Camp stoves, and the fuel that power them, come in a lot of varieties, fine tuned for different temperatures, altitudes, and applications. But figuring out which one is right for your camping style doesn’t have to be a tricky process.
Without getting too deep into chemistry and engineering, any fuel you choose for your outdoor stove was originally just crude oil. All the different fuels on the shelf at your favorite outfitter are simply refined to achieve slightly different boiling points, temperature ranges, thicknesses, and levels of volatility. Refining also removes impurities that can produce undesirable effects like smoke, smells, or soot.
In order of lightest to heaviest, some of the many types of fuel made from crude oil include methane, ethane, propane, butane, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, and house or heating oil. Heavier oils beyond those used for fuel are typically used for other applications like lubrication— such as engine oil or Vaseline, for example.
Some gases on the lighter end of the spectrum with lower boiling points, such as ethane, propane, butane, are also called naphthas. And if you’ve ever searched online for “what is white gas” trying to figure out if it’s the same thing that goes in your car’s fuel tank, you can rest assured that it’s simply a more refined version of gasoline. That means fewer fumes, less concern about explosions, and a cleaner burn.
So what does any of this have to do with your outdoor stove? Most camping stoves, whether they are canister type or use liquid fuel, are powered by special blends of different types of fuel that are optimized for varying temperatures, altitudes, efficiency levels, or amount of heat put off in a certain span of time.
Primus Winter Gas, for example, uses a blend including isobutane and propane. When that combination is pressurized in the specially designed cartridge, it will still easily vaporize when you need to light your stove. Other types of fuel might not convert from liquid to gas if it’s too cold outside. On the other hand, when it’s warm out, many types of camp stove fuel will vaporize so rapidly that you’ll burn through your cartridge faster. That means you get less bang for your buck.
Some stoves are designed to work with just a certain type or range of fuels, and must always be used with the right type of cartridge. That’s simple, straightforward, and just right for many campers and backpackers. Simply pick up the right type of camp stove fuel for the temperature and calculate how much fuel you need for the length of your trip, and you're ready to blaze.
Other outdoor stoves, like the Primus OmniFuel, hook up to a cartridge or fuel bottle that can be filled with almost any type of camp stove fuel. That includes regular PowerGas canisters, white gas, gasoline/petrol, diesel, kerosene/paraffin, and even aviation fuel. This flexibility can be crucial for anyone who will be trekking over long distances, a variety of terrain, different altitudes, or in remote parts of the world.
Being able to use any camp stove fuel can customize your fuel based on your temperature, altitude, and output needs, as well as on what’s available locally. While fuel cartridges and white gas are readily available in the United States and Europe, they can be harder to find elsewhere. A stove that lets you use what’s available can help you go much further— literally! However, they lack the plug-n-play simplicity that make fuel cartridges so popular.
Whichever type of outdoor stove and camp stove fuel you choose, cooking at your campground is one of the purest pleasures of the outdoors. After a long hike, is there anything better than a hot meal, a little cowboy coffee, and staring up at the stars?