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JK's Guide to Camping Gas: Should You Use Propane or Butane?

JK's Marketing Assistant
Published 4 March 2022
Heidi Padoin

When camping, you will require a source of fuel to use a variety of camping equipment. By this we mean gas for your appliances. The development of camping gases has significantly improved our camping experiences and our sense of independence.

Camping gasses are supplied in different shapes and sizes, made convenient for different tasks and storage in areas with limited space. With so much available, this often leads to the question: “Should I be using propane or butane?” and we are here to help answer that question for you!

What is camping gas?

The development of portable gas cylinders for use out and about has revolutionised the way we camp! Cooking isn't just for at home, or using an outdoor fire, but is not for everyone pretty much everywhere! You can climb the alps and stop for a cup of tea, or go cave exploring and stop to fry some bacon, the choice is yours!

Camping gasses are sometimes referred to as LPG's otherwise known as Liquefied petroleum gases. LPG's are a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases, often propane and butane. In the UK, they are usually composed in a mixture of 95% of one and 5% of the other.

For example, butane is often mixed with a small fraction of propane as it performs better in colder conditions. So by mixing the two, it widens the temperature parameters in which the gas can be used. LPG is often much cheaper than pure gas, and you can purchase your refills from the petrol station.

For more information regarding gas safety, please click here to read one of our previous blogs.

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What is Propane?

Propane is a gas which can be ignited to provide a continuous supply of open flame for which you can use to heat water, cook food, or power heaters etc. This also goes for butane.

Generally in the UK, propane is contained within red cylinders that feature a screw-on regulator that requires tightening with a spanner.

Unfortunately propane is often a little more expensive than butane, but not by much! As propane is stored at almost 4 times the pressure of butane, it is often stored outside for enhanced safety. This gas is often used in scenarios when multiples appliances are running off the same gas supply.

Benefits of Propane:

  1. Propane will have your back in most temperatures. With a boiling point of - 44°C, the element will mostly always be in a gas state. So there will always be pressure in the bottle for sufficient gas release as the tap is turned. Ergo, if you’re camping in temperatures below 5°C, propane will stay in gas form and you can still make a hot cuppa!
  2. Due to the different densities and weights, you will get more energy out of 1 kg of burned propane than 1 kg of burned butane.
  3. Propane is an effective choice of gas for when you most need gas as when it is colder, you're more likely to want more appliances running that require gas. When it’s cold outside, (less than 5°C) butane is in a liquid state and therefore very low pressure and won’t effectively release gas for burning.
  4. Propane also burns slightly hotter than butane. Propane burns at 1980 °C in air.

Drawbacks of propane:

  1. Propane is often more expensive than butane, which can make it tricky to obtain for some.
  2. Propane uses a regulator that requires higher effort to install. It needs twisting and a spanner, whereas a butane regulator just clips straight on.
  3. Propane, while more versatile, operates less efficiently than butane in short periods. Meaning your kettle won’t boil quite as quickly as it would while burning butane.
  4. As propane bottles are often relied upon to power multiple appliances at once, the bottles are often much larger and therefore heavy to carry and difficult to store.

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What is Butane?

Butane is also ignited for a constant supply of burning flame to use with your camping accessories. As butane is stored at a lower pressure, that makes it much safer for storage indoors. It's often stored in smaller containers that would be used indoors, for purposes such as boiling a kettle!

Butane's normally stored in blue bottles with clip on regulators. The regulators require different fixing methods, so they are not interchangeable.

Benefits of Butane:

  1. Butane isn’t far behind propane, as it burns at 1970 °C in air. The ten degree difference in how hot the two gases burn isn’t exactly noticeable.
  2. A benefit of all LPG’s which so applies to propane as well; is that mercaptan is added to all camping gasses to deliver that tell-tale smell in case of a gas leak. If you smell gas, call 999 or local gas board. For more information on this, please follow this link.
  3. It is denser than propane, so a bottle of the same measurement will hold more butane than propane per litre. Butane is heavier, but denser. So there is more energy in one litre of butane when compared to one litre of propane.
  4. Butane is stored at a quarter of the pressure that propane is stored, which makes it safer for storage within campervans. It also makes it a safer option for burning indoors which is why it is often used for camping cook tops or space heaters. If you are storing gas inside your camper, please look into installing a gas locker, too keep yourself and your family safe.
  5. Butane is cheaper than propane. Butane is most ideal for domestic campervan use, but only when the outdoor temperature is guaranteed to stay above 5°C, a rarity in the UK!

Drawbacks of Butane:

  1. Butane does not perform well in lower temperatures, as less butane will be in gas form within the bottle. At lower temperatures, the gas will condense, which means less pressure and so less gas will be released when required. Often giving the misleading illusion that you have ran out of gas, but in fact the bottle could be full! – Just in liquid form and therefore unusable in this form.
  2. Butane regulators can't be used on propane bottles. Many campervans may have a set up including both propane and butane for different purposes. This non-interchangeable interface can result in potential issues while camping. If you don’t come prepared with the correct regulators, you might end up in a sticky pickle!
  3. Butane weighs more than propane, so if you prefer to buy butane in large quantities, therefore stored in a very large bottle, it makes it more difficult to transport and store than propane.

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Can't make up your mind? Try a mixed gas!

A lot of companies, like Campingaz, will sell canisters of mixed gas, usually an 80/20 mix of butane and propane. Using a mixed gas gives you the best of both worlds, and is a great option for infrequent use, especially as the canisters are re-sealable and reusable.

Take a look at some of the mixed gasses we stock here:

A quick summary

In conclusion, it is down to personal preference, and how you prefer to camp, that affects your choice in gas. If it will always be stored inside and only in small quantities, then maybe you’re only going on short breaks in the summer months and butane may be a preferred option due to its smaller canister size and lower price point.

But in general, for anyone who is using gas for more than just a stove top, propane is the most sensible choice, especially for use in the UK.

Propane has a lower boiling point, so will always be in a gas state, therefore you'll never be at a loss while camping. No matter the weather, you'll always be able to make yourself a hot cuppa! Propane will have your back even in temperatures as low as -40°C, and if you’re camping in temperatures lower than that, then you’re camping in the wrong locations! Fluffy socks won’t do much for you here.

If you’d like to take a look at the gas we have to offer here at JK, please click here to navigate our website.

All gassed up and ready to get going?

If you're feeling better informed, and ready to get out there and try some cool new camping gear, powered by gas, then here's some of the new products we've got in for this year's camping season!

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