Introduction- How Cold Weather Can Affect Your Stove Fuel
By Derek Edwards
There are many different options for stoves to take on a bikepacking tour. Yet with all your options, one thing remains true: when burning that many calories, your body needs to be fueled which is why making nourishing meals are so important for your trip.
In order to cook these meals while out on the road, you’ll need some type of stove. When choosing a stove, one of the most important aspects to consider is fuel and fuel availability. The different types of fuel available vary from country to country, so always plan ahead depending on where you are biking.
But before we get into fuels, let’s first look at the four main types of stoves that bikepackers tend to take with them:
- Multi-fuel stoves burn white gas, gasoline, and other types of fuel.
- Spirit burner stoves (or a DIY can stove) can burn methyl alcohol, medical alcohol, booze and other spirits.
- Canister stoves are great to use if you are in areas that have a strong camping presence with plenty of outdoor shops. These typically use butane or propane canisters.
- Wood-burning stoves are great when traveling in a remote location over a long distance in a dry climate.
While these stoves can operate on a variety of different fuel sources, from the conventional gasoline to the resourceful booze, there are only a couple front runners in terms of popularity, and for good reason.
PropanePropane fuel is the one of the most widely available fuel sources, found at gas stations and home improvement stores across the United States. But while it’s easy to be found, it’s harder to transport than other fuels, due to its heavier weight.
Unlike gasoline, propane must be stored in highly pressurized canisters, and while there are many benefits from this high pressure, it does require stronger, more heavy-duty canisters to contain the fuel.
When it comes to cold weather and winter, propane is unmatched, boasting a -43°F (-42°C) vaporization point. What this means is that the propane will remain a gas and not condense into a liquid if the temperature is above -43°F.
If the gas were to condense it would fail to ignite, leaving you out of luck and hungry. So, if you’re expecting temperatures to be below freezing – or you’re ascending into high altitudes – you’ll want to opt for a propane fuel source.
The primary disadvantage of propane and the main advantage of butane are one in the same – weight. Despite both being petroleum products, butane does not need to be stored at as high of a pressure as propane, so its canisters can afford to be thinner and lighter.
Generally when trekking long distances we want to cut as much unnecessary weight as possible, but if you’re looking to bikepack this winter, its best to look elsewhere to lighten your load.
While propane has a vaporization point of -43°F, butane will condense into a liquid in temperatures as warm as 31°F (-0.5°C), making it a poor choice as your fuel source this winter.
Recognizing this shortcoming, isobutane was created. Isobutane is a type of butane with a specific atomic arrangement, allowing this fuel to burn at colder temperatures. Even still, isobutane has a vaporization point of only 11°F (-12°C), which is 54 degrees warmer than propane.
Other Helpful Tips for Bikepacking in Cold Weather
If you’re cycling in cold weather or at a high altitude, the low temperature could affect not just your fuel but also the canister your fuel comes in, which can pose as a safety concern.
These are combustible materials and as such its important to properly store your fuel canisters when not in use, which can sometimes be difficult when biking or hiking.
Despite the inconvenience that may accompany proper storage, doing so will provide lasting quality for your fuel and the burner you’ve purchased. A few other tips to consider with winter weather:
- Store your canisters in a dry, cool place and make sure the temperature does not exceed 120°F
- When you’re outside, keep fuel canisters in a shaded area if possible and always disconnect the canister from the stove when not in use
- If temperatures are frigid consider keeping the butane canister in your sleeping bag while you sleep so the fuel is ready to be used as soon as you wake up
- While cycling, pack your butane canister close to your body in your backpack so your body heat keeps your fuel above the vaporization point
These are just a few things to consider when bikepacking, especially during the winter months. As always, do your research on what kind of fuel stove is best for your needs and trip and have fun!
Featured Image: Flickr/ Jeff Moser – Carson City Bikepacking. https://www.flickr.com/photos/facilitybikeclub/37211393175/
Derek Edwards is an avid outdoorsman and nature enthusiast. You can follow along his adventure across Southern California and beyond over on his blog Outdoor with Derek.