Propane vs White Gas
In the Beginner section, we briefly talked about different devices that used either propane or white gas. Usually, these are lanterns and stoves, but can also include portable heaters, which you might decide you would like if you start to extend your camping season to earlier and later in the year. Additionally, I’ll mention the small segment of equipment that is fueled by butane. Because at this stage of tent camping you are likely to want to purchase this equipment, let’s go over the different devices first.
Camp stoves come in varieties from a single burner up to a three burner configuration. These can be fueled by propane or white gas. A third popular stove type is a modification of the propane system that uses a butane-propane mix, typically referred to as a canister stove. Whatever you decide to choose, make sure you understand the pros and cons of each option. Both propane and white gas stoves are plentiful and come in a variety of styles and manufacturers.
The question you need to ask yourself is what you intend to cook while camping. Even a single person would enjoy the benefit of having multiple burners for different things (frying some bacon and heating a coffee percolator, for example), but it’s not always necessary. It depends on what you prefer to do when you camp. If you really like doing most of your cooking over a fire, then a single burner stove will be more than enough for you. However, if you have a larger family and/or you like to cook using a stove, then you should be looking for at least a two burner, and probably a three burner stove.
Coleman is probably one of the most well-known brands of stoves, but there are several others out there so don’t just go by the one brand you know. You might find that another brand actually is laid out better, or is slightly more compact when folded up. Look at as many as you can find in order to get the stove that will really work for your needs. Canister stoves, while being similar to propane stoves in the fuel that they use, typically only come as a single burner.
These stoves lend themselves to being compact. The canisters that are used weigh much less than a 1 pound propane bottle, and the stove top that goes on the canister is very compact and light as well.
While weight isn’t necessarily a huge concern for general tent camping, the compact size of the pieces are very welcome when packing up for a trip. The canisters can usually suffice for a few days, depending on how heavily you use them. There are several manufacturers of these canister stoves, including MSR, JetBoil, and GSI. If it’s just you and another person, canister stoves are a great alternative for cooking; if you have an elaborate cooking setup or you are cooking for several people, a liquid or propane stove is going to be the better choice.
Beacons in the night, that’s what they look like sometimes when it’s really dark outside, such as during a new moon phase.
Lanterns provide great area lighting for your campsite, and these also come in varieties that use either propane or white gas. Besides the fuel source, you will also want to consider if you want a single mantle lantern or one that has 2 mantles. Propane lanterns are nice because when you take away the propane bottle, they are surprisingly compact.
All you have is the upper half of the lantern with the mantle(s). Saving space in your gear whether storing or traveling is a nice feature. With the white gas version, however, your fuel tank is always with the rest of the lantern, so you need more space storing and traveling.
In the end, when you figure in the propane bottle that you need for fuel, there really isn’t much difference between the two. The key is that whatever you get for a stove, you should match that with your lantern.
If you plan to go camping during cooler weather earlier or later in the year, you may want to consider getting a small portable heater for use in your tent. Modern portable heaters are nearly all fueled by propane these days, so if you choose to go with propane as your fuel of choice for lanterns and stoves, this will be an easy item to add to your fueled gear.
These heaters are designed to warm up the tent a little to make things a tad more comfortable, but should not be left on all night.
Additionally, I recommend leaving one of the tent windows open a little at the top for a vent so that you get fresh oxygen mixing in your tent. If you’re like me and you like to go to garage sales, you might stumble upon an old white gas catalytic heater. These heaters haven’t been made in a while, having been replaced by the propane versions some years.
These white gas versions are definitely larger in size than the current propane versions, so be aware of this if you decide you would like one. They still do a decent job of taking the chill out of your tent, and again I will remind you to never leave them on when you go to sleep, and when they are operating have a tent window open for venting. When you snuff them out, be sure to place them outside of your tent.
Why I Prefer White Gas Equipment
While it seems that propane would be the better option for fueling your equipment, I actually fall on the white gas side of things.
The reason is two-fold. First, most of the stoves and lanterns out today, especially those made by Coleman, can be had in a version that will accept unleaded gas as a fuel source. That’s right, the same stuff that runs your cars and trucks can also be used for lighting and cooking. Now, this fuel is a bit more “dirty” than white gas, but in a pinch, it will do the job.
The second reason I like the white gas versions for my equipment is that for the stove, you can actually get an attachment that will allow you to hook up a small propane bottle to use for cooking.
You can’t go the other way if you have a propane stove and try to use white gas (mostly because you need to have the fuel under pressure, and a propane stove doesn’t have that mechanism with it). Redundancy is the name of the game, and my setup allows for maximum versatility.