Compressed Gas Canister Selection in Compact Stoves

There are many types of compact stoves available on the market today. Some of the most lightweight, ultracompact stoves available for hiking, trekking, backpacking, and climbing are fueled by compressed gas. In this article we’ll talk about the types of compressed gas cartriges available for your compact stove.

Compact Stove Compressed Gas Canisters Featured

Most manufacturers of compressed gas stoves use gas canisters coming in 100g, 230g or 450g sizes. The canisters typically consist of a mixture containing propane, isobutane and butane in various quantities. The design of the threaded connection on many of these canisters manufactured in the US is called a Lindal Valve. As long as the manufacturer states that the canister is designed with the Lindal Valve, it should be physically compatible with all stoves using this threaded connection and the canisters can be used interchangeably. Notably, some manufacturers claim the threads are compliant with EN417 or DOT safety standards however these do not specify thread size. Older canister types and some found internationally have a puncture type canister which requires a special adapter and cannot be removed and safely reattached to the stove.

Note however that most manufacturers only recommend using their own brand of canisters with their stoves. The primary reason for this is for liability reasons due to the fact that they cannot control the contents and design of other canisters. Obviously also, the manufacturer desires to sell their own brand.

Gas Concentrations and Performance

The gas concentrations in the various commercially available canisters differ and this must be taken into account if you decide to pick up a different canister brand than the stove you are using.

Propane has the lowest boiling point of the three primary gases in small stove canisters at -44F. This means that canisters with higher amounts of propane will perform better in lower ambient temperatures. However, propane has a significantly higher pressure than both butane and isobutane. Therefore, using more than 30% propane would require a thicker, heavier canister than standard compact canisters currently sold. Also, stoves designed to run on the lower pressure gases may not be able to withstand the high pressure of propane which could result in dangerous leaks and damage to the stove.

Butane has the highest boiling point of all three of the main gases at 34F making it perform poorly at temperatures near or below this point but burn the longest in the summertime. Isobutane with a boiling point of 16F performs much better than butane in colder temperatures however it isn’t suggested to be used as a direct substitute on a stove designed for butane because it does have a higher vapor pressure and just like propane, could result in damage or dangerous leaks on a butane-only stove.

At higher altitudes, the atmospheric pressure is lower resulting in the gases being more easily vaporized. This means that at higher points on the mountain, the cold weather affect of not being able to burn the higher boiling point fuels will begin to be offset by the elevation gain. This is good as it allows you to utilize these fuels which you wouldn’t normally be able to do at lower temperatures however the flame temperature on your pot will also be decreased, meaning it will take longer to cook your food. Therefore when planning trips of higher elevation it would be suggested to bring a little extra fuel.

Windspeed should be taken into account also when using a gas fueled stove. The higher the windspeed, the more likely the flame and the heat generated by the flame will be driven away from your pot. There are several options for dealing with the wind including designed in cross sectional windclips on units like the MSR Pocketrocket or even using a separate windscreen around the stove. Many manufacturers warn consumers not to use a windscreen around the canister stove as it could cause the canister to overheat and explode.

Some manufacturers have created their own windscreens and sell them typically with units that have the canister separated from the stove (MSR Windpro II, Jetboil Helios, Optimus Vega, Primus Gravity EF). For other units which have the stove mounted atop the canister it is suggested to use a windbreak such as a pile of rocks, logs, etc. and leave one side open to allow for sufficient heat loss from the canister. The key is to keep the canister temperature at a temperature that it is safe to touch, if you begin feeling the canister heating up, turn the stove off and readjust your windbreak.

Name Mixture Sizes Lindal Valve Weather Performance
Jetboil Jetpower 70% Iso-butane, 25% propane, 5% butane 100g, 230g, 450g Yes Cold
Optimus Gas 50% Butane, 25% Isobutane, 25% Propane 100g, 230g, 450g Yes Warm
MSR Isopro 80% Iso-butane, 20% propane 4oz, 8 oz Yes Cold
Primus PowerGas 25% Iso-butane, 25% propane, 50% butane 100g, 230g, 450g Yes Warm
Snow Peak GigaPower 15% Propane, 85% Iso-Butane Mixture 110g, 250g, 500g Yes Cold
Coleman 3250-702T 70% Butane, 30% Propane 250g Yes Warm
Kovea 75% butane, 25% propane 250g Yes Warm
Brunton (Bruntane) 80% Iso-butane, 20% propane 4oz, 8 oz, 16oz Yes Cold

Determining the Amount of Remaining Gas

One of the challenges when dealing with gas canisters versus liquid fuel is you cannot see the amount of fuel remaining in the canister. Thus for many people planning a trip they just go out and purchase a new canister or two to make sure they will have enough fuel. A simple way to track your fuel usage in the gas canisters is to get two of the same canisters and use one up completely. Then place both upright into lukewarm water. Using a permanent marker, mark the waterline on each canister and remove them from the water. Then, using a strip of plastic or similar material, transfer the locations of these marks so you have in effect a gas level measuring tape. Save this tape and use it in the future on the same types of gas canisters to gage how full the canister is both at home and in the field.

Alternatively, you can place the tape next to each new canister you purchase and mark the waterline locations on the new canister before use. Then, out in the field you can pop the canister in some water to determine how full it is.

Handling Empty Canisters

jetboilcrunchitOnce you’ve used up all the fuel in the canister it needs to be safely disposed of. To properly recycle the canister, any remaining gas should be released and the canister properly punctured to indicate it is safe. Jetboil created a tool a couple years ago called the “CrunchIt” which takes care of this so you can either properly recycle it or throw it in the trash without having to worry.


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