman fuel green canisters.
White gas goes through an intense refining process, has few by-products, and is among the cleanest liquid fuels.
When you combine all these with less demand, you’ll see why it’s expensive and less cost-effective.
Alcohol is relatively inexpensive per gallon, but the lower energy density counteracts that.
It takes longer to heat a glass of water than other fuels, so you must carry more of it.
When bought in small quantities, kerosene is usually priced at par with white gas.
However, it becomes a more cost-effective and cheap alternative when bought in large quantities, which is not very common.
We mentioned butane is a volatile gas, so it’s usually packed in special butane containers.
While the gas is more cost-effective, the well-engineered containers increase the price. You pay more for the container than the actual gas itself because it’s designed to withstand the high-vapor pressure.
Along with the actors we’ve listed above, there’re other considerations when choosing camp stove fuel.
For example, weight matters a lot, especially to backpackers, and less to car camping.
Some of the lightest stove gases are the Coleman 1lbs, which weigh approximately 2lbs when full. They’re great options for backpackers.
Backpacking stoves are similarly ultra-lightweight, with most weighing under 5 pounds.
The petroleum Liquid Fuel stove is the heaviest in the lot because they require pressurization, meaning you’ve to account for the fuel weight plus the pressurization equipment weight. They’re ideal for car campers.
Altitude is yet another consideration to make. The more hardcore you go, the more some fuel solutions will make more sense and are worth your money.
Also, consider safety. For example, while gasoline seems to win in most categories, it has plenty of safety concerns, including the risk of an explosion.
Wrap Up: What’s the Best Camp Fuel?
As I’ve mentioned above, there are many variables to consider when choosing the right camping fuel.
It would be awful naïve and terrible to assume one camping gas is automatically superior to the other.
The idealness is highly dependent on the situation.
In my opinion, the best camping gas for you is one that can automatically adapt to your camping situation. It’s irrelevant whether you’ve a canister or liquid fuel.
You could even buy a multi-fuel stove that can accommodate different fuel types.
In some instances, fuel doesn’t matter because I can always burn wood, and none fuel camping stoves would be superior because it’s extra baggage.
See how things can change depending on the situation?