When you think of the list of essentials to take on a trip into the great outdoors, a few things come to mind that would really, really suck to forget. Your tent. A sleeping bag. Lantern or headlamp. Bug spray. Food. Clean water or water filters. And, if you’re venturing into or are, like myself, located in the western part of the US—propane.
Trust me, I’ve been there. Fire bans are in place, I’ve got everything on my essentials list packed away (or so I thought), I drive 2 hours and show up to set up camp. Then, it hits me, “S#*!, I forgot the propane!”. Do I drive an hour backward to the nearest town, break the fire ban regulations, or eat my dehydrated meal. . . Still, dehydrated. In case you’re wondering, I went with option 3. Don’t be like me. Friendly reminder to check that list twice.
In the western part of the US, those little Coleman green propane cylinders are just about as essential to a camping, overlanding, or backpacking trip as bug spray is in the south.
And if we’re all gonna’ be getting cozy with propane around the campfire in a can, it’s good to know your options. Those Coleman bottles are pretty much ubiquitous with camping. But, from backpacking to glamping to overlanding expeditions, there are other (often better!) options to fit your needs. Let’s explore.
Propane Basics: What’s propane anyway?
Propane. The reigning fuel source of the outdoor industry—whether for backyard or backcountry use. It’s portable, it’s light on emissions, and it’s friendly on the ole’ pocketbook.
It’s also the lifeblood of our favorite campfire in a can. . . I mean, we might be a little biased here but if you give the LavaBox a try I think you’ll understand. I digress. It wouldn’t be possible without portable propane.
For those of us who aren’t grill masters or who’ve only dabbled in hooking those little Coleman green propane canisters up to our little green grill of the same brand name, propane-powered gear can sound a little intimidating.
Like, can’t propane explode if I don’t hook this up right!?
What if I buy the wrong kind of propane. Again, will it explode!?
Yes, these are the apprehensions that have passed through the mind of yours truly. But I know I’m not the only one out there! So for everyone like myself who’s hesitated about hauling propane into the backcountry (or even to the cookout in your truck bed) let’s clear up some misconceptions about propane and learn about safe and sustainable options for the backcountry and beyond.
First Thing’s First: Is propane a liquid or a gas?
You’ll often hear propane called “liquid propane”. This can lead to some confusion if you’re wondering, “But isn’t propane a gas?”. In some places, it’ll even be commonly referred to as LPG—liquified petroleum gas. Now that’s even more mind-boggling.
The good news is that propane, liquid propane, and LPG are all actually the same thing. And, regardless of whatever name you prefer to use, it can safely and efficiently fuel your LavaBox, Coleman Grill, JetBoil, backyard propane fire pit, and summer BBQs.
The reason for the, sometimes confusing, name “Liquid propane” (or LPG) is that propane is actually a liquid when existing at temperatures below -44°F or when existing under pressure. Unpressurized, and at temperatures exceeding -44°F, propane is a gas.
So, whether you guessed propane is a liquid, or you guessed it’s a gas, you’re correct! But it’s the vapor form of propane that ultimately fuels that campfire in a can, camp stove, or any similar propane-fueled appliance.
Considering the fact that the propane we use as consumers comes pressurized in a canister, it’s stored as a liquid. But when you open the valve on that canister and release the pressure, the propane is released as a gas. The good news about this is that when you’re purchasing propane, you don’t need to worry too much about whether it’s a liquid or a gas.
Any of the convenient options I’m about to share are safe and efficient for fueling up your propane-powered camping gear.
A Quick List of our Favorite Options for Overlanding and Camping Propane
Phew! That was a lot. Didn’t know you were in for a chemistry lesson today, did ya?
Hopefully, now you feel a bit more comfortable making decisions about purchasing propane—it’s a lot harder to get it wrong than you may have initially expected. But to make matters even easier, I’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite ignition options.
Of course, there are the go-to disposable Coleman green propane cans—but if you’re looking for larger, more affordable, refillable, or more sustainable propane picks here’s our master list.
Flame King and Manchester
You’ve probably seen the Flame King or Manchester name under your dad’s grill or sitting in a cage in front of your local Ace Hardware. You could probably say they’re the reigning powers of propane. They often don't come to mind as a camping or portable propane option, but with the right gear on hand, they sure can be!
Flame King offers propane tanks starting at 1lb cans, just like Coleman. The awesome part about Flame King’s single-pounders? They’re refillable. They’re DOT and CT certified for up to 12 years, meaning you can safely use and reuse them for over a decade. (Side note: refilling Coleman’s green canisters—while similar in appearance—is legal yet not completely safe and, as they are not certified refillable, it is illegal to transport those 1lb Coleman green propane tanks once they’ve been refilled. You run the risk of up to $500,000 in fines and up to 5 years in prison. Not worth it in our mind!)
Guess what? Manchester also offers a refillable 1lber. You can read all about it in Hank Hill’s favorite periodical: LP Gas Magazine
Flame King 1lb Refillable Cylinders can be purchased with a handy refill kit that’s caught the attention of the outdoor industry. You can even find it at REI. This kit comes with a single 1lb camping propane cylinder that will last you over a decade as well as everything you need to safely refill your cylinder (minus the propane itself).
