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How do you cook when you tent camp? What do you use to light up your campsite at night? Unless you plan to cook everything over your campfire, and use your campfire as your only area lighting at night, you will end up wanting some sort of camp stove and lantern for your camp experience. The big question then becomes: do you go with propane or do you opt for gas? And does it even matter which option you choose? Each has their own pros and cons, and 1 will be the right choice for your style of camping.
Yes, there is a discussion to be had on lanterns that include LED versions. I will address that in a separate post. For now, I’m limiting this to just gas and propane. Additionally, for clarification, when I use the word “gas”, I’m referring to the liquid variety that is found in most hardware stores and chain stores. Often this is referred to as Coleman gas (since their brand is on it) or sometimes “white gas”. Basically it is a highly refined, highly flammable liquid that comes in 1-gallon metal containers and sometimes in other smaller quantities.
Let’s start with propane as a fuel choice. Most people envision the little green 1-pound cylinders, which is one way to do it. These have been used for decades and the availability of the little green tanks is nearly ubiquitous. They screw and unscrew onto the stove or lantern easily. But don’t confuse this propane for the LP gas that you may have at home. They are 2 different fuel types, with LP gas being held under pressure to maintain it in its liquid state. The propane cylinders contain vapor only, no liquid, and as such do not need to be kept under high pressure.
Did you ever consider using a larger propane tank? You can get a propane distribution post or tree for use on 20-pound and higher propane tanks. This allows you to operate multiple devices from a single source. This can make a great setup for cooking, especially at night, because you can run several devices from a single source.
The propane lanterns and propane stoves that use propane also tend to be smaller and lighter than their gas cousins. This is because they don’t need to have a dedicated storage space for fuel like the gas versions as the propane tanks are the fuel tanks. And when you need to refuel, its as easy as unscrewing the empty canister and screwing on a full one.
The one drawback to propane devices is that they can only handle a single fuel source. You cannot run different fuel types in the devices, so if you run out of propane, you need to get more and that could be frustrating. I’ll address this later in this article.
Moving on to gas as a fuel choice, this has its own positives and negatives. While the devices are larger due to the integrated fuel tanks, you won’t have multiple cylinders rolling around, getting in the way. Usually, if you fill up the fuel tanks before you leave for a weekend trip, even a long weekend, they will last all weekend without needing a refill. This is nice because you can then leave the extra fuel back at home, where you nearly always will want to make sure that you have a spare propane cylinder “just in case”. But even if you bring extra fuel, it will be only a single container instead of multiples.
For both propane and gas devices, finding fuel is quite easy. Even the smallest villages usually have a general store that has 1 or 2 little propane cylinders or a container of white gas. So even if you do run out, odds are you are only a short drive away from more. And if you are using a larger propane cylinder, these can often be exchanged easily for a full one.
Let me go back to something I touched on earlier. I mentioned that propane devices can only use 1 type of fuel. There are newer models of gas devices that come in a “dual fuel” variation. With this variation you can actually use fuel from your vehicle – unleaded gas – to power your gas device. This is handy to have when you are in a pinch, but just keep in mind that your unleaded fuel in your car is less refined than the Coleman gas you typically run through your lantern and stove. I would not recommend doing this often as you’ll end up having to clean things out much more frequently because of this “unclean” fuel that you use. Additionally, for your gas stove, there is a propane converter you can get that allows you to use propane instead of liquid gas. This provides you with even more redundancy and versatility. And I’ve even run across a small Coleman stove that will run on Coleman gas, unleaded gas, as well as Kerosene!
In the end, there is no wrong answer to which you choose. The right answer is the one that best suits your camping and recreation style. And be sure to keep your devices all using the same fuel type; it becomes a hassle when your lantern takes gas but your stove takes propane! I address all of this and much more in my best-selling book “The Best Tent Camping Guide”.
Got some feedback on this topic? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below, send me an email or share it on social media! Happy Tent Camping!
Featured Image photo courtesy midnightcomm, 4/28/2007. Photo was taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/midnightcomm/