Campers and backpackers love debating the best quality stove and fuel combinations to cook food quickly, the lightest weight, lowest cost, and safest to use.
We’ve got an in-depth guide to help you choose between white gas vs. kerosene for your campsite cooking and trips on the trail.
Differences Between White Gas & Kerosene
Both are liquid fuels. White gas is also known as naphtha gas or often called Coleman fuel because of the popularity of the well-known brand sold to campers since 1900.
It’s clear, with little odor, and is usually sold in one-gallon tins.
It burns cleanly thanks to its high carbon content, with no difference in performance between generic and more expensive name brands.
Kerosene, sometimes called paraffin, is used not only by campers but internationally is also used for cooking, heating, and aviation fuel.
It’s readily available in the US for use with a wide selection of stoves and lanterns. It’s sometimes sold with a blue-dye color to avoid confusion with other fuels.
Stove Type Influences Gas Choice
The fuel you choose depends on the kind of stove you prefer. There’s a big collection of stoves, lanterns, and heaters available for use with each fuel.
Multi-fuel stoves burn both white gas and kerosene but don’t mix the two types for safety and protect your fuel and gear.
Among the top-rated camp stoves using white gas are MSR, Primus, Optimus, and the Kovea Spider stove.
Popular kerosene stoves include models from Primus, BRS, Coleman, and Lixada. Many of these models are multi-fuel stoves, so check your specs carefully before you buy.
A versatile choice for a two-burner, multi-fuel, tabletop unit for basecamp or car camping is the Coleman Guide Series Dual Fuel stove.
Critical Factors in Choosing Your Fuel
Besides stove type, there are three critical factors to consider when choosing between white gas vs. kerosene.
White gas burns at high efficiency, using less fuel for cooking compared to kerosene. It is the preferred fuel for cold-weather hikers and higher altitude backpackers.
It also burns more cleanly with few additives, leaving few deposits and requiring less cleaning of equipment.
Because it burns hotter and needs to be primed and pumped, white gas is more work to use than other fuels, but it’s well worth it for the high-efficiency heat it creates for cooking or melting snow.
I give it a slight advantage over kerosene when it comes to performance.
Kerosene, which has been around since Canadian Abraham Gessner invented it in 1854, is safe and easy to use.
With a higher flashpoint of 100°F compared to naphtha, it burns more slowly and can leave noticeable soot deposits behind.
It’s essential to regularly check and clean your fuel lines and burners, especially if you’re using kerosene.
Both fuels are easy to use, but both need priming and pumping before using them, compared to pressurized containers.
Just don’t use too much of it when priming to avoid the risk of fire, spilling, or wasting your fuel.
Always use your stove outdoors instead of in your tent because your stove can flare up.
Where to Buy Your Gas
White gas, commonly called camp fuel, is widely available at most outdoor stores, hardware stores, and sporting goods departments in large chain stores.
Depending on the brand, it costs anywhere from $8.50-$18.00 for a 32-oz. container. There are several more expensive premium brands for purists.
Don’t worry about paying more for a “premium brand” because there’s little difference in performance.
Kerosene is also readily available at similar retailers and usually costs one-third less than gas. Both are much less expensive than pre-packaged canisters of other fuels.
That means less impact on the environment than empty, non-reusable propane, butane, or other pressurized gas containers. Plus, your load gets lighter as you use up your liquid or fuel supply.
Best Liquid Camping Gas Containers
Luckily, there are lots of choices for storing your gas safely and preventing leaks. If you’re not going backcountry, keep your liquid fuels in their original containers.
When choosing a gas container, spend a little extra money to get high quality, seamless aluminum bottles with replaceable seals to eliminate spills and leakage.
SIGG, Trangia, Optimus, and Primus are excellent choices.
How Long Do White Gas and Kerosene Last?
White gas lasts from five to seven years when a container is not opened. After opening, it can last about a year if stored in a cool and dry location.
By contrast, kerosene has a shorter shelf life of up to five years, depending on storage conditions.
Condensation can add water, and bacteria and mold can further break down the fuel by creating sludge.
If you see bubbles or floating particles, it’s time to dispose of it. Adding a fuel stabilizer every year can slow kerosene breakdown.
According to MSR experts, if you spill white gas, it leaves minimal staining or long-lasting odor. A kerosene spill will leave a noticeable stain and odor.
I have heard that coffee grounds inside a backpack or inside a bag with the affected gear can sometimes reduce the odor noticeably.
Otherwise, you’re looking at replacing affected equipment if you can’t stand the lingering smell.
When handled, carried, and properly stored, both fuels are safe to use. Like any petroleum product, safe disposal is also vital for our environment.
Don’t even think about using it for other purposes. The only super safe way to dispose of old petroleum products is at your local hazmat or recycling location.
The same thing goes for old fuel containers and canisters of propane, butane, and other fuels considered hazardous waste in most places.
Please take extra care of our planet!
Both kerosene and white gas are popular with campers and backpackers for their availability, reliability, and reasonable cost.
So, pick your favorite stove, check the manufacturer’s directions, pair it with the right fuel, and head off to the backcountry.
image: Deposit Photos