Getting the most from isobutane/propane?

Discussion in 'Camping Toys' started by Grinnin, Jan 2, 2020.

  1. Grinnin

    Grinnin Forever N00b Supporter

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    Someone else recently expressed concerns about the small amount of cooking that an isobutane cartridge is capable of.

    Are there practices that apply specifically to isobutane?
    • Using 220g cartridges instead of 110g would have half as many slumps from the nearly empty cartridge. Is this significant for month-long trip?
    • Keeping cartridges warm seems to help, especially as a cartridge nears empty.
    • For cooking on liquid fuel, a wind screen helps a lot. This can reflect radiant heat even when there's not much wind. An outdoor store employee said that wind screens are dangerous for isobutane cartridge stoves. Are they helpful? Dangerous? Only dangerous if they're full circle?
    I responded with some general cooking strategies:
    • Boiling water with a smaller flame instead of WOT will save fuel. Flame should not extend past the bottom of the pot.
    • Wider pot will turn fuel into more hot water than a tall narrow pot.
    • Tall, narrow Jetboil-type cooking systems with wind protection and heat exchangers will be much more efficient than an open burner and a wide pot.
    • Pots with radiused bottom edge will flow more heat up the sides than a pot with a sharp bottom edge.
    • Some burners are simply more efficient than others.
    • Many foods can continue to cook with the heat off. Pasta has a long tradition of cooking in boiling water but it cooks nearly as well in 99C water off the stove although it takes a stir or two to keep it from sticking. Pasta also doesn't take nearly as much water as tradition says.
    • Even longer-cooking foods like grains can cook off the stove if the boiling-hot pot is wrapped in insulation.
    I responded to the concern with my own observations, but being an isobutane noob, I'd be interested in more. Also interested in other cooking strategies no matter if they apply to freeze dried meals or foods from farmers' markets.
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  2. Yinzer Moto

    Yinzer Moto Long timer Supporter

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    I think the canisters that I usually get are a mix of propane and isobutane. The 100g canisters last a considerable amount of time. It depends on what is being cooked. Boiling water for oatmeal or a freeze dried meal does not take much energy. Trying to cook pasta or steak takes more energy. I prefer the 100g containers because I can toss them and make my pack size smaller. I put backup canisters at the bottom of my back, so they are not in the way. The jet boil type of cookware with the heat exchanger is far more effective but I abandoned my jet boil because I found the heat difficult to control when trying to cook at lower temps. Your actual fuel usage is based on too many variables to guess on what you may use for a month. On a trip like that, I will start out with 2 100g canisters and when one gets used up, I will look at the time left in the trip and make a decision if I need to keep an eye open for a sporting goods store. With a single large canister, you would have to shake the canister and make a decision if it is getting low or not.
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  3. Maggot12

    Maggot12 U'mmmm yeaah!!

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    I use canisters of both sizes and may take one of each for something longer than a few days.

    I never calculated to see if the bigger tank doubled the use. Going for a couple nights I'll take a 1/2 empty smaller one.

    Nothing scientific here but having the flame just covering the bottom of my 5in pot gives me the quickest boil without wasting fuel. It'll only take a minute anyway.
    Wind protection helps a lot and I'll use the windscreen every time. No particular way to place it, but usually 3/4 way around the pot.

    Frying trout or bacon/eggs I'll have it turned down and it'll be running for probably 10 minutes.

    I will say that of the different types of stoves I've own and used, the mini iso types are my go to stoves.

    Cheap, ease of use, efficient, simple, and small. I like cooking over a fire, and will do that if time allows.
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  4. nickguzzi

    nickguzzi Long timer

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    I converted my ages old trangia to the gas burner. There is a reasonable wind break as part of the trangia package, but in low temps and high winds, a piece of cardboard or two layers of tinfoil adds that bit extra.
    When cooking in a Mistral wind in southern France, you can need all the wind-breakage you can get.

