What exactly is Coleman Camping Fuel? [Science and History]

Thursday, 08 March 2012

Here in North America, Coleman Fuel (naphtha or “white gas” as it’s also called) has been the fuel of choice for camp stoves and lanterns since the dawn of time. It’s been so popular that if you go into any old garage you are bound to find a rusty tin container of the fuel under the workbench against the back wall.

According to Frank Schmidt a Senior Project Engineer at The Coleman Company, the fuel was developed in the early 1950’s as small motor fuel for lawnmowers, outboard motors as well as an industrial cleaning agent.

The popularity of Coleman Fuel as motor fuel declined in the late 1950’s with advancement of other, better fuel technologies but it has since remained the go-to choice for heating camp coffee in the morning.

So what is Coleman Fuel made of? In its simplest form it's a petroleum product either derived from natural gas or distilled from oil, coal tar or peat (partially decayed vegetation matter) due to its high carbon content. It also has a several other chemicals mixed in which include cyclohexane, nonane, octane, heptane, and pentane.

Coleman Fuel is ideal for small stoves and lanterns due to its refined purity and high heat output. It also doesn’t give off the black smoke and toxic fumes that regular gasoline or kerosene does.

Though it’s almost as flammable as gasoline, don’t put it in your car’s tank as the lack of some additives will cause engine knocking and eventually destroy your engine valves. Both of those are generally not good things.

How long does Coleman Fuel last before it loses its octane punch? A Coleman rep on a message board said this:

An un-opened container of Coleman Fuel stored in a dry area with no rapid extreme changes in temperature will remain viable for five to seven years. An opened container stored in the same area will remain viable for up to two years though will be at its best if used within a year.

More info on backpacking fuels: fuel.papo-art.com

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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