Camping Stove Fuels Explained and Ranked: Propane, Butane, Kerosene, White Gas and More


If you’ve clicked here, you’ve probably been confused by all the different types of camping stove fuels. There are so many options, and each fuel has different advantages.

Which Camping Stove Fuel is best? Propane, butane, butane mixes, kerosene, alcohol, white gas, and gasoline stoves all have different advantages over each other in different circumstances. They all have pros and cons in availability, cold tolerance, storage, burn efficiency, cost-effectiveness, cleanliness, and weight.

This article will explain all fuel types, and compare them these different categories.

Who wins? This table quickly summarizes the winners in every category:

CategoryFuel Best for Category
Cold ToleranceTechnically Gasoline, with Propane as a close second.
AvailabilityGasoline
StoragePropane/Butane/Isobutane
Burn Efficiency / WeightPropane
Cost EffectiveGasoline, with Propane as a close second
WeightDepends on cooking needs, but alcohol and isobutane are two of the lightest options
Clean (soot and byproducts)Propane/Butane/Isobutane

Camping Fuel Names

One very confusing aspect of this topic is that these fuels have different names depending on where you live. As a quick reference, I’ve collated the different names for the same fuel types.

Common Fuel NameEquivalent Fuel Names
PropaneCamping Gas, LPG (propane is a Liquid Petroleum Gas, but not all LPGs are propane)
White Gas Coleman Fuel, Naphtha, Camp Fuel
Kerosene Parrafin, lamp oil, coal oil, sometimes Fuel Oil # 1
Butane n-butane, mixed with propane sometimes called LPG
Isobutane i-butane, mixed with propane sometimes called LPG
GasolinePetrol
AlcoholDenatured Alcohol, Spirit, Ethanol

Availability: Which Fuel Type is Easiest to Find?

You might have an awesome camp stove, but without fuel, it’s useless! When you’re camping, sometimes your camping stove is the only means you have for cooking your food, and so it because critically important to be able to find your fuel, especially when you’re camping for several days or weeks.

This can be very frustrating to be out on the road and in nature, and your only method of cooking is squelched because the fuel that works with your camping stove can’t be found, anywhere.

Ranked by easiest to find near you:

  1. Gasoline
  2. Propane
  3. White Gas
  4. Alcohol
  5. Kerosene
  6. Butane/Isobutane

Gasoline Availability

There’s no question that the easiest camping fuel type to find is gasoline. While you are on the road, every gas station regardless of whether they sell anything else will sell gasoline. You’ll never have to worry about getting to a remote destination and not being able to find gasoline. Wherever there are paved roads in the United States, you’ll be able to find a gas station.

Furthermore, if you are traveling in the middle of the night and the gas station in question is closed, you are still likely able to get fuel nowadays because many pumps still will sell gas at the pump with a credit or debit card. Even if it’s after hours, you can find fuel for your camping stove if your stove burns gasoline.

Propane Availability

Coming in at second place, propane! While gasoline is the undisputed champion for fuel availability, many gas stations will carry also carry the extremely common 1 lb Coleman green propane tanks. This means you don’t have to find the nearest sporting goods or outdoor recreation store to find fuel!

Besides the really common 1 lb Coleman green propane tanks, propane also is commonly available in large 15 lb cylinders (the weight is referring to the amount of propane you can put in the tank). These are a go-to for many campers so that rather than going through large amounts of smaller 1 lb tanks, they can use large cylinders that will last longer, which is ideal for long camping trips.

These 15-20 lb cylinders can be refilled at several locations. Blue Rhino is a very common program available at gas stations around the United States where you buy a cylinder, and then exchange it at a gas station whenever you are done with your old cylinder for a much smaller fee than from the initial gas cylinder purchase. From $49.99 for the initial cylinder purchase to $19.99 for a refill for example.

The downside to Propane availability is that it requires the business to be open and staffed to be able to buy it and to exchange tanks (such as for the Blue Rhino program). This means that if you urgently need camping stove fuel after hours, you will have to wait till morning or find a 24-hour gas station or Walmart.

Lastly, propane tanks are generally available at hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowe’s, or your local hardware store, in addition to outdoor recreation stores.

