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Propane Use High Altitude & Low Temps


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We are taking a x country trip this winter that will include a ski safari through Colorado.  Will be likely staying in our E2 at higher altitudes and exposed to quite low temperatures.  While winter caping in New England last season, we had no problems with any of the propane based systems - refrigeration, furnace or cooking.  My understanding is that propane functions at lower efficiency in lower temps and have read that it performs poorly at higher altitude.  In googling this issue, I've found a lot of conflicting theories on problems and solutions but nothing that sounds reasonable enough to be actionable.  Does anyone have experience that may help us out?

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I have camped above 10,000 dozens of times without any propane issues.

However, all of this camping has been at temps generally above freezing and certainly nothing below 20 degrees.  At very cold temps propane has difficulty "gasifying".

Good luck!

Bill

p.s.  I recently saw something about propane tank heating blankets to warm them in colder weather.  You might try a Google search.

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1 hour ago, GAP said:

Does anyone have experience that may help us out?

During our 7-day voyage from Hohenwald back to Idaho last week, we encountered overnight temps in the teens at about 5000 feet in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, at 6200 feet in Cortez, Colorado and at 4200 feet in Provo, UT.  In New Mexico and Colorado, our Varioheat furnace sometimes took up to 10 tries to ignite, but it eventually did on each occasion.  It took a few ignition attempts in Utah, but not as many as at the higher elevations.

Each ignition attempt caused a "whump" sound that, at first, made us wonder where it came from.  This did not happen either before or after those three nights, when we camped at lower elevations with overnight lows in the 20's, in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Idaho.  We wondered if the combination of temps in the teens (it got down to 11 degrees F in Cortez) and high elevation inhibited propane gasification, as referenced by Topgun2 above.  We noted frost on the outside of the tanks up to the propane level, but not above.

Our short-term solution was to substitute our full spare propane tank for the one of the two that was low.  This seemed to help somewhat, but did not make the issue go away. 

Were we planning a trip like the one you propose, we would definitely look into a propane tank heating blanket.  You could draw from the one tank that is heated, then move the blanket to the full tank when needed.

A quick Google search yielded this one from Amazon, currently on a Black Friday deal:

https://www.amazon.com/Powerblanket-PBL20-Cylinder-Propane-Charcoal/dp/B00PKKHC2Y/ref=sr_1_3?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvfrLluvJ-wIVIRh9Ch3O9g27EAAYAiAAEgLP_PD_BwE&hvadid=410083089776&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9029558&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=1331052575274189197&hvtargid=kwd-591569910607&hydadcr=7466_11110449&keywords=propane+tank+warmer+blanket&qid=1669396665&sr=8-3

As these blankets all appear to operate on 120V power, I expect you would need to have shore power available, and carry a separate extension cord to connect the blanket to the outside 120V receptacle.  We had shore power available at all three  high-elevation locations, so the heater blanket would have worked for us.

Good luck!

 

Hull #1291

Central Idaho

2022 Elite II

Tow Vehicle:  2019 Tundra Double Cab 4x4, 5.7L with tow package

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1 hour ago, Rivernerd said:

During our 7-day voyage from Hohenwald back to Idaho last week, we encountered overnight temps in the teens at about 5000 feet in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, at 6200 feet in Cortez, Colorado and at 4200 feet in Provo, UT.  In New Mexico and Colorado, our Varioheat furnace sometimes took up to 10 tries to ignite, but it eventually did on each occasion.  It took a few ignition attempts in Utah, but not as many as at the higher elevations.

Each ignition attempt caused a "whump" sound that, at first, made us wonder where it came from.  This did not happen either before or after those three nights, when we camped at lower elevations with overnight lows in the 20's, in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Idaho.  We wondered if the combination of temps in the teens (it got down to 11 degrees F in Cortez) and high elevation inhibited propane gasification, as referenced by Topgun2 above.  We noted frost on the outside of the tanks up to the propane level, but not above.

Our short-term solution was to substitute our full spare propane tank for the one of the two that was low.  This seemed to help somewhat, but did not make the issue go away. 

Were we planning a trip like the one you propose, we would definitely look into a propane tank heating blanket.  You could draw from the one tank that is heated, then move the blanket to the full tank when needed.

A quick Google search yielded this one from Amazon, currently on a Black Friday deal:

https://www.amazon.com/Powerblanket-PBL20-Cylinder-Propane-Charcoal/dp/B00PKKHC2Y/ref=sr_1_3?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvfrLluvJ-wIVIRh9Ch3O9g27EAAYAiAAEgLP_PD_BwE&hvadid=410083089776&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9029558&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=1331052575274189197&hvtargid=kwd-591569910607&hydadcr=7466_11110449&keywords=propane+tank+warmer+blanket&qid=1669396665&sr=8-3

As these blankets all appear to operate on 120V power, I expect you would need to have shore power available, and carry a separate extension cord to connect the blanket to the outside 120V receptacle.  We had shore power available at all three  high-elevation locations, so the heater blanket would have worked for us.

