Butane and propane are two types of fuel that are popularly used by campers, backpackers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. If you’re looking to set a budget for your trip in the wilderness, it’s important to know the cost differences between the two. So what is the run down on butane vs propane cost?
The cost of butane can be as much as 50% more than the cost of propane. Butane can be as expensive as $3-$4 / £2.21-£2.94 per pound while propane costs $1.50-$2 / £1.10-£1.47 per pound.
Sometimes the price difference is marginal, especially if you’re sourcing your fuel from a hardware store or outdoor store. Still, butane tends to be slightly more expensive.
Read on to learn more ways that you can assess the value of propane and butane, what makes each fuel source unique, and how you can make a decision to get the most value for your money.
Factors that Affect the Cost of Butane & Propane
There are different factors that determine the cost of butane and propane. Each fuel type has different concentrations of energy per gallon, meaning that they are not equivalent.
The cost of butane is influenced by a number of factors, including:
- Location: In some areas of the country, propane costs more than butane because it’s harder to transport and distribute
- Transportation Costs: Butane may be transported from longer distances from refineries or factories, whereas propane can be sourced closer to consumer markets in some cases
- Availability: It’s easier for suppliers to source propane than butane, meaning that there is less of a need for special storage facilities or pipelines
Butane is denser than its propane counterpart, which means that if you’re buying the same volume of butane and propane, you will get slightly more use out of your butane.
However, this difference isn’t too noticeable, and won’t make a big difference when using a gallon of either for your camp stove or lantern. It comes into play if you’re purchasing these fuels in bulk and want to use them efficiently – for this reason, butane is preferred by most consumers.
If you’re taking your fuel camping, it’s unlikely that you will be purchasing large tanks of butane or propane. Instead, you’ll likely be buying smaller canisters and tanks that will last a few days at the most – usually enough for your entire camping trip.
The canisters are actually a major factor in the price of butane and propane. These containers make up most of the cost since they need to be strong and safe enough to hold the fuel and keep it from spilling, evaporating, or leaking.
Let’s start off by taking a look at how much the canister costs affect the price of propane.
As of 2018, the price of a gallon of propane was an average of $1.16 / £0.86 If you were to purchase a 1-pound Coleman propane tank, you would be paying $16.31 / £12.05 per gallon. That’s a $15.15 / £11.20 increase in price!
Now let’s see how the canister cost affects the price of butane:
As of 2018, the price of a gallon of butane was $1.05 / £0.78 per gallon on average. If you purchase a half-pound Coleman butane tank, you will be paying $25.81 / £19.07 per gallon, a $24.76 / £18.30 increase in price per gallon.
You can avoid the cost of canister-stored butane by choosing a refillable tank, which will help you save money with each use. However, this is not a common option for campers because refill locations may be few and far between, and you will have to lug around a large tank in your camping gear.
Butane vs Propane: Energy Content and Performance
Both propane and butane are known to be safe, clean-burning, and low-toxic fuels that don’t have known negative impacts on the environment. You can’t go wrong with either one!
However, there are some factors that can help you make a decision about which fuel source will work best for your needs.
First of all, propane has higher energy content than butane. It’s more efficient and produces more heat per unit volume. Propane also ignites at lower temperatures than butane, making it better for cold-weather camping and a variety of climates.
Butane, on the other hand, has a higher vapor pressure than propane, which means that it is easier to light and use in wet conditions. It’s also less viscous (thick) than propane, which makes for an easy flow when using your fuel source.
Propane vs Butane: Storage and Transportation
Both propane and butane are low-toxicity gases that don’t pose any serious safety hazards or risks when transporting them through pipelines or canisters. However, there is a major difference in the way they are stored and transported:
Butane is denser than propane, which means that it doesn’t require as much of an increase in volume to store. This means that butane canisters tend to be smaller for the same amount of fuel storage capacity, making them easier to transport and store.
What’s More Efficient, Butane or Propane?
When looking for cost efficiency and energy efficiency, propane is the better choice. It has a higher energy content, meaning that you will get more use out of it for heating and cooking purposes.
Propane is also more affordable, whether or not you are buying it in bulk or purchasing it in small containers. The price of butane is slightly higher for the same volume, and you will also need to purchase a canister which adds to your costs.
Is Butane Better Than Propane for Camping?
Propane is the best choice for campers who want the most flexibility and affordability in their fuel source. Propane canisters are compatible with more camp stoves and appliances.
They are also easier to light in cold weather conditions and tend to be more efficient due to the higher energy content of propane.
However, some campers still prefer butane because they like the idea of a smaller canister that will fit into their camping gear with ease and because it is easier to light than propane in wet conditions.
Are There Other Affordable Camp Stove Fuels?
There are other affordable options for camp stoves, but none are as safe and versatile as propane or butane. The most popular alternative fuels include white gas, kerosene, alcohols like isopropyl alcohol or denatured alcohol, gasoline, and solid fuels.
Kerosene can be found in 16 to 32-ounce containers and is available at major camping and outdoor retailers. It is more expensive than propane and butane, costing $4 / £2.96 per gallon on average.
Alcohol is an easy to find and relatively inexpensive fuel source. It can be found for as little as $6 / £4.43 for a quarter gallon at your local convenience store. While this fuel source burns relatively cleanly, it can be quite dangerous due to its high flammability.
White gas is a common cooking fuel used by campers and backpackers. It can be found in 16 to 32-ounce containers at major camping retailers, as well as sporting goods stores or online from outdoor gear suppliers like REI. White gas costs about $11 / £8.13 per gallon on average.
Gasoline is another cooking fuel for campers. It is best to use gasoline as an emergency fuel since it contains many additives. It’s the easiest to know the cost of gasoline since it’s readily displayed at all gas stations.
Make sure to purchase unleaded gasoline, since it won’t contain any additives that may interfere with your stove or cooking appliance.
Solid fuels like wood, charcoal briquettes, and solid fuel cubes are all viable options for camping. Since they are solid, you won’t have to worry about leaks, evaporation, or spills. They are also extremely lightweight and portable.
Since there are many types of solid fuels, the price will range. You can make your own solid fuel for free out of natural dried materials you find around your campsite, but they likely won’t have the BTU output you need for cooking.
The cheapest form of solid fuel is charcoal, which can cost as little as $3 / £2.22 for an 8-pound bag.
For a more efficient and energy-dense option, you can purchase solid fuels specifically for camping use, such as Esbit tabs. These small fuel tablets can be purchased for as little as $12 / £8.86 per box of 12.
On the whole, propane wins as the better fuel for campers. It is more cost-efficient, clean-burning, and is easier to light in a variety of weather conditions and temperatures.
However, butane is a fine choice for your fuel needs as well. It is relatively close in price to propane, and almost provides the same amount of energy per volume. It’s also as clean-burning and odourless as propane.
If you’re still not sure which fuel source is best for you, experiment! Trying out both propane and butane is the only way you will find the perfect fit.
Check out our other essential outdoor info guides to prepare you for your next trip here.