White Gas Availability

This is where we get to the fuels where you may or may not find the fuel type you need for your camp stove. White Gas, also known as Camp Fuel, Naphtha (not the same as Naphtha used for paint varnish), or Coleman Fuel is not nearly as widely available as propane. While many gas stations will carry propane, a much smaller proportion will carry white gas.

White gas can be found at many Walmart stores and many sporting goods or outdoor recreation stores.

Because white gas is a fluid (you can pour it), you don’t need to find a specific canister to meet your needs. All you need is to find white gas of any brand and you can use it for your white gas camping stove, which makes white gas score higher on availability than other types of camping stove fuel.

Alcohol Camping Stove Fuel Availability

Getting fuel for alcohol camp stoves isn’t immediately straightforward, because there are so many different types of alcohol.

The availability of what type of alcohol camp stove fuel depends on what particular mix of alcohol you want to use since many different mixes will work. Some examples of alcohol that you can find are Crown Alcohol Fuel, Klean Strip Denatured Alcohol Fuel, and a popular choice is Gas-Line Antifreeze and Water Remover, by HEET. Also known as Yellow HEET.

Crown and Klean Strip Denatured Alcohol can be found at Walmart, sporting goods, or outdoor recreation stores, while Yellow HEET can be found at your local car parts stores.

Because there are multiple fuel types that will work, Alcohol for camping stoves ranks more available than other types of camping stove fuel.

Kerosene Availability

Kerosene has many other uses besides fuel for camp stoves, therefore is much more widely available.

For example, kerosene is often used as lamp fuel (and even as jet fuel!). For this reason, kerosene can not only be found at major retailers like Walmart or Target, but also at hardware stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot, and of course, sporting goods and outdoor recreation stores.

Kerosene also has the advantage of being a liquid, so therefore camp stoves that run on kerosene do not need special canisters, so if you find kerosene under any brand (as long as it’s not blended with anything unusual), you can use it for your camp stove.

Butane Availability

Butane isn’t remarkably hard to find, in fact, many gas stations will carry it, but the main reason why the butane for your camping stove may be difficult to find is the huge amount of cartridges available for the dozens of varieties of camping stoves. Many camping stoves are designed to be compact, and thus will have designs made to fit cartridges that are long and cylindrical similar to the shape of an aerosol can of hairspray, with a nozzle that is pressurized when pushed into the camping stove.

A butane canister camp stove

Other butane camp fuels styles are actually butane and propane mixes and are used in the screw-top canister type, while others need to be pierced and are only meant to be used once.

Furthermore, many camping stoves feature proprietary gas blends and fuel canister form factors, so you can’t run to the local sporting goods store and expect to find your specific camp stove butane canister. While the gas blend is irrelevant to whether you can burn it, if a gas fuel canister brand features proprietary canisters, then you are stuck getting fuel from that manufacturer.

You should be able to find the standardized butane cartridges at most sporting goods stores and at big retailers like Walmart or Target. This works great if you are camping near a big city, but harder if you are far from civilization

Isobutane Availability

Isobutane is a type of butane with a particular atom arrangement that will burn at colder temperatures.

The most common isobutane container is a short, squat screw-top canister that will seal to the camping stove. This is one of the most common fuel types used by backpackers and thus is almost always available in any sporting goods store, as well as at Walmart or any other major retailer.

single burner backpacking camping stove
Example of an isobutane container

These canisters can be found in some gas stations, but not nearly as frequently as you can find propane.

These canisters again suffer, occasionally from some proprietary designs which make it harder to find a canister when you’re on the go.

Isobutane mixes are common and therefore many manufacturers will state their particular mix incompatible with other camping stoves. For the most part, though, since you are ultimately burning gas, if the screw top fits, especially if the stove is designed for the same type of fuel, it should work fine.

That being said, burning propane on isobutane stoves via adapters or vice versa is not recommended since the stoves are designed for the weight and consistency of certain gasses, and you can actually clog your stove or other worse consequences.

Cold Tolerance: Which Fuel Types Work Best at Lower Temperatures?

The last thing you want to happen when you’re in the middle of the late fall or anytime during the winter is for your stove to not light because the fuel does not tolerate cold temperatures.

