Propane vs White Gas – Which Should You Take Camping?

If you’re going camping and will be using your own camping stove (which should be apart of any camping checklist, it’s important to have the right fuel on hand. Propane and white gas are two of the most popular choices these days. 

However, how do you know which type is going to serve you best?

Let’s get into it and break down the differences.

Using a propane canister with burner to make coffee.

The differences between propane and white gas

Propane

While both fuels are petroleum products, propane is a gas that is stored under pressure. 

With propane canisters, you can toss them in with the rest of your gear and forget about them until you need them. Then, when you need to use it you just screw it into your stove and turn the valve, and light it. For newer campers, it doesn’t get it any easier and that’s why I often recommend it.

That being said, propane isn’t a perfect solution. It struggles to work well in colder temperatures (31 degrees Fahrenheit and lower) – this is due to the butane mixture in the canister. This can also lead to the mixture getting out of whack and messing up the internal pressure.

Another significant issue with propane canisters is that they are single-use. Not only does this have an environmental impact, but for backpackers, it’s more weight that has to be packed out.

There are a couple of other nitpicks I have with it:

  • It is more expensive than white gas.
  • It does not burn as hot as white gas.

It can also be a little difficult to tell how much propane is left in your canister. You’re basically stuck with having to feel how heavy it is to figure it out.

White Gas

On the other hand, white gas is a liquid fuel also called Naphtha or Coleman fuel. It is not pressurized, so that means you will have to prime it every time you use it with your stove. For that reason alone, using it could be daunting for folks that want to turn a knob and have a flame.

White gas in my experience tends to be something that experienced campers/backpackers will opt for over propane. Its ability to burn hotter from less fuel means that you can use less of it to achieve the same thing as propane. Another nice bonus is that if any gets spilled, it evaporates fast.

A lot of white gas stoves can even use alternative fuel sources (like regular gasoline) since white gas is gasoline without additives. In a pinch, this could even prove handy for survival! Or more likely, just give you some options to cook with if other fuel sources are hard to find where you live.

Transporting it can be a bit more of a nuisance compared to propane since it has to be poured separately. However, it doesn’t bother me since it’s easily thrown in the trunk in a metal container until I get to the campsite.

 

Which fuel should you use?

If you’re new to camping, I would recommend propane for a couple of reasons:

  • Ease of use – no fiddling to do when you’re already out of your element.
  • If you’re an infrequent camper, the waste factor is negligible.

That being said, once you have more experience under your belt, you may find yourself using white gas for the advantages it holds over propane. It definitely has a bit more of a learning curve to using it, but nothing crazy.

I like to practice sustainability where I can. Throwing away a ton of propane canisters doesn’t sit the best with me as it’s easily avoidable. Let’s put less in landfills if we can help it!

You can usually find used white gas stoves for dirt cheap if you want to be on the frugal side of things. Since the technology involved is pretty basic, it’s not like things can really go bad unless it wasn’t maintained properly. 

Some folks even swear by white gas for cooking as it burns cleaner than propane. When burned, propane produces more than just heat – water and carbon dioxide come into play as well and can affect flavor.

Do you have a preferred fuel source for your camping stove? I’d love to hear what your go-to is and your experiences in the comments.

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