Why Use Liquid Fuel Stoves For Winter Camping?


Camping, Winter / Sunday, October 4th, 2020

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Winter camping is a beautiful experience but snow and freezing temperatures can be harsh. Your camping gear, especially your camping stove, should more than match the demands of the environment. Traditional canister stoves often fail in freezing temperatures. This is where liquid fuel (white gas) stoves come in.

The output of canister stoves heavily relies on the pressure of the fuel container. The canister pressure drops as the temperature drops and so does the stove’s output. They won’t even ignite below 15 degrees.

Liquid fuel stoves have a pump to pressurize the fuel tank and force white gas along its way to the burner. White gas will ignite and burn down to 40 below zero Fahrenheit making white gas stoves more reliable than canister stoves in severely cold weather.

What is White Gas?

Liquid fuel stoves burn liquid fuel (white gas), a highly refined form of gasoline that contains few to no impurities and no additives.

White gas is an efficient, inexpensive, clean-burning fuel source that burns very hot at temperatures well below freezing.

What Are the Benefits of Using Liquid Fuel?

Reliability in Winter

Liquid fuel stoves prove to be more reliable in winter. Instead of losing pressure in freezing temperatures like isobutane-propane canisters, the supply of white gas to the burner is maintained by the use of a pump you control to pressurize the liquid fuel bottle.

Eco-Friendly Fuel for Camping Stoves

Liquid fuel bottles are refillable making them an eco-friendly fuel source. Unlike canisters that are thrown away after use.

Overall Stove and Fuel Weight

There are adventures where the weight of your gear is of great concern. Liquid fuel stoves can weigh 4+ ounces heavier than canister stoves.

There, however, can be a saving in total weight when using a liquid fuel stove in colder temperatures. Less fuel will be needed. Isobutane-propane canisters lose pressure in cold temperatures requiring a greater amount of fuel when cooking.

MSR fuel bottles come in different sizes which can save on weight too. Pick a size (11oz, 20oz, or 30oz) and top it off or put in the minimum amount of fuel needed for your trip keeping the weight of your pack to a minimum.

Fuel Costs

The cost of liquid fuel, like high-quality MSR SuperFuel, is far less than canister fuel.

Availability of Fuel

White gas is available in developed countries all over the world. If you’re going far off the beaten path, you may have some trouble. This is where multi-fuel camping stoves shine!

Multi-Fuel Camping Stoves

Some camping stoves can burn white gas and isobutane-propane canisters along with dirtier forms of fuel like kerosene, unleaded gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and denatured alcohol. Multi-fuel stoves provide a solution for those who might travel to remote areas of the developing world with limited availability to white gas.

Liquid Fuel Camping Stove Comparison Chart

There are a number of choices when it comes to liquid fuel camping stoves. The MSR WhisperLite Universal meets my needs. It burns white gas and isobutane-propane. For me, the choice of being able to switch between the two fuels makes it an attractive option.

If you’re backpacking, trekking, or mountaineering, the weight of your stove may be a factor for you. The liquid fuel camping stoves in the chart below range from 10.9 to 18.5oz. The weight calculated is of the stove itself and does not include the fuel bottle.

The weight of these stoves typically increases as the fuel options increase. Simpler stoves that only burn white gas often weigh the least.

Camping StoveFuel Type
MSR WhisperLite StoveWhite Gas
MSR WhisperLite International Backpacking StoveWhite Gas, Unleaded Gasoline, Kerosene
MSR WhisperLite Universal StoveWhite Gas, Isobutane-Propane Canisters, Unleaded Gasoline, Kerosene
MSR XGK EX Multi-Fuel StoveWhite Gas, Unleaded Gasoline, Diesel, Aviation Fuel, Kerosene, Stoddard Solvent, and Naphtha
MSR DragonFly Backpacking StoveWhite Gas, Unleaded Gasoline, Diesel, Aviation Fuel, Kerosene, Stoddard Solvent, and Naphtha
Primus OmniFuel StoveWhite Gas, Unleaded Gasoline, Diesel, Aviation Fuel, Kerosene
Primus Omnilite TI StoveWhite Gas, Isobutane-Propane Canisters, Unleaded Gasoline, Diesel, Aviation Fuel, Kerosene
Trangia X2 Multifuel BurnerWhite Gas, Isobutane-Propane Canisters, Unleaded Gasoline, Diesel, Kerosene, Denatured Alcohol

Camping Stove Safety

Camping stoves should be used outside your tent. It might be tempting to cook and warm your tent at the same time. Don’t! Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur when used in an enclosed location and there is a risk of catching your tent on fire. Other options are available for keeping warm in your tent during winter.

Liquid Fuel Camping Stove Maintenance

A great benefit of liquid fuel stoves is that they’re easy to maintain. Annual maintenance is recommended to ensure years of reliable use though it’s important to note that dirtier fuels like unleaded gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and others may clog your stove and increase maintenance and cleaning.

If using an MSR stove, two maintenance kits are worth considering. The Annual Maintenance Kit and while it’s rare that you’d have an issue while you’re on an adventure, the Expedition Service Kit is an essential safety item. When you’re depending on your stove, it pays to be prepared.