Knowing how much fuel to bring backpacking on a thru-hike or a wild camping weekend is important, particularly if you’re way out there in the wilderness. Many expeditions have gone awry due to miscalculations with fuel.
If you run out of fuel, your meal options are going to diminish or vanish entirely – depending on your meal plan. Just as even the best camping stove won’t function without its fuel, you won’t function properly without yours. Food is your fuel, it’s what propels you along the trails, powers your legs on every summit push and keeps you going on those long descents. During high-altitude expeditions, you may need your stove to melt snow for drinking water. In these kinds of scenarios, having the enough fuel becomes a matter of life and death.
On the flip side, many hikers err too much on the side of caution, carrying way too much fuel for their needs, which can severely affect their experience. Weight is everything on an expedition. Your hiking backpack will already be full with your tent, sleeping paraphernalia, stove, toiletries, spare clothes and other hiking essentials. When every gram counts, you don’t want to be carrying a load of surplus fuel.
How much fuel to bring backpacking: the basics
Without getting too scientific, how much fuel you will require will depend on how many times you are expecting to bring water to the boil. A good thing to do is jot down an expedition meal plan in advance. Let’s say you are spending two nights wild camping and plan to have two rehydrated meals, two morning coffees and two porridge breakfasts. That’s six boils.
Generally speaking, stoves shouldn’t use more than 10g of fuel per boil for the amount of water required during backpacking. So, for the camping trip above, you should be able to get away with just 60g of fuel. Of course, we don’t want to just ‘get away with it’ and having some spare is reassuring, so for a solo backpacking weekend 100g of fuel will be sufficient. If you’re going for more days, add another 10g of fuel for each boil, just to be safe.
Another factor to bear in mind is if you are cooking camping meals that involve rice, pasta or other ingredients that require a sustained boil, you are going to use more fuel. If it takes four minutes for your stove to bring the water to the boil and then you leave it on for a further eight minutes, you will have used three times the amount of fuel required just to get water boiling. However, if your stove has a simmer mode, this can be a handy fuel saver.
How much fuel to bring backpacking: get scientific and get to know your gear
We’ve covered some basics there, but every stove and fuel brand are different so it’s worth getting to know yours. First of all, your canisters should indicate how many boils you can expect from them. For example, a 230g Jetpower canister when used with an integrated Jetboil stove says it can power 55 boils. 230g divided by 55 is 4.18g, so in theory you will use just over 4g of fuel per boil. You can then have 4g per boil in mind when you are thinking about your meal plan.
You can test how much fuel your stoves are actually using by weighing your canisters before and after a trip. This will help you plan for similar trips in the future. Another option is setting up a quick experiment at home. First, weigh your canister, next bring a liter of water to the boil and finally weigh your canister again. This will show you how much it has used for one boil.
You can also work out how much fuel is left in a partially used canister by keeping an empty canister and weighing it as a reference. Subtract this from the weight of your partially used canister to work out how much fuel you’ve got left.
How much fuel to bring backpacking: consider the environmental variables
This all sounds great in theory, but the outdoor environment is a complicated place. There are many environmental factors that affect how much fuel your stove uses. Windy conditions can lower your stoves heat efficiency by up to half, which means it will use twice as much fuel. With this in mind, having a windscreen or finding a sheltered spot to cook up is crucial.
The colder the air temperature, the colder any water you’re heating up will be. Obviously, colder water takes longer to bring to the boil and will therefore use more fuel. Another factor is atmospheric pressure, which decreases with elevation. This actually lowers the boiling point of water, meaning that water boils faster at high altitudes. However, it’s also more likely to be windy and will almost certainly be colder. Add in the fact that some foods can take longer to absorb water at higher altitudes, meaning they don’t cook as fast, and you soon see that a complicated picture emerges.
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Alex is a freelance adventure writer and mountain leader with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently President of the London Mountaineering Club, training to become a winter mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexfoxfield.com