Camping Stoves Liquid Fuel Or Propane?

These days life is all about choices. And we have so many choices it sometimes gets pretty difficult to figure out what is the best choice. Of course you know I am talking about, that age-old camping question, which is better fuel for your camping stove requirements, liquid fuel or a propane camping stove?

Camping Stove

Well…it seems that the best camping stove fuel depends on a few things. If you already have a propane camping stove or liquid fuel camping stove, your choice is made, but if you are planning to buy a camping stove, you need to decide which stove fuel best suits your needs. That will determine which of the several choices of camping stoves to buy.

Liquid Camping Stove Fuel

Liquid fuel camping stoves, typically using “Coleman® Fuel” have been the mainstay of camping stoves and lanterns for years and years and years. Coleman® fuel is also known as “naptha” or “white gas”.

High Altitudes and Cold Temperatures

There are reasons to use the liquid burning fuels, for example, the cost and availability of the other options such as propane. Liquid fuels are particularly good if you use your camping stove or lantern in cold weather as the liquid fuel is not affected by low temperatures or high altitudes.

Also a liquid fuel camping stove can be pumped up to maintain the pressure needed in higher altitudes. So if you outdoor activities find you climbing to the mountain top, you probably will be better off using the liquid fuel variety.

Liquid Camping Stove Fuel Is Readily Available

Other advantages of liquid fuel over propane fuel for your camping stove is that it is usually readily available for purchase and you don’t end up with a bunch of empty pressurized cylinders to dispose of empty. That can be problematic depending on the garbage collection/recycling rules in your area.

Liquid Camping Stove Fuel Is Messy

Liquid fuel for a camping stove can be messy, and smelly, and you must take great care refilling the tank on the stove or lantern. If the liquid leaks into your gear, or worse, around food, it will ruin it quickly.

Highly Flammable

It is highly flammable. Spilled camping stove fuel is a danger if it catches fire and water will spread the flames rather than put them out. Also, camping stoves and lanterns that run off liquid fuels usually have to be pumped up regularly to keep the pressure up to enable good burning and steady heat. While not the end of the world, that can be a nuisance.

Maintenance Required

My experience with the liquid fuel version of this type of camping stove is that they need a fair bit of maintenance, cleaning the pump, and occasionally replacing parts, such as the leather that seals the pump. While not complicated, it is a consideration.

Over Priming

Liquid fuel camping stoves are a bit fussy to light, especially the priming part where many happy campers go wrong, and end up over priming, which results in a high flame that carbons up the fuel lines.

If Size Matters

Most of the liquid fuel camping stoves that I have seen are much larger, (thicker) than a typical propane model camping stove, in order to be able to accomodate storing the fuel canister inside the stove when it is closed up and not in use. Therefore they take up a little more room in a car, truck, boat, SUV etc. However, you need to remember, you will also use space storing propane cylinders.

On the other hand, parts are readily available and the stoves are easy enough to repair. In addition, Coleman® camping stoves, of any kind, with a modicum of care, will last for generations. We still have one my Dad used in the late 1950’s. Although it seldom gets used anymore it still works very well.

Popular With Survivalists

Liquid fuel stoves seem to have a following with “survivalist types” people who are preparing for the worst, whatever that is, and whenever it comes, seem to lean toward the liquid fuel camping stove or multi fuel versions. That is because in a disaster, having a camping stove with some flexible fuel options is a plus. They also promote the idea that liquid fuel stoves will burn a little longer.

Popular With Traditionalists

Liquid fuel stoves are also popular with the traditionalists, folks who love to do things the same way for years, and remember the sights, sounds and smells of things like cooking over a Coleman® camping stove.

I will always remember my Dad pumping up the pressure in his green Coleman® camping stove, standing by the end of a picnic table, increasing the pressure to keep the flames high to boil a kettle. I also recall him cursing when it would go out or not light properly. Whenever I smell Coleman® Fuel I am pleasantly reminded of those family picnics.

Some Restrictions Apply

These days, something else to consider in choosing between propane and liquid fuel camping stoves is that some jurisdictions and parks prohibit the use of liquid fuel burning devices, especially during times when the forest fire index is high. For example, both New Jersey and Texas State Parks have banned the use of liquid fuel.

One positive about liquid camping stove fuel is that it is much easier to tell how much fuel you have on hand, whereas with propane I always end up packing an “extra” bottle or two because I am not sure how much is left in the open one.

Propane Camp Stove Fuel

These days, in our disposable world, more and more folks are turning to propane camp stoves and propane camping lanterns. The propane bottles are cleaner and easier to use compared to liquid fuel, and the appliance, be that a lantern or stove, doesn’t need to be “pumped” to add pressure. In fact, the propane camping appliances are designed to provide a steady flame regardless of how much propane is left in the cylinder.

However, for winter camping, with cold weather, the quality of the flame from a propane camping stove can be reduced, because the pressure in the tank drops in the cold, therefore the propane won’t burn as well in cold temperatures, if it burns at all.

Weight can also be a factor with propane stoves and lanterns. The propane tanks are heavy, making them a consideration, particularly for backbacking or hiking in places where what you can carry with you is limited.