    I only use the cheap canisters as they are obtainable everywhere where I camp, usually in a couple of sizes. The Colman/Snopeak etc branded ones do burn slightly hotter, so you can turn them down more, but they are not that much better. Burning hotter is not necessarily an advantage either, if you are actually cooking and need to simmer something for a while, the lower pressure when simmering will make the flame easier to be blown out. Not to mention the more or less universally thin pans tendency to scorch and burn. Stainless steel especially.
    I also find the cheap canisters that are shaped similar to a regular aerosol are easier to pack and stack, but that could depend on your pack system.

    I can usually get at least a week, maybe ten days from a large canister. Morning coffee, afternoon tea and a cooked meal every other day. The "cooked" may just be boiled eggs and potatoes or something more elaborate.
    I never had a problem frying bacon eggs and potatoes, either heat wise or burn wise.

    Adjusting the flame correctly as you indicate not only helps conserve fuel, but may actually help cook quicker. The combustion should be under the pot, not outside it. The trangia helps a lot.
    In the Mistral conditions, keeping an ear out for the flame is necessary. The Mistral tends to be gusty and can catch the flame and you out.
    I wonder if the store employee was talking about cartridge stove that have the gas integral with the burner? I can see that could get precarious if care was not exercised.
    Mine is at the end of a flex connector and is remote from the stove/burner. Any reasonable windbreak leaves the cartridge outside.

    The trangia I have is a model 27, the small one. Use it for preparing meals for two, no problem. A friend got the 25, larger model and found it more tricky to use. He also got a trangia kettle. I never found a use for one of those. Avoid burning the food and the pans are super easy to clean and rinse and use for making tea. A bit of sand or wood ash if available, will absorb and scour very quickly.
    I take a moka pot for coffee.
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  5. Maggot12

    Maggot12 U'mmmm yeaah!!

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    For the stoves themselves, I have one that screws on top of the cannister and another that's on about 12-14" flexible hose. The one with the hose, the pot is only a couple inches off the ground so easier to protect from the wind and is much more stable than the one screwed on the tank.
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  6. FolsomTony

    FolsomTony Fat Tony

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    I weigh the canisters when new, and keep track of how long they last. I weigh all partial canisters when I get home to see how many grams of fuel were used. Then I can figure out how many days I get out of them. Also let's me select a partial for an overnight vs multi-day trip.

    Of course daily use cooking varies, but it's how I usually know what my requirements are for how many days I need to plan for.
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  7. Maggot12

    Maggot12 U'mmmm yeaah!!

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    That's interesting... what kind of scale do you use for that.

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  8. Grinnin

    Grinnin Forever N00b Supporter

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    I don't know what scale @FolsomTony uses, but I'll point out that MSR canisters have a rough fuel gauge on the side. Float the canister in water and it will float at a height that's inversely proportional to the fuel level. The gauge on the 110g canister is about 18mm tall, the gauge on the 227g canister is about 25mm. Both gauges are marked in quarters.

    I'm sure FolsomTomy's measurements and log are more accurate, but MSR sure makes it simple for field measurements.
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  9. Grinnin

    Grinnin Forever N00b Supporter

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    The store employee was certainly talking about stoves with the burner directly on the canister. I have a multifuel stove with hose that will take a cartridge but the pack size grows and that burner isn't nearly as quiet as the burner I have that mounts on the canister.

    I know I can spend much more time and money looking for perfect, but I'm mostly looking for ways to make the most of what I have.
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  10. FolsomTony

    FolsomTony Fat Tony

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    It's a Taylor digital kitchen scale. I write the weight on the bottom of the canister with a Sharpie. It probably is overkill for weight savings when you have a vehicle, but I started this when I was trying to really reduce my backpack weight as I got older. I got tired of carrying full cans over a 7 day trip and never using them.
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  11. Maggot12

    Maggot12 U'mmmm yeaah!!

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    The stove I have that screws on the top is the one that popped up on this site probably 5 yrs ago. 6 bucks from china in a litttle orange plastic case.

    I don't think it's unsafe at all. I wanted a little more stability so I got the other type. 15-18 bucks I think, packs a little larger then the orange case one.

