Wondering which fuel is better for your camping gas stove? Confused from the overwhelming variety of choices of camping gas stoves available in the market? We’ve got just what you need to deal with the confusion and find your right fit.
In a previous article, we dived into the details of camping gas stoves, and discussed the basics related to it. We answered questions like –
- What is camping gas?
- What are its properties?
- Why is cooking over camping gas stove better than cooking over campfire?
If you haven’t checked that article out already, we suggest you read that one first, as it will give you a better insight into the basics of camping gas. You can find that article here:
Now, coming to the new topic in hand – if you already have searched on Google for various camping gas stoves and cylinders, you must have noticed that there are many different options available. You must have even come across terms like “Propane” or “Butane” camping gas stoves.
What are all these varieties? How are these different? And, well, if all that we have to do with the stove is cook – why bother with these differences?
And most important of all, how do I know which one of these vast varieties of camping gas stoves will be the right choice for my camping trip?
We get it, these questions and this overwhelming confusion is very normal and very understandable. Well, as the trendy saying of the day goes –
We gotchu, boo. Don’t worry.
So, let us put on our lab coats & revisit doing some chemistry in this article –
Know which camping stove is better for you – propane or butane?
#1 What Is Propane?
Let’s begin at the very beginning – what is this fancy word called propane? Well, to be honest, it isn’t really fancy. And most of you are already aware of what it is.
Propane is one of the members of the loosely defined family of hydrocarbons called Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). If we get a little more technical here, propane is an organic compound – which means, it is made up of Carbon and Hydrogen atoms.
Propane belongs to the family of hydrocarbons called alkanes. These are structures with just a single bond between Carbon and Hydrogen atoms.
What Are The Properties Of Propane?
- Chemical formula: C3H8 (3 Carbon atoms and 8 Hydrogen atoms per molecule)
- Boiling point: -44 degrees Fahrenheit
- Limits of flammability: 2.4 – 9.5 percent of gas in air mixture
- Volatility: highly volatile substance
- Maximum Flame Temperature: 3599.6 degrees Fahrenheit
- Octane number: 125
- Physical properties: non-toxic, colourless and odourless
Where Does Propane Come From?
Propane is produced from both crude oil refining and natural gas processing. It is a by-product of these processes.
Propane is extracted from natural gas pipelines to prevent it from condensing and causing operational problems in natural gas pipelines.
#2 What Is Butane?
Like it’s brother Propane, butane is also a hydrocarbon in the family of Liquified Petroleum Gas belonging to the category of alkanes. In many ways, the two – propane and butane – are similar.
In fact, even butane is produced as a by-product in the processes of oil refining and natural gas extraction. It, too, is extracted from the pipelines to prevent it from condensing and causing operational problems in pipelines.
Let us look at some of the properties of butane.
What Are The Properties Of Butane?
- Chemical Formula: C4H10 (4 Carbon atoms and 10 Hydrogen atoms per molecule)
- Boiling point: 30.2 degrees Fahrenheit
- Limits of flammability: 1.6 – 8.4 % by volume of gas in air mixture
- Volatility: highly volatile substance; but when compared to propane, relatively less volatile
- Maximum Flame Temperature: 3578 degrees Fahrenheit
- Octane number: 90
- Physical properties: non-toxic, colourless, has a faint petrol-like odour
Where Does Butane Come From?
Well, as mentioned earlier, butane is obtained in the same way as propane. There is no special extraction dedicated to butane – it is obtained as a by-product from oil refineries and natural gas pipelines.
The main reason behind extracting propane and butane is to prevent them from causing any problems in the primary objective of oil and natural gas extraction.
That being said, these 2 by-products have helped people all over the world in more ways than one!
They’re used as raw materials for many essentials, they provide good fuel for domestic tools and uses, and for us campers – these are nothing short of a blessing in disguise!
#3 What Makes These By-Products So Special?
These fuels, which are originally extracted as harmful by-products from oil and natural gas refineries, have revolutionised remote cooking and thus transformed our camping experience for good, and forever! Here are a bunch of reasons why they’re being hailed as a blessing –
1. They’re clean fuels!
Of all possible fuels that can be used for cooking, LPG, and especially propane, butane and their mixtures, are few of the cleanest alternatives for combustion. They do not produce soot like firewood, they do not cause black smoke, and they have the least amount of pollutants and greenhouse gases.
