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Playing with Fire – Propane for Winter Backpacking

Backpacking Canister Stove, Kovea LPG Adapter, and a Coleman style Propane Fuel Canister
Backpacking Canister Stove, Kovea LPG Adapter, and a Coleman style Propane Fuel Canister

Note: This is a cautionary tale. Propane is a highly flammable and potentially explosive gas. Backpacking stoves are not designed to operate on 100% propane mixes. Use at your own risk. Risk includes loss of property, serious injury, and death. 

I have been pondering the use of propane for winter camping because it burns down to -44 degrees fahrenheit (isobutane/propane mixes stop at about 15 degrees) and it is much more convenient for winter camping than white gas. Canister stoves are also safer for cooking in a shelter during a storm (do so at your own risk and only with extremely good ventilation) because canister stoves don’t have to be primed like a white gas stove, which can set fire to your tent.

The Problem with Propane

But the problem with propane for winter backpacking has always been the weight of the green Coleman cylinders it comes in  and the weight of the heavy Coleman style stoves that fit onto the green tanks.

But if you do some back of the envelope math, the weight difference between carrying a propane tank for one person to melt snow and cook with vs. white gas isn’t that bad if you could use propane with a lightweight backpacking canister stove like the Soto OD-R1.

Back of the envelope calculation for a 1 person, 1 night winter trip:


The benefits of propane are even better if you figure that one propane tank could satisfy the snow melting and cooking needs of two people per day: 34.4 ounces for a propane powered system and 51.4 for a white gas system (non including a windscreen and a cook pot).

The Kovea LPG Adapter

I thought I’d found a workaround for this issue when I stumbled on to the Kovea LPG Adapter at Amazon.com, which lets you use a green Coleman style propane tank with a conventional isobutane burner. The adapter is a 3.6 ounce chunk of metal that marries a green tank onto a threaded lightweight backing-style stove.

Kovea LPG Adapter
Kovea LPG Adapter

One end screws onto the green tank, and the other mates with a standard threaded backpacking canister stove. I fitted the adapter to a Snowpeak Gigapower stove I have and a green Coleman propane tank. The gas came out rather forcefully under pressure, but burned fine when I lit the stove. I was excited, but my wife was a little appalled.

Not Such a Great Idea

I thought about the implications of this experiment and decided I’d demonstrated the proof of concept that you can marry a propane tank with a canister stove. But while Kovea, a highly rated Korean stove manufacturer sells this adapter on Amazon, it’s really only designed for their stove components, not necessarily general purpose use with anyone else’s components.

While there are stove compatibility standards that dictate the tolerances that facilitate broad compatibility between threaded canister stoves and isobutane-style fuel canisters, I’m not willing to bet my life on the whether the Kovea LPG Adapter is compatible with the larger set of propane canisters and threaded canister stoves available today. I prefer hiking and backpacking to being set on fire or blown up!

As a for instance, my Soto OD-1R stove is not compatible with the Kovea LPG Adapter. 

Before I proceed any further, I’m going talk to Jim Barbour at Adventures in Stoving for his advice. It sounds like I can use the the Kovea LPG adapter with a Kovea canister stove and a propane canister, but Jim will probably know if this is a safe idea or not.

Fiddling with the Kovea LPG Adapter was interesting, but I think it’s like playing with fire and probably something you should avoid unless you really know what you are doing and understand the risks.

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  1. Hikin’ Jim is the expert. Good idea to contact him. “Safety is no accident.”

    • And when using a canister stove vertically with a propane tank causes it to have a higher center of gravity making a pot more difficult to keep balanced (especially when vibrating from boiling).

  2. I do not use propane. I use a msr dragon fly with white fuel.

    The used purposes are personal hiking and SAR. The reasoning behind the choice I made:
    I like to leave for every hike or outing with a full bottle and a known burn time. I have 3 sizes of bottles, Little one for a weekend outing and larger ones for cold weather and more anticipated burns.
    I don’t know how one could calculate the burn time left in a propane bottle under various temperature conditions. Does one have to carry 2 bottles on a hike to make sure you use it all? How does one properly dispose of those green bottles? I know people who have a pile of them.
    I have used a bit of the fuel when starting a wood fire. Lazy way, Yes! It was cold, dark and minimal kindling. But, it was quick!

    The good thing about the propane system is the quick set up. Screw the burner on to the bottle and away you go. No need to pump anything up to get proper pressure. Setting up the dragon fly in the dark with numb fingers can be an issue. There is also that initial “flare up” (at least there is when I do it!) when firing up the unit. I try to prepare everything in a shelter and take the unit out for the start up. The dragon fly has a lot of little parts, fold outs etc. Things can go wrong. Not a lot of parts on the propane burners. The propane burners are quieter than the msr. No such thing as stealth camping with the dragon fly. Sounds like a jet engine. Everyone within 50m can hear it!

