Rainbow’s Response: 4 Things You Need to Know About Fuel Canisters

Rainbow Braid, a 2013 thru hiker, takes any and all questions and gets to the nitty, gritty, hiker trash bottom of the topic. To have your own questions answered, send them to [email protected]!  

Nicole DelFranco writes:

“I’m concerned about the availability of fuel for my MSR Pocket Rocket along the trail. I know lots of hikers use stoves that require the fuel, so it can’t be terrible. But I’m still a little weary, and am not sure how much I should carry and if I need some sent to me along the way?”

All good questions, Nicole! Here are some answers:

First and foremost, you will have NO problem finding isobutane fuel canisters for stoves along the AT. They are the most popular form of fuel out there for AT thru hikers and retailers along the trail have noticed! Not only will you always find isobutane canisters at any outfitter, you can also count of finding them at many hostels or resupply locations along the trail. There is no time that you will need one sent to you on trail.

Secondly, the lifespan of a canister is very tentative on the user. Some folks like to make a hot breakfast with a cup of coffee every morning and then cook a hot dinner with a cup of tea at night. If this is you, you may be purchasing a new 8oz. canister once a week. Someone like me, who is unimaginative and lazy, may only cook one meal a day. I found that I could stretch out a 4oz. canister for nearly ten days. It took me a while to form my habits and learn how much fuel I needed, but it is a skill you will surely pick up on your thru hike.

Important Things To Know:



Isobutane fuel canisters come in 3 sizes: 4oz., 8oz., and 16oz. You will likely never purchase a 16oz. canister as it is way overkill. I started out my thru hike buying 8oz. canisters until I felt comfortable with being able to gage my fuel usage. Once I had my cooking patterns down, I began to buy the 4oz. canisters because they slipped into my cook pot and made packing up more seamless.



Despite their outward appearance, any brand of fuel canister will work with any stove. You do not have to use Jetboil fuel for your Jetboil stove. Many time you will come across a retailer on the trail that only carries one brand. No worries! Buy it.


Though most isobutane fuel types are now made as a four season mix, meaning they will function properly despite low outside temperatures, I have heard it helps the fuel to burn more efficiently if it is kept above a certain temperature. By sleeping with your fuel canister you can ensure that the part of the fuel will not separate out, therefore burning up more quickly. The dire necessity of this is between you, your warm sleeping bag and a cold ass fuel canister to debate over. I wasn’t a fan of the idea.

Measuring Fuel


Not sure how much you have left in that little bad boy? Watch this video to learn how to measure how much fuel is in your canister.

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Comments 5

  • Dwight Foster : Oct 29th

    Just remember that canister stoves don’t work well in the winter.
    If you stove seems anemic, just heat up a small (1/2 inch) of water in a pan.
    Then turn off the stove and place the canister with the stove still attached in the pan to warm up the canister.
    Once warm, it will work much better.

    I tried keeping my canister warm on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon recently with temps in the low 30’s and it didn’t work very well.
    It stayed cold, I stayed cold, not a great combo.
    Better to heat it up during the cooking process.

  • Kilburn Hall : Jul 27th

    Dwight- A sure way to blow yourself up.
    NEVER try to warm up a fuel canister. As an Everest, Grand Canyon, CT, CDT, Pacific Crest hiker, the way to keep a canister warm and ready to use is to store them in your sleeping bag, or wrap them in your clothing but NEVER try to warm up your canister by the method described by Carlie gentry. WHAT A MORON.

    • Geoff Rodgers : Oct 6th

      stop bragging long enough to fully read his reply and stop calling people names. grow up.

    • tirod : Jun 17th

      The method shown in the picture is weighing the amount of gas left by how much it floats. One brand even prints a scale on the side. Warming a gas canister is an issue under 35F and it’s why liquid fuel cookstoves were the primary method in the past.

      There is a major lack of information circulating on the use of gas canisters, their fuels, and which kind of can is dominant. A “spray can” butane bottle for a table top stove vs canister for backpacker vs Coleman 1 pound tank seems the most common difference and they are not readily interchangeable, but the myths and misinformation sure seems to be. One method to reduce fuel use is the appropriate kind of wind break to keep the stove flame directly under the pot. There is a precaution about it extending to the ground as it may overheat the canister, yet there is almost no evidence nor video on that specific case easily found online – at all. I have my own temp sensor gun so I’m testing as I use it. One rule of thumb is to touch the canister while in use and if it’s too hot to handle – shut it off. For the most part it won’t be, even in summer.

      Of recent note most of the American branded isobutane retailers are having one Korean supplier manufacturing their canisters, with side by side comparison highly similar. While having a single source for them seems counterproductive in the long run, it will allow cookset makers a similar dimension to work with. Best thing to do is collect canisters and learn how to refill them, as the market will eventually move to that. Too many casual campers are simply discarding them at the camp site for staff to clean up, leading to CA’s proposals to ban them. Refilling valves are more than available now, and one stove I recently bought had both isobutane and propane adapters included. I find the backpacker small stove more efficient for small meals than the uberoversized skillet burners used by car camping, and refilling at home cuts their costs, too. Just freeze first to fill fuller. I’ve been refilling for over 20 years.

      Like the winter campers who leave “frost flowers” to bloom in the spring snow, more of us need to rethink our consumerist lifestyle instead of simply tossing it to the side of the trail.

  • Shannon : Apr 20th

    There’s a respectful way to disagree with someone and not resort to petty name calling. I appreciate the tip, Dwight!


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