• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


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

kerosene lanterns, emergency lighting,
600 300 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

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 propane 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 $2.50 to $3.00 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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  • Sam Maxi

    I’m bit confused in selection between propane or gas in my garage. But after reading your article I make my decision to use propane in my garage.
    Thanks for your informative article.

  • alvan w atkinson

    Have used both white gas and propane camping. Propane is so much easier to control and start.-safer.!!! No pumping and priming.
    Propane is a little bulky but would rather have few small bottles in back of car than gallon of gas. Experience with ice storms and hurricanes in N.C. used 20lb propane tank, Coleman L, connecting hoses, Buddy heaters. Can do everything with propane, safe, easy to control versatile. Buddy heaters can use 1lb or 20lb tanks. Propane lights are easy to set up, very bright. Make lots of heat, so not good in summer. LED’s solve most of light problems. Currently have designed and built a 12volt box with gel battery in old cooler. All of cell phone and computers and CPAP equipment have low amp draws with inverter. 12volt inputs. Most Coleman LED and florescent lights are available with 12v charge wires. Can recharge 12 volt ” mother battery ” with solar, generator, or automobile in 3-5 hours. Only need for generator is refrigeration which you can run 2hrs in AM and 2hrs at night and keep things cold. If freezer freeze 1gal milk jugs with water and put in fridge to tide over between gen runs. Propane for cooking, LED lights.Wood for heating if possible, Propane Buddy heater in small area
    one to two rooms of house. Tent sleeping in house if winter. Also electric blankets only 400watts, max less if lower setting. Could run off 12volt with inverter, get sleeping bags, tent warm, then turn off when going to bed. Probably wont run down battery for short time needed just to warm small area. 12volt gel batteries are a little heavy and expensive, but lots of safe energy that can be recharged during day in multiple ways. Think you can charge 12mother battery with charger in “jump battery”. Just hook up 12volt male male connector and both batteries charged by “charger in jump battery” Need 110v for this but could use 2-3hr generator run for this while doing fridge/freezer. 110v battery chargers only draw 3-5 amps on full charge. Easily handled by small generator.

  • Tammie Houston

    I love how you mentioned that fire safety is important because I think the same way. My husband was suggesting that we choose propane gas for the stove, and back then I really can’t see why. Seeing your article made me realize that his choice is right. Thanks for the tips. I’ll make sure to get someone to help us out in ordering the new fuel for my home as soon as possible. Thanks!

  • James Thomas

    Great post! I like to read this post & enjoy it .I shared this on Facebook and my followers really enjoyed it.Keep up the amazing work! ??.

  • Marcus Coons

    Thank you for talking about how propane stoves are easier and safer to use. I can see that taking the time to understand what the features of each type of fuel are can help you choose the best one for your needs. We are thinking about switching to propane to see how well it compares to other methods, so I’ll make sure to keep your page in mind as we choose the best provider in our area.

  • Doug

    About Boy Scouts. As a leader for many years our troop never let any young man work with any fuel propane or gas appliances. White gas is extremely volatile and should be used carefully. Also propane bottles have to be checked they do not leak.

    Yes they cooked but no lighting the stoves. Often we used hot coal from camp fire for cooking

    Ok I prefer white gas Coleman fuel for lanterns and propane for stoves except when cold for obvious reasons. I have duel fuel stove for emergencies. I also use bulk propane for stoves so not having to dispose of the small propane bottles. we are creating lots of recycling issues and most of this bottles do not seem to make to recycling.

    But I no longer camp with Boy Scouts, my boys grew up. I have travel trailer now….

  • Tyler Meredith

    I’m considering getting some new emergency and camping supplies and appliances and considering the fuel I want to use is important. I like that you recommend considering whether weight and size are issues where you’re camping and storing things. This could be very helpful to remember because something like propane could be very easy and small while still being able to have a large storage tank at home. Thanks for the post!

  • Leon

    Propane – unless you buy it in those little cylinders – is a very cheap, clean way to heat and light.

  • Afton Jackson

    I didn’t realize that propane costs very little at national retailers. My wife and I are going camping next week. This options seems like something that could illuminate our whole camp for very little.

  • West

    My cabin 50 miles from town and is run on solar with a 6000 watt propane gen the propane company delivers and it takes a week with my burro and covered wagon to make the trip (I have done 7,000 miles with burros and wagons) . But if you have to travel/ bug out on foot a small dual stove and small siphon hose is best you can fine gasoline anywhere.

  • Leon

    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.

  • Meagan

    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!

  • Bill

    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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