What Is Coleman Fuel Made Out Of?

What Is Coleman Fuel Made Out Of?

Every backpacker and camper has a few bottles of Coleman fuel sitting in their garage. We use it in our liquid fuel stoves and caming lanterns, but do you actually know what it is? Do you have to buy expensive bottles of name brand Coleman fuel or is there a cheaper option that would work just as well? What is Coleman Fuel made out of?

Coleman fuel is the name brand version of white gas. Coleman claims there are minor differences in the fuel stabilizers they use, but there won’t be a noticeable difference between Coleman Fuel and Generic white gas camping fuel. White gas is a highly refined colorless liquid fuel similar to gasoline, but it doesn’t contain additives to improve engine performance. This makes it an extremely efficient clean burning fuel source and a perfect option for camping stoves/lanterns.

White gas was originally produced in the 1950’s to be used in cars, but Coleman saw the advantages of white gas and started marketing it towards the camping and backpacking communities. It’s by far the cleanest burning fuel available so there’s less chance of clogging up your fuel lines.

What is Coleman Fuel Made Out Of And Why Is It Better Than Other Camping Fuels?

What Can I Do With Old Coleman Fuel?

As I mentioned above, Coleman fuel is the name brand version of white gas. Coleman was the first brand to market white gas as camping fuel, but it’s exactly the same as any other bottle of generic white gas. The fuel stabilizers might be slightly different, but generic options should perform exactly the same. So buy the cheapest brand of white gas you can find, because there won’t be a noticeable difference.

Camping stoves/lanterns can run off of a handful of different fuels: white gas, kerosene, diesel, gasoline, and even diesel fuel in a pinch. So why does everybody recommend Coleman Fuel or white gas when there are other options available?

It’s because white gas is by far the purest fuel source so it reduces the amount of maintenance required for your camping gear. White gas is easy to light, works everywhere, and it has unparalleled purity so you’ll rarely have to clean clogged fuel lines. Kerosene’s a close alternative, but it smells and you’ll have to clean out your fuel lines more frequently.

There are a small handful of problems with white gas that I’ll get into below, but here are the main reasons why you should use Coleman Fuel or Generic White Gas in your camping stove.

  • Unparalleled Purity: White gas is a highly refined fuel source similar to gasoline without any of the impurities. That’s why it’s referred to as white gas! The highly refined fuel doesn’t have any of the additives of or poisonous chemicals found in gasoline to improve engine performance making it seem colorless and perfectly clear. Lacking additives makes it the purest fuel source on the market so it won’t gum up your fuel lines. You might have to clean out your fuel lines once per season instead of after every camping trip like some of the other fuels. Plus you won’t have to deal with the soot that you get with kerosene and diesel.
  • Easy To Ignite: You don’t have to worry about lighting up your camping stove when you’re using white gas. It’s highly flammable making it extremely easy to ignite. It’s like lighting up gasoline! White gas lights up instantly in all temperatures giving you an instant fuel source.
  • Highly Energy Output: White gas burns hotter than most of the other fuels making it the most efficient fuel source by far. It’s much hotter than propane, kerosene, and diesel. Let’s make it easy to understand! It heats up hotter and hotter than other fuels, so you won’t have to use as much fuel to get the same heat output. This means less weight in your pack since you won’t have to carry as much fuel.
  • Efficient In All Temperatures: Unlike other fuels, cold temperatures won’t have any effect on the performance o white gas. It has a low flash point, so it works just as well in -20°F temperatures as it does in the summer. White gas lights quickly and easily regardless of the conditions. You can camp in freezing snow covered ground, pouring rain, extreme heat, and expect the same performance out of your camping stove.
  • Odorless and Tasteless: The clean burning nature of white gas makes it completely odorless and tasteless. Other liquid fuel options like kerosene and diesel leave a distinct taste to your food and smell up your gear/campsite. You could spill a bottle of white gas directly on your gear and you would barely notice the smell. It evaporates quickly, but it’s still highly flammable so be careful around fires and other heat sources.
  • Stable For Portable Use: White gas handles burns like gasoline, but it’s far more stable. It’s highly flammable so you still have to be cautious around fires, but you don’t have to worry about accidental ignition. Plus the tiny Coleman fuel bottles are compact and extremely easy to carry. It’s highly efficient so you don’t even need to carry a full sized gallon bottle. Just fill up a small liquid fuel bottle (I like the 20oz MSR Liquid Fuel Bottles) and you should be good for a short backpacking trip.
  • Long Shelf Life: White gas has by far the longest stable shelf life of any of the other liquid fuels that you can use in multifuel camping stoves and lanterns. An unopened bottle of Coleman Fuel can last up to 20 years without noticeable problems. The fuel stabilizers will eventually separate after opening up the bottle and exposing the fuel to oxygen, but it should stay stable for 3-4 years after opening. You can extend the life of your fuel by adding a fuel stabilizer like Stabil. That should buy you 2-3 more years and a bottle of stable can handle up to 40 gallons of Coleman Fuel. Check out my post describing what you can do with old Coleman Fuel for more info on refreshing Coleman Fuel that’s past its shelf life.
  • Easy to Find: You can find Coleman Fuel or generic white gas within 10-20 minutes of anywhere in the United States. It’s relatively cheap and sold at any Walmart, Home Improvement, or Sporting Goods store. The only time you might have problems is when traveling to developing countries. Kerosene’s a great alternative when you’re unable to find white gas. It has similar performance, but you may have to clean out your fuel lines slightly more frequently.
  • Burns Bright: This has more to do with liquid fuel lanterns than stoves, but white gas burns brighter and hotter than other options. A liquid fuel lantern running off Coleman Fuel will be brighter than kerosene while putting off more heat.

