Butane is a vaporous gas that is stored under pressure to provide a fuel source. Highly flammable, butane burns to form water vapor and carbon dioxide. It's sometimes mixed with propane and is used in the manufacturing of ethylene and butadiene, which make up synthetic rubber.
We hikers rely on butane for torches, cooking stoves, barbecues and camp heaters.
There are some facts about these useful fuel sources that we should know, for safety as well as for maximum benefits.
What is Butane Used For?
We hikers rely on butane canisters for torches, cooking stoves, barbecues and camp heaters - although it has a very wide range. Outside hiking purposes, mainly it's used as propellant for deodorants and as fuel for lighters.
In fact, the only time butane isn’t the obvious choice over propane is in near freezing conditions, where it must be warmed up before it can be burned as fuel and propane does not. If this isn’t a concern, go for the butane every time.
Portable butane cartridges are almost all manufactured in South Korea by one single firm, who holds 70 percent of the global market. Butane canisters are also produced by one firm in Houston, Texas, with most of the gas being from sources in the US.
How to Store Butane Canisters
Your butane canister will have a label affixed that outlines the safe storage conditions. In general, butane canisters should be stored indoors, out of reach of children and pets, and in temperatures no colder than 32 degrees Fahrenheit and no warmer than 125 degrees Fahrenheit and low humidity.
DO NOT store butane canisters in the direct sunlight for any length of times and keep them away from heat sources including electrical outlets. Don’t store butane canisters in your vehicle for long periods of time, it’s best to pack it only when you’re about to leave on your camping trip for safety’s sake.
Restrictions on Butane
Don’t plan on packing your butane canister for carry-on or checked baggage on just about any airline in any country, as it’s prohibited. Ditto for shipping butane canisters domestically or internationally, unless you’re specifically licensed to do so.
Does Butane Expire?
In general, sealed, butane canisters do not go bad; in fact, the consensus is that they will last for up to ten years or sometimes even more. Opened butane canisters that sit unused will still be flammable and work fine in your camping stove, but the quality of the gas may deteriorate over time.
Old butane canisters with poor quality fuel can gunk up your stove, which would require cleaning before your next use. If you want to save time and keep your stove or heater working longer, don’t use old butane canisters.
The butane canister itself may rust or the seal around the valve may deteriorate over time if left unused. In this case, it may be unsafe to use your butane canisters, so they should be disposed of safely.
How to Dispose of Butane
Butane canisters are pressurized, so disposal can be dangerous for people and may harm the environment, so we’re going to explain the right way to do it.
When in doubt, get in touch with your local gas station, fire department or department of public works or a licensed disposal facility in order to get rid of unused, old butane cartridges. These facilities are good resources on how to recycle butane canisters.
If you want to dispose of your butane canisters yourself, you’ll need to make sure they are totally empty. To do this, you can secure the canister to the stove or heater and run it until the fuel is gone.
We made a quick pot of chili and used up a few of our old canisters while it cooked, so no wasted fuel. If you don’t want to burn off the last of the fuel in the canisters, you’ll need a sharp object to make a hole through the side of the canister. Any sharp object will do, but we recommend a screwdriver or an old-fashioned church key style bottle opener, the one with the pointy end.
Don’t use power tools like saws or drills, as these could spark and ignite any fuel still in the canister. Using the tool, poke a hole through the canister’s side to release the butane. After the canister is completely empty, it can join the regular recycling in the bin.
Alternatively, find your nearest Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection site, which will accept empty or nearly empty butane cartridges and other containers. Some of these sites offer pickup or other services, but be aware that they will most likely not accept damaged containers or those that are obviously leaking.
They also typically restrict the maximum size of the container to 25 gallons or 220 lbs per visit. Be aware that there may be a fee involved by the facility in order to recycle your old butane canisters.
If you need to store your empty or nearly empty butane canisters for a while, follow the storage advice on the label or our general rules listed above. Remember that it’s NEVER safe to just trash your butane canisters or to throw them on the campfire. These cartridges are under pressure and, even if they’re empty, can cause an explosion because they still contain some gas and propellant.
Best Butane Camping Stove
When choosing a camp stove for yourself, it's important to consider how you’ll transport it as well as how you're planning to use it. If most of the time you camp while out on a hike, you need a more portable model than if you were a car camper. Same with the butane canisters, as they come in different sizes, so be sure to check out what type of canister is best before you decide on a model of stove.
In addition to car vs. backpack, when you choose a camping stove, you should keep the size of your typical camping party in mind. Backpack camp stoves are great for groups of four or less. More people than that and you need to look at a larger stove or even bringing two. We recommend cast iron for cooking over a camp stove or fire, but again, if you’re backpacking (and if you're in this site, you probably are), bring what makes sense weight-wise.
Your camping stove will use one of four types of canisters, either a screw-on canister, easy-click canister, pierce-style canister or aerosol canister. Let’s take a look at each type:
These contain a mix of butane and propane gas and come in 100, 220, 250, 445 or 500-gram sizes. They are available in most of the world’s camping retailers including those in the USA, UK and Europe. You may also see them referred to as threaded, normal or C100, C500, CA500 canisters by name.
Also known as non-threaded, clip-on, “Easy Clic Plus”, CV270, CV300 or CV470, these canisters are identical to the screw-on type of canisters but they have a different type of valve, making them incompatible with the screw-type. These canisters contain a mix of butane and propane and are available in 230, 240 and 450-gram sizes. This type of canister is mostly available in northern European countries from camping retail stores.
The cheapest style of canister, the pierce style works exactly as the name suggests and, you guessed it, cannot be re-sealed once used. Hardly anyone’s first choice who wants to be green, but the pierce-style may be the only option you have in some places. The typical butane/propane mix is found in the 190-gram size canister, which is available from camping shops, supermarkets and garden centers all over the world, but mostly found in France and eastern and southern European countries.
Like hairspray, the aerosol-style butane canister contains a propellant but is mostly isobutene in the 250-gram size. Found in the USA, Korea, Japan and Europe, this style is available from camping retailers, DIY and garden centers, convenience and fuel retailers and supermarkets in most parts of the world. These aerosol-style butane canisters are mostly used for refill purposes in camping torches or to refill lighters. There are some tools, such as soldering irons, that are powered by butane, and require these canisters. Most of the aerosol cans come with adapters to make sure you can refill all types of appliances and tools.
Car campers can find big, heavy canisters in larger, 10-30 lb. sizes or more, but these aren’t something backpackers and hikers rely on for their camping needs. They’re just too heavy, but they’re great for caravans, barbecues and heaters on porches and patios or in other permanent situations.
Our pick for best portable butane stove, MSR PocketRocket2 is very simple to use and lightweight also the most efficient on fuel. We can use it indoors or out, making it perfect to take to a cabin or on a tent camping trip.