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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Backpacking Gas Canisters 101

What are the common canister types out there these days for backpacking use?

Basically, there are two common modern gas canisters suitable for backpackers, Camping Gaz (non-threaded) and 7/16ths UNEF threaded canisters.  Generally, stoves built for one type will not work with the other, but there are exceptions such as the relatively heavy MSR Superfly.  There are also much lighter DIY exceptions such as the "Super Gnat" that you can assemble in the matter of a few minutes.
A non-threaded CV270 Camping Gaz canister (left) and a threaded 110g Snow Peak canister (right).

Before I discuss backpacking suitable canisters, let's clear out what's not really suitable:


Canisters NOT Suitable

Non-Backpacking Canisters:  Now, there are plenty of other canisters that you could use for backpacking including the big, heavy steel 16.4 oz/465g 100% propane cylinders as well as the "hair spray can" 8oz/227g 100% butane canisters used for table side cooking in restaurants, but these are generally unsuitable for backpacking.  Not recommended.  There are also 100% butane canisters for small hand blow torches and the like.  These typically do not fit backpacking type stoves.  Not recommended.

Obsolescent Canisters:  There are also older formats including the old puncture type gas canisters that  have no valve.  There's a sharp metal "bayonet" type object on stoves that use puncture canisters.  The "bayonet" quite literally punctures the canisters.  Yes, that's right, you're ripping through the metal top of the canister in order to get to the gas.  Needless to say, this is an older type canister!  On these old style canisters, the stove must remain in place until the canister is fully empty.  There is no valve built into the canister to allow you to separate the canister from the stove (until fully empty) for safe transport.  You can still buy the old puncture type canisters, but they have been implicated in a number of accidents and are not as safe as modern canisters with valves.  Not recommended.  Note:  In some lesser developed countries, puncture type canisters may be the only gas canisters available.  Travelers should check on what canister formats are available in the countries they intend to visit before departure.

Obsolete Canisters:  There are also dozens of old canister formats that have been discontinued including Hank Roberts, Campak, and PowerMax just to name a few.   Some of these were excellent formats.  However, they are no longer produced.  I'm not going to discuss them other than to mention that they exist.

Suitable Canisters
Modern Backpacking Canisters:    OK, now we're to the meat of this post:  Today's modern backpacking canisters.  There are two common types of gas canisters suitable for backpackers, Camping Gaz (non-threaded) and 7/16ths UNEF threaded canisters.
A 230g Camping Gaz canister.
Camping Gaz Canisters:  Camping Gaz canisters are made by, well, Camping Gaz.  Camping Gaz is the only known company that produces canisters to this specification.  The connectors on Camping Gaz canisters are non threaded.  Many people consider this a superior type connector because there are no threads to wear out or cross thread.  However, in most countries of the world, threaded canisters are the standard.  To my knowledge, only in France is the Camping Gaz canister considered the standard.
A close up of the (non-threaded) connector on a Camping Gaz canister
Camping Gaz canisters are not necessarily universally available outside France.  Camping Gaz canisters in the US are available, but they are less available than standard threaded canisters.  If you decide to buy a stove that uses Camping Gaz type canisters, you should make sure said canisters are available in your area.
UPDATE 2016.  Camping Gaz canisters, both the old puncture type and the newer non-threaded valved type are no longer distributed in North America.  You can find some old canisters sometimes, but once those are gone, that's it.  Personally, I would no longer buy a Camping Gaz type stove with the non-threaded connector unless maybe you just want it as a collector's item.

Camping Gaz canisters have a Lindal valve inside the connector.  The valve allows the canister to be removed from the stove for safe storage or transport.

Camping Gaz canisters come in two sizes:  230g and 450g.  A smaller size in the 100g range is not available.

Camping Gaz canisters contain a blend of propane and butane.  As such, Camping Gaz canisters are not the best choice for cold weather.  See What's the Best Brand of Gas for Cold Weather?  for further information.