    Never thought of noise with them being a concern, but quiter and much less effort over the whisperlite international it replaced.


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  12. Maggot12

    Maggot12 U'mmmm yeaah!!

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    Wouldn't be concerned about the weight, but neat to know how much I'm burning over a weekend. I have several of various fill rates, don't want to take 4 of them for a weekend. Nice to know what kind of burn time was in them.

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  13. JT105

    JT105 Let's Ride!

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    I have a Snow Peak Giga stove that screws on top of the ISO-Propane cartridge. One large cartridge (220-250g I think) lasted 6 days breakfast coffee and hot dinners on a long hike with two people. This was with a basic pot and lid.

    I use the MSR and Snowpeak canisters while hiking. I also have adapters to use a regular green 1 lb propane bottle and also the butane cans from the Asian markets (aerosol paint can size). I carry the adapters with me when I go on a trip.

    I use a heat shield and also a small pot with a heat exchanger bottom (Optimus Weekend HE). Best efficiency is about 3/4 flame until boil, then turn the flame down as low as possible to simmer. Using the heat exchanger pot extended the fuel to last about 1/3 longer.

    Watching YouTube reviews on the HE pot showed only minor gains in efficiency. My experience is different. I see a big difference. Water heats 30% faster. I can simmer forever. And I can cook awesome meals (like biscuits and gravy for breakfast!) all in the small 800ml pot.

    I also bought the larger Optimus HE 1.4L pot for use when traveling with friends. I hope to get some good use out of it this coming summer.

    JT
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  14. JT105

    JT105 Let's Ride!

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    Also, I refill the canisters with butane from the Asian butane cans. You can also combine half-empty canisters so you take full ones on your trip.

    A search on YouTube will show what adapters you need to refill or combine canisters.

    JT
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  15. Grinnin

    Grinnin Forever N00b Supporter

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    After years of using a Svea and not being able to hear the woods while it was running, I started looking for quiet stoves. I'm glad I'm trying isobutane/propane and it sure is convenient in some ways. The major hiccup in convenience is that fuel isn't right there in the 6-gallon motorcycle tank.
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  16. boulet_boulet

    boulet_boulet Been here awhile

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    If only your riding buddy had a quiet stove...

    I was pleased to learn about the possibility of refilling the canisters, even from the dregs of spent canisters. I watched a video from "Senior Hiker" and he claimed quite a harvest from the dregs of spent canisters. Thanks @JT105
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  17. Grinnin

    Grinnin Forever N00b Supporter

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    This would seem to eliminate the slow cooking from the last bit of fuel in a canister. May not be a problem all times of year, but can be when it's cold which looks like a good time to try this in the field. I'll need to test this out with simulated field conditions before my next trip.

    Thanks.
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  18. JT105

    JT105 Let's Ride!

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    When I transfer, I put the receiving canister in the freezer. The source canister will be warmer and therefore at a higher pressure than the cold one. This makes the transfer easier.

    JT
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  19. JT105

    JT105 Let's Ride!

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    The slow cooking is caused by two things.
    1. When the canister gets cold, the pressure will drop and the stove flame will get smaller.
    2. The MSR canisters (and many of the name brands) are ISO-Propane (a mixture of both isobutane and propane). The propane has a higher vapor pressure than the butane and tends to get used up faster than the isobutane. When the canister is nearly empty, the majority of what’s left is isobutane. Therefore, the canister has less pressure and stove performance is reduced. Combining multiple canisters like this will give you a full canister of mostly isobutane and very little propane. Use these in the warmer weather and it should be no problem.

    JT
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  20. Grinnin

    Grinnin Forever N00b Supporter

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    I also figured out that to use this during a longer trip requires that I carry a near empty cartridge long enough to free up space in another cartridge so they can be combined. Plus carrying the valve itself.

    The simpler way is without the valve. Just try to get that last out of a cartridge and switch to a new one. Maybe use a new one in the morning and save the near-empty one for (presumably warmer) evening.

    I was temporarily blinded by a gadget.

    I can see the value of this for use at home between overnights though.
    #20
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