Are you looking for a Partially-Filled Fuel Canister to use? Here’s How to Measure It.

Got a Partially-Filled Fuel Canister? Here’s How to Measure It.

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It’s an age-old problem for backpackers: You’re packing for a trip, sorting through a bin of partially-empty fuel canisters and wondering how much you need to pack. There’s nothing worse than running out of fuel before your macaroni is al dente, but no one wants to weigh down their packs with extra canisters. It’s easy to calculate how much fuel is left in a canister, which can save you time and headaches on the trail. These tips will ensure you never get caught with a sputtering stove. 

Understanding Your Fuel Needs 

Fuel canisters are available in three sizes: 3.5-4oz, 8oz, 16 oz. These canisters are available in a variety of sizes, but the dimensions are all the same (give or take a few g). The following guidelines are applicable to any brand. 

Only knowing how much fuel is available for your trip will help you to determine how much. Without knowing how long a half-full canister will last, it’s pointless to measure your fuel in the first place. Here are the factors that affect burn time. 

  • Temperature: If it is cold outside, your fuel will need to work harder in order to heat water and run the stove. Lower temps cause the pressure in a canister to drop—that’s why we recommend using liquid fuel stoves for winter adventures where you’ll consistently be operating below freezing. This guide applies only to canister fuel, and not liquid fuel. 
  • Wind: A flickering flame means you’ll have to run your stove longer to properly heat your food. Pack extra fuel if you know you’ll encounter windy conditions on your hike. You can improve your stove’s efficiency by using a windblock. 
  • Altitude: Water’s boiling point lowers as elevation increases, meaning it will boil faster the higher you go. The same isn’t true for cooking times of food, however, which cooks more slowly at altitude. 
  • Usage: Melting the snow takes more fuel that boiling water. Also, boiling water for freeze-dried foods is more efficient than cooking elaborate hot meals. You should think about how you’ll use your stove when backpacking. 
  • Stove efficiency: Every backpacking stove is different. Some take longer to boil water, while others burn through a specific amount of fuel. Your stove’s efficiency. Manufacturer for details on how much fuel You will need to boil water for your setup.    

If you want to get precise with your fuel needs, calculate how much water you’ll need to boil over the course of your trip (it’s a good idea to factor in a few extra liters). Compare this with your stove’s boil time (you can time how long it takes to boil a liter of water, or look it up) to see how long you’ll be running your stove over the duration of your trip. Then, look up your stove’s burn time on the manufacturer’s website–this will tell you just how long your stove can run on a fuel canister of various sizes. Now, compare the first figure with your stove’s burn time to find out precisely how much fuel you’ll need. 

Conducting an at-home test can give you a better sense of your stove’s burn and boil times, but isn’t necessary. The more you use it in the field, the better sense you’ll have of your fuel needs. 

Most backpackers don’t need or want to be so exact when planning how much fuel to pack for a weekend backpacking trip. If you’re thru-hiking, or simply want to optimize the weight on your back, it can be useful to plan your fuel needs to a T. Otherwise, you can estimate with minimal effort. An 8 oz canister will suffice for two people on a weekend backpacking trip with plenty of fuel. Always pack more if you are unsure. 

Measuring your fuel supply

Once you have a rough idea of how much fuel you require, you can calculate how much fuel is left in your canisters. 

Method 1: Use the Fuel Gauge

Jetboil, a stove-fuel manufacturer, is also available. Coleman Sell Portable scales that are purpose-made With a digital readout, you can see how much gas remains in your canister. These products are affordable and foolproof, making them a good option for hikers who want the fastest, most accurate information about a canister’s fuel content. However, a specialized scale isn’t necessary for hikers who don’t mind putting in just a few minutes of time with items they already have at home.  

Method 2: Use a Kitchen Scale

Simple math can be used to estimate the fuel remaining in a canister. It is almost as accurate as a scale. Although there are some steps involved, this is possible with a basic kitchen tool. 

  1. Calculate the empty canister’s weight. This can be done by subtracting the weight of the canister’s net from the weight of the empty canister. 
  2. Weigh the partially filled canister. Add the empty canister’s weight to calculate the fuel remaining. This will give you an idea of how full the fuel is. You should be able determine how much fuel you need for your trip by looking at your burn and boil times. 

Method 3: The Float test 

This is an alternative to a digital scale for home cooking or if you need to know how much fuel you have while on the trail. While it’s less precise than using a scale, you can do this anywhere there’s water. 

Place the canister in a large pot of boiling water. Make sure to remove any air bubbles. A full canister will rise higher than an empty one, as it has more volume. A canister that is fuller will sink in the water faster.  

Some canisters, such as the MSR ones, are waterproof. Print floating graphics directly on the canister, providing a visual reference for estimating fuel content. However, this method is applicable to any canister, graphics included or not. 

A permanent marker can be used to draw your scale before you leave for your trip. You’ll need a full canister, an empty canister, and the one you plan to use. The full canister should be placed in a large pot of boiling water. Mark where the water line hits the canister and label this line “full.” Repeat the process with the empty canister and mark the water line “empty.” Transfer the height of these two marks to the canister you plan to use. You can see the location of the water line relative to empty or full by placing the canister in water. This will allow you to estimate the fuel content.

Got a Partially-Filled Fuel Canister? Here’s How to Measure It.

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