Everybody recommends using either Coleman Camp Fuel or kerosene with multifuel liquid camping/backpacking stoves. So what are the differences between Coleman Camp Fuel and kerosene? Are the basically the same thing in different packaging?
Is Coleman Camp Fuel The Same As Kerosene? Coleman Camp Fuel is another name for white gas so it’s not the same as kerosene. They’re both extremely versatile fuels and can be used in almost every situation, but Coleman fuel is clean burning. Kerosene produces lots of smoke, clogs fuel lines, and releases a strong odor. The only advantage kerosene has is it can be found everywhere.
Why would anybody choose kerosene if white gas is cleaner burning? It all comes down to availability, cost, and sometimes ignorance. Would you rather pay a few dollars more for a clean fuel or buy the cheaper option and have to regularly clean the stove?
Coleman Fuel vs Kerosene
Coleman camp fuel is basically just white gas with a few extra fuel stabilizers added to it. This might be an oversimplification, but white gas is essentially gasoline that’s been highly refined. They go farther in the refining process increasing combustion/volatility and get rid of sediment that would clog your camping stove. Plus there’s no ethanol and fuel stabilizers/cleaners like at a regular gas station.
Anybody that’s used kerosene to light a campfire can immediately see the difference. Kerosene is harder to light, burns cooler, smells, and produces lots of smoke and carbon monoxide. It’s also finicky in cold weather conditions and the odor clings to everything(clothes, tent, pack, food), making kerosene a bad choice for camping/backpacking.
That’s why kerosene is almost always used in lanterns instead of stoves. It adds a funky smell/taste to the food and produces a crazy amount of black smoke. All your cooking gear will look like it was put under a blow torch. Everything gets covered in black soot and is very hard to clean.
Differences Between Kerosene and Coleman Fuel (aka White Gas, Naphtha Gas)
Let’s start out by clarifying that coleman fuel, white gas, and Naphtha gas are all essentially the same product. It’s often called Coleman fuel because that’s the brand-name most people are familiar with. Coleman has been selling camping fuel since the early 1900s so that’s the brand most people are familiar with.
Coleman supposedly add fuel stabilizers/cleaners, but I haven’t noticed any difference between name brand Coleman Fuel and cheap white gas you can find at any home improvement store (Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, etc.). Just buy whatever you can get your hands on at an affordable price. You may have to clean out your stove a few more times over the course of a decade, but you shouldn’t notice much of a difference.
White gas is by far the best choice for camping stoves (over kerosene). The fuel is highly refined making it very easy to light and clean burning with a very mild odor. You still have to clean out your camping stove on occasion, but there’s less risk of your lines clogging
Kerosene (aka paraffin) might by a liquid fuel like white gas, but it’s very different. It’s an old fashioned fuel with a simplified refining process making kerosene a dirty fuel with lots of sediment. Kerosene is notorious for clogging fuel lines and producing a crazy amount of smoke that smells terrible and sticks to everything. There’s also a serious performance drop with kerosene which I’ll get into in the next section.
Once you overlook the smoke, odor and line clogs, kerosene is a surprisingly efficient fuel source. It’s a little bit harder to light than Coleman Fuel, but perfectly acceptable for most camping/backpacking applications. While I still prefer Coleman fuel (white gas), it can be hard to find in rural areas and developing countries. Kerosene is much cheaper and can be found anywhere.
Which is better, Kerosene or Coleman Fuel?
White Gas and Kerosene are comparable when it comes to performance and reliability. They burn hot and are easy to light in a wide variety of conditions. It doesn’t matter what the outside weather conditions are like. Kerosene and Coleman fuel work in freezing weather, high altitudes, rain, snow, etc.
With that being said, white gas is clearly the better option for multifuel liquid stoves. It’s cleaner burning and won’t produce soot, black smoke, and the kerosene odor that sticks to everything. That means an easier time cleaning your pots/pans and less maintenance to keep the stove running. Kerosene is a dirty fuel with lots of sediment so it’s notorious for clogging fuel lines.
