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

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When you ask campers what their thoughts are on the “Butane vs. Propane” camping stove debate, you will hear different responses. Some people talk about the benefits and drawbacks of each fuel. Others decide what type of stove to use based on what the weather is expected to be for their trip.  

If you are struggling to come up with an answer to the butane vs. propane camping stove  - which should you buy question, let us try to help you by clearly outlining what the advantages and disadvantages of both of them are. Then you can apply them to your camping needs, and hopefully, an answer will become clear.

In this blog post we will cover the following:

  • Alternatives to Butane and Propane Camping Stoves
  • Comparing Butane and Propane Camping Stoves
woodburning foldable camping stove with pot

Alternatives to Butane and Propane Stoves

Before we go into the pros and cons of butane or propane camping stoves, there are a couple of alternatives to these two fuels.

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 price of the fuel.

If that doesn't appeal to you, you could use a dual-fuel stove that enables you to use either butane or propane. 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.

Comparing Butane and Propane Camping Stoves

portable butane camping stove with canister

Connections

A butane gas stove can be connected to a small disposable canister of butane using a simple clip-in method. A popular Coleman portable butane stove utilizes this easy way of connecting the fuel source to the stove. Simply take the cap off the can, lift the clip, gently place the canister in the slot, place the clip back over the can, lock it in place and close the lid to the compartment.  

Freestanding two burner propane camping stove


Attaching a one pound propane cylinder to a stove or using a hose to attach a large propane tank to a propane camping stove is fairly straightforward.

  • Bottle top stove.  A one pound propane cylinder is screwed into the bottom of the stove
  • Two burner propane stove (regulator is included).  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 5ft high pressure propane hose and adapter.
lightweight backpacking stove and gas canister

Cooking Environment

Cooking environment refers to the conditions which you might be camping in. 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. Propane’s boiling point 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 be used in the stove.  Propane, on the other hand, will turn to gas in temperatures down to -44°F.

Availability

One of the big 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 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 feasible, simply because the gas that fuels it, is available to buy.

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

Butane fuel is generally sold in convenient 8 oz canisters.

Weight

One reason that butane is popular amongst many campers, and even more popular with backpackers, is that its canisters are smaller and weigh less than those of 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. In other words, if you are deciding between two stoves, the heat output will be effectively the same if both the stoves BTU rating is the same, regardless of whether the stove is fueled by butane, or fueled by propane.

Conclusion

The major consideration in determining whether to buy a propane stove 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 are 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 fuel for a long time, then using a propane stove is the better choice.

Perhaps due to their greater availability, and that they can be used in lower temperatures is probably why propane stoves are used more widely than butane stoves.