Some camp stoves are designed to generate heat by burning propane gas, while others are equipped to use butane instead.
There is a lot of misinformation surrounding propane and butane camp stoves, and in reality, neither of these is superior to the other for all campers.
There are some important economic and chemical differences between propane and butane stoves that make each stove type more suitable for different camping situations.
Most stoves will only accept one type of gas, therefore it is important to consider the respective advantages and disadvantages of each before purchasing a stove for your next camping trip!
We will compare and score propane and butane camp stoves on the following points:
- ease of use, including transport and refueling
- environmental impact
We will also discuss different camping scenarios in which each option is best, and answer some frequently asked questions. Let’s get into it!
Butane Camp Stoves
Butane camp stoves are known for being lightweight.
This is partly because butane canisters are more likely to come in smaller sizes, and due to the relatively low pressure of butane at any given temperature, the canisters themselves do not need to be as strong as propane canisters.
Stronger gas canisters are usually dense, and consequently much heavier.
Butane is an alkane, and alkanes need to be in a gaseous form to be burned. Butane’s relatively high boiling point of -2 degrees Celsius means a lot of energy is required for it to vaporize.
This means that while butane is quite suitable in normal and warm temperatures, it can easily freeze in very cold temperatures – making it unusable for cooking.
For very similar reasons, butane is also an unreliable cooking gas at high altitudes as higher altitudes are associated with lower pressure – meaning the gas molecules become less tightly packed.
This decreases the temperature of the gas, which has the same effects on a butane stove as a cold environment.
Propane Camp Stoves
Propane is another alkane, but it has a very low boiling point of -42 degrees Celsius – which means you realistically never have to worry about the temperature or altitude of your surroundings!
It simply isn’t going to fall below boiling point and become frozen or remain in liquid form when you need it to vaporize.
Propane is widely reported to result in better-tasting food. It is true that propane is an odorless gas while butane has a slight odor, although odored compounds are often added to both as a safety precaution.
Still, both propane and butane prepared for cooking are designed not to affect the taste of food.
A low-quality or faulty camp stove may be to blame for any altered food taste! Burning might alter the flavor of the food, or incomplete combustion may lead to higher concentrations of odored compounds in food.
Another advantage of propane camping stoves is the availability of propane.
Because propane has a wider array of uses throughout society, it is usually much easier to get propane canisters refilled – which can save you quite a lot of money in the long run as refilling canisters is cheaper than replacing them!
It may also be easier to find places to purchase propane in the first place, although this differs by region and the products nearby stores specialize in.
Because propane has a higher vapor pressure, it must be contained in much stronger canisters which tend to be noticeably heavier.
This is especially disadvantageous when you’re carrying a lot of your camping gear on foot. Propane canisters also often come in larger sizes, which may be excessive for some campers – needlessly making journeys less pleasant.
Side-By-Side Comparison Of Butane And Propane Stoves
With all this in mind, how do butane and propane camp stoves compare when it comes to cost, efficiency, safety, and environmental impact?
The prices of propane and butane are usually fairly close and they fluctuate over time. Sometimes one is cheaper, and sometimes the other is more affordable!
However, on average, propane is cheaper. In addition, propane canisters are a more affordable option, partly because they’re more likely to be refillable and there are more places to get the canisters refilled.
Health and Safety
Both propane and butane are generally considered safe and non-toxic when handled with care. However, they both still carry some risks worth knowing about.
As propane canisters are more highly pressurized, they are more likely to cause injury if they become significantly damaged in storage or while they are being transported.
Neither propane nor butane camp stoves should be used in enclosed or poorly ventilated areas because incomplete combustion of alkane gas can produce carbon monoxide, which is very dangerous.
If you’re camping, you’re likely to be cooking in a well-ventilated area anyway.
However, it is still important to keep this in mind as there are scenarios in which you might be tempted to cook in an enclosed space, such as in extremely cold weather. While this may be tempting, it is strongly discouraged.
Another reason not to use these gasses in enclosed areas is that improperly handled propane and butane canisters and stoves can put you at risk of a gas leak.
While both gasses are considered non-toxic, they are both unsafe in high concentrations for two reasons.
Firstly, they are highly flammable, posing a fire risk. Secondly, inhaling them can deprive the body of oxygen.
Propane gas is naturally odorless, which makes a gas leak difficult to detect (although odored compounds are usually added to both gasses to mitigate this problem).
As long as a gas canister is attached properly, not put under intense external pressure, used in a well-ventilated area, and not left in direct sunlight, it should be safe whether it contains butane or propane.
As propane is more sensitive to high temperatures than butane, propane canisters should not be exposed to temperatures exceeding 49 degrees Celsius.
Propane and butane are both generally considered to be environmentally friendly substances.
In fact, hydrocarbons like propane and butane are a standard replacement for substances like chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons because of their negligible impact on the ozone layer.
Both are also considered to have far less of a negative effect than energy sources such as oil when it comes to climate change, as they release significantly fewer greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
One significant benefit of propane over butane is that it is easier to get refillable canisters and to get those canisters refilled.
Those relying on butane are consequently more likely to purchase a new canister when one runs out, and old canisters need to be disposed of somewhere.
Heat output and efficiency
People may become confused by apparently conflicting information online, with some sources claiming propane burns hotter while others claim butane burns hotter.
This confusion stems from the fact that burned propane releases more heat energy per unit of weight, while burned butane releases more heat energy per unit of volume.
In other words, you will actually get more heat from a canister of butane than you will get from a canister of equal volume – meaning you can do more overall cooking with the same volume of butane!
However, remember that butane may produce no heat if it liquifies in cold or high-altitude environments.
|Availability of Fuel||7||10|
|Refillable Fuel Canisters/Tanks||5||10|
|Ease of Setup and Use||10||7|
|Performance in cold weather||4||10|
|Performance at high altitudes||4||10|
|Health and safety||10||9|
Overall Winner: Propane!
Which Type Of Camp Stove Is Right For You?
In conclusion, some things to consider when deciding between a propane and butane camp stove are:
- How much you can carry. Butane is the best option if you’re packing light, especially if traveling on foot due to the smaller, lighter canisters available. Propane is preferable for large groups that have vehicle space, as propane canisters are much heavier and often come in larger sizes.
- How often you go camping. Environmentally conscious campers may prefer propane if they go camping very frequently, as they can reduce their waste consumption due to propane canisters being easier to refill
- How much you’re willing to spend. If you’re a frequent camper wanting to save money on trips, propane may be the better option.
While the prices of each fluctuate (with butane sometimes being cheaper), butane is usually more expensive and the canisters are typically more costly to purchase as well.
The fact that propane canisters can be easily refilled also makes it a cheaper option in the long term. However, if you’re a less frequent camper, you may get more cooking out of a butane stove than a propane stove
- Temperature and altitude. Propane wins in colder temperatures and high altitudes because butane can freeze in these conditions, making it unburnable and therefore unusable for cooking.
However, exposing propane to high heat is potentially dangerous, so butane may be safer if you are camping in a warmer climate.
Because propane is both more volatile than butane and stored under higher pressure, many believe propane to be more likely to cause an explosion.
In fact, both butane and propane are considered highly volatile substances; however, both are also considered very safe when handled properly and with care.
The choice between butane and propane camp stoves depends on your priorities. Butane stoves are portable and lightweight, ideal for backpacking. Propane stoves perform better in cold weather and are suitable for larger groups. Consider your specific needs for the best choice.