    I did not like the idea of carrying a pressurized container or two on my back. Fear of getting punctures I guess they are of a bit sturdier material than bug spray cans, so I should get over it, I guess? LOL

    • You’d have to fall off a cliff and land on one of these propane canisters to puncture one. They weigh close to a pound empty. In cold weather, especially when snow melting is involved, there isn’t a way to accurately predict how much fuel is required even if you use white gas. In any event, I always bring more than I need, if only because I like the added safety margin. I haven’t benchmarked propane snow melting and will do so when we get snow. This is still a germ of an idea, but it does intrigue me enough to pursue it.

      The Kovea LPG adpater simply makes it more of a possibility, where one didn’t exist before.

    • 1. One can calculate burn time by weight. One would need to know the full weight of a new propane canister. Then one would weigh a partial canister before each trip. Based on the weight, you would know how many grams of fuel remain. It’s not quite as easy as opening a bottle of white gas and simply glancing inside, but with a bit of experience, one could get very accurate estimates of how much cooking time a particular canister of propane would yield.

      2. “Silent” caps are available for a Dragonfly. See Quietstove.com

  3. ” but my wife was a little appalled”

    hahahaha…and with good reason!

  4. It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye…”

    • lol.

      While the potential for something bad to happen is there, it’s not a ticking bomb waiting to go off. The chances of something happening are relatively low so long as people are careful. The most important things are to a) use appropriate components b) make sure everything is connected correctly and c) take it easy on the gas (keep a low to moderate flow).

      Compared to the hazards of priming a white gas stove inside a tent, adapting 100% propane to a backpacking stove is really safe. Of course it’s not recommended by any stove or fuel supplier and you do so completely at your own risk. Propane is highly explosive, and the potential hazard is high indeed. Do your homework before trying something like this and be aware that you’re taking on some risk. It’s up to the individual to determine exactly what the risk is and if the risk is acceptable or not.


  5. I use white gas during the winter and canister stoves the rest of the year. But I am transitioning to white gas year round. I’m sick of having canisters to dispose of. To me it seems a bit more “green” to use white gas as the fuel bottle is almost infinitely reusable. The lower cost per ounce is a side benefit as well. I have been known to break out the “dinosaur” Svea 123r on occasion as there is no pumping needed, it is completely self contained and works in all weather conditions.

    • White gas definitely is “greener” than canister solutions, but in extreme cold weather, reliability is key. Pumps and seals on white gas stoves frequently fail in extreme cold. Canister stoves are far more reliable in cold weather so long as the canister is warm enough to provide sufficient operating pressure. With 100% propane (boiling point -44F), you’ve got good pressure down to around -30F. I don’t think you’d have much fun with a Svea 123R in temperatures like those. Don’t get me wrong; the 123R is a great stove, but we’re talking about severe winter operating conditions in this context.


  6. I have used my Primus Omnifuel remote canister stove with winter grade gas (jet boil 4 season mix) down to -10f and it worked fine, its a bit heavy though so replaced it with a Primus Vega.

    • The cold weather proofness of white gas is not in question. This post is about using propane instead of white gas or isobutane. White gas stoves fail all the time in winter…but canister style stoves almost never do and they’re much lighter weight.

      • Propane would be the perfect solution for canister stoves. I wonder if Titanium would be a viable option for propane canisters. Sure they would be expensive but the strength of Titanium may be able to offset the weight of a steel canister. Of course I cant imagine any company making refillable Ti propane canisters. Not because of the cost but because of the liability.

      • Wonderful idea Milton! I think that would make a huge difference.

    • That’s interesting that you were able to get good pressure at -10F. Was the canister warmed beforehand? If the canister were warm, then it would make sense that you could operate your stove even when the air temperature was -10F.


  7. I think part of the reason why we have not seen any developments in light weight propane canisters is that the inverted canister stoves have largely removed the need. You can operate iso/propane mix in a remote canister stove down to really low temperatures.

    • Check your facts Ross – you only get another 10 degrees and not below 5-10 F.

      • Well, you’re both right in a way. Using, say, a 80/20 isobutane/propane mix (as in MSR brand), would give you decent pressure IF USED IN LIQUID FEED (upside down canister) down into the single digits. However, if the canister is warmed by some means (immersion in lukewarm water is very safe), then there is no theoretical limit to how cold you can operate a canister stove. Of course if it’s really cold, how does one keep the water lukewarm?

        I think using an inverted canister stove down to temperatures around 0F is pretty feasible with 80/20 isobutane/propane fuel, and you can go a little colder if you take steps to keep the canister warmed slightly, but if it gets really cold, do you really want your life to depend on your ability to supply heat to the canister? At some point, it’s better to switch to 100% propane and put up with the weight of the heavy steel canister and adapter.


