Tuesday, November 19, 2019

White Gas and You

Most folks are familiar with propane as an inexpensive, effective fuel for camping stoves and lanterns; however, it is also stored under pressure and requires special containers that are either heavy and bulky or not reusable. White gas is an alternative that generates less waste and isn't stored in a pressurized form.

White gas, commonly known as Coleman Fuel, is a liquid fuel that bears very many similarities to unleaded gasoline. Its two key difference are that it is a lower-octane fuel than gasoline, meaning it burns a bit more readily, and that it has none of the detergent additives that gasoline contains.

White gas is sold in gallon cans with a screw on lid, and is easily stored in a shed or garage. It's at least as safe to store and transport as propane, if not safer; if a white gas container leaks, it evaporates as quickly as gasoline, but if a propane container leaks, it will vent propane until it is empty, creating a potentially hazardous situation especially in enclosed areas. Coleman fuel can also be transferred to smaller containers, which is very useful for backpackers and other folks concerned about space and weight.

Propane burning appliances have the advantage of supreme simplicity: you simply attach the propane source, open the valve, and light the burner. It takes more time to type or read that sentence than it does to be generating light or heat. The liquid nature of white gas, though, requires the appliance tank to be pumped up to pressure as well as preheating to vaporize the fuel. These added steps take a bit more time and practice, but quickly become second nature.

White gas stoves are available in a smaller form factor than most propane stoves. Due to the preheating of the fuel, they also work great in cold environments. As an example of the small form factor, consider the MSR Whisperlite International. While the Whisperlite can run on unleaded gasoline or kerosene, white gas is by far the superior option as the other fuels burn dirtier and have an odor that white gas does not. Also, white gas requires far less maintenance and upkeep than the alternative fuels.

Propane isn't the only fuel out there, and in many ways it is beaten by the competition.



  1. When I was a young kid, under 10, my grandfather used to pour lead sinkers for use in the local river, to hold the line in place in the spring, fishing for suckers. So they were fairly heavy. He had a two part, two sinker mold, of steel. My Dad got him lead from the grey iron foundry.
    He would cut pieces of wire, bend them around a nail, and use that for the eye of the sinker. He put it in a slot of the mold, closed it, and poured the lead from a small cup that he melted it in, using white gas for the heat source. He then sold them to the bait shop in town, for around 25 cents, and the bait shop sold them for 50 cents. I am not certain on those prices, but they are just guesses. But I remember the white gas being used for fuel.


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