Not every fuel tolerates sub-freezing temperatures, meaning they will be either more difficult to light or not possible to light under a certain temperature. If you are planning a trip during a time and place where cold temperatures are possible, then make sure to pick the right type of camp stove and fuel!

In order of the most cold-tolerant:

  1. Gasoline
  2. Propane
  3. Kerosene
  4. Alcohol
  5. Isobutane
  6. Butane

Gasoline is the easiest to ignite in cold temperatures but doesn’t score well on safety since gasoline is so volatile.

Relevant cold tolerant temperatures for the liquid fuels in order of flash point (temperature where vapors will allow an ignition source to light the fuel):

Liquid Camping Stove Fuel TypeFlash Point
Gasoline-50°F Flash Point
White Gas0°F Flash Point
Alcohol80°F Flash Point
Kerosene100°F Flash Point

And the camping stove fuels stored as a gas, in order of vaporization point (temperature where the gas turns into liquid and does not vaporize or ignite)

Camping Stove Fuel TypeVaporization Point
Propane-43°F Vaporization Point
Isobutane11°F Vaporization Point
Butane31°F Vaporization Point

Propane, Isobutane, and Butane Cold Tolerance

Propane is the ideal gas to use as a camping fuel in cold temperatures, as it is by far the most cold-tolerant. The heavy weight of propane containers makes it less desirable for backpacking, but many manufacturers sell their butane/isobutane mixed with propane which gives some of that low-temperature benefit to the mix.

Butane is the least ideal gas to use as a camping fuel in cold temperatures because at temperatures around 32°F, butane will have a hard time igniting, and warming the fuel inside a canister is difficult (not to mention unpleasant and potentially dangerous).

Isobutane is more ideal as it can ignite around temperatures higher than 11°F, which will cover most camping scenarios.

Liquid Fuel Cold Tolerance

Liquid fuels are more work than gas fuel stoves. Many people use liquid fuel stoves, so it’s not impossible or even unfeasible–just know that there are more steps to using a liquid fuel stove than gas canisters.

Two of the most important differences between liquid fuel stoves and gas fuel stoves are pumping and priming.

Liquid fuel stoves (except alcohol stoves) require pressurization (pumping) to work. Liquid fuel stoves feature a fuel tank that often supports multiple types of liquid fuel, including regular unleaded gasoline, kerosene, or white gas. To allow the fuel tank to supply a steady stream of liquid fuel to the stove requires pressurizing the tank.

Remember, if you’re in sub-freezing conditions, parts may become more brittle and difficult to operate during pumping. If your life depends on your camping stove, then it’s best to be prepared with backups.

Lastly, liquid fuels require priming–which means heating up the stove to the point where the fuel vaporizes instantly when applied to the stove. This is a necessary step for all liquid fuels that can’t be skipped.

Gasoline and White Gas Cold Tolerance

One reason that Gasoline is favored for car engines is because of its very low flash point (around -50°F). This means for a camping stove that gasoline will be the easiest to ignite in cold temperatures. However, this doesn’t make it the best fuel type for low temperatures.

A word of warning. The low flash point of gasoline does make it ideal for cold weather, but this is precisely why it is a very dangerous fuel. For this reason, other fuel types are favored over gasoline for camping, especially in less controlled environments (such as in the middle of the wilderness). Campgrounds it’s much easier to use a camping stove that burns gasoline as you’re closer to facilities that can help manage a fire. Convenience should never outweigh safety.

Furthermore, lower flash points mean faster burning–if you need a lot of heat quickly, than that’s perfect, but if you would prefer your fuel to last longer than kerosene will work better. Although, this is mitigated by the flow of the camp stove fuel tank valve.

White gas is less vapor dense than gasoline and thus its flash point is higher, making it a safer option, but still considered very volatile. White gas can be ignited in temperatures around 0°F.

Because white gas has a lower flash point than kerosene, it’s easier to ignite and the priming process will be easier in cold temperatures.

Notes about Kerosene Cold Tolerance

Kerosene will work in very cold temperatures, but the priming process may be more complicated. In fact, some stoves include a wick just for kerosene.

