Guide to Camping Gas Bottles
If you’re planning on buying a gas bottle for camping for the first time, you might come to realise there are some common questions to which you just don’t know the answer. At first, it seems like a simple question with a simple answer; I just need a gas cylinder for camping. However, this quickly becomes a question of different types, different brands, different prices, and…where do you actually buy one?
Whether you’re a beginner looking for the first time or an expert wondering if you’ve been making good decisions over the years, this is the guide for you. By the end, you should have a better knowledge of this section of the industry!
Do I Need One?
For the most part, this question can be answered by considering your camping habits and what you like to do when on a trip. If you’re half camping and half within walking distance of some good eateries or even a small town, you might not need a gas cylinder because their main use comes with stoves and cooking food. Alternatively, you could be Glamping which isn't likely to require a separate source of fuel because you should have electricity and other resources.
If you’re camping in the traditional way, sleeping in a sleeping bag and tent in the middle of nowhere, gas and a source of fuel might just come in handy because you want to eat some good food while away, right? Without it, you’ll be confined to cold foods and whatever you can fit into your bag.
Two Main Types: Butane and Propane
In the UK, we have two main types of gas bottle; Butane and Propane. If you’ve heard the term Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) previously, there’s no need to be confused because both of these types fall into the LPG category. Immediately, you should notice that Butane cylinders are blue while Propane bottles are typically red so what do you need to know and is one going to meet your needs more than the other?
Since we’re in the UK, the first difference we should note is that Propane works in the cold conditions. Even early in the morning during winter (if you happen to enjoy camping trips at this time of year), you should be able to wake up and enjoy your early morning cup of tea. With Butane, the story is a little different because it condenses when in cold temperatures. If you prefer your camping in the winter or you happen to know the weather isn't going to offer much in the way of sunshine, we recommend Propane.
At this point, you might be wondering ‘well, what’s the point in ever choosing Butane then?’ and this would be a fair question. However, Butane just so happens to be the more efficient option of the two. Even with a small Butane cylinder and a large Propane cylinder, the Butane option would last longer because it burns more efficiently and doesn’t require as much for cooking a meal. In addition to this, Propane bottles can be rather cumbersome because they’re heavy. Therefore, Butane bottles also have the advantage of being portable and this is especially useful when you’re also carrying camping gear from one location to the next.
If you’re currently trying to work out what’s best for you, the main consideration is the weather and how cold you expect your trips to be. Sure, Butane burns more efficiently and it’s lighter but this becomes redundant when it condenses and doesn’t work in the mornings.
Different Bottle Sizes
With the first and most important question answered, the next one is likely to be regarding size. What size should you be looking for with your camping trips? Nowadays, you will find several huge bottles but these are extremely heavy and designed for large patio heaters and the like (as opposed to transportation and camping). Not only are they heavy, they can also be dangerous and an unnecessary risk; at many campsites, you could actually see the largest cylinders banned so this is important to consider.
Ultimately, choosing a bottle will depend on the amount of gas you plan on using when away and, in turn, this is decided by the duration of your camping trip. First and foremost, we don’t recommend anything above 15kg. Although this means you cut out a large section of the market above 15kg, this amount is still plenty and we recommend starting with the Calor 4.5kg Butane Cylinder. If you’re looking for something a little lighter and you’re only camping for a couple of days, try the Campingaz 2.75kg Butane bottle (weighing 6.6kg when full as opposed to 10kg).
Average Cylinder Life
To make a good decision on bottle size, you first need to know how long they typically last when camping. Today, we’re going to talk about how they last out in the real world as opposed to what the manufacturer suggests so you can get an accurate overview. As you may have guessed, there are many factors that affect how long a single bottle will last including the frequency of your cooking, the number of hobs you use, the weather conditions, and whether or not you have the gas on full.
With each regulator, you’ll also receive a different flow rate so this is important to note. If we want to compare each gas and brand carefully, we must consider how long each one lasts when on full flow. In fact, we’ve done this for you with three of the most popular camping gas cylinders. As well as the Calor 4.5kg and Campingaz 2.75kg models mentioned previously, we’re also going to add the Calor 3.9kg Propane bottle so we don’t have two Butane options going head-to-head.