Standard Threaded Canisters:  In most of the developed world, the standard for gas canisters for backpacking is a threaded canister with a 7/16ths UNEF thread.
A standard threaded backpacking type canister.  This one happens to be made by Snow Peak.
Standard threaded canisters are made by dozens and dozens of companies.  Generally, canisters from one company work perfectly fine with the stoves of another company.  Some companies try to intimate that their particular canisters will somehow make their stoves run better and that you should only use that company's particular brand of gas.  That's a bunch of horse hockey.  All major brands are interchangeable.  The only time you might get into trouble is buying some brand that you've never heard of in some remote corner of the world.  Otherwise they are all mechanically about the same.  However, the gas contained within isn't necessarily.  For warm weather (above 50F/10C), buy whatever is cheapest.  For cold weather, what's inside matters.  See What's the Best Brand of Gas for Cold Weather?  for further information.

The 7/16ths UNEF threads of a standard threaded canister
Like Camping Gaz canisters, standard threaded canisters have a Lindal valve inside the connector.  The valve allows the canister to be removed from the stove for safe storage or transport.

Standard threaded canisters come in three size ranges:  small (100g to 113g), medium (220g to 230g), and large (450g).  The classes can also be expressed as 4oz, 8oz, and 16oz.  Be careful calling a canister "large."  Many stores only carry the 1xxg and 2xxg sizes.  Some people refer to the 2xxg canisters as "large."  It's best to specify what size you want in grams or ounces.

There you have it, a brief look at the basics of gas canisters.  Hopefully, that's helpful as you shop for gas or as you consider which stove to buy.

HJ


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28 comments:

  1. I was out yesterday and bought some gas. The lowest price around here was $6.99 for 8 Oz cans of MSR Isopro. The 4 Oz cans were about a dollar less, making the gas much more expensive in the small cans. What kind of surprises me is that no one appears to sell an adapter to reduce the standard propane can to 7/16". Obviously, you wouldn't want to carry the big cans around, but it would be handy to be able to use them at the trailhead.

    I finally found some Scripto butane lighters, but Amazon, the last place that I found the Soto Micro Torch, no longer has them. They do have one called "Solder-It" that uses the disposable lighters, so I ordered one. We'll see how well it works. My most immediate need is for a little torch to thaw padlocks on farm gates. I usually have to pack around a full size propane torch, so this little one could be nice. I'll probably put one in my inside coat pocket, so it should be reasonably warm when I need it.

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  2. Bill,

    Kovea does make an adapter that will adapt a conventional Coleman 16.4.oz/465g 100% propane cylinder to 7/16ths UNEF stoves. You can buy them on eBay.

    HJ

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  3. I see it now. They have it listed as an LPG adapter.

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  4. That's the one. It's stainless steel and is heavy, but it would be fine for trailhead use or around a ranch or fun.

    HJ

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  5. I don't think you can even find Camping Gaz canisters anymore. I'd love to find out where you could find them, but threaded are the only kind i can find anymore. If you know of any place to get Camping Gaz let me know please!

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  6. I suppose it depends on where you live, but there are three sources near me: the Sport Chalet chain, the Big Five Chain, and then there's an Army/Navy store that carries them.

    HJ

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  7. Hi there! That's a very good write up to clear any doubts about gas cannisters.
    If i may ask, do you know if anywhere ships threaded gas canisters to Singapore. Yes, i'm from that red dot:)

    I recently got a jetboil and realise that it requires a thread valve canister. the only available gas canister is the CampingGaz non-thread valve type. I bought a adapter from edelrid to match. But the camping Gaz canister does leak when I tried to use it again with the adapter. afraid of explosions in camp. Any Advice?

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    1. That's no good that your adapter leaks. I would definitely NOT use the adapter if it leaks.

      I've never been to Singapore, so I can't give you any advice as to where in Singapore you might find threaded canisters. Are you able to get to Malaysia? Perhaps they're available there? If not, I would try a) getting another adapter or b) buying a new stove.

      Good luck!

      HJ

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    2. Hi,

      You can try www.nalno.com for sale of a compatible canister in Singapore:
      http://www.nalno.com/component/virtuemart/stoves/max-sun-camping-butane-gas-canisters/42-695

      They have a showroom at address:
      31A Seah Street
      (This is on the 2nd floor of a shop house)

      Hope this helps.

      Varun

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  8. Thanks for a very informative and concise article HJ.

