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How Much Camping Gas Do You Need? (Full Guide)

Camp stoves come with many different fuel options, from aerosol gases to liquid fuels. Each will have different weights and different burn times. Because the variety of camping stoves is limitless, there’s no way to give a universal listing for how much camping gas you need.

Figuring out how much camping gas you need can be accomplished with a little bit of planning, a little bit of experimenting, and a little bit of math. By determining your stove’s boil time and burn time, in conjunction with your menu, you can precisely calculate just how much fuel you’ll need.

Finding the amount of camping gas to bring on an excursion can bet a little complicated. Therefore, in the guide below, we’ll discuss two different options for calculating your fuel consumption to meet your needs. These methods will work whether you’re using a portable liquid stove or a gas stove.

How To Calculate How Much Camping Gas You Need

Regardless of what kind of stove you are using, these directions are universal in helping you calculate the amount of fuel that you will need for your next camping trip or hike-thru. You can either do a precise calculation, which can alleviate needless weight, or you can use a ballpark figure, which is more of a generic guideline.

Precise Calculations

In order to precisely determine the amount of fuel you’ll need for your next camping trip, you will need to calculate your stove’s boil time and burn time, and then use this information with your planned meal preparations. Some stoves will provide this information for you.

Boil Time

To find out for yourself, you first need to plan a full menu for the number of meals you expect to eat on your camping trip. Once your menu is established, disregard any cold meals that you have included, and count the number of hot meals and beverages you plan on consuming. This is often referred to as the “number of boils” you will need.

On average, a single boil is calculated using approximately two cups of water. Boiling water is most used for making tea, coffee, or rehydrating food. If you generally have two to three cups of coffee in the morning, then you will need to count that as one to two boils, considering a cup of coffee is usually equivalent to one cup of liquid or more.

Once you’ve figured out the amount of water you’ll be boiling throughout your camping trip, you need to figure out how long it takes your stove to bring two cups of water to a boil. This is referred to as your boil time. Simply time how long it takes to boil 2 cups of water from start to finish.

Burn Time

After that, you’ll need to establish your burn time, which is the total amount of time a fuel canister will burn. To do this, first weigh a full canister or cartridge of fuel. After you’ve finished with your boil time, then weigh the canister again and subtract the new weight from the original weight. 

This tells you precisely how many grams or ounces of fuel your stove used to bring two cups of water to a boil. Next, determine how many grams or ounces of fuel a full canister has. Divide that number by the number of grams you used to boil your water. This will tell you how many boils a full canister will provide under ideal circumstances.

Final Calculation

From there, you can determine the total burn time of your fuel canister by multiplying your original boil time by the total number of boils you calculated. Since your camping trip will rarely have ideal conditions, it’s always a good bet to round your numbers down by a boil or two just to ensure that you don’t run out of fuel in the middle of your trip.

It’s important to understand both your stove’s burn time and boil time. If your meal plan includes cooking or simmering for a period of time, like for rice or pasta, then your stove is doing more than just boiling water, so you’ll be using more fuel than a single boil. 

On the other hand, there are times when only heating is involved, which doesn’t require a full boil, in which case you’re using less fuel. Knowing the overall burn time will help you adjust accordingly and make your calculations more accurate. This will prevent you from over packing unnecessary weight.

Ballpark Figure

There are guides available that give generic calculations on how much fuel an average camper consumes on any given day. But these are only averages. This option is a little riskier, but if you’re not in any danger of running out of fuel or don’t mind hauling extra weight, then this is a simpler option to follow.

If you have a liquid fuel stove, the consensus is that in the warmer months you need four ounces of fuel for each person for each day. In colder weather, you would double that amount to eight ounces of fuel for each person each day. The calculations for gas stoves are very similar. The recommendation for the summer months is 60 grams a day for each person and 120 grams per person in cold weather.

Notice that the figures are per person per day, which is why this option is less accurate. Regardless of how many hot meals you plan for each day, the fuel consumption remains the same. The assumption is you’re boiling two cups of water for each meal three times a day, which we could break down a little bit more: If 60 grams is for three meals, then that comes out to 20 grams per meal.

Solid Fuel Calculations

If you happen to be using a solid fuel option, such as Hexamethylenetetramine or Metaformaldehyde, then you’ll have to use a different set of calculations. It takes 14-15 grams of Hexamethylenetetramine to bring one cup of water to a boil. With some brands, one tablet weighs 14-15 grams, but with other brands, it may take three to four tablets to amass that weight.

To calculate your needs, you’ll need up to four tables for each cup of water. This doesn’t seem too bad if you’re just going on a weekend trip, but if you’re planning on being out for a week or more, then you’ll have to pack quite a few tablets. One week, for example, would be anywhere from 21 to 84 tablets. Metaformaldehyde requires even more because it burns half the heat value per ounce.

Solid fuels make for good backups if you find yourself short on cylinder fuel. They’re also a good way to conserve your fuel for small cooks. They even suffice for cooking Ramen Noodles. However, they’re not your best option for a primary cooking source. Not only do they smell horrible, but they take a very long time to reach boiling. You also have no ability to control the flame.

