Unsure whether a propane or butane stove is best for you? Let’s take a look at the differences between the fuels to find out!
When compared to Butane, Propane has a higher energy density, higher vapor pressure, burns 1% hotter per lb, requires thicker and heavier containers, and can be burned at much colder temperatures, which makes it ideal for car camping. Butane, due to its lighter containers is good for backpacking.
Most campers want a fuel that is safe and reliable, works efficiently, and comes at a fair price. Some may also want something that will be friendly to their specific style of camping. While many campers out there may rely on propane for their cooking needs, backpackers are likely to find that it’s just too heavy for them to take on their journeys.
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How do you know which fuel is ideal for you?
Propane and butane are pretty similar – both being clean-burning gas fuels that are pretty simple to purchase and use. However, they do have some differences that can affect the overall camping experience. Before you choose one, you’ll need to be aware of the climate you are planning to camp in, as well as whether you prefer car camping, RV camping, or backpacking.
Let’s take a look into some important differences between propane and butane to get you on the right track. Then, I’ll answer some questions about what kinds of situations each type of fuel is ideal for.
Read on to discover the best stove fuel for your needs!
Differences Between Propane And Butane
When you’re choosing your ideal camping fuel source, there are a few factors worth keeping in mind. How clean is it? Is the fuel easy to travel with? Can you use it in cold temperatures? It’s important to learn as much as you can about your options so that you can choose the fuel that will be the safest and most convenient for you to use.
To help you with figuring this out, I’m going to briefly go through some of the differences between propane and butane. These factors should start to help you get an idea as to which fuel might be more suited to your needs.
If you would like to check out the technical differences between propane and butane, check out https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/ to make your own comparisons.
The boiling point for any fuel you use is important to know. This number will allow you to figure out what temperature ranges that fuel will still work (and work safely) in.
Some fuel types may not work at certain temperatures, while others still work perfectly fine. Ultimately, this determines what fuel you should take on camping trips that may involve either hotter or colder climates.
When it comes to propane and butane, you’ll want to be very aware of the temperatures you’ll be camping in.
Propane has a boiling point and flashpoint of -43 degrees Fahrenheit. Essentially, that means it will still work well in very cold temperatures. If you’re camping in the winter, or at a colder location, propane is the fuel you’ll want to bring with you.
Meanwhile, the flashpoint of butane is 31 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it won’t work well at temperatures below that. If you have even an inkling that the temperature might get below that, it’s better to not rely on butane as your fuel source.
In fact, Butane or Isobutane are often mixed with propane so they can get down to colder temperatures. No matter the blend, you really can’t depend on butane/isobutane below 32 degrees Fahrenheit
To make things simple, propane is best in the cold while butane is more ideal for warmer temperatures.
Efficiency is all about paying the least amount of money for the most possible energy.
The good news is that both propane and butane are considered to be very efficient fuels. This is especially true when you opt to purchase them in bulk amounts rather than in smaller, lighter containers.
Between the two, propane is the most efficient fuel source. With propane, you’ll generally spend less and gain more energy and heat for cooking. Butane isn’t too far behind, but buying with bulk can be a bit trickier when it comes to this fuel.
That’s mainly because butane is the ideal choice for backpackers, and backpackers typically want to make their pack as light as possible. As a result, they’ll tend to purchase smaller butane containers in order to meet their travel needs.
This might not be true in the UK–in fact it’s not uncommon to have huge butane containers (like we see in the US with propane).
With either propane or butane, purchasing smaller containers will be more expensive. That means you’ll be paying a higher amount for each lb of fuel you get.
Essentially, you’ll get the greatest energy benefit by purchasing your fuels in bulk. However, you’ll still be getting a decent amount of energy even if you can’t.
Effects On Environment
Whenever you’re burning any kind of fuel, it’s important to be aware of any byproducts that fuel might be creating. Too many byproducts can become a problem for the environment as well as your own health. Luckily, both propane and butane are known to have pretty minimal effects on the environment.
Mainly, soot, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide are the byproducts you’ll want to be aware of with both of these gases.
Soot is often related to smoke. When you’re using gas fuels like propane and butane, there shouldn’t be a lot of smoke coming from the stove. At times, you may notice a small amount of visible smoke, but too much can actually indicate that either your stove or fuel container needs maintenance or repairs.
Carbon monoxide and dioxide also shouldn’t be causing too much of an issue if you’re taking the proper steps. Make sure that you cook outdoors rather than inside a tent to keep yourself safe. If you’re using a propane or butane stove in an RV, keep the nearby windows and doors open to allow for plenty of airflow.