2. They’re non-toxic.
Inhaling the soot produced during campfires can cause severe respiratory problems. Propane and butane, on the other hand, do not produce any such harmful emissions upon combustion.
So, as long as you do not intentionally abuse pure propane or butane by intentionally inhaling vapours in large quantities, you’re pretty much on a safe trip.
3. They’re light to carry.
Due to their high densities, large amounts of propane and butane can be packed into small cylinders that fit right into your backpacks. Not only are the canisters lightweight and easy to carry, they’re also ergonomically designed in a way that let’s you have a hot cup of coffee wherever you are – on the top of a snowy mountain, or deep into the woods, away from all civilization.
#4 Propane VS Butane
Now that we have armed ourselves with the basic knowledge of what these two substances are, and why it is beneficial to carry them as fuel to our camping trips, let’s come to the most important question at hand –
How are these different, and why should I bother myself with the differences?
First, let us see how these two fuels are different.
1. Boiling Point
As we’ve seen earlier, the boiling points of propane and butane differ by a LOT!
While propane boils at a whooping cold temperature of -44 degrees Fahrenheit, butane has a boiling point of a nice, warm 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
This point is actually a direct cascade of the difference of boiling points.
Because propane has a boiling point of -44 degrees Fahrenheit, which is less than butane’s 33 degrees, it clearly indicates that propane is more volatile than butane. In layman’s words, propane will turn into vapours and be available for combustion much quicker than butane.
In terms of cost, the price keeps changing very frequently – and by frequently, we mean week-to-week frequently! However, if we take an approximate average value of prices, we’ll see that butane is much cheaper when compared to propane.
This comes as a contrasting point to our previous point of cost – despite butane’s price being lower, the availability of propane is actually relatively easier.
This is because propane has a much wider scope of application – from barbeques to welding, soldering, and brazing tools – propane has been much more popular than butane due to its high volatility.
This could be another reason why propane is much more popular than butane – it’s high efficiency.
Propane is known to have a greater heat energy production than butane for the same amount of fuel used. This, in turn, means that propane is more efficient than butane.
|1. Chemical Structure||C3H8||C4H10|
|2. Boiling Point||-44 degrees Fahrenheit||30.2 degrees Fahrenheit|
|3. Maximum Flame Temperature||3599.6 degrees Fahrenheit||3578 degrees Fahrenheit|
|4. Volatility||More volatile than butane||Less volatile than propane|
|5. Cost||Relatively higher cost||Relatively cheaper|
|7. Octane Number||125||90|
|8. Availability||Easy||Relatively less available|
Similarities between Propane and Butane
Despite their differences, these two fuels also have a lot in common.
- Both fuels are colourless.
- Both fuels are odourless.
- Both fuels are environmentally friendly.
- Both fuels are non-toxic.
- Both fuels are easy to carry.
#5 Which One Of The Two Should I Choose?
Choosing the right fuel is essential when opting for a camping gas stove. A few things to consider when buying a camping gas stove are the cost, portability, efficiency, weather and location of camping etc.
When choosing between propane and butane, weather and geographical location of your campsite is of the utmost importance.
If you’re going camping in cold weather, propane is the right choice for you.
The boiling point of butane is higher, which means it will not be as flammable as propane in colder weathers. So, if your camping trip involves any or all of the following factors, propane is the right choice for you –
- Higher altitudes (mountains or hill stations)
- Colder season (camping in winters)
- Regions with high probability of snowfall, hail, mist etc.
If your campground is in a warm, sunny location; do NOT take pure propane with you. Instead, opt for butane or propane/butane mixture fuels.
Propane is VERY volatile. While this property acts to your benefit in colder regions, in warmer regions, this becomes an explosion risk. Propane in its pure form is SO VOLATILE that it can get unstable at temperatures found on a warm, sunny day.
Butane, on the other hand, has a relatively sluggish vaporization rate. Now, whilst this makes it unsuitable for use as fuel in cold regions, in the warmer regions butane is an ideal fuel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whether you’re a camper or a glamper, whether you like the taste of trail mix and granola for 7 days or not – whatever your style of camping may be, getting a camping gas stove will be the best thing you do for yourself and your fellow campers.
Be sure to choose a form of camping fuel that suits your environment, budget and camping needs.
And don’t worry – you can rest assured that whatever your camping needs may be, there will be at least one camping gas cylinder or stove matching your needs.