White Gas: The Magical Winter Camping Fuel

If you're an ardent camper, then you probably know what white gas is. If you're just a beginner, don't worry; this guide is especially for you. In this white gas guide, you will learn:

And much much more...

white gas flame

Any camping trip is not complete without toasted s'mores and the accompanying roaring sound of a campfire. But, if you are anything close to an avid camper, then you know that a camping stove is one of the most essential camping gear.

With a camp stove in mind, you need to consider the type of fuel that will power it before embarking on your adventure. A wood burning stove will suffice in summer and autumn but definitely not in winter.

Hence the need for a specialized, formidable camping fuel. Welcome to the world of the magical white gas!

portable camping gas stoves

What Is White Gas?

White gas is a colorless liquid fuel derived from petroleum. Unlike gasoline, this petroleum distillate features no additives. Usually sold in one-gallon gas cans and under its chemical name 'naphtha', white gas sports a high carbon content of 5 to 9 carbon atoms per molecule, making it a great source of energy.

White gas is generally produced by Coleman, the famous producer of outdoor camping gear such as camping stoves, sleeping bags, tents, coolers and lanterns.

This camp fuel that is in liquid form at room temperature was invented in the 1950s and first used in cars. Currently, it is a popular addition among any backpacker's gear for reasons that we will be sure to revisit later in this article.

Uses of White Gas

Still wondering why white gas is a popular choice among campers? It's simply because it has the ability to meet the most essential camping needs.

Experienced campers will agree that food, warmth and safety are second to none in terms of importance while out in the woods.

White gas has an unmatched ability to burn hot, fast and very brightly. That is why this camp fuel, generically known as Coleman fuel, is popularly used by avid campers as a camping stove or lantern fuel for lighting and cooking.

Other than cooking and lighting, white gas is also used by fire artists for fire dancing as it readily lights when a flame is in its vicinity and easily extinguishes as well.

How To Light a White Gas Stove

white gas lighting

Now that we have established the uses of white gas, we will look into how the gas works to accomplish these aims. For purposes of this article, we will delve into the mechanism of action of white gas in liquid fuel stoves.

Parts of a white gas stove

The most popular type of fuel for nearly all liquid fuel stoves is white gas. However, before getting into the nitty-gritty of lighting a white gas stove, you need to first establish the parts of the stove.

Liquid fuel stoves consist of the following main parts; the fuel tank, pump, valve and the burner. The purpose of the tank is to hold fuel; while the function of the pump is to cause enough pressure resulting in the flow of fuel. The valve then connects to the burner through the fuel line to release and control the flow of fuel. The burner ignites the fuel for cooking to take place.

Steps in lighting a white gas stove

Merits of White Gas

Having several advantages over other fuels, white gas has arisen to become one of the most preferred camping fuels. These are some of the benefits that you will be sure to experience when camping with white gas.

1. Unparalleled purity

White gas is a highly refined gas with no impurities in it. It is referred to as "white gas" due to this purity. Furthermore, the lack of additives makes the gas seem colorless.

Lacking additives equates to the gas having no poisonous chemicals added. There are several advantages that can be ripped from this. To begin with, this feature differs it from gasoline and makes it much safer and easier to store and transport.

Secondly, being one of the purest gases, white gas resists gumming. Clogs on the fuel line of your stove will definitely be minimal as compared to other fuels such as kerosene. The advantage that comes with lack of clogs is that you will be able to partake in other enjoyable activities other than cleaning while out camping. More importantly, your stove will not be prone to flaring or burning.

Thirdly, white gas produces no aftermath soot on your stove. Soot usually appears as a result of additives which diesel, kerosene and unleaded fuel have.

Lastly, when cooking with white gas you will be sure that the fuel has no effect on the taste of your food. Gases such as propane usually produce heat, light and carbon dioxide when burnt. The water vapor then has a slight impact on the taste of food, a problem that white gas does not have.

2. Burns brightly

Another benefit of white gas is that it burns very brightly to provide good night vision. For this reason, it is popularly used for lighting lanterns which are a necessity during those camp nights in the outdoors.

3. High energy emission

White gas is also usually used as a good source of warmth in lanterns. Camping nights are known to have an extremely cold nature. This fuel is thus best for winter camping as it burns very hot producing high energy and thereby providing the much needed warmth.

This feature also makes white gas the hotter gas in comparison to propane. Put it this way; if heating the same amount of water, you will end up consuming less of white gas and more of propane, to end up with the same results. This is because white gas emits higher energy.

4. Rapid ignition

With this fuel you get to save on time. Not only does white gas burn hot but also fast; hence it is appropriate for cooking and boiling water during camping when you need to participate in a host of other activities.

This same ability to burn fast will save you from dehydration during winter camping when snow is the only fresh water source as it will quickly melt it.

5. Convenience of use

The convenience of Coleman fuel stoves is enhanced due to the fact that you can control the temperature of the burner using the temperature knob. You need to be able to regulate heat in order to avoid burning your food and working with white gas has this advantage.

