Liquid Fuel Stove Guide

Melting snow with a MSR Whisperlite Stove
Melting snow with an MSR Whisperlite Stove

If you plan on winter camping or backpacking, you should get yourself a liquid fuel stove that burns petroleum distillates like white gas or kerosene instead of a canister-based stove that burns isobutane fuel. Canister gas won’t ignite in its gaseous state below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, which really limits its temperature range. While there are stoves that can burn canister gas in its liquid form (you turn the canister upside down), they also stop working reliably at 0 degrees, while a liquid fuel stove will merrily burn away down to 40 below zero. Liquid fuel is also more readily available internationally than canister gas, which is handy is you backpack or trek in less developed countries.

Liquid fuel stoves consist of a tank to hold the fuel, a pump to create pressure in the tank so the fuel will flow out through the fuel line, a valve to control fuel flow, and a burner where the gas mixes with air and burns.  Some stoves such as the MSR Whisperlite Universal can burn isobutane in canisters as well as liquid fuel, making them a good choice if you want to ability to switch between the two. The Whisperlite Universal has an added advantage of being a remote canister stove which means it can be used with a windscreen to increase its efficiency since there’s no need to screw the stove directly to the canister where it can explode if it gets too hot.

What is White Gas?

All liquid fuel stoves burn a fuel called white gas. White gas is a very pure form of gasoline that does not contain any additives. Many liquid fuel stoves, particularly those intended for international (non-North American) use, also burn other, dirtier forms of gasoline including kerosene, diesel, unleaded auto fuel, or jet fuel that are more readily available in places that do not stock specialized camping stove fuels. These other fuels share the high heat output and low temperature properties of white gas but may clog your stove and increase the frequency in which you have to clean it. White gas is also self-priming, whereas other fuels such as kerosene require that you bring a second more volatile fuel such as primer paste or alcohol to heat up your stove (by setting it on fire, basically) so that it reaches a temperature where it can vaporize white gas a burn it.

Some liquid stove manufacturers recommend that you use proprietary white gas formulations with their stoves such as Coleman Fuel or MSR Superfuel. These are all just branded variants of white gas. I use MSR Superfuel myself, but mainly out of convenience (to be honest) since it’s easy to pick up at my local REI.

Liquid Fuel Stove Comparison

There are quite a few liquid fuel stoves on the market. I’ve listed the best the ones I could find below, including their weight (including stove and pump, but not fuel bottle), the fuels they burn and their MSRP.

Some of these stoves provide simmering capabilities. It is arguable that this is an unnecessary feature if you will just be using your stove to melt snow or boil water. If you plan on using your stove in the US or Canada, it is probably not necessary to pay a premium for the ability to burn fuels other than white gas. However, if you are traveling internationally, make sure to purchase a stove that lets you burn other fuels such as kerosene or even jet fuel, which are readily available in other parts of the world.

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15 comments

  1. I've owned the Whisperlite Internationale for quite a few years, and am always pleased with its performance. Burns just about any fuel you throw at it (some burn more efficiently and cleaner, of course) and is bomb-proof.

  2. I'm leaning toward the MSR simmerlite myself. It's not a coincidence that it is the lightest in the bunch. I won't need the simmering function to melt snow, and I like the fact that you can clean the MSRs by shaking them. I don't know if that works, but it sounds easy. Stoves that require the purchase of an annual maintenance kit sound cranky.

  3. How safe to use it in a tent To cook as well as warm the tent

    • OK to use a stove inside your tent if you:
      a. Never spill anything
      b. Have a fireproof tent, and
      c. Can tolerate high levels of carbon monoxide.

      For the sake of clarity, I am being sarcastic as hell. NEVER fire up your stove in your tent unless you are desperate, and even then your tent must have an “expedition tent” vent.

  4. Using white gas in a tent for cooking or warming is incredibly dangerous. I don't think you should ever do this. You are begging for death from a fireball or carbon monoxide poisoning. Seriously, russian roulette is safer.

  5. Chris (i-cjw.com)

    On the subject of cannister stoves for winter, I wonder if you've seen the <a href"http://www.rei.com/product/769449&quot; rel="nofollow">JetBoil Helios system? The inverted cartridge means it draws off a constant propane/(iso)butane liquid mix – which means efficiency doesn't fall (as you don't simply end up burning off all the propane) – and there's very little evaporative energy loss to chill the catridge below its vapor point. The specs say it works to -10 degrees F.

    I'm a big fan of their PCS system (and can usually get it working well even in cold temperatures by keeping the catridge warm – you do need propane mix catridges though). I'm tempted to take a look at the Helios, and see if it can be converted for use with the PCS cup to lighten the load.

  6. I've seen it, but haven't looked at it closely or tried it. I believe the theory behind turning the canister upside down is that it compensates for the pressure loss when your fuel gets low. I saw an article about this on BPL. In a liquid stove, you can compensate for this by pumping. Definitely worth a try since the safety improvement of canisters over white gas is indisputable. Nasty stuff that white gas.

  7. I have the Msr Dragonfly and if you look at the MSR site, it will burn about all types of fuel. It is a good stove, but maybe a little overkill and it sounds like a jet engine running.

  8. I purchased a SVEA 123R this winter and am thrilled with it.

    It is heavy and loud.

    I carry an eye dropper to add the gas into the priming port so that I can prime it with the windscreen attached.

    I was camped in the backyard at -5 deg with a good wind and I was able to light off on the first try.

    Just a lot of fun.

  9. I've been looking at the SVEA myself. Beautifully designed piece of equipment.

    • i’ve been using svea since 1975 (i keep giving them away as gifts because people love them) the sea is my favorite cold and wet weather stove. otherwise i use a folding twig stove

  10. i have had the dragonfly since it first came out and still have it and take on trips up in the mountains it burnrns most fules unlike what the chart above says it dose iv even used naptha and trico ethylene with great sucsess and you shouldnt use any stove in a tent by rights having said that i have done it without turning myself into a fire ball and yes it dose sound like a jet engine when on full flame its scares the shit out of you the first time but you soon get used to it

  11. I've used a Svea 123 since the late 1970's. Have tried numerous other stoves over the years, but always choose the Svea when I go out for longer than an overnighter. Rock solid reliability and it produces plenty of heat to melt copious amounts of snow. I have a pump attachment but never use it, even in bitter cold. Only real drawback it it is a noisy bugger on a quiet morning!

  12. ++++++++ on the svea. Used mine for 40+ years now with out a single problem. Go Retro!

  13. Actually, for mountaineering you can use gas cartridges. As the air pressure is lower, the liquid gas will gasify in even lower temperatures.

    For using gasoline, paraffin and other liquid fuels inside a tent, the trick is to know your stove well. When I bought my first pressurized liquid fuelled stove, I read the “what not to do” instructions and then went outside to do them. After I was satisfied that I could produce a realiable fireball I figured out that I was competent to also not produce a fireball.

    Also, in the Nordic countries Trangia is very popular. Not the burner, but the whole setup, with hard windshields, two pots and the frying pan. And you can make Trangia flare, if you get the burner hot enough. I have done this once inside an overheated cabin (young boys and a fireplace) and several times using the Trangia winter kit (the heater below the burner) in summer time.

    kiravuo

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