How Much Fuel Do You Need to Bring Backpacking?
One of the most important parts of planning any backpacking trip is how much fuel you'll need to bring to cook your food.
If you underestimate your fuel needs and don't bring enough fuel, you'll run out of fuel and you won't be able to boil water or cook food.
But if you bring too much fuel, you'll spend more money to get fuel you won't end up using. You'll also be carrying extra weight you don't need and at the end of your trip, if you have to fly on an airplane, you won't be able to take any of the leftover fuel with you so you'll have to throw it away (which you aren't supposed to do by the way; you're supposed to drop these off at a store that can recycle them).
Intro to Canister Fuels
Before we dive in to the recommendations on how much fuel to bring, let's talk about the different fuel options you have when backpacking.
The type of fuel we're talking about in this article a canister of blended fuel made up of propane, N-butane, and Iso-butane. These fuel canisters have a threaded top that screws on to the stove and contains a pressurized fuel blend that's optimized for low weight and high heat output.
There are a lot of other stove and fuel choices out there such as liquid stoves, wood burning stoves and alcohol stoves. But for most backpackers, canister stoves are the best blend of low weight and low cost. The fuel canisters are also cheap and last long enough to cover most trips that are less than 7 days long.
If you're going to be backpacking for longer lengths without resupplying or in harsher climates like Mt. Everest, you'll want to look into some other fuel options. For the other 99% of backpackers, the small fuel canisters you can buy at your local backpacking store or online will do the job just fine.
Fuel Canister Brands - Jetboil vs MSR vs Coleman
The three most popular brands for fuel canisters are Jetboil, MSR, and Coleman. There are a ton of other companies who also sell fuel canisters but they're all more or less the same and are interchangeable with one another.
There may be some slight performance differences but for the most part you're not going to notice the difference. Here's what they look like:
Fuel canister sizing is the most important thing to look at when choosing what to buy and it's what we'll be spending the rest of this article looking into.
Fuel canisters come in 3 standard sizes:
- 110 g (4 oz)
- 230 g (8 oz)
- 450 g (16 oz)
When deciding on which size you need for your trip, you don't have a lot of wiggle room. Moving up to the next size means doubling the weight of the canister.
Fortunately these fuel canisters are fairly cheap and the price does not double even though the weight does. The container that the fuel comes must be safe and sturdy so most of the price of the fuel canister is for the container and just a little bit of the cost is for the fuel.
The First Rule of Choosing What Size Fuel Canister to Bring
The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing your fuel canister size is to remember that it's always better to get a larger size and have left over fuel.
There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a backpacking trip and running out of fuel. Have you ever tried to eat a Mountainhouse meal bag with cold water? It's not good and you don't want to have to do that.
So when in doubt, order up a size. You need a little bit of a safety factor built in and depending on what conditions you're in, your fuel usage could be higher than you originally planned on due to temperature, altitude, wind, etc. Always be prepared for the worst case scenario.
How to Choose the Correct Fuel Canister Size
First up, we're going to look at the 110 g fuel canister. Our assumptions will be:
- You are cooking for 1 person.
- You boil 1.5 cups of water in the morning to make coffee.
- You boil 2.5 cups of water in the evening to cook dinner.
With these assumptions and a 110 g canister, you can expect your fuel to last for 12 days.
These numbers were dervied through personal experiences and user reviews posted all over the web, but they also align with the official Jetboil estimation which is:
For a 110 g fuel canister, you can expect to boil 12 liters of water. 1 Liter is just over 4 cups, so a 110 g canister should boil about 50 cups of water.
Using our 1 person estimates above, we have 4 cups of water per day that we're boiling and we estimated it would last for 12 days which gives a total boiling capacity of 48 liters; dead on with the Jetboil estimate.
If you're cooking for 2 people, with the same usage patterns, your 110 g fuel canister will last for 6 days.
For 4 people, that fuel canister would last just 3 days.
Other Factors to Consider
We're going to get a little science-y here but stick with me; this is really important if you want to understand how the fuel usage works and is especially important if you'll be backpacking somewhere with an elevation over 8,000 feet or so.
Air at higher elevations has lower pressure. Lower pressure means that water boils sooner.
For every 18 degree Fahrenheit drop in boiling point, your food will take double the amount of time to cook.
If you're using a bag of dehydrated food for your meals then 'cooking' involves dumping boiling water into the bag and waiting.
At higher elevations you'll be able to reach your boiling point more quickly due to the lower pressure; but you will need to let your food sit for twice as long before it is ready to eat because there's less heat in the water which means the food is going to cook more slowly.
The good news is that this means you won't be using any extra fuel to cook due to the elevation change; you'll just be waiting a little bit longer for it to cook.
Choosing the right fuel canister is easy once you know how much food you'll be eating and how many people you'll be traveling with.
And remember to always build in a buffer in case you end up using more than you expected. Don't get caught without any fuel or you'll be eating some gross meals!