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Butane vs Propane Stove: Which Fuel is Better for Camping?

Butane or Propane Stove: A comprehensive guide to choosing the right gas stove fuel for your car camping kitchen.

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Butane vs propane stove: what is better for camping? I think a propane stove is a better choice for most camping trips in the USA.

Butane and propane stoves are two common options in portable cooking at camp, each with small advantages or disadvantages. From the ease of igniting a butane stove to the robustness of propane in colder environments, there are many factors to consider. 

Key Takeaways

  • Propane stoves excel in cold weather performance, while butane stoves are slightly more portable.
  • The difference in experience cooking with butane and propane for your camping trip is likely minimal and inconsequential unless it’s below freezing. 
  • In below-freezing weather, propane stoves excel as the clear winner. 

What is Propane?

Propane is a liquid hydrocarbon gas commonly stored in tanks under high pressure, also known as liquid propane gas (LPG). Propane is probably most familiar as the fuel for your backyard BBQ grill.

Propane is a clean-burning fuel, producing minimal soot and fewer harmful emissions like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. This makes it a friendlier option for you and the environment, though it is still a greenhouse gas.

When camping in colder weather, you’ll appreciate propane. Its lower boiling point of -42°C means it vaporizes even at arctic temperatures, keeping your stove running smoothly. 

Here are some benefits of propane stoves that make them a solid choice for your outdoor adventures:

  • High heat output: You can cook your food or boil water quickly.
  • Consistent performance: It offers reliable cooking and is even great, thanks to its steady vapor pressure.
  • Versatility: Can be used in a range of conditions, which is excellent for different types of trips.
  • Large fuel canisters: This means less frequent replacements, which are a boon on more extended expeditions.

On the flip side, the only notable drawback is the heavier weight of high-pressurized steel propane canisters. 

What is Butane?

Photo: ©Daniel Borkert/OutdoorFootprints.com

Butane is also a liquid hydrocarbon gas stored in canisters under low pressure. It is known for its clean, odorless flame and is a popular gas stove fuel in some Asian culinary circles. Butane is also considered a greenhouse gas, so let’s be mindful of our beautiful wild spaces whenever we use it.

Butane’s boiling point is just above room temperature, so it doesn’t vaporize well in cold weather when temperatures dip.

Here are the benefits of a butane stove that you might consider: 

  • Weight and Size: Butane stoves are usually more compact and weigh less, making them great for car camping trips tight on space. 
  • Disadvantages: Butane stoves struggle in colder weather, and those compact canisters need more frequent replacing due to their smaller size.

Note that butane stoves are not used for backpacking (backpacking stoves use isobutane/propane mixtures that are incompatible). 

Practical Comparison of Butane vs Propane for Camping and Outdoor Use

Let’s distinguish the practical differences between butane and propane stoves, focusing on performance, portability, and cost.

Performance in Different Environments

When you’re out in the wild, the weather doesn’t always play nice, and the performance of your stove can make or break your camping cuisine experience. 

  • Propane: Propane vaporizes at -42°C (-44°F), so propane stoves will reliably output heat even when braving the chill.
  • Butane: Butane holds its own when things get warmer. Its higher boiling point is 0°C (32°F), so on those sunny camping trips, butane stoves perform just as well. 

Portability and Convenience

Size and weight are pivotal when considering portability.

Butane stoves have a potential advantage here. They are often designed with lightweight frames, weighing less than their propane counterparts.

  • Butane stoves: Smaller canisters, lighter build.
  • Propane stoves: Larger canisters, bulkier design.

Cost and Availability

Butane stoves are easier on your wallet, both in terms of initial purchase and ongoing use. A bottle of butane generally costs less than propane.

  • Cheaper bottle form makes butane stoves attractive for budget-conscious campers.
  • Widely distributed in urban areas and Asian markets, given butane’s popularity there.

Propane stoves might stretch the budget more if you opt for the small bottles. However, the cost can become more manageable if you invest in larger tanks or BBQ cylinders, trading off initial expenses for longer-term savings.

  • More costly small bottles, but economical in larger tanks
  • Propane’s rural prevalence and dominance in North American outdoors makes it a go-to there

Your choice might not be dictated by the price tag alone but by the standard fuel available where you plan to camp.

How to Pick the between Butane and Propane

  1. Prioritize Fuel Efficiency: Opt for the stove that will give you the most bang for your buck in your common camping conditions.
  2. Consider Portability: Lighter is better if you’re always on the move. Butane stoves typically win here.
  3. Examine Construction: Durability can make or break your cooking experience outdoors. Choose stoves with robust build quality.

Don’t overlook dual-fuel stoves or isobutane options—they provide a versatile middle ground. Don’t forget to review your camping checklist before your next adventure.

FAQs

How do butane and propane stoves vary in fuel cost and overall efficiency?

Propane is generally more affordable and burns hotter, translating to more efficient cooking, especially in windy or cold weather.

Butane can be costlier, and its efficiency can drop in cooler conditions, which might mean slightly higher fuel costs over time.

What factors should I consider when choosing between butane and propane stoves for a campervan setup?

For a campervan, you’ll want to weigh the stove and fuel storage size, the ease of obtaining refills, and the climate you’ll typically encounter.

Propane stoves are often favored for their versatility and fuel availability. Still, butane could be a better fit for lightweight and space-limited setups.

What is the difference between butane and isobutane?

Isobutane is a form of butane with a different molecular structure, which allows it to perform better in colder temperatures.

Isobutane/propane mixtures are also the preferred fuel for backpacking stoves.

How long does a butane or propane canister last?

A canister’s duration depends on many factors, such as stove efficiency, altitude, temperature, and cooking habits.

On average, a standard 8-ounce butane canister may provide around 2 hours of cooking time. In comparison, a 16-ounce propane canister could last about 4 hours.

How do I dispose of empty butane or propane canisters?

Proper disposal is vital to protecting the environment. Once entirely empty, puncture the canister to ensure it’s not refillable, and recycle it at a facility that accepts mixed metals. Never throw an unpunctured canister in the trash; it can present a hazard.

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AUTHOR
Daniel Borkert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Outdoor Footprints, a website that tells you everything you need to know about camping and hiking. He is an avid outdoorsman with almost four decades of experience in hiking, camping, caving, and fishing. Daniel loves to involve his wife and kids in his outdoor pursuits and inspire other families to do the same. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family and an energetic Boston Terrier named Zion.

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