You can easily estimate how much of the liquid fuel you will need for your trip especially after using it for a while.

For instance, during summer, you may estimate that you will need 4 ounces per person per day while 8 ounces per person per day during winter camping. This estimate is especially handy as it is accurate when boiling snow for water, an activity that usually takes up more of the fuel.

Additionally, you can always tell how much fuel you have left by simply peering into the fuel bottle unlike with propane where your best bet is to consider how heavy its cartridge is.

Another convenient feature is that it is easy to refill white gas fuel bottles. The process simply involves pouring the liquid fuel into your container. In comparison, small propane canisters are hard to refill.

Although you have to purchase a fuel bottle for Coleman fuel, discarding it isn't hard. With propane canisters, your only resort is to trash the canister into a landfill as you cannot refill it. Because campers may seldom need to dispose of white gas containers, this features gives the fuel a low environmental impact.

As a bonus, you can also customize the containers in terms of shape and size to fit your needs and reference.

6. Efficient for all temperatures

You will realize that cold temperatures have no effect whatsoever on the performance of white gas as it performs exceedingly well in both high and below freezing temperatures.

White gas has a low flash point. The flash point of a chemical substance refers to the lowest temperature where enough fluid can vaporize to become a combustible gas.

A key feature of white gas is that it's able to vaporize easily and quickly no matter how low the temperatures fall. This makes the process of igniting the stove very easy.

With it, there will be no need to abandon winter camping for the next season. To support this, the gas is easily found in North America, infamous for its extremely low temperatures.

Note that although this gas evaporates quickly, it is still highly flammable and volatile and can easily fire around any form of ignition. Thus, great caution is still required when handling it.

7. Odorless

The nature of white gas is that it is colorless and odorless. Thus in case of any spillage, you will be sure that no smell is left behind.

This can however also work as a disadvantage as there is no sure way of telling if there is a leakage other than depending on your sense of sight. In a worst-case scenario, the gas may ignite causing an explosion if there is a leakage around an open flame.

8. Very portable

The simple design of liquid fuel stoves is such that there are no extra parts that add to the bulkiness. Only encompassing stove essentials such as a burner, gas connection and an internal gas line; white gas stoves are not weighty.

Furthermore, Coleman fuel bottles are easy to carry. Although you will have to discard white gas containers, their weight is insignificant. These two features make white gas easily portable.

In comparison, propane cartridges are much heavier and add to the overall weight of your gear. Furthermore, because they are not disposable, that means that you have to carry the canisters back with you.

White gas thus stands at an advantage especially when backpacking whose fundamental rule is that "every ounce counts". Therefore, the lesser the weight the better for them.

9. Long shelf-life

Experienced campers opt for the durability of this fuel as white gas can last between five and seven years when the bottle is unopened.

However, its shelf-life depreciates once it is opened and exposed to air. With proper storage in a cool and dry place, an opened white gas container can last up to one year.


It is advisable to buy the gas in small containers as the fuel depreciates once exposed to air. Thus, the smaller the container the lesser the amount of fuel that is exposed to air.

10. Ease of accessibility

You will be pleasantly surprised by the easy accessibility of this gas, especially in the U.S. where camping is a famous pass time. The fuel is readily available in most camping stores hence you need not worry about the supply running out.

Another plus is that many liquid fuel stoves can use alternative fuel sources. This is especially helpful when you are in a country where white gas is not easily accessible.

Just like other products, cost is always a determining factor. White gas is relatively inexpensive, easily accessible and in the long-run because it burns hotter and faster you will end up consuming less of it in comparison to other fuels.

Demerits of White Gas

Although white gas is easily one of the best camping fuels, it is not without its shortcomings.

1. Requires pumping

Experienced campers know that it is a bit complex to work with the appliances that white gas powers.

Although liquid fuel stoves are usually simple in design, it takes more time to start them up as compared to other fuels as white gas stoves require pumping before actual use.

Unlike other stoves which are usually pressurized, pumping is necessary for white gas stoves to put the fuel under enough pressure to rise to the burner. Familiarizing yourself with this process is perhaps the hardest part of working with white gas.

2. Requires priming

Priming is the process of pre-heating a fuel that is liquid at room temperature so that it turns into gas.

White gas stoves require that the gas is vaporized for it to burn correctly. Other fuels do not require priming hence this puts white gas at a disadvantage.

3. Highly flammable

Being liquid at room temperature, this fuel is prone to spillage, and in case of any leakage then an accidental explosion may follow. Hence, white gas has to be stored away from flames.

As an extra precaution, you are also advised to check for any leakages as the fuel's odorless nature makes it even more dangerous.

The last demerit of white gas is a by-product of working with liquid fuel stoves. When working with multi-fuel stoves, other fuels which have impurities, may clog your white gas stove parts such as your fuel tube with time. This may result in the stove flaring up, a case that wouldn't be if you were to use white gas solely.

