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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Can I Use Any Brand of Gas Canister?

Most stove companies have warnings on their backpacking stove instructions that only their brand of gas canisters should be used with their stoves.  Really?
A backpacking type canister of gas.
Um, no.  All of the threaded canisters (which at least in North America are all that are available anymore for backpacking type stoves) use a 7/16ths UNEF thread.  They're all compatible with one another from the point of the mechanical connection, and gas is gas.  There aren't any blends of canister gas out there that are incompatible with one stove or another.

And besides that, there's a lot to suggest that all the major brands except Coleman are made by the same company in South Korea.

A few years ago, I noticed MSR changed the shape of their canisters, the hue of their red color, and their caps instead of flat were more raised, had a more separated pull tab, and had a little hole and a square on top.  The following year, Snow Peak Canisters, which had relatively flat caps with “Snow Peak” molded into them became… you guessed it, more raised, had a more separated pull tab, and had a little hole and a square on top, and whereas they had always been labeled “made in Japan”, they now were clearly labeled “made in Korea”.
An old Snow Peak canister, left, and a new Snow Peak canister, right.
Note how caps have changed and that the shape of the canister has changed subtly.
Curious, I started looking at a number of different brands.  They all had the same caps, and the canister shapes were all now the same.
Gas canister from three major brands.  All have the same shape.  All have the same cap.
I looked at Primus, Optimus, Olicamp, MSR, Jetboil, Brunton, Snow Peak, and Burton.  All of these brands now had the same caps and the same canister shape, and all were made in Korea.  The only exception I could find was Coleman which is made in France.

It was pretty clear to me that whereas before there had been a diversity of canister caps, countries of origin, and canister shapes, there now was only one.  They were now all being made by the same manufacturer.

A little research revealed that the Taeyang Industrial Co. Ltd. of South Korea was the largest manufacturer of gas canisters in the world, controlling about 75% of the market.  Then, I found this photo of a Kovea gas canister on-line:
A canister of Kovea brand gas, clearly marked "Taeyang Ind. Co., Ltd.".  Note canister cap.
The cap?  You guessed it, raised, with a little hole and a square on the top, and unlike many of the major brands who for whatever reason don’t want to let on (and I have asked, directly) who makes their canisters, Kovea prints it right on the side of the canister:  “Taeyang Industrial Co. Ltd.”.

So, pretty much all the major brands are actually manufactured by the same company.  The blend of gas and the labeling may vary, but the physical canister is identical.

Before, when there were a greater number of manufacturers, one could interchange canisters because of the 7/16 UNEF standard thread.  Now, they are literally identical.

Why do stove companies say to only use their brand?  Well, to sell more canisters for one, but also for liability.  If you use some other brand of canister and something bad happens, they can say in court, "well, we warned you not to use other brands of canisters."

While it doesn't really matter which brand* of canister one buys, gas blends do vary.  The composition of gas in a canister, typically some mix of propane, isobutane, and "plain" butane, doesn't matter too much in warmer weather, say no colder than 50 Fahrenheit/10 Celsius, but the colder one goes, the more the blend of gas matters.  In cold weather, the general rule of thumb is to avoid butane and stick to canisters that have a propane-isobutane blend.  Propane is generally the best cold weather fuel – but if it's mixed with just plain butane, avoid that brand.  An isobutane blend, even if it contains less propane than another brand, is going to perform best in cold weather.  For more on this subject see What's the Best Brand of Gas for Cold Weather?.

The bottom line?  Except in cold weather, just buy whatever is cheapest.

I hope this is helpful,

HJ

*I'm speaking here of major brands in developed countries.  China, for example, has many smaller manufacturers of gas canisters.  Chinese canisters have reputation for leaky valves and for having impurities in the gas that can clog stoves.  Many travellers simply refuse to buy Chinese made canisters even if they are the cheapest in a given area.

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