Your Current Camping Stove Probably Won’t Cut It

You’re an “ultralight” backpacker who just finished a thru-hike with your canister-burning Jetboil PCS stove, or a Coloradan who has bagged a number of 14′ers with only your homemade denatured alcohol stove (aka. “Coke can stove”) to get you through, but now you are thinking about heading further afield – say Patagonia in South America or the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Will your current setup stand you in good stead overseas, or do you need to consider a different solution to your stove/fuel situation?

denatured alcohol stove - homemade soda can stove

Homemade denatured alcohol-burning “soda can” stoves are popular with fast-and-light enthusiasts but lack the versatility to be a reliable option internationally.

Rather than relying on a stove that only accepts one kind of fuel (especially a prepackaged fuel like isobutane canisters), opting for a multi-fuel stove is a much wiser and more versatile option when adventuring internationally, plus as we saw recently, liquid fuel stoves perform better in cold weather and high altitude situations.

Now that you have a stove that offers options, how do you determine which fuel is the best choice for your liquid fuel stove? To make your decision, first and foremost make sure to read your stove’s instruction manual for specific guidelines about which fuels are compatible with your stove and which to steer clear of.

Then, consult the following list for the pros and cons of the most widely available fuel choices around the world:

White Gas

Pros Cons
A majority of multi-fuel stoves will burn white gas (sometimes called “Coleman fuel” or “naphtha”) and it is widely available around the globe. White gas begins to degrade when exposed to the air, necessitating thorough cleaning of stoves after use, especially if your stove is not going to be used regularly.
White gas is free of additives, causing it to burn cleaner and minimizing clogs in your stove’s fuel line.
Igniting white gas is similarly easy to lighting a canister-fuel stove.
Stove maintenance and cleaning are simple and straightforward when burning white gas.

 

gasoline station in Asia

Petrol, or gasoline, is widely available around the world but is a poor choice of fuel for most camping stoves.

Petrol or Gasoline

 

Pros – None except as a last-ditch solution, when considering using it in a camping stove.

 

Cons - Though chemically similar to white gas, petrol is on the other end of the usefulness spectrum: performance additives can cause problems with a stove’s seals and gaskets and lead to corrosion in the stove’s inner workings, as well as creating more smoke and fumes than other fuel options.

 
 
 

Diesel

Pros Cons
Inexpensive Diesel is largely unrefined, meaning that it is messy to work with and store, and has a distinct odor that many find disagreeable.
 Available in many places around the world. Diesel presents practical challenges during use, such as initial ignition of the stove and flareups during use.
Not always a fuel type that multi-fuel stoves will accommodate.
 

Kerosene

Pros Cons
This ubiquitous fuel is available almost everywhere around the world. In many ways, kerosene is similar to diesel: difficult to ignite, messy to deal with, and pungent.
In addition to being widely prevalent, kerosene is inexpensive. Varying levels of quality can lead to fuel line clogs and erratic behavior during use.
Most multi-fuel stoves will burn kerosene.
 
 

Other fuel options, such as biodiesel, jet/aviation fuel, denatured alcohol, or mineral spirits, may be available options but should be researched before using. Some fuels will prove incompatible with your stove, while others will be more of a nuisance than they are worth.

 

To read more about fuel options, see MSR’s article which this post is based on: Choosing the Right Fuel for Your Liquid Fuel Stove

List of liquid fuel names in other languages (also from MSR)