How Much Fuel To Bring For A 3-Day Camping Trip

How much fuel you need for a 3-day camping trip depends on what stove you are using, how many meals you plan to cook, and which method you’re using to calculate your needs. Portable gas stoves, for example, use aerosol cans that don’t typically get super-hot and therefore may use more fuel to boil.

Let’s look at the different options to see how much fuel would be needed for a three-day camping trip. Suppose you have a weekend hike-thru leaving Friday morning and returning Sunday afternoon. You likely won’t eat breakfast on the trail the first day, nor would you eat dinner on the last day. That leaves two meals for Friday, three meals for Saturday, and two meals for Sunday for a total of 7 meals.

Precise Method

For a precise calculation, plan your meals, then calculate your boil time and burn time. Your menu might look something like this:

FridaySaturdaySunday
 Oatmeal & Coffee (2)Sausage & Eggs w/ Apple Cider (2)
Tuna Packet & Crackers (0)Cup O’Noodles w/Tea (2)Beanie Weenies & Trail Mix
Beef Stew & Hot Chocolate (2)Pepperoni w/ Rice & Beans (1) 
2 boils5 boils2 boils + heat

Suppose you have a 100g fuel canister, and you’ve calculated my boil time to be three minutes. According to the menu, you have nine boils and one heat (here, a heat is considered less than three minutes).

To calculate the burn time for a 100g canister, divide 100 grams by three minutes, which comes to approximately 33 minutes of burn time. Take your nine boils, multiply by three minutes for each boil, and you get 27 minutes, which leaves six minutes of remaining burn time. Theoretically, this would be sufficient time for one heat.

Remember, however, that this is under ideal conditions. On paper, one canister of fuel would be enough. However, with only six minutes remaining, you should probably pack two canisters just to be on the safe side, especially if it’s cold, rainy, or windy.

Other Options

Comparing these calculations to the ballpark method, the recommendation is 60 grams for each person for every day on the trail. That means three days on the trail would require 180 grams of fuel. While there’s considerable differentiation between the two methods, either way, you may want pack two cans of fuel.

A third option would be to take the 60-gram daily recommendation and break it down to 20 grams per meal. In this case, you could look at your menu and see you only have five meals that require boiling, and one meal that requires heating. Assuming 20 grams for each of the five meals comes out to 100 grams of fuel plus one heat.

This is much more in step with the first set of calculations. Whichever method you choose to calculate your fuel needs, breaking the numbers down to a per meal consumption provides you with more accurate results.

How Much Fuel To Bring For A Week-Long Camping Trip

Let’s look at an example using a week-long trip. Continuing with the menu above, let’s add four more days’ worth of meals to create a weekly menu. We’ll start by adding a dinner meal to the menu above bringing Sunday’s water consumption to three boils for a total of 10 boils. Then add another four days’ worth of meals.

Day 4 Day 5Day 6Day 7
Granola & Coffee (1)Cream of Wheat & Coffee (2)Grits & Coffee (2)Oatmeal & Coffee (2)
Beef Jerky & Dried Fruit w/ Tea (1)Salmon & CheeseChicken & Dried Apple RingsPeanut Butter, honey, and crackers w/ hot chocolate (1)
Chicken w/ Pasta & tea (2)Mushroom Ragu Farfalle & Cider (2)Dried beef & mashed potatoes w/tea (2) 
4 boils4 boils4 boils3 boils

If we tally our total water consumption for all seven days, it comes to 25 boils of water. Let’s say you have a liquid stove instead of gas, which converts to ounces instead of grams. A full tank weighs 20 ounces and the boil time is 3.9 minutes. Following the first boil, the tank now weighs 19.29 ounces. This means a total of .71 ounces of fuel was used to burn two cups of water.

Dividing the original weight of 20 oz by .71 oz of fuel used yields a total of 28.2 total boils. That means a 20 oz cylinder that can produce 28.2 boils will yield a total burn time of 110 minutes. Reviewing the menu, a total of 25 boils is needed to get through a week’s worth of meals. Theoretically, under optimal conditions, one 20 oz can of fuel suffices for one week’s worth of meals.

Compare that to the ballpark method, which indicates four ounces for each person each day. A seven-day camping trip that requires four ounces of fuel a day comes out to 28 ounces of fuel, which would require packing two 20 oz cylinders.

Variations

If, instead, you break this down to a per meal calculation, then as mentioned above it comes out to 1 1/3 ounces per meal. Altogether, the menu has approximately 13 meals that require fuel, which comes out to a little over 17 1/4 ounces of fuel.

Again, there are variations between the calculation methods, so your best bet is to do a little experimenting and try all of them until you find one that works best for your camping style. Fuel calculation is not an exact science. There are many factors that can affect your fuel consumption, so at best, it’s a rough estimate.

What Affects How Much Fuel To Bring Camping?

The biggest factor that affects how much fuel to bring camping is the amount of water you plan on boiling to meet your cooking needs. The less water you need for meals, the less fuel you need to pack. You also need to consider the number of people you’re cooking for.