    Just one point I don't completely agree with; you mention that aerosol-type butane canisters as unsuitable for backpacking, though you didn't state the reason. I and my buddies have been using cheap butane canisters for backpacking with a remote canister stove for several seasons, and they have been great. Because the internal pressure is lower and the metal thinner, the canisters are lighter and a third to a quarter the price of Lindal valve canisters. At low temperatures it’s necessary to warm the canister for a few minutes in an inside pocket or sleeping bag before use, after that the stove keeps the canister warm. And they work better in the cold at medium altitude than at sea level.

    It seems that 75% of the time this combination of remote canister stove and butane would be a cheap and safe alternative to Lindal or Campingaz canisters. Is there something important I’m missing?

    Your informed view on this would be highly appreciated!

    M

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    1. Well, first a technical point: the 100% butane canisters have a Lindal valve. It's a "male" Lindal valve whereas Camping Gaz and threaded canisters have a female Lindal valve. And, yes, you read me correctly, Camping Gaz canisters have Lindal valves. The thing to keep in mind is that a connector is a connector and a valve is a valve. The threads on a threaded canister are the connector, not the valve which. You can't really see the valve. Anyway, that's a technical point I realize. Most people act as though "threaded" and "Lindal" meant the same thing which of course they do not.

      Now then, to your question: There's nothing horribly wrong with the bayonet connector 100% butane canisters. I just think the threaded or Camping Gaz types are more suitable for backpacking. I don't like the 100% butane canisters for backpacking because (1) the connection is generally less secure, (2) one generally has to use an adaptor with them which is extra weight, bulk, and "fiddle", (3) the caps aren't very secure and the male Lindal valve can easily be depressed by accident and the gas leak out, and (4) they don't work well at temperatures below 50F/10C -- although as you correctly point out, they work better if you gain elevation.

      You can as you mentioned, expose the canister to the flame in cold weather for improved performance, but you'd better be extremely careful about it. Get the canister too hot, and you could have an explosion or fire. It does happen. A woman recently died just north of here from that very cause. You have to constantly, frequently check the canister temperature with your bare hand. If the canister feels hot to the touch, take IMMEDIATE action to cool things down.

      Also, I'm not convinced that 100% butane canisters are meaningfully lighter, but maybe I should verify that.

      Anyway, all that to say, it's a matter of preference. I prefer the ease and solidity of threaded or Camping Gaz canisters, but the 100% butane canisters do work, and I've used them without problems.

      HJ

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  9. Thanks very much HJ for your clear and informed explanation as ever.

    I take the point about connectors and valves, and thanks for explaining why you prefer not to use pure butane canisters. Everyone has their own preference so I can’t argue with that!. But the numbers have been nagging at me for some time which is why we decided to start experimenting with butane in actual usage and see how far we could get.

    The first thing that drove me down the butane path is the extraordinary price difference between the two types of canister (230g screw value butane/propane mix $4, and 227g pure butane $1).These have essentially the same calorific value. Having used portable butane BBQ stoves quite a lot indoors and out, I could see how safe and cheap to run they are (if used properly). So when I found a 31g butane adapter for my remote canister stove, the fun really began.

    Here are some more numbers..

    - Small screw thread canister contains 100g of gas and weighs 100g when empty ($3.5)
    - Medium screw thread canisters contains 230g of gas and weights 126g to 160g when empty ($4) (cheaper screw thread canisters are heavier)
    - Pure butane aerosol type canister contains 227g of gas and weighs 80g when empty ($1)
    (these are my measurements so they need some independent verification)

    When you compare a standard 227g butane canister to a 100g screw thread canister, you get more than twice the amount of gas, for a third/quarter of the price, for the same weight (including adapter).

    When compared to a 230g screw thread canister you get almost the same amount of gas, for a third/quarter of the price, and a weigh saving of 20g to 55g (including adapter).

    (If you take several canisters for a multi-day or multi-person trip the weight of the adapter starts to disappear, the weight and cost savings starts to grow.)

    There is no doubt at all that without pre-warming, screw thread canisters work better at lower temperatures due to the much lower boiling point of propane. But if you pre-warm the butane canisters and keep it warm during use, the performance gap closes considerably. In typical above freezing temperatures where most people do most of their stove cooking, there is no significant performance difference at all with our setup which is; a Kovea Spider, butane adapter, soda can windshield and foil pie dish base.