If you don’t have to worry about weight, you can buy a Coleman High-Pressure Propane Hose and Adapter and use propane in large cylinders, such as the kind found on travel trailers. Using a refillable tank generally makes the cost of the propane a little less. Even if you use the smaller non-refillable propane bottles, it is usually easy to buy them.

On the other hand, (there is always another hand) the small refillable bottles can be a nuisance and have to be recycled appropriately. You are also often in a situation where you are storing propane gas under pressure, which, although it doesn’t happen very often, have the potential to explode under the right circumstances and the right amount of bad luck.

Popular With Realists

Propane camping stoves seem to be popular with folks who appreciate the simplicity, cleanliness and ease of use these stoves offer. I noticed while purusing the camping forums and discussion boards that most folks say they have and love their liquid fuel camping stove, but usually end by saying that they also have a propane camp stove that they use on most of their camping trips.

Other Camping Stove Fuels

In addition to liquid camp stove fuel and propane camp stove fuel, there are some other options including, Butane/Propane, alcohol, Unleaded Gasoline, and Kerosene.

Butane/Propane is sold in canisters similar to regular propane. In fact, they work almost identically, except they are typically lighterweight than propane. That makes them popular if weight is a concern for your outdoor activity. Like the propane cylinders, they don’t work as well in cold temperatures.

Alcohol Stoves

Alcohol camping stoves are popular with serious backpackers and campers who generally carry smaller single burner stoves. Alcohol stoves are clean and work well, but have not caught on as much with the general campground camping crowd. Alcohol fuel is more expensive than white gas, it doesn’t burn as hot as white gas, resulting in a longer boil time.

Alcohol has the added danger of a flame that is invisible in daylight. On the other hand, alcohol doesn’t smell like the other fuels, and it evaporates quite quickly which is a plus if you spill some in your camping gear.

Nonetheless, I don’t think I would recommend one for a backup camping stove at the camp, more of a backcamper stove where it’s attributes really come into play.

Coleman DualFuel™

Coleman® make some camping stoves that they brand as DualFuel™. These stoves are designed to use unleaded auto gasoline or regular Coleman® Fuel.

While the cost of gas going into your SUV may seem high these days, for camp stoves, this type of fuel is actually pretty economical, especially compared to propane.

Only use gasoline in camping stove and lanterns specifically made for this option and you should only use unleaded gasoline and only gasoline that has less than 10% ethanol, which probably means you will have to buy the higher grade of gasoline.

In my opinion, while a good idea, the dual fuel option is most useful for folks who live in places where Coleman Fuel is not readily available. They would also come in handy during an emergency, which would explain why survivalists like them.

If you can’t decide, all is not lost, Coleman has recently developed a camping stove called the Coleman FyreStorm Stainless Steel Stove that will burn Coleman fuel, butane/propane canisters, or unleaded gasoline. With a canister, the stove burns at 14,000 BTU for 45 minutes, boiling water in just 3 minutes, 10 seconds. On liquid fuel, it burns at 10,000 BTU for 75 minutes, boiling in 3 minutes 30 seconds. The Fyrestorm is a little more expensive than some of the other Coleman® Stoves, but it comes with a refillable 22-ounce fuel bottle, liquid-fuel pump assembly, butane canister fuel adapter, stuff sack and aluminum windscreen.

Kerosene Camping Stove Fuels

The last choice in camping stove fuels is an old tried and true fuel that has been around so long it is outdated, Kerosene. It’s a fuel that is relatively easy to obtain, however, it has a strong smell and doesn’t usually burn as clean as the other fuel options. A further problem is that kerosene stoves usually have to be started using a specific starter fuel. That means you need to have two types of fuel on hand. That would be a nuisance. The Butterfly 10-Wick Kerosene Cook Stove shown in the picture produces 7000 BTUs, holds 2 quarts of fuel, burns 12+ hours per tank and has an adjustable heat output, making this an very economical camping stove.


I have used both the Coleman® liquid fuel camping stove and lanterns, as well as propane camp stoves and lanterns and I’ve had some experience with kerosene lanterns. While they all have their pluses, in my opinion, and for my purposes, which doesn’t include backpacking in cold temperatures, the propane fuel camping stove is the best.

Here’s why propane is better:

Propane is easy to use, doesn’t get on your hands, or into your clothes and gear.

There is no messy on site refilling, and the stoves and lanterns don’t have to be pumped up to keep a good pressure.

It is easy to purchase the small camping stove propane cylinders, they are available in most stores, especially during camping season and one bottle of propane lasts for several meals.

Propane stoves are quicker to set up and easier to light, and when lit, the flame is easy to control and (this could be my imagination) but I find propane camping stoves heat things up faster.

Disposing of the empty propane cylinders can be a problem but I have found that most campgrounds will take them as part of the regular trash pickup.

Intended Use

But, like so much outdoor gear, it ultimately comes down to your intended use. A backpacker has decidely different camping stove requirements than a cottager or folks who camp in campgrounds etc. In choosing the type of fuel and stove you require, take into consideration where and when it will be used, availabilty of fuel, maintenance and of course safety.

So what about you? Which type of camping stove do you use?
Picture of Coleman Stove:Wilkipedia Creative Commons Licence


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The Cottage Chronicles by Robert Dares is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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