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:
- Coleman propane gas bottle with fuel: 31 ounces
- Soto OD-1R canister stove: 2.6 ounces
- Total = 34.4 ounces
- MSR Whisperlite White Gas Stove w/pump: 11.4 ounces
- MSR 20 ounce White Gas Fuel bottles w/ filled with white gas: 20 ounces
- Total = 31.4 ounces
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.
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.