  8. I think it’s smart to be very careful with propane and gas connections. I always hook everything up and test without a flame first. There should be no audible hiss nor should there be any smell of gas when things are hooked up. On and off should be smooth, and off should go all the way off — there should be a total cessation of gas flow when things are shut off. And of course NEVER remove the canister when things are still hot or there is a heat source nearby (pilot light, hot light bulb, heater, etc.).

    Also, be very cautious about opening the valve up fully until you get used to the set up. The vapor pressure in a propane canister could be much higher than in a backpacking canister, and you could overpower your stove. If you get flame “lift off” (where the flame is forced away from the burner by the high pressure), the stove could go out, but you’d have a very hot stove with lots of unburnt gas surrounding it. That would not be good. Just take it easy on the valve until you get a feel for it. There’s no rule that says you have to fully open the valve.

    It’s also smart to use Kovea components although I don’t think that’s an absolute requirement. Keep in mind that the MSR PocketRocket, MSR MicroRocket, and SnowPeak LiteMax are all in reality made by Kovea.

    However, those stoves are all upright canister stoves. You could use them, but it would be far safer to use a remote canister stove (i.e. one with a hose that connects to the fuel) so that you can lay the propane tank on its side. If you are running with an upright stove on top of a propane canister and the canister tips over, you could get a flare from liquid propane hitting the flame. The flame could go from small and blue to yellow and 18″ or more in size in a fraction of a second. Seriously not good. The Kovea Spider would be my first pick for this type of stove although any of Kovea’s remote canister stoves would work. Here’s a photo of the canister laid on its side which is a far safer and more stable set up. This set up also allows one to use a full windscreen — the same kind that often comes with a white gas stove, which would be highly advantageous in a winter situation.

    I have experimented with this set up some, and it does work. I don’t have temperatures cold enough in California to really prove its worth in truly low temperatures. Theoretically, it should work down to about -30F or so. This could be a real advantage to cold weather expeditions because of the greater mechanical reliability of canister stoves. This also eliminates priming although there are non-priming white gas stoves such as the Coleman Apex, Soto Muka, Snow Peak White Gas Stove (GS-010R), etc.

    Just a few thoughts on the subject,


  9. I found a note I made to myself last winter– “save a little squeeze bottle (nasel mist I guess). Fill with fuel and use to prime the stove.”
    Hmm? The night, cold logic at the time was that I could better control the amount of fuel used in the initial warm up
    I will purchase an apprpriate propane stove and try it on a day hike or with my other night hobby–star gazing (need my java on those all nighters)
    Fall is fast approaching to the north. Days are warm (25c), nights are real coolish (4c). Wouldn’t surprise me if a frost came in a couple of weeks
    Getting my fall and winter gear in order
    Enjoyed the comments. Have been thinking of a project for those green containers

  10. I like that priming idea for a white gas stove. Very clever. Check out those Kovea stoves on campsaver and amazon. Shockingly low pricies compared to other brands. Jim tells me Kovea makes OEM stoves for many of the major players, so the quality is there.

  11. Hi Jim,

    I used the canister inverted and its was fine, I did keep it in a primaloft cosy and on a piece of foam.

  12. To Mccamer. I’ve been using a little bottle filled with a special alcohol liquid that won’t make everything black and dirty. It’s unbeatable as a priming liquid. My whisperlite is the cleanest I’ve seen after several years of use. Happy stargazing:-)

  13. I use the Kovea with a Primus stove.

    The only issue I’ve had is adjusting a smaller flame and I’ve used the Primus/Kovea/1lbpropane combination for months on end.

    I camp (for extended periods) in cold climates in Canada and as anyone who does so I use propane. The Kovea affords the use of smaller stoves like the Primus which helps us keep our pack weight and bulk down.

    I have to say I fail to see any real safety concerns except where a iso/propane-butane stove’s valves can’t handle the extra pressure (highly unlikely) or the stove’s oxygen intake holes/vents are insufficient to provide enough oxygen for the higher fuel flow.

    This later point can seem to be a safety issue when lighting the stove as excessive gas may be released and then a sudden ignition occurs when the oxygen mix is ‘just right’. I say seems since the pressure differences of the fuels and the air intakes of the stoves are not so great as to incur this phenomena. A stove engineer can probably put forth the physics to back this up for different stoves or prove a real and not imagined safety issues for specific stoves.

    The Kovea does have a flat screwdriver tip pressure adjustment valve to, IMO, ease the pressure to better be able to adjust a smaller flame. I haven’t used it but I just might seeing it’s come to mind.

    In any case I’d say take the standard precautions with propane, such as checking stoves and tanks for damage, tanks for past due dates and connections for leaks with soapy water, and test the Kovea outside in an open air environment. Any delays in ignition might indicate insufficient oxygen so adjust the Kovea pressure and try again. If you get instant ignition and your stove’s valves can handle the pressure without risk of deformation and hence leaks you’re good to go.

    Happy camping!

  14. From my own experience, choosing propane stove giving me a lot of benefits especially because it’s easy to use. With smaller canister, weight is no more a problem.

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