Edmonton

Campers feel the burn with shortage of the latest hot commodity: small propane cylinders

The smaller propane tanks used to run appliances during camping are currently in short supply due to shortage of steel.

The propane tanks used by campers are sold out in most stores across Edmonton

The 16-ounce steel canisters of propane, used by many campers for portable stoves and barbecues, are in short supply. (Therese Kehler/CBC News)

Campers looking for propane cylinders may be out of luck as Edmonton supplies diminish due to high demand and low inventory. 

The 16-ounce, disposable propane cylinders are a convenient fuel source for many two- or three-burner camping stoves used to cook meals. 

And according to David Arsenault, equipment buyer for Campers Village, several Edmonton outdoor or big box stores — such as Canadian Tire, Home Depot or Lowe's — have low or no stock of the small canisters. 

"We've been sold out for a few weeks now, and I've looked at other big box stores and their supplies dwindled considerably over the last month," Arsenault told CBC's Edmonton AM

Campers Village, an outdoor apparel and gear store, has locations in Mill Woods and west Edmonton plus one in Calgary.

In the fall, Arsenault placed an order for 3,500 cylinders. He learned about the shortage in March when he was informed that his order had been cut by 2,000. 

During a typical summer camping season, the store sells about 4,000 canisters. "We were reduced to 72 a month," he said. 

Arsenault said the problem is fuelled by ongoing strain in the United States steel industry. Since early 2021, American news agencies have described a nationwide steel shortage — created when steel mills idled furnaces amid fears of a pandemic-induced economic downturn — and the accompanying spike in steel prices.

Under Alberta's gas code regulations, it is illegal to refill the small cylinders because of the potential risks of fire and explosion. In Edmonton, empty canisters can be taken to city Eco Stations.

Arsenault said he was made aware of the shortage in March and had some leftover inventory that he carried into this season, but it hasn't been enough. 

He reached out to some of the bigger chain stores and was told they didn't have any remaining inventory for the small canisters either. 

Arsenault said he is encouraging customers to use refillable 20-pound cylinders, which require a converter hose to hook up to camping stoves or other appliances.

He also said the shortage might not end anytime soon. 

"It doesn't look like it's going to change in 2022, at least early indications," he said.

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