Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who love outdoor activities, excursions, and outdoorsmanship. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It seems you can get fuel for stoves in either gas form (butane, propane, etc.) liquid (methylated spirit) or solid fuel tablets.

What are the particular advantages and disadvantages with each format, and when might you use one over the other?

share|improve this question

1 Answer 1

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Note on boiling and stove weights, obviously there are dozens of stoves out there for every fuel. I'm just estimating based on commonly used stoves.

Petroleum, Gas, White Gas, other liquid petrol products
Stove weight: 12+ oz (340+ g) Water Boil per 100g fuel (rough): 5 to 6L
Good:

  • Works below freezing
  • incredibly good heat
  • fuel is easy to come by
  • fuel energy density is high enough so that just the fuel in the tank is enough for a few days, so no need to bring extra fuel cans.

Bad:

  • Heavy
  • high maintenance
  • must pack out fuel cans
  • more likely to go boom

Alcohol (liquid)
Stove weight: 0.25 for a DIY Stove (7.1g)
Good:

  • Minimal equipment needed
  • good for ultralight setups
  • almost impossible to make it go boom
  • very easy to light/use
  • In a pinch you can use a wide variety of fuels making resupply a non-issue
  • Ridiculously cheap gear. My entire kit cost $5 and I got a beer out of it.

Bad:

  • Poor effective heat/weight of the fuel (due to burn rate, but still good for ultralight due to minimal gear need)
  • Won't work as well in extreme cold. It requires extra gear, like a preheater, as shown in this Trangia video. Here's some extra testing from another hiker here. Alcohol is hard to light in deep cold and it's extremely hard/nigh impossible to boil water with it in sub freezing temps.
  • Pretty finicky to use, at least with a DIY setup.
  • In bright light it is sometimes easy to miss the flame and not realize it is still lit, creating a possible hazard.

Butane, Propane, Isobutane (pressurized gas)
Stove weight: 3 to 5oz (85 to 142g) Water Boil per 100g fuel (rough): 7 to 8L
Good:

  • good heat
  • lightweight stove options available
  • Wind, what wind? I've successfully boiled water in near freezing temps and high winds just by huddling over my MSR to dampen the wind (which is a pretty poor wind screen).

Bad:

  • Must carry multiple canisters for long trips
  • canisters can discharge while packed if not packed carefully
  • must pack out fuel cans
  • use of a heat shield requires very special care to avoid canister explosion (however a heat shield is a nice to have instead of a must have in most conditions with this setup)

Note: Sometimes it will work below freezing, sometimes it won't. It's a function of how it's handled. Also has issues at altitude. That's because these work by the liquid inside boiling and releasing gas out the top of the canister which doesn't work as well at lower pressure or temperature. Some designs address this by inverting the canister.

Hexamine (solid fuel)
Stove weight: <1 oz (<28g)
Good:

  • Super lightweight
  • easy to get at stops and small towns
  • boils water well

Bad:

  • Not very good for other cooking (due to smell)
  • soots pots with this sticky goo
  • contaminates everything if not handled very carefully.
  • hard to start and will not heat well in wind without an excellent wind screen
share|improve this answer
1  
Thanks, very comprehensive answer! –  berry120 Mar 7 '12 at 15:12
2  
Alcohol doesn't burn well below freezing? I think the Swedish folks who make Trangia stoves would be surprised to hear that. –  Ilmari Karonen Mar 13 '12 at 23:24
    
@IlmariKaronen -- Thank you for the feedback. That was based on my own personal experience. I have updated it with some more resources, including the one you gave. –  Russell Steen Mar 13 '12 at 23:58
4  
Ps. The Trangia FAQ says their spirit burner "works even at severe cold (below -10 degrees Celsius) if used together with the winter attachment" (priming pan). Actually, I'm pretty sure I've used them even in colder weather without one; a handy trick is to close the lid of the burner after filling it (it's liquid-proof) and warm it under your clothes for a while. –  Ilmari Karonen Mar 14 '12 at 0:26
2  
"Pretty finicky to use, at least with a DIY setup" - I'd disagree with that. My $2, 2.4 ounce cat stoves work every time, completely trouble-free. The mechanism never fails, because there is none. I followed Roy Robinson's instructions to make my own: coders-log.blogspot.com/2008/10/cat-stove.html –  Don Branson Jun 25 '13 at 12:19

protected by Community Jun 9 at 11:07

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.