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Butane Versus Propane Stoves
I’ve lived in a vehicle for over 10 years, and I have cooked a meal inside of it nearly every day and always with a propane stove. That’s at least 3300 meals. On top of that, every winter I use it for comfort heating. On cold winter nights I cook a meal in the evening and that warms up the van (it is very well insulated). After an hour or two, if it cools down enough to be uncomfortable, I will turn the stove on again and run it for 30 minutes or so until it is warm. Usually that is all that is required, but a few times it has been so cold I had to run it another time. On a very few occasions, it has been so cold that the stove wasn’t enough and then I get out the Mr. Buddy heater and use it,
So which is better, propane or butane stoves? Some people prefer butane stoves and they do have some great advantages:
- They are very small and compact.
- Their compact size makes them easy to store and carry around.
- They have a piezo starter which is very easy to use and no matches are required.
- The bottles are easier to install than the green propane bottles
But butane has some big disadvantages too:
- The bottles can be hard to find. I’ve been to many areas where they simply were not available.
- When you do find them they can be really expensive. Remember, they are half the size (8 ounces verses 16 ounces for the propane bottles) and often cost more
- You can’t hook it up to a refillable bulk bottle.
- Butane doesn’t work well at temperatures below freezing (32 degrees).
Propane is better in every way except the metal arm coming off makes it take up more space and most don’t come with a piezo lighter. Here are some of propane’s advantages:
- The green bottles are available nearly everywhere.
- You can buy an adapter that lets you refill the green bottles directly. That cuts the cost of operating one dramatically.
- Hooking up to a bulk bottle makes the cost of the fuel very cheap. I have a one gallon tank which is very small and fits in the van easily.
- Buying a bulk bottle lets you keep the small bottles out of the landfill while all butane stoves put them in the landfill.
- Propane works down to minus 30 degrees.
One day I lit the stove and the crimp at the end of the hose started leaking and caught fire. I quickly turned it off at the bottle, turned off the stove, and sprayed the fire with my fire extinguisher, so no harm was done. You want to learn a lesson from these things, here is what I learned:
To me the advantages of propane are overwhelming so I never even considered butane, but I know a lot of people who love their butane stoves and would not consider switching. Other people are very uncomfortable with using any propane appliance inside the van, or even carrying propane bottles at all. I can understand that fear because accidents do happen. I had a fire inside my van and know it is a serious risk.
- Always be there when cooking inside.
- Always have a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Act quickly but stay calm. Turn off the stove so there is no longer an ignition source for the propane. Then turn off the bottle so only a limited amount of propane can come out.
- I do have a smoke detector but there wasn’t time for it to go off.
Even with that fire, I still consider the risk of using propane as very, very small. And compared to the gain of being able to cook in the van and use it for heat, too small to even consider.
Here is a cost comparison of propane and butane:
- 1 Gallon of Butane (8, 8 ounce bottles) $24
- 1 Gallon of propane (4, 16 ounce bottles) $10
- 1 Gallon of propane (bulk) $3.50
To be fair, butane has slightly higher btu’s per ounce, but it is a fairly small difference.