Coleman Fuel (aka White Gas, Naphtha)
White gas is also one of the cleanest fuels you can buy with few additives and hardly any sediment. You won’t be left with sediment deposits in your fuel lines and will rarely have to clean out your equipment. There will still be the occasional clog, but those are rare with proper maintenance.
The only downside to white gas is your stove will need to be primed and pumped making it harder to use than other fuels like propane and esbit cubes. Just keep in mind that all liquid fuels need to be primed/pumped so kerosene will also have this problem. This isn’t a huge deal, but worth noting.
The high burning temperature and clean odorless fuel output more than makes up for needing to prime and pump the stove. Along with kerosene it can be used in almost every situation. White gas will always light! It doesn’t matter if it’s freezing outside, high altitude or wet weather. White gas is one of the only liquid fuels that can be used in the winter.
Kerosene is also known as “Jet Fuel” so it can get ridiculously hot! The downside is it takes almost an hour to reach complete combustion. So you’ll have to deal with lots of smoke while it’s burning below the optimal temperature. It can make a serious mess of your gear so plan on scrubbing pots/pans when you get home.
Smoke and soot are by far the biggest problem with using kerosene. Kerosene burns hot but it takes almost an hour for a kerosene stove to reach a high enough temperature for complete combustion. That’s impossible with a limited fuel supply so you’ll have to deal with smoke and the kerosene odor.
Your pots and pans will get black and some people claim they can taste kerosene in their food. I’ve never been able to taste kerosene, but maybe they have extra sensitive taste buds.
Kerosene is great for lanterns and camping heaters, but it can be quirky when used in camping stoves. It will quickly clog up the small fuel lines and you will have to unclug them. This isn’t a huge issue with regular maintenance, but can become a problem on longer 7+ day backpacking trips. A brand new stove can become unusable with kerosene before the end of the trip.
That’s why you should always carry a small stove maintenance kit with any liquid fuel stove. It doesn’t matter what kind of fuel you’re using. Kerosene may clog faster, but there can also be problems with gas. MSR’s Liquid Stove Maintenance kit has everything you need to fix a liquid stove on the trail. I’ll explain how to use your maintenance kit further down.
Which fuel Should I Use In A Multi-Fuel Camping Stove?
Most multifuel stoves are designed to handle gasoline, white gas, and kerosene, but some take butane/propane canisters as well (MSR Stoves). So what’s the best liquid fuel type for a multifuel stove?
Personally, I would always recommend using white gas if you can find it. Head down to your local home improvement store, or Walmart and buy a gallon bottle to save some money. The 32 oz bottles of Coleman Fuel are more convenient, but you’re paying for the convenient bottle.
I recommend buying a gallon jug of Walmart Camping Fuel for like $10 and filling up smaller fuel bottles with a funnel. MSR Fuel bottles are easily the most popular choice. They come in 3 sizes 11oz, 20oz, and 30oz. The 11oz can get you through a weekend backpacking trip with light-moderate use, but I would go with the 20oz or 30oz bottle. There’s only a 3oz weight difference between the bottles so I would go with one of the bigger bottles if there’s room in your pack.
Kerosene is another option if you’re unable to find camping fuel. I’ve had trouble getting white gas while backpacking outside the United States and Canada. You can’t bring it on the airplane so you have to find a camping store which is impossible in most developing countries.
Unlike Coleman Fuel, kerosene can be found everywhere. You can be in a remote village in Africa and there will be a drum of kerosene ready to buy. It’s cheap and works in just about every situation, but make sure you have a way to clean out fuel lines (here’s a cleaning kit).
Gasoline should only be used in emergency situations when no other fuel is available. Gasoline produces noxious odors that you don’t want to breathe in and can affect the taste of your food. Plus it will quickly tear through the rubber seals in your camping stove that will need to be repaired.