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Liquid Fuel – White Gas Stove Guide

Liquid Fuel White Gas Stove GuideIf you plan on winter camping or backpacking in temperatures below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, you should consider getting 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, like the Kovea Spider that can burn canister gas in its liquid form (you turn the canister upside down), they also stop working reliably at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, while a liquid fuel stove will merrily burn away down to 40 below zero Fahrenheit. Liquid fuel is also more readily available internationally than canister gas, which is handy if 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 the 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.

MSR Superfuel is very clean, highly refined white gas
MSR Superfuel is highly refined white gas

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 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 most popular, including their weight (including stove and pump, but not fuel bottle), and the fuels they burn.

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, paying a premium for the ability to burn fuels other than white gas is probably not necessary. 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.

Updated October 2023.

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  1. Two useful tip seen in your photo but not in the text:

    1) Wrap duct tape or Leukotape around the fuel bottle. This helps keep your damp fingers from touching the metal and freezing to it. I wear a very thin pair of silk glove liners when it gets below zero to be sure my bare skin is protected from direct contact with metal. Be aware that if you spill fuel on your hands, it will super chill them as it evaporates.

    2) A pie tin make a great reflector to keep the heat of the stove from melting a divot into the stove if you are cooking on snow. I go one further. I use a plumbers carbon-fiber flame retarding pad trimmed to fit between two pie tins. This provides insulation, wont burn if fuel spills, and the double tins make a more ridged and flatter base for the stove.

  2. I am pleased that the SVEA 123 made your list. The old SVEA and Optimus stoves were reliable work horses in the days before ultra light. I continue to use an Optimus 8R that I bought in 1973 and have carried ever since. I also have an MSR Whisperlite which is mentioned often, a great stove, but the Whisperlite is difficult to start for some, and lacks control to simmer. I find the old Optimus/SVEA stoves easy to start, and they can be turned to a low heat. The Optimus/SVEA stoves are comparable to the Whisperlites in weight, and I find them to be more efficient burners reducing the amount of fuel I have to carry.

    • I can simmer with a whisperlite and they’re easy to start. You just need to have a light touch.

    • I’ve been using a Svea thats older than I am. It really is an easier system when maintenance is factored in but I’m always the last at camp with a boil. The comparison above makes it seem like the Svea is considerably heavier but fails to mention that you don’t need a fuel bottle for the Svea for a typical overnight and the MSR stove weights don’t include the required fuel bottle that adds an additional 5-ish ounces for similar capacity.

      • I put a disk of an old karrimat under the svea to insulate from the ground and ensure it has an air pocket under the tank. I do tend to use my edelrid hexon multifuel more now though. I put a berniedawg silent damper on it and works a treat. It simmers best out of all petrol stoves I’ve used.

  3. (a small typo at the end of the first very long paragraph:

    “..where it can vaporize white gas a burn it”)

  4. Excellent information here. Thanks Philip. Many new backpackers have you to thank for helping them make the best gear choices – and so do some of we old farts.
    I use my MSR Whisperlite Universal 3 fuel stove in white gas mode for winter camping because that mode is dead RELIABLE.
    **But… I bought a very nice Chinese “Fire Maple Blade 2” remote canister stove for my two grandsons because it is stable and teenagers are not known for being responsible. The BLADE 2 (not plain “BLADE”) is the version with a vaporizing loop beside the burner and a rotating canister attachment. This permits you to invert the canister in colder weather. At 4.75 oz. it is light due to its titanium pot supports/legs. I highly recommend this stove.

    • BTW, I STILL have my SVEA 124, the pump and a SIGG Tourist cook set. Many good memories with those. a NorthFace Ruthsack and tarp tents in Pennsylvania’s woods.

  5. It seems like companies have largely given up on developing new white gas stoves now. They haven’t apparently changed since the Whisperlite Universal and the OmniLite Ti, which weren’t even truly new stoves, since they’re basically refinements on existing white gas stoves.

    I still prefer white gas because of the waste and fuel availability factors, but I keep hoping for lighter white gas stoves, but I’m guessing there isn’t enough interest from the market.

    • Try Soto – they keep innovating.

      • Soto stormbreaker is quite the impressive stove maybe Trail Designs will get them back in stock if not try the british gear shops. Cooked dinner at 0 degrees F with no problem. No preheating/priming Awesome !!! Like a liquid fuel windmaster

      • Soto stormbreaker gets my vote. Hard to find though check the uk sites or japan. No priming or pre heating . Like a windmaster but liquid fuel and cannister too. Hiking Jim might like this one! Cooked my dinner outside during christmas cold snap at 0 deg F 20 mph wind No wind screen and simmered too!!

  6. White gas, at least the Coleman version, is not additive free gasoline. It is a petroleum distillate referred to as naptha. Also diesel fuel and kerosene are not forms of gasoline.

    I have an old two lever Coleman Peak 1 with the integrated fuel canister, a Coleman Peak 1 with the separate fuel canister and pump, and some model MSR that uses an inverted canister. I use the MSR even in winter since it is lighter and the inverted canister works good even in cold weather.

    Thanks for a good article

  7. In a North American winter, I use the Kovea Spider with an Ocelot windscreen: 6oz plus 4oz for the screen, Less than 1/3 the price of the Stormbreaker. $75. at Amazon. (But I am not cooking in -50 F [LOL!])

  8. Are there any liquid fuel stoves that are quiet(er) these days?

    I guess my best bet might be something like the Whisperlite Universal so I get cold weather performance and can switch over to canister mode when possible?

  9. All the weights seem to be wrong and not comparable.

    Like the Svea 123 is here 19 OZ which is the weight of the burner with fuel tank + windshield + pot that comes with it.

    Then the whisperlite is at 11 OZ but that is less than the weight of just the burner and the fuel pump. Not including the weight of the bottle or windhsield

  10. The issue with bottle gas is explained in the first paragraph of Philip Werner’s write up. Neither Butane nor Isobutane are good in cold weather. Propane is very good, notice those big white tanks outside many homes. Those are liquid Propane tanks.

    If you do not want to use white gas, it is an excellent choice, the following is why to use propane during cold weather:

    Butane: Boiling point of butane is -2 degrees Celsius (28.4 Fahrenheit). When it reaches that temperature, it cannot gas out. It is the reason butane gas cylinder might not work as effectively in colder weather as low temperatures make it difficult to produce gas vapor.

    Propane: Boiling temperature of propane is -42.04 Celsius (-43.672 Fahrenheit), burr that is cold. Meaning it would have to reach those temperatures before Propane could not properly gas out. It is the reason propane for fuel is considerably a better choice than Butane.

    Hope this helps everyone.

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