Good luck!

Interesting stuff for sure.  It is a bit hard to tell from your experience whether it was the altitude or the cold that cause the difficulty in firing.  Also our 2021 E2 has the older style furnace and not the Vario unit so may react to situation differently.  As I'll be staying primarily at ski resort parking lots, I won't have access to AC power and would bet that even if a DC blanket existed, it would draw plenty of juice to operate.  

 

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We camped all around Colorado this past summer.  In State Forest State Park we were at 9,100+ feet and all propane appliances worked fine, furnace, hot water tank and cooktop.  Also my Weber Q and Blackstone griddle worked fine.  That was in July and the temperature only got down in the high 30’s.  Mike

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1 hour ago, GAP said:

I won't have access to AC power and would bet that even if a DC blanket existed, it would draw plenty of juice to operate.  

Could you run a generator ?

 

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Central Idaho

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40 minutes ago, Rivernerd said:

Could you run a generator ?

I could run a generator, assuming it worked well in those altitudes.  Question is for how long and how often i would need to run it to keep the tank at a happy temp.

I've been doing some research and it seems that propane CAN work happily down to very low temperatures.  Problems that come up can be caused by 1) running a tank above 80% or below 10% filled, 2) there being water in the system or 3) using a summer mix propane.  winter mixes have additives meant to improve cold wether applications.  It's been suggested to not buy propane in florida to use in colorado.  

Another potential problem is specific to altitude.  Not enough air in the gas to air mixture.  Some regulators have an adjustment that can be set to increase/decrease the propane.  The tool to measure is an manometer (hilarious name) and here is what I've found.  Scary deep rabbit hole but I'm going to pick up a manometer and aquaint myself with the adjustment on my regulator.  Mid grade units are around $50.  Once in altitude, sounds like the fridge is the most sensitive device.  If I have an issue, the process seems to be to shut off all propane units and shut the tank top valves. Run test through the stove as shown on the video, adjust for proper settings.  Once all is back together run the stove top for a couple of minutes to draw air out of system then turn other units back on.

I am picking this up as I go and am NOT A KNOWLEDGABLE PROPANE TECH so play at your own risk.

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The propane tank heater blanket available through the link below pulls only 50 watts (2.4 amps a 120V).  So, you may be able to run it from your batteries, through the inverter, for many hours at a time.  You could then recharge the batteries with a generator, which might only take an hour or two.

https://arcticwarmers.com/product/cylinder-heater-warming-wrap-40-high-temperature-for-lp-tanks/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIr5rMhs7K-wIVE21vBB1uxg0PEAQYBCABEgJR-fD_BwE

With our Lithium Pro Package we have 390 Ah of battery capacity.  Conservatively figuring 80% usable capacity, at 24 amp draw (since the inverter requires 10X the amp draw), we could run the tank heater for 13 hours.  Since we would likely only need to run the tank heater at night (say 12 hours per night in the winter), in theory we could get 1 full night  (with no other amp draw) before generator recharge was required. 

Just a thought.

 

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Hull #1291

Central Idaho

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It sounds like you may have been running off of only one propane tank at a time since you said one was depleted and the other was full.  When it is very cold outside it is best to  draw propane from both of your propane tanks at the same time.  It is the expanding propane gas that draws heat out of the propane tank causing it to become much colder than the outside air temperature.  By splitting the total propane drawn between two tanks instead of one, each tank loses heat at half the rate of a single tank and this will make a big difference in how cold the tanks will get .  I believe that pointing the lever on the propane tank regulating valve straight up will cause the valve to pass propane from both tanks at the same time (make sure both tanks are turned on).  If the valve is pointing to the tank on the right, it will only draw propane from the right tank even if both tanks are turned on.  Same for pointing the lever to the left tank.  Point it straight up which is halfway between each tank and it should draw from both tanks simultaneously.  Someone correct me if I have this wrong.

It is possible that drawing propane from both tanks will reduce the heat loss from the propane tanks sufficiently to negate the need for a heated tank blanket when running the furnace in very cold weather, at least at temperatures above O degrees F. 

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1 hour ago, Chukarhunter said:

By splitting the total propane drawn between two tanks instead of one, each tank loses heat at half the rate of a single tank and this will make a big difference in how cold the tanks will get

After I replaced the empty tank with our full spare, we had that same thought.  So, we put the lever between the two tanks, so it pulled fuel from both.  But, alas, it only made a little bit of difference.  At 6200 feet in Cortez, CO, even with the system drawing from both tanks, it still took up to 10 "whumps" to get ignition at ambient temps down to 11 degrees F.

 

Hull #1291

Central Idaho

2022 Elite II

Tow Vehicle:  2019 Tundra Double Cab 4x4, 5.7L with tow package

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