Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thoughts on camping with groups and fuel...

Over the years, I have spent a considerable amount of time camping with large groups, starting more years ago than I care to admit with extended family outings with aunts, uncles, and cousins along for the fun, then Boy Scouts, and then co-ed youth groups, college camping clubs, singles camping clubs, and other assorted camping groups...

One thing that has remained fairly constant. In order to efficiently cook, provide hot water, and manageable light, an efficient camping fuel choice had to be made by the powers that be.

While Butane / propane mix fuels are a good match for mid to high elevation,warm temperature  ultralight campers, and 1 lb propane cylinders likewise for heavier camping gear, for light weight, although not ultralight, to heavyweight camping, to maximize the efficiency of camp, particularly in groups, nothing beats liquid fuel camp appliances, particularly at higher elevations.

Depending on your use, I have found a single gallon of Coleman fuel / Ozark Trail Camp Fuel / White Gas gives me the same amount of burn time / meals prepared, nights of light from lanterns as 1.5 20lb cylinders of propane!

What I find shocking is how few new campers chose liquid fuels until they either venture to low elevations or cold temperatures, and discover the non financial drawback to canister fuels.

Gaseous, canister based fuels such as butane / propane mix, or straight propane work off of the pressure differential between the gas inside the canister, and the outside environment. Thus the higher the pressure inside the canister, or lower the pressure outside, the easier it is for fuel to be pushed out of the canister and through the appliance.

Several factors impact this pressure differenential, these include.

  1. Elevation. Air pressure is greater the lower you go (more air above you, weighing down on you, and that gas canister).
  2. Amount of fuel in the gas canister. The less fuel there is, the lower the pressure.
  3. Temperature of the outside air, and the gas canister.
Liquid fuel appliances are subject to these same laws of physics, but have the advantage of being able to be manually pressurized via a pump mechanism. 

While the circumstances of a canister being too cold to pressurize correctly are typically too uncomfortable for human occupation, they can also be a very real risk if humans are present in those conditions. (winter camping / fishing trips on a stormy beach like we often do here in Texas for example).
Given the obvious advantages of liquid fueled appliances, why then does it seem that for the most part, the majority of camp appliances that seem to populate store shelves, particularly mass market discount stores, is proppane fueled? Well for starters, propane appliances are inexpensive by comparison. Typically built for the occasional camper. Propame camping appliances are constructed with typically lighter duty components and housings. Being designed for the occasional camper, propane appliances are somewhat easier to set up and operate, requiring no pumping or priming. Unfortunately many propane appliances make flame control harder than it ought to be resulting in too many burnt pancakes.... Now that you have that bit of knowledge you can.... Go and find your own road less travelled... - Outdoor Dave