The likelihood of your camping conditions being completely ideal are slim. You’ll need to account for poor weather such as rain or snow, excessive wind, and higher elevations. It’s important to know fuel is less efficient in colder weather so boiling water will take longer. As you gain camping experience, you’ll be able to gauge how much extra fuel you’ll need for colder weather.

Of course, it’s always safest to have some extra fuel, but this adds additional weight. This is where Hexamethylenetetramine or Metaformaldehyde can come in handy. You could use your stove fuel for cooking your meals and reserve the Hexamethylenetetramine or Metaformaldehyde for heating your drinks. 

In many cases, this can prevent you from having to pack an extra canister of fuel, so it’s a matter of using your own discretion when deciding how much fuel you need. Another thing to consider is that if you have an unregulated camp stove, then know that as the pressure in your canister decreases, your burn time will increase. Essentially, it will require more fuel to boil the same amount of water.

Tips For Maximizing Efficiency

There are some things you can do to maximize the efficiency of your stove and your burn time. First, it helps to have all the preliminary stuff and any prep work done before you light the stove so you’re not wasting any of your burn time. You should also keep your water pot covered to minimize evaporation and maximize your heating efficiency.

Wind and weather screens can also help prevent loss of heat. On windy days, if you have the proper equipment, you can dig a hole as deep as your stove is tall, and this will help protect your flame from the wind and preserve your heat. Just remember to fill the hole before departing your campsite.

You can also help preserve fuel by reducing your flame just before your cook time is complete. Sometimes, just heating the water is sufficient to adequately prepare your food, unless of course, you’re simultaneously purifying the water. If you are purifying water, don’t forget to add those extra minutes of boiling time into your calculations.

What Kind Of Camping Stove Is Right For You?

Finding the right camping stove for you requires a variety of different considerations. You should evaluate how many people you’re cooking for and determine what kind of cooking you will be doing, such as if you’re going to just boil water or cook complex meals that take more time.

You also need to consider whether your stove will be used for backpacking or car camping. If you’re car camping, you’ll need to decide between freestanding models with legs or tabletop designs with flat surfaces. Obviously, if you’re backpacking, then size and weight become additional factors.

Car Camping Stoves

Car campers need to decide between single-burner stoves and two-burner stoves. Two-burner stoves are better when cooking for multiple people or cooking more complex dishes. You’ll need to pay closer attention to BTUs when considering larger camping stoves that allow you to cook full-fledged meals. Higher BTUs will burn hotter and allow you to cook faster.

You can still calculate your fuel needs in the same manner, but with larger stoves, it’s a general understanding that most 16 oz propane bottles will last around 2 hours, and if you go for the big 20-pound tank, it will last between 18-20 hours. With these larger fuel sources, it’s easier to calculate your needs based on actual cooking times rather than fuel consumption.

Liquid Fuel Or Canister Fuel

If you’re camping during the winter months or at high altitudes, a liquid-fuel stove will be your best bet. White gas is one of the best fuel sources for extreme conditions. These stoves are very versatile, and you can refill your own bottles. There are even multi-fuel options available.

On the downside, liquid fuel stoves are heavier and bulkier than canister stoves. They also require priming, which can be a pain, especially if you’re cold. Liquid fuel stoves also require routine cleaning and maintenance, which means you’ll be dealing with small parts and pieces.

Canister stoves, on the other hand, are much easier to use and require almost no maintenance. They are automatically pressurized with a predetermined amount of gas, so you just light and go. The canisters are self-sealing, so you don’t have to worry about spilling. Unfortunately, canister stoves don’t work as well in colder temperatures and higher elevations because they tend to depressurize.

Finding fuel cylinders that fit your stove can sometimes be hard, especially if you’re traveling out of the country. Canister stoves don’t simmer well, nor are they capable of holding larger pots. They are primarily designed for boiling water and quick heat meals. Another disadvantage to canister stoves is if you’re hiking, then you’ll have to pack the empty canisters out.

Solid Fuels

You also have the option of using solid fuel stoves, which are extremely lightweight, but these are better for heating rather than boiling water and won’t be efficient at all for actual cooking. They are handy to have as an emergency backup and are great for heating a quick cup of coffee, or premade meal, but they’re not something you want to plan an entire camping trip around.

Stove Amenities

Regardless of what kind of stove you decide on, find one that comes with a wind shield to protect your burner. If you’re willing to pay more, you could look for one with a self-ignite switch. Some people also like the inline, all-in-one canister stoves that come with their own cooking pots or cook-set combos. Others like the advantage of multi-fuel camp stoves that allow for greater versatility.

In the end, the type of stove you decide to go with should be compatible with your camping lifestyle and typical weather conditions. Whether you’re a weekend adventure camper, a mountaineer, or an outback trekker, there are a variety of stove options for just about anyone.

Final Thoughts

Calculating your camp fuel needs may seem arduous and complex, but once you’ve done it a few times, it’s an easy process. You only need to determine your boil time and burn time once, and then use those same figures repeatedly. It’s always a good idea to have extra fuel, but that means extra weight.