When camping or hiking the thought of a camp stove always comes to mind. The question of "which is better" simultaneously comes to mind. The portability of compressed fuels such as propane or butane makes them excellent choices, but the one that is right for you depends on your particular outdoor activities. This article reviews the pros and cons of propane and butane, and briefly discusses other portable fuel alternatives.
Backpacking or Car Camping
How far you have to carry your stove and fuel, and how large of a group you have to prepare meals for, are two of the biggest factors to be considered. If you are alone or with a small group backpacking, space and weight are going to be your primary concern. If you are camping (or just having a picnic) close to your vehicle, especially if you have a large group of people, your concerns become more about having a large enough stove and the most economical fuel source.
Propane stoves are the most popular, and their fuel is economical, particularly when using the bigger stoves. They come in a variety of sizes; from the single burner that screws directly onto a 1-lb. cylinder (great for hiking), to the four-burner with a grill and a lid that connects to a 25-lb. cylinder. Propane burns well at high altitudes and in cold weather, compared to other compressed liquid fuels. Propane and its selection of stove sizes make it a very versatile choice but, if you are a long-distance, backcountry hiker there are other compressed liquid fuel stoves that offer smaller burners than even the smallest propane ones, and the fuel tanks are lighter and smaller.
The biggest advantages of butane are its lightweight canister (due to the fact that it is compressed at a lower pressure than propane, the canister has thinner walls), and small, lightweight burners. The biggest disadvantages of butane are that it does not burn well at high altitudes and will not burn at all below freezing, as it is no longer liquid at that temperature.
Iso-butane stoves are a little more versatile for the backcountry hiker than butane stoves. Iso-butane is a blended liquid compressed fuel that will burn at temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. These stoves and their canisters are compact and lightweight.
Multi-fuel stoves have some advantages, especially when traveling internationally, as you are likely to be able to locate a suitable fuel anywhere in the world. They come in a variety of sizes and tank sizes, with a large selection of styles to suit backpackers or those needing to save space. Multi-fuel stoves will operate on "white gas," jet fuel, unleaded gas (yes, the gas you put in your car) and even kerosene. They work in any environment or altitude and cold does not affect the ability of the fuel to burn, although high altitude causes a lower burn temperature. The biggest disadvantages of multi-fuel stoves is the constant maintenance and cleaning, the mess of filling the fuel canisters and the smell of the fuel (especially kerosene).
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