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How long does backpacking fuel last?

Prepping for a backpacking trip, especially your first, takes a lot of research. From selecting gear to learning about the trail you’ve chosen, you’ll spend more time on your phone or laptop than you realize. One question that inevitably comes up is one of the most important for cooking in the backcountry: 

If I’m using a backpacking stove like the Jetboil Flash, how long will a can of fuel last me?

There are a few different ways to answer this question, depending on how you’re thinking about it. We could be asking a few related but slightly different questions, like: 

  • How long does a single can of backpacking fuel burn when used with a typical backpacking stove?
  • How many meals (and cups of coffee) can I cook with a single can of backpacking fuel?
  • Does backpacking stove fuel ever expire?

I’ll try and detail each question in the sections below. 

How long does a can of backpacking fuel burn?

In “normal” conditions (at or around sea level, with temperatures above 40 Fahrenheit), a single 100g canister of fuel should burn for around 2 hours. This, of course, is often dependent on what you are using the fuel with. The Jetboil Flash is pretty much the “standard” cooking system for backpackers, with many cooking setups resembling it. In that system, you’ll get pretty close to that 2 hour burn time. 

How many meals can you get out of a single can of backpacking fuel?

Jetboil reports that one 100g canister of fuel is enough to boil 10-12 liters of water in average temperatures (above 40 Fahrenheit), in a backpacking stove like the Jetboil Flash.

Depending on how you plan to cook, you can work out the math to see how long a 100g canister will really last you. If you use a standard backpacking stove to simply boil water for rehydrated meals and coffee, you can make it through 15+ meals before you run out of fuel. This means you really only need one canister of fuel per person on a 5-7 day backpacking trip. 

I always bring a spare canister with me, because they are cheap and relatively small, and i don’t mind the extra room it takes up in my pack. 

It’s not just theoretical, either – I scoured a couple dozen reddit posts in communities like r/wildernessbackpacking and r/ultralight to see what real people’s experience was like. What i gathered was that most backpackers need a single canister of backpacking stove fuel to last them through most trips. I even read a comment from an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who said they could go two weeks on a single canister, and would simply buy another every time they stopped into a town for a resupply.  

Admittedly, doing research for this article made me feel a bit silly, as I realized I’d been bringing way too much fuel every time i went backpacking. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a little too much, and it’s definitely better to have too much fuel rather than too little, I think I’ll bring less in the future. 

Do backpacking fuel canisters expire?

If you buy one or two canisters that you end up not needing, you don’t have to worry about it going bad. As long as the metal of the canister itself isn’t rusted or compromised, backpacking fuel lasts pretty much forever. The fuel is made of propane and isopropyl alcohol, which doesn’t expire or lose potency over time. So, as long as the canister doesn’t look damaged or rusted, it will be good to use for as long as you have it!

There is one caveat, however: if you’re using white gas, a different type of fuel that is better for freezing temperatures, it will eventually go bad. White gas should be used within a few months of first opening. But, since that type of fuel isn’t nearly as ubiquitous due to its more limited use case, you probably have nothing to worry about.