A wick is a priming help that spreads out the fuel and allows it to be heated past the flash point and heat up the stove to the point where the fuel pump will instantly vaporize the fuel when put in contact with the camping stove surface. Since kerosene has a relatively high flash point at around 100°F (making it a safer and more reliable fuel to use), a wick is often necessary.

Some people actually will use other fuels as an accelerant, or other accelerants like this priming paste (see the price on Amazon), to ignite their kerosene camping stoves in cold conditions.

Notes about Alcohol Cold Tolerance

Even though Alcohol has a lower flash point, it is more difficult to ignite in cold conditions. If I had to guess why I’d say it’s probably because alcohol doesn’t burn as hot as fossil fuels and therefore can’t self-ignite as easily.

There’s a lot of debate about whether you should use Alcohol in colder weather. Because Alcohol doesn’t burn as efficiently as other fuels, it’s not ideal for melting snow for water, because you’d have to take a lot of alcohol to compensate for its low efficiency.

Furthermore, because alcohol doesn’t vaporize well in freezing (sub -32 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures), further steps need to be taken to ensure you can light your camp stove fuel in cold weather.

Alcohol can be warmed up to the point where it will light with some of the following techniques:

  • Using a camping stove with a built-in fiberglass wick system, or using your own wick
  • Carrying your alcohol fuel in your jacket, thus using your own body heat to ensure your fuel does not get too cold
  • Using a twig to dribble out some of the alcohol, and then using a match to warm and ignite the smaller portion of alcohol and using that to warm the rest of the fuel container
  • Placing a copper wire that bends into the alcohol fuel (basically acting as a tube wick). You can warm the copper wire with a lighter and the heat will conduct and warm up the alcohol, making it ready for ignition

This person made a video about a DIY copper wick:

Storage: Which Fuel Type Stores Longest, Most Conveniently, or the Safest?

Part of the decision of what camping stove and fuel you want to use is impacted by the convenience and safety of storing the fuel. If you have to continuously buy fuel because you can’t store it for more than a year than that should impact if that’s the type of camp stove you want to use.

In order of longevity in storage:

  1. Propane/Isobutane/Butane
  2. White Gas
  3. Kerosene
  4. Alcohol
  5. Gasoline

Storing Gas Fuels

Gas fuels are by far much easier and safer to store and maintain their potency. Propane, butane, and isobutane will all keep indefinitely. The limiting factor of storage is, however, the container. The valves or seals associated with a container is the real expiration date for gas fuels. These could last longer than 20 years, or they could last 10-20 years, depending on the quality of the container.

If your container is more than 5 years old, just make sure it’s not empty, and hook it up to your camp stove for a quick test before you head out on your camping trip.

Although gas fuels are sealed, do not store your combustible fuels near any ignition sources or in any location hotter than 120 °F.

Storing Liquid Fuels

Liquid fuels are always going to be more difficult (and more dangerous) than gas fuels to store. Because liquid fuels can be poured, that means that they can also easily be unsealed and exposed to air. Exposing air to kerosene, alcohol, and gasoline all cause issues with the fuel and reduce shelf life. For kerosene and gasoline, open air can cause organic growth to contaminate the fuel making it burn dirtier and unsuitable for engines.

Please take special care to never store any combustible liquids in hot locations or any locations near an ignition source (even the same room is unsafe)

Alcohol: Alcohol does absorb moisture, so if you are able to seal your container properly, then you can store alcohol for at least 5 years, perhaps even indefinitely if your storage solution is properly handled.

White Gas: Because white gas is more refined than other fuel types, white gas stores better, even if a container has been opened. Many white gas camp stove users report that they’ve used containers 5-10+ years old without any issues. If the container has been opened then the storage time will go down considerably.

Kerosene: From my research, the estimated storage shelf life for kerosene ranges from source to source. While some claim as little as a year, others have anecdotal experience of up to 6 years. Still, others even claim decades of shelf life if stored well and cared for with fuel stabilizers. To extend the shelf life of kerosene, use a non-reactive storage container (such as a clean metal container) that is sealed. Stored kerosene may not burn as cleanly and effectively and may even clog your camping stove if it is old and contaminated.

