The one exception to the above is Coleman gas canisters. At least for the Coleman canisters with the orange label, Coleman canisters do not work consistently with many brands of stoves. You can however use Coleman canisters which are very cheap at Walmart to refill other canisters. See: Refilling Backpacking Canisters II.
NOTE: This post was last updated on 11 April 2017.
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, June 2014|
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, June 2014|
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. How committed is Olicamp to quality control? I don't know, but generally Olicamp Rocket Fuel's reputation is good. Olicamp specifically advertises their blend, so they are clearly aware of the implications of the mix and are marketing it on that basis.
- 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.
- 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. This mix isn't quite as good as Olicamp's or MSR's but is still a reasonably good mix.
BRANDS OF UNKNOWN QUALITY (in no particular order):
- Jetboil is supposedly 80% isobutane and 20% propane. Possibly. I have not been able to confirm these numbers. 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 varies a lot. Jetboil wouldn't be my first choice simply because Jetboil will not commit, in writing, to any set of numbers. My understanding is that they can have more than 5% n-butane and still advertise that their mix as "isobutane" so long as it's mostly isobutane.
- Brunton is reputedly an 80/20 mix. Maybe. I have not been able to confirm these numbers. Brunton's reputation isn't that good in cold weather. They may have a relatively high percentage of n-butane (which again they can advertise as isobutane so long as the majority of the butane is isobutane). Brunton would not be my first choice since they won't commit to a particular blend.
- Sterno is an isobutane mix according to the label on their cans. What is the mix? Unknown. How much n-butane does their "isobutane" mix contain? Unknown. If nothing else were available, I guess you could go with it, but I myself would probably go with a brand that will commit to a certain set of numbers.
- GSI, likewise, is an isobutane mix according to the label on their cans. What is the mix? Unknown. How much n-butane does their "isobutane" mix contain? Unknown. If nothing else were available, I guess you could go with it. I'd rather have a commitment, but sometimes you don't have every brand available at a given location. I'd go with an "unknown" like GSI over a known mix if the known mix were labeled as containing n-butane.
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. Note that this is their "regular" mix. They do have a winter mix and a summer mix. Definitely don't use the summer mix for cold weather! The winter mix may be good, but I haven't been able to track down any numbers.
- 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