Mar 15 2011

State of the Mart: Good Things Come in Small Packages, Right?
OK. What About Coleman Stove Fuel?

I like to evaluate the state of the mart as I go about my daily chores. In particular, I keep my eyes peeled for consumables that cyclists might need when on a bike tour. I live in a rural backwater, and I figure that if something can be found in the stores around my home, it’s likely to be found in other American backwaters, too. A case in point? Coleman stove fuel. It’s a common sight in many local outlets. Even some convenience stores stock it, at least during the tourist season. So any cyclist passing through town who relies on a “white gas” or multi-fuel stove has a pretty good chance of being able to refuel on the road. Before you start to celebrate, however, consider this: Coleman fuel is sold in one-gallon metal cans. That’s great news for car-campers with three-burner stoves, to be sure, but since few touring cyclists will want to carry more than a quart of fuel, it makes refueling on the road very wasteful, not to mention costly. Which probably helps to explain while alcohol cookers are so popular. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I retired my venerable Svea 123R in favor of a Trangia spirit burner. Methylated spirit in one form or another is available in most hardware and home-supply outlets—and in one-quart cans, to boot.

But things may be about to change. On my last forced march through Walmart, I noticed something new: Coleman stove fuel in plastic one-quart containers. Convenient? You bet. But this convenience comes at price. Bought by the quart, Coleman fuel is roughly three times the price of the same thing purchased in the familiar gallon cans. Still, stove fuel probably isn’t one of life’s larger expenses, even for inveterate cyclotourists. Convenience probably outweighs cost for most of us. And anyway, even at the higher price, it’s competitive with methylated spirit. That’s not cheap, either.

Is this the shape of things to come? I don’t know. I couldn’t find a description of the one-quart product anywhere online. I even drew a blank at the Coleman site. So my Walmart find may well be a one-shot market test. Or not. This one-quart wonder could be the next big thing—in a small way, of course. Let’s hope so, at any rate. It would be very good to be able to buy smaller quantities of Coleman fuel on the road. Who knows? I might even bring my little Svea out of retirement! I already miss its cheerful roar.

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