Backpackers have the option to use either a white gas or propane stove to cook up meals in the back woods.  Each type of stove has its own strengths and weakness and will perform better in certain situations.  Read through this guide to help find the best backpacking stove for your situation. 

Advantages Of A White Gas Stove

Less Expensive Fuel

White gas costs less and will last longer than propane.  White gas fuel can be purchased at most outdoor sport stores.  When you purchase a liquid fuel stove, be sure you

understand what kind of fuel it accepts.  The most common kind of liquid gas used in backpacking stoves is white gas.  However, some stoves will accept multiple types of liquid gas such as kerosene and unleaded fuel. 

Performs Well In All Weather Conditions

Unlike pressurized propane canisters, white gas is stored in a canister and is in a liquid state.  Cold weather causes propane to compress and thus lose its pressure, while white gas does not have the same problem since it is a liquid.  Precautions can be made to ensure propane works in freezing weather, but the safest bet is to use a white gas stove. 

Easily Disposable

When you need more white gas for your stove, you just go to your local outdoor sport store and get some more fuel in your canister.  Depending on how long your trips are, you should only need one or two canisters that you can use over and over, making a white gas stove more “green” than using propane. 

Higher Heat Output

Most stove manufacturers will indicate how long it takes to bring water to boil, and these numbers are generally very similar for both few types (usually around 4 to 5 minutes to bring water to a boil).  However, white gas burns more efficiently and will produce more heat by using less fuel than propane. 

Availability Of Fuel

If you live in the United States, you should be able to find both white gas and propane canisters very easily.  However, if you plan to go backpacking overseas, white gas is much more readily available and the proprietary propane containers are usually difficult to find.  Since fuel cannot be transported on an airplane, it means that you will almost certainly need to purchase a white gas stove. 

Use Of A Wind Screen

Since the fuel canister is detached from the stove, a windscreen can be erected around the heating element.  A windscreen on a propane stove with an attached fuel container can reflect heat inward and cause an explosion. 

Disadvantages Of A White Gas Stove

Backpacking MSR White Gas StoveCredit:

Lighting Procedures

White gas stoves have quite a few more moving parts than propane stoves.  To get the stove lit, you will need to pump the gas several times to build up the needed pressure to light and run the stove.  You may need to pump your stove a few extra times during cooking if your flame gets too low.  This, generally, is not a problem, but white gas stoves are just all that much more complicated than propane stoves.  Many people have a tendency to pump more times than is needed, which will create an unnecessarily large flame when the stove is first lit. 


Because white gas stoves have more parts and pieces, it usually weighs more than a propane backpacking stove.  If weight is a major concern, light white gas models are readily available, and you can always limit the amount of white gas that you take on your backpack.  Just make sure you do not leave too much gas at home in the name of less weight on your back.  You will be in a lot of trouble if you are stuck in the wilderness without any method of cooking. 


White gas stove need to be cleaned frequently, which can be made more complicated by its numerous pieces.  Since white gas is a liquid, it also has a higher propensity and ability to get on and in the moving parts of your stove.  This will not ruin the stove, but it certainly necessitates a proper cleaning, which can be made easier with the purchase of a cleaning kit.  Keep in mind, liquid stoves that accept other forms of fuel can get dirtier much more quickly than normal white gas ones.  Kerosene will especially gunk up a stove. 

Controlling Fuel

Since white gas is a liquid you will need to be very careful with your fuel canister and always stow it right side up in your pack and make sure that the cap is screwed on tightly.  White gas has a distinct scent, so if it begins to leak you should smell it right away, but if it begins to leak, it could ruin food, clothes, and other essentials stored away in your pack. 

You must also be careful when using your stove that stray fuel does not fall to the ground.  If somehow a stray flame makes it from your stove to the ground, the results could be disastrous.  But, as long as you are keenly aware of your stove and the white gas (as you should be), then this should not be an issue. 

Best Applications For A White Gas Stove

Use of a white gas or propane stove usually just depends on user preference.  However, if you do any winter camping or plan to travel overseas to backpack, a white gas stove should be your only choice.   Because white gas burns more efficiently than propane, it is usually better to use a white gas stove for longer trips or for use with more people.  Your fuel just lasts longer and there will be no question that you have enough to get you through the weekend or an extended trip.  However, if you are looking for a stove that is easy to use and maintain, a propane backing stove is the best for you.  Weekend trips during warmer months are usually the best application for propane stoves. 

Most of the white gas stoves on the market are indeed very good.  So, unless you have brand loyalty, simply look for the features that you want.  MSR is probably the most popular manufacturer of backpacking stoves, but Soto and Trangia also all make very good stoves as well. 


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