As I mentioned above, there are a few downsides to white gas, but the benefits more than make up for them. It’s mainly an issue with liquid fuels in general. Liquid fuels require priming and pumping your stove to get fuel through the fuel lines. You need to pump the stove to put the fuel under enough pressure to light and prime the stove so fuel vapors can be ignited. The entire pumping and priming process takes less than a minute so it’s not a big deal, but worth noting.

Kerosene Is A Close Alternative To Coleman Fuel aka White Gas

Bottle of Kerosene

There’s a reason why kerosene is used as a cooking fuel in so many underdeveloped countries. Kerosene’s is a relatively clean burning stable fuel source. White gas is definitely better since it won’t clog your fuel lines as frequently, but kerosene is a much cheaper alternative if you’re in a bind.

It can be hard to find Coleman Fuel when you’re camping in remote areas and underdeveloped areas. When I went backpacking in remote parts of Columbia and Mexico I had a hard time finding Coleman Fuel. Camping isn’t all that popular among the locals so they don’t have outdoor gear stores like you’d find in America.

You can’t fly with camping fuel so you’re stuck with whatever’s available locally. That’s where kerosene comes in! You can find kerosene almost anywhere. Extremely poor countries cook with wood, but places like India, Nigeria, Africa, and some parts of South America use kerosene as their primary cooking fuel. So you can find kerosene at almost anywhere (even in remote villages).

Kerosene provides most of the benefits of white gas with three primary disadvantages. Kerosene has a distinct smell, adds a weird taste to your food, and is a dirty fuel so it leaves behind soot on your cooking gear. Unlike diesel fuel it’s relatively clean so you won’t have to clear fuel lines, but the added maintenance of cleaning off your stove and pots/pans is a serious pain.

Plus whatever clothes your cooking in will smell like kerosene and the stove will stink up your pack. Kerosene is great when you need a reliable fuel source in a pinch, but the downsides are clear. If you can find Coleman Fuel or generic white gas camping fuel that’s what you should always go with. It’s worth spending the extra $2-3 per gallon not to deal with cleaning off all your gear and the funky kerosene taste/smell in your food.

You might want to check out my post on 5 alternatives to Coleman Fuel for liquid fuel stoves for more information.

Why Is Coleman Fuel aka White Gas A Better Fuel Source For Backpackers?

Other Types of backpacking stoves esbit cube, propane, butane, alcohol

Let’s briefly go over why you should choose white gas over other fuel sources. There are a few fuel options when choosing a camping stove. First you need to decide between a propane, liquid fuel, alcohol, esbit/wood burning, or butane stove. I told you why white gas is great above, but let’s go over a few of the other options.

  • Kerosene/Diesel/Gasoline: As I mentioned above kerosene is a great alternative to Coleman fuel in a bind, but it’s a much dirtier fuel source. You’ll have to clean clogged fuel lines more frequently, deal with soot on cooking gear, and have a nasty kerosene taste/smell in all your food. Diesel will also work in a bind, but it’s even dirtier than kerosene. You will have to clean out your fuel lines constantly and it will completely cover your cooking gear in soot. Gasoline is a cleaner option since it’s so similar to white gas, but the additives to improve engine performance will damage your fuel lines. Gasoline definitely works in a bind, but you’ll need to wash out your gear so it doesn’t destroy the rubber seals in your stove/lantern.
  • Alcohol Stoves: Alcohol stoves have a lot of advantages, but just as many problems. They’re inexpensive, fuels cheap/easy to find, lightweight, maintenance free, and you don’t need a special fuel bottle. If you’re going ultralight you should seriously consider alcohol stoves, but they have their problems. Alcohol stoves use basic designs so there’s no way to adjust the flame and they don’t burn as hot as other stoves. So it takes longer to cook and you need to carry more fuel. The weight savings of simple stove designs make up for the added fuel, but the long cook times can be a serious pain.
  • Propane Stoves: Propane stoves are great for camping, but they’re really not appropriate for backpacking. Propane has a low boiling temperature and a lot of pressure so you need a thick heavy propane canister. Plus the stoves are usually heavier and you don’t want to deal with all that extra pack weight.
  • Butane Stoves: Butane Stoves are the lighter younger brother of propane options. Jetboil Butane Stoves are by far the most popular option. Butane stoves are the lightweight king of short trips, but they’re expensive and you run into issues after 2-3 days. There’s a tipping point around the 3 day mark where you need to carry extra butane canisters making up the weight difference of your liquid fuel canister. You also have stability concerns, cold weather issues, butanes hard to find, and you’re set with a set amount of fuel in your butane canisters. Butane stoves would be great if there were larger canisters available, but liquid fuel stoves are a much better option for longer trips.
  • Esbit and Wood Burning Stoves: I have a love hate relationship with esbit cube and woodburning stoves. They’re use ridiculously simple designs so they’re lightweight and you can find tinder/kindling anywhere, but it’s dirty and takes forever to cook. You have to wait for the fire to heat up, esbit cubes smell funk and leaves a greasy film on the bottom of your pot. If you’re on a budget esbit stoves are the way to go. Esbit cubes are cheap and you can make a cheap/reliable esbit stove by cutting down a wide tin can (peaches, pears, pineapple, etc.) and a scrap of wire mesh. It’s such a foolproof simple design that you can’t screw it up.

I almost always carry a liquid fuel stove on backpacking trips, but there’s definitely a place for all of these options. Butane stoves are great for short trips, alcohol stoves are lightweight, propane stoves are good for camping with large groups, and esbit stoves are lightweight/cheap.

I still stick with my Coleman Fuel stove 90% of the time on backpacking trips, but I keep all of these stoves for occasional use. It’s nice to have the option to pick and choose between gear to get the most out of your trip.