What's the Best Gas for Cold Weather?

11:37 p.m. on November 25, 2011 (EST)
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OK, I need some gas for some cold weather trips. So, I bopped into REI. Hey, wait a minute. This gas is 75% butane and that one is 65% isobutane and this one over here is three gasses. What the heck?? How is anybody supposed to know which one is gonna work for cold weather? And what the heck are these blends all about anyway?


All important questions if you're headed out in cold weather. I try to answer them all in two posts on my blog:

HJ
Adventures in Stoving

1:08 a.m. on November 26, 2011 (EST)
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In your blog you mention that Brunton and MSR Isopro might be the same.  I can confirm that they have been in the past, but I haven't checked recently.  Look at the DOT exemption number on the canister; if it is the same, the canisters are from the same factory and have the same gas mixture.  A couple years ago I checked Brunton and MSR 8oz canisters and they had the same DOT exemption number.  The only difference would be the exterior label.

1:24 a.m. on November 26, 2011 (EST)
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I just checked the Brunton and MSR 8oz canisters that I have, both are marked DOT E11914.  Here is the DOT exemption for Brunton in 2007:

http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/SPA_App/OfferDocuments/SP11914_2007030160.pdf

Here is some info from MSR, note that their 2002 letter indicates about 5% n-butane, 72% isobutane, and 22% propane.  I don't know if they have changed the mixture since then.

http://docketsinfo.dot.gov/reports/rspa/2002-10/020219.pdf

 

 

8:10 a.m. on November 26, 2011 (EST)
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Two nice articles Jim, concise and easy to understand.

I prefer white gas in winter, but many people find canister stoves to be more convenient and user friendly. I think your articles will help them keep it that way during the colder months.

Mike G.

1:06 p.m. on November 26, 2011 (EST)
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lambertiana said:

I just checked the Brunton and MSR 8oz canisters that I have, both are marked DOT E11914.  Here is the DOT exemption for Brunton in 2007:

http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/SPA_App/OfferDocuments/SP11914_2007030160.pdf

Here is some info from MSR, note that their 2002 letter indicates about 5% n-butane, 72% isobutane, and 22% propane.  I don't know if they have changed the mixture since then.

http://docketsinfo.dot.gov/reports/rspa/2002-10/020219.pdf

 Interesting information!  Thanks for that.

MSR currently cites their mix as 80% isobutane and 20% propane on their website, although realistically, there wouldn't be much performance difference between an 80/20 mix and a 72/22/5 mix -- until the very end of the canister.  A 72/22/5 mix is 1% short of a full 100% by the way.  Must be a typo in there somewhere.

HJ
Adventures in Stoving

1:07 p.m. on November 26, 2011 (EST)
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trouthunter said:

Two nice articles Jim, concise and easy to understand.

 Thanks, Mike.  I try very hard to write clearly, so that's very good feedback.

HJ
Adventures in Stoving

7:59 p.m. on November 26, 2011 (EST)
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Like Trout I also have the cannister stove just for warmer climate, at least 5c. Which means the whole summer LOL. But the article written by you HJ made a clear view into the field. This was all greek for me before, now I see some system there :)

 

9:55 p.m. on November 26, 2011 (EST)
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5C isn't a bad policy, but with an inverted canister stove, you could easily go down to -15C, 20C lower.

 

Of course liquid petroleum fuels work very well in those temperatures too.

 

HJ

Adventures in Stoving

5:59 p.m. on November 27, 2011 (EST)
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Yes HJ I know, but that could be an option for those that does not have both an Omnifuel and a PocketRocket. The PR was bought for its small size and it fits into a small set of watercooker and frying pan. This is ok for summer when water is running.

In winter I typcally have to melt snow/ice and then the cannister provides too little "fire power" :) IMHO When taking a break or when we arrive at a hut in -25C I set the Omni roaring on the kitchen before trying to make the woodstove burning. Within minutes it feels much warmer, and half an hour later the woodstove takes over the heating.

Otto

10:58 p.m. on November 27, 2011 (EST)
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Ah, I see where you're coming from.  Makes perfect sense if you've got a PR and an Omnifuel.  The Omnifuel is a personal favorite of mine by the way.  What an exceptional stove.

Yeah, take the PR when it's above 5C and save a lot of weight.  For everything else, there's the Omnifuel.  The Omnifuel can be run with the canister upside down (i.e. liquid gas feed), so you should be able to use the Omnifuel so long as you get good gas and keep the fuel temperature above about -15C.  If you're out on a trip where the temps may get below -15C, I'd go with either white gasoline (petrol) or kerosene.