Propane and butane are both relatively easy to store.
Both types of fuel should be kept away from excessive heat or moisture. On top of that, both types of fuel can last for an indefinite period of time. This factor really depends on how well the container holds up. As long as the container is in good condition, the gas inside should be okay to use.
The main difference between storing propane and butane is the size and weight of the canister.
Butane typically comes in much smaller containers, so it can easily be kept in a cupboard, closet, or other cool, dry place without any difficulty. On the other hand, propane containers often need a lot more space – especially if you’re keeping 15 or 20lb containers.
Another factor to keep in mind is the temperature. Propane should be kept outside, where it’s often colder and more ventilated. Butane needs to be kept indoors at more mild temperatures. That way, you can avoid any reactions coming from the different fuel types.
The kind of storage space you have available to you should definitely play a factor in the kind of fuel you choose to keep. Those who live in a smaller space without a lot of room for outdoor storage can really benefit from keeping and using butane rather than propane. That said, propane can sometimes be a better choice as long as you have space outdoors to store at least a 1lb canister.
Between the two, propane can provide the most possible energy for the lowest cost. This is especially true if you opt to purchase in bulk and get 20lb canisters for camping purposes. Such a large canister might be more difficult to carry, so it will definitely be important that you plan ahead to make it easier.
There are also 1lb propane containers available. They aren’t incredibly expensive, but the smaller containers will have an increased cost per pound when compared to the larger containers.
On the other hand, butane does tend to be a bit more expensive. Just like with propane, you can purchase larger sizes for more cost-effectiveness.
One issue with that is that butane is often the better choice for backpackers because it’s lighter. Unfortunately, those smaller sizes can be pretty expensive when compared to other fuels. Depending on how much time you spend backpacking, the amount you have to spend on butane canisters can get pretty high.
Luckily, there are ways you can help to limit the cost. For example, bringing along fewer food and drink items that require cooking. You can also bring along some water bottles with clean water to avoid having to purify water as often, though that option might make your pack a bit heavier.
The other option is to use a water filter. I used a Platypus gravity water filter and I was super happy with the purchase–using the power of gravity, your water is filtered between two water bladders. You can check it out on REI.
Generally speaking, neither propane nor butane is particularly difficult to find. However, there are a few factors that can make a difference in how easily or quickly you can get the fuel when needed.
Propane is the easiest to find. There aren’t too many different specific varieties, and containers are often available at big retailers, home improvement stores, and even gas stations. That means if you forget your container of propane or something is wrong with the propane you have, it’s pretty easy to stop by your nearest store to pick up either a 1lb or 15lb container.
On the other hand, the best way to get butane tends to be through the manufacturer of your camping stove. While butane can often be found at a Super Walmart or at your nearest outdoors sporting goods stores, there are many more varieties to choose from. It can be difficult to guarantee that you’ll be able to find the right variety or container at any store you stop in.
If you’re camping within easy distance of a big retail store, you’ll likely be able to find a decent standard option for butane. Otherwise, it’s really something that you’ll have to plan ahead for in order to make sure you can cook while you’re out in the wilderness.
Ultimately, it’s worth considering how well-prepared you are. If you’re someone who plans ahead well, butane isn’t a bad fuel to work with. However, if you tend to forget to order fuel in advance – then propane is the option that will help you to solve potential problems more easily.
I’m covering just about everything you need to know about propane and butane here, but what about the other fuel options? Take a look at our article here if you want more information on other fuels like kerosene and white gas as well as butane and propane.
Which Gas Is Better For Camping?
Both propane and butane are great for camping trips, especially if you have plenty of room for storage. That said, there are a few factors you might want to think about in order to determine which fuel will be best for your camping trip.
If you are looking for a high level of efficiency at a lower cost, propane is ideal for camping trips. It costs less, the containers are more durable, and it will last longer than a smaller container of butane. Propane is also easier to handle in a wider range of temperatures.
The downside to propane is that if you want the most cost-efficiency, you’re going to have to be ready to deal with a big, heavy container of propane. That means you’ll need space to store it as well as enough strength to lift it, move it, and set it up.
On the other hand, butane is much lighter. You can get smaller containers of butane that won’t take up as much space. However, butane won’t work well below 32 degrees. If you know the temperature won’t be sinking that low, then butane is perfectly fine to bring with you on your camping trip.
Which Is Better For Backpacking?
There’s no denying that butane is the way to go if you’re planning on taking a backpacking trip.
Generally speaking, both the stoves and the canisters available for butane are smaller and lighter than the options you’ll find for propane. In part, this is because butane can be stored in thinner canisters while propane containers need to be quite thick in order to keep the fuel contained well.
