How Much Fuel to Bring Backpacking?

One of the most critical considerations when packing for a backpacking trip is figuring out how much fuel to bring for your camp stove.

Having the right amount of energy is crucial – bring too little, and you may find yourself hungry on the trail, but bring too much and unnecessarily weigh you’ll down your pack.

Determining the ideal fuel quantity for your trip requires factoring in the length of your journey, the number of people in your group, the types of meals you’ll be cooking, the efficiency of your stove, and more.

This guide will review all the key factors to consider when deciding how much fuel to bring backpacking. Read on for pro tips that’ll help you determine the perfect fuel amount for your next backcountry adventure!

Best Collapsible Wood Burning Backpacking Stove in 2023
Best Collapsible Wood Burning Backpacking Stove in 2023

Estimate Your Group’s Total Meal Cook Times

The first step in calculating your fuel needs is estimating the cooking time required for your group’s meals daily. This will depend on:

  • The number of people in your group – The more people, the more meals you’ll be cooking.
  • The number of daily meals – Most groups cook 2 or 3 meals while backpacking.
  • Average cook time per meal – This can vary based on the complexity of your meals. Quick oatmeal or rehydrating freeze-dried meals may take 5-15 minutes, while more involved meals like pasta or rice dishes can take 15-30 minutes.

Add the expected cook times for each meal and multiply by the number of days on your trip. This will give you a ballpark figure for your group’s total stove time.

For example, if you’re taking a three-day trip with two other people and plan to cook oatmeal (10 mins) and rehydrated meals (15 mins) twice a day, your estimate would be:

(10 mins + 15 mins) x 2 meals x 3 days x 3 people = 270 minutes (4.5 hours) of total cook time.

Factor in Your Stove’s Efficiency

Not all backpacking stoves are equal when it comes to fuel efficiency. Performance can vary widely depending on stove design, wind conditions, temperature, etc.

It’s important to consider your specific stove’s expected efficiency to gauge your fuel requirements accurately.

Some questions to ask:

  • What type of fuel does your stove use? Isobutane/propane canisters are the most efficient fuel for canister stoves. White gas and liquid fuel stoves tend to use a bit more power.
  • What brand and model is your stove? Quality makes a difference. I recommend it here: Best Collapsible Wood Burning Backpacking Stove.
  • Does your stove have an integrated design? All-in-one systems with pot supports, windscreens, and pressure regulators built in (like Jetboil) are typically more fuel-efficient.
  • How old is your stove? Performance can degrade over time as seals and O-rings wear out. Older stoves may burn more fuel to achieve the same output.
  • Are you cooking in windy conditions? Gusts can decrease efficiency and cause you to burn through fuel quickly.
  • What’s the weather forecast? Colder temperatures can negatively impact fuel efficiency.

Consider your responses to these questions as you estimate your stove’s fuel consumption rate. If you have an older, basic stove cooking in windy, cold conditions, plan for it to use fuel less efficiently.

the Überleben Stoker Flatpack Stove
the Überleben Stoker Flatpack Stove

Factor In Other Stove Uses

So far, we’ve only accounted for the fuel needed for cooking meals. But you may also need energy for other purposes like:

  • Boiling water for drinking – Plan for at least 2 liters per person daily. Depending on your stove, this can take 5-10 minutes per liter.
  • Washing dishes – Figure 5-15 minutes per meal cleanup.
  • They are melting snow for water in colder months.

Remember to factor fuel for these activities into your total usage estimate.

Determine Fuel Capacity Based on Usage

Once you’ve estimated your group’s total stove time and considered efficiency and other stove uses, you can calculate the fuel capacity needed:

Total stove time x stove fuel consumption rate = minimum fuel capacity required

For example:

4.5 hours total cooking time

x 0.5 ounces of fuel used per hour (based on your specific stove) = 2.25 ounces of fuel needed

Round up to the nearest whole fuel canister – in this case, you’d want to pack three 8-ounce fuel canisters, which would give you a total capacity of 24 ounces of fuel.

This should provide enough buffer to account for suboptimal conditions or miscalculations. It’s always better to have a little extra than run out!

Recommended Fuel Capacity by Group Size and Trip Duration

Group Size \ Trip Duration1-2 nights3-4 nights5-7 nights
SoloOne 8-16 oz canisterTwo 8-16 oz canistersThree 8-16 oz canisters
2 peopleOne 16-24 oz canisterTwo 16-24 oz canistersThree-Four 16-24 oz canisters
3-4 peopleTwo 16-24 oz canistersThree-Four 16-24 oz canistersFive-Six 16-24 oz canisters
5+ peopleAdd one 8-16 oz canister per additional personAdd one-two 8-16 oz canisters per additional personAdd two-three 8-16 oz canisters per additional person

These estimates assume basic canister stove used for 2 meals per day plus water boiling/dishwashing. Adjust as needed for your specific situation.

Consider Alternate Meal Prep Methods

If you want to minimize fuel usage, consider alternatives to stove-cooked meals:

  • No-cook options – Pack nut bars, jerky, crackers, and other snacks that don’t require cooking.
  • Cold soaking – Hydrate oats, couscous, ramen noodles and more by soaking in cold water instead of cooking.
  • Repackaged ingredients – Prepare and dehydrate ingredients like sauces, beans, rice at home. Rehydrate on the trail without cooking.

Adjust for Trip Duration

For shorter 1-2 night trips, you can likely get away with just one 8-16 ounce canister per person.

For longer 5-7+ night trips, consider packing a separate stash of fuel that you can pick up at a resupply point midway through your route. This allows you to bring less weight upfront.

For extended thru-hikes, look into fuel canister resupply options or consider a liquid fuel stove that you can refill as needed along the way. White gas is commonly available at outdoor shops en route.

vargo titanium hexagon backpacking wood stove
vargo titanium hexagon backpacking wood stove

FAQs

Should I bring extra fuel as a reserve?

It’s generally a good idea to pack an extra 8-16 oz canister per person beyond your calculated minimum, especially for longer trips or cold weather. This provides a safety net if you made a miscalculation or hit unfavorable conditions.

How do different stove designs impact fuel efficiency?

Integrated canister stove systems with windscreens and heat exchangers (like Jetboil) are most fuel-efficient for isobutane canisters. Basic canister stoves without these features burn through fuel quicker. Liquid fuel stoves are less consistent but you can refill as needed.

What are some fuel planning tips for winter trips?

Pack extra fuel for melting snow. Use a windscreen and reflector to boost efficiency. Store fuel canisters and liquid fuel bottles inside your jacket or sleep bag at night so they don’t freeze.

Should I carry fuel canisters in a bear canister?

No – the concentrated heat can cause fuel canisters to burst. Store fuel separately from food while in bear country.

Conclusion

Determining how much fuel to pack for a backpacking trip requires considering cook times, stove efficiency, trip duration, group size, meal types, and weather conditions.

Once you run the numbers and make reasonable assumptions for your specific trip and gear, the fuel quantity needed becomes clear. Remember to pack a little extra as a safety net, and consider meal prep methods that minimize stove usage to conserve fuel.

With smart planning using the tips in this guide, you’ll ensure you have just the right amount of fuel for cooking up tasty backcountry meals!

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