Gasoline: Gasoline has many of the same behaviors of being stored as kerosene, but is considered more dangerous because of its extremely low flash point. Gasoline will deteriorate and be unfit for engine use within 3-6 months if not stored in a sealed container. Fuel stabilizers can be used to store gasoline for up to 2 years. That’s if you want to use your gasoline for an engine, however, and your gas may last longer for a camp stove, albeit with more smells and more soot the longer you store it.

Which Fuel Type Burns the Cleanest?

Every fuel burns with some byproducts. However, the amount of soot produced by different types of fuel varies widely. If having clean cookware is important to you, then this may be a factor in your deciding what camp stove to get.

In order of cleanest to burn:

  1. Propane/Isobutane/Butane
  2. Alcohol
  3. White Gas
  4. Kerosene
  5. Gasoline

Gas Cleanliness

Any smoke you can see is evidence of soot.

Gas camp stoves typically burn with almost zero visible smoke, therefore gas camp fuels get high marks for cleanliness.

If you do see large amounts of smoke, your gas camp stove is likely malfunctioning due to clogged valves or an incorrect proportion of added oxygen. If cleaning your gas camp stove does not fix the issue, then you may have other issues requiring a replacement or a fix. Check with your manufacturer’s manual (or contact them) to find troubleshooting tips.

Soot is just one part of the problem, though. Burning any gas causes other invisible byproducts, the main one being Carbon Dioxide. Carbon monoxide is also a concern, so ventilation is always critically important. Propane/butane heaters do exist and some are rated to be used indoors, but all of them need ventilation. Please check with your manufacturer if you want to use any gas burning heaters.

In general, you should always avoid cooking in your tent for multiple reasons–any gasses you emit from burning may have a hard time exiting your tent, and the heat from a flame can ignite your tent.

Liquid Fuel Cleanliness

Alcohol

Alcohol leads the pack as far as cleanliness, but only sometimes.

From doing research for this article, I found that not all alcohol fuels burn clean! In fact, isopropyl alcohol, (which Red HEET is composed of mostly isopropyl alcohol) create considerable soot when burned almost making it unusable as a fuel type (source).

The cleanest burning alcohol is pure ethanol, which is not legal in some states, and/or difficult to obtain.

Alcohol is further complicated because many different blends exist, some with methanol, a poisonous substance, and others with poisonous additives to prevent consumption–the fumes from burning alcohol can be more or less dangerous depending on which exact brand of fuel you purchased.

Petroleum Cleanliness

White gas burns cleaner than other petroleum products, but it still is a petroleum product, and thus burns with soot, and creates dangerous byproducts if inhaled.

Kerosene also produces a fair amount of soot, especially when used to prime a camp stove. If you want to avoid soot buildup, you can prime your stove with alcohol to avoid the yellow, sooty flame caused by priming with kerosene.

Gasoline has all sorts of additives added to it and is the worst in terms of burning clean. The soot can actually damage the camping stove and any fuel filters will need to be replaced much more frequently if you are burning gasoline.

Which Fuel Type is the Most Cost Effective?

As far as efficiency, the following in order of amount of energy (Megajoules) per kilogram of fuel (source):

Amount of energy (Megajoules) per kilogram of fuel (source):

  1. Propane
  2. Butane/Isobutane
  3. White gas
  4. Gasoline
  5. Kerosene
  6. Alcohol (is less efficient per kg by a huge margin, more than 30%)

This list also should correspond to how hot you can get your cooking flames, depending on how much oxygen you can mix while you’re burning.

Propane, per kg, provides the most energy out of all the other fuel types we’re writing about in this article.

Cost is tricky to estimate because it all depends on how you purchase the fuel. Only a few fuel types allow you to purchase in bulk, such as gasoline or propane, and sometimes kerosene, while many (especially when referring to camping uses) are packaged in smaller units, therefore you pay more for the container and the brand, which raises the average price.

Taking packaging into consideration, camping fuels in order of cost-effectiveness:

  1. Gasoline
  2. Propane
  3. Kerosene
  4. White Gas
  5. Alcohol
  6. Butane*/Isobutane canisters

Gas Camping Fuel Cost Effectiveness

Butane/isobutane canisters can be more cost effective if you buy the cheaper long cylindrical cans in bulk. The backpacking canisters are, however, very expensive, and are not sold in large quantities, making these the least cost-effective.

