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Butane vs. Propane Camp Stove – Which One to Choose?

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When you ask campers whether they prefer butane or propane camping stoves, you will hear different responses. Their decision is usually based on what the temperature is expected to be on their trip and fuel weight and availability.  

If you are struggling to answer the butane vs. propane camping stove question, let us help you by comparing the fuels. Then you can apply them to your camping needs, and hopefully, an answer will become clear.

Butane vs. Propane Camping Stove Comparison

How to Connect Fuel to Butane and Propane Stoves

A small disposable canister of butane can be connected to a butane stove using the clip-in method.

After taking the cap off the can, lift the clip. Then gently place the butane canister in the slot, place the clip back over the can, lock it in place and close the lid to the compartment.  

portable butane camping stove with canister

Tabletop Butane Camping Stove

Related Content: Portable Butane Stoves

There are three ways to attach a propane cylinder to a propane stove.

  • Bottle top stove:  A one-pound propane cylinder is screwed into the bottom of the stove.
  • Two burner propane stove with a regulator:   A one-pound propane bottle is screwed into one end of the regulator. Then push the other end of the regulator into the stove gently and turn the connector clockwise. 
  • Connect a large propane tank to a two-burner propane stove using a hose and adapter. Coleman sells a 5-foot, high-pressure propane hose and adapter.
Freestanding two burner propane camping stove

Freestanding Two-Burner Propane Camping Stove

Cooking Environment

The cooking environment refers to the conditions in which you might be camping. Some folks like to camp in cold weather and in terrain and conditions that are far from ideal. This is an example of a situation where propane stoves are preferred over butane stoves.

Propane is better cold-weather fuel than butane. 

Propane and butane turn from liquid to gas when they boil. The boiling point of propane is -42°C or -44°F while the boiling point of butane is 31°F.

This means that in conditions below 31°F, butane canisters or cylinders don’t reach the boiling point. If the gas doesn’t reach the boiling point, there won’t be any gas in the canister to heat the stove.

Propane, on the other hand, will turn to gas in temperatures down to -44°F.

Fuel Availability

Propane is more readily available than butane.

One of the significant advantages propane has over butane is that it is far more readily available. You should be able to purchase propane in almost any camping outlet, general store, or convenience/gas station. The same cannot be said for butane, as it is not sold in as many stores.

For these reasons, unless you live close to somewhere that sells butane, a propane stove might be more suitable since the gas that fuels it is easily purchased.

Although propane is available in a one-pound cylinder, using a large propane tank is far more economical. Some people prefer to purchase an empty tank and then fill it when necessary. Others opt to use a tank exchange where a pre-filled tank is purchased, used, and then exchanged for a pre-filled tank.

Butane fuel is generally sold in convenient 8 oz canisters.

Weight

A butane canister weighs less than a one-pound propane cylinder.

A one-pound cylinder of propane weighs approximately two pounds. A can of butane weighs about 8.8 ounces.

Butane is popular amongst many campers and even more popular with backpackers because its canisters are smaller and weigh less than propane. This means more of them can be taken on trips, and thus you should have increased cooking times on your camping stove due to the greater fuel quantity.

It also means that the load that anyone carrying has to endure while trekking or walking to the campsite is much less when butane is the fuel being carried than if it was propane.

Heat Output

In most cases, the heat output from both butane and propane stoves is more or less the same.

The heat output will be the same if both the stove's BTU rating is the same, regardless of whether the stove is fueled by butane or propane.

Other Fuels

Isobutane

Another fuel option is isobutane. Butane is an organic compound that can be found in different forms (isomers). Isobutane is one isomer of butane. Although they have the same chemical formula, C4H10, they have different structures.

The boiling point of isobutane is 11°F (-12°C). Isobutane is popular among campers and is sold in small canisters.

Hybrid Fuel (Isobutane and Propane)

Isobutane can be mixed with propane to create a fuel blend. The percentages of isobutane and propane vary according to brand. For example, MSR IsoPro(TM) is 20% propane and 80% isobutane.

MSR sells this product in 4, 8, and 16-ounce canisters. MSR states IsoPro(TM) performs well in cold temperatures.

We emailed MSR customer service to find out what temperatures they consider "colder temperatures." Cold to me is less than 20°F. However, cold to others may mean 5°F. This article will be updated with their response.

Final Thoughts

The primary consideration in determining whether to buy a propane or a butane stove is the expected weather conditions during your camping trip. If you know you will be camping in below-freezing weather, then a propane stove is the better choice. 

If you plan to camp during the summer, then you’ll want to look at other factors such as availability of each fuel, as well as their weight.

If you are going to be carrying your fuel, that needs to be factored into your decision since butane weighs less than propane and is easier to carry. However, fuel weight is a non-issue if you are going to be hiking or mountain climbing in cold weather.

If you are going to store the fuel for a long time, then using a propane stove is better.

Due to their greater availability, they can be used in lower temperatures, so propane stoves are probably used more widely than butane stoves.

Alternatives to Butane and Propane Stoves

There are a couple of alternatives to butane or propane camping stoves.  

The first is to use neither and opt for a stove that burns natural fuels. It is cheaper to use twigs, leaves, bark, and other natural debris found on the ground as you do not have to incur the cost of fuel.

If that doesn't appeal to you, you could use a dual-fuel propane or butane camp stove to use both fuels. With this type of stove, you can use the fuel which is the most appropriate for your camp cooking needs at the time, and thus your choice is not ‘either-or,’ but rather which is best for this particular camping trip.

Visit this link for a review of a dual-fuel propane or butane camp stove, the Gas One GS3900P.

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