If left on full flow, the two Butane options last for three and a half hours while the Propane option, which has the largest regulator rate, lasts for 60 minutes less. Of course, you won’t have the cylinder on full gas when in use which means you should be able to get another couple of hours from all tanks. In fact, if you manage to lock the regulator rate at 0.5kg per hour, you get nine hours from the Calor 4.5kg Butane bottle, eight hours from the Calor Propane cylinder, and five and a half hours from the Campingaz 2.75kg model.
Calor v Campingaz bottles
Considering we’ve used these two names extensively so far, perhaps it’s time to discuss the differences and whether this should affect your decision. Starting with Campingaz, the top offers a nice screw-fit which makes it easy to use and it’s also the most popular option around the continent. If you regularly take trips around Europe, we highly suggest using Campingaz because it will be much easier to find refills.
With Calor, they’re much more prominent in the UK and it therefore makes sense to use this brand at home. Although you will find Campingaz refills around the UK (and Calor in Europe), Calor is the more prominent brand by a long way and this should allow you to save money and enjoy your trip without worrying too much.
Which is Cheapest? Butane or Propane?
When you go out and buy a gas bottle, you’re actually hiring it for the most part. After paying for the bottle, you then pay for the gas inside it and exchange whenever you need a refill. Depending on whether you choose Calor or Campingaz, you’ll find different prices.
With Butane alone, Calor tends to be the cheaper of the two at £3.72 per kilogram as opposed to £10.90 (a huge difference). All things considered, the Calor 4.5kg we’ve seen previously should also last longer than the Campingaz Butane. For refills, two with Calor would be somewhere in the region of £33.50 (using our ‘full use’ equation seen earlier) while Campingaz costs £90 for a little over two refills.
Of course, these prices are based on what’s available as we write this so they may vary over time. Therefore, we recommend shopping around and even planning your next trip even when it seems far away. If you keep an eye out for the best deals, you should be able to save a few pounds and this can make your whole trip more enjoyable.
Where to Purchase Gas Cylinders
With all the information you need regarding gas bottles, you should be in a great position to buy the gas cylinder you need for your next trip…but wait. Where do you actually buy gas cylinders? Unless we’ve been missing something all these years, there isn't a ‘gas bottle’ store in every high street so what’s the situation?
First and foremost, you can’t buy gas cylinders on the internet because the thought of a van full of gas cylinders on the motorway is extremely scary. When it comes to gas, there are certain restrictions on the conditions in which they should be kept. Therefore, the first place you need to look is in large camping retailers. While the smaller stores will only stock the smallest gas cylinders, the big brands who have numerous stores across the UK should have a wider selection.
When it comes to refills, the story is very much the same in that your best solution would be a large camping retailer. If you’re staying at a popular camping site, you might find a petrol station nearby with an option to exchange and refill but not all will have these facilities. With the very largest and well-known campsites, they could even have some refills available themselves.
If you’re travelling around Europe, we advise going for Campingaz gas canisters as we’ve said previously. Since this is the most popular option in nearly every country, it’ll be the easiest refill to find around the continent. Depending on your budget and your ability to carry weight, some people choose to take two cylinders with them so this could also be an option.
When Should You Refill?
Although this sounds obvious, this is another question that doesn’t seem to get answered which isn't a great help for beginners. Firstly, you should notice a difference in weight between a full cylinder and one that’s getting low. While it will still be heavy due to the cylinder itself, it will lose some weight because the pressure inside is slowly decreasing. Since this is liquid petroleum gas we’re dealing with, you can also hear the liquid gas inside which is another indicator. If you really aren't sure, the stove will soon lack the ability to hold a flame and this means you need a refill.
There we have it, your complete guide to camping gas bottles. Now, you should know what each gas offers, what each brand offers, the pricing of each, where to buy gas bottles, and more. With this, all that’s left to say is enjoy your next trip and enjoy the lovely meals you cook on the stove!