Propane can be extremely cost-effective, especially if you buy in bulk (at a minimum if you use the 20 lb canisters). The smaller 1 lb canisters are fairly inexpensive but more expensive than buying any fuel by the gallon.

Liquid Fuel Cost Effectiveness

Gasoline is the most cost-effective from price to energy output for any camping fuel, which makes sense as it is the fuel in the highest demand because of automobiles.

White Gas is much cleaner, has a more intense refining process, and has fewer byproducts–all of these combined with less demand makes white gas less cost-effective.

Alcohol is relatively inexpensive per gallon, but its cost-effectiveness is lowered greatly by how much you have to carry to burn a cup of water. It’s more than 30% less efficient than other petroleum fuels.

Kerosene is now on par in price with white gas if purchased in smaller quantities. Buying kerosene in bulk is still available at some gas stations (not very common). Kerosene becomes much more cost-efficient if purchased in at minimum 5-gallon quantities.

Which Fuel Type is the Lightest to Carry?

This is only really a question for backpackers since car campers are not nearly as concerned about weight.

As you might expect, from a raw fuel perspective, the more energy dense a fuel is, the less of it you have to carry.

This is only partly true.

There are multiple factors that contribute to weight, thus it really depends on what stove you purchased, and how much fuel you need to carry.

Stove Weight

By lightest to heaviest

  1. Alcohol Stoves
  2. Backpacker Gas Stoves
  3. Petroleum Liquid Fuel Stoves

Petroleum Liquid Fuel Stoves have the requirement to pressurize your liquid fuel and have a mechanism for priming the stove, as well as the stove surface itself. All of these mechanisms together mean that the “lightweight” liquid fuel stoves are the heaviest among the rest of the camp stoves compared in this article.

Alcohol stoves are extremely light (some weighing little more than an empty soda can), and so even though alcohol is a less-efficient fuel, it can make that weight cost back just in the weight of the stove (of course it all depends on what you’re needing to cook). Take note, though… there is a little bit more gear that you might want to carry for an alcohol stove, such as windscreens, a stove stand, a ground shield (can just be aluminum foil), and more, which all contributes to the weight required by an alcohol stove.

Backpacker Gas Stoves can be extremely light, some weighing less than an ounce, but usually weighing up to a few ounces.

Fuel Container Weight

If you are using liquid fuel, then you need a container that can carry the fuel safely. Alcohol can be carried most plastics without any issues, but petroleum products can damage many plastics. Heavier plastics or metal will contribute to your pack weight, so make sure and take that in to consideration.

Gas Containers

This is one of the most unfortunate aspects of gas camping fuels–they come in these metal canisters that you cannot transfer or consolidate. This means, that if your gas canister is half empty, then you still have the container of gas you need to lug around.

Isobutane and butane camping fuel canisters are much smaller than the typical Coleman propane containers and can weigh as little as 4 oz to 13 oz, depending on the container size.

Coleman “1 lb” propane containers weigh about 2 lbs.

Example Stoves in Each Category

I have not tried all these types of stoves, but I chose well-rated stoves from each fuel type on Amazon (click to see price).

Gas Stove (for car camping): Coleman 2-burner camp stove (quintessential if you ask me)

Backpacking Gas Stove: Jet Boil Cooking System (includes cooking mug), a cheaper alternative: Etekcity Ultralight Backpacking Stove (doesn’t include fuel)

Petroleum Liquid Fuel Stove (car camping): Coleman multi-fuel Camp stove (older model has a better reliability rating than the newer model)

Backpacking Petroleum Liquid Fuel Stove: MSR Backpacking Camp Stove

Alcohol Camp Stove: Esbit Alcohol Cooking Set

Other Considerations

Believe it or not, there’s more to consider when getting a camping stove and choosing a fuel. Altitude just being one example. Safety being another. In truth, even though gasoline wins in many of the convenience related categories, it has many, many safety concerns and so that is another important factor to consider before choosing a fuel type, especially in the wilderness.

Phew! right? There’s so much to know about camping stoves and fuel! Hopefully, this article gave you a better idea of what the different characteristics are of the different fuel types and helps you decide on what stoves you want to look for.

Peter Mitchell

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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