A Complete Guide to Camping Gas Types and Sizes

It’s just as important to cook your food when you’re camping as it is to cook when you get home. A hungry camper is never a happy camper. But what gas fuel canisters are commonly used by campers?

Camping gas can refer to a number of different fuels ranging from gasoline to butane. Among these, gasoline and propane are probably the most common. Each of these fuels has different pros and cons, but the most important factor in choosing a fuel is the camping stove it will be used with.

Let’s take a look at different types of camping gas when they’re useful, and how much you’ll need to buy!

What Is Camping Gas

Camping gas can refer to alcohol, gasoline, propane, butane, isobutane, kerosene, or white gas. If you’re worried about which of these you need, check your camping stove’s instruction manual. While each of these fuels has different strengths, all of them should be easily available at a sports or outdoor specialty store.


Propane: the king of fuels. Propane is a clean-burning fuel that is often used in backyard grilling. The smaller (typically dark green) portable propane cannisters are the most common camping fuel for car camping adventures. Since it stores longer than other fuels, it’s a great option for people who only camp every once in a while.

Propane remains a gas at cold temperatures, which makes it usable even on winter camping trips. All in all, propane is a great choice for a lot of situations given its high availability, storability, and reliability. The only disadvantage to propane is that it that the cannisters are thick and heavy, making it a bad choice for backpacking trips.

Butane / Isobutane

Because butane can be stored at a much lower pressure than propane, its containers can be much lighter and therefore easier to carry. Because of this, light butane burning stoves are great options for backpacking. Butane’s biggest downside is that it becomes liquid at a temperature a little under freezing, which depressurizes its container and makes it impossible to use with a stove. Performance issues will start to appear at 40 degrees or so.

Isobutane is an isomer of butane, meaning that it has the same chemical ingredients arranged in a different shapes. Isobutane is superior in quality to butane. It is lighter and can produce more energy for a similar volume. Isobutane can be stored and used at lower temperatures than butane, down to 11 degrees Fahrenheit, in theory. You will start to run into performance issues will this fuel at approximately 20 degrees, depending on elevation (better performance at higher elevations).

Propane or white gas are both better for extremely cold weather adventures.

Isobutane and Propane Blend

The most common backpacking fuel sold at REI is a blend of 80 to 85% isobutane and 15 to 20% propane. The addition of propane to the isobutane lowers the (theoretical) usable temperature of this fuel mixture to about -5 degrees Fahrenheit. You would start to run into performance issues then at around 5 degrees Fahrenheit, again depending on the elevation.

White Gas

White gas, otherwise known as Coleman Gas, is highly refined gasoline. It is primarily found in liquid form, which makes it different from most other common fuels in that it doesn’t need to be kept in a pressurized container. It’s also much more stable than gasoline, which makes it easier to store.

Its low flashpoint makes it possible to use in the cold, but even in its refined state, it’s highly flammable, meaning that on long trips it can be somewhat dangerous to carry around. It can leak and you may be not able to detect it since it is odorless. It can also explode a bit if you are not careful.


Like white gas, alcohol is a liquid fuel and doesn’t need to be pressurized. Unlike white gas, alcohol is not especially volatile as a fuel source, which makes it fairly safe to carry around. The downside of alcohol as a fuel is that is only produces half the heat energy of a similar mass of white gas. Cooking will therefore take longer. The alcohols that are commonly used for fuel include concentrated ethanol and methanol, and should never be consumed directly.


Kerosene also works as a fuel, but is rarely used in camping stoves in the United States. Its high flashpoint makes it fairly stable to carry around, but it’s liquid and therefore heavy, which makes it impractical for long backpacking trips. Some people do not like its distinct odor. Kerosene was commonly used in Coleman camping lanterns when I was a kid.


Gasoline is typically not used for cooking unless other fuels are not available, like if you are in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country. In those cases, a gasoline stove may be your best option. It’s important to make sure that your gas stove isn’t made to use white gas exclusively. White gas stoves that aren’t specially designed to use both will be damaged by the amount of residue that gasoline tends to leave behind.

How Much Camping Gas Do You Need

Most of the time, you will use 16.4 oz. propane cylinders for car camping trips and 110 or 227g isobutane / propane cannisters for backpacking. For car camping, you will be cooking foods that are similar to those at home while in backpacking, you will be preparing dehydrated meals. The fuel estimates are therefore different.

Estimating Car Camping Fuel Needs

For my family’s weekend trips, we typically use about 2 cannisters and bring 1 extra. Here is a way to get more precise:

Step 1: The first step is to plan your camping meals. Then estimate the minutes of cook time (at high) for each dish. Add those times up. That is total burn time you will need in minutes.

Step 2: Check the manufacturers website for how many minutes a burner will keep burning on 1 16.4 oz. propane cylinder.

Step 3: Divide the minutes in Step 1 by the minutes in Step 2 and round up. That is how many 16.4 oz propane canisters you will need.

Step 4: Consider adding an extra canister just in case. Your cook times may be a bit low or you may get a bad cannister that won’t cooperate.

Estimating Backpacking Fuel Needs

If you’re only going to be out for a few days on a solo backpacking adventure, then a 110 g cannister will usually be enough for you. For example, a common isobutane / propane backpacking stove will boil 12 liters of water for each 110g fuel canister. Here is the step by step for a precise estimate:

Step 1: Just as with car camping, plan your meals. Then estimate the liters of water needed for each dish (usually 1 liter each). Add those liters up. That is total volume of water you will need to boil.

Step 2: Go to the manufacturer’s or retailer’s website and find the average boil time of 1 liter of water (in minutes, rounding up to the nearest minute) for your stove.

Step 3: Multiply the liters from Step 1 by the minutes in Step 2. That is your total burn time.

Step 4: Go to the manufacturer’s or retailer’s website and find the average burn time per canister of isobutane / propane for your stove. Note the size of the canister in grams.

Step 5: Divide the total burn time from Step 3 by the average burn time in Step 4. This is the minimum number of canisters that you will need.

Step 6: Consider adding another canister in case your estimates are low or you run into an issue with a canister.

For my oldest daughter and me, she brings 1 110g cannister and I bring 2 110g canisters on a three day backpacking trip.

Camping Fuel Sizes

Here are the most common sizes for camping and backpacking fuel:

Fuel TypePhaseMost Common Sizes
PropaneGas453 g / 16 oz
ButaneGas8 oz
Butane / Propane BlendGas220 g / 7.75 oz and 440 g 15.52 oz
Isobutane / Propane BlendGas110 g / 3.9 oz and 227 g / 8 oz
White Gas*Liquid32 oz (1 qt)
Alcohol*Liquid32 oz (1 qt)
Kerosene*Liquid32 oz (1qt)
* – Small, metal storage containers can be purchased for more portable needs

Camping Fuel for RVs

While some RVs use electricity for water heating and for cooking, propane fuel can also be used for these same purposes. Most RVs have built-in propane tanks called ASME tanks that can be refilled at hardware stores or propane suppliers. Portable Department of Transportation (DOT) cylinders can usually be used in RVs that lack these internal propane tanks.

ASME tanks range in size from the regular 20 to 30 lbs to 100 lbs, which can last for about three months of light to average use. DOT RV propane tanks come in 20 and 33 lb sizes. 33 lbs is enough for several weeks for most uses, including hot water, stoves, and refrigerators.

DOT cylinders can also be used to fuel camp stoves, which is certainly a bonus. Exchanging these propane tanks can sometimes be more convenient than taking your RV for a refill.

Best Camping Fuel

If you’re choosing your camp stove right now and need to decide what kind of fuel you’ll be using, the preferred fuel depends on your preferred activity.

Best Fuel for Car Camping

Propane is the best choice for car camping. Propane can be used for a variety of purposes, it is readily available at any big box store, it works well in cold conditions and is inexpensive.

Best Fuel for Backpacking

Isobutane / propane canisters are the best choice for most backpackers due to their low weight, good low temperature performance and convenience.

Best Fuel for Minimalist, Environmentally Friendly Cooking

Some backpackers enjoy the simple aspects of alcohol stove cooking. Alcohol stoves can be made from recycled materials and you can avoid throwing away all of those small gas canisters. Using alcohol takes a bit of skill though and will not work for winter adventures.

Best Fuel for Extreme Cold

If, for some reason, you are planning a winter camping trip to Minnesota or Alaska and expecting 5 degrees Fahrenheit or below, white gas is your best bet. Operating a white gas stove can take some skill, so practice before you go.

John Olsen

John Olsen is a seasoned adventurer with 20 years of writing, public speaking, team leadership, analytics and project management experience.

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