HJ
Adventures in Stoving

2:21 p.m. on November 28, 2011 (EST)
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Jim,

Two comments -

In your "Why blended gas..." blog, the blue typeface on black background is almost impossible to read on my iPad, and difficult even on my 17" monitor. Black backgrounds with white type are bad enough, and have been abandoned on most commercial websites. So I would suggest you go to a more "book-like" dark type on a light background. Yeah, I use white, yellow, and other light type in my Powerpoint presentations in classes - and I get complaints all the time about how hard they are to read.

More relevant - there are plenty of ways to overcome the cold weather problem with butane, which have been discussed many times on Trailspace and its predecessors BCU and RCU. One is to use a handwarmer (the powder in a bag type, not the flame type) in the dished-in side of the canister. Primus for years made a "cold weather kit" that did basically that. I haven't seen the kit in a while, so I don't know if they make it. Regular handwarmers work well up to about 15,000 0r 16,000 ft. Higher than that, the handwarmers (and footwarmers) don't get enough oxygen to heat up enough (they work on using the oxygen in the air to oxidize an iron-carbon powder mixture).

A second approach that is also safe is to use liquid water. Set the stove in a shallow pan of water, up to lukewarm. Hotter tends to pressurize the canister too much resulting in flaring. The problem is getting the liquid water in the first place in subzero conditions. But if you are using your waterbottle as an overnight sleeping bag hot water heater, you only need a small amount. Jetboil intentionally designed their group cooking protective cover for the bottom of the heat exchanger pan so you could do this. I have used the "frying pan" lids of various cook kits to do this, long before Jetboil, but since these are metal (stainless, aluminum, titanium, depending on the cook kit), they tend to cool the water too quickly.

Another approach that a long-time contributor, Jim S, experimented with alot was to wrap a copper wire or strap around the canister, with the one end of it in the flame. This acts as a heat pipe to conduct a small amount of heat to the canister to keep it pressurized. You have to watch this carefully, though.

The vaunted "take the canister to bed with you" is very inefficient. It really only serves to get the stove started when it is really cold, though it can allow you to melt enough water to fill the pan.

The inverted canister, which was discovered by a group of us some 25 or more years ago with flexible hose canister stoves, inspired by the PowerMax and a couple other liquid-feed butane and propane stoves and eventually adopted by first Coleman and Primus, then a few years later by Jetboil in their Helios is the best approach. As you note, for this to work properly, the stove needs to have a generator tube (a generator tube is simply having the fuel line run through or close to the burner). This is used on all (or almost all) white gas and kerosene stoves (including the venerable Svea 123, where it is the stem of the burner, rather than a fuel line through the burner). So it works well on the Primus MFS and its descendents, though it does work on some non-generator setups, depending of the hole diameter of the jet.

Another thing to note - at extreme altitudes (6000 meters and up) plain old butane works reasonably well by itself. The old Camping Gaz (now part of Coleman) stoves were used for years on Everest, for example. I have also seen them used at 5000 meters on Denali, though the vast majority of climbers there use white gas stoves.

6:34 p.m. on November 28, 2011 (EST)
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Hi, Bill,

Excellent points, all.  Thanks for taking the time to read the post(s) and to give me feedback.

I went ahead and changed the font color.  That was just a default font color.  For better or for worse, I've pretty much just gone with the default of the template that Google Blogger supplies.  The black background does make flame shots look kinda cool.  ;)

I don't know if you saw the section below my "signature," but in some other venues, I do go into canister warming and inverted canister use.

Related articles and posts:

Now, this may just be me, but I'm a little uncomfortable with the whole copper wire into the flame wrapped around the canister bit.  It can get out of control, and you could have an explosion.  How likely is this in really cold weather?  Probably not very, but I guess I'm just paranoid.  Yes, this is a technique used by mountaineers safely for many years, but I just feel safer with the water technique. 

For me, if it's getting so cold that the water technique doesn't work, then I'm going to switch to an inverted canister stove or a liquid fueled stove. 

I have heard of the hand warmer trick, although I haven't tried it.  That's good to know that it doesn't work above about 15k.  Markill last I checked had a circular pad thingy that would sit underneath your canister and heat the canister. To recharge it, you boil it.  Haven't tried it, but it sounded interesting.

There's a company in Japan, Alva I think, that sells a device that your stove screws down over as you put the stove into the canister.  It has a rod that sticks into the flame and diverts heat to the canister.  It's a bit more "professional" version of just wrapping a copper wire around the canister and running the other end of the wire into the flame.

I guess the main reason I'm uncomfortable with diverting heat from combustion directly to the tank is I never know who is going to skim what I've written, take out one idea, and ignore the rest of the article.  Such a person might well blow themselves up.    I always try to call attention to the dangers, however remote, but some people just don't read fully.  You wouldn't believe some of the questions I get on my blog about how to do things that I just said wouldn't work or would be extremely dangerous.

HJ

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