Whether you’re using propane or butane for heat and cooking at home, or for your camp stove or lantern while you’re camping, it’s nice to know which type of fuel is the most cost-effective.
Which is more expensive, propane or butane? From 2002 to 2018, butane has been on average 3 cents more expensive than propane per gallon. The average cost of propane per gallon was $1.10 per gallon, with butane at $1.13 per gallon, and with isobutane at $1.14 per gallon.
There’s more to the story, though. These are the costs of the commodities themselves from the gas refineries. The cost to buy butane propane in containers is a completely different matter that we’ll explore in the rest of this article.
Cost Comparison Between Propane and Butane
Answering this question is not as simple as you might think. The reason fuel cost is difficult to compare is that different fuels have different amounts of energy per gallon.
For example, butane is denser than propane, but propane burns hotter per kilogram. Butane has a density of 2.4kg/m3 and propane has a density of 1.8kg/m3 at 25 degrees Celcius. (butane facts) (propane facts)
So, in other words, a gallon of butane will go slightly farther than a gallon of propane, but a pound of propane will go further than a pound of butane. At least in theory. In reality, stove design and other factors come into play, and the difference is not very big between propane and butane. So this shouldn’t affect your decision too much.
Bulk Gas Costs
Propane and butane are both byproducts of natural gas production, and so the cost of propane, butane and natural gas follow the same price trends.
Normal Butane (as it’s called) is usually at least a little bit more expensive than propane.
The following table is the averaged out costs of propane, butane, and isobutane from 2002 to 2018. All data comes from EIA.gov. I converted the BTU scale to gallons since we’re usually more familiar with that measurement.
|Year||Propane Price/Gallon||Butane Price/Gallon||Isobutane Price/Gallon|
Propane and Butane Gas Costs for Camping
So, butane is a more expensive gas, overall, but what about for camping?
This is where the differences in price widen. The expensive part of buying gas for camping is not the gas itself, but the container.
There are tons of different pricing options to buy camping fuel because there are so many different situations, and thus different fuel needs.
If you’re car camping, a 1-lb propane tank will last you a few days of frequent use, so you may opt for a 20-lb propane tank which will last you much longer. They sell 5-lb propane tanks or 10-lb propane tanks… It all depends on what your needs are.
If you’re backpacking, then you want a lighter container so you don’t have to lug a bunch of metal with you to your campsite, so you’ll probably go with an isobutane gas canister.
With all those canister sizes, the prices can vary tremendously. Because the liquid petroleum gasses are so close in price, the difference in price is mostly due to the canister itself.
My job will be tricky to outline all those prices–but I’ll do my best. **NOTE** Prices for many of these items will vary by location and by the time of the year. These tables would go on for days if I tried to factor location in.
|Propane Buying Option||Price for full canister(s)||Price Per Gallon|
|Walmart 1-lb Coleman Propane Tank||$3.47||$16.31|
|Walmart 1-lb 4-pack Coleman Propane Tanks||$11.97||$12.26|
|A Local Storage Unit and Propane Refill (bring your own tank)||$16 (for 20-lb)||$3.90|
|Refill Your Own Propane Canister at U-Haul||$14.10-$18.80 (for 20-lb)||$3-$4|
|Amerigas 20-lb Tank Exchange program||$20.97||$4.50|
|Blue Rhino Tank Exchange Program||$19.97||$4.25|
That’s propane, let’s look at the price differences for butane options:
|Butane Buying Option||Price for full canister(s)||Price Per Gallon|
|Walmart 8.8oz Coleman Butane Fuel||$2.97||$25.81|
|Walmart Coleman Butane/Propane Mix 7.75 oz||$5.74||$55.69|
|Local REI MSR ISOPRO isobutane mix 8oz||$5.95||$55.93|
|Buying in Bulk Online 8oz 12-pack GasOne Butane Canisters||$21.97||$17.51|
So, with all this data, it should be clear by now that butane is much more expensive per gallon than propane. Although the gasses themselves are very close in price, the canister options are more specialized for butane and isobutane, and therefore the container price is much higher.
Although there are bulk butane tanks, these are not in common use for camping in the United States, so finding a refill location for your butane tank is much more difficult. Propane is made available for residential and camping use everywhere, though, so that is something to take into consideration.
Which Fuel is Better, Propane or Butane?
You might be wondering at this point, why would you want to use butane over propane, or vice versa? Propane is a cheaper gas, it is more cost-efficient per lb, it can burn at far colder temperatures, and it’s easier to find. Why would one choose butane?
Perhaps one of the most important differences is weight. Propane, although it is less dense, has a higher vapor pressure. This is why propane canisters are much heavier than butane canisters. Weight is very important for a backpacker, or for a long-term car-camper with minimal space for huge propane canisters.
So, the answer is that it depends on what you need it for. If you are going to be car-camping a lot and doing a lot of cooking, you will save the most money by going with propane in the United States.
Have you ever thought about using liquid fuel, instead? If you are really trying to cut weight, have you thought about alcohol stoves? I went through all the major camping fuels and which fuels work best for which situations in my article here. I tried to find all the helpful facts that can help you decide between all the different camping fuels, liquid or gas.
Which Fuel Burns Hotter, Propane or Butane?
This answer is it depends. Depending on your stove you will get different results. Especially because propane and butane are extremely close in energy content.
In regards to the gas properties themselves, propane is more energy-packed by weight and is less dense than butane. However, Butane actually has more energy by volume than propane.
|Fuel Type and Measurement||BTU (British Thermal Units) at 77 degrees F|
|1 Gallon of Propane||81862|
|1 Gallon of Butane||93960|
|1 Gallon of Isobutane||90109|
|1 lb of Propane||19,918|
|1 lb of Butane||19,657|
|1 lb of Isobutane||19,589|
Cubic inch for cubic inch, butane burns hotter than propane.