Often the lightest propane container you’ll find is 1lb, while small butane containers can be as light as 1.5Oz. That makes them a lot easier to store in a backpack while you’re out on the trail. Just be careful with how you store it, and be mindful that the temperature doesn’t get too cold or the butane won’t work.
Aside from that, butane is pretty much the perfect backpacking fuel. Because you can get such light fuel containers, you can even bring backups without having to worry about increasing the weight of your backpack too much.
Remember Butane has a ton of varieties and mixes. The most common being Isobutane, which can be further mixed with propane to burn at colder temperatures. These are fairly similar in performance but Isobutane is the ideal gas for backpacking.
Which Cooks Faster/Better?
When it comes to determining which fuel can get your meals warmed up the fastest, there is very little difference between propane and butane.
Both fuels are capable of reaching temperatures that far exceed what a camping stove will typically use. According to Sciencing.com, propane burns the hottest at over 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Although butane doesn’t quite reach that level of heat, it’s still more than enough for a camping stove.
Most camping stoves tend to reach around 400 degrees, so both propane and butane are extremely suitable for cooking your meals. Because the heat of the stove is much lower than what these fuels are capable of, you’re unlikely to notice too much of a difference between the two.
However, if you really want to know which fuel is the fastest and most efficient for cooking – it’s propane. The difference is pretty slight, but propane does prove to be a little more effective than butane. Just don’t let that convince you that butane will cook too slowly because it’s still extremely capable of warming up a delicious meal!
Which Gas Is Better For Cold Weather?
If you’re planning on camping somewhere the temperature might get to freezing or below, it’s best to take propane as your fuel source. Otherwise, you may risk being unable to cook. Nobody wants to be stuck out in the cold with no way to cook a meal or make some hot chocolate.
As noted above, propane has a boiling point of -43F while butane has a boiling point of 31F. This means that butane has trouble lighting in temperatures sub 32F. This makes propane the superior winter fuel.
Which Gas Is Better For Vehicle (Van, RV) Stoves?
While RVs might offer a bit more in the way of space and shelter, it’s still worth considering what temperature ranges you plan on camping in. Even an RV can get quite cold if you’re a big fan of taking winter journeys in your vehicle.
Because of that, it’s still important to use propane if you think the temperatures might get to freezing or below.
Many van-based campers might opt to own different kinds of camping stoves so that they can switch between propane and butane as needed. Butane is often an ideal choice because of the lightweight, compact design – but propane is necessary if the weather is going to be getting cold.
Now, let’s say you’re willing to change between the two fuel types as needed – but don’t want to purchase more than one camping stove? Can you get a stove that uses both kinds of fuel, or can you just use propane in a butane stove? We have the answers for you on that subject in our article here.
The type of fuel you use in a camper or motorhome might be a little different than bringing along your own camping stoves in a van. This is just because a lot of other RVs have the ability to hook up and use electricity for some appliances. On top of that, these vehicles can sometimes come with stoves already designed to use a specific kind of fuel.
Much of the time, RV stoves and ovens in the US tend to run on propane if they aren’t electric. That’s likely because propane is generally more affordable and capable of working well in a wider variety of temperatures.
If you want a butane stove in your RV, it may take a little more searching for the right model. Aside from that, you may be able to do a DIY or outdoor setup that uses butane if you strongly prefer butane over propane.
Which Gas Is The Safest To Use?
When it comes to safety, propane and butane are considered to be at a pretty similar level. Assuming the containers are in good shape and they haven’t been exposed to excess heat, water, or extreme temperatures, these fuels are generally quite safe.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind with both of these fuels.
To begin with, neither propane nor butane should be used in a completely enclosed space. Make sure there is some airflow. The best way to avoid any issues with carbon monoxide from either fuel is to cook outside. If you’re cooking on a stove inside of an RV, then make sure that nearby doors and windows are open and allow air to pass through.
It’s also important to make sure you’ve set your stove somewhere flat and safe. Many campers like to use plastic tables while they are camping for the sake of ease – but is it safe to use your camping stove on a plastic table? Find out in our article on the subject right here.
Additionally, your skin shouldn’t be coming in contact with either fuel in liquid form. Both propane and butane can cause frostbite when your skin is exposed to them. This is one more reason why it’s very important to make sure the canister is in good shape.
Finally, both butane and propane are flammable gases, meaning they will cause or contribute to a fire under the right conditions. Store and handle them carefully to make sure that the only fire they start is the fire you’re using to cook with.