For cold weather, the brand of gas you buy does make a difference. Typically, gas canisters contain some blend of propane mixed with either "plain" butane (n-butane) or isobutane. Some canister brands contain all three gasses. For cold weather use, you generally want a canister with as little n-butane as possible. Even though propane is the best cold weather gas, I'd take a canister with 10% propane and 90% isobutane over a canister with 30% propane and 70% n-butane. Why? Because the propane will burn off at a faster rate than the n-butane, leaving you with nothing but n-butane toward the end of your canister. Butane is a poor performer in cold weather.
|Frozen lakes and snow, Sierra Nevada Mountains|
How can we cope with cold weather? For more info on canister stoves in cold weather, see: Gas Stoves in Cold Weather – Regulator Valves and Inverted Canisters
|A frozen lake, Sierra Nevada Mountains|
GOOD WINTER GAS BRANDS:
- Olicamp Rocketfuel is the best cold weather blend available in North America – at least based on the label. It has 75% isobutane and 25% propane. It's performance will not be radically better than an 80/20 mix, but Olicamp's 75/25 is a slightly better mix – if it is pure. Any time there is isobutane, there will always be a certain percentage of plain n-butane present as well. Here, quality control is essential. Olicamp is not an actual stove company but is a brand name that distributes goods manufactured by others. How committed is Olicamp to quality control? How low is their percentage of crappy (for cold weather) n-butane? I just don't know.
- MSR is a good winter blend, 80% isobutane and 20% propane. These numbers are confirmed on MSR's website. MSR is pretty committed to the climbing and mountaineering community. They are pretty committed to quality control. I tend to trust MSR's numbers and believe that they have very low percentages of n-butane. I generally go with MSR on my cold weather trips. Your mileage may vary.
- Jetboil is also supposedly 80% isobutane and 20% propane. I have not been able to confirm these numbers. Whatever the exact percentages are, it's an isobutane mix, so it should be reasonably good for cold weather. How much n-butane does it contain? I don't know. No where will Jetboil put down in writing what their actual numbers are. This tells me that their blend may vary a lot. Jetboil wouldn't be my first choice simply because Jetboil will not commit, in writing, to any set of numbers.
- Brunton is reputedly an 80/20 mix. I have not been able to confirm these numbers. Whatever the exact percentages are, it's an isobutane mix, so it should be reasonalby good for cold weather. Again though, one has to ask what their commitment to quality control is.
- Snow Peak is 85% isobutane and 15% propane. These numbers are confirmed on Snow Peak's website. I tend to trust Snow Peak's numbers more since they are willing to commit to them in writing.
- Coleman Powermax is 65% regular butane and 35% propane. These numbers are confirmed on Coleman's website. Note: This is for Coleman Powermax fuel only and is not for Coleman's regular gas canisters. I wouldn't normally recommend a fuel containing regular butane (n-butane) for winter use, but Coleman Powermax is used in liquid feed mode, so the butane doesn't hurt anything. Indeed, Coleman Powermax fuel is the best winter capable gas blend available in the United States. Only the following three Coleman backpacking stoves can use Powermax fuel: the Xpert, the Xtreme, and the Xpedition. However, see: Update on Powermax fuel 07 Nov 2011.
BRANDS NOT RECOMMENDED* FOR WINTER USE (in no particular order)
- Coleman regular threaded canisters (not Powermax) are 30% propane and 70% butane. These numbers on on the side of the canister.
- Primus is 25 % propane, 25 % isobutane, and 50 % butane per their website. I suppose it's better than Coleman brand, but I'd still rather have a fuel with no regular butane at all.
- Optimus brand is 25% propane, 75% butane, as printed on the side of the canister. Since it contains regular butane, I wouldn't use it in cold weather.
- Glowmaster is 20% propane and 80% butane per the side of the canister.
One caveat to the above: If you're using standard threaded canisters in liquid feed mode (in other words, the canister is used upside down) or you're using a canister that is designed for liquid feed (e.g. a Powermax canister), the n-butane vs. isobutane issue matters less, although I would still generally prefer isobutane had I a choice. In liquid feed mode, the liquefied gas stays blended and all of the fuels burn together at a constant rate. With liquid feed, the propane does not burn off more quickly, and you're not left holding the bag with nothing but crummy (in cold weather) n-butane left. In other words, with liquid feed, "regular" butane isn't such a bad thing provided that you've got plenty of propane content.
For "normal" (canister right side up) use, avoid "regular" butane for cold weather.
*Because they contain "regular" butane, a very poor fuel in cold weather.
Related articles and posts:
- Cold Weather Tips for Gas Stoves
- What's the Best Gas for Cold Weather?
- Gas Stoves: How Cold Can I Go? <==Most comprehensive post on canister gas and cold
- Canisters, Cold, and Altitude: Gas in a Nutshell
- Canister Stoves 101: Thread Care
- Gas Blends and Cold Weather Performance. (Why not just use propane?)
- The "Super Gnat" (Camping Gaz or threaded canisters with one lightweight stove)
- Backpacking Gas Canisters 101
- Gas in Extreme Cold: Yes or No?
- Gas in Cold Weather: The Myth of "Fractioning"
- Stoves For Cold Weather I (Upright canister stoves) – Seattle Backpacker's Magazine
- Stoves for Cold Weather II (Inverted remote canister stoves) – Seattle Backpacker's Magazine