Why Is White Gas a Better Fuel Choice for Backpackers?

kettle on a white gas stove

In this section, we will compare white gas to other fuels to establish why it is a better option for backpacking.

Other than white gas, the other top choices of winter camping fuels are usually kerosene and butane.

With white gas, you will not need an alternative source of fuel when camping as it works efficiently at 0°C.

In comparison, kerosene is a cheaper alternative but it has an unpleasant odor and doesn't produce as much heat as white gas. On the other hand, butane lights quickly with no need for priming. It also burns cleanly. However, it does not burn as efficiently as white gas in cold temperatures nor is it as intense.

Therefore, if you plan on backpacking, white gas should be your go-to as it works well in spite of any changes in temperatures.

Another feature that makes white gas ideal for backpacking is the fact that you will have to deal with less weight if you decide to carry it as your camping fuel of choice. This is because its storage containers are compact and lighter than that of propane. Propane canisters are cumbersome, not easily disposable and not as environment-friendly.

White Gas Hazards

Akin to other petroleum products, white gas is quite detrimental. One of the most hazardous features of white gas is its high flammability. This volatile nature presses that one is careful when handling the gas.

Much like other petroleum distillates, Coleman fuel health hazards include minor burns, redness and swelling of one's body tissues upon contact. Short term skin contact can result in mild irritation while long-term contact is more hazardous and may result in chronic dermatitis or systemic toxicity.

On the other hand, you may experience burning tearing, swelling and redness of the eye if it comes into direct contact with the fuel.

Safety Tips:

Although white gas remains the first choice for many campers, there are a couple of safety measures that one should take when handing the fuel.

White Gas Storage Tips

Because of the volatile nature of white gas, its storage cans should be stored in a cool, dry place and away from any heat source to avoid explosions. Additionally, you should empty the fuel tank first, if you plan on storing your stove for long periods. This will bar any accidental explosions before you embark on your next camping adventure.


Coleman fuel will definitely make your camping experience much more comfortable and enjoyable. With advantages such as having an undisputed cold weather performance, it earns an advantage over other camping fuels.

Here is a recap of what we have gathered about white gas:

With great efficiency and minimal demerits to working with it, white gas is definitely one of your best bets for a winter camping fuel.

Written By Daniel Msanii

When he's not camping or adventuring the outdoors, you'll find him grinding hard on his keyboard to put up some super-awesome content on campingmaniacs.com. Starting off on camping escapades back in 2011, he has grown fond of the activity over the years. His exposure to a myriad of different camping terrains, gear and the outdoor atmosphere has hitherto changed his perception of the entire outdoor life. He enjoys sharing the experiences of his adventures and gear reviews with the awesome camping community on this platform. Read more about us.


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Comments 6
user icon Dave Pennsylvania

Great well written article about the advantages of White Gas. Growing up with these lanterns/stoves using White Gas, I love that they still thrive today. I fondly remember a cold overnight fishing adventure using my White Gas Coleman Lantern to keep me warm and use the light to see my fishing pole. I sat on a tree stump and had an old blanket around me using both the heat and light from my lantern to enjoy my late night fishing adventure. So nice to see these White Gas lanterns and fuel so readily available.

user icon Kay Brown

I have an older heater that uses white gas and had been using it in a very large, pretty well ventilated tent. Now that it's much, much colder, we downsized and at the moment it is our only heat source. I am pregnant and my husband just had a stroke so I am concerned that it may be dangerous to use. It is in the teens here and tomorrow I will work on another heat source, even a candle will help, we just have to hang in there a bit longer and we will have some more funds for housing and can save the camping for vacations! I do love Coleman gas, as it is much more efficient and less explosive than propane. Thanks everyone for advice! Enjoy!

user icon buddy Flood

I wish we could buy white gas by the gallon at some gas stations, in the 60s and early 70s my dad bought it 5 gallons at a time from a station that had it through a pump, we spent almost every weekend at the river or lake fishing.

user icon Daniel @CampingManiacs

It must have been nice for you. Those were the good old days. You can bet capitalism has changed everything, and most not for the better.

user icon David Billings

Why is coleman fuel scarce? Cant find any walmart is sold out! Where can i get some or do i have to throw my lanterns and stoves away? Apreciate any help! Fueless

user icon Daniel @CampingManiacs

Have you tried searching on Amazon? There seems to be a few options: Check this page out.

user icon Axel Linari

hello, do you know what it is called in South America so I can re-fill? thank you!

user icon Daniel @CampingManiacs

Hey Axel. You don't refill the white gas. You buy it in cans. You can order online on Amazon just by searching for white gas.

user icon Jason Terpstra

This is great. This page has great information to achieve more knowledge for the great out door.

user icon Daniel @CampingManiacs

Yes Jason, we strive to educate and make more people embrace the outdoors. Glad that you enjoyed the article.