Flame King and Manchester also offer propane cylinders from 5lbs and up. We recommend 5-20lb cylinders for use with LavaBox, rafting, overlanding, or in the backcountry (as long as you’re not backpacking. . . That wouldn’t be a fun trek).
We also love Flame King and Manchester for the sake of convenience. You can often find and refill Flame King propane cylinders at roadside gas stations, equipment rentals places (Like UHaul), campgrounds, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and similar hardware stores.
Friendly Reminder: We still don’t recommend running any propane campfire on the 1lbers, refillable or otherwise. The 1lbers flow rate is different from the 5lbers and up. Can it be done? Yes. BUT, the flame will be very inconsistent and possibly dangerous.
Blue Rhino offers propane tanks of various sizes to suit your grilling and outdoor needs. They operate on the premise of sustainability. We dig that. Their propane tanks are easy to exchange for a full tank when you run out of gas.
You can purchase a Blue Rhino propane tank in whatever size floats your boat. When that tank runs dry, filling up is as easy as dropping your tank outside a retailer that distributes Blue Rhino propane. You can pick up a full tank and your empty will be inspected for safety before being recirculated. Painless and sustainable!
Last but not least on this list we have Little Kamper. A more sustainable little green propane canister designed to help eliminate propane cylinder waste (which is historically difficult to safely recycle) in national parks. Little Kamper propane cylinders are actually the same tanks manufactured by Flame King for their 1lb cylinder program, so you can trust that safety and compliance are tried and true.
Each Little Kamper portable propane tank is 1lb and can be purchased at a retailer near you. Once your tank is on E, you can pop back into another Little Kamper retailer and exchange your empty for a full 1lb tank at a discounted rate. Your old tank will then be inspected for safety, refilled, and recirculated.
Little Kamper retailers are primarily found along the west coast in California, Oregon, and Washington. We’re also fortunate to have a Little Kamper retailer right here in Colorado.
How to Safely Transport Propane for Camping and Overlanding
Toting propane into the backcountry can require a bit more consideration than transporting it from Home Depot to your backyard. While this part is often overlooked, transporting propane safely is crucial to avoiding any dangerous potential gas leaks or (the bad kind of) ignition.
If you, like I myself have done, have a habit of chucking green Coleman cylinders into the bottom of your camp box and hitting the road, it might be time to consider safer options.
A safe option for transporting propane tanks means that your tank stays upright and isn’t stored in an enclosed space (i.e., Somewhere that would cause you or your friends to be breathing in a potential gas leak if an incident were to occur) or near any sparks or open flame.
You also want to keep in mind that, for efficiency’s sake, it’s best to keep your propane tank somewhere that it’s not going to endure major cold temps or winter weather. While it takes extreme conditions to cause propane to be stranded in its liquid state (sub -44°F), typical cold temperatures experienced in the outdoors (think more like 30°F) can cause the volume of liquid propane in your tank to shrink, reducing pressure and the flow of fuel to your appliances and gear.
(Keep reading to learn about how our Tank Top helps mitigate concerns over the cold when using propane.)
If you’re backpacking or taking a trip that won’t require much more than a single pound cylinder, it’s easy enough to secure your propane upright in a tool bag or backpack pocket and store it in the bed of a truck or in the back of your vehicle with the windows down.
But if you’re in need of more fuel or you’re Overlanding and don’t want a propane tank treacherously bouncing around your truck bed, it’s time to invest in a solid tank mount.
The Overlander’s Essential Threesome: MOLLE gear, Burt’s Tank Top, and your favorite propane tank
Why’s it important to keep your propane tank upright at all times? Because propane is heavier than air. There’s both air and liquid propane in your tank, and it’s important that the propane stays where it belongs—in the bottom of the tank. That can’t happen if it’s flipped on its side while you’re worried about not bottoming out on that sharp boulder you just crawled up.
I reckon if you're headed out onto a 4WD trail or down a rutted-out dirt road to find a campsite away from the crowds, you’ll probably find yourself in a scenario similar to the one mentioned above. The last thing you want to hear when you’re focused on the trail is an 11lb propane tank bashing around in the back of your rig.
That’s why the overlanding aficionados at LavaBox created Burt's Tank Top. A warm, secure embrace that keeps your tank locked in place.
Burt’s Tank Top is a propane tank cover that checks all the boxes.
Reinforced with kevlar to ensure your tank doesn’t get banged up or punctured
Daisy chain tie-downs on each side so you can easily secure your tank to any MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) mounting panels like this one here.
MOLLE compatible 1” webbing loops on the base
Super convenient HD YKK zipper in the back and a comfy soft grip carrying handle
It’s made of 3mm neoprene to keep your tank insulated and your fuel flowing smoothly
Available in three sizes: 5lb, 10/11lb and 20lb
Burt’s Tank Top is a one stop shop for safely and securely transporting your propane tank into the backcountry while keeping it cozy enough to maintain the smooth flow of fuel needed to keep you cozy around your campfire in a can.