Nothing beats cooking over a roaring campfire but gas appliances are getting more efficient and can bring new levels of convenience to any camping trip.
In the good old days energy generation in the bush meant lighting a fire and that was about it. When gas was introduced many backyard barbecues switched from firewood to the new refillable gas bottles. Portable style refrigerators could also run on kerosene and gas and the LPG industry cemented a firm place in the portable energy market.
Which Gas for Camping?
The squat, refillable gas bottle most of us are familiar with is still the mainstay of portable cooking. They are relatively cheap and come in a range of sizes from 1kg to 9kg. They are filled with Liquified Petroleum Gas or LPG (a combination of butane and propane) and are easily purchased from garages, outdoor shops or the increasingly popular bottle exchanges.
Refillable bottles are particularly suited to caravans and larger consumers. Refills and exchanges are available Australia wide and a surprising amount of cooking and heating can be wrought from a single 9kg bottle.
Refillable gas bottles offer the best 'bang for your buck'. The once-off purchase of a cylinder (refillable gas bottles have a lifespan of 10 years), combined with the ability to buy a larger volume of gas create a cost effective solution to most camping situations.
Many campers already have a bottle hooked up to the BBQ at home and for many people it's simple matter of disconnecting the bottle and carting it along for a weekend in the bush. The one drawback is size and weight. Refillable bottles are no problem mounted to the front of a caravan but can be heavy and bulky when tossed in the back of a car or four wheel drive.
As a guide - a 4kg refillable LPG bottle lasts 2 people about 2 weeks when used solely for cooking on a 2 burner stove. The type of stove, weather conditions and heat range will alter these numbers dramatically.
Disposable Gas Cylinders
Disposable Gas Cylinders are pressure filled with butane or propane or a combination of both and gas appliances will generally run on either fuel. Small, lightweight, throwaway cartridges make a lot of sense in many situations. These miniature cylinders are great for hikers and campers who like to travel light and don't have a need for large volumes of gas. Serious hikers, in particular, use very small fold-up stoves and tiny butane or propane cylinders. These cartridges hold around 113 grams of gas and burn on a low heat for about 2 hours. Enough for a couple of boilings in a small kettle and a quick meal.
Most campers need a gas supply with a bit more volume and larger disposable canisters are cheap and plentiful. Many people will be familiar with the 220 gram canisters that fuel the foldaway single burner stoves. These compact stove-tops pack away in plastic carry cases and will burn up a single canister in two to four hours. They will run a gas lantern for six to ten hours and a pack of four canisters can be had for under ten bucks.
Note that of the two gases - propane and butane, butane burns 12% more efficiently while propane remains usable in sub zero temperatures.
Larger volume, disposable canisters are available for longer burn times and a standard 465 gram bottle will fit a variety of appliances.
Gas stoves, camping lights, tent heaters and hot water systems can all be fuelled by the same style of disposable gas canister. We carry a butane heating torch which screws in to the top of the 465g bottles and gets used for everything from caramelising sugar to loosening seized bolts.
Narrowing the type of gas container you carry down to a single style begins to make a lot of sense when it's time to start packing for a camping trip. Smaller bottles with their shorter burn time means you have to carry spares. Using a single style of bottle means you can carry less of them. It also means you can mix and match the gas from various appliances. If the stove runs out of fuel you can grab the canister from the gas light. Many Coleman products will run on refillable bottles or disposable cartridges and appliances like the 'Hot Water On Demand' water heater is supplied with fittings for either gas.
Gas is fast, convenient and clean. The ability to pull up roadside and quickly heat a kettle is invaluable. Hot water at the push of a button is a delight and we've yet to find a camping light that shines as brightly as a gas or kerosene lantern.
While the real joy of camping still lies in the simplicity of the lifestyle and the atmosphere of a camp fire, the efficiency and convenience of gas has it's place.
Large volume consumers will do well to remain faithful to refillable bottles while those who travel light and are only occasional campers will find disposable canisters a simple solution.
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