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How do I know what type I should use when I'm planning a camping trip?

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It would be better if you made this question more specific - choose a weather condition, that way there can actually be one right answer. –  Ryley Jan 24 '12 at 20:51
    
Good point ... changed to be the difference between fuels rather than which is best. –  Reverend Gonzo Jan 24 '12 at 20:54
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butane and propane/butane mixtures might also be good to discuss. –  Sirex Mar 14 '12 at 13:45
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It would be helpful if this question included translation for non-American readers. Here in the UK we have 'Coleman fuel' (which is what Americans call 'white gas'), 'propane' and 'butane' are the same as in the USA, US 'kerosene' is UK 'paraffin', US 'gasoline' is UK 'petrol'. In the UK we also have 'white spirit' which should not be confused with 'white gas', it's not the same thing. –  A E Oct 28 at 14:29
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Typical Canada uses the US words for some but not all, we definitely have "Coleman fuel" which I burn in my Whisperlite. –  Kate Gregory Oct 30 at 16:42

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I personally highly recommend using an alcohol stove (pepsi-can stove, or some other variant), especially when hiking solo. In my opinion, the weight benefits far exceed the disadvantages.

The benefits of Alcohol*:

  • An alcohol stove is usually much lighter than a comparable white gas/propage/kerosene/gasoline.
  • An alcohol stove also has no moving parts that can malfunction. Quite reliable.
  • Can be easily made even in the field, using two soda cans and a sharp knife.
  • Alcohol is relatively easy to come by and better available than most butane canisters

Disadvantages:

  • Usually takes longer to boil water than more traditional stoves.
  • In higher altitudes/colder weather it takes longer to prime the stove and get it going.
  • In such conditions it will also take longer to boil the water/meal.

(*We are talking about stove fuel here, not about drinking the stuff...)

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one more disadvantage, its hard / impossible to see the flame. Be careful ! –  Sirex Mar 14 '12 at 13:46
    
that really depends on the temperature. Alcohol in winter is really not efficient. (then again, it depends on what the winter is like where you camp) –  njzk2 Nov 7 at 19:23

I'd try and be more specific towards the kind of the fuel we are talking about:

  1. White Gas

    • Burns clean without any smell and/or effect on food taste.
    • Accidental Spilling of the fuel is not much to be worried about. Evaporates very quickly, without leaving an odor.
    • White gas is safer to store and transport than probably most of the other products.
    • If spilled, evaporates quickly, that said, make a note that the spilled fuel is very flammable

  1. Propane Gas

    • A Propane gas stove would most likely be a Canister type? So, pressurized fuel? : Might be more dangerous if canister is leaking?
    • Most of the products that are available are the ones that work on Propane and Primarily Isobutane. They burn hot and clean.
    • Pressurized fuel = No Pumping, preheating required.
    • No spill play at all as the canister holds the pressurized gas, so self-seals when the stove is detached: Safe!
    • As you don't pour the fuel into the canister, its difficult to gauge remaining fuel level.
    • Performance degrades as the fuel is consumed since the pressure is released. So, when nearly emptied, the remaining fuel is apparently useless.
    • Fuel is more expensive.

  1. Kerosene Stove

    • function really well in extremely cold temperatures.
    • Burns hot, better than Alcohol stoves.
    • Relatively inexpensive fuel.
    • Needs proper storing, since it evaporates slowly if spilled.
    • Prone to spills during the pouring process. But, spilled fuel won't ignite easily.
    • Not Odorless.
    • Many of the Kerosene based stoves need pumping and pre-heating.

Some points about common terms used in different parts of the world. Thanks to A E for suggesting this concept and the data provided. I have done a mere copy+paste from comments.

It would be helpful if this question/answer also contains the translation for non-American readers.

  • In the UK, 'Coleman fuel' is same as what is known as 'White Gas' in America.
  • 'Propane' and 'Butane' are the same as in the USA
  • US 'Kerosene' is UK 'paraffin', the same in India is 'Kerosene' and more popularly known as 'Rockel'.
  • US 'Gasoline' is UK 'Petrol'.
  • In the UK, they also have 'White spirit' which should not be confused with 'White gas', it's not the same thing.
  • 'White Gas/Coleman Fuel' is called 'Naptha' in Canada.
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propane containers are also seriously heavy –  Kate Gregory Oct 30 at 16:41
    
Thanks A E for the edit suggested which talks of terms used for fuel –  WedaPashi Oct 31 at 5:40
    
White Gas/Coleman Fuel is called Naptha in Canada –  Chris Cudmore Nov 7 at 13:49
    
@Chris: Thanks. Added that part to the answer. –  WedaPashi Nov 7 at 14:38

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