    You are absolutely right about the need to continuously monitor the canister to make sure it does not get more than warm to touch. This should really be second nature to experienced stove users, so this is probably not something for first timers until or unless someone comes up with a good “How To” guide.

    Finally, also on the safely issue it seems that pure butane may have a couple of safety benefits over butane / propane / n-butane mixes, specifically the lower gas pressure inside the canister, and health effects of the products of combustion. I have no idea about how significant these are in relation to other potential dangers of stoves usage and I would be really interested in your views on this.

    Anyway, we are still seeing how far we can go with cheap butane. All I can say is, so far, so good, and with a $3 saving for every canister I’m thinking about what great piece of gear I should buy with the money I’ve saved so far this year.

    All the best (and apologies if this post got a bit too long!)

    M

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    1. I'm running out the door, so this isn't a full reply. More later, but I weighed an empty Kovea brand 230g sized backpacking type canister (133g) and compared that to a GasOne brand 227g sized 100% butane canister (109g), and I only found a difference of 24g. I then weighed my Kovea brand butane adapter (30g). So, basically it's a wash. The weight of a 100% butane canister + adapter is only 6g (nothing!) heavier than a Kovea brand backpacking canister.

      By the way, you've totally got the right idea going with the Kovea Spider. Not only is it an excellent stove, it's a remote canister stove. Adapters for upright canister stoves are much heavier. My primary objection to the 100% butane canisters is with upright canister stoves. The adapters are too heavy and bulky. With a remote style stove, my objection is removed, BUT you must prevent the canister from rolling. If the canister rolls while the stove is cold (or if your stove doesn't have a pre-heat loop (i.e. a "generator"), your stove will flare, and that could be very dangerous. See my Butane Adapter Warning article.

      HJ.

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    2. Camping Gaz canisters are widely available in UK and most of Europe

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    3. Unfortunately Camping Gaz canisters are no longer distributed to either North or South America. I guess that canister type never caught on in the Western Hemisphere. Would that there were a way to obtain some from Europe or something, but there isn't a way that I am aware of .

      HJ

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  10. Hi HJ

    I reweighted some butane empties on some new digital scales and got similar results to you. Thanks for pointing out my earlier inaccuracy. So just for the record, the weight saving only accrues when you carry one 30g butane adapter and more than one butane canister. And the saving is around 24g (4/5th oz) per additional butane canister.

    With my excellent Kovea Spider set up I haven’t found canister rolling to be a problem because the regulator handle and hose act as stabilisers for the horizontal butane canister, and the anti-flare tube on the stove does its job of preventing flaring if liquefied gas does enter the feed line.

    Screw thread canisters will always be the “go-to” option, but cheap butane canisters, if used with a Kovea Spider (or equivalent) and adapter, makes for a safe, lightweight, low cost and flexible backpacking fuel which should definitely be in the list of fuels to consider when planning a trip.

    I’ll let you know if we get any problems or issues with our butane fuelled approach as I’m still keen to see how far I can push it – particularly below freezing at different altitudes.

    By the way, my reading of the Trouton-Hildebrand-Everett rule is that at 9,000ft (the average elevation of the JMT) the boiling point of pure butane should be down to around -8.5°C (17°F). Does that sound right to you?

    All the best

    M

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    1. The really important thing in the weight category is that there's no weight penalty for carrying 100% butane even though you have to carry an adapter. That's quite important to many backpackers. Of course for upright canister stoves, the adapters are heavier.

      Yes, the Kovea Spider's hose should help prevent canister rolling. I'm not trying to discourage 100% butane use. it's just something that one should be aware of. Even with the "anti flare" tube, the stove will still flare until it warms up. Important cautions for the prudent.

