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Survival Equipment

Propane or gas: How to choose a lantern and/or stove fuel

Propane or gas: How to choose a lantern and/or stove fuel
Propane or gas: How to choose a lantern and/or stove fuel

Propane or gas? What type of emergency implement fuel is the best choice for you?

by Leon Pantenburg

Let’s assume an emergency scenario where wood heat/light are not an option, you can’t use a campfire and a biomass stove is out of the picture. Maybe there is extreme fire danger, open fires are prohibited, or there isn’t a ready supply of fuel.

Should you have a propane or gas lantern or stove? Tank or canister? What are the advantages, disadvantages and what considerations should you be aware of?

My collection includes kerosene, gasoline and propane lanterns. The best  choice will depend on the situation, weight, safety and availability of fuel. (Pantenburg photo)

My collection includes kerosene, gasoline and propane lanterns. The best choice will depend on the situation, weight, safety and availability of fuel. (Pantenburg photos)

I can’t make up my mind which fuel is best. I currently have one propane, four Coleman gas lanterns and two old-fashioned kerosene lanterns. I own a dual-fuel campstove, gas backpacking stove, and one small stove that screws on top of a propane cylinder. My go-to stove for all off grid cooking is a double burner Camp Chef propane cooker that uses bulk propane. I have a propane space heater for emergency warmth.

Your emergency preparations should include some thoughts about lighting, heating and cooking implements over the long term. Basically, your choices will boil down to two main categories: propane or liquid fuel (gasoline).

Before you buy anything though, consider where the appliance will be used. Are you car camping, where weight is not an issue, or backpacking above the tree line, where weight will be a major consideration? What temperatures will the item most likely be used in? How important is long term use and the ability to replenish the fuel?

Here are some shopping considerations:

  • Convenience and ease of use:Does the fuel source affect how easily the implement can be used? There is no pouring, priming or pumping with propane. With gas, the implement must be filled, and sometimes primed and pumped. While the gas implement is operating, it will occasionally need to be pumped.

    Propane or gasoline? Where the appliance will be used, and the operating conditions will determine the best choice for you. (Pantenburg photos)

    Propane or gasoline? Check out the shopping considerations to decide.

  • Fuel availability: Many dual-fuel gas implements can use unleaded gasoline, at a fraction of the cost of Coleman fuel or white gas. I’ve bought Coleman gas at tiny little stores in out-of-the-way areas of northern Minnesota, where the store inventory was sketchy at best. Conversely, I’ve also seen standard 16.4 oz disposable propane gas cylinders at many of these same stores. I’m guessing gas is still easier to find, but bulk propane is also very common and cheap.
  • Cost: Last week at the local WalMart, the disposable propane cylinders were on sale for about $6 for two cylinders, versus almost $10 per gallon for Coleman fuel. The dual-fuel gas stoves and lanterns are the clear winners in the cost-effectiveness category, with unleaded gasoline from the pump costing about three to four dollars per gallon. Not to mention, a dual-fuel implement can be re-fueled with a siphon hose from a vehicle gas tank.
  • Safety: As a Boy scout volunteer, I see safety around fire as paramount. I’ve noticed that the propane lanterns and stoves are easier, and hence safer, for the boys to light and use. There is no priming, pouring or fuel to spill. The  idea of  a container of gasoline anywhere near an open fire, with kids around, makes my blood run cold.
  • Implement design: My Coleman model 442 backpacking gas stove has a listed weigh of 24 ounces. That, in part, is due to the pump and generator required for a gas stove. My single burner propane stove that screws on top of a propane cylinder weighs less than half that.
  • “Green”  design: I don’t like the disposable propane cylinders – they work great, but it seems to be a terrible waste to throw away the empties. There are tools that allow refilling the cylinders from bulk propane tanks, but you do that at your own risk. For a long-term situation, such as a lengthy campout, though, a bulk propane tank can be filled for about $2-something a gallon, making that option an economic favorite.
  • Temperature: Cold affects propane’s effectiveness. In extreme cold, a propane cylinder may not work at all. Gasoline is not affected. That’s one reason why I have so many gas-powered implements.

Like anything, the final decision on whether to invest in propane or gas appliances will depend on your individual needs and perceived usage. Good luck with picking a favorite – I haven’t been able to come up with one yet!

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View Comments (4)


  1. Leon

    03/14/2016 at 09:52

    I never know which to use either, so I have both! I tend to gravitate more toward gas, since it is more readily available in isolated areas.

  2. Meagan

    03/08/2016 at 13:32

    I like the comparison here. I never know which one to use while on a camping trip. I like that you broke own every avenue in which people consider. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Leon

    10/20/2015 at 13:14

    Never heard of that before. Good info!

  4. Bill

    10/16/2015 at 13:09

    Be careful with white gas. I learned the hard way.. I had six cans in my garage on a shelf. It had probably been there 4 – 5 years. Went to use one and they were all totally empty. I have since starting spraying the cans totally with several layers of polyurthane. Haven’t had any problems since. My guess is, in the summer when the cans expand the gas evaporates. Little did I know. Ten bucks a can! Gone! Lesson learned.

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Survival Equipment

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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