      Trouton-Hildebrand-Everett definitely applies. I myself use a very simple rule of thumb: About 2 degrees F per 1000' elevation gain or 1 degree C per 300m. Using that rule of thumb, I come up with 13F/-10C for the boiling point of n-butane at 9000'/2740m.. Obviously this is a very rough estimate, Now the canister has to be a bit warmer, typically about 5C or 10F for an upright canister stove, than the boiling point for one to have decent operating pressure. For a liquid feed canister gas stove, a mere 2C/4F should be sufficient although it needs to be a bit warmer than that for good starting pressure -- normally you want to start the stove in vapor feed mode and then switch to liquid feed when the stove warms up. You need to remain a couple of degrees C above the boiling point of the fuel in order to continue to run the stove. Immersing the gas canister in liquid water should be sufficient at high elevation. Water that is liquid is warmer than 0C which is quite a bit warmer than the -10C (or -8.5C if your T-H-E derived number is followed) boiling point of butane at 2740m.

      I think you should do quite well on the JMT at 9000'/2740m so long as you can keep the canister in liquid water. Cool or warmish water (NOT hot!) is quite safe. You can also move the canister closer to the stove's flame, but of course that is a far more dangerous proposition. There you must frequently check the canister temperature with a bare hand. If it feels hot, cool things down immediately!!

      HJ

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  11. Hi all,

    I purchased a small campingaz collapsible stove several years ago at REI. At the time, the canisters were available at the nearby REI store (Atlanta, GA US) but sadly are no longer. I also can't find any online for a non mind-boggling price. I know I could get a threaded connection stove for not a whole lot of money but I'd rather not have to buy a bunch of new equipment for this trip and just use what I have. Is there some kind of adapter I could buy to connect a non-threaded stove to a threaded tank?

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  12. I would also like to know if there is an adapter available for the same set up as Aubyn.

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  13. Jardin bought Coleman which had bought Camping Gaz which made the canisters for the type of connection your stoves have. Jardin re-evaluated the business practices of Coleman -- and made a lot of cuts. They discontinued PowerMax gas entirely and stopped North American distribution of the puncture type canisters, the CV270/470 canisters like your stove uses, and the CV360 canisters for Rando 360 stove. There are refillers available, but they're expensive. See: http://alva.ne.jp/tumekae/ctype.html I bought one, but then I may not be the typical stove owner. ;)

    HJ

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  14. I own a Tristar stove which takes a cv470 or a cv270 cartridge. Since these cartridges are seemingly unavailable, would it be possible to modify the stove to install a threaded lindal valve system? Or does that seem like overkill? Would it be cheaper to just refill canisters? Or is there an adapter? Thanks!

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  15. I have been looking for an adapter with no luck or at least an old canister to refill also with no luck. Kovea has a refill adapter for sale (Korean made)

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  16. I am looking for an adapter for an American propane bottle to the CV270- I do not think they exist

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  17. Forgive me for not reading all the comments..if my answer is already there.
    Do you know anyone who has found an adapter to refill either a threaded or campinggaz canister from one of the larger (and hopefully cheaper) campinggaz refillable cans? I'd love to do that over here in europe.
    Thanks

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  18. I have a tripod camping stove bought in the 70's or 80's. I am unable to locate the butane cannister. It is a screw on, 5 thread, 5/16" fitting. any help in locating would be great! thanks

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    1. Hi, Patricia,

      It sounds like you might have the old Primus Grasshopper. I'm not super familiar with that stove, but if it is not compatible with the threads of
      a) the big 100% propane canisters typically used for car camping (about 16.4 oz capacity)
      or
      b) the smaller propane/butane dome shaped canisters typically used for backpacking
      then you are out of luck unless you can locate some left over from when your stove was made.

      The first place to check is eBay.


      Good luck!

      HJ

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    2. Patricia,

      I hope you see this:
      There is a solution here. I asked around, and the old Primus Grasshopper stoves, which I think is what you have, *are* compatible with the threads of the modern backpacking type canisters. However, modern canisters are wider than the area near the threads on a Grasshopper stove.

      The work around is to get an adapter, Kovea makes a good one, and then to use the cylindrical restaurant type 100% butane canisters. I have a post describing the adapter and the type of fuel canister here:
      https://adventuresinstoving.blogspot.com/2012/01/butane-adapter-warning.html

      You should pay attention to the warning. Adjustment of the flame should be accomplished by turning the "collar" on the stove. The fuel canister itself should